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Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Evidence vs. Bellingcat vs. Khan Sheikhoun False Flag Theories

The Evidence vs. Bellingcat vs. Khan Sheikhoun False Flag Theories

Adam Larson (aka Caustic Logic)
August 6, 2017
(incomplete, rough)
last edits Aug. 7

Lately, open-source investigator Eliot Higgins and others at the Bellingcat site have been tackling persistent "conspiracy theories" about the alleged sarin attack on April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria. Back in July, Bellingcat used an array of tinfoil hats to illustrate Higgins' What a Khan Sheikhoun False Flag Conspiracy Would Actually Mean. As a trusted anti-Syria propagandist, working with Human Rights Watch and the Atlantic Council, and a visiting scholar at King's College in London, he can't be trusted to tell us what it would actually mean. This piece is not entirely bogus, but needs some corrections. Apologies it took me almost a month to notice the piece and decide that.

"Despite the wealth of witness statements, analysis of samples collected from the ground, reports by the OPCW, and other information," he writes, there have been several attempts "to dismiss what happened as being part of a conspiracy against the Syrian government." "Dismiss" is a rather dismissive word. Let's say there have seen multiple tries at supporting the fairly logical suspicion that terrorists are behind the atrocity, or at least that the Syrian government is not.

I agree with Higgins on many points about where these efforts have specifically failed to adhere to the evidence or, sometimes, to even make sense. For example, the extremely common claims based on sarin persistence and danger to people visiting a site hours and even days after the event have no basis in reality. Sorry, he's right there. What he and others at Bellingcat talk about (in this and other recent articles) often is not wrong. As we'll see, it's what they don't talk about that's the real problem.

While it's not pushed by the same undeniable voices, there's a version with much better questions raised. It's been brought to his and Bellingcat's attention, at least in part, and so far they have no remotely adequate answer. I put the top 4 best questions at the end of this piece, hoping to be sure now they have seen all 4, and there's some further explanation and possibly some  follow-up later on.  All told, this is and will be another large post. I had to linger over every point to try and own this discussion, but no one needs to read it all.

So, What Would it Mean?
But first, Higgins asks what a false-flag would mean, and frames the implications in various ways I'll now address.
Any conspiracy theory would, of course, need conspirators, and the scale of the Khan Sheikhoun attack would require a lot of them.
It would probably not require any implausible number. Do we think most local militants would reject helping in some deceptive or sectarian crime that gets Syria in trouble and perhaps bombed or overthrown?

Whole military formations from different groups participate in kidnapping Syrian civilians, mostly women and children, from Alawi villages and other places they overrun, on a routine basis. That's after they've killed all the men, age 13 and up. For one example, Islamist rebels led by Al-Name-Change Front (al-Nusra/Al-Qaeda) overran the villages of Khatab and Majdal, near Hama, in late March, 2017. A reported 250 hostages, including whole families, were said to be taken directly to Khan Sheikhoun, of all places, when the SAA reclaimed the towns on or by March 31 (map at right, some explanation here).

Higgins must be sure there was no such kidnapping, or it's a total coincidence. I suspect there was one and it might be just where the KS Islamists got their hundred or so victims seen five days later, dead and dying in trucks and morgues or gasping in the mud. Enough criminal, sectarian conspirators to seize 250 expendable heretics is a natural formula for a mass slaughter of same, and then a mass deception to shift the blame onto Syria.

Often the involvement of the White Helmets in the aftermath of attack is held up as the key piece of proof needed to show that the attack was a false flag, generally with the usual accusations of them being an imperialist funded Al Qaeda allied (if not just Al Qaeda) organisation that spends the majority of its time faking rescue videos, if not outright murdering and robbing people.
In my own opinion, White Helmets as proof of anything is overplayed by many. I and others may take it as a bad sign, but the general public shouldn't be expected to, so I don't see why it's used as such a leading point. As far as I know, 2/3 of what they do might actually be rescue or humanitarian work that doesn't get filmed. But still, the general picture of Islamist partisans and propagandists seems basically correct - they've been caught in many deceptions, seem to have helped launder many massacres, etc. There's something wrong with them, and at the very least, their presence should not be taken as adding much credibility to any allegations. 

But this is a case that doesn't just draw on prior suspicions, but adds quite a bit to the picture. Consider here: they support the story and details that we now see clash badly with more objective evidence, like the video record and radar tracks (see 4 best questions below, if you don't know about this yet). They also got seen helping sickened children by spraying them with hoses, near-naked in near-freezing weather, but never do we see where they got poisoned. It's on these peoples' word that it was in their homes in a described area (southwest of the sarin crater) rather than in some school's basement rigged up as a gas chamber (for example). (this is question 3)

Several child victims seem to be hacked, perhaps fatally, in the head and/or neck (see here), at least two of them after they had gotten to the White Helmets, Al-Qaeda, and supposed safety. (see Two Smoking-Gun Head Wounds) They're seen unmarked but struggling to breathe (possibly dead, but with other kids who are alive), being saved by White Helmets. Later they're seen not saved, instead finished off with blades. How does that happen? Assad's sarin can't hack the victims when it kills too slowly. Is this analysis wrong? As far as I've seen, Higgins still doesn't know about this.(so it's best question #4)
It’s often claimed (erroneously) all samples from the site and victims were collected by White Helmets, and therefore the samples cannot be trusted.
This is true, but that truth may prove irrelevant in the end. That is, there was an opening for them to taint the samples, but it may not have been needed, if sarin were previously put into the environment, either with the weaponry used on April 4, or planted soon thereafter. This seems to be the case.
Let us assume, therefore, that samples have been tampered with, and the OPCW have tested doctored samples, what would this actually mean?
First, those doctoring the samples would have to have access to Sarin, as samples tested by the OPCW have found Sarin along with other related products from the production process and degradation of Sarin.
"...or a sarin-like substance." But either way, this is no problem for well-connected Islamists in Syria, as Eliot knows. Al-Name-Change Front has the nerve agent, and could taint a sample, spray a bombed area, or hit the area with a sarin-containing weapon in the first place.
They’d also make sure it included hexamine, which was detected in previous Sarin attacks, and claimed by some to link that Sarin to the Syrian governments manufacturing process, ...
Hexamine: This has questions around it that I'm hazy about. It might a residue from the opening charge for the device, or perhaps a key and telltale ingredient as claimed. It might have various meanings. Either way, it's said it turned up in "previous sarin attacks," not necessarily in Syria's known stocks.

Ghouta, Saraqeb, Khan al-Assal... that's the same dirty, kitchen-grade sarin that keeps fulfilling terrorist purposes and getting Syria in trouble, and it apparently NOT the stuff Syria was always known to have, as surrendered and taken away on the USS Cape May in 2013-2014. Samples were surely kept from that and could be compared, and if a match was found, that would probably be announced. Instead, we hear the KS sarin has hexamine, and so it's probably the same as in all the other attacks blamed on Syria. Implicitly, all these attacks use about the same stuff, and none of it matches with what Syria surrendered, and has apparently never used. These clues, circumstantial as they are, could mean this is either Assad's other, undeclared and dirty sarin, or it's the terrrorists' undeclared, dirty sarin.  (see here) This when, for years, experts assured us the agent being used seemed to match with Syria's known stocks of military-grade sarin.
...including French intelligence in their recent National Evaluation of the Khan Sheikhoun attack.
This claimed the Khan Sheikhoun sarin matched the kind used in the Saraqeb attack on April 29, 2013, said to poison several locals and to kill one woman (ACLOS). The government's sources told them terrorists made hostages inhale fumes from barrels of an unknown liquid, and made other locals breathe powder from plastic bags, before trucking the victims to Turkey for sarin testing. As everyone knows, sarin or a sarin-like substance turned up. 

As reported, locals were poisoned by nerve agent dropped from a regime helicopter. How it was dropped varied; a barrel bomb full of TNT and sarin (wherein the former would destroy the latter), or powdered sarin in plastic bags (still dropped from a helicopter, maybe weighted with cinderblocks, for example), or plastic hand grenades linked to Jabhat al-Nusra, dropped in a glowing and smoking "cinderblock" (as shown on video, at right). There was powder on the ground, said to be the remains of the block after impact. I contend this is an unrelated drop of white phosphorous, as screening smoke for some SAA military offensive. But the latter story with the air-dropped hand grenade is the most accepted version.

I brought these problems to Higgins' attention at his Brown Moses blog back in 2013 (see here), and he responded:
To me it seems like two gas grenades were placed inside a cinderblock... and ignited as they were dropped from the helicopter, so you can see them producing light and smoke as they fall. When it hit the ground, the cinderblock was smashed to dust and small fragments (visible both at Sheikh Magshoud and Saraqeb). [referring to an April 13 attack in Aleppo]

Problem is, this doesn't seem to really match with a Sarin attack for a number of reasons, and the victims in Saraqeb are directly linked to one of the two containers dropped, so it's not like there were other munitions linked to those injuries. It's all very confusing, in away made even more confusing by the fact the same sort of attack happened twice.

Also, why go to all the trouble of flying a helicopter over Saraqeb to just drop those two packages? Is that all that helicopter was doing on that day? The more I think about it, the weirder it gets.
They lit their plastic gas grenades on fire? To help release sarin, or what? Just so the video can be related after all? Maybe the plastic bags story is better. Both sides have agreed at times that plastic bags full of powder were involved. ...

It's an evidently problematic story behind that sarin release. And they say this is the same exact stuff we're seeing now. It might well be. Besides hexamine, it has similar hallmarks, like bizarre or impossible dispersal methods ...
They’d also have individuals collecting samples for the Syrian government also doctor those samples with Sarin and hexamine,so tests by the Syrian governments labs and OPCW would show the presence in those samples as well.
This is a fair point and worth heeding; it seems everyone, including Syria's government, has trusted samples from the site in question, the crater by the grain silos and the central bakery, and concludes sarin or similar was present. So sample tampering seems unlikely; it was apparently in the environment. Issue: how did it get there? Delivered by regime dropped bomb? By regime missile? By terrorist false-flag rocket? By later planting (like a sprayed mist)? Is it sarin, or a sarin-like substance? How sarin-like? These points are not fully clear.
Then they’d even have volunteers or unwilling victims expose themselves to Sarin and cross the border with Turkey,...
They wouldn't "have unwilling victims expose themselves." This is too passive in tone. The terrorists would themselves expose the unwilling victims. They would mercilessly gas them to death (or, if they aimed too low in some cases, they would finish them off some other way).

Voluntary exposure would be the case for the talkers who help spin the conspiracy theory that runs against so much evidence. They would be allies, volunteering for exposure. You wouldn't want to make enemies of your sources by dosing them without approval.

Consider Abdelhamid Al-Yousef: for a few days as he made so many video appearances and met sultan Erdogan in Turkey, he was notably weak, sweaty, prone to tears and drippy nose - possibly late effects of a single April 4 sarin exposure, but more consistent with a slower and later exposure to spaced-out token doses. At right, he's sweating, sobbing, and leaking from the nose as he tells implausible stories. (He thought his wife and kids were ok, even though they started feeling ill, as he left them with paramedics and/or had them hide in a basement. Learning there was a deadly chemical about, he ran to his father's house and carried dead people with no protection, then ran to his uncle's house and did the same, before... he passed out for a while, and hence failed to rescue his own family. This narrative is pretty absurd, really. Apparently the key to survival is to visit every attack site and handle as many bodies as possible.)
"... where some would die from Sarin exposure, and where the OPCW would run tests on the living and dead which resulted tests results consistent with exposure to Sarin..."
...or a "sarin-like substance". I would guess this: those killed with chemicals will have caustic lung damage and other unpleasant effects, while the surviving talkers (mostly men who claim no politics but spout rebel propaganda points) will have suffered little in the line of painful damage, and there will be no explanation offered for the difference.
"Then they would ensure that all witnesses told the same version of events, even those exposed to Sarin..."
It would all be by prior agreement, we should presume. So if this were a false-flag event, no one broke script that we noticed. That's not hard to believe at all.
...which indicated the origin of the Sarin was one crater in Khan Sheikhoun.
And most important: they indicated it came from a regime airstrike. That's the core falsehood. Because they have false claims about where poisoning happened, IF the crater is indeed the sole release point as they also claim. Or they have a false release point, if the affected area is correct. (see question 2 below). Anticipating possible story shifts to some spread that makes sense, they still lack a supported link to those distant jets.
This includes insuring that the locations victims were reportedly found were all consistent with a spread of Sarin from the crater in the same direction.
Indeed, but it seems they really bungled that part. He suggests if it's false-flag, they would plan it out right, and I would presume the same - they would at least try to get it right. But here it is, just about 180 degrees opposite from correct (see question 2 below). And it happens that's just the kind of mistake - blowing from read as blowing to - that people can make when interpreting a wind direction. Therefore, I still suspect they "pulled a Postol" and read their wind backwards when they decided where to say people had died. It's not what I'd expect, but it either happened, or some other error to the same effect was coincidentally made. It's a lucky break for investigators faced with ferreting out truth from the fog of war, but Higgins has so far ignored it.(At least one other Bellingcat member has addressed the problem, but poorly. Again, see question 2 below)
This consistency of witnesses telling the same version of events would also be required if the sample tampering scenario was abandoned and instead some version of a device being denoted by some opposition faction, or an attack with a rocket of some sort by an opposition faction was proposed,...
If it was terrorists who dispersed the sarin (or planted it at the site prior to sampling), the witnesses would have to either not know or not say that, because none of them says that. Again, sticking to the script is nothing unexpected for the scenario we're considering (and some are considering it better than others).
... which just happened to be filled with Sarin that contained hexamine to make it look like Syrian government Sarin.
Here again "Syrian government sarin" means the kind used in the 100% dubious CW attacks from 2013 forward. It could be this way: the terrorist plotters had to have the same kind of sarin the plotters of those terrorist incidents had. I'm not calling it "terrorist sarin" as a known fact, but Higgins is calling it "Syrian government sarin."
"Now after all these shenanigans, which the OPCW falls for completely (unless they’re also complicit)..."
Yes, apparently. Do we realize the OPCW is headed by a Turk, Ahmet Uzumcu? He's not known (by me) to be a total puppet of Sultan Erdogan, nor to be a free man of science. He has been Turkey's ambassador to NATO and to Israel. He may also have Syrian opposition contacts from his days as a sort of ambassador in Aleppo. And his OPCW managed to get their Assad-blaming narrative with some impropriety: 
1) Ignoring the radar track of the alleged attack jets: that's been released, and should support their case. But it happens to disprove the common air-dropped bomb theory, and somehow they decided to ignore it. Also, OPCW dropped the bomb claim, never specifying what kind of munition, so it could be a missile. This suggests they were aware of the problem, and managed to downplay and ignore it at the same time.
2) They chose to ignore the best wind evidence (multiple view video record of the events), confused themselves with different unreliable reading and predictions, and wound up deciding there was "no discernible wind." As it so happens, this lets a lucky slope to the west (for the terrorist narrative) be what killed everyone. Open-source and conclusive evidence proves that guess wrong, but they ignored that and put their credibility behind this convenient guess anyways.
3) Most of their information comes from activists and screened alleged witnesses delivering verbal accounts that contradict the evidence they ignored.
4) They accepted environmental samples they couldn't really vouch for, having refused invitations to have their own teams visit the site. Even if it's irrelevant to the outcome (as it seems - they would have found the same thing), it's still improper, or so says former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, and common sense. But having a sample that tested right helped them to clarify it was definitely sarin (or a sarin-like substance) rolling against the wind after coming out of that unknown but clearly jet-delivered munition... they also cannot vouch for how the sarin or "sarin-like substance" was gotten into the human cases. Their surviving patients - the talkers, likely exposed only to token amounts - will have claimed it was from a passing regime jet. But of course the best and ignored evidence suggests that's not true.

So I don't propose a gullible OPCW "fell for it" here. They're too professional to accept such blatant falsehoods unless they wanted to be fooled. And unless all these improprieties are coincidental oversights, that all suggests complicity in sowing the opposition's lies while obscuring their massacre. So there's no reason to dismiss the option as an aside and insist we eithe think of the OPCW as simple dupes or accept their biased and deeply flawed report.
"...we have the Russians and Syrians presenting a totally different version of events where a chemical weapons warehouse in the East of Khan Sheikhoun was bombed. Although it happened hours after the attack was first reported and documented,let’s imagine you’re still clinging to this scenario."
That exact scenario is indeed not any kind of answer. Somehow, it was suggested the admitted noon airstrike on terrorist facilities had caused the chemical incident, but of course that happened some five hours earlier, when Syria is clear they launched no airstrikes. This false lead has been frozen and used repeatedly by the opposition's shills and conspiracy theorists as a stand-in for all alternate theories. It may be worth debunking again, for the record, but it affects none of the points in the best questions version.
"The question is then why does the Syrian and Russian government not publish any evidence to support their claim?"
That's a fair question. I would suggest this: they may have some good reason, and there may still be little they really know. Better question: why does the opposition publish so much untrue information in support of their own claim? As perps or as victims, they should know quite a bit about this, and have access to truthful information. Yet they lie. Why?
Even something as simple as publishing the co-ordinates of this chemical weapons warehouse would allow anyone to check April 6th 2017 satellite imagery available on Terraserver to see if there’s a destroyed building.
And I would check it. But without any help, I found a spot they may have bombed at noon, and not earlier. Just southwest of town, there's an apparent farmhouse next to a sizeable water reservoir that seems to have been destroyed at least between Feb. 22 and April 29, that I identified just through video analysis (explained here).  I finally checked the April 6 images (added later), and the damage is there, so it was between 2/22 and 4/6. My guess as to when: around noon on April 4.

Earlier in the day? The video shows no plumes or emerging vapor in the first minute or so after attack (although it as at some distance, about 4 km from the camera). But some 20 minutes later, we can see it's one of two or maybe three sources for a massive outpouring of mystery vapor that got reported as sarin fog, like a faintly yellow winter fog but caustic, foul-smelling, and deadly, spread two meters deep across the town. Here, that now-bombed spot would be at the end of the green area, from which fog rolls east and north, covering square kilometers of the town's southern half. How much sarin do we think these bombs were capable of releasing? And why didn't anyone mention one dropped there?
That's possible evidence for some CW presence on-site, which fits the description. However, it's not a large warehouse, nor on the eastern outskirts (as Russia describes it) nor in the north of town (as Seymour Hersh's source claims). It does seem to have been scoped out by the Syrians, as if it were suspicious - the apparent surveillance flight seen on radar passes almost directly over the site (but again, there's no sign of bombing at the time of the attack)

Likely there were two or more targets hit in the noon strike. This may be one, and another was the White Helmets base and cave hospital complex; an external building was heavily damaged in an apparent airstrike right around noon. Did it have chemicals on site? We saw lots of poisoned people there hours earlier, with no poof they were poisoned elsewhere (they were placed in pickup trucks, but...). But this is all speculative, and a side-issue.
Every piece of open source evidence and the OPCW reports run counter to this claim,...
The exact claim, indeed, so far. But the most credible pieces of open-source information, if not the OPCW report intent on ignoring those, contradicts the opposition's story as well. And I mean it contradicts their best consensus version, not someone's flawed telling.
"...so if it really was a conspiracy against Syria, then revealing this information would expose a massive conspiracy that resulted in the US wrongly bombing Syria, and threatening Syria with further attacks."
Yes and no. It would show what it does, but that would be poorly and dismissively reported, supposedly debunked by the likes of Mr. Higgins, using often-bogus methods, and either blamed on Syria anyway or quickly forgotten.

Then perhaps that stunt would be answered with a new alleged CW attack that gets Syria blamed yet again, to prove how they will always fail to convince the empire and may as well just keep quiet. This is not made-up, but just about what happened with the Khan al-Assal sarin attack and investigation, as anyone who followed it will recall. (a refresher on how Syria's requested probe into the opposition sarin attack was derailed in a few ways, by the West and by the Ghouta attack)
Yet Russia and Syria stays quiet, so what does that mean?
Anything they say can and will be used against them? They're showing their info to investigators behind the scenes instead of to us on the internet? They don't want to spark any more incidents? And, of course, they've wasted some credibility with bogus claims or guesses, and are waiting for better information than they have. I'm not waiting on Russia and Syria to provide an answer, and never have been.
Well it can only mean one thing, that Syria and Russia themselves are complicit in the conspiracy to fake a Syrianchemical attack, resulting in Syria being falsely accused of using chemical weapons by the US, and being bombed as a result.

Or Russia and Syria are simply lying, and Syria really did use Sarin in Khan Sheikhoun.
Well, after failing to narrow it down, that's 2 things it could be, and several others ignored. But it's true, Moscow and Damascus are fairly little help in solving this crime. I'm not waiting for their tips, even if Eliot wants to. There's open source intelligence to gather and analyze. While Eliot and Bellingcat have offered some good analysis of parts of it, it seems they want to ignore other data. I and others have plowed ahead on those points, and now I give the King's College crowd this shortcut to four best questions they could try to answer, or to avoid.

Khan Sheikhoun: 4 Best Questions
Some of these have only been ironed out after the July 4 article in question, so Eliot's missing them at the time might mean nothing. But after this and the proper alerts, they'll have no reason to claim ignorance of these important findings. Here's how we can see a Khan Sheikhoun false-flag attack would mean ... the best evidence and logic are correct. The video isn't lying to us, the terrorists are. Denying that puts one at odds with the evidence, and runs a grave risk of helping absolve terrorists for a hideous crime against humanity. I don't know how to embed tweets like others do, but these questions are/will be posed on Twitter, as linked.

1) Wrong radar track:
Tweet (before I decided on 4-question format): Khan Sheikhoun: "Can @EliotHiggins venture an answer to the problem of the US radar track?" (citing earlier explanatory tweet that culminates with the image at right - the radar track seems accurate, and shows the jets arcing around the town at a distance, never passing directly above the sarin crater to drop a sarin bomb as alleged.) Follow-up: "I predict he could, but it would have to be pretty lame, so he'll leave us with the crickets, and proof of what a stumper this is." He's done just that so far.

But others in the Bellingcat network have tried; Christian Triebert maps it about the same on Twitter; crater well north of flight path, with no comment, and he answers Bubslug in comments about the issue here:
Yes, I agree with you; we noticed. It is indeed interesting, but be aware that the 3D flight path visualisation of the Pentagon consists of what I think are radar blips (and thus does not show the full trajectory),...
I see no "3D visualization," just plotted radar returns (presumably) on a 2D map. And there's no room between returns to fit the needed flight path(s). Maybe it's like this? No, This is a fevered fantasy.
"... and is now projected on Google Earth, so there may be some distortion."
None that I can see. It starts right, lines up all the way, and shows a logical arc around the town, as Triebert should know, having mapped it out.
"For that reason I included a line that the reading the graph may be problematic."
Might be? It's definitely problematic, to the tune of disproving witness accounts of a bomb dropped from right above the bakery crater. Bellingcat will have to amend the story and decide those witnesses were just confused; the regime must have used distance-covering sarin missiles instead (and the very existence of such a thing isn't clear to me).

2) Wrong wind:
Tweet: "Khan Sheikhoun best Qs, 2/4: Can @EliotHiggins or anyone at @Bellingcat disprove this wind reading? See fog drift NE" Citing: wind direction explainer, and  see right, and the image used above for the fog spread. Member Timmi Allen already offered a poor explanation, claiming a roughly opposite wind at ground level affecting the fog movement, as addressed in that post. This is possible, but there's just one very dubious clue for it, and several points against it, like the actual spread of that fog as seen on video.

3) No rescue videos: 
Tweet: "Khan Sheikhoun best Qs, 3/4: @EliotHiggins @Bellingcat Can anyone show a single rescued-from-home scene for the 500+ affected? No. Why not?"Citing: nothing. There are no such videos. I could have cited this at ACLOS to explain.

4) Executed (child) victims
Tweet: "Khan Sheikhoun best Qs, 3/4: @EliotHiggins @Bellingcat  kids seen rescued, later seen dead w/head wounds. Answer?" That's 4/4. Citing: http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/07/two-smoking-gun-head-wounds.html

Overall tweet that links here:
Adam Larson‏ @CL4Syr  Aug 6: @bellingcat @EliotHiggins Khan Sheikhoun evidence vs. Bellingcat and 4 best questions. Anyone?


  1. As a latecomer, I've only learned about the existence of Bellingcat fairly recently but they can't complain about Hersh not responding to their questions while failing to answer or deleting questions put to them.

    I'm confused about what their position is, they constantly post the '30 minutes' graphic but this would mean they are saying the witnesses/victims after the time BC speculate the scene would be safe to visit and hospitals who admitted them are lying.. Seems like being selective to confirm their own bias.

    IMO the Syrian gov tests only proove the soil they tested had sarin, no-one knows if the unnamed volunteer was sent by the government or contacted them as a 'good patriot'. The evidence shows they were willing to implicate themselves by offering extra samples supporting those collected by the opposition so hypothetically it would have been the perfect way to set them up:

    The White Helmet's crater soil sample on May 12 had code 17SLS, 01SLS is from the Syrian gov - the first set of SLS codes were reserved for the samples from SAR they didn't even receive until June 18.

    This shows the Syrian gov had obviously already told the OPCW all about the samples they had.. perhaps convinced the results would show no sarin and exonerate them. Or (in the Bellingcat version) desperate to show the opposition samples were genuine and true.

    There is also the contradiction of BC being adamant that the Syrian gov claims they haven't lost control of any of their CW stocks are true... when to BC apparently everything else they say is a lie. Why are they suddenly so honest about this one subject?

    1. Thanks, Andrew!

      May 12 was the WH sample? Guess it was worth the wait to add their stellar credibility to the sample-collection process. What signs should even remain after 38 days, I'm not sure.

      Syria getting sample slot #1 could be from them volunteering to get a sample or having one right away, or from them being put on the wire right away to go get one.

      There's some room for doubt about how this was collected and whether he might have double-crossed Damascus, etc. But the simple answer, of course, is everyone found sarin, so it was probably just there.

      Re: CW stock security: "Why are they suddenly so honest about this one subject?" Obviously, if Syria's sarin has special unique markers, like hexamine, and we can be certain only the regime has ever had control over it, and this marker turns up, bingo - Assad blamed. Of course it doesn't, and you can't, but oh well.

    2. If Syria's sarin ever had unique markers and they wanted to continue production, wouldn't the first job of a clandestine CW program be to change the production methods and over the years try and improve the purity?

      Unless they are steadfastly sticking to hexamine for the sake of making it identifiable (and Mr Kaszeta)

    3. Of course (sarcastically). They would maintain the formula, but give it different smells and stuff... keep all their stocks secure in no one's hands but their own, make a point of gassing on the biggest scale just when OPCW investigators are on hand, or when a new US president comes to power, to "test him," perhaps... This is just like all the other suicidal dictators we've taken out or targeted. Who knows why, they just go crazy and constantly implicate themselves, and force our hand to try and topple them. The experts know why: it's just how - things - work. Period and accept it, CT nutters!

    4. Ha! I see - it's all some kind of 4D chess.

      BC appear to be working on something related, maybe they will explain all?

      On the off chance they will, not an exhaustive list but a couple more related questions that maybe they (or anyone else) might answer - the first related to #3

      Why does everyone give up on search and rescue and abandon the scene?

      "Riad" joined in with the search and rescue but for unclear reasons they stop at 8am (http://www.preemptivelove.org/syria_chemical_attack_stories_survivors watch video part 2). The al-Yousefs ran around frantically but stopped before they had searched all the houses (AP on the 6th "Alaa Alyousef said not all homes have been searched for survivors yet.")

      Dr Hazem sets up 300m away and then is seen in the washing videos – he can only have been at the scene a matter of minutes and seems to have left for the White Helmets center almost immediately.

      It's alleged the White Helmets were there too but all of them left an ambulance "close to the site" for 2 hours without anyone checking it or trying to put victims inside and Hassan al-Yousef on a roof at the scene for 8 hours until the neighbours woke him up.

      The fuel seller boy in the OPCW report, the one alleged sarin victim seen before the second strikes gets blown up by those same airstrikes? What is the chance of that really?

      HRW report page 30:
      "A few people appear to have died from blast and fragmentation injuries from the attacks during the second flyover.
      Raslan, the Syria Civil Defense member, said that the attacks with explosive weapons
      killed his neighbor, the neighbor's son, and the 15-year-old boy he had tried to help"

      ..and then by complete coincidence Raslan faints for the exact same length of time Osama al-Khaled does?

      Page 26:

      Raslan "I lost consciousness. I did not wake up until 11 hours later in the hospital."

      JFL report page 27:
      Osama al-Khaled: "I remained unconscious until 6:00 pm, about 11 hours after being exposed to the gas"

      Despite atropine being in short supply, after 500 victims the White Helmets and Idlib hospital have some left over. How much atropine did they actually have to start with?

      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/05/syria-chemical-weapons-attack-what-we-know-khan-sheikhun "[atropine] is in short supply in rebel-held Syria."

      But JFL page 24 says hours later Anas Thyab/Tiab and journalists "were all transferred to Idlib hospital, where we were given atropine".

      Karim Shaheen says of the White Helmets hospital after the airstrike around midday (with empty looking beds) . "The remaining atropine shots that were used to treat the sarin patients were still scattered throughout, doctors having been unable to use them after fleeing the attacks" http://raseef22.com/en/life/2017/04/14/trip-khan-sheikhun-city-devoid-life/

    5. Throwing a few more questions out there

      Why does Mohammed Juneid's ambulance drive to an emergency so slowly?

      If Ismail Raslan sees the boy falling over in the road at 6:37am, radios for an ambulance and Mohammed Juneid's White Helmets ambulance sets off from the center "immediately" (HRW report page 23), why for an emergency do they drive the ~2 miles so slowly that they still haven't reached the northern neighbourhood by 6:46am?

      And then (after presumably noticing the airstrike), something about an unconscious man in a car (HRW report page 27) interests them so much they decide it is actually chemicals and so dangerous they need to leave Raslan, the boy and the victims of the airstrike that has just happened, turn around and get protective equipment from the White Helmets base. But they stop anyway so Juneid can try and "pull up" a woman in the street bleeding from her mouth which makes him fall unconscious.

      Why do they spray this man's hair?

      http://i.huffpost.com/gen/5218502/original.jpg and then give him a mask they've just dropped on the floor? https://youtu.be/yTx0kmQnZLw?t=27

      What was happening at the hospital with the dead body of Anas al-Khaled?

      Strange journeys on trucks for the family, being posed and filmed aside; Anas al-Khaled (appears to be on the truck with his family here http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/File:Khan_Sheikhoun_4_sisters_on_truck.jpg ) was dead when found by Osama al-Khaled (JFL report page 27), when his children were piled up at the White Helmets center and in the earliest picture ALCOS puts at ~7:05-7:15 and later in the back of a truck with his family https://youtu.be/RfAmwTXQNzo?t=20
      He appears to be dead when they unload him at the hospital too https://youtu.be/rKu-Zw3cJoI?t=15 so what was happening here when CNN describes him as "the living"? https://youtu.be/NonOEOo8Hx4?t=303

      Or is it just an uncannily similar looking man who also has a brown and cream blanket and who grows slightly more chest hair on the upper left of his chest? http://imgur.com/P1Pg8FT

    6. Doesn't look like Bellingcat are going to answer any of these questions after all

      Why does Kusai al-Yousef not know where the hospital is?

      CNN helpfully tells us the hospital is 30 mins away, the White Helmets center is a few minutes at most and even Dr Hazem is there around 6:50am. After being woken by the explosion at 6:46am, Kusai al-Yousef gets his family to safety and drives to the scene http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/05/khan-sheikhoun-attack-survivors-recall-horror-170503130351120.html

      Kusai al-Yousef puts a foaming child in the trunk of his car and 3 other people, then 'drops' them at a hospital in another city. As one of the first on the scene, why does he "rush" them somewhere that is a 4 hour round trip?

      How tall is this sarin cloud?

      After 6:46am Shaimaa Ibrahim al-Jawhar goes out onto her balcony "100 meters west of bakery" (HRW page 25). They are below the 2nd floor and have a balcony so obviously the apartment is on the 1st floor. How tall was the sarin cloud after 10 minutes and travelling more than 100 meters to knock her out (and kill her unless Fatima has a multitude of 16 year old cousins) on a 1st floor balcony?

    7. Indeed, I was waiting for perhaps an article, since there was no peep here or on Twitter or in response to my cpmment there. But if so, I missed it or it's taking a while. I suppose they'll ignore, as that's the most logical option in the circumstances. I got no subpoena power, just stumping power.

      Questions abound indeed. I'm not sure about ones based on driving times and such, but those might well be valid. As for how tall is the sarin cloud ... to reach a first floor balcony? (that's UK first floor, meaning above ground floor, whereas here first floor is ground level). They say it was 2 meters deep, could swell up to a low balcony maybe. But I don't see why its height matters. She lived west (and thanks for that tidbit), and the wind was blowing east, so either the stuff came from somewhere else, or the story doesn't add up.

    8. No it doesn't add up at all.. interestingly they would likely be in the path of the plumes seen on the videos. I assume they are using the UK meaning for the floors or they have a very strange balcony!

      I'm also assuming the height of the cloud would decrease as it spreads out, sarin being heavier than air and as it drifts down into basements and so on but Adham al-Hussein (HRW page 28) is 200 meters from the bakery and says at around 6:57am (so about twice the time and distance) "gas was" (still) "one or two meters high, all over the place". I keep wondering what was in the Omar house?

      For the record, I don't believe the 'first airstrike' witnesses: all White Helmets, they have an excuse for why they never actually went to the scene, all then faint doing 'heroic' things as an excuse for why they don't appear in subsequent videos.

      So maybe I'm showing my bias with the ambulance time.. but Raslan had a radio with him to be warned of the next airstrike (another excuse) so he was either doing something strange with the boy in the street for several minutes or the ambulance responded at about 20mph.

      The Exif data on Reuters photos shows 9:59am at White Helmets center then 10:07am at the crater. Again, I'm assuming they haven't altered this in Fotostation but it seems pretty reasonable for a leisurely drive between the two.

      And Mohammed Junied wouldn't be this same "Jnued" by any chance? https://friendsofsyria.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/white-helmets-terrorist-group/

      Also been wondering if this is the inside of Abdelhamid al-Yousef's house http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/video/abdulhamid-al-yusuf-who-lost-his-wife-baby-twins-and-13-news-footage/666066226 which one it is exactly? Doesn't seem to match buildings Abu Rabeea points to

      One last BC question (related to your question #3):

      Why did the White Helmets not film their sample collection?

      OPCW 5.100 (page 45) says the White Helmets samples were only supported by photographs and testimony. Why do they not feel the need to video it all?

      They just happen to be partially witnessed collecting by Faruq Shami of course, just not from the crater.

    9. Even better - thanks to the AJ article in comments by Adrian D on Tim Hayward's blog, Anas al-Diab/Thyab says it took two and a half minutes to return to the "clinic" from the crater. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/04/idlib-gruesome-170405115057834.html

      The "clinic" according to this is the very same White Helmets center http://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/05/middleeast/syria-airstrike-idlib-how-it-unfolded/index.html

      He also says on page 24 of the JFL report he started showing symptoms after going back to the center with the journalists (who only arrived 2 hours after the event) which would match the CNN article.

    10. Another interesting witness here, Bashar Diab (also White Helmets and presumably relative of Anas)


      2 hours (!) later they finally decided to warn people away from the scene. 1.5 hr, 30 person search and rescue with no-one filming... and an anti-sarin diaper. Al-Sayed is a bit strange too - compare to what he says on page 25 of the JFL report

      I see BC just pointing people to the 'Syrian gov provided' samples though they do not have any idea how the Syrian gov obtained them. I don't know if BC originally did things differently, but foregone conclusions aren't investigations.

      To state the obvious, if the Syrian government was guilty of all this and could get agents into Khan Sheikhoun so easily they could just (for example) plant evidence of an opposition CW store in the rubble of the buildings.

    11. Some answers of my own

      Anas al-Khaled's body - was arriving (dead) in Ma'rat al-Numan about an hour and a half after he was first found, CNN provided misleading editing and voiceover. Why they were just left to die in the mud then arranged for cameras is still a mystery.


      Raslan, Juneid, Fuel Seller Boy

      Rouba who lives in east Khan Sheikhoun tells us that the plane woke her up "when [the plane is] flying very low, that sound is very loud, it must have woken up the whole city". So Raslan's story about the plane doing an earlier attack that only he heard cannot be true and by extension Juneid's story is also made up.

      Also White Helmets Abed Al Kareem Noureddine and "Khaled" (interviewed by Hadi and Moaz later that day) both contradict Juneid's story, Khaled says they were called right after the bombing, not before, or that there was an airstrike while the team were on their way.


      Rhetorical question: why did the OPCW not include the casualties at Mohammad Nejdat Youssef's farm outside the village who were taken to Turkey -it would mean the 'toxic cloud' was going the wrong direction. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/04/world/middleeast/syria-hospital-airstrike-gas-attack.html?mcubz=0

  2. May 12 was the OPCW status update with the results for the WH crater soil sample https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/Fact_Finding_Mission/s-1497-2017_e_.pdf so received a bit earlier, not quite 38 days.

    Still, it was numbered 17SLS so the OPCW seems to have known at least by the time of that status update how many samples they were due to get from the Syrian gov.

    Strange the OPCW didn't number them as they got them and make White Helmet's sample 01SLS.

  3. "If Syria's sarin ever had unique markers..."
    So far no one provided believable chemical formulas for these "markers". In fact Postol is the only one who provided any formulas. With a little knowledge about chemistry these formulas tell you that the use of hexamine as an acid scavanger is humbug. The only explanation of Kazeta's faith community is that the OPCW had hexamine on their list. (They also had Methanol on their list.)
    However, the same faith community will outcry when you say that the used sarin in all cases were "kitchen-grade". They will tell you that the hexamine contaminated sarin was "military-grade" and the very same that is known from the Syrian Army stockpile.
    That's obviously nonsense since "military-grade" sarin is
    1) mixed from two components inside the bomb while falling
    2) is storable in stockpiles only in it's most pure form
    3) that most pure form would be colorless and odorless
    Kazeta's faith community will go on and tell you that they are supported by the findings of the French Intelligence. The French Intel jumped on the hexamine train some years too late but immediately after Khan Sheikhoun they released a report that shares the believe system of the Kaszeta church without providing the chemical formulas. The report states that the French Intel obtained an unexploded sarin grenate from the Saraqueb incident (the very first sarin attack in Syria) on April 29th 2013. That grenate allegedly contained 60% Sarin and 40% other chemicals including a lot of hexamine. That's kitchen-grade per se but the French Intelligence didn't gave the grenate to an OPCW lab. So you once again may believe.
    The White Helmets released a photo taken between 9:00 am and 9:30 am showing the wet crater in Khan Sheikhoun. Kaszeta himself discribed his observation as a "black-oily" puddle of sarin - military-grade - consistent with the Syrian stockpile. Of course, Assad is the only one in the world who had/has heavy smelling black-oily 60% hexamine rich military-grade sarin in his stockpile.
    The nonsense behind this assertion should jump right in the face of any 10th grader.
    The plastic grenate obtained by French Intel was exclusively seen with Al Nusra fighters - especially those who were trained in Turkey. In Kaszeta's believe system you may not think about it!
    But you have to accept that Turkish MP Eren Erdem lied to his teeth about the criminal investigation coded 2013/139. The criminal case based on intercepted phone conversations and already obtained chemicals by a group of jihadists became "just a shopping list" in their argumentation.
    However, when the White Helmets took close up photos of that black-oily puddle of alleged sarin around the Khan Sheikhoun crater the Orient News was already there. The footage of Orient News taken 30-40 minutes earlier shows that the street already was cleaned up. The chunks of pavement from the crater were thrown on a sandhill already. The inner logic of the White Helmet/White House story line demands that someone carried chunks of pavement full of wet-black-oily military-grade sarin to that sandhill long before the street was dry again.

    1. Belated replies:

      plastic grenade: they say al-Nusra stole some from the Syrian army, who usually have them. No proof I know of besides a video posted AFTER the controversy, showing some they SAY were just captured from SAA somewhere else in the country (Daraa perhaps - would have to dig it up). It's said Iran provided the things to Syria, so the theory that Turkey provided them to al-Nusra seems likely.

      crater cleaned up so early: interesting point

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. At the same time neither the cameramen nor a tractor driver close to that wet hole took any recognizable safety measures. At that time and according to the OPCW report the invisible cloud of sarin (heavier than air) was still crawling downhill against the observable wind. Yes, victims were found 350 meters away and 10 meters lower than the crater. The average downhill slope is 2.8cm per 1 meter distance while a wind of about 0.5m/s blew rectangular to that slope and away from the victims. It might be an interesting experiment for some students to measure the downhill acceleration due to gravity necessary to overcome the perpendicular wind and to reach the 350 meters distant homes right in time for being immediately affected by "the gas" when the conventional strike (~10 minutes later) blew the windows open.
    Imagine a river that flows 0.5 meters per second. The swimmer Mr. Downhill wants to reach his house exactly on the opposite side and swims rectangular to the flow. I guess that even Kaszeta and the OPCW would agree that he never in life would reach his house swimming at that angle. This is why they completely neclected the wind as seen in all the videos and as reported in the post-weather archives. And this is probably the reason why the OPCW report shows a map of amplified altitudes by the factor of X turning the almost flat landscape of Khan Sheikhoun into an alpine scenery.
    So what's wrong with that Syrian sarin and it's unique markers? It's just a bad drafted story without any convincing evidence.

    1. I've avoided math this far, so... you agree the slope is quite mild, the wind is discernible and not negligible. (Though last I heard, you had a different prevailing direction in mind, to the southeast. Curious if you've come around yet on that.) So we agree the wind is most likely to easily overcome the slope and push the fog not-southwest. And video shows it spreading not-southwest. (in fact, to the northeast) And we agree they exaggerated the topography in the graphic, coincidentally making their theory look more plausible. "Alpine scenery," I like it.

  6. "Any conspiracy theory would, of course, need conspirators, and the scale of the Khan Sheikhoun attack would require a lot of them."
    That's an old argument and it is always used since ... who knows JFK, 9/11? The argument itself is a deception since e.g. Higgins assumes that every victim, rescuer, investigator or witness must be a compicit conspirator knowing about the plot. Applying his logic even Higgins himself would need to be complicit because he too investigated some parts of it. ...and blamed (without proper evidence) the Syrian Government and the Russians - another huge group of conspirators, accepting that no one of that huge group came forward to tell the truth.

    Let's use some fantasy. Would it be possible to plot a false flag coup?
    Status Quo: After 5 years of war you are losing on all fronts. The most dangerous weapon of your enemy is the airforce. You wasn't able to establish "no fly zones". Nevertheless, you are some kind of elite jihadist trained and armed by a global anti-Assad Intelligence community and determined to reverse the outcome of that war at any cost. And you are connected.
    You have plane spotters over the radio.
    You have mapped old craters all over the town.
    You have some help from the Intelligence community providing air surveillance.
    You have some sarin either provided by the "dark forces" inside your helpful Intel community or "kitchen-made" or both.
    You decided to turn a conventional airstrike into a sarin gas attack and you know that sooner or later (in the near future) the airforce of the enemy will attack your chosen town.
    You throw some metal pieces of a bomb in the trunk of your car and wait.
    The radio will alert you early.
    The first mushroom shows the way.
    Your map tells you where to find an old crater close to that conventional strike. You arrive in the chaos of the immediate aftermath and throw your metal into the closest old crater. You kick the edge for some small chunks of pavement. You put on you gas mask... Oh, someone comes along and ask you what you are doing there. You simply send him away telling him that you was called because of the suspected use of a chemical weapon. The guy will flee in horror and if he survives that day, he will tell the press exactly what you want him to tell as a "witness". If you survive that day, you could do the same. You could tell the press, that you saw a bomb dropping prior to the conventional strike but it didn't make any noise. You immediately went their to look and help some people.
    Now, since the guy in horror disappeared down the road warning everyone of the gas attack...

    1. Something to that effect. "conventional airstrike" could also be a simple reconnaissance mission ahead of the noon airstrike. I'm not convinced the crater is old, but could be some weeks old AFAIK.

  7. ..., you can pull out your bottle and pour the fluid around it. Throw the empty bottle away because no one will search for some shards of glass.
    In the meantime the people down the road are already convinced that they were gassed. Any respiratory problem due to dust or pressure is attributed to poinsoning already. Every smell is suspicious.
    You can simply drive down the road along the impacts and release some more sarin near the impacts.

    You can spin that hypothetical story on and on if you like but in fact one single person is enough to carry out the dirty work. Everything else would happen exactly in the way it happened.
    The witnesses would tell the same stories. The first responders too. The medics too. Even the OPCW report would present the very same findings. The surprised government of your enemy would have no plausible explanation. They would have to believe that they coincidentally hit a rebel factory for chemical weapons. And no one would believe them, of course. No matter what they do, you can either blame them for lying or for telling nothing. But if they come up with a false flag theory - the truth in our hypothetical story - you would ask for any evidence for such horrible allegations against peace loving freedom fighter who only want to remove a terrible dictator and to live in democracy for ever. You know, they have no evidence. And the US president would need to take action or otherwise would lose his face.

    How many silent conspirators would Assad need to built the bomb, to boil the poison, to transport it and to drop it? And most importantly, for what reason? What could he tell his conspirators, why that attack is so important that not a single conspirator would come forward telling the truth? They have telephones and internet. They could jump into an airplane flying from Damaskus to London or Paris. Where are the conspirators of your conspiracy theory, Eliot?

  8. Hey, Michael! Too tired to respond much ATM, but good stuff. FWIW, Saraqeb 4-29-2013 was one of the first sarin attacks, not the first. Some alleged in late 2012 (blamed on both sides, sarin claimed by some in Homs, Dec. 23), Khan al-Assal March 19 (by terrorists, verified by Russia as using kitchen sarin, reported as smelly and caustic), Sheikh Maqsoud Aleppo April 13 (using same grenade as in Saraqeb, regime blamed).


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