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Friday, November 24, 2017

Sarin and the "Foul Irritant(s)" in Syrian CW Attacks

November 24, 2017
(rough, incomplete)
edits 11/29, 12/6

I've covered this many places sporadically, and it's past time for a unified effort at understanding the relation between sarin incidents in Syria and the release of some rotten-smelling yellow smoke or vapor that they say is the sarin. It may or may not be. To get a clearer picture, I think, I'll need only:
- this post with a starter overview (see below),
- a data-dump post for case details by subject,
- some more analysis, and 
- later, an overview post and/or an article or report

Pure vs. Impure Sarin
Still some critics of opposition claims stumble over reported smells involved with alleged sarin attacks, against the supposed fact that the nerve agent sarin is an odorless and colorless chemical. I'm still not an expert, but from what I've learned so far:
High-quality military-grade sarin appears and behaves just like water, including by being colorless and odorless. You'd see this produced by the USA, USSR during the Cold War, in Israeli labs, etc. But some military forces (Iraq, perhaps) and non-state groups (like Aum Shinrikyo) make their sarin in sloppier manner with varying impurities.

The kind made in the former Syrian chemical weapons program... where does that fit? This seems to be an open question, but the implication from Western governments is they make it quite impure ...

<add 11/29>To explain: They seem to have clarified this only in 2017, as explained in pat at The Sarin Evidence. I'll explain below the details of and clues for impure sarin use in Syria. first...

Following the April KS attack, British and French officials stated the sarin used was a match to the sarin used by "Assad" in attacks in 2013, mainly meaning the 4-29-2013 incident in Saraqeb, detailed in a French intelligence report. But they would say it's the same in Ghouta and maybe all cases. Could be.

No one has ever explicitly stated that any of the sarin found in the field after attacks is a match for the materials and processes surrendered by Syria. It was suggested. Some "consistent" chemical signatures or impurities have been cited, but not an exact overall recipe match. And even that could, possibly, be copied exactly by the right mad scientists, with or without inside knowledge of the Syrian program. Intel agencies will have samples of what Syria had, so any of their scientists could just "make some of that."

But instead, they point to supposedly definitive matches between the sarin attacks. So if it turns out terrorists were behind all of those, the findings would be the same - each attack would carry the same signs it does, and that's the fingerprint of the Islamist scum behind it, not of the Syrian government. All the French spooks and their like really add is a repeated act of confidence in declaring each of those attacks as true-flag attacks by the government, instead of false-flag ones by the other side.

Or, when Syrian soldiers are the targets (often), they'd say "fine, that's another stupid accident or maybe a false-flag by Assad to make the rebels look bad... it's not a straight-forward attack by "rebels," who "lack the capability" to whatever whatever..."

As it happens, I suspect a general match between attacks as the French spooks and their shadowy ilk do. They also make the reasonable presumption that whoever has been behind most or all sarin attacks is the first suspect next time around. With a grain of salt, I take the same approach. <end 11/29>

Back to pure vs. impure
As I gather, impure sarin usually has a shorter shelf life, often an unpleasant smell, and may have varying colors. Wikipedia says “impure sarin can smell like mustard or burned rubber.” That's not a definitive source, but perhaps gives some idea... The main smell that emerges here, in the Syrian conflict, is a hard-to-place organic decay smell, perhaps like sulfur (arguably like mustard?) or "like burning nylon" as reported by gassed soldiers in February, 2015, confirmed by the OPCW to have been exposed to sarin. (Monitor post)  It also might be the agent described in one attack as smelling like "dead animals or corpses."

Now (side-note)... back in December, 2012, a supposed defector from the Syrian CW program told the Saudi media, as the Israeli media eagerly repeated (middle part):
(end side-note)

Also note impure sarin is or should be less deadly than the pure kind. Just by statistics, most materials are far less deadly than sarin, and this stuff is made of a reported 40% other stuff (French intelligence report, re: 4-29-2013 incident). Some cases of possible sarin use are dismissed by OPCW investigators as unclear based on low death toll/quick recovery, on the presence of a foul smell, or apparent lack of secondary contamination, all of which might fit just fine with the actual sarin in use - smellier and weaker in all regards than one might expect, especially if one is intent on blaming a state actor expected to field pure sarin...

Consider how the December 2015 OPCW report (PDF, ACLOS posting) dismisses one case of possible impure sarin use, against Syrian soldiers on August 29, 2014 in Jobar, Damascus. It seems there were actually two attacks the same day, with the earlier one smelling like chlorine (per the 2 survivors from the group of 15) and the later one with more survivors/witnesses described as having a foul odor, like "dead animals or corpses" Both caused similar symptoms, including loss of consciousness: in the first case, some were incapacitated (unconscious?), captured and executed, and most of the rest were killed or captured in the following clash. In the foul-smelling case, about 1/3 of the 33 affected soldiers passed out, though everyone escaped this time, assisting each other. The investigators decided the second incident was probably not sarin because...  "the smell of sarin is most frequently described as a sweet smell of apple or pear."

Is it? I have pure = no smell, impure = mustard, burned rubber, etc. That is vague, and probably quite incomplete. There's a person on a forum who says "Sarin gas smells like apple blossom or is odorless also have heard burnt plastic." The apple smell sounds like, perhaps, it's from almost pure sarin (apple blossom OR no odor seems the main smell range closer to purity), with burnt plastic being "also," maybe in a different context, from less pure material.
<add 12/6>A recent comment by Abe at Rick Sterling's  Consortium News article: "When pure, Sarin is odorless. When impure or contaminated, Sarin may have a slightly fruity odor, similar to a weak ethyl acetate solution." That agrees with what I'm picking up. <end 12/6>

Well, none of the attacks in Syria with confirmed sarin involvement has an apple/pear smell reported. Wherever there's sarin confirmed by the OPCW themselves (SEVEN of 8 cases, dated 3-19-13, 4-29-13, 8-21-13, 8-24-13, 8-25-13, 2-15-15, 4-4-17), it - or its release partner taken for it (see below) - smells foul, like organic rot, but strange, hard to place, maybe like sulfur, burning nylon (that's plastic), rotten eggs, etc. One exception is 3-30-17, with reports of no smell (add 11/29: these reports are not very trustworthy, seem very limited and close to militants, and report many unusual differences from the usual patterns).

Likely sarin attacks on 3-19-13, 12-11/12-16 and many against Syrian soldiers (see events list for all I've catalogued) have the same kind of strange, foul, rotten odor described. It never smells fresh and fruity as they claim. So their dismissal is ill-founded, and that attack that smelled like decaying flesh might have used the same thing that usually comes with sarin - when it's checked for (they don't check in most cases, like this 8-29 case).

<add 12/6>Abe's comment at Consortium News article: continued "Neither pure nor impure Sarin produce a “horrible, suffocating smell”. Sarin is not capable of “producing strong smells”. Impure Sarin does not smell “like rotten eggs”, “overpowering”, “like cooking gas”, or “like rotten food” as claimed by purported “eyewitnesses”." Well, not that he knows of so far, anyway. But it turns up reported as smelling strange and hard to place, maybe like like sulfur, like "burning nylon," "foul," maybe like dead bodies, all as described by soldiers and civilians in government-held areas. <end 12/6> 

The Sarin Attack Package: How Many Chemicals Involved?
So, there are these incidents where sarin turns up. And it does. The phrase "Sarin-like substance" as used in reports seems unnecessarily confusing; "sarin-like" is so narrow they mean sarin or maybe 2 or 3 obscure compounds (I've seen clorosarin and some vx derivative given as examples), not any other likely poison.

In these same incidents there tends to be some bomb or rocket or grenade/cinderblock impact, and there is some kind of chemical that reportedly or verifiably comes out of some device. And there are reported symptoms linked to that (which don't always reflect the textbook description of sarin poisoning, and which may not be from that vapor, and which may even be fictitious, depending). There are often people shown suffering breathing problems and other difficulties. In most cases, some dead people are shown, sometimes many of them, often appearing to be killed by something else. (see here for example)

So, the connection between each of these things may not be as clear as it seems. It's possible the open-release smoke could be the visual effect for their fake sarin attack (maybe toxic as well to some degree, to help it blend in), while victims to be shown might be gassed with, say, carbon monoxide in some basement, while the actual sarin is saved for spiking samples and token doses for the people they send for testing.

But in one case, at least as it seems, it must be all on one release of chemicals from a fired rocket. In Khan al-Assal, Aleppo, on March 19, 2013, one small chemical rocket was fired into a government-held area, believed to be by Jabhat Al-Nusra. A strange-smelling yellow-ish mist was released, causing irritation (skin itching), some sudden deaths, 20 killed all told, and tests and science showing it was impure "cottage industry" sarin, as everyone now agrees. Happening in a government-held area, none of that sort of trickery (by the opposition anyway) is possible. So as we wonder, let's note: this can all be done with one rocket and it can be just sarin with its own impurities, as it was in Khan al-Assal. It may or may not be that way across the board.

So to the extent it may be different, let's give a name to the foul irritant(s) linked to these incidents. How about the foul irritant(s)? (considering there may be more than one used). This may also be the sarin, as it apparently was in Khan al-Assal.

Key features:
- Color: Gas or vapor tends to appear yellow in color, usually pale and sometimes described as white almost that - but other colors including black, blue, and no color appear along with these other features (suggesting there's more than one - yellow seems most common)
- Sometimes associated: reported black fluid, or sometimes black splash seen - best with Khan Sheikhoun - densest patches seem to have a cyan blue hue. (see the post black sarin?)
- Smell: It smells foul, like organic rot, but strange, hard to place, maybe like sulfur, burning rubber or nylon, rotten eggs and garlic, or perhaps like decaying flesh
- Caustic: causes irritation, itching, eye and lung damage
- Sarin: people and the environment are said to get their  positive sarin findings directly from it. Maybe. There seems to be some connection...

Chlorine Confusion
Some incidents considered in this study I had first dismissed as chlorine attacks. At one point, I even did the same with Khan al-Assal, but that turned out to be sarin. These others are now under review, because some things that suggest chlorine also suggest this impure sarin and/or foul irritant(s). In fact, the similarities are strong enough it strikes me they could have been intentionally designed by some twisted genius as twin weapons to be easily confused, so some reports could be hyped up as sarin and others hyped down to chlorine (for example). In fact, this might have happened several times...

- Color: chlorine gas is basically yellow, slightly green tinted, and can appear quite pale or basically white when it's thin. A yellow gas (vapor, actually) is consistent with the sarin used in this war. If we ever got video of it, we might see a different hue, but verbally, they're hard to separate. Yellow gas" can go either way, depending.

- Caustic: both chlorine and this serrin cause irritation, eye and lung damage - chlorine does this by turning into corrosive acid on contact with water. I'm not sure how the impure sarin/irritant(s) work.

How to tell:
- Smell (but not foolproof): this is the key difference: chlorine smells like chlorine bleach, cleaning products, while the sarin stuff smells like awful, strange rot. Nonetheless, first reports from the Khan al-Assal attack specified a chlorine aroma, and that turned out to be sarin, with others recalling a sulfur-like stench. Those first reports could be confused from the sarin's similar color and strange smell, colored by prevalent worries at the time about all that chlorine Jabhat Al-Nusra had just seized nearby in December, 2012 (partly considered here). 

There was a December 22, 2012 chemical attack on Syrian soldiers in Jobar (ACLOS), using some yellow gas, initially seeming to be chlorine. Details (like smell and symptoms) are scarce, but the fact that 7 died, and all within an hour or less, would make it unusually deadly for chlorine. Instead, it could be the first appearance of the material(s) under study.  

As noted, two same-day attacks on soldiers 8-29-2014 - also in Jobar - had the same basic symptoms that are different from chlorine, possibly sarin, and involving widespread loss of consciousness. But they had different smells reported, and one was chlorine-like. Well, the same was reported in Khan al-Assal. Maybe those two soldiers formed a mistaken memory, like the more confident one thinking it was chlorine-like, and the other not remembering and following suit.

However, there are other attacks in 2014 where more soldiers report a chlorine type smell, but also report diminished consciousness or passing out, which doesn't happen from chlorine, usually. (see events list, 7-11-2014, 9-10-2014, 1-8-2015) So even if it really did smell like chlorine, it almost surely isn't, even if it's also not sarin. Yet more clues there could be three or more chemicals involved in the entire attack-and-samples package.

- Sarin-like effects: consistent symptoms (miosis, salivation/tears/nausea/vomiting - SLUDGE, paralysis, loss of consciousness, vision blurring/dimming, headache, fatigue,  high and/or quick death toll (as with 12-22-2012), secondary contamination, etc. These will help illustrate chlorine is unlikely and/or that sarin is likely.

With That,
Proceed to the events list, if you care to go over the stuff I'm going over (still in assembly - may be a near-complete list now). Some 29 incidents or clusters of incidents are assessed so far by the features under consideration (11 with verified or likely sarin involvement, 18 possible cases under consideration).

And FWIW other sarin-related posts here of possible interest (where I've covered this sporadically in the past):
- Black Sarin? (possible color impurities)
- What Happened on March 19, 2013? (Khan al-Assal)
- Sarin Faking in Syria: token dose storytellers running the show?
- The Sarin Evidence (Khan Sheikhoun - pure vs. impure, Syira's stocks vs. what's found)
The Ghouta Massacre's Sarin Myth, Brightly Lit (Ghouta - focus on possible lack of sarin release, or its link to the mass deaths)
- List of CW incidents (sarin, chlorine, others, except by ISIS) up to early 2017 (somewhat incomplete and with some errors): Red Flags Across the Red Line (PDF)


  1. To be considered:
    Even the ISIS mustard gas attacks are described in a similar way.

    images of black oily agent

    "It smelt like garlic. ..."
    "I thought it was chlorine at the beginning..."

    "Kurdish forces reported "considerable yellow smoke" at the scene of a similar attack on August 31 in the same area in which one fighter was treated for gas inhalation."

    "As the couple were enveloped by dust and foul-smelling smoke..."

    1. That's interesting and possibly relevant.

      Black stuff: looks similar, but maybe different. Might check for inherent hue. No splash here, just seems to leak. Not sure how black stuff should play into mustard gas attacks.

      Garlic is the smell of mustard gas, and even it could maybe smell like chlorine to someone expecting that, etc. But that could cross over somewhat and even be conflated ... somewhat.

      And I guess "foul" is a pretty vague word.

      color is also a possible match, depending. Apparently yellow is easy to do and easy to just appear. Half the shit it could be in any of these cases is probably yellow. (so what on earth is that blue stuff? That's puzzling - 8-22-2013)

      Even as for being an irritant, it sort of matches - but mustard gas should cause severe blister-type burns in distinct spots over general irritation, I think. Whichever fits better ... I have one photo of a baby who died, somewhere ... it's at the VDC ... claims are common enough I've presumed that was all just sulfur mustard, but might be worth review.


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