Several other commentators, including former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, openly discussed whether the attack was in fact a "false flag" operation intended to drag the United States into the conflict.
Wilkerson speculated on Current TV that it was an "Israeli false flag operation" claiming that the evidence tying the attack to the Syrian regime was "really flaky." Congressman Paul said on Fox News, "I think it's a false flag," noting that it could have been perpetrated by al-Qaeda.
Moscow argued that the attack was a provocation by the Syrian anti-government rebels, with an official Russian analysis concluding that "home-made" sarin had been used in Syria. The sarin was likely delivered by a crudely made missile, most likely belonging to the rebels.
This version of events was also backed up by German intelligence, which concluded based on intercepted phone calls that Assad did not personally order the chemical weapons attack, that he was not involved either in the August attack or in other instances when government forces had allegedly used chemical weapons.
Western media and leading human organizations, however, rallied to the cause of U.S. military intervention, producing spurious investigative reports that purportedly proved the claim that Assad's forces had carried out the attack.
A report published by Human Rights Watch based primarily on interviews with survivors, video footage and GPS data concluded that the "evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government forces were responsible for chemical weapons attacks on two Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013."
HRW's 22-page report purportedly retraced the flight paths of two recovered rockets to a Syrian military base. This analysis received front-page coverage in the New York Times, and was touted as incontrovertible evidence of Assad's guilt, providing the U.S. with the pretext it needed to intervene.
But questions soon arose regarding this analysis, including the fact that leading scientists concluded that one of the recovered devices had a maximum range of about 2 to 3 kilometers, and thus could not have originated from the area HRW claimed. Further, U.S. intelligence experts, such as former CIA analyst Larry Johnson, noted that the recovered rockets were not part of the Syrian military's arsenal.
The New York Times then grudgingly backed off its earlier embrace of the HRW analysis.
Now, following a new report by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, we have even stronger evidence that the entire U.S. case for war last summer was likely based on false pretenses. Citing U.S. and UK government sources, Hersh claims that British intelligence findings were sent to the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff in early September intended to send the Americans a message that "We're being set up," in order to drag the West into the conflict in Syria.
According to Hersh, "This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: 'It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.')" Hersh reported that in fact, the sarin that was recovered from Ghouta was not the kind of sarin that exists in the Syrian arsenal, speculating instead that it was obtained from Turkey and carried out by the Syrian rebel group al-Nusra.
Hersh reported that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued a classified memorandum two months before the Aug. 21 attack which stated that al-Nusra was operating a sarin production cell. According to the DIA, it was "the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida's pre-9/11 effort." Further, "Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria."
The new revelations, laid out by Hersh in a 5,700-word article in the London Review of Books, provide fairly solid substantiation for the earlier skepticism shown by governments such as Russia. All of this leads to a number of important lessons that are especially important to consider as we lurch forward into another crisis, this time about a thousand miles northwest of Syria, in Ukraine.
Lesson number one is that Russia is sometimes right. Despite the fact that President Putin has been thoroughly vilified in the U.S. political establishment and western media, it appears that at least when it came to the sarin attack in Syria, he may in fact have been on to something when claimed that the gas "was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces."
If he was right about that, who knows, perhaps he is also right when he claims that the people who recently took power in Kiev are "nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites" who "resorted to terror, murder and riots" in order "to seize power and would stop short of nothing" in order to do so.
Another lesson is that leading human rights organizations are sometimes not to be trusted. Although groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch often produce high-quality independent reporting on important issues, including hard-hitting analyses of U.S. human rights violations, too often their reporting is colored by an agenda that advocates military intervention based on the relatively new international doctrine of "responsibility to protect," or R2P.