This failure to find Sarin anywhere in Moadamiyah, a suburb south of Damascus, undercuts analyses by Human Rights Watch and the New York Times that relied on a vectoring of the two attack sites -- the other in Zamalka/Ein Tarma to the east where Sarin was detected -- to conclude that an elite unit of the Syrian military must have been responsible for the attacks that brought the United States close to war in Syria.
There were already problems with the analyses by HRW, which has long pushed for a U.S. military intervention in Syria, and the New York Times because of doubts about the flight paths of the missiles and their maximum range. UN inspectors only had a rough idea of the trajectories because the projectiles may have deflected off buildings as they crash-landed.
Also, if the two missiles had been fired from the elite military base of the 104th Brigade of the Republican Guard northwest of Damascus, they would have had to fly about nine kilometers though independent experts have suggested that the improvised missiles probably could go no more than three kilometers.
Plus, the Moadamiyah missile -- with its supposedly lethal payload of Sarin -- would have had to pass over the presidential palace and other sensitive government sites, a highly risky undertaking if the alleged vectoring were correct.
But the revised UN analysis, attached to a new UN report on several other alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria, punched a new hole in the notion that the Republican Guard fired a Sarin-laden missile into Moadamiyah. The UN inspectors found no chemical weapons agents on the remnants of the crudely made missile that landed in Moadamiyah (or for that matter no Sarin anywhere else in the area).
In the earlier UN report about the Aug. 21 incident, one of two UN labs had detected on a metal fragment what the lab thought was a chemical residue that can be left behind by degraded Sarin. But the new analysis withdraws that finding, an indication of how fragile the chemistry can be in getting false positives on derivative chemical residue.
The two UN laboratories are now in agreement that there was neither Sarin nor possible derivatives of Sarin on the metal fragments from the Moadamiyah missile. Yet, by comparison, clear evidence of Sarin was found at the Zamalka site which was examined two or three days later, a time sequence that further undercuts the possibility that Sarin struck Moadamiyah (and then somehow disappeared) while it remained prevalent at Zamalka.
In other words, if the only Sarin attack on Aug. 21 was in the Zamalka area, the certainty that the Syrian military carried out the assault has been seriously undermined. The vectoring cited by the New York Times and Human Rights Watch would become meaningless since there would be only one flight path of a Sarin-bearing missile, the one landing in Zamalka.
Despite these doubts -- and the refusal of the Obama administration to release any verifiable evidence supporting its contention that the Syrian government was responsible -- the New York Times continued on Friday to cite the vectoring from the preliminary UN report to blame President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Though the UN inspectors pointed no fingers at who was responsible for the Aug. 21 incident in either report, the Times wrote: "In the preliminary report on the Aug. 21 attack, findings implicated Mr. Assad's military by documenting the shape of the munitions and the precise direction from which two had been fired."
The Times ignored the absence of Sarin in the samples from Moadamiyah as well as the fact that the UN inspectors noted in the first report that evidence at the sites had been "moved" or "possibly manipulated."
Regarding Moadamiyah, the UN reported noted, "Fragments [of rockets] and other possible evidence have clearly been handled/moved prior to the arrival of the investigative team."
In the Zamalka/Ein Tarma neighborhood, where a crudely made missile apparently did deliver poison gas, the inspectors stated that "the locations have been well traveled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the Mission. ... During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated."
The inspectors also said their visits were in the "custody" of rebel forces who guided them to the sites and to alleged witnesses.
Other new problems have cropped up with Official Washington's conventional wisdom that the Assad regime launched the Aug. 21 attack.