The people of the United States were subject to a deliberate deception by the Obama administration concerning the use of chemical weapons in Damascus, Syria on August 21 according to leading investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh. No stranger to big stories, Hersh has a successful track record of books and articles based on sources deep in the United States intelligence community.
The article, Whose Sarin, was published in the London Review of Books on Sunday. If we believe Hersh and his sources, the pattern of deliberate lies is so pervasive, there is no reason to believe much of what we hear from the Obama administration without independent verification.
The Core Case for Deception
Hersh begins by stating that we didn't get the whole story from the administration when the president and Secretary of State John Kerry blamed the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria for the chemical weapons attacks. The administration "omitted important intelligence" and "failed to acknowledge" that the Syrian rebels, the Al-Qaeda aligned Al Nusra group in particular, had chemical weapons capabilities.
Of all the points Hersh makes, the most devastating is in the opening of the article. He reports:
(image by Michael Collins)
"In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order -- a planning document that precedes a ground invasion. " Seymour Hersh, London Review of Books, Dec 8 (Author's emphasis. This link is for all references to Hersh in this article)
Hersh reports that the Operations Order contained information that Al Nusra had the ability to produce Sarin gas.
Why weren't questions raised about Al Nusra culpability after the August incident? Hersh doesn't answer it directly, but there's an obvious reason. Blaming the chemical attack on Syrian civilians provided the rationale for military action against Syria. That is the sole driving force behind the pattern of deception. More on that rationale later.
One intelligence official interviewed called the administration's evidence a "ruse" while another said it "reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident."
How the administration knew (or didn't know) Assad did it
Hersh makes the case for deception logically by reviewing sources of intelligence that could have tipped off the administration. The first was electronic listening in the office of Syria's President al-Assad. The Syrian government apparently took sufficient countermeasures to stop this access, as Hersh reports.
A secret sensor system for chemical weapons use in Syria provided the second option to verify who was responsible for the attack. Hersh's sources told him that; " The sensors detected no movement in the months and days before 21 August."
Another former intelligence official summed up the pattern of deception: "What happened here is that the NSA intelligence weenies started with an event -- the use of Sarin -- and reached to find chatter that might relate."
The mainstream media bought the Assad's guilty story without any criticism, for the most part. The notable exception was McClatchy News, Washington Bureau. Hersh notes that a key McClatchy journalist, Jonathan Landay, was excluded from initial briefings on the chemical attack incident. Nevertheless, McClatchy investigated the White House claims with a critical eye: To some, US case for Syrian gas attack, strike has too many holes, Sep 2 The rest of the press followed the lead of the New York Times.