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Seymour Hersh: Obama "Cherry-Picked" Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike

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AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, your response to what Jay Carney said at the end of August?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, my mother would have said that he should wash his mouth out with soap.


SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, because -- look, he's not lying; he's being told what to say, and he does it. He's being told. But four days earlier, the State Department spokesman said -- a woman spokesperson said for the State Department, "We're looking at" -- on the 23rd, "We have no information about what's going on. We're looking at it."

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The fact is that the United States has a very, very sophisticated sensor system that we've put up, just as we also had in Iran, which helped us to conclude -- I wrote about this for years at The New Yorker -- that we pretty much were pretty sure there was no secret underground facility in Iran, even though the press still talks about that possibility. We looked at it hard. We have sensors that were very, very good. America has great technical capability. And the same thing happened inside Syria. We have sensors. And the problem with talking about it is, once -- I had no choice, because you have to mention it, but people start asking questions about what do they look like, where are they, and that's too bad, because they're very useful. We have passive sensors that not only tell us when the Syrian -- at every Syrian depot, chemical warfare depot -- and sarin isn't stored. Nobody keeps sarin. It's a very volatile, acidic poison that degrades quickly. You keep the chemicals that make sarin. They're what are called precursors. There's two chemicals, when mixed, poof, alacadabra, you have sarin. So, the Syrian arsenal, the reason you can get rid of it pretty easily, as the report heard they're doing it, is because there's two inert substances that could be disposed independently. One is even an alcohol. You could just flush it. But the point being that the sensors monitor not only when the -- when sarin or the chemicals are moved; more importantly, they're capable of monitoring when the Syrian army begins to mix the stuff. And once they mix the stuff, it's -- as I wrote, it's a use-it-or-lose-it process. You have to use it quickly, because it degrades quickly. It doesn't stay long in the shells; it erodes the shells. And not only that, the Israelis are right there with us on this sensor system. And so, it's like a fire alarm, early warning system. You know, it's -- an alarm goes off, and the Israelis know about it, as we know about it, right away. And we are not going to let the Syrian military or army get -- take -- create weapons, pour this stuff into warheads, move it and be ready to fire. That's not going to happen. The Israelis will attack before that happens.

So, this system said nada, nothing, on the 21st, the 22nd. I write about the fact there's internal reports. It wasn't until the 23rd, when the American internal -- the secret government and, you know, the secret intelligence community began writing internal reports for the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, saying that we've got a problem here in Syria. For days, we didn't know, because -- and what does that mean? What that means is that if -- if chemical warfare was used on the 21st, it didn't come from that arsenal, because there was no warning of any mixing. That doesn't mean something else could have happened, that some renegade group got some and did something. But the main warning system we had was quiet. That's a clue. That's a big clue that at least you should consider something other than the Syrian army when you begin an investigation. And so, what the press secretary said is silly. It's just wrong. I don't blame him. He happens to be a very nice guy, Jay Carney. He's just doing what he's told.

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, we're going to break and then come back to this discussion and talk about, well, what your reputation is based on, the people, whether you name them or not, in your article, the high-level intelligence officials and analysts who were raising very serious questions behind the scenes, why weren't their warnings being heeded. We're talking to Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His latest piece headlined "Whose Sarin?" is appearing in the London Review of Books. Stay with us.

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AMY GOODMAN: In our next segment, we're going to be speaking with the Reverend Jesse Jackson about Nelson Mandela, the myth and the facts, but first we continue with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, whose piece, "Whose Sarin?" has just come out in the London Review of Books. We'll also find out why it didn't come out in his traditional place of publication, The New Yorker, also The Washington Post.

But first, in a written statement to BuzzFeed, Shawn Turner, spokesman for the director of national intelligence, denied the claims in Seymour Hersh's article. He wrote, quote, "We were clear with The Washington Post and Mr. Hersh that the intelligence gathered about the 21 August chemical weapons attack indicated [that] the Assad regime and only the Assad regime could have been responsible. Any suggestion that there was an effort to suppress intelligence about a nonexistent alternative explanation is simply false." Turner also said no American intelligence agency, quote, "assesses that the al-Nusra Front has succeeded in developing a capacity to manufacture sarin." If you would respond, Seymour Hersh?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, what's to say? I mean, he said what he said, and I write what I did. You know, when I did -- you mentioned Abu Ghraib. The senior spokesman for the Pentagon at the time, when I first began to write about Abu Ghraib, said that -- literally -- he literally said that, "Oh, Hersh is just throwing crap against this wall to see what sticks." I mean, a spokesman's job is to carry out what the administration wants him to say.

The fact is that I think the administration should just take the high road here and put out what it knows. I have every reason to believe they know more than they've indicated about who did what and what the sarin looked like. And, you know, as I wrote in the article, here you have a president of the United States that one day is telling us he's going to bomb Syria, and the next day he suddenly cuts a deal. He's suddenly a great constitutionalist, and he's now going to go to the Congress, because the War Powers Act, that every president has ignored, and this president ignored when he attacked Libya, suddenly is very paramount to him. So he's going to go -- he's not going to bomb, despite he was -- despite saying, with great braggadocio, how tough he's going to be. They crossed the red line, which was a very big phrase for him, and he's going to show that nobody can cross a red line and get away with it. And then, not only -- then he decides overnight to go to Congress, and then he accepts a very rational deal -- and I'm glad he did -- that the Russians put forward, with the Syrians, to dispose of the chemical arsenal or the chemicals that are in Syria.

Why? Why the turnaround? Is it because they had no information that anybody else had any -- there's no other alternative? I mean, just what the -- just what the -- the statement you read by the press secretary -- or the spokesman for the Office of National Intelligence, would raise just profound questions. If you have no information that contradicts the notion that Bashar did it, why are you walking away? And so, you know, there's more to this story, I assure you. I don't have it all. I've heard things, and --

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AMY GOODMAN: So, who were the intelligence officials, the analysts, who you talked to, whether you name them or not?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, you've got to be --

AMY GOODMAN: But tell us what they said to you and which agencies they were with.

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