But potentially more significant than such troubling inconsistencies are the conclusions of Gareth Porter's separate investigation into Israel's bombing of the non-existent Syrian nuclear reactor. That gets to the heart of where Monbiot and many others have gone badly wrong in their certainty about events in Syria.
Monbiot has been only too willing to promote as indisputable fact claims made both by highly compromised and unreliable western sources and by supposedly reputable and independent organizations, such as international human rights groups and UN agencies. He, like many others, assumes that the latter can always be relied upon to stand apart from western interests and can therefore be implicitly trusted.
That indicates an extreme naivety or possibly the lack of any experience covering on the ground highly charged conflicts in which western interests are paramount.
I have been based in Israel for nearly two decades and have on several occasions taken to task Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the world's most esteemed human rights organizations. I have shown that assessments it has made were patently not rooted in evidence or even credible interpretations of international law but in geopolitical considerations. That was especially true in the case of the month-long fighting between Israel and Hizbullah in 2006. (See here and here.) My concerns about HRW's work, I later learned from insiders, were shared in its New York head office, but were silenced by the organization's most senior staff.
Nuclear plant deception
But Porter helps shine a light on how even the most reputable international agencies can end up similarly following a script written in Washington and one that rides roughshod over evidence, especially when the interests of the world's only superpower are at stake. In this case, the deceptions were perpetuated by one of the world's leading scientific organizations: the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors states' nuclear activities.
Porter reveals that Yousry Abushady, the IAEA's foremost expert on North Korean nuclear reactors, was able immediately to discount the aerial photographic evidence that the building Israel bombed in 2007 was a nuclear reactor. (Most likely it was a disused missile storage depot.)
The Syrian "nuclear plant," he noted, could not have been built using North Korean know-how, as was claimed by the US. It lacked all the main features of a North Korean gas-cooled reactor. The photos produced by the Israelis showed a building that, among other things, covered too small an area and was not anywhere near high enough, it had none of the necessary supporting structures, and there was no cooling tower.
Abushady's assessment was buried by the IAEA, which preferred to let the CIA and the Israelis promote their narrative unchallenged.
Atomic agency's silence
This was not a one-off failure. In summer 2008, the IAEA visited the area to collect samples. Had the site been a nuclear plant, they could have expected to find nuclear-grade graphite particles everywhere. They found none.
Nonetheless, the IAEA again perpetrated a deception to try to prop up the fictitious US-Israeli narrative.
As was routine, they sent the samples to a variety of laboratories for analysis. None found evidence of any nuclear contamination -- apart from one. It identified particles of man-made uranium. The IAEA issued a report giving prominence to this anomalous sample, even though in doing so it violated its own protocols, reports Parry. It could draw such a conclusion only if the results of all the samples matched.
In fact, as one of the three IAEA inspectors who had been present at the site later reported, the sample of uranium did not come from the plant itself, which was clean, but from a changing room nearby. A former IAEA senior inspector, Robert Kelley, told Parry that a "very likely explanation" was that the uranium particles derived from "cross contamination" from clothing worn by the inspectors. This is a problem that had been previously noted by the IAEA in other contexts.
Meanwhile, the IAEA remained silent about its failure to find nuclear-grade graphite in a further nine reports over two years. It referred to this critical issue for the first time in 2011.