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NYT Backs Off Its Syria-Sarin Analysis

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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Source: Consortium News

The New York Times has, kind of, admitted that it messed up its big front-page story that used a "vector analysis" to pin the blame for the Aug. 21 Sarin attack on the Syrian-government, an assertion that was treated by Official Washington as the slam-dunk proof that President Bashar al-Assad gassed his own people.

But you'd be forgiven if you missed the Times' embarrassing confession, since it was buried on page 8, below the fold, 18 paragraphs into a story under the not-so-eye-catching title, "New Study Refines View Of Sarin Attack in Syria."

There were other problems with the "vector analysis" that was pushed by the Times and Human Rights Watch, which has long wanted the U.S. military to intervene in the Syrian civil war against the Syrian government. But this Times article at least acknowledges what has been widely reported on the Internet, including at Consortiumnews.com, that the Times' "vector analysis" -- showing the reverse flight paths of two missiles intersecting at a Syrian military base -- has collapsed, in part, because the range of the rockets was much too limited.

The analytical flaws included the fact that one of the two missiles -- the one landing in Moadamiya, south of Damascus -- had clipped a building during its descent making a precise calculation of its flight path impossible, plus the discovery that the Moadamiya missile contained no Sarin, making its use in the vectoring of two Sarin-laden rockets nonsensical.

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But the Times' analysis ultimately fell apart amid a consensus among missile experts that the rockets would have had a maximum range of only around three kilometers when the supposed launch site is about 9.5 kilometers from the impact zones in Moadamiya and Zamalka/Ein Tarma, east of Damascus.

The Times' front-page "vectoring" article of Sept. 17 had declared: "One annex to the report [by UN inspectors] identified azimuths, or angular measurements, from where rockets had struck, back to their points of origin. When plotted and marked independently on maps by analysts from Human Rights Watch and by The New York Times, the United Nations data from two widely scattered impact sites pointed directly to a Syrian military complex."

An accompanying map on the Times' front page revealed the flight-path lines intersecting at an elite Syrian military unit, the 104th Brigade of the Republican Guard, based northwest of Damascus, near the Presidential Palace. This "evidence" was then cited by U.S. politicians and pundits as the in-your-face proof of the Syrian government's guilt.

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The Times/HRW analysis was especially important because the Obama administration, in making its case against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, had refused to release any evidence that could be independently evaluated. So, the "vector analysis" was almost the only visible nail in Assad's coffin of guilt.

Short-Range Rockets

In Sunday's article -- the one below the fold on page 8 -- the Times reported that a new analysis by two military experts concluded that the Aug. 21 rockets had a range of about three kilometers, or less than one-third the distance needed to intersect at the Syrian military base northwest of Damascus.

The report's authors were Theodore A. Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Richard M. Lloyd, an analyst at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories.

The Times noted that "the authors said that their findings could help pinpoint accountability for the most lethal chemical warfare attack in decades, but that they also raised questions about the American government's claims about the locations of launching points, and the technical intelligence behind them. ... The analysis could also lead to calls for more transparency from the White House, as Dr. Postol said it undermined the Obama administration's assertions about the rockets' launch points."

Finally, in the article's 18th paragraph, the Times acknowledged its own role in misleading the public, noting that the rockets' estimated maximum range of three kilometers "would be less than the ranges of more than nine kilometers calculated separately by The New York Times and Human Rights Watch in mid-September. ... Those estimates had been based in part on connecting reported compass headings for two rockets cited in the United Nations' initial report on the attacks."

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In other words, the much-ballyhooed "vector analysis" had collapsed under scrutiny, knocking the legs out from under Official Washington's certainty that the Syrian government carried out the Aug. 21 attack which may have killed several hundred civilians including many children.

The Times article on Sunday was authored by C.J. Chivers, who along with Rick Gladstone, was a principal writer on the now-discredited Sept. 17 article.

The erosion of that "vector analysis" article has been underway for several months -- through reporting at Web sites such as WhoGhouta and Consortiumnews.com -- but few Americans knew about these challenges to the Official Story because the mainstream U.S. news media had essentially blacked them out.

When renowned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh composed a major article citing skepticism within the U.S. intelligence community regarding the Syrian government's guilt, he had to go to the London Review of Books to get the story published. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Deceiving the US Public on Syria."]

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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