Reprinted from Consortium News
On Sunday evening, CBS's "60 Minutes" presented what was pitched as a thorough examination of the infamous sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21, 2013, with anchor Scott Pelley asserting that "none of what we found will be omitted here." But the segment -- while filled with emotional scenes of dead and dying Syrians -- made little effort to determine who was responsible.
Pelley's team stuck to the conventional wisdom from the rush-to-judgment "white paper" that the White House issued on Aug. 30, 2013, just nine days after the incident, blaming the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. But Pelley ignored contrary evidence that has emerged in the 20 months since the attack, including what I've been told are dissenting views among U.S. intelligence analysts.
Though Pelley starts the segment by interviewing a Syrian who claimed he witnessed a sarin attack in Moadamiya, a suburb south of Damascus, Pelley leaves out the fact that Moadimiya was the first area examined by the UN inspectors and that their field tests found no evidence of sarin. Nor does Pelley note that UN laboratories also found no sarin or other chemical agents on the one missile that the inspectors recovered from Moadamiya.
The two labs did have a dispute over whether trace elements of some chemicals found in Moadamiya might have been degraded sarin. But those disputed positives made no sense because when the UN inspectors went to the eastern suburb of Zamalka two and three days later, their field equipment immediately registered positive for sarin and the two labs confirmed the presence of actual sarin.
So, if the sarin had not degraded in Zamalka, why would it have degraded sooner in Moadamiya? The logical explanation is that there was no sarin associated with the Moadamiya rocket but the UN laboratories were under intense pressure from the United States to come up with something incriminating that would bolster the initial U.S. rush to judgment.
The absence of actual sarin from the rocket that struck Moadamiya also raises questions about the credibility of Pelley's first witness. Or possibly a conventional rocket assault on the area ruptured some kind of chemical containers that led panicked victims to believe they too were under a chemical attack.
That seemed to be a working hypothesis among some U.S. intelligence analysts even as early as the Aug. 30, 2013 "white paper," which was called a U.S. "Government Assessment," an unusual document that seemed to ape the form of a "National Intelligence Estimate," which would reflect the consensus view of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and include analytical dissents.
By going with this new creation -- a "Government Assessment," which was released by the White House press office, not the Office of Director of National Intelligence -- the State Department, which was then itching for war with Syria, got to exclude any dissents to the hasty conclusions. But the intelligence analysts managed to embed one dissent as a cutline to a map which was included with the "white paper."
The cutline read: "Reports of chemical attacks originating from some locations may reflect the movement of patients exposed in one neighborhood to field hospitals and medical facilities in the surrounding area. They may also reflect confusion and panic triggered by the ongoing artillery and rocket barrage, and reports of chemical use in other neighborhoods."
In other words, some U.S. intelligence analysts were already questioning the assumption of a widespread chemical rocket assault on the Damascus suburbs -- and the strongest argument for the State Department's finger-pointing at Assad's military was the supposedly large number of rockets carrying sarin.
Possible "False Flag"
However, if there had been only one sarin-laden rocket, i.e., the one that landed in Zamalka, then the suspicion could shift to a provocation -- or "false-flag" attack -- carried out by Islamic extremists with the goal of tricking the U.S. military into destroying Assad's army and essentially opening the gates of Damascus to a victory by Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.
That was what investigative journalist Seymour Hersh concluded in ground-breaking articles describing the alleged role of Turkish intelligence in assisting these Islamic extremists in securing the necessary materials and expertise to produce a crude form of sarin.
In December 2013, Hersh reported that he found a deep schism within the U.S. intelligence community over how the case was sold to pin the blame on Assad. Hersh wrote that he encountered "intense concern, and on occasion anger" when he interviewed American intelligence and military experts "over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence."
According to Hersh, "One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration's assurances of Assad's responsibility a 'ruse.' The attack 'was not the result of the current regime', he wrote.