Critique of ‘False and Misleading’ White House
Claims About Syria’s Use of Lethal Gas
By Theodore A. Postol
Theodore A. Postol is professor emeritus
of science, technology and national
security policy at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and a specialist
in weapons issue.
17, 2017 "Information
This is my third
report assessing the White House intelligence
Report (WHR) of April 11. My
was titled “A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the
White House Intelligence Report Issued on April
11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan
Shaykhun, Syria,” and my
was an addendum to the first report.
This report provides unambiguous evidence that
White House Intelligence Report
contains false and misleading claims that could
not possibly have been accepted in any
professional review by impartial intelligence
experts. The WHR was produced by the National
Security Council under the oversight of national
security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
evidence presented herein is from two selected
videos that are part of a larger cache of videos
that are available on YouTube. These videos were
uploaded to YouTube by the
between April 5 and April 7. Analysis of the
videos shows that all the scenes taken at the
site the WHR claims was the location of a sarin
release indicate significant tampering with the
site. Since these videos were available roughly
one week before the WHR was issued April 11,
this indicates that the office of the WHR made
no attempt to utilize the professional
intelligence community to obtain accurate data
in support of the findings in the report.
evidence shows workers at the site roughly 30
hours after the alleged attack who were wearing
clothing with the logo “Idlib Health
Directorate.” These individuals were
photographed putting dead birds from a birdcage
into plastic bags. The implication of these
actions was that the birds had died after being
placed in the alleged sarin crater. However, the
video also shows the same workers inside and
around the same crater with no protection of any
kind against sarin poisoning.
individuals were wearing honeycomb facemasks and
medical exam gloves. They were otherwise dressed
in normal streetwear and had no protective
clothing of any kind.
honeycomb facemasks would provide absolutely no
protection against either sarin vapors or sarin
aerosols. The masks are only designed to filter
small particles from the air. If sarin vapor was
present, it would be inhaled without attenuation
by these individuals. If sarin was present in an
aerosol form, the aerosol would have condensed
into the pores in the masks and evaporated into
a highly lethal gas as the individuals inhaled
through the masks. It is difficult to believe
that health workers, if they were health
workers, would be so ignorant of these basic
addition, other people dressed as health workers
were standing around the crater without any
protection at all.
noted in my earlier reports, the assumption in
the WHR that the site of the alleged sarin
release had not been tampered with was
totally unjustified, and no competent
intelligence analyst would have agreed that this
assumption was valid. The implication of this
observation is clear—the WHR was not reviewed
and released by any competent intelligence
experts unless they were motivated by factors
other than concerns about the accuracy of the
also makes claims about “communications
intercepts” that supposedly provide high
confidence that the Syrian government was the
source of the alleged attack. There is no reason
to believe that the veracity of this claim is
any different from the now-verified-false claim
that there was unambiguous evidence of a sarin
release at the cited crater.
relevant quotes [emphasis added] from the WHR
are collected below for purposes of reference:
United States is confident that the Syrian
regime conducted a chemical weapons attack,
using the nerve agent sarin, against its own
people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in
southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.
have confidence in our assessment because
we have signals intelligence and
geospatial intelligence, laboratory analysis
of physiological samples collected from
multiple victims, as well as a significant
body of credible open source reporting.
cannot publicly release all available
intelligence on this attack due to the
need to protect sources and methods,
but the following includes an unclassified
summary of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s
analysis of this attack.
12:15 PM [April 4, 2017] local time,
broadcasted local videos included
images of dead children of varying ages.
at 1:10 PM [April 4, 2017] local … follow-on
videos showing the bombing of a nearby
Commercial satellite imagery from April 6
showed impact craters around the
hospital that are consistent with open
source reports of a conventional attack on
the hospital after the chemical attack.
Moscow has since claimed that the release of
chemicals was caused by a regime airstrike
on a terrorist ammunition depot in the
eastern suburbs of Khan Shaykhun.
An open source video also
shows where we believe the chemical munition
landed—not on a
facility filled with weapons, but in the
middle of a street in the northern section
of Khan Shaykhun. Commercial satellite
imagery of that site from April 6,
after the allegation, shows a crater in the
road that corresponds to the open source
Observed munition remnants at the crater and
staining around the impact point are
consistent with a munition that functioned,
but structures nearest to the impact crater
did not sustain damage that would be
expected from a conventional high-explosive
payload. Instead, the damage is more
consistent with a chemical munition.
Russia’s allegations fit with a pattern of
deflecting blame from the regime and
attempting to undermine the credibility of
Summary and Conclusions
now clear from video evidence that the WHR
report was fabricated without input from the
professional intelligence community.
press reported April 4 that a nerve agent attack
had occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, during the
early morning hours locally on that day. On
April 7, the United States carried out a cruise
missile attack on Syria ordered by President
Trump. It now appears that the president ordered
this cruise missile attack without any valid
intelligence to support it.
order to cover up the lack of intelligence to
support the president’s action, the National
Security Council produced a fraudulent
intelligence report on April 11, four days
later. The individual responsible for this
report was Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national
security adviser. The McMaster report is
completely undermined by a significant body of
video evidence taken after the alleged sarin
attack and before the U.S. cruise missile
attack, which unambiguously shows the claims in
the WHR could not possibly be true. This cannot
be explained as a simple error.
National Security Council Intelligence Report
clearly refers to evidence that it claims was
obtained from commercial and open sources
shortly after the alleged nerve agent attack (on
April 5 and April 6). If such a collection of
commercial evidence was done, it would have
surely uncovered the videos contained herein.
unambiguously indicates a dedicated attempt to
manufacture a false claim that intelligence
actually supported the president’s decision to
attack Syria, and of far more importance, to
accuse Russia of being either complicit or a
participant in an alleged atrocity.
attack on the Syrian government threatened to
undermine the relationship between Russia and
the United States. Cooperation between Russia
and the United States is critical to the defeat
of Islamic State. In addition, the false
accusation that Russia knowingly engaged in an
atrocity raises the most serious questions about
a willful attempt to do damage to relations with
Russia for domestic political purposes.
repeat here a quote from the WHR:
open source video also shows where we
believe the chemical munition landed—not on
a facility filled with weapons, but in the
middle of a street in the northern section
of Khan Shaykhun [emphasis added].
Commercial satellite imagery of that site
from April 6, after the allegation, shows a
crater in the road that corresponds to the
open source video.
data provided in these videos make it clear that
the WHR made no good-faith attempt to collect
data that could have supported its “confident
assessment” that the Syrian government executed
a sarin attack as indicated by the location and
characteristics of the crater.
very disturbing event is not a unique situation.
President George W. Bush argued that he was
misinformed about unambiguous evidence that Iraq
was hiding a substantial store of weapons of
mass destruction. This false intelligence led to
a U.S. attack on Iraq that started a process
that ultimately led to the political
disintegration in the Middle East, which through
a series of unpredicted events then led to the
rise of the Islamic State.
30, 2013, the White House produced a similarly
false report about the nerve agent attack on
Aug. 21, 2013, in Damascus. This report also
contained numerous intelligence claims that
could not be true. An interview with President
Barack Obama published in The Atlantic in April
2016 indicates that Obama was initially told
that there was solid intelligence that the
Syrian government was responsible for the nerve
agent attack of Aug. 21, 2013, in Ghouta, Syria.
Obama reported that he was later told that the
intelligence was not solid by the then-director
of national intelligence, James Clapper.
serious questions are raised about the abuse of
intelligence findings by the incident in 2013.
Questions that have not been answered about that
incident is how the White House produced a false
intelligence report with false claims that could
obviously be identified by experts outside the
White House and without access to classified
information. There also needs to be an
explanation of why this 2013 false report was
not corrected. Secretary of State John Kerry
emphatically testified before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee repeating information in
this so-called unequivocating report.
30, 2013, Kerry made the following statement
from the Treaty Room in the State Department:
Our intelligence community
has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed
information regarding this attack
[emphasis added], and I will tell you it has
done so more than mindful of the Iraq
experience. We will not repeat that moment.
Accordingly, we have taken unprecedented
steps to declassify and make facts available
to people who can judge for themselves.
now obvious that this incident produced by the
WHR, while just as serious in terms of the
dangers it created for U.S. security, was a
clumsy and outright fabrication of a report that
was certainly not supported by the intelligence
case, the president, supported by his staff,
made a decision to launch 59 cruise missiles at
a Syrian airbase. This action was accompanied by
serious risks of creating a confrontation with
Russia, and also undermining cooperative efforts
to win the war against the Islamic State.
therefore conclude that there needs to be a
comprehensive investigation of these events that
have either misled people in the White House, or
worse yet, been perpetrated by people to protect
themselves from domestic political criticisms
for uninformed and ill-considered actions.
the video evidence that reveals the White House
Intelligence Report issued on April 11 contains
demonstrably false claims about a sarin
dispersal crater allegedly created in the April
4 attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.
Video 1: Dead Birds
Idlib Health Directorate Tampering with Alleged
Sarin Dispersal Site
Theodore A. Postol is professor emeritus of
science, technology and national security policy
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
a specialist in weapons issue. At the
Congressional Office of Technology Assessment,
he advised on missile basing, and he later was a
scientific consultant to the chief of naval
operations at the Pentagon. He is a recipient of
the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical
Society and the Hilliard Roderick Prize from the
American Association for the Advancement of
Science, and he was awarded the Norbert Wiener
Award from Computer Professionals for Social
Responsibility for uncovering numerous and
important false claims about missile defenses..
Theodore A. Postol can be reached at email@example.com.
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