By Daniel Margrain
“This article should be published in a more widely read media outlet. You have summarized the skeptical case extremely effectively”
(Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton)
With a critical public increasingly turning to social media to scrutinize the claims of the mainstream as well as the credibility of the assertions made by the various NGOs and government-funded human rights organisations, it’s arguably becoming more difficult for the corporate press to pass their propaganda off as legitimate news.
This is particularly the case during periods when the establishment pushes for military conflicts. One salutary lesson from the Iraq debacle, is that the public appear not to be so readily fooled. Or are they?
It’s a measure of the extent to which the mass media barely stray from their paymasters tune, that president Trump, with near-unanimous journalistic support, was able to launch an illegal missile strike on Syria on April 7, 2017. Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News (April 10, 2017) stated that the attack on the al-Shayrat airbase was “in retaliation to a sarin gas attack by president Assad” (three days earlier). However, for the reasons outlined below, such a scenario seems highly unlikely.
New York Times reporter, Michael B Gordon, who co-authored that papers infamous fake aluminum tube story of September 8, 2002 as part of the media’s propaganda offensive leading up to the 2003 U.S-led Iraq invasion, published (along with co-author Anne Barnard), the latest chemical weapons fake news story intended to fit with the establishment narrative on Syria.
Lack of scepticism
Showing no scepticism that the Syrian military was responsible for intentionally deploying poison gas in Khan Seikhoun, the authors cited the widely discredited $100m-funded terrorist-enablers, the White Helmets, as the basis for their story. Meanwhile, the doyen of neocon drum-beating war propaganda in Britain, Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian, wrote a day after the alleged April 4 attack: “We almost certainly know who did it. Every sign points to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.” What these ‘signs’ are were not specified in the article.
Even the usually cautious Guardian journalist George Monbiot appears to be eager for military action. On Twitter (April 7, 2017) Monbiot claimed: “We can be 99% sure the chemical weapons attack came from Syrian govt.” Three days later, media analysts Media Lens challenged Monbiot by citing the views of former UN weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, both of whom contradicted Monbiot’s assertion. “What do you know that Hans Blix and Scott Ritter don’t know?”, inquired the analysts. Monbiot failed to reply.
Apparently it hadn’t occurred to these, and practically all the other mainstream journalists (with the notable exception of Peter Oborne and Peter Hitchens), that Assad’s motive for undertaking such an attack was weak. As investigative reporter Robert Parry, who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories, argued:
“Since Assad’s forces have gained a decisive upper-hand over the rebels, why would he risk stirring up international outrage at this juncture? On the other hand, the desperate rebels might view the horrific scenes from the chemical-weapons deployment as a last-minute game-changer.”
A second major inconsistency in the official narrative are the contradictory claims relating to the sarin issue. Charles Shoebridge referred to a Guardian article that claims sarin was used, but he counters the claim by stating: “Yet, a rescuer tells its reporter “we could smell it 500m away”. The intelligence and terrorism expert was quick to point out that sarin is odorless (unless contaminated). Blogger Mark J Doran astutely remarked: “Now, who is going be stuck with lousy, impure sarin? A nation state or a terrorist group?”
Meanwhile, independent investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out that neurological symptoms that mimic those of sarin can be achieved by phosphine gas when in contact with moisture and the smell is similar to what was reported by eyewitnesses in Khan Seikhoun.
Then there has been the willingness of the media to cite what is clearly an untrustworthy source, ‘British doctor’, Shajul Islam. Despite having been struck off the British medical register for misconduct in March 2016, the media have quoted or shown Islam in their reports where he has been depicted as a key witness to the alleged gas attack and hence helped augment the unsubstantiated media narrative. In 2012 Shajul Islam was charged with terror offences in a British court.
Peter Hitchens takes up the story:
“He was accused of imprisoning John Cantlie, a British photographer, and a Dutchman, Jeroen Oerlemans. Both men were held by a militant group in Syria and both were wounded when they tried to escape. Shajul Islam, it was alleged, was among their captors. Shajul Islam’s trial collapsed in 2013, when it was revealed that Mr Cantlie had been abducted once again, and could not give evidence.
Mr Oerlemans refused to give evidence for fear that it would further endanger Mr Cantlie. Mr Oerlemans has since been killed in Libya. So the supposedly benevolent medical man at the scene of the alleged atrocity turns out to be a struck-off doctor who was once put on trial for kidnapping.”
Fourth, there is the question as to why the U.S would launch a military strike in the knowledge that it would risk further sarin leaks into the atmosphere. As the writer and musician, Gilad Atzmon, argues:
“It doesn’t take a military analyst to grasp that the American attack on a remote Syrian airfield contradicts every possible military rationale. If America really believed that Assad possessed a WMD stockpile and kept it in al-Shayrat airbase, launching a missile attack that could lead to a release of lethal agents into the air would be the last thing it would do. If America was determined to ‘neutralise’ Assad’s alleged ‘WMD ability’ it would deploy special forces or diplomacy. No one defuses WMD with explosives, bombs or cruise missiles. It is simply unheard of.”
“The first concern that comes to mind is why do you need a saxophonist to deliver the truth every military expert understands very well? Can’t the New York Times or the Guardian reach the same obvious conclusion? It’s obvious enough that if Assad didn’t use WMD when he was losing the war, it would make no sense for him to use it now when a victory is within reach.”
A far more logical explanation, given the location, is that chemicals were released into the air by Salafist terrorists to frame the Syrian government. The location of the alleged attack is the al-Qaeda-affiliated controlled, Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib province. It is from here that the Western-funded White Helmets operate. Rather conveniently, they were soon at the scene of the alleged attack without the necessary protective clothing being filmed hosing down victims.
As Al-Qaeda and their enabler’s are the kinds of people who cut out and eat human organs as well as decapitate heads, they are likely to have little compunction in using Syrian civilians, including children and women, as a form of ‘war porn propaganda’ in order to garner public sympathy as the pretext for Western intervention.
Syrian-based journalist, Tom Dugan, who has been living in the country for the last four years, claims no gas attack happened. Rather, he asserts that the Syrian air force destroyed a terrorist-owned and controlled chemical weapons factory mistaking it for an ammunition dump, and “the chemicals spilled out.” This seems to be the most plausible explanation.
Mr Dugan’s version is markedly similar to the analysis of former DIA colonel, Patrick Lang Donald who, on April 7, 2017 said:
“Trump’s decision to launch cruise missile strikes on a Syrian Air Force Base was based on a lie. In the coming days the American people will learn that the Intelligence Community knew that Syria did not drop a military chemical weapon on innocent civilians in Idlib. Here is what happened:
- The Russians briefed the United States on the proposed target. This is a process that started more than two months ago. There is a dedicated phone line that is being used to coordinate and deconflict (i.e., prevent US and Russian air assets from shooting at each other) the upcoming operation.
- The United States was fully briefed on the fact that there was a target in Idlib that the Russians believes was a weapons/explosives depot for Islamic rebels.
- The Syrian Air Force hit the target with conventional weapons. All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians.
- There was a strong wind blowing that day and the cloud was driven to a nearby village and caused casualties.
- We know it was not sarin. How? Very simple. The so-called “first responders” handled the victims without gloves. If this had been sarin they would have died. Sarin on the skin will kill you. How do I know? I went through “Live Agent” training at Fort McClellan in Alabama.
A third similar account was proffered by another retired Colonel – Lawrence Wilkerson, who was former chief of Staff to General Colin Powell. Here’s what he said in a recent interview:
“I personally think the provocation was a Tonkin Gulf incident….. Most of my sources are telling me, including members of the team that monitors global chemical weapons –including people in Syria, including people in the US Intelligence Community–that what most likely happened …was that they hit a warehouse that they had intended to hit…and this warehouse was alleged to have to ISIS supplies in it, and… some of those supplies were precursors for chemicals….. conventional bombs hit the warehouse, and due to a strong wind, and the explosive power of the bombs, they dispersed these ingredients and killed some people.”
The corroborated testimony above exposes the media’s attempts to take at face value Pentagon propaganda.
“I am hearing from sources on the ground, in the Middle East, the people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence available are saying that the essential narrative we are all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. The intelligence confirms pretty much the account the Russians have been giving since last night which is that they hit a warehouse where al Qaida rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties.
“Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear, and people both in the Agency and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he should already have known – but maybe didn’t – and they’re afraid this is moving towards a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict.”
“These are essentially sources that are right on top of the issue right in the Middle East. They’re people who are stationed there with the military and the Intelligence agencies that are aware and have seen the intelligence. And, as I say, they are coming back to contacts over here in the US essentially that they astonished at how this is being played by the administration and by the media and in some cases people are considering going public to stop it. They’re that concerned about it, that upset by what’s going on.”
“There was an attack but it was with conventional weapons – a bomb – and the bomb ignited the chemicals that were already in place that had been put in there. Now bear in mind, Assad had no motive for doing this. If anything, he had a negative motive. Trump said there was no longer any reason to remove him from office, well, this was a big win for him [Assad]. To turn around and use chemical weapons 48 hours later, does not fit any reasonable scenario, although I’ve seen some floated out there, but they are quite ridiculous.”
Another convincing reason to discount the official narrative, is because Assad doesn’t possess any chemical weapons. Even The Wall Street Journal, citing a Hague-based watchdog agency, conceded on June 23, 2014 that “the dangerous substances from Syria’s chemical weapons program, including sulfur mustard and precursors of sarin, have now been removed from the country after a months-long process.”
In an attempt to get some clarity amid the fog of propaganda, Peter Hitchens announced to his readers in his Mail on Sunday column (April 30, 2017), that he had sent a series of questions to the Foreign Office (FCO) about their apparent confidence as to Assad’s guilt. In the view of Hitchens, the answers he received – which he has been prevented from publishing – were “useless, unrevealing and unresponsive”.
Three days later (May 3, 2017), Hitchens published the said questions which the FCO “won’t or can’t answer” in his Mail column. The questions are extremely pertinent that include legitimate requests at clarifying contradictory statements and accounts. The fact that the FCO refused to answer them satisfactorily, or allow them to be published, hints very strongly at a government cover-up.
The plot thickens
On April 11. 2017 in response to the claims and counter claims, Washington released into the public domain a four-page White House Intelligent Report (WHR) by the National Security Council (NSC), purporting to prove the Syrian government’s responsibility for the alleged sarin attack and a rebuttal of Russia’s claim that rebels unleashed the gas to frame the Syrian government. Among the numerous claims of the WHR, was that the site of the alleged sarin release had not been tampered with.
But as one commentator pointed out, “any serious examination of the WHR reveals it to be a series of bare assertions without any supporting evidence….and is filled with phrases like “The United States is confident” … “We have confidence in our assessment” … “We assess” … “Our information indicates” … “It is clear” … and so on. In other words, “this is the US government speaking, trust us.”
More importantly, upon its release, the credibility of the WHR was also called into question by the respected US physicist and missile expert Theodore Postol, emeritus professor at MIT. In his detailed analysis released on April 11, 2017 titled A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report about the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, professor Postol argues that the physical evidence strongly suggests the delivery system for the nerve gas was a mortar shell placed on the ground, not a bomb dropped from a warplane. Towards the end of his critique, Postol said, “The situation is that the White House has produced a false, obviously misleading and amateurish report.”
Elaborating on his argument in a television interview, the MIT professor said:
“The report, quite frankly, doesn’t meet the laugh test. As an American citizen I want to know who signed it off….I think this is an indication that there is something extremely problematic in the American national system with regard to the use of intelligence.”
“It indicates a willingness on the part of high level people in the White House to distort and to use intelligence claims that are false to make political points and political arguments….I think this report was almost certainly politically-motivated… This is a serious and intolerable situation.”
On April 13, 2017 Postol produced a follow-up critique of the WHR – an Addendum to the first report – in which he asserts that “the assumption that the site of the alleged sarin release had not been tampered with was totally unjustified and no competent analyst would have argued that this assumption was valid.”
Postel goes on to criticise the veracity of the claims the WHR make with regards to the “communications intercepts” and the basis by which other intelligence assessments were made.
In a third paper – all of which have been totally ignored by the corporate Western media – Postol augments his previous papers by citing additional evidence from two selected videos which were uploaded to YouTube in the time period between April 5, 2017 and April 7, 2017.
The MIT professor posits that:
“Analysis of the videos shows that all of the scenes taken at the site where 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 White House report was issued on 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.”
Postol points out that one of the videos indicates that workers in the close vicinity of the alleged bomb site were not wearing any protection of any kind to protect them from sarin poisoning, while others were inadequately protected.
Postol concludes by stating bluntly that “the WHR report was fabricated without input from the professional intelligence community.” He then reiterates the corporate media’s version of events, namely, that on April 4, 2017 a nerve agent attack had occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria during the early morning hours locally on that day and that three days later the U.S government carried out a cruise missile attack on Syria ordered by President Trump without any valid intelligence to support it.
Significantly, Postol then states:
“In 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 Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, the National Security Advisor. The McMaster report is completely undermined by a significant body of video evidence taken after the alleged sarin attack and before the US cruise missile attack that unambiguously shows the claims in the WHR could not possibly be true. This cannot be explained as a simple error….
“…This 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.”
Finally Postol repeats a quote from the WHR:
“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 [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.”
And then adds:
“The 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.”
If Postol’s version of events, which is the basis of Russia’s position (see below), is true (which is extremely likely), it’s almost certainly the case that the rebels on the ground linked to al-Qaeda who control Khan Sheikhoun, are the same people who carried out the alleged false flag attack.
Another aspect to all this which seems to have been overlooked by many commentators, is the timing of the incident. An observant reader, kindly pointed out to me the discrepancy between the reported time-frames of the gas release and the alleged sarin chemical attack. Lebanese independent investigative journalist, Adel Karim, stated that at 8am on April 4, 2017, journalists linked to radical groups located in Idlib provided him with material that purported to show the consequences of the alleged attack.
The timing of the rebel account of the attack was contradicted by Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konoshenkov who claimed that an attack took place between 11.30am and 12.30pm on that day, and that the said attack was directed against a “large terrorist ammunition depot and a concentration of military hardware in the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun town.”
The above anomaly, therefore, reiterates the contention made by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem that the first reports of the chemical attack from rebel-affiliated groups “appeared several hours before the government airstrike”. It follows that Karim’s version of events appears credible and the account provided to him by rebel groups in Idlib, is therefore almost certainly bogus.
The Lebanese journalist concludes convincingly that “the decision to attack the Syrian military infrastructure was taken in Washington long before the fabricated events in Khan Sheikhoun and what happened was a “staged falsification” aimed to “justify U.S aggression against Syria.”
Whatever the truth, both the anomaly in regard to the timings of the alleged incident and, more significantly, the testimonies of the various experts cited, are surely significant enough to be worthy of further investigation by Western corporate media outlets such as the BBC. But other than the occasional brief interview with former Syrian ambassador, Peter Ford, no alternative narratives have been aired.
One of the few media outlets who have been prepared to give the oxygen of publicity to opposing viewpoints, however, is RT. Unlike the BBC, the Russian-based broadcaster interviewed Postol at some length on April 12, 2017. They have also questioned – with justification – the integrity of a April 26, 2017 French intelligence report (FIR), which blames the Syrian government for the alleged chemical attack. Charles Shoebridge, remarked on twitter, that “the report relies on ‘signature’ presence of hexamine. Yet UN Syria chemical weapon chief states it isn’t a signature.”
But even more damning is that professor Postol (cited above), pointed out the fact that the FIR focused on an unrelated event in a different location from Khan Sheikhoun where the alleged gas attack was said to have occurred and on a different date (April 29, 2013).
The above sequence of events follows a recent pattern of anti-Assad claims exemplified by four similar controversial stories in which the corporate media have attempted to pass off unsubstantiated or independently unverifiable claims as fact. The first of these on February 13, 2017, relates to the findings of a report by Amnesty International which contends that Assad was responsible for the “execution by mass hangings” of up to 13,000 people. The alleged atrocity that evoked in the press comparisons to Nazi concentration camps, was within days criticised for its unsubstantiated and uncorroborated claims.
It should be recalled that it was Amnesty International who uncritically supported the emergence of a fake news story during the first Gulf War in which Iraqi soldiers were said to have taken scores of babies out of incubators in Kuwait City leaving them to die.
The second press release, three days after the mass-execution story aired, concerned the heart-rending case of a Syrian boy who Anne Barnard of the New York Times reported on twitter as having “his legs…cut because of attacks from Assad and Russia.”
It soon transpired, however, that the organization credited with filming the “attacks” was Revolution Syria, a pro-insurgency media outfit who also provided the videos for the equally fraudulent claim that the Russians bombed a school in Haas in October 2016. Dr Barbara McKenzie provides a detailed background to the story which can be read here.
The third piece of false reporting to have emerged, is in connection with Security Council resolution 2235 which highlights the conclusions of a August, 2015 OPCW-UN report. The said report, aimed at introducing new sanctions against Syria (which Russia and China vetoed), didn’t make the claims subsequently attributed to it in the corporate media, namely that between April, 2014 and August, 2015 the Assad government was definitively responsible for three chemical attacks using chlorine.
Charles Shoebridge pointed out on March 1, 2017, that “most media didn’t even seem to bother reading the report”. Shoebridge confirmed that the OPCW-UN investigation contained findings that did not correspond to what the public was being told. Pointing out the reports many caveats and reservations, the analyst said the evidence “wasn’t sufficiently good to declare that Syria had dropped chlorine to a standard that could be considered “strong”, or “overwhelming”, adding that “investigators were largely reliant on reports from the White Helmets.”
Finally, independent journalist Gareth Porter inferred that U.N. investigators increasingly make their conclusions fall in line with Western propaganda after he exposed distortions contained in a March 1, 2017 report by the United Nations’ “Independent International Commission of Inquiry“ which claimed that an airstrike on a humanitarian aid convoy in the west of Aleppo City on Sept. 19, 2016, was undertaken by Syrian government planes. Porter reveals that the reports findings were based on pro-rebel Syrian White Helmets testimonies that were “full of internal contradictions.”
Extraordinarily, in March, 2016 German journalist Dr. Ulfkotte brought the lies of the mainstream out into the open by confessing live on television that he was forced to publish the works of intelligence agents under his own name, adding that noncompliance with these orders would result in him losing his job. Sharing this information in front of millions of people (reminiscent of the film Network), Ulfkotte said:
“I’ve been a journalist for about 25 years, and I was educated to lie, to betray, and not to tell the truth to the public. But seeing right now within the last months how the German and American media tries to bring war to the people in Europe, to bring war to Russia — this is a point of no return and I’m going to stand up and say it is not right what I have done in the past, to manipulate people, to make propaganda against Russia, and it is not right what my colleagues do and have done in the past because they are bribed to betray the people, not only in Germany, all over Europe.”
The inability of mainstream journalists to undertake basic fact-checking illuminated by the examples described, reinforce the veracity of Ulfkotte’s claims that corporate journalists are “educated to lie, to betray, and not to tell the truth to the public.” But more than that, it amounts to a stark admission that the corruption at the heart of the elite media and political establishment is systemic. As Mark Doran on Twitter put it: “Our corrupt politics, our international crime, and our ‘free media’ form a seamless whole.” The goal of this consolidation of power is to secure yet another middle east resource grab.
Daniel Margrain is a freelance writer based in London. He has a masters degree in Globalization, Culture & the City from Goldsmiths. His articles have appeared in numerous on-line publications and blogs.
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