The Failed Pretext For War: Seymour Hersh, Eliot Higgins, MIT Rocket Scientists On Sarin Gas Attack

MintPress News interviews a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, MIT professors and rocket scientists, and a blogger on who perpetrated a sarin gas attack that almost dragged the U.S. into Syria’s civil war.
By @CMRSluchansky |
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    From top left, clockwise: Seymour Hersh, Eliot Higgins, Theodore Postol, Richard Lloyd (Photo by MintPress News)

    WASHINGTON — It’s a story that has been framed many ways: the battle of an old-school journalist against a new media blogger; a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist now on the fringes of the journalistic community; and an American media that has again refused to buck the official White House line.

    Last week, the London Review of Books published Seymour Hersh’s second installment on the long-debated August 2013 sarin gas attack in Ghouta, Syria, a nearly 6,000-word piece titled “The Red Line and the Rat Line.” Hersh uses primarily anonymous sources, most prominently a “former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence.” The expose points to the possibility that the Turkish government had a hand in the attack — or maybe even directly orchestrated it by supplying al-Nusra Front rebels with sarin to frame the Assad regime as the culprit in order to push the United States into a war with Syria for crossing Obama’s “red line.”

    This report follows “Whose Sarin?,” published in December 2013, which asserts that when the Obama administration had evidence that al-Nusra Front rebels had sarin gas capabilities, it cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    The earlier article declares, “Months before the [August sarin] attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports … citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity.”

    The American mainstream press is overwhelmingly refusing to even acknowledge these reports. The New Yorker passed on the first installment, as did The Washington Post. The London Review of Books picked it up and had it fact checked by a former New Yorker fact checker, LRB Senior Editor Christian Lorentzen told the Huffington Post. The second time around, Hersh went directly to the LRB.

    An oft-cited British blogger, however, has attacked both of Hersh’s articles in multiple posts, declaring his assertion that the U.S. government has been right all along.

    We know, Eliot Higgins says, it was forces loyal to President Assad who fired the series of sarin gas attacks into the

    MIT report

    Photo from MIT report: Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013.

    Damascus suburbs. In an April 7 post titled “Seymour Hersh’s Volcano Problem,” Higgins shares photos of several rockets ostensibly fired by the Syrian army. These “volcano rockets” appear very similar to the ones shown in photos of the rockets he says were used in the chemical gas attack.

    “In all incidents, the rockets have exactly the same design, down to the small nut and bolt, and in three of the four incidents they are described as being chemical weapons,” he wrote.

    It might have been a battle between a Pulitzer Prize winner and a data-collecting blogger if a team of rocket scientists and weapons experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hadn’t taken issue with Higgins’ analysis.

    “It’s clear and unambiguous this munition could not have come from Syrian government-controlled areas as the White House claimed,” Theodore Postol told MintPress News.

    Postol is a professor in the Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group at MIT. He published “Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21st, 2013” in January along with Richard Lloyd, an analyst at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories who previously served as a United Nations weapons inspector and also boasts two books, 40 patents and more than 75 academic papers on weapons technology.

    Higgins, Postol said, “has done a very nice job collecting information on a website. As far as his analysis, it’s so lacking any analytical foundation it’s clear he has no idea what he’s talking about.”


    The Turkish connection

    Hersh’s initial assertion that neighboring Turkey has played a role in the Syrian civil war by supporting the al-Nusra rebels is known to those who are watching the events there. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan started providing significant material support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria — which later merged with al-Nusra —  in the early stages of the Syrian Civil War, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East. Political analysts view this as Erdogan’s attempt to re-assert Turkey’s influence in the region as it did during the Ottoman Empire.

    “Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups,” Hersh writes in “The Red Line and the Rat Line.” Such support has been well documented, as was Assad’s declaration last year that Erdogan would “pay” a price for helping “terrorists.”

    Furthermore, according to U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency documents cited by Hersh, “Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production efforts in Syria.”

    A more bizarre incident took place in Turkey last year that raised more questions about Erdogan’s relationship with the al-Nusra Front rebels. In May, Hersh notes, more than 10 members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were “two kilograms of sarin.”

    According to media reports, including Hersh’s “The Red Line and the Rat Line, in a “130-page indictment” the group was accused of attempting to purchase “fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin.”

    Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. As hersh writes, the other rebels, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. (MintPress tried to contact Turkish press who covered this story and attempted to locate Qassab’s whereabouts by also reaching out to embassies, but to no avail. We found no official record of Qassab’s travels.)

    Among the Turkish press, however, there has been widespread speculation that the Erdogan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the al-Nusra rebels, especially after Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and told reporters that the recovered “sarin” was just “anti-freeze,” according to the National Journal.

    Just last month, Erdogan suggested the possibility of war with Syrian President Assad. More recently, he also announced the downing of a fighter jet that he said strayed into Turkish airspace, a potential precursor to war.

    Perhaps most startling, Reuters, the BBC, Al-Jazeera, the Los Angeles Times and others reported last month of a leaked audio recording of high-level Turkish officials — including the country’s foreign minister, its intelligence chief and an undersecretary of foreign affairs — discussing staging attacks on Turkey from Syrian soil to justify waging a counter attack.

    However, the idea presented in the Hersh report that Erdogan would or even could orchestrate a sarin gas attack in Ghouta in order to implicate Assad was quickly attacked by critics who called it implausible. Worse yet, according to Hersh’s sources, the Obama administration knew of a potential Turkish connection and squelched that information.

    No mainstream American press picked up the story and multiple outlets have refused to publish it. According to BuzzFeed, and Huffington Post, The Washington Post had originally planned on running Hersh’s first story, “Whose Sarin?,” but didn’t.


    From My Lai to Abu Ghraib to Syria

    Hersh’s reports are the kind of exposes that could make a career, maybe even earn a Pulitzer Prize, but the career journalist has already enjoyed both of those. He doesn’t seem to mind being seen as a truth-teller who is ostracized by “the big boys,” as he calls the mainstream media. That he has been so roundly ignored seems odd because he has legitimately broken more stories for many of “the big boy” publications than just about any other journalist could hope to do, starting with the revelation of the My Lai Massacre, which earned him that Pulitzer, and continuing with the U.S.-perpetrated torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

    He has no interest in defending his work, apparently content to let it stand or fall on its own weight. “I wrote the article, it’s out there,” Hersh told MintPress.

    When pressed, however, Hersh responds to some of the criticisms leveled against him and his work — including his use of anonymous sources. He argues that anonymous sources provide journalists — including “the big boys” — with information.

    In the “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” Hersh also mentions classified documents — which he claims he has — only revealing select content through the article.

    “The only reason I mentioned the documents is because the White House said they couldn’t find them,” he explained. “We gave them the document numbers and they still said they couldn’t find them.”

    Typical, he muses.

    As for some bloggers’ insinuations that Hersh’s anonymous source is Michael Maloof, a former Pentagon official under the George W. Bush administration who now writes for the conspiratorial World News Daily website, Hersh says Maloof is a “crazy neocon whacko” that “no one would take seriously.”

    Then there’s the Russian agent who provided samples of sarin to the British analysts at Porton Down. “Why would anyone trust a Russian agent?” some critics asked.

    “Just because they are Russian, they are untrustworthy?” Hersh asked. “I could have left it out of that story but it would have been dishonest.”

    Laughing off the attacks on his credibility, Hersh appears far more interested in discussing the actual debate.

    Hersh’s point is that the U.S. didn’t have the conclusive evidence it claimed it had that Syrian President Assad had crossed President Obama’s previously stated “red line” by using chemical weapons — a move that would have forced the U.S. to intervene in the Syrian civil war. According to Hersh’s sources, the U.S. did have evidence that it could have been other culprits — including Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.

    “No one is saying they know what happened,” he said. “We don’t know.”


    Enter: Brown Moses

    However, one of Hersh’s fiercest critics claims he does know and he publishes his assertions on his blog, Brown Moses.

    “As more evidence has been gathered the case for the [Syrian] government being responsible has only strengthened, in my opinion,” Eliott Higgins, author of the Brown Moses blog, wrote in an email exchange with MintPress.

    Higgins, a stay-at-home blogger, has been aggregating YouTube videos, maps and images coming out of the Syrian conflict since March 2012. Given the dangers of reporting on the ground in the war-torn country as well as Assad’s ban on foreign journalists due to fears of foreign meddling in Syria’s civil war, Higgins’ blog has become a go-to source of information provided by Syrians posting on social media.

    Though some experts have called Higgins “unqualified,” journalists have started to incorporate his personal analysis into their reports.

    “Although Higgins has never been to Syria, and until recently had no connection to the country, he has become perhaps the foremost expert on the munitions used in the war,” according to a profile of Higgins in the British newspaper The Telegraph.

    He has also been described as ‘‘an authoritative source” and has been lauded by C.J. Chivers, war correspondent for The New York Times and author of “The Gun,” a history of the AK-47.

    Higgins has amassed hundreds of images of the rockets from both video and still photographs. After studying these images, he is adamant that they must have come from Syrian government forces because, as he wrote in an email to MintPress, “they have the rockets, they have a chemical weapons programme [sic], they controlled the territory near by [sic], they were conducting military operations in the area.”

    On his blog, Higgins provides photos of the depleted rockets, video of the Syrian army allegedly firing similar rockets and maps of possible launch areas.

    MIT map

    Photo from MIT report: Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013.

    “It’s possible to find the exact impact location of rockets using a combination of satellite map imagery,

    photographs, and videos, and in some cases they show details that allow us to have an idea of the approximate location they come from,” he said in the email. “In those examples, it appears to be from the northwest/north, where around 2km away we have areas controlled by the government.”

    On April 7, one day after Hersh published his “The Red Line and the Rat Line” expose once again asserting that al-Nusra Front rebels have realized nerve gas capabilities through the support of Turkey’s Erdogan, Higgins countered the report by posting “Seymour Hersh’s Volcano Problem.” In his post, Higgins offers photos of several rockets allegedly fired by the Syrian army to support his previous claims that the Syrian government was behind the sarin gas attack in Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013. These “volcano rockets” do appear similar to the ones shown in the photos of the rockets he says were used in the chemical gas attack. Higgins is adamant they are identical.

    “In all incidents, the rockets have exactly the same design, down to the small nut and bolt, and in three of the four incidents they are described as being chemical weapons,” Higgins wrote in the April 7 post.

    In a later post, Higgins argues that the rockets likely came from between the Qaboun and Jobar areas. That industrial section of Damascus, he says, was controlled by Assad forces, pointing to a report by the Russian TV news outlet ANNA as evidence of this.

    “I’ve spent the past 8 months collecting and analysing [sic] videos related to that area, and I now have what I strongly believe to be an accurate representation of the area controlled by the Syrian government on August 21st,” he told MintPress in an email.

    “Despite Hersh’s dismissal of the Volcano rockets importance, these images do show the impact locations were in range of government controlled areas on August 21st.”

    To the layman, some of the rockets do look alike, but then, to the layman, many rockets look alike. One would also have to accept the validity of the sources providing the information to Higgins and Higgins’ own analysis. In the end, one simply has to accept that Higgins knows what he’s looking at, despite what some experts — including the professors behind the MIT report — have called his “lack of credentials.”

    Unidentified Rocket Or Missile In Daraya January 4th 2013 from Brown Moses YouTube Channel


    Pushing the establishment line

    Higgins’ determination would seem to support the Obama administration’s prior claim that Assad had crossed Obama’s “red line.”

    In a speech on Aug. 30, nine days after the attack on Ghouta, Secretary of State John Kerry announced, “We know where the rockets were launched from and at what time. We know where they landed and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas…”

    However, the maps provided by the State Department at the time put such “regime-controlled areas” out the rockets’ range. Even Higgins now agrees the rockets probably had a range of about 2 kilometers.

    Less than three weeks later, The New York Times ran “UN Data on Gas Attack Point to Assad’s Top Forces,” reporting on a U.N. report on the Syrian chemical weapons attack that supported Kerry’s claims.

    “Details buried in the United Nations report on the Syrian chemical weapons attack point directly at elite military formations loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, some of the strongest findings to date that suggest the government gassed its own people,” wrote C.J. Chivers, the same war correspondent who, like many, has extolled the virtues of the work of the Brown Moses blog.

    However, on Dec. 28, The New York Times published another article, “New Study Refines View of Sarin Attack in Syria,” in which Chivers reported on the investigation by the weapons experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The investigation “raised questions about the American government’s claims about the locations of launching points, and the technical intelligence behind them.”

    The report — which includes maps, photos, diagrams and analysis from a team of MIT scientists — would appear to be quite authoritative in its dismissal of the claims of both the U.S. government and the Brown Moses blogger.

    “Whenever new information comes out it seems like people use it to support the idea that the Syrian government did it,” said Postol, the MIT professor. “According to our analysis, I would not have a claim that I know who executed the attack, but it’s very clear that John Kerry had very bad intelligence at best or, at worst, lied about the intelligence he had.”


    The Rocket Scientists

    In addition to earning a doctorate at MIT and previously advising the Pentagon on missile technology, Postol’s staff webpage notes that he “helped build a program at Stanford University to train mid-career scientists to study developments in weapons technology of relevance to defense and arms control policy.”

    “The thing I find extremely disturbing is that the Secretary of State and the White House were very specific,” Postol told MintPress. “They claimed that they had satellite positions of the launches of these rockets. That’s a pretty specific claim. I know the satellites they’re talking about and I also know they can’t tell what rockets are carrying a chemical warhead and what rockets are carrying explosive warheads.”

    According to Postol, the chemical warhead — what he calls “the soup can” — would be larger, causing greater drag

    hig rock

    Photo from MIT report: Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013.

    and reducing the range. While some analysts have argued that the rocket motors might have been longer, with some of the engine embedded in the warhead, allowing for more fuel to propel it, Postol says such additional thrust would have a small, marginal effect. (Attempts to measure the motor sizes can be found on the Brown Moses blog.)

    Postol likens it to smacking an inflated helium balloon: the balloon will stop suddenly, mid-air. If given a stronger whack, the balloon might move a little farther, but only slightly.

    “We know the U.S. government intelligence claim is not compatible with the science and that should be of great concern to everyone,” he said.

    Shortly after the release of the MIT report this January, Higgins posted about it on his blog. The new findings, however, did not dissuade him from believing the attack still had to have been committed by Assad. Higgins is now pushing the theory that the Syrian army took over al-Qaboun, northwest of the target areas. Higgins also insists that the images showing the Syrian army with similar rockets mean it had to be them.

    That still doesn’t cut it, says Richard Lloyd, the other author of the MIT report, whose own calculations have led him to believe they came more directly from the north.

    “To the north, what you have is an air force base and a variety of army bases about 3 kilometers away,” Lloyd told MintPress. “In front of those [bases] are fields. I believe they were launched from these fields.”

    Lloyd says he came to this conclusion after he searched among the evidence from the “12 or 13 sites they hit,” looking for rockets that hadn’t been removed since landing. He then used Google Earth for reference and performed a “bearing analysis” to determine their trajectory.

    Additionally, Lloyd points out that from looking at the target areas, the rockets would have had to originate from different launch sites, suggesting that they like came from more than just one location such as Qaboun.

    “If you look at all the impact points, for one launcher to do all that, it would have had to launch a couple rockets, drive to another location, launch a few more rockets and then drive to another,” he explained.

    Both Postol and Lloyd are confounded by Higgins’ contention that these “volcano rockets” could have only come from the Syrian army.

    “They are well within the manufacturable range by a modest machine shop,” Postol said. “The design is clever for what it’s designed to do, but once you have the design, you can make it pretty easily. Are they identical? Did Eliot count every bolt? Is that possible?”

    Lloyd points out that he has designed a course on the arms used in the Syrian conflict.

    “I have a section all on the rebels,” he explained. “They have factories. A production line. They have just as much capability as anyone else in building these weapons.”

    The MIT team actually gives Higgins a lot of credit for his work, noting that much of their study was made infinitely easier — and maybe even possible — by all of the information he has aggregated and posted on Brown Moses.

    “I think he wants to do good and he’s done a great amount of service in getting the world up to speed on what’s going on in Syria,” Lloyd said. “He’s done a great job for what his ability is and I commend him. I know people like to see him as a weapons expert, but unless you crunch the numbers, you don’t know what you’re doing. Until you do the math, you’re not an expert.”

    As for the work of Lloyd and Postol, Higgins says he accepts their findings, though he adds on his blog “with the greatest respect to the work of Lloyd and Postol I do not believe their calculations have been peer reviewed.”

    “And he’s qualified to say that?” Postol asked incredulously.

    “In the end, the government lied.”

    Despite their disagreements, one belief unites them: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented faulty intelligence, at best.

    “I agree with Lloyd, Postol, Hersh, and anyone else who thinks that the maps provided by the White House don’t match the evidence gathered about the munitions,” Higgins wrote in an email to MintPress.

    However, Higgins still insists on the establishment perspective that, despite contradictory analysis, Assad was absolutely behind the attacks.

    That the Obama administration presented information it knew or should have known was inaccurate as a reason to go to war reminds Postol of recent history in which American mainstream media proved complicit in perpetuating the official line that Saddam Hussein absolutely had “weapons of mass destruction.”

    “It’s WMD all over again,” Postol said. “It’s the Gulf of Tonkin.”

    When asked why the magazine that he has published with since 1971 wouldn’t pick up his latest reporting or why much of the mainstream press appears more interested in the “stay-at-home” blogger, Hersh demures, refusing to speak ill of his colleagues at The New Yorker or other reporters and editors at The Washington Post and The New York Times.

    “They’re doing their jobs,” Hersh said.

    Talking to Hersh, it’s easy to remember he remains a respected member of the journalistic community. The last piece penned by Hersh, 77, was published by the New Yorker in March 2013, after all. Coincidentally, it was an editorial about the false flag that led us into the Iraq War, “Iraq Ten Years Later: What About the Constitution.”

    “How could a small group of hard-line conservatives around President Bush, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and a few neoconservatives so quickly throw us over the cliff?” he asks in the editorial. “This included not only a war fought on false pretenses but also a system of torture and indefinite detention that, in far too many cases, ran against our laws and values…”

    While Hersh won’t criticize his American editors now, he had no compunction about it then.

    “It’s not enough to blame it on the fear, anger, and confusion brought on by the 9/11 attacks,” the editorial continues. “What happened to our press corps with its alleged independence and its commitment to the First Amendment and the values of the rest of the Bill of Rights?”

    Postol, on the other hand, does not hesitate to critique the state of mainstream media today.

    “To me, the fact that people are not focused on how the administration lied is very disturbing and shows how far the community of journalists and the community of so-called security experts has strayed from their responsibility,” Postol said.

    “The government so specifically distorted the evidence that it presented a very real danger to the country and the world. I am concerned about the collapse of traditional journalism and the future of the country.”

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    • Mark Gubrud

      I have boundless respect for Ted Postol’s work, but he is well known for aggressive and hot-tempered statements. So his disparaging remarks about Eliot Higgins, especially when confronted with Higgin’s comment about Postol’s work not having been peer-reviewed, is not surprising. This article twists this unfortunate wire-crossing in order to justify its preordained, politically-motivated conclusion.

      There is, in reality, no conflict between Postol and Lloyd’s findings and those of Higgins. Postol and Lloyd found that the volcano rockets could not have had ranges greater than ~3km, probably less. Higgins showed that at the time of the attacks, the Syrian army held positions that put them within range of the targets. Of course the rockets were not all fired from one place in the same direction. There were a number of nearly simultaneous attacks on widely different locations.

      I challenge Mr. Russell-Sluchansky to do a follow-up after ensuring that Postol and Higgins have had a full exchange of views. That should have taken place by now, but I’m not aware whether it has.

      • schiamachy

        What is your expertise Mark?

        • Mark Gubrud

          I am a physics PhD and expert on many weapons topics. I am personally acquainted with Ted Postol and as I explained in second paragraph above his finding about the range of the volcano rockets is perfectly consistent with the Ghouta sarin attacks having been carried out by the Syrian military given available evidence about positions held by the Syrian military on 20 Aug 2013.

    • Remember Cointelpro

      Eliot Higgins’ new gig is a website called Bellingcat. Its Kickstarter campaign states it “Bellingcat will bring together both critically acclaimed and emerging citizen investigative journalists using open source information to investigate, collaborate, and report on worldwide issues that are being underreported and ignored. Open source information, which is information freely available to anyone through the Internet—think YouTube, Google Maps, Reddit—has made it possible for ANYONE to gather information and source others, through social media networks. Think the Syrian Civil War. Think the Arab Spring.”

      Yep, get ready for lots of re-reported State Department planted “news” by gullible, wanna be journalists.

      • schiamachy

        I find it hard to”Think the Syrian Civil War” because it is clearly not a civil war. There are special forces from about 5 or 6 different countries and at least five countries are illegally bombing Syrian territory and the Syrian Army. The vast bulk of fighters are from foreign countries with the largest single contingent from Chechnya. Turkey has on more than one occassion sent tank divisions into Syria and Israel from its illrgally occupied position in the Golan Heights is firing rockets at Syrian forces and protecting the terrorist proxy army. It is not and never has been a civil war. It is an unconventional war being conducted by NATO forces and some of their client states to break up Syria and its connections to Iran and Russia. It is a hegemonic war complicated by the Russian domination of the delivery of oil into Europe. Above all it is the most corrupt deceitful and criminal war ever conducted by the West and their lackeys in the Middle East..

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    • Ron Chandler

      Brown Moses is a liar who is trying to get work with western intelligence. He peddles propaganda, and nsnbc has exposed him colluding in emails with one Matthew Vandyke, a known terror-enabler, weapons smuggler and fellow-propagandist.
      Sy Hersh is hardly reliable either. He claims leaks from US intelligence but ignores the many other possible sources of the sarin and the Mint Press revelations which point to Saudi Arabia. Why is that?
      Then there is the American involvement, which is proven by emails sent by one US Intel agent, Macdonald, to his wife, and her emails with a friend. US intelligence was ON THE GROUND at Ghouta. VeteransToday has the story.
      Are Americans constitutionally unable to conceive one of their own could calmly oversee the slaughter of hundreds of children? That is what the perpetrators of Ghouta did – not with sarin, that is proven – but those kiidnapped children were fromn Lattakia, 200 km away. These children, or their bodies, have never been found. Mother Agnes Mariam reported this thoroughly and sent it to to Sergey Lavrov, who passed a copy to Kerry the liar. The most probable perps were Liwa al-Islam (one Zahraan Alloush commanding), who committed the hideous war crimes at ‘Aadra. Their boss is Bandar bin Sultan. The truth is out. Just not in the USSA Wonderworld.

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    • gooserooster

      Higgins “Brown Moses” has shamelessly changed his “analysis” too many times to count. I remember when this first happened, and he was vigorously peddling the argument that the government launched Sarin Gas rockets from Dummar Military airfield…over the heart of Damascus, the seat of government, and his personal residence…without any concern of any of the very unreliable, home made, do it yourself type rockets falling short, or failing mid flight.

      He never bothered to explain why Assad would have chosen to have his forces make crude chemical weapons delivery systems when he had Russian made chemical weapons on hand, that were reliable…but apparently it’s plausible that he declined to use his real chemical weapons in favor of home made Volcano rockets.

      Then as the facts came to light, Higgins shamelessly started to adjust his narrative to fit the new facts as they came out. He’s a master at fitting his story to the facts.

      But you have to give his article as much credence as they deserve. If he wasn’t peddling a narrative the media wanted people to believe so badly, he never would have received even a fraction of the interest he has received.

      He’s really kind of a joke of a journalist, and calling him an “Expert” is inappropriate…why the media hooked onto him is only because he’s pushing the line they want everyone to believe.

      That Assad did it. Nobody wants to admit that he didn’t do it, and that Hersh is correct. Seymour Hersh can be trusted. Brown Moses is just a fool

      • Tettodoro

        I can’t find any record of Higgins suggesting that the attack originated from Ad-Dummar: and it seems unlikely since it lies 35km to the EAST of Zamalka. That means it wouldn’t involve anything having to pass over “the heart of Damscus” but obviously wouldn’t fit any of the available evidence.


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    • Subrata Ghoshroy

      It appears to me that the author has not done due diligence in researching the article. First, I would point out that he failed refer to my piece “Serious Questions about the Integrity of the UN Report on Syria” which was published by the NYTImes eXaminer on October 5, 2013.

      In this piece I had criticized the analysis of Ted Postol (my colleague at MIT) and Richard Lloyd for lacking rigor because it was primarily based on unverified You Tube videos that were circulating on the web. The blogger Elliot Higgins a.k.a. Brown Moses was the major source of such videos as I had pointed out in my piece. You have
      confirmed that in your story.

      I also question the branding of the Postol/Lloyd study as an “MIT Report.” It is purely an analysis by one or two individuals, not an official MIT report to my knowledge. In order for a document to carry the imprimatur of a world-class institution like MIT, it has to go through many reviews. The analysis regardless of its merit was not published in any scientific journal, which would have required peer review. My analysis is posted on the MIT website, but is not endorsed by MIT one way or another. It is not peer reviewed either. Not an MIT report.

      I intend to publish a fuller story later.

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    • Tettodoro

      The critique of Seymour Hersh’s attempt to exonerate the Syrian regime
      from the Ghouta chemical attack is not a two-handed game: there are
      several others who have participated in the dismantling of Hersh’s
      narrative, including Scott Lucas, Dan Kasetza, and Clay Claiborne (for
      the latter and links to the others see ).
      The Postol-Lloyd analysis of the rockets has refuted the initial
      allegations by the US administration and others that the rockets were
      launched from SAA bases in Damascus. But that doesn’t absolve the
      regime. All the mappings of the attack – including Lloyd and Postol’s –
      clearly show a number of locations in disputed territory that are well
      within their 2km range. In the context of peri-urban warfare “in dispute” can (and usually does) mean an area where government forces are established but under periodic attack. That is what Higgins has
      identified in the al-Qaboun area and it also applies to Lloyd’s area
      north of Zamalka. Indeed, Lloyd’s account – one launch site in fields
      near an army base north of Zamalka and another in al-Qaboun (where there
      is an SAA tank base) would seem to fit the scenario of a regime attack
      very well.

      • Gambit

        Lloyd and Postol are saying rockets came from the north but the Eliot fellow reckons they came from the N.E. Initially he thought they came from the N.W, then the North, now the N.E he also originally believed the rockets were fired from 9.5km away, then 6km, then 3.5km, then (to quote him) “I only need the range to be 2.5km” (to blame the government) now he’s rested at 2km, not quite though for the other day he mentioned 1.8km. Tell you what, Higgins will always be right regarding the Ghouta attacks because he continues to change his narrative.

        He can’t, won’t and hasn’t made any attempt to write up a ‘regime-done-it’ scenario, again to quote him “it will remain a mystery”, oddly enough. His theories have been discredited time and time again by experts. Experts that he once used for advice whom he now calls “conspiracy theorists”. Are you getting the picture yet? If you agree with Eliot’s craziness and like tin-foil hat conspiracies (Alex Jones style) then Higgins will be your friend but dare you challenge this unemployed undergarment salesperson and you will feel his Twitter wrath along with his we groupies, ‘Not-so-chemical-Dan’, ‘George-the-stalker’ and ‘Al-Qaeda-Clay’.

        Higgins needs his narrative to be right hence the reason why he keeps changing it. If he’s wrong, he stops getting media calls, the money stops coming in and he’s back babysitting by day and playing World of Warcraft by night.

        Higgins’ Twitter feed reads like a whose who of terrorist supporting randomers. It attracts every single nutjob, Al-Qaeda supporter, anti-westerner, jihadist loving, moronic conspiracy freaks who hang on his every word. It’s quite sad all in all as he has been blown up to be this ‘expert of experts’ by the MSM and who now be dropped like a turn by the same MSM because his purpose was served and because he has now been outed by Professor Ted Postol who said that our we nutter Eliot “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

        • schiamachy

          I do my analysis by another route. I ask myself would the Syrian Army use chemical weapons when the USA has said that this would be the trigger point for Obama to directly intervene in the war rather than arm and train proxies to do his dirty work?
          My answer to my own question is almost certainly not and especially so because the Government forces with Russian assistance were routing the terrorist/proxy army.
          I then ask who would like the USA to be forced to intervene? My answer this time is Mr Erdogan and the terrorists he is supporting. They would be the big winners whereas Assad would be committing suicide.
          While it is good to have the technical backup from the MIT researchers and the chemical identification by the Russian laboratories that was provided to the USA and which showed that it matched the signature of the Turkish Sarin stocks, common sense sometimes provides the answer to such enigmas. Although I must say there is no commonsense being used by the empire builders conducting this war that has slaughtered far too many innocent people. The perpetrators should be declared war criminals and locked up for the term of their natural lives. I am speaking of Cameron, Sarkozy, Hollande, Erdogan, Obama, Clinton and a clutch of Saudi Princes.

    • h-o-p-e

      I urge everyone to check out those Syrian Electronic Army leaks (link:, which reveal that

      – Eliot Higgins had information from Matthew VanDyke via Facebook suggesting that “rebels” had acquired chemical weapons back in early 2013 and were probably behind the chemical weapons attack in Aleppo, yet he has failed to ever mention – let alone investigate – this hint during any of his open source-based analyses,

      – he is by no means independent as he is financed by a so called “counter-terrorism company”.

      So basically he is full of shit.

      • Gambit

        Whilst I also believe that this Van Dyke character is a nutjob it has to be said that Higgins for the longest time sang his praises. Even if you follow the SEA leaks you will see that Higgins seems confident in what Matt is saying. When the leaks came out Higgins dumped him in an instant, slandering him at every opportunity.

        But now as Higgins’ has more time on his hands after Ted Postol put paid to his conspiracy nonsense Eliot is now on a major mission. It’s a story about a make believe Twitter character called Rozalina Chomsky who Eliot has a fixation with and who always seems to surface when Eliot has troubles and is looking to deflect attention from himself. I guess after Eliot left the make-believe experience of World of Warcraft behind him he has since set about trying to recreate it again in other areas of his life. Rozalina Chomsky? Volcano Rockets? Undergarment salesman? Sounds more like a twisted B movie than reality.

      • schiamachy

        And gas.

    • Omar George Ali

      The credentials of Eliot Higgins makes him a great weapons expert. He did not complete his first year at the University of Southampton and he worked for ASDA instead. Later on, he worked for a women’s
      undergarments factory. Next, his wife is an Ottoman Turk who works part time in the post office while Eliot looks after their child and detects weapons from the sofa of their council-paid house.

      Eliot, without any shadow of a doubt, is just a tool. He must be fed by misleading information by either MI6 or the Turkish intelligence.

      • Tettodoro

        The ad hominem argument – last refuge of the …

        • Omar George Ali

          “The ad hominem” – It is not my problem if this was Elito Higgins’ CV!

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    • Gambit

      What is refreshing is that you gave this Eliot character a fair and balanced hearing in your article yet he went out of his way in an attempt to discredit Mintpress over their previous reporting on the Syrian chemical weapons attack. Just today he has now went after Professor Postol like he did Richard Lloyd and Sy Hersh. He did the same with Jonathan Steele and Patrick Cockburn and Lizzie Phelan and he didn’t leave out the United Nations either as he went after Carle del Ponte. That’s to name a few.

      If you disagree with Mr Higgins and his conspiratorial narrative you’re fair game as this unemployed, World of Warcraft addict and stay at home blogger takes it upon himself to ignorantly challenge experts and UN prosecutors alike.

      His credentials for being able to do so? None. Unless you take his previous job as an undergarment salesperson as qualifications enough to take on the world?

      • mini

        Carmen gives Eliot Higgins way too much credit, but for journalistic purposes, I can see what the author is trying to do because it makes for a well rounded article.

        • Gambit

          Yes mini the article is, as you say, well rounded because of the amount of space Higgins got and I admire MintPress for their professionalism in being courteous towards him given his determination to try and smear the publication previously. It appears that MP gave him just enough rope to hang himself though and hang himself he did. But if there’s any doubt he knitted his own rope let their be no doubt that Professor Postol finished him off, he and his Assad-Done-It conspiracy theories.

          Even in the corporate media is Prof Postol highly respected and his credentials never questioned therefore we can be pretty safe in assuming that Mr Higgins will no longer be rolled out by the MSM as “an expert” on the chemical attacks in Ghouta on August 21st. For to do so would be suicide for that given publication.

          In all fairness though Higgins needed his overinflated ego, well, deflated some, OK, a lot, and Postol hurt him bad. Hopefully he learns from this experience and starts to take stock of exactly the true extent of how much the MSM built him up to suit their agenda and not because he was right. They blew steam up his ass day and daily and he lopped it all up to such an extent that an unemployed undergarment salesperson started to attack UN prosecutors and Pulitzer Prize journalists and became a “weapons expert” by watching bloody YouTube videos in the house.

    • John Daniels, Ph.D.

      This awesome, outragous, bald, couragous, and informative, all in one article. Thank you MintPress. You desererve an award for this.

    • charliebant

      Thank you Carmen Russell Sluchansky for interviewing them all on this, because they’ve all been the main voices on Syria and I don’t think any other journalist brought their stories together and compared them. This is real journalism.