Seymour Hersh is not some guy off the street with a laptop and a head full of crazy ideas. The pulitzer prize winning journalist broke the My Lai Massacre story during the Vietnam War and also led reporting on the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. Well his most recent investigative reporting involves covering some of the blatant lies told by the Obama Administration earlier this year in an attempt to push the nation into a war in Syria on behalf of al-Qaeda, based on some very shaky evidence that Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons. Bizarrely enough, the publication with which Mr. Hersh is most associated, The New Yorker, refused to publish it. So did The Washington Post. (By the way, check out the headline from the Telegraph to the left ; It’s propaganda at it’s most transparent, it’s almost obscene how in-your-face it is.)
I don’t know about you, but this sure stinks of self-censopship to me. In particular, I think the Washington Post is playing defense following its reporting of the Edward Snowden leaks, and is afraid to further piss off the crony Obama Administration. It also seems likely The Post didn’t want to publish an article that would have showcased the paper’s own sloppy and irresponsible reporting on the matter. Which if true, is beyond pathetic.
From the Huffington Post:
NEW YORK — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh accused the Obama administration Sunday of having “cherry-picked intelligence” regarding the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Syria that served as evidence for an argument in favor of striking President Bashar Assad’s government.
In his piece — titled “Whose Sarin?” — Hersh reported that al-Nusra, a jihadi group fighting in Syria’s long-running civil war, had also “mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity.” Therefore, he wrote, “Obama did not tell the whole story” when stating with certainty that Assad had to be responsible, crossing a so-called “red line” that would trigger U.S. retaliation.
You don’t say…
Hersh is a freelancer, but he’s best known these days for his work in The New Yorker, where he helped break the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. While Hersh is not a New Yorker staff writer, it was notable that his 5,500-word investigative piece landed in the London Review of Books, a London literary and intellectual magazine, rather than the publication with which he’s most closely associated.
It’s unclear exactly why the Post decided not to publish the story. Hersh wrote that he was told by email that Executive Editor Marty Baron decided “that the sourcing in the article did not meet the Post’s standards.”
In an email, Hersh reiterated his contention that the administration “may have not played it straight about a war crime [and] actually asked America to go to war without a solid case.” Such consequential issues, he wrote, make his own “travails” to get the piece published “seem slight.”
In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – 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. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.
A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening. The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’
The Post report also provided the first indication of a secret sensor system inside Syria, designed to provide early warning of any change in status of the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal. The sensors are monitored by the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that controls all US intelligence satellites in orbit. According to the Postsummary, the NRO is also assigned ‘to extract data from sensors placed on the ground’ inside Syria. The former senior intelligence official, who had direct knowledge of the programme, told me that NRO sensors have been implanted near all known chemical warfare sites in Syria. They are designed to provide constant monitoring of the movement of chemical warheads stored by the military.
The sensors detected no movement in the months and days before 21 August, the former official said. It is of course possible that sarin had been supplied to the Syrian army by other means, but the lack of warning meant that Washington was unable to monitor the events in Eastern Ghouta as they unfolded.
The White House needed nine days to assemble its case against the Syrian government. On 30 August it invited a select group of Washington journalists (at least one often critical reporter,, the national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, was not invited), and handed them a document carefully labelled as a ‘government assessment’, rather than as an assessment by the intelligence community. The document laid out what was essentially a political argument to bolster the administration’s case against the Assad government. It was, however, more specific than Obama would be later, in his speech on 10 September: American intelligence, it stated, knew that Syria had begun ‘preparing chemical munitions’ three days before the attack. In an aggressive speech later that day, John Kerry provided more details. He said that Syria’s ‘chemical weapons personnel were on the ground, in the area, making preparations’ by 18 August. ‘We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons.’ The government assessment and Kerry’s comments made it seem as if the administration had been tracking the sarin attack as it happened. It is this version of events, untrue but unchallenged, that was widely reported at the time.
On 31 August the Washington Post, relying on the government assessment, had vividly reported on its front page that American intelligence was able to record ‘each step’ of the Syrian army attack in real time, ‘from the extensive preparations to the launching of rockets to the after-action assessments by Syrian officials’. It did not publish the AP corrective, and the White House maintained control of the narrative.
The White House further declared: ‘We have no reliable corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.’ The statement contradicted evidence that at the time was streaming into US intelligence agencies.
Already by late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta.
The proposed American missile attack on Syria never won public support and Obama turned quickly to the UN and the Russian proposal for dismantling the Syrian chemical warfare complex. Any possibility of military action was definitively averted on 26 September when the administration joined Russia in approving a draft UN resolution calling on the Assad government to get rid of its chemical arsenal. Obama’s retreat brought relief to many senior military officers. (One high-level special operations adviser told me that the ill-conceived American missile attack on Syrian military airfields and missile emplacements, as initially envisaged by the White House, would have been ‘like providing close air support for al-Nusra’.)
While the Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal, the irony is that, after Assad’s stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone.
The Obama Administration literally has the foreign policy of a three year old child. A three year old with nukes.
Read Seymour Hersh’s full article published in the London Review of Books here.
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