Mar 18, 2014

Richard Lloyd's Trajectory Analysis

If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the conclusion page.

Richard Lloyd of Tesla, who previously published a widely-reported estimate of 2 km for the UMLACA/Volcano's range, and confirmed the Syrian Army's report of a rebel CW store in Jobar, has recently published an analysis of the sarin rocket trajectories.

The analysis reaches very similar results to those published here and in other blogs, indicating a launch source to the north.

However, Richard points to an interesting finding: A Syrian Air Force Intelligence facility located on this trajectory, at a distance of 2.8 km from the farthest impact site. (Note: For some reason, the diagrams show the base to be exactly on the trajectory. However, the impact sites provide an accuracy of only around 20 degrees, which covers the entire field west of Irbin).

This is of course a very important finding, since so far there was no evidence of government activity near the launch site (despite numerous reports of such activities all over Damascus).

However, there are a few obstacles before this could be used as evidence:

  1. The base is beyond the UMLACA/Volcano range. The report does not provide any explanation why a range beyond 2 km is considered (which was previously defined as the "upper possible range"). In any case, our more detailed model puts the upper limit at 2.5 km.
  2. Air force Intelligence is an Internal Security and Counter-Intelligence service. It is not involved in military operations, rocket artillery or chemical warfare. More specifically, this facility seems to have civilian cars parked outside and no military equipment.
Nevertheless, some scenarios could benefit from this new finding: For example, if we are to assume that the government had specific interest in targeting the civilian neighborhood of Zamalka, it is definitely conceivable that they brought the launcher and support truck to the facility, drove them after midnight to the nearby field to launch the attack and then retreated back.

The problem with this scenario is that it doesn't provide any significant military advantage over the alternative of driving the trucks directly from the nearby highway into the field. It of course still doesn't explain the many other discrepancies with such a scenario.

During the writing of this post, Mr. Lloyd published another report, which makes two claims:

  1. The wide distribution of impact sites could not have come from random dispersion around a single target, implying multiple launchers.
    The estimate of this blog is that a single launcher was used, each time rotated to a different azimuth. It is unclear why this simpler explanation is ignored.
  2. The range of the chemical Volcano is longer due its smaller mass.
    This blog's model has already examined this and found the difference to be negligible, since the lower mass also results in lower resistance to drag force, which in this case has significant effect on range.

Conclusion: The Air Force Intelligence facility near the launch location could have provided some cover to a government operation, but since it is beyond the Volcano range, its contribution is negligible compared to the alternatives. Therefore, this finding, while interesting, does not have significant implication on culpability.

Mar 10, 2014

Ridiculed Jobar Lab actually was Sarin Related

If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the conclusion page.

Richard Lloyd of Tesla, who previously published a widely-reported estimate of 2 km for the UMLACA/Volcano's range, has recently made another interesting discovery.

First, some background: Three days after the Ghouta attack, the Syrian news agency reported that Syrian soldiers who entered Jobar discovered an underground chemical weapons store, and that some of them suffered from "suffocation". This was quickly dismissed as a desperate attempt to divert attention, and the equipment was estimated to be related to explosives production or to protection from a chemical attack. This blog too did not find that report useful.

However, Mr. Lloyd managed to identify in a video of the location two items which perfectly match the sarin IEDs used against Syrian soldiers in Jobar, as reported in the final UN report. This attack was of special interest as it was the only one where the UN detected sarin in a soldier's blood sample (despite a one month delay in sampling).

See here the full report.

Update: An anonymous contributor below noted that the soldiers were attacked by the IEDs just 250m from the likely launch location of the August 21st attack. Besides further strengthening the connection between the two attacks, it provides another important indication: Since the Syrian army has reported being attacked while advancing into this area on August 24th, it is likely that the area (and rocket launch location) was under opposition control on August 21st.

Update: The UN reported that two cylinders seized in August by the Syrian Army tested positive for sarin. It is reasonable to assume this report relates to the IEDs found in Jobar.

Conclusion: The underground store discovered by the Syrian Army in Jobar was indeed a chemical weapons store.

Mar 7, 2014

Quote from Commission of Inquiry on Syria

If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the conclusion page.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, has issued its 7th report which deals with many atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict, but also provided the following interesting quote (page 19):
The evidence available concerning the nature, quality and quantity of the agents used on 21 August indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military, as well as the expertise and equipment necessary to manipulate safely large amount of chemical agents.
The report also states that the chemical agents used in Ghouta were similar to the Khan Al-Assal attack, and concludes that "In no incident was the commission’s evidentiary threshold met with respect to the perpetrator".

This seems to indicate the commission had information that could prove valuable for our research here. Unfortunately, UN bodies have proven in the past to be a problematic source of information when dealing with the Ghouta attack, so some care should be practiced. Indeed, the first thing that stands out is that the commission does not provide any evidence to support its conclusion, or even provide an indication of what that evidence could be. This obviously renders this information unusable for our investigation.

Nevertheless, we can try to deduce what information the commission has by analyzing their statements.

A first clue is given in the first question in the press conference that followed the report, where the commission's chairman explains that since they did not visit Syria, their conclusion is based principally on the existing findings of Sellstrom's team, as well as "interviews with experts and functionaries".

A second clue is the comparison to the Khan Al-Assal attack, which is said to have "the same unique hallmarks as those used in Al-Ghouta". Since Sellstrom's team did not visit Khan Al-Assal and had no field samples, the only source for such a comparison would be Russia's 100-page report of the attack submitted to the UN, which included certified lab results of field samples. The full results were not published, but were reported to provide evidence that RDX was used as the bursting charge.

These clues bring us back to the well-known Hexamine issue - which serves as the current "smoking gun", ever since the "trajectory intersection" theory was refuted. Since RDX is based on Hexamine, it seems likely that the Russian labs reported Hexamine in their samples, which brought the commission to connect them to the Hexamine in the Ghouta attack (probably correctly), and both attacks to the Syrian stockpiles (probably incorrectly).

So since the commission refuses to provide any evidence, states that their conclusion is based on Sellstrom's data, and found similarities to Khan Al-Assal, there is little reason to believe they have more information besides the well-known Hexamine finding.

The other evidence mentioned is the amount of agent used, which is indeed one of the main challenges to the opposition-attack theory. However, detailed analysis indicates that while not an easy feat, producing such amounts is within the opposition's capabilities. The recent UN evidence showing the opposition deploying tens of kg of sarin, further strengthened this position.

As a side note, for those who are not familiar with the UN's multiple manipulations during the Ghouta investigation and choose to take this report at face value as indicative of a government attack, it should be pointed out that this would indicate that the only two cases where the government chose to use sarin at large scale are (a) an attack against Syrian soldiers in a government-controlled area, and (b) a massive attack on a purely civilian opposition neighborhood carried out upon arrival of a UN team invited to investigate the first attack. - An obviously perplexing choice of targets.

Finally, it is important once again to remember that the Ghouta attack is no longer a mystery where each little clue can change the picture (like it was in the early days). We now have very strong evidence implicating the opposition in the attack, and so far no one was able to propose a regime attack theory that is consistent with the evidence (see the end of this post to understand why this is so difficult). For our understanding to change, very strong contradicting evidence should be brought forward, or alternatively a plausible theory for a regime attack should be formulated. Vague statements or general-purpose chemicals claimed to be smoking guns, sadly, do not qualify.

Conclusion: The commission's quote seems to be based on the Hexamine findings and the amount of agent used, both of which have already been known and analyzed here before, and found to be of little value.