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Parry writes: "Last August, the Obama administration lurched to the brink of invading Syria after blaming a Sarin gas attack outside Damascus on President Bashar al-Assad's government, but new evidence – reported by investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh – implicates Turkish intelligence and extremist Syrian rebels instead."

President Obama and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, left, meet in the Oval Office to discuss the Syria situation with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham in 2013. (photo: Pete Souza/White House)
President Obama and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, left, meet in the Oval Office to discuss the Syria situation with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham in 2013. (photo: Pete Souza/White House)


Was Turkey Behind Syrian Sarin Attack?

By Robert Parry, Consortium News

07 Apri 14

 

ast August, the Obama administration lurched to the brink of invading Syria after blaming a Sarin gas attack outside Damascus on President Bashar al-Assad’s government, but new evidence – reported by investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh – implicates Turkish intelligence and extremist Syrian rebels instead.

The significance of Hersh’s latest report is twofold: first, it shows how Official Washington’s hawks and neocons almost stampeded the United States into another Mideast war under false pretenses, and second, the story’s publication in the London Review of Books reveals how hostile the mainstream U.S. media remains toward information that doesn’t comport with its neocon-dominated conventional wisdom.

In other words, it appears that Official Washington and its mainstream press have absorbed few lessons from the disastrous Iraq War, which was launched in 2003 under the false claim that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was planning to share hidden stockpiles of WMD with al-Qaeda, when there was no WMD nor any association between Hussein and al-Qaeda.

A decade later In August and September 2013, as a new war hysteria broke out over Assad allegedly crossing President Barack Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons, it fell to a few Internet sites, including our own Consortiumnews.com, to raise questions about the administration’s allegations that pinned the Aug. 21 attack on the Syrian government.

Not only did the U.S. government fail to provide a single piece of verifiable evidence to support its claims, a much-touted “vector analysis” by Human Rights Watch and the New York Times – supposedly tracing the flight paths of two rockets back to a Syrian military base northwest of Damascus – collapsed when it became clear that only one rocket carried Sarin and its range was less than one-third the distance between the army base and the point of impact. That meant the rocket carrying the Sarin appeared to have originated in rebel territory.

There were other reasons to doubt the Obama administration’s casus belli, including the irrationality of Assad ordering a chemical weapons strike outside Damascus just as United Nations inspectors were unpacking at a local hotel with plans to investigate an earlier attack that the Syrian government blamed on the rebels.

Assad would have known that a chemical attack would have diverted the inspectors (as it did) and would force President Obama to declare that his “red line” had been crossed, possibly prompting a massive U.S. retaliatory strike (as it almost did).

Plans for War

Hersh’s article describes how devastating the U.S. aerial bombardment was supposed to be, seeking to destroy Assad’s military capability, which, in turn, could have cleared the way to victory for the Syrian rebels, whose fortunes had been declining.

Hersh wrote: “Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed.

“‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’

“The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.”

According to Hersh, the administration’s war plans were disrupted by U.S. and British intelligence analysts who uncovered evidence that the Sarin was likely not released by the Assad government and indications that Turkey’s intelligence services may have collaborated with radical rebels to deploy the Sarin as a false-flag operation.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan sided with the Syrian opposition early in the civil conflict and provided a vital supply line to the al-Nusra Front, a violent group of Sunni extremists with ties to al-Qaeda and increasingly the dominant rebel fighting force. By 2012, however, internecine conflicts among rebel factions had contributed to Assad’s forces gaining the upper hand.

The role of Islamic radicals – and the fear that advanced U.S. weapons might end up in the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists – unnerved President Obama who pulled back on U.S. covert support for the rebels. That frustrated Erdogan who pressed Obama to expand U.S. involvement, according to Hersh’s account.

Hersh wrote: “By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdogan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the [U.S] cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’”

‘Red Line’ Worries

Recognizing Obama’s political sensitivity over his “red line” pledge, the Turkish government and Syrian rebels saw chemical weapons as the way to force the President’s hand, Hersh reported, writing:

“In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability.

“‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdogan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdogan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond [to small chemical weapons attacks] in March and April.’”

The dispute between Erdogan and Obama came to a head at a White House meeting on May 16, 2013, when Erdogan unsuccessfully lobbied for a broader U.S. military commitment to the rebels, Hersh reported.

Three months later, in the early hours of Aug. 21, a mysterious missile delivered a lethal load of Sarin into a suburb east of Damascus. The Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. press corps immediately jumped to the conclusion that the Syrian government had launched the attack, which the U.S. government claimed killed at least “1,429” people although the number of victims cited by doctors and other witnesses on the scene was much lower.

Yet, with the media stampede underway, anyone who questioned the U.S. government’s case was trampled under charges of being an “Assad apologist.” But we few skeptics continued to point out the lack of evidence to support the rush to war. Obama also encountered political resistance in both the British Parliament and U.S. Congress, but hawks in the U.S. State Department were itching for a new war.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a bellicose speech on Aug. 30 amid expectations that the U.S. bombs would start flying within days. But Obama hesitated, first referring the war issue to Congress and later accepting a compromise brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to have Assad surrender all of his chemical weapons even as Assad continued denying any role in the Aug. 21 attacks.

Obama took the deal but continued asserting publicly that Assad was guilty and disparaging anyone who thought otherwise. In a formal address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013, Obama declared, “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.”

Suspicions of Turkey

However, by autumn 2013, U.S. intelligence analysts were among those who had joined in the “insult to human reason” as their doubts about Assad’s guilt grew. Hersh cited an ex-intelligence official saying: “the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’

“As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular.

“’Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’

“Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’”

According to the thinking of Turkish intelligence, Hersh reported, “Erdogan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’”

Hersh added that the U.S. intelligence community has been reluctant to pass on to Obama the information contradicting the Assad-did-it scenario. Hersh wrote:

“The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdogan.’”

Like the bloody U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, last year’s near U.S. air war against Syria is a cautionary tale for Americans regarding the dangers that result when the U.S. government and mainstream media dance off hand in hand, leaping to conclusions and laughing at doubters.

The key difference between the war in Iraq and the averted war on Syria was that President Obama was not as eager as his predecessor, George W. Bush, to dress himself up as a “war president.” Another factor was that Obama had the timely assistance of Russian President Putin to chart a course that skirted the abyss.

Given how close the U.S. neocons came to maneuvering a reluctant Obama into another “regime change” war on a Mideast adversary of Israel, you can understand why they are so angry with Putin and why they were so eager to hit back at him in Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]


 

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+23 # MidwesTom 2014-04-07 14:37
This is a very interesting article, I thank RSN for publishing it.

The "timely assistance of Russian President Putin" consisted of Putin putting the Russian Navy along the Syrian coast. By so doing the US would have had to fire Cruse missiles over Russian ship to attack Syria---not a good idea.

The neocons and the AIPAC funded politicians want a major war, preferably in the Middle East; no matter what is cost in American lives and money.
 
 
+14 # RMDC 2014-04-07 14:58
I read the full article and find this case very convincing. Turkey has been trying in many ways to provoke an all out war against Syria. Turkey keeps bombing cities across the border hoping that the Syrians will launch a retaliatory attack. Israelis do the same. Syrians just have to absorb the deaths and destruction because a counter attack would be read in the western media as a "first strike."

But Obama, Turkey, and NATO got caught on this one. Putin did the important work of calling Obama's bluff. He said, "if you have evidence of Syrian use of chemical weapons, show the evidence to the world. If you don't show it to the world, then you don't have it." So shut up.

The NeoCons (including Obama, Kerry, and the rest) are really angry at Putin. But the score now is Putin 2 and Obama O. Soon it will be "game over" for Obama and he can go back to Chicago and have Ram Emmanuel lick his wounds for a few years.
 
 
+1 # Caliban 2014-04-09 10:39
Vladimir Putin is far from the worst leader that Russia has had and has the potential to be among the best, but his record on human rights, Russian civil liberties, and repressive internal politics hardly justifies the butt-kissing that RMDC gives him here. A few points:

Had Putin not pushed Assad into agreeing to surrender his chemical weapons, President Obama would have had no qualms about destroying most--if not all--of Syria's Russian-built aircraft and high-end weapons systems. So I score that Obama 1 and Putin 0.

One might note also that in the US, the evidence (such as it was) that perhaps Assad's military may not have launched the Sarin was published in news media everywhere in the US. Would anything similar be allowed in Putin's Russia (to say nothing of Assad's Syria)? Looking at how afraid Putin is of the feminist group Pussy Riot's modest radicalism, I would say Not a chance.

And Obama a Neocon? Let's admit that this word has expanded egregiously to include anybody that quasi-progressi ves don't like. Even so, the NeoCon leaders in the Bush 2 administration started two major wars in the mid-east that President Obama opposed and now has ended or is ending US military involvement in. So, you don't like Obama? Then Join the real NeoCons (if you aren't one already).
 
 
+27 # Agricanto 2014-04-07 14:58
This last bit is quite important. "Given how close the U.S. neocons came to maneuvering a reluctant Obama into another “regime change” war on a Mideast adversary of Israel, you can understand why they are so angry with Putin and why they were so eager to hit back at him in Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews. com’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]"

Indeed. McCain is out there bellowing that the red line was crossed and that we should have gone to war. Like blowing up the battleship Maine in Havana harbor, or the Gulf of Tonkin, or Saddam's womad, Americans have never been shy about manufacturing their causas belli.
 
 
+26 # Marxian 2014-04-07 15:05
I guess that the U.S. of Amnesia is still running true to form. A long history of false flag operations to drive the people into supporting an ill-advised and bogus war has not seemed to teach us anything. It seems that, with the mass media propaganda machine, we will get fooled again, and again, and again… All so the fat cats can accumulate More at the expense of the people's treasure and the lives of their precious youth.
 
 
+25 # PABLO DIABLO 2014-04-07 15:06
Get the neocons out of "our" government NOW. They have been a disaster since Reagan. STOP the National Endowment for Democracy.
 
 
+20 # Anonymot 2014-04-07 16:28
Republicans used to have a political position, to the right of center, but intelligently so. I rarely agreed with them but except for the McCarthy crowd they were not rabid fanatics until Vietnam. From then on it descended like an elevator with a cut cable. People like McCain and Petraeus, Hagel, Rice, Nuland, Powers and Clinton have become rabid about "regime change" and going to war for it.

I'm just reading a new translation of "Taras Bulba" by Gogol. The description of this Cossack and his bloodthirsty time reminds me of here now. We're supposed to have advanced from that, except for Hitler. We're supposed to be a Democracy, except for McCarthy. We're supposed to have war heroes, like McCain. But what we have in reality is borderline brain malfunctions - and not too borderline.

It's hard for a rational person to really grasp. What goes through their minds when they attack a Vietnam or an Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine on trumped up charges created by the CIA/NSA/NSC/ FBI/DOD/ETC.?

The WH knows what the truth is and how these initialed numbers set up puppet governments years before the plans were put into practice. How then can rational people spout the words that come from the mouths of BO & Kerry and those others who rose to Generals and Admirals and Presidential contenders of both parties?

I would like someone to give me an intelligent explanation - not dumb slogans or twitterese, but something with reason. Or have they just taken over the asylum?
 
 
+6 # jojo5056 2014-04-07 16:55
I keep reading Neo-cons on a continuous
drum beat. Would someone please explain who they are? Back in the Bush 2 era democrats filtered into Republican administration and were called New conservatives. Still today under the Obama admin--these tribe members are still called Neo cons. What gives?? Are authors fearful of using the real term and exposing the Israel firsters as being Neo Cons?
Hear me--Turkey is a stooge for America,It takes orders from USA.Turkey has been trying to join EU for some time. USA calls the shots-who gets in EU or NATO. Turkey is part of NATO--go figure??
Whole false flags about Chemical weapons usage on Syria is America's doing.
Hired hitman is not guilty as much as is the payer who wanted the killings.
 
 
+4 # MidwesTom 2014-04-07 17:14
A good answer to Who are Neocons can be found here:

http://www.kevinmacdonald.net/UnderstandJI-3.htm
 
 
+1 # Activista 2014-04-07 20:38
www.kevinmacdonald.net/UnderstandJI-3.htm
written by
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_B._MacDonald
will shock for sure some readers here - but censoring him will not improve critical thinking. Read.
 
 
+11 # seeuingoa 2014-04-07 17:31
Who cares about what a guy like McCain says, he didn´t care about the Americans
when he appointed Sarah Palin to be just
a heart attack from being president of
US.
 
 
+9 # seeuingoa 2014-04-07 17:36
McCain has one say left in this life,
the exact address of his retirement home.
 
 
+11 # Archie1954 2014-04-07 17:43
What does this information suggest about America's trillion dollar "intelligence" agencies and please excuse the oxymoron?
 
 
+10 # Anarchist 23 2014-04-07 18:43
Syria is so last year! On to Iran..or maybe Ukraine and Russia..or maybe North Korea,,or maybe Africa! So many choices! Call up our 'Man in,,,'
 
 
+4 # Activista 2014-04-07 20:24
This and Hersh article
www.lrb.co.uk/2014/04/06/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line
must wake up ALL Americans. How wars are being Made in USA?
- small group of fanatics/Israel controls the US government.
How close did we come to possible nuclear war? Will the World be so lucky next time? Saving the USA and the World is number one priority.
 
 
-5 # Patrice Ayme 2014-04-07 20:31
According to the UN, and other evidence, Assad killed more than 150,000 for his personal rule. Is Parry happy?

Parry is a professional entertainer, who distracts away from the war against plutocracy, with useless windmills to charge.
 
 
+3 # Activista 2014-04-07 20:53
"According to the UN, and other evidence, Assad killed more than 150,000 for his personal rule.."
can you provide some "evidence" - not propaganda?
Most of the killing/genocid e is done by foreign (USA, Qatar, Saudis ..) jihadists.
 
 
+2 # Khidr 2014-04-08 10:18
Who has to gain from all this killing and destruction of Muslim people and lands is Isreal. All her enemies are being checkmated one by one, to her delight. We have Saudies, Qatar, UAE and now Turkey being blamed for all this mayhem. Israel is being granted all this anoniminity in controlled media and in Progressive sites like RSN, Common Dreams, Truthdig etc. Have we Progressives lost are cajones?
 
 
+1 # dsepeczi 2014-04-08 12:22
Quoting Patrice Ayme:
According to the UN, and other evidence, Assad killed more than 150,000 for his personal rule. Is Parry happy?

Parry is a professional entertainer, who distracts away from the war against plutocracy, with useless windmills to charge.


Um, you might be shocked to learn that there's a bit of a civil war going on there ? I think it's safe to say that if a civil war were going on in America, American citizens would be killed. Many were brutalized for even protesting the plutocracy during the Occupy movement.
 
 
+6 # Activista 2014-04-07 21:04
www.lrb.co.uk/2014/04/06/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line
"The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)"
read Hersh second part of the article - it is MUCH more explosive - how USA was sending arms from Libya via Turkey to Syria - mostly foreign "rebels".
 

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