New MIT Report Undermines Obama Administration's Claims About Syrian Gas Attack
January 16, 2014 • 7:34PM

An analysis by MIT professor Theodore Postol and former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd challenges the US claims, made on Aug. 30, that, based on the technical characteristics of the Aug. 21 Ghouta chemical attack, only the Syrian government could have been responsible. The report, entitled 'Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013,' was issued on Jan. 14.

Postol and Lloyd's analysis of what is known about the rocket debris from the attack, concludes that the rockets could not have been fired from 9-10 kilometers away from the targets as had been claimed by Secretary of State John Kerry. In fact, Postol and Lloyd conclude that the upper limit of the range of the rockets could not have been much more than 2 kilometers, and that would have placed the launching site well outside the areas designated by the Obama administration as being controlled by the government. "This mistaken intelligence could have led to an unjustified US military action based on false intelligence," they wrote.

According to the MIT report, the type of rocket used in the Aug. 21 attack was the Russian-designed BM-21 type artillery rocket, a type of rocket which is widely available around the world. It has a nominal range of some 21 kilometers, but the modification of the rocket used in Ghouta amounted to placing a "soup can" containing the chemical agent on top of the rocket, thus greatly shortening its range for aerodynamic and structural reasons. According to the report, the Syrians did not claim the BM-21 as part of their chemical arsenal when they made their declaration to the OPCW, which further undermines the Obama Administration's claims.

"My view when I started this process was that it couldn't be anything but the Syrian government behind the attack. But now I'm not sure of anything. The administration narrative was not even close to reality. Our intelligence cannot possibly be correct," Postol told McClatchy news. "The Syrian rebels most definitely have the ability to make these weapons," he said. "I think they might have more ability than the Syrian government."

At the outset, the report lists the following crucial policy issues, in bullet form, related to their findings:

  • The Syrian Improvised Chemical Munitions that Were Used in the August 21, Nerve Agent Attack in Damascus Have a Range of About 2 Kilometers
  • The UN Independent Assessment of the Range of the Chemical Munition Is in Exact Agreement with Our Findings
  • This Indicates That These Munitions Could Not Possibly Have Been Fired at East Ghouta from the Heart, or from the Eastern Edge, of the Syrian Government Controlled Area Shown in the Intelligence Map Published by the White House on August 30, 2013.
  • This mistaken Intelligence Could Have Led to an Unjustified US Military Action Based on False Intelligence.
  • A Proper Vetting of the Fact That the Munition Was of Such Short Range Would Have Led to a Completely Different Assessment of the Situation from the Gathered Data
  • Whatever the Reasons for the Egregious Errors in the Intelligence, the Source of These Errors Needs to Be Explained.
  • If the Source of These Errors Is Not Identified, the Procedures that Led to this Intelligence Failure Will Go Uncorrected, and the Chances of a Future Policy Disaster Will Grow with Certainty.