Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour M. Hersh has written a detailed and devastating exposure of the U.S. government’s manipulation of military intelligence to create a pretext for the war it very nearly unleashed against Syria last September.
Hersh’s main conclusion is that President Barack Obama and many in his administration “omitted important intelligence … presented assumptions as facts … [and] failed to acknowledge something known to the U.S. intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the … war with access to sarin.”
Hersh gained worldwide fame for exposing the My Lai massacre and cover-up in Vietnam in 1969. His 2004 articles detailed the systematic torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq directed by the U.S. military, the CIA and private contractors.
This latest article, published in the London Review of Books on Dec. 8, utilizes current and former intelligence sources to whom Hersh has a long history of access. Classified documents going back months before the Aug. 21 sarin attack outside Damascus, Syria, show that the U.S. government concluded that the al-Nusra Front, a major force in the Syrian rebel movement, had “mastered the mechanics of creating sarin … in quantity.” Yet in his Sept. 10 televised speech, President Obama insisted that the Syrian government was responsible and that only they had sarin capabilities.
Some high-level intelligence officers went to Hersh about this misuse of intelligence. One compared it to the fraudulent Gulf of Tonkin incident that was used to justify widespread bombing of north Vietnam in 1964. “Obama … and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along,” stated one officer.
By selective reporting, some major U.S. media also collaborated with the Obama game plan of deception. Nine days after the Aug. 21 incident, the administration delivered a document making the case for Syrian government culpability to a handpicked group of journalists. The Washington Post gave front-page coverage to how the U.S. traced every step of the attack, linking it to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
When the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was forced to issue a correction days later, the Washington Post chose not to reveal this to its readers.
Similarly, the New York Times made use of a Sept. 16 United Nations report to claim that the munitions, the flight path and the length of the rocket flight conclusively implicated the Syrian army as the source of the sarin attack. The report itself, however, warned that the rebel controlled area allowed the evidence to be “possibly manipulated.”
When Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of science, technology and international security Theodore Postol and missile technology expert Richard M. Lloyd later concluded that calculations of the flight path and range could not be as earlier reported, the New York Times failed to report this.
Hersh details months of intelligence warnings given to the White House about the danger that the radical Islamist al-Nusra Front had the capability to manufacture sarin. This included a four-page, June 20, top-secret report to David R. Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were also worried, according to secret reports, that should U.S. troops occupy Syria they could come under sarin gas attack by rebel forces.
Before Aug. 21, the CIA informed the White House that a former Iraqi army chemical weapons expert had moved into Syria. He was reported to be working in Eastern Ghouta, the same area that suffered the sarin gas attack.
The Sept. 27 U.N. Security Council resolution on the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria also indicates that rebel groups are included. Since that time, the U.N. reports that the Syrian government has cooperated with the international inspectors to destroy their stockpiles of chemical weapons.
A big question still remains. After concocting the lies on sarin, why in September did Obama hold off a U.S. attack and do a 180-degree turnaround, agreeing to the Russian plan for destruction of chemical weapons?
Clearly the war drive never took hold among the people of the U.S. Public opinion polls showed more than 90 percent opposition to another war. Worldwide support for Syria remained strong, especially among Syria’s major allies Iran, Russia and China.
In the face of this broad hostility, some sectors of the U.S. military and intelligence services may also have considered it unwise to go to war. It would be foolish, though, to count on these militarists to stop future wars.
On the other hand, what should not be missed is the power of the mass of the people in the U.S. and around the world to influence and change the course of history. These latest revelations should serve to strengthen the anti-war, anti-imperialist movements and increase the people’s suspicion and mistrust of the U.S. government and its willing corporate media tools.