Who Was Behind the Syrian Sarin ‘False Flag’ Attack?

It’s in somewhat dubious taste to start off a column by saying "I told you so," but in this case that’s the shortest and indeed only way to convey my reaction to Seymour Hersh’s piece in the London Review of Books revealing that the chemical attack which nearly triggered a full-scale US military operation against the Assad regime was a false flag incident engineered by the Turks.

As I pointed out back in September, as the backlash against the supposedly imminent Syria strike gathered steam:

"Congress is wary because of the polls – no one wants to own this one. As for the media: they, too, are taking it slow, writing articles about how everyone has ‘learned the lesson of Iraq.’ But their version of that ‘lesson’ has little to do with the ‘intelligence’ we’re being given that’s supposed to justify this latest Crusade for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. For the most part, they’ve swallowed the administration’s account of what supposedly happened at Ghouta, and in earlier incidents of alleged poison gas attacks, which is that Assad ‘is gassing his own people.’

"The blind acceptance of this ‘fact’ is one of the stranger elements of the current war hysteria – because if we truly have learned ‘the lesson of Iraq’ then why is everyone repeating the US government’s war propaganda as if it’s beyond dispute?"

Now we learn from Hersh, citing senior intelligence officials, that even as US officials were proclaiming that only the Syrian government had the capability to deploy chemical weapons, and specifically sarin, Western intelligence agencies and the Pentagon knew better. As I noted here, the Russians secured samples days after the late August incident, concluding that the sarin wasn’t military grade and the means of delivery appeared makeshift.

Hersh takes the story further, relating that the Russians sent the samples to the British, who confirmed their analysis. At which point the joint chiefs led by anti-interventionist Gen. Jack Dempsey – who had previously gone public in warning against the geopolitical consequences of a US attack on Syria – went to the President "with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs," reports Hersh, citing former intelligence officials, "who led Obama to change course." In a laugh-out-loud moment, Hersh writes:

"The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out."

So they lied to everyone, perhaps even to themselves. Because neither of these explanations even approaches the truth – which is that the President, even after being confronted with evidence he’d been hoaxed, decided to try to rope everyone into the lie. Rather than call the whole the whole thing off, the White House did a good imitation of observing the democratic process – all the while asserting in testimony before Congress that the Assad regime had "gassed their own people" and that the rebels were the victims rather than the perpetrators. Indeed, they assert the same nonsense to this day, as indicated by the terse denials included in Hersh’s piece. Yet they were (and are) lying through their teeth, reports Hersh, without coming right out and saying so. Citing a former intelligence official, he says US intelligence analysts suspected the Turks, and goes on to relate how:

"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 Erdoğan’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.’"

It also turns out that the international Surveillance State has its uses, because, according to Hersh’s source, we "intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and backslapping 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.’ Erdoğan’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.’"

Well, no, but not because anyone in the "mainstream" media has ever challenged the official story of the sarin gas attack. And speaking of intercepts – this brings up an issue not raised by Hersh, who pins the blame on the Turks alone.

At the height of the war hysteria, you’ll recall, we were told Israel’s Unit 8200 electronic counterintelligence task force had intercepted the internal communications of the Syrian army commander on the scene and Damascus headquarters – and that the transcript proved conclusively the Syrian government had ordered the attacks. Yet an article by Kenneth Timmerman in the Daily Caller last year claimed those transcripts were "doctored," although the piece kept mum on the question of who did the doctoring.

What did the President know – and when did he know it? Hersh says "The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House" – except when Obama was confronted by the joint chiefs with the British report. "‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told [Hersh]":

"‘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 Erdoğan.’”

The President didn’t care about the facts in the first place, and his knowledge of the truth didn’t lead him to change course. If not for the public outcry against US intervention he would’ve gone ahead with it as long as he thought he could get away with it.

Hersh delivers several other bombshells, reporting that the Pentagon was asked to draw up plans not only for a bombing campaign but also was conducting "intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons." The initial limited strikes proposed by the Pentagon were rejected and as D-day approached the target list kept expanding until it included most of the Syrian infrastructure. So much for Kerry’s "unbelievably small" air strike: what Washington had in mind amounted to nothing less than pulverizing the country, toppling the regime, and occupying the country.

Another bombshell: the Benghazi "consulate" that was attacked and in which Ambassador Stevens was killed was never anything other than a cover enabling the shipment of arms taken from Gaddafi’s arsenals to Syrian rebel factions. Hersh reveals that a "highly classified annex" to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi report says the CIA-operated outpost was established in order to facilitate a secret agreement between foreign supporters of the rebels to set up a "rat line" – covert supply line – between Benghazi and the Turkish route to the rebel camps. The Saudis, Qatar, and the Turks would provide the funding, and the CIA and MI6 who would take care of the logistics.

In the wake of the Benghazi attack, the rat line continued to function, albeit without a US window into its operations. Heavy military equipment of the sort the US had always sought to keep out of rebel hands began to show up on the Syrian battlefield. With the US and the Brits out of the picture, the way was paved for the necessary technical components of the false flag operation to be shipped from Benghazi, and that now appears to be a real possibility.

What we know for sure is that Sen. Rand Paul was dead on right when he demanded of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton whether she knew about the involvement of our "consulate" in secret arms shipments to the rebels from Benghazi. In his famous confrontation at a Senate hearing the current frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination asked Clinton:

"Is the U.S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?”

“CLINTON: To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody has ever raised that with me.

“PAUL: It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons and what I’d like to know is the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included?”

Clinton sneered and smirked while declaring nobody’s ever asked her such a question, and her progressive fan club retweeted her smirkiness. ThinkProgress snarked that “Paul’s inquiry about Turkey seems less odd if you’re familiar with Glenn Beck-inspired conspiracy theories that have been circulating among right-wing websites since the attacks in Libya.”

Now that the evidence is in, and it turns out the Senator was right and Rachel Maddow was wrong, do you think any of these regime apologists will come out and acknowledge their utter wrongness? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. But just remember: Sen. Paul was right – and you read it here first.

The really fascinating question, as far as I’m concerned, is who was really behind the Syrian false flag operation? Yes, the Turks, the Qataris, the Saudis – the usual suspects – did the dirty work, but what I want to know is who inside the administration was pushing back so strenuously against the Pentagon’s opposition to a strike – and keeping the intelligence away from the White House until the joint chiefs confronted him with it? Who "doctored" those Israeli intercepts? Who almost lied us into war – again – that time?

It wasn’t just Turkey, Qatar, and the Saudi king. They had to have American accomplices. Who were they?

That’s what I want to know.


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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].