On Toobz and Gases

Danger Room answers–sort of–one of the big questions I had after reading NYT’s report (relying in part on Israeli sources) that Syria appeared to be preparing to use its chemical weapons: what is the connection between Syria’s two and a half day Internet outage last week and today’s barrage of leaks reporting on the CW?

On Thursday, Syria abruptly became disconnected from the internet, likely after the regime disabled the four cables that provide Syria with connectivity. The rebels use the internet not only to document regime atrocities but to disseminate training tactics and to spread their propaganda,. Yet the regime also relies on the internet: it’s tried to hijack rebel hardware by spreading spyware in the form of fake security software. As Danger Room predicted last week, the outage ended quickly, as online monitor Renesys confirmed a “largely complete restoration of the Syrian Internet” by Saturday.

The U.S. official doesn’t believe the internet blackout was related to the combination of the chemical weapon binaries. And at the Pentagon, Defense Department spokesman Little said the online outage didn’t make a difference for the U.S. understanding of Assad’s dangerous weapons. “The U.S. government has good visibility into the chemical weapons program and we continue to monitor it,” Little said.

These paragraphs make it clear that:

  1. The US and Israel are not relying on the Toobz to spy on the Assad regime
  2. A US source claims to believe there is no tie between alleged Syrian moves, taken on Wednesday, to mix sarin precursors and the complete shutdown on Thursday of Syria’s Internet

Danger Room’s sources aren’t even asserting that both events–the mixing of the CW on Wednesday and the Intertoobz blackout on Thursday–are both signs of Bashar al-Assad’s panic.

Which would sort of be the default unless intelligence sources had reason to know that the Intertoobz blackout had nothing to do with the CW mixing.

We’ve long traced interesting Intertoobz blackouts caused by cut cables on this blog: the recent blackout in Djibouti. to a cable in the Bay Area, to a number of cut cables in the Middle East back in 2008.

It appears to be an increasingly common tactic, one difficult to attribute to a specific actor.

But if one of those actors comes out a few days after an outage and says they have no reason to find that outage as suspicious as the mixing of CW, maybe it’s not so hard to attribute after all.

Update: See Moon of Alabama’s description of why Assad is not mixing chemicals. Which makes it all the more interesting that US sources claim to be so certain the outage had not ties to their claimed sarin mixing.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. Jeff Kaye says:

    So, Spencer and Noah at Wired — surprise, surprise — are toting propaganda bags for Syrian interventionists in the U.S., Israel and NATO. We have to read down into the story to see the amount of chemicals are “modest” and anyway haven’t crossed the “red line” set by Obama.

    But then, Spencer also leaves out, as I’m sad to say is also missing in this article, the NYT emphasis on the need for Syrian security and fear the opposition may also get these weapons.

    “We’re worried about what the military is doing,” one official said, “but we’re also worried about some of the opposition groups,” including some linked to Hezbollah, which has set up camps near some of the chemical weapons depots.

    Frankly, just because Wired reports the mixing of CW chemicals doesn’t mean I believe it. In fact, why should we believe any assertions from officials of the government that keeps its own chemical warfare operations top secret, who used chemical weapons in Vietnam (Agent Orange) and Iraq (white phosphorus), who hid for 40 years (that’s right, 40 fucking years) the fact they amnestied Japanese WWII researchers who mass experimented on POWs and civilians both biological and chemical weapons, then turned around and used some of these same weapons on North Korea and China during the Korean War.

    WMD? Where have I heard this song before? 75,000 troops to hunt down the WMD? Who would be surprised here, really who? if we don’t have 75,000 troops or more in Syria by election time 2016, or hell, before the mid-terms in ’14?

  2. Jeff Kaye says:

    This isn’t about chemical weapons, and to follow that meme is to facilitate the U.S.-Saudi policy of hegemony in the Middle East. (Assad is horrible, but those slated to replace him will be no better.)

    As Seymour Hersh wrote 5 years ago (!):

    [Lebanese Druze leader] Jumblatt then told me that he had met with Vice-President Cheney in Washington last fall to discuss, among other issues, the possibility of undermining Assad. He and his colleagues advised Cheney that, if the United States does try to move against Syria, members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood would be “the ones to talk to,” Jumblatt said.

    The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a branch of a radical Sunni movement founded in Egypt in 1928, engaged in more than a decade of violent opposition to the regime of Hafez Assad, Bashir’s father. In 1982, the Brotherhood took control of the city of Hama; Assad bombarded the city for a week, killing between six thousand and twenty thousand people. Membership in the Brotherhood is punishable by death in Syria. The Brotherhood is also an avowed enemy of the U.S. and of Israel. Nevertheless, Jumblatt said, “We told Cheney that the basic link between Iran and Lebanon is Syria—and to weaken Iran you need to open the door to effective Syrian opposition.”

    There is evidence that the Administration’s redirection strategy has already benefitted the Brotherhood. The Syrian National Salvation Front is a coalition of opposition groups whose principal members are a faction led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian Vice-President who defected in 2005, and the Brotherhood. A former high-ranking C.I.A. officer told me, “The Americans have provided both political and financial support. The Saudis are taking the lead with financial support, but there is American involvement.” He said that Khaddam, who now lives in Paris, was getting money from Saudi Arabia, with the knowledge of the White House.

    Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/03/05/070305fa_fact_hersh#ixzz2E1h32u8C

  3. emptywheel says:

    @Jeff Kaye: My point in this post is not so much the CW claim. It’s to observe that the sources on the CW claim seem to indicate a remarkable certitude about the Toobz outage, one that presumably comes from directly involvement in it.

  4. Ben Franklin says:

    You have to be soooooooo careful of hidden agendas. I’ve often wondered how Dangerroom gets it’s stoires as they seem to reflect an admiration for the weaponry, almost like a PC gamer. Wait…….It’s WIRED !!!!!!

  5. Frank33 says:

    @Ben Franklin:
    We can only hope Spencer becomes unembedded. Until then we must try to interpret his scary description of General Petraeus.

    How I Was Drawn Into the Cult of David Petraeus

    When it came out that CIA Director David Petraeus had an affair with his hagiographer, I got punked…

    To be clear, none of this was the old quid-pro-quo of access for positive coverage.

    Meet the new Petraeus, same as the old Petraeus. It was the Affair that was sad. The blood and corruption of Irak and Afghanistan left by all these Generals may be noticed soon by Attackerman. Or not.

  6. Ben Franklin says:

    @Frank33:

    If you haven’t seen the Petraeus secret video, make sure you’re not working around heavy machinery.. Note the names of the three he allows in the room to hear his tantrum.

  7. Kathleen says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Next stop for Spencer Ackerman with these unsubstantiated claims about Syria will be on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s program. She has had Spencer on quite often. We watch once again how falsehoods move through the system.

  8. joanneleon says:

    Another blog to drop off my list. I used to check DangerRoom all the time. I’ve had to drop a lot of them off over the past six months or so. Progressive blogosphere is in bad shape. Too many compromised.

    People have really short memories. They don’t hear the same drumbeat that we heard before the Iraq war and haven’t been hearing it re: Iran for months on end now? Is it a matter of short memories? Jesus.

  9. greengiant says:

    @Jeff Kaye: anti Assad Saudi, AQ, Egypt, brotherhood are all/mostly Sunni? Assad is a minority Alawite a Shia sect, Shia Iran and Iraq? support Assad.

    I have to wonder where the hegemony cash flow is now in places like Egypt. Is it still to the military industrial clique like it is in Iran?

  10. Eureka Springs says:

    It took so very little time (years ago) to see clearly Ackerman is a bloody war porno fan/author. I was more than a little shocked and extremely disappointed when fdl took him on/kept him so long. Now there may be valuable info from some of his ilk on occasion, but as an ardent anti war human being (who happens to have been correct his entire life- even when based on instinct or base no war principle) I must admit I take a little pleasure in seeing his type face a bit of karma.

    As Glenn G. would probably say about now… Ackerman should reveal the sources who screwed him. And I have to wonder what exactly must Ack do in order to be wired fired?

  11. leveymg says:

    Moon Over Alabama is right there is no need to mix binary agents for installation into Syria’s existing stock of missile warheads and 122mm artillery shells. There are other explanations:

    1) An explanation offered is that the production facility has mixed additional stocks of Sirin to replace depleted supplies of nerve agent that is delivered by some other dispersal device. [Seems an unnecessary risk to be transporting and handling quantities of non-compartmentalized nerve gas, when there is an alternative.]

    2) It may be, however, that some intel that was actually received was misinterpreted (perhaps intentionally). It may be that Syria has actually restarted production of the more exotic of the two component chemicals. [If true, seems a somewhat less dramatic development.]

    3) The mixing story is disinformation or propaganda intended to ratchet up tensions and support pressure for a major policy shift being contemplated. [Shades of Curveball.]

    Finally, there is an aspect to this that is being overlooked. If indeed there is any validity to Syria preparing its strategic deterrent, that indicates that the regime change game is entering the End Game stage, which entails enormously heightened risks.

    As alarming as that indeed is, that things have reached this point at all should be taken as confirmation that the strategy of “humanitarian intervention” in Syria and the suppositions about the regime and its opponents that underlay it were fundamentally flawed. That in, itself, should be reason for sane people to pause about what comes next.

    For more on how this shows the fatal flaws in the Administration’s regime change strategy, please see, “Syria Boxed into a Use-‘Em-or-Lose-‘Em WMD Dilemma Holding a Deadman Trigger”, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/12/03/1166844/-Syria-Boxed-into-a-Use-Em-or-Lose-Em-WMD-Dilemma-Holding-a-Deadman-Trigger

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