It’s Like No One Noticed What Happened to Saddam and Qaddafi

I’m just now catching up to the Joby Warrick “explanation” of the Syrian chemical weapons scare from two weeks ago. Particularly coming on the heels of the NYT’s replay of its old Iraq A1 cutout play (see Moon of Alabama on that), I expected to react to it as propaganda first and foremost.

But mostly, I think the story is an awful mess.

A very central part of the story is that no one (“Western” and “Middle Eastern” sources are cited) knows whether Syrians began to mix the chemicals because of an order of Bashar al-Assad or because a rogue officer ordered it.

Intelligence analysts said the orders to prepare the weapons were issued about two weeks ago. They said it was not clear whether the decision came from senior Syrian leaders, possibly including President Bashar al-Assad, or from a field commander acting on his own, the officials said.

Since concerns surfaced in the summer that Syria was moving chemical weapons among several sites across the country, officials in Damascus have repeatedly pledged not to use the banned munitions. After the warnings last week from Obama and other foreign leaders, the Syrian Foreign Ministry repeated that it would not use chemical weapons against the rebel forces.

Still, the discovery that steps had been taken to activate weapons at at least one military base alarmed intelligence officials, because of fears that a single commander could unleash the deadly poisons without orders from higher up the chain of command.

In spite of this reported uncertainty, sources (including Leon Panetta, on the record) act like Assad “got the message.”

“We haven’t seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way,” Panetta told reporters during a visit to Kuwait. Referring to Obama’s warning to Assad, the defense secretary said, “I like to believe he’s got the message.”

That would seem to indicate a belief, perhaps within the US, that Assad gave the order.

Nevertheless the possibility that a rogue officer might launch a CW attack allows Warrick’s sources to entertain the possibility that a rogue officer would use the weapons while Assad would not because the officer might believe he has nothing left to lose.

“Once you’ve used the weapons, you know the world is coming after you,” the official said. “But if you’re a general and you think you’re not going to survive this, you might not care.”

What?!?!?

The standard treatment by the US for vanquished dictators these days–given the recent history of Saddam and Qaddafi–is a sloppy, humiliating death. Is it really possible that all the anti-Assad intelligence agencies have failed to think through the implications of this? Assad, far more than a rogue General, would have to believe he wasn’t going to live.

Not to mention that the latter half of Warrick’s article suggests why CW would be hard to use effectively in a civil war, with rebels and the regime mixed in close proximity.

Now, for the record, someone (I forget who) floated the idea that if Assad were to use CW, he might be more interested in using them against Turkey, which is the launching pad for this war. None of Warrick’s sources seem to consider that fairly out of the box suggestion. (There’s always the possibility he’d use them as a threat against Israel).

But then there’s the issue I brought up shortly after this happened. The CW mixing happened on November 28. The next day, Syria’s Internet went down (something that goes unmentioned in Warrick’s piece). I suggested in my earlier article that Western assertions that the outage had nothing to do with the CW mixing suggested we, not Assad, brought the Toobz down.

Whether we did or Assad did, though, you’d think this now central concern about rogue officers would have made the Internet outage a really fucking big deal, given that it would have disrupted the command and control that Western intelligence were purportedly already worried about. Nope! We had great visibility, we said.

Oh, did I mention that just after this went down Syria’s Foreign Ministry (the folks who supposedly reassured us on the CW) spokesperson, Jihad Makdissi, defected? You think he might have something to say about the broken Toobz and the alleged CW prep? You think it’s possible he was an asset getting out just after he had carried out two big ops for us, one an InfoOp, the other tactical?

Now, obviously the CW and the Scud missile allegations are designed to gin up a coalition of the willing (and persuade Russia and other members of the coalition of the unwilling) so we can go to war in Syria.

But their narrative is so problematic and dodgy I can’t make sense of whether they really are that stupid or just their narrative is.

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.

14 replies
  1. CTuttle says:

    Get a load of this agitprop… Syrian Scuds land near Turkish border -NATO

    …The comments by U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, were the first to confirm that Scuds have come down near the border of Turkey, a NATO member state.

    Stavridis also described the situation in Syria as “chaotic and dangerous”.

    U.S. and NATO officials said on Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had fired Scud-style ballistic missiles at rebels in recent days in what U.S. officials described as an escalation of the 20-month civil war.

    “Over the past few days, a handful of Scud missiles were launched inside Syria, directed by the regime against opposition targets. Several landed fairly close to the Turkish border, which is very worrisome,” Stavridis wrote. ()

    Syria on Thursday denied it had used Scud missiles in its fight against what it calls “terrorist groups”.

    Stavridis voiced particular concern about Scuds because they can be fitted with chemical warheads. Syria is known to possess chemical weapons.

    “Given a number of recent cross-border incidents with artillery and mortars landing in Turkey and killing Turkish civilians, we are concerned with possible Scud missile activity inside Syria. Scuds … are particularly worrisome because they can carry chemical payloads,” he said…

    Are ya kidding me…? Where does one begin unpacking that utter B*llsh*t…! 8-(

  2. rg says:

    “…whether they really are that stupid or just their narrative is.”

    Moon of Alabama recently attacked a part of the narrative that makes sense (sorry, I don’t know how to do the link thing, but it was recent enough to find it). He(she?) reminds that binary weapons are not premixed and stored for later usage (the news story, if I recall correctly, centered on Sarin gas, a binary product). The precursors are stored in separate containers and are only mixed when the delivery device explodes. So a huge component of this narrative has to do with from whence came this bit about mixing up the chemicals. A commentator pointed out that the rebel forces were getting close to a weapons storage facility, and efforts were possibly being made to move the chemical weapons away. The question of how it was “known” that chemical weapons were being “mixed” may come down to SigInt intercepts of internet traffic, and a lot of prejudicial interpretation. Binary weapons are usually safe for handling and storage because the precursors tend to be as innocuous as, say, carbon dioxide. The components can be stored in separate rooms or buildings until loaded onto warheads. Just bringing the components into the same room, loading them on to a truck, or placing the containers into an artillery shell head could be called “mixing” if convenient to make a point.

  3. TarheelDem says:

    Here’s your handy decoder ring.

    “Assad got the message” = “Nobody believed our dodgy story for all sorts of technical reasons; so we are walking it back without admitting it was full of shit and planted intelligence.”

  4. rg says:

    @rg: Sorry to say, I’m getting sloppy in my language/thinking. It was b at MoA that attacked, and it was the attack that made sense to me, not the narrative. Sheesh.There may be more, but I’m not into fixing it.

  5. rg says:

    @TarheelDem: Careful TD; he said,” I like to believe…he got the message”. Not only is P believing something, but is liking it. Neither point is a factual matter, not objectively verifiable, just blather for the MSM.

  6. Jeff Kaye says:

    @TarheelDem: Yes, but the propaganda has done its job, hasn’t it? The U.S., French, and NATO forces are moving ahead with the overthrow of the Syrian regime.

    This aggressive kind of blatant military overthrow (as opposed to the usual program of destabilization and instillation of puppets, as is underway in Egypt), which began under Bush/Cheney with the invasion of Iraq, is accelerating under Obama. First Libya, and now Syria. Obviously, Iran is next. And China must wonder if the maniac Western powers aren’t ready for a full world war, which is what it would take to snuff out the Chinese regime.

    Most disturbing is how nonplussed the US population is, at least on the surface. Do they realize they are drifting towards Armageddon? or at the very least towards a terrific despostism under the apparatus of a tremendous security state?

  7. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    Like I said in comments on an earlier piece about the withdrawal from Afghan, “withdrawal to where?”.

    If Syria or some other front ain’t primed for these troops what the hell do you do with them?

  8. joanneleon says:

    Decades long research chemist sitting next to me right now says (again): “No chemist is going to want to premix those bloody things, which means they are going to react to form the sarin”.

    The story about premixing the chemicals was not credible.

  9. joanneleon says:

    The point made about how current targeted regimes knowing what is going to happen to them, based on what happened to Saddam and Gadaffi, is a big f’ing deal, in my opinion. And it’s not just the guy at the top. What about all of the officers who have been loyal to him during his entire reign? They know they are goners too.

  10. sOLbus says:

    The real problem of a stupid, dodgy, messy, dishonest and problematic narrative is that it eclipses any honest narrative of how we might best provide humanitarian aid / intervention to the dispossessed of Syria, the great part of which are children whom are suffering terribly.

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