George Monbiot, about Syria…

I write this open letter, George, because you have been using your public platform to defend claims about Syria that I fear may be damaging for its people.

Most recently, you blogged a note about the 4th April chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, and you related this to the more general issue of competing narratives.

Professor Postol of MIT criticised the NATO/Gulf State account of the incident, and you say his claims ‘should be treated with great caution’. That’s fair enough. Shouldn’t we apply a similar standard of scrutiny to claims made on both sides?[1] You replied to the Media Lens article reporting Postol’s claims without acknowledging that it also mentioned that ‘former and current UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix, Scott Ritter and Jerry Smith, as well as former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Giraldi, had all questioned the official narrative of what happened on April 4.’

We can be cautious about what they all say, of course, but I hope we may avoid the hubris of just dismissing their concerns.

There are serious unsettled questions about every aspect of the incident, not only the anomalies concerning time of incident, identity of victims, causes of death, role of White Helmets, and about whose interests it served, but also concerning the forensic evidence itself. Regarding the latest claim made by France, a very elementary issue is chain of custody: with no French representatives on the ground, the test samples appear to have come from Al Qaeda by way of Turkey. Must we simply trust the testimony of a terrorist organisation in collaboration with a major conduit and supplier of anti-government forces in Syria? Do we find any corroboration? Western powers, you might be aware, have blocked the independent investigation sought by Russia.

The reported results themselves are opaque. The French reports are no clearer on the science than the earlier UK ones (and I note that the UK has since gone rather silent about those rather than address questions about them). Moreover, the French claims rely on the veracity of claims relating to a 2013 incident, which are highly questionable.[2]

Still, even aside from the facts around the Khan Sheikhoun incident, you are confident that there is a mountain of compelling evidence that is disregarded by ‘a few contrarians’. In tweets, too, you seem to be impressed by the sheer quantity of evidence purporting to establish President Assad’s complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Yet you surely realise that what actually matters is the quality of evidence?

I therefore ask you: what evidence are you referring to? Whose evidence? In your note you link to a Guardian article by an Egyptian, raised in Dubai and living in Lebanon, who conveys reports from an Al Qaeda base; you also link to another Guardian article, by the same author, reporting claims from Turkey – one of the chief supporters of anti-government forces. Meanwhile, on twitter, you respond to ‘contrarians’ with the advice to read a lengthy thread authored by Kuwaiti activist Iyad El-Baghdadi who is renowned for talking up the “Arab Spring”. Based in Norway, he cites evidence from sources like the New York Times.

Why should utterances from your recommended sources inspire less caution than those of MIT professors and professional weapons inspectors? You seem to think that anyone who questions the official narrative is a conspiracy nut, or an ‘Assadist’. I personally find a little condescending your reference to ‘an element on the left that seems determined to produce a mirror image of the Washington Consensus … and denies the crimes of the West’s official enemies.’ [3]

At any rate, that begs the question: what crimes have been demonstrated? We have had mountains of allegations from organisations like Amnesty International since the “Arab Spring”, but what credible evidence have they ever produced?

I earnestly invite you to cite some. Having looked at their reports over the past ten years myself, I have not found it. Instead, I have found very clear traces of a narrative produced in Washington. And not just a narrative, but a strategy for getting the liberal intelligentsia on board with the hawks.

I think we need to look very closely at who is being misled by whom. Wouldn’t you agree?

Meanwhile, with the upcoming UK election to think about – and the imperative of removing this warmongering government – I will understand if you direct your focus and energies towards areas of public life where you have a strong intellectual and political contribution to make.

Best wishes,

Tim

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In memory of all Syrian children, taken by violence.

[1] You might start by taking a more dispassionate look at the people you imagine have ‘debunked’ criticism of the mainstream narrative. Your link to Louis Proyect’s attack on Postol, for instance, betrays what I would regard as some want of judgement. In an update to your note, you add a link to further ‘debunkers’ who turn out to rely on the same Guardian evidence you are claiming they offer further support for! Incidentally, when the Guardian tells readers it is ‘the first western media organisation to visit the site of the attack’ it should really be careful what it boasts about, given that the area is controlled by Al Qaeda.

[2] I understand from scientists that the unanswered questions include these:

  1. Did the Porton Down analysis of samples collected from the alleged attacks on 19 March 2013 support the finding of the Russian Laboratory for Chemical and Analytical Control that the material contained diisopropyl fluorophosphate and that the sarin had been produced under “cottage industry” conditions?
  2.  What were the findings with respect to the synthetic pathway by which the sarin was produced? Specifically, did this synthesis start from trimethyl phosphite (which the Foreign Secretary stated had been sold to the Syrian government by UK companies) or from phosphorus trichloride or elemental phosphorus (which Turkish prosecutors stated was on the procurement list of the Nusra Front members arrested in Adana, Turkey in May 2013)?
  3. What efforts have been made by the UK government to establish whether or not the sarin used in alleged chemical attacks in Syria originated from Syrian military stocks, based on comparison of the chemical profiles of the environmental samples analysed at DSTL with the stocks of the sarin precursor methylphosphonyl difluoride that were profiled by mass spectrometry under the supervison of OPCW inspectors before they were destroyed on the MV Cape Ray in 2014?

Those of us who struggle even to understand questions like these can very easily be bamboozled by bullshit responses from government spokespersons. But when scientists put such questions, I think they merit answer rather than dismissive tweets bidding us trust the word of foreign activists.  I am grateful to Professor Paul McKeigue for the formulation of these questions.

[3] For a more considered view of disagreement on the left, see, e.g., the recent short talk by Jay Tharappel on ‘Syria and the Confusion of the Western Left’: https://www.facebook.com/Chacko.TJ/videos/10158536910055697/

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This entry was posted in Amnesty International, bullshit, disinformation, journalism, media, political philosophy, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war. Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to George Monbiot, about Syria…

  1. Adrian D. says:

    Excellent questions Tim. I’ve tweeted them to @GeorgeMonbiot and I notice that at least one other person has done so already too.

    Do you have any more on Louis Proyect? He seems quite certain about the outcome of the Postol vs Bellingcat too-and-fro – essentially that Postol left in a huff – but it’s not how I remember it.

    For others here, the article that Monbiot tweets as ‘debunking’ Postol’s concerns – which Monbiot tweets as having rendered anyone asking questions as akin to 9/11truthers – can be found here (I may have missed it if you’ve linked to it above).

    http://claysbeach.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/sincerely-yours-theodore-postol.html

    It’s interesting that it is happy to rely on early eye-witness reports to disprove Postol, but (as far as I could see) makes no comment on those that otherwise question the sarin narrative as a whole (eg. that there was a bad and/or chlorine-type smell associated with both the site and casualties).

    Good work!

    • timhayward says:

      Thanks again, Adrian! I’ve tried to keep the focus on Monbiot’s own logic and epistemology rather than get drawn into arguments with Proyect or Bellingcat et al. That’s because on other matters I think he is a very strong thinker.

      • Adrian D. says:

        You’re absolutely right to do so, and I don’t want to distract anyone from the matter in hand.

        I’ve been amazed by the credulity of some of those who I otherwise respect on the matter of Syria with Monbiot being the prime example (I had lesser expectations of the likes of Owen Jones and Paul Mason).

        To attempt to dismiss all these legitimate questions by labelling those who ask them as 9/11 truthers is bad enough – especially after all the hand-wringing over Syria and Libya.

        To do it on the basis of ‘debunkings’ that quite obviously fail on their own terms is frankly contemptible.

      • timhayward says:

        I must admit that the whole ‘debunking’ style is really wearing thin on me.

    • mohandeer says:

      Louis Proyect has established himself as the “go to” guy for pro Israeli, pro Zionist propaganda and has made of himself a laughing stock with so many of The Guardian readers themselves(which is where he does most of his lying). Very few people could take Proyect seriously, precisely because he is the antithesis of sensible and honest reporting.

  2. Rod Webb says:

    Fantastic. I was looking for a response to the French claims this morning and found nothing. Then this magically appeared on my Facebook feed.

  3. louisproyect says:

    What lapse of judgement are you referring to? Postol’s chemistry adviser on sarin gas is a fascist who does interviews with David Duke. I guess you are okay with that.

    • timhayward says:

      My point is simply that one should not treat ad hominem arguments as a substitute for evidence. And I apologise that my remark does seem a bit abrupt.

    • mohandeer says:

      Proyect. You should be grateful that “lapse of judgement” was used to describe your dishonest misrepresentation of the truth in favour of the bigoted interests you serve and the egregious agenda you espouse. You and others like your kind, are the reason why MSM is now a joke to so many. I wouldn’t know where to start in denouncing your “opinion”, ad hominem is your stock and trade and whilst Tim may be content to appease you with regard your objections to the wording of his article, I am not limited by such constraints, I’ve read too much of your crap.

  4. Many thanks for this counterweight to the tide of toxic propaganda threatening to submerge vital questions about Khan Shaikoun, and the job of verifying who died there and from what. I’m also glad to see more information about the only really verified Sarin attack in Khan al Assal, given the French story about the supposedly similar one in Saraqib in April, which I had no idea anyone took seriously till now. To my mind the French Intelligence source of these claims about Khan Shaikoun merely suggests that they were involved in coordinating the operation; it wouldn’t be much of a surprise, given their long presence in Syria – for instance in Homs in 2011.
    My focus now is in trying to expose the lies of leading Western leaders in a fraud which so many people simply cannot accept, particularly as a pretext for the illegal US cruise missile attack. In particular I believe that Theresa May MUST have knowledge of the truth, because the WH are ‘her men’ – or at least belong to the same establishment and serve the UK’s interests. It is simply not possible that she doesn’t know this, which makes her both war criminal and consummate liar. Is that the sort of person we really want to see in charge of the UK?

    Much appreciate your work, and voice of authority.

    • timhayward says:

      Thanks for these insightful comments, although I disclaim authority in the matter!

      • Adrian D. says:

        Readers may be interested to know that Monbiot has updated his ‘Disavowed’ piece with a comment link to Human Rights Watch’s just published ‘proof’ of numerous Assad/SAA chemical weapons attacks – he says:

        “Further Update, 1st May 2017: Human Rights Watch has now published a report on the gas attack at Khan Sheikhoun, and a further 19 chemical weapons attacks in Syria that appear to have been perpetrated by the government. Already, HRW is being denounced as part of the conspiracy by some of my correspondents on the left, using a meme developed by the paranoid right as their excuse for not reading or crediting its report: namely funding for HRW by the evil mastermind of the new world order, George Soros.”

        As far as I can see from his twitter feed, most of the criticism has focused more on the fact that HRW have not shown themselves to be entirely balanced in their coverage so far. The have been criticised for in particular for their reporting of the 2013 Ghota attack – criticism that their new report appears to have disregarded. Their very dubious spin on the Caesar photo archive also seriosly undermines their impartiality here.

        The Soros meme and ‘paradnoid right’ guilt-by-association remarks (followed up by more tweets by Monbiot) are distractions.

      • timhayward says:

        Adrian, I really don’t know what to say to George at this point except: Hole. Digging. Stop!

  5. John Allan Donaldson says:

    Thanks Tim for your well-reasoned response to Monbiot’s apparent willingness to give greater weight to claims relayed via dubious sources, compounded by his apparent willingness to dismiss evidence from the side that seeks to draw conclusions based on verifiable ground truth. As a long-time follower of Monbiot, I’m disappointed, to put it mildly.

    • Jen says:

      Seconded.

      Don’t know what has come over George Monbiot these days – he’s so different from what he used to be, almost as if he was kidnapped by aliens masquerading as Guardian editors who carried out a brain transplant on him.

  6. mohandeer says:

    Reblogged this on wgrovedotnet and commented:
    Another excellent analysis of the populist and establishment orientated propaganda. George Monbiot used to be a half decent journalist, but if he is to save what credibility he has left as a journalist, he really has to quit the propagandist platform of The Guardian.

    • timhayward says:

      Thanks. I’ve been seriously impressed by some of his stuff in the past, but his response on Twitter to this post has left me even more disillusioned, just as I already was with the Guardian.

  7. timxthomson says:

    We should always keep in mind that the US ‘invasion’ was an illegal act (as of course are Israeli air strikes), unlike the Russian involvement!

  8. mkr1977 says:

    The truth is that this anti-Syrian government narrative is incredibly dumb. It is dumber than the Iraq WMD claims, and even blind Freddy could see that those claims are false.

    I think you are giving these people the benefit of the doubt when they don’t deserve it. They know that the Syrian government didn’t do it, or at the very least it is very questionable. Yet they are serving up propaganda. This is their job.

    • timhayward says:

      Thanks. Unfortunately, a lot of honest and well-intentioned people do believe – what Monbiot keeps repeating – that there is a ‘mountain of evidence’ against the Syrian government. If in fact what there is is a slagheap of lies, then picking away at bits of it might lead to an eventual landslide. Meanwhile, my hope is to persuade the kinds of people who read people like Monbiot to look more closely at the basis of their inherited beliefs. I leave it to those who know about Syria (which I don’t) to bear true witness. I see my role as encouraging people not to be put off or misled by “debunkers”.

  9. Meanwhile, in the over three weeks since the incident the Trump administration has yet to provide its “evidence” to humanity, nor has the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons begun any investigation. Sad…

  10. Pingback: Rejoinder to George Monbiot on Syria | Tim Hayward

  11. DDTea says:

    Prof. Hayward,

    May I take a shot at answering one of your chemistry questions?

    QUESTION: ” What were the findings with respect to the synthetic pathway by which the sarin was produced? Specifically, did this synthesis start from trimethyl phosphite…or from phosphorus trichloride or elemental phosphorus…?”

    This question is actually impossible to answer if the sole source of information is residues from the weapon in soil. Analytical chemistry is not magic and there are real limitations on the data that can be collected as well as the reasonableness of the conclusions. Soil analyses will detect *residues*: the heavily degraded Sarin, biased toward environmentally stable (non-volatile, non-reactive) products. The characteristic byproducts that *could* discern between these paths (methyl chloride would strongly suggest PCl3 was the starting point) will never be detected. The reactions of phosphorus trichloride and of trimethyl phosphite are both very clean, and wouldn’t leave many hints of their starting materials to be detected–even in the *absence* of environmental degradation. In other cases, such as for DIMP, it’s not possible to discern whether it came from environmental degradation or formed as a side product in Step 6. The composition of residues in soil simply won’t match any references of DF that may have been catalogued.

    However, based on residues of hexafluorophosphate from Ghouta, I can comfortably say that phosphorus pentachloride was used in step 4, and that sodium fluoride was used in step 5. Interestingly, it was announced that a British chemical company had sold a bunch of sodium fluoride to some Syrian cartel company or other.

    APPENDICES:

    Appendix I: The path that leads sarin is:
    1) white phosphorus + chlorine gas (under dry and inert gas)–> phosphorus trichloride
    2) phosphorus trichloride + methanol –> trimethyl phosphite + methyl chloride (>99% conversion)
    3) trimethyl phosphite + catalyst** + heat–> dimethyl methylphosphonate (>99% conversion)
    4) dimethyl methylphosphonate + phosphorus pentachloride OR thionyl chloride –> methylphosphonic dichloride + hydrogen chloride + phosphorus oxytrichloride OR sulfur dioxide
    5) methyl phosphonic dichloride + sodium fluoride OR hydrogen fluoride –> methylphosphonic difluoride + sodium chloride OR hydrogen chloride
    6) methylphosphonic difluoride + isopropanol —> Sarin + hydrogen fluoride

    **catalyst may be methyl chloride, iodine, methyl bromide, or methyl iodide.

    Appendix II: POSSIBLE SIDE REACTIONS:
    A) trimethyl phosphite + oxygen –> trimethylphosphate
    B) phosphorus pentachloride (unreacted from step 4) + 6 sodium chloride + 6 Hydrogen fluoride –> 1 sodium hexafluorophosphate + 6 hydrogen chloride (hexafluorophosphate detected on metal fragment in Ghouta)
    C) methylphosphonic difluoride + 2 isopropanol –> diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP) + 2 HF
    D) phosphorus oxytrichloride + sodium fluoride OR hydrogen fluoride –> phosphoryl fluoride + sodium chloride OR hydrogen chloride

    Appendix III: SARIN DEGRADATION PRODUCTS:
    A) Sarin + 1 H2O –> isopropoxy methylphosphonic acid (IMPA) + hydrogen fluoride
    B) Sarin + 2 H2O –> methylphosphonic acid (MPA) + hydrogen fluoride + isopropanol
    C) IMPA + Sarin –> dimethyl diisopropoxy pyrophosphate (detected on weapon from Ghouta)
    D) Sarin + isopropanol –> diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP)

    Appendix IV: NOTES ABOUT BYPRODUCTS
    A) Hydrogen fluoride: volatile gas, lighter than air, not detectable in residues.
    B) methyl chloride: volatile gas, not detectable in residues.
    C) sulfur dioxide: volatile, acrid gas, not detectable in residues.
    D) phosphorus oxytrichloride: corrosive, reactive liquid; reaction products may be detectable.
    D) phosphoryl fluoride: corrosive, volatile gas; not detectable in residues; reaction products may be detectable, but not will not be stable either.

    About myself:
    I am three years deep into my Ph.D. in organic chemistry, studying the structure-reactivity relationships of organometallic complexes. I’ve done a fair bit of synthetic work with organophosphorus molecules, which are useful as ligands in this research. Prior to this, I worked as an analytical chemist for five years and gained extensive experience in modern instrumental methods: mass spectrometry (several flavors), spectroscopic methods (NMR, FTIR, UV/Vis, atomic emission, atomic absorption, fluorescence), chromatography (gas, liquid), radioactive tracer studies, microscopy, and even some classic wet chemical methods. I’ve directed this expertise to applied R&D, process development, designing quality control methods, and “industrial forensics” work (figuring out why a 1000 gallon chemical processes were failing). I also worked for a year in an ecotoxicology lab, where I spent 40 hours/week measuring trace (part per million, part per billion) levels of pesticides (including toxic organophosphates such as ethylparathion, DDVP, and Dibrom) in fresh water, salt water, soil, and fish tissue. Before industry and uni, I was a kid who played with chemicals (diverted from consumer products) in a self-constructed garage lab.

    • timhayward says:

      My profound thanks to you for this.

    • Paul McKeigue says:

      DDTea

      Welcome back to this discussion. From reviewing your comments on the WhoGhouta blog in September 2013, I see that your expertise was much appreciated by sasa wawa and you were much missed when you stopped commenting after this.

      In your comments on 25 September 2013, you proposed that (based on reported odors) thionyl chloride was the most likely chlorinating agent in step 4, and that the most likely source of the hexafluorophosphate was either phosphorus pentachloride formed from elemental phosphorus in step 1, or residual phosphorus trichloride from step 2.

      You’re now suggesting that phosphorus pentachloride rather than thionyl chloride was used as the chlorinating agent in step 4. If so, as you note, the presence of hexafluorophosphate doesn’t tell us anything about earlier stages in the synthetic pathway.

      Can you explain why your opinion has changed, to the point where you can now “comfortably say” that the chlorinating agent in step 4 was phosphorus pentachloride rather than thionyl chloride as you proposed in 2013? If phosphorus pentachloride was used in step 4 and the products of this reaction were not purified, what other chemicals would you expect to have been detected, and perhaps reported, by the OPCW labs? For instance, would you expect to see reaction products of phosphoryl chloride with isopropanol or isopropylamine?

      I think we can all agree that the best way for such questions to be resolved is for the laboratories that had environmental samples from the alleged chemical attacks in 2013 — Porton Down, Le Bouchet, the labs used by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission, and the Laboratory of Chemical and Analytical Control in Moscow — to release the full reports of their analyses of these samples. From the recent French “national evaluation” we learn that they recovered from Saraqeb an intact grenade, allegedly dropped from a helicopter, containing 100 ml of sarin. From such a sample they should have been able to generate a detailed chemical profile, including volatile chemicals that may not have persisted on samples from soil, clothing and munitions, and to reconstruct the synthetic pathway.

      • DDTea says:

        Hi Paul,

        Sorry for leaving you hanging for so long! You’ve asked some good questions.
        On Sep. 25, 2013, I wrote the following on the blog, “Who Attacked Ghouta?”:

        “ I suspect [the origin of hexafluorophosphate] is from residual phosphorus trichloride in step 2, which reacts with thionyl chloride in step 4 to produce PCl5, and then reacts with Hydrogen Fluoride in step 5.

        Based on the “rotten egg” and “pungent” odor, I strongly suspect that Thionyl chloride was used in this process (as opposed to another chlorinating agent such as Phosphorus Pentachloride). Both thionyl chloride and its breakdown product, Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), have pungent, irritating odors. As SO2 is a common combustion product, this explains the “burning” smell.”

        -DDTea, Wed. Sept. 25, 2013 http://whoghouta.blogspot.com/2013/09/chemical-analysis.html

        After looking into this further, I can no longer state with confidence that thionyl chloride was used to form methylphosphonic dichloride (DC). Relying on second hand information about vague odors from non-experts to draw conclusions about the production route of the Sarin is far too speculative. This is not to say that thionyl chloride *was not* used, but simply to say that it’s a leap of logic to conclude that solely from odors.

        It is also unlikely that phosphorus pentachloride remains as an impurity from phosphorus trichloride preparations—this simply requires too much serendipity.

        I also wrote:

        “Direct chlorination of white phosphorus, though, leads to a fair amount of Phosphorus Pentachloride, which would have to be separated from Phosphorus Trichloride and possibly recycled in the process. This could be another source of the PCl5 which manifested as a hexafluorophosphate residue detected by one of the OPCW labs.”

        -DDTea, Wed. Sept. 25, 2013 http://whoghouta.blogspot.com/2013/09/chemical-analysis.html

        This statement is correct, and has the appropriate caution (“this could be another source…”). As it turns out, though, PCl3 and PCl5 are very easily and cleanly separated by distillation. This distillation may be done continuously such that there is no penalty in either time or energy to collect purified PCl3; and no advantage to using a crude reaction mixture. Let me explain by way of example:

        Given its utility as a laboratory chemical (for many things other than nerve agents!), the preparation of phosphorus trichloride has been a topic of curiosity to the amateur chemistry community. The most successful preparation is the one reported on the German chemistry forum Lambda-Syn [1]. This procedure is related to the classic preparation in Inorganic Syntheses [2, 3]. As you can see, even folks working in non-professional “cottage industry” environments can produce clean phosphorus trichloride (evidenced by its boiling range and lack of color)—if only on limited scale.

        However, in the remarkable situation where phosphorus pentachloride remain as impurity, it would be completely consumed in the subsequent reaction with methanol to produce trimethyl phosphite. The principle byproducts of this next step would be methyl chloride and phosphorus oxychloride. Phosphorus oxychloride, in turn, will react with methanol to produce trimethyl phosphate. Thus there shouldn’t be many phosphorus chlorides present after contact with methanol.

        Overall, it’s more likely that the hexafluorophosphate (and, by extension, the phosphorus pentachloride) has its origins in the reaction steps leading to methylphosphonic dichloride (DC) and methylphosphonic difluoride (DF) than it does from the production of phosphorus trichloride from white phosphorus.

        This, in turn, suggests that phosphorus pentachloride was used to produce DC.

        Paul McKeigue asks:
        “If phosphorus pentachloride was used in step 4 and the products of this reaction were not purified, what other chemicals would you expect to have been detected, and perhaps reported, by the OPCW labs? For instance, would you expect to see reaction products of phosphoryl chloride with isopropanol or isopropylamine?”
        Perhaps. Phosphorus oxychloride is known to react, under certain conditions (toluene solvent, mixed at 0 C, warmed to room temp, stirred for 4 hrs), to produce tris(isopropylamido)phosphate [4]. This might be a solid, observable residue. Phosphorus oxychloride + isopropanol could lead to isopropyl chloride (very volatile), phosphoric acid (non-volatile), triisopropyl phosphate (non-volatile), etc. It’s really difficult to say. It also depends on what the final concentrations are in the Sarin, how environmentally stable they are, and how detectable they are by the analytical methods used.

        References for this message.

        [1] Aqua Regia. “Synthese vonn Phosphortrichlorid” Lambdaforum.
        http://forum.lambdasyn.org/index.php/topic,2124.msg10811.html#msg10811
        (PDF attachment in first message)
        [2] Forbes, M. C., Roswell, C. A., Maxson, R. N., Booth, H. S. and Dolance, A. (1946) Phosphorus(III) Chloride, in Inorganic Syntheses, Volume 2 (ed W. C. Fernelius), John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, USA. doi: 10.1002/9780470132333.ch42
        [3] A free access version of the Inorganic Syntheses reference above. http://www.prepchem.com/synthesis-of-phosphorus-trichloride/
        [4] Gupta, Arvind K., Inorganic Chemistry, 52(13), 7608-7614; 2013

  12. DDTea says:

    “Why should utterances from your recommended sources inspire less caution than those of MIT professors and professional weapons inspectors?”

    Because on matters of chemical weapons, said MIT professor is a charlatan. He has been caught making erroneous statements and failing to do basic fact checking. Recently, he was forced to issue a retraction of one of his reports because he *failed to properly read and comprehend* the French Intelligence Report. Such a basic error is inexcusable. This is the sign of someone who has already arrived at his conclusions independent of any evidence.

    In his most recent report from April 30, Ted Postol claims that hexamine is a decomposition product from RDX. Interestingly, Russia made the same assertions in their report about the Khan Al-Assal incident in March 2013. This is demonstrably false; and had Ted Postol done his homework and fact checking, he would know that hexamine is NOT a known product of RDX thermal decomposition/detonation–this is on the basis of extensive, peer-reviewed experimental [1,2] and computational/theoretical [3,4] studies. Since you care about credentials, you should know that the author of the theoretical studies, William Goddard, holds an endowed chair Caltech, is the Charles and Mary Ferkel Professor of Chemistry and Applied Physics, and Director, Materials and Process Simulation Center at the Caltech; one of the most prominent living theoretical chemists, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. I present only a few references here, but each of them cites several more for further investigation. Searches on SciFinder show that hexamine formation from RDX is not a reported reaction.

    Furthermore, hexamine will not be carried over as a starting material from RDX synthesis. RDX and hexamine have disparate solubilities, and the latter can be removed by simply washing RDX with cold water.[5]

    Those of us who actually engage in critical thinking are now go through the following checklist when reading a Postol report:
    1) Does he understand the article he is commenting on?
    2) Does he understand the data he is using?
    3) Are his claims supported by any peer reviewed literature?

    Seriously, Prof. Hayward: you are shirking your responsibility to hold Ted Postol accountable for his blatant misstatements and errors. You let them slide, one after the other, and yet he somehow never loses credibility to you. This is not an innocent modification of a hypothesis; this reflects a far deeper incompetence on his part to put any initial, serious thought into his hypotheses. How do you justify this?

    REFERENCES:

    1] Cosgrove, J.D.; Owen, A.J. “The Thermal Decomposition of 1,3,5 Trinitro Hexahydro 1,3,5 Triazine (RDX)-Part 1: The Products and Physical Parameters” Combustion and Flame, Vol 22, Issue 1, Feb 1974, pp. 13-18 . DOI: 10.1016/0010-2180(74)90005-4
    [2] Cosgrove, J. D.; Owen, A.J. “The thermal decomposition of 1,3,5 trinitro hexahydro 1,3,5 triazine (RDX)—part II: The effects of the products”Combustion and Flame, Vol 22, Issue 1, Feb 1974, pp. 19-22. DOI: 10.1016/0010-2180(74)90005-4
    [3] Chakraborty, D.; Muller, R.P.; Dasgupta, S.; Goddard, W.A. “The Mechanism for Unimolecular Decomposition of RDX (1,3,5-Trinitro-1,3,5-triazine), an ab Initio Study.” J. Phys. Chem. A, 2000, 104 (11), pp 2261–2272. DOI: 10.1021/jp9936953
    [4] Strachan, A.; Kober, E.M.; van Duin, A.C.T.; Oxgaard, J.; Goddard, W.A. “Thermal decomposition of RDX from reactive molecular dynamics.” J. Chem. Phys. 2005, 22 (5), 054502, DOI: 0.1063/1.1831277
    [5] Hale, G.C. “The Nitration of Hexamethylenetetramine.” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1925, 47 (11), pp. 2754-2763. DOI: 10.1021/ja01688a017

    • Norman Pilon says:

      I guess that if Prof. Postol is a charlatan, then by implication, Dr. Åke Sellström, the head of the United Nations’ team investigating the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, is also a charlatan, since on June 16, 2014, he wrote to Prof. Postol about the presence of hexamine in the field that,

      Hexamine … is a product simple to get hold of and in no way conclusively points to the [Syrian] government.

      In addition, hexamine found in samples may be derived from other sources for example, explosives.

      Now I am unaware that Prof. Postol has ever claimed, as you put it, “. . . that hexamine is a decomposition product from RDX.” At most, so far as I am aware, he has suggested a connection between hexamine and battlefield explosives, precisely as here suggested by Dr. Sellström. You, on the other hand, seem to be suggesting that there is no such connection. Is this what you are suggesting? That if hexamine is present, it can only be so as the a signature element of sarin produced under the auspices of the Syrian government and absolutely nothing else besides?

      And do you have a specific reference to show that Prof. Postol has claimed that hexamine is a decomposition product from RDX?

    • Norman Pilon says:

      DDTea,

      A couple of days ago, I received a reply from Prof. Postol pertaining to your comment, which I quoted to him in full.

      As to the whether he ” . . . claims that hexamine is a decomposition product from RDX,” this is what he wrote (I quote only what I surmise is relevant to the “hexamine issue”):

      Quote begins:

      From: postol@*******
      Sent: May 3, 2017 9:52 PM
      To: Norman Pilon

      Subject: Re: 4th April chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria: “Hexamine as a decomposition product of high-explosive munitions.”

      Dear Mr. Pilon:

      Thank you very much for your questions. [. . .]

      [. . .]

      As for the question of hexamine, the head of the UN team, Åke Sellström, that investigated the Damascus attack of August 21, 2013 has stated in two separate emails to two different people that the presence of hexamine in soil samples does not in any way indicate that the sarin at issue was produced by the Syrian government. [. . .]

      [. . .]

      I simply do not know what his problem is.

      In any case, I am comfortable that my analyses are based on sound observations. [. . .]

      With best regards, Ted Postol

      Quote ends.

      It would seem, then, that Prof. Postol is relying on the expertise of Dr. Åke Sellström for his assertion that hexamine is a byproduct of exploded military grade explosives.

      I’m still waiting for your reference to the source that proves that Prof. Postol’s has ever asserted that “. . .that hexamine is a decomposition product from RDX.”

      • DDTea says:

        Glad to have his response. Thank you for getting it.

        In his report from April 30, Prof. Postol states the following[1]:

        “That particular munition had a small charge of military explosives to rupture the container and disperse the sarin. The explosive would have certainly produced hexamine as a byproduct. ”

        What is meant as a “byproduct” of the the explosive? Does he mean that it is one of the residues from the thermal decomposition/detonation? Or does he mean that it’s carryover from the synthesis of RDX/HMX? Because both claims are contradicted by available peer-reviewed literature[2]. If he means something else, then he ought to present a viable hypothesis for why hexamine seems to be found at every site where sarin has been confirmed to have been used (Khan al-Assal; Saraqeb; Ghouta; Khan Sheikhoun). To quote Ian Fleming (in Goldfinger): Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.

        In his e-mail correspondence, Dr. Åke Sellström appears to be a victim of an over-abundance of caution in his conclusions. He probably didn’t have the time to dive into the literature of explosive residues. I won’t call him a charlatan because he’s not making wild accusations of “flawed chemical analysis,” [1] accusing others of incompetence,[3] or otherwise creating a nasty tenor to this discussion. And in fairness, there are other possible explanations for hexamine’s presence (discussed in Dan Kaszeta’s latest post at Bellingcat [4]). Before one goes into such vicious territory, they had better be damn sure of what they’re saying.

        Likewise, in their investigation into the Khan Al-Assal attack, Russia appears to have fallen victim to similar hasty conclusions [5]: that RDX must have been used as the bursting charge (based on what evidence? hexamine, perhaps?), and given that RDX is not in the Syrian Army’s arsenal, the attack was probably launched by the rebels. Interestingly, they also suggest that no stabilizers were present in the sarin. Unfortunately, details of the analysis and findings are not publicly available.

        But nevertheless, hexamine is emphatically not a known decomposition product of RDX or HMX. The presence of hexamine at a site cannot be taken as evidence of high explosives based on current knowledge of explosive residues. So as far as I can tell, this has been a myth that has been allowed to continue for entirely too long.

        References:

        [1] Postol, T. “The Flawed Chemical Analysis in the French Intelligence Report of April 26, 2017 Alleging a Syrian Government Sarin Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Sheikhoun of April 4, 2017.” April 30, 2017. LINK: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2017/05/flawed-chemical-analysis-french-intelligence-report-april-26-2017-alleging-syrian-government-sarin-nerve-agent-attack-khan-sheikhoun-april-4-2017.html

        [2] see comment by DDTea from May 3, 2017 at 5:20 am above for references to experimental and theoretical studies on decomposition of RDX/HMX; as well as on the synthesis of RDX from hexamine.

        [3] Postol, D. “Addendum to Dr. Theodore Postol’s Assessment of the White House Report on Syria Chemical Attack” April 11, 2017. http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2017/04/addendum-dr-theodore-postols-assessment-white-house-report-syria-chemical-attack.html

        [4] Kaszeta, D. “Amines and Sarin – Hexamine, Isopropylamine, and the Rest…” Bellingcat, May 3, 2017. https://www.bellingcat.com/resources/2017/05/03/amines-and-sarin-hexamine-isopropylamine-and-the-rest/

        [5] Press statement by H.E. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
        July 10, 2013. http://www.rusemb.org.uk/foreignpolicy/1039

      • Norman Pilon says:

        DDTea

        (This is my amended version of my original response to you.)

        You write:

        In his report from April 30, Prof. Postol states the following[1]:

        “That particular munition had a small charge of military explosives to rupture the container and disperse the sarin. The explosive would have certainly produced hexamine as a byproduct. ”

        This is rather different than claiming that “ . . . hexamine is a decomposition product of RDX.” He never actually said “that,” did he. Nor did he imply either of the “only” two possible implications that you draw from his assertion.

        The matter at hand is rather this: Prof. Postol is no chemist. He is relying for his assertion on the expertise of Dr. Åke Sellström, who is by all accounts an expert in arms, especially in chemical weapons, and Dr. Sellström has unambiguously stated on the record that hexamine may be DERIVED from EXPLOSIVES. See, for example, the quote I provided, which comes from one of the emails that Dr. Sellström wrote to Prof. Postol.

        Consequently, when Prof. Postol asserts that the explosive that would have been used to rupture the container would certainly have left traces of hexamine behind, what he is repeating is an assumption based upon the expert authority of Dr. Sellström.

        So your slander of Postol as being a charlatan IS equally a slander of Dr. Sellstöm, for he is the source of Dr. Postol’s confident assertion that hexamine IS a “byproduct” of exploded ordnance. But good effort on your part trying to weasel your way out of that one. And to suggest that he “probably didn’t have the time to dive into the literature of explosive residues,” is somewhat laughable, wouldn’t you agree, given his purported field of expertise?

        As an additional point of emphasis, if you exonerate Dr. Sellstöm on account of his “over-abundance of caution in his conclusions,” you must all the more so exonerate Prof. Postol, for the former is the latter’s expert adviser in matters of hexamine residue, and that “over-abundance of caution” would logically carry over to Prof. Postol’s re-assertion of Dr. Sellstöm’s expert opinion.

        Of course, as to whether or not there could ever be post-explosion residues of hexamine from explosives, you are just trying to be clever in limiting the possible origin of those residues at the location where munitions have been used to the chemical reactions involved in producing the “explosion as such.” You also fail to mention that traces of hexamine may be present in trace amounts as an impurity in the explosive mixture BEFORE detonation or that it may be used and often is used as a primer to set off a charge. Would every particle of that hexamine be consumed in the detonation or would possible traces of it remain?

        At any rate, we have Dr. Sellström asserting one thing and you, an anonymous commenter three years deep into an alleged Ph.D. in organic chemistry, asserting another. As a layman, in whom do you think I should place my trust? A ghost who may be on a hired mission to obfuscate a matter of forensic evidence or someone whose credentials and alleged statements I can verify?

        As for referencing Dan Kaszeta, you know as well as I do that he is a proven liar. Peole who are reading this comment might be in interested in reading this document produced by Prof. Postol and judge for themselves the “reliability” of Mr. Kaszeta’s assertions in matters relating to “hexamine” and its “smoking gun” connection to “Syrian sarin:”

        A Brief Assessment of the Veracity of Published Statements in the Press and Elsewhere Made by Dan Kaszeta, A Self-Described Expert on the Science and Technology of Chemical Weapons

        DDTea, if isn’t obvious to some, your inept little game is becoming quite transparent to others.

  13. timhayward says:

    Thanks. I didn’t say I necessarily gave credence to Postol. Since you are so hot (rightly) on reading carefully, let me just restate for you what I wrote: “Professor Postol of MIT criticised the NATO/Gulf State account of the incident, and you say his claims ‘should be treated with great caution’. That’s fair enough. Shouldn’t we apply a similar standard of scrutiny to claims made on both sides?” I did not even challenge the challenge to him! My whole point is that there are various hypotheses about what could have happened. I personally never relied even provisionally on Postol’s because I did not feel sufficiently confident in it.
    As for responsibilities to hold him to account: since his error is on the side of caution – re justifying warmongering – I actually feel less responsibility than I do to ensure those looking for pretexts to kill and destroy don’t get the free ride our captured media are allowing them.
    Do you feel differently?

    • timhayward says:

      Just to add, aside from answering what I thought was a slightly unfair criticism of me regarding my responsibilities: your comment on being rigorous in regard to Postol is absolutely right and I emphatically endorse the need to treat with great caution the arguments of one’s political allies – and yes, I do feel alliance with those who recognize our common vested interest in avoiding these wars. As I think is your own point, we otherwise hand informational ammunition to the Bellingcats of this world who love to pounce on any inaccuracy and then declare the whole case closed.

      • Norman Pilon says:

        I’ve emailed Prof. Postol about DDTea’s challenge to his claim that “hexamine is to be expected on any battlefield where high explosive munitions have been used.”

        Hopefully he will reply and preferably, here, directly to DDTea.

        “However, based on residues of hexafluorophosphate from Ghouta, I can comfortably say that phosphorus pentachloride was used in step 4, and that sodium fluoride was used in step 5. Interestingly, it was announced that a British chemical company had sold a bunch of sodium fluoride to some Syrian cartel company or other.”

        Interestingly, a British chemical company is not constrained to sell a bunch of sodium fluoride only to some Syrian cartel company or other, and pertaining to Syria in particular, might even have a strategic interest in selling “a bunch” to the enemy factions of that state, kind of like how

        “Because on matters of chemical weapons, said MIT professor is a charlatan. He has been caught making erroneous statements and failing to do basic fact checking. Recently, he was forced to issue a retraction of one of his reports because he *failed to properly read and comprehend* the French Intelligence Report. Such a basic error is inexcusable. This is the sign of someone who has already arrived at his conclusions independent of any evidence.”

        No, this isn’t the sign of someone who has already arrived at his conclusions independent of any evidence. It is the sign of someone who has made an “error,” and who later acknowledged the error publicly and has since adjusted his analyses of the matter at hand accordingly.

        Clearly it is DDTea who has arrived at a predetermined conclusion about the integrity of Prof. Postol, because his conclusions fly in the face of a crime that could, and from his standpoint, should be used to both further discredit the “Assad regime” and justify military intervention.

    • DDTea says:

      You know what? I like you. I disagree with you but you seem reasonable. Sorry for the severity of my comment, I’ll keep that in check. References to TP ruffle my feathers.

      I do feel differently. The best possible outcome would be if Assad, his family, and his inner circle died of natural causes tomorrow. The causus belli for many rebel factions would evaporate in an instant. The rest would would lose popular support and become ineffective. But if Assad somehow prevails and stays in power, think of the message it sends to dictators everywhere: that with harsh enough repression, destruction of your own cities, the help of foreign sectarian mercenaries and a super power benefactor, the expulsion of 1/4 of your population, they can hold onto power in any crisis. On the flipside, should he be forced from power: the message to the world will be that nothing can stand in the way of change once the people demand it.

      • timhayward says:

        Thanks again. While I don’t feel able to agree with your assessment, I do think that Monbiot ought to be able to, and I wish he could write like that so as to make possible a more reasoned exchange of views!

  14. Karl says:

    Tim, thanks for your stellar work in taking an objective, rational and forensically argued approach to examining this chemical attack. It’s notable that GM ignored every salient point from your piece in favour attempting to bait you with questions which your piece already makes clear you (and anyone with a modicum of honesty) could not possibly answer without resorting to groundless assertion.
    It’s ironic that GM labels anyone who makes a reasoned argument which undermines his ‘belief’ that it’s Assad wot done it as a troofer, when that is the hallmark of troofer debating tactics, namely, ignore all points from your interlocutor while loudly demanding answers to questions which either have already been answered or are orthogonal to the discussion.

  15. timxthomson says:

    Most of the comments here clearly come from people more knowledgable and with greater expertise than I. But from all of this, the concusion I draw is that the uncertainty surrounding this chemical event is sufficient at least to render the Trump reaction (59 missiles) rash, unjustifiable and dangerous, not to mention illegal.
    While I accept that most of ‘the West’ regard Assad as a monster, it is clear that he has the support of a majority of the population, once they are free of the so-called ‘moderates’. The obscene idea that because we don’t like him we should step in and remove him is a continuation of the thinking which led to the Iraq tragedy. Of course, if the motivation is different, for instance to do with oil, pipelines etc., it surely just makes the interference by the US, its allies and Israel all the more unforgivable.
    As a very ordinarily ignorant member of the public, there is a great deal I don’t know or understand. Am I oversimplifying? (Or perhaps others are overcomplicating!)

    • timhayward says:

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think you are oversimplifying what any ordinary member of the public can reasonably think, and nor do I think the experts are overcomplicating a matter which has really become very complicated! I am most appreciative that expert discussion has been offered in response to this blog, especially as the quality of wider public debate seems to be driven ever lower.

  16. DDTea says:

    In response to Norman’s message:

    ###TOPIC #1: My funding

    I acknowledge the National Science Foundation and US Department of Education for funding of my lab and of myself, respectively. I declare no conflicts of interest. Nor do I particularly give a damn if I lose my cushy fellowships: I’ve taught classes and worked blue collar jobs before, and I can do it again. I have no source of funds specifically for these messages. These posts are written on my own time as part of my longstanding interest in chemical demilitarization/non-proliferation. If you wish to donate to me or buy me a beer, I can setup a PayPal or something.

    My personality is irrelevant. I prefer the Arabic word “shabh” (as in “shabihah”) over “ghost.”

    ###TOPIC #2: Kaszeta/Postol e-mail exchange[1]

    My summary of the e-mail exchange is as follows: Postol writes to Kaszeta about the solubility of hexamine in isopropanol, correctly arguing that it is poorly soluble. Dan Kaszeta states that this is irrelevant: that hexamine may be used as an insoluble slurry to scrub HF and then filtered. TP ignores this counter-argument and launches into a diatribe, demanding references into hexamine’s solubility in Isopropanol (IPA) while continuing to calculate how much IPA would need to dissolve the requisite hexamine. Dan Kaszeta reiterates that this is irrelevant, and also references a thesis that states Hexamine is known to form 1:4 adducts with hydrogen fluoride (a point which I have found further references [3,4,5] to validate–as well as its role as an HF scrubber), the byproduct of Sarin production. TP pretends to be confused (or is literally that ignorant) about the relevance of this point, and continues to harangue Dan. He, as well as his advisor Maram Susli, seem further oblivious that the solubility of hexamine in IPA may not extend to a mixture of methylphosphonic difluoride (DF)/IPA/Sarin.

    Thus the basis for their original inquiry is not meaningful. Their original assumption that hexamine must be dissolved in order to react is readily dismissed: anyone who’s even taken sophomore organic chemistry understands that heterogeneous reaction mixtures are commonplace. Ted Postol is literally left arguing against both thermodynamics (i.e.: that an acid/base reaction will occur) and kinetics (acid/base reactions are among the fastest in organic chemistry). Thus he has no basis for his argument. And TP’s in report from April 30 [2], he seems to accept the point that hexamine may, in fact, be used as a “fluoride scavenger” in Sarin production. Thus Theodore Postol 2017 contradicts Theodore Postol 2014 on the latter’s key thesis, but somehow both are correct that Dan Kaszeta is a liar and a fraud.

    “The chemical reactions that produce sarin also produce hydrogen fluoride, a powerful and highly corrosive acid. In order to remove the hydrogen fluoride produced along with the sarin, a “fluorine scavenging agent” is mixed with the isopropyl alcohol when the two binary components are combined. The component that is typically used as a fluorine scavenger is isopropyl amine…Another chemical that is capable of scavenging fluorine from the hydrogen fluoride is hexamine.”[2]

    On the contrary, I think these e-mail exchange makes it abundantly clear that only charlatan and fraud in the conversation is Theodore Postol. Dan Kaszeta’s hypothesis has withstood scrutiny.

    ###TOPIC #3: Ake Sellstrom, Ted Postol, and Hexamine from explosives

    #3A) I should reiterate that there’s an enormous chasm between what Ake Sellstrom said,
    “In addition hexamin [sic] found in samples may be derived from other sources for example, explosives,” [1] and what Postol concludes, “The explosive would have certainly produced hexamine as a byproduct.” [2] Further, Ake Sellstrom has not launched into vociferous and self-contradictory conspiracy theories, dismissing his critics as “frauds” like Ted Postol is wont to do.
    So don’t try to shoehorn me into saying Ake Sellstrom is a charlatan because I say Theodore Postol is a charlatan. That hamfisted logic does not hold.

    #3B) Hexamine is not used as a primary explosive/primer/initiator. It does not detonate with enough force to initiate secondary explosives like TNT or RDX. If you think otherwise, please provide a peer-reviewed reference and we can discuss this further.

    #3C) You state: “This is rather different than claiming that ‘. . . hexamine is a decomposition product of RDX.’ He never actually said ‘that,’ did he. ”

    No, no it isn’t all that different. This is an argument over semantics. If TP isn’t clear with what he’s stating vis a vis “byproducts,” then he deserves to be ignored until he can define it. DK and I have considered several possibilities [6]: explosive residue, explosive contaminants, paint, cooking fuel. None of them are viable, especially when Syria declared 80 tons of hexamine as part of its OPCW declaration; and Ake Sellstrom further stated that, “It is in their formula, it is their acid scavenger” for Sarin production.”[2]

    Who should you believe? The beauty of science is that you don’t have to “believe” me. Review the experimental studies I’ve cited and formulate a better hypothesis. But if you want to believe someone, you should believe Prof. William Goddard–one of the most prominent theoretical chemists of our time, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and an endowed professor at California Institute of Technology–over Theodore Postol, who is a retired adjunct professor and a charlatan on issues of chemical weapons. Goddard’s studies on the detonation of RDX/HMX should be your starting point. And for the record, everyone in the physical sciences knows that between MIT and Caltech, Caltech is the better institute. (I love you anyway, MIT folks)

    ###REFERENCES

    [1] Postol, T. “A Brief Assessment of the Veracity of Published Statements
    in the Press and Elsewhere Made by Dan Kaszeta, A Self-Described Expert on the Science and Technology of Chemical Weapons” https://cryptome.org/2014/08/postol-debunks-kaszeta.pdf

    [2] Postol, T. “The Flawed Chemical Analysis in the French Intelligence Report of April 26, 2017. 04/30/2017. http://www.washingtonsblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Postol-The-Flawed-Chemical-Analysis-in-the-French-lntelligence-Report-of-April-26-2017-Alleging-a-Syrian-Government-Sarin-Nerve-Agent-Attack-in-Khan-Sheikhoun-of-April-4-2017_April-30-2017_PQ_.pdf

    [3] Ennan, A. A.; Brazovskaya, O. M.; Chopotarev, A. N. Products of the reaction between hydrogen fluoride and hexamethylenetetramine. Zhurnal Obshchei Khimii, 1975, Vol. 45, Issue 3, p. 706.

    [4] Ennan, A. A.; Chobotarev, A. N.; Brazovskaya, O. M. “Hydrofluoric acid-​hexamethylenetetramine-​water system,” Zhurnal Neorganicheskoi Khimii, 1975, Vol 20, Issue 3, pp. 786-790

    [5] Ennan, A. A.; Lapshin, V. A.; Brazovskaya, O. M.; Grishuk, N. S.; Mikhailovina, S. K. “Corrosion of steels in aqueous solutions of hydrogen fluoride containing urotropine,” Izvestiya Vysshikh Uchebnykh Zavedenii, Khimiya i Khimicheskaya Tekhnologiya, 1975, Vol.18, Issue 5, p. 840.

    [6] Kaszeta, D. “Amines and Sarin – Hexamine, Isopropylamine, and the Rest…” Bellingcat, May 3, 2017. https://www.bellingcat.com/resources/2017/05/03/amines-and-sarin-hexamine-isopropylamine-and-the-rest/

    • Norman Pilon says:

      Thank you for replying without notifying me of your reply, Team DDTea. More possible “baffling with bullshit,” I see.

      You write,

      “Dan Kaszeta reiterates that this is irrelevant, and also references a thesis that states Hexamine is known to form 1:4 adducts with hydrogen fluoride (a point which I have found further references [3,4,5] to validate–as well as its role as an HF scrubber), the byproduct of Sarin production.”

      You have three whole references. Wow. But here is the problem: by now anyone who has seen our exchanges in both this thread and the other, knows just how “reliable” you are with “references” and “links” and about your creative “readings” of what you reference and link to.

      Since we cannot “link” to your references to read them and compare them to your assertion that they specifically relate to the process of hexamine in the production of sarin, could you do us the courtesy of quoting the material, or posting it somewhere online and then linking to it so that we may read it, and if we cannot interpret it ourselves, then refer it to someone, say, at a local university, for an informed opinion.

      Can you do that, Team DDTea? It would be grandly appreciated. And maybe after that we can take up the dialogue from there . . .

      And what university did you say you were affiliated with? Oh, that’s right. You didn’t say.

    • Norman Pilon says:

      Team DDTea,

      I must concede what must be conceded: I haven’t as yet been able find any substantive documentation confirming hexamine as a possible residue of explosives. Everything so far amounts to nothing but gratuitous assumptions informed by nothing more than that “some have suggested or said that . . .”

      Consequently, today I sent off a query to the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences of the University of Ottawa. I was kindly given the email address of a professor who might possess the requisite knowledge to answer the question or be in a position to point me in the right direction for references, and I did re-submit my query to him/her. Hopefully I will get a reply and a substantive lead on as to whether or not military (or other) grade munitions might leave traces of hexamine behind.

      In the meantime, with respect to this ‘detail’ — and that is all that it is, a ‘detail’ — I’m eating crow for supper and then for dessert, maybe a little piece of humble pie, but it will be a small piece as I’m on a diet — and all on your tab, Team DDTea. But then that’s what you get sometimes when you repeat assertions based solely on the authority of ‘some,’ whose assertions you fail to investigate on account of trusting too much in the integrity of the pronouncements. There is also something about finding oneself in “battle mode” that tends to make one a bit stupid, as much as I hate to admit it.

      Of course, I’m not conceding anything to the stance that “forensically speaking, we ‘know,’ what went down in Khan Shaykhun.” Everything remains as yet in the realm of speculation, as everyone continues to pick over a paucity of confirmed or alleged or contradictory evidence. And for what it may be worth, I am rethinking my ‘attitude’ toward you.

      Anyway, I’m waiting to hear back from Ottawa U. Trust me: if it is confirmed that hexamine can be a residue of explosives, I’ll let you know. And if it turns out that it can’t, I’ll still let you know. But for all that, the ‘fact’ will remain that the U.S. did bomb Syria on a pretext, a cooked up excuse, since it could not in the available time between the alleged crime and its bombing have possibly determined beyond a reasonable doubt who it was that committed whatever really even went down in Khan Shaykhun.

      • Norman Pilon says:

        Team DDTea,

        Just in case you are feeling lonely and missing me:

        Here is a link to an interesting post and series of fascinating comments on the relevance or lack thereof of hexamine to the whole ‘whodunit’ plot weaved by Kazseta on the Who Attacked Ghouta? blog (to which Paul McKeigue refers in his reply to you and to which you’ve never responded): HERE.

        Although the post itself does a good job of underscoring the effective irrelevance of the entire issue, I would especially read the comments posted by “Paveway Mk IV,” especially this one, Mon Feb 17, 08:10:00 AM, and this one,Sat Feb 15, 08:47:00 PM.

        So, DDTea, were the ‘hexamine’ traces just plain old hexamine, or hexamine salts and some such, and were they all of the same ‘kind?’ And why would it be that if hexamine is used in the production of RDX (or other cheaper-to-produce explosives), RDX (or any other hexamine based explosive) will not leave a trace of any variant of it behind, but when used in the production of sarin, it does (and in what, it’s pure form, or a variant thereof? Can you explain that?

        At any rate, I’m not really posting this only for your benefit, DDTea, but for the benefit of others, to give them a few more things to consider and about which to think, to really underscore the point that determining what transpired in Khan Sheikhoun is not as simple as saying, “oh, look, hexamine!” Or as Dan Kazseta puts it for us in his now world famous if unconscious paralogism:

        Nobody’s used hexamine previously as a Sarin additive [Question(s): So what makes you think Syria would have? And how do you “know” they did? Do you have proof that they did? Documentation, maybe?]
        +
        There’s hexamine in the field samples [Question(s): Is that “hexamine” in its pure form? Or a something that has hexamine incorporated into it? And what would that be? Was there only “one” species of such hexamine-like trace molecules? Wouldn’t it be odd to find “pure” hexamine as a residue?]
        +
        There’s 80 tons of hexamine in the declared inventory of the Assad Regime [Question(s): How do you know this? Isn’t this as much as to claim “. . . knowledge of non-disclosed information?” (see this comment by Paveway Mk IV]
        +
        The Syrian government’s admission to Sellstrom’s team EQUALS The Assad Regime Did the Wicked Deed [Question(s): What’s the admission to Sellstrom? How would Khazseta know what the admission was if it is “non-disclosed information?”]

        And then one last niggling issue that I am not able to sort out for myself, but that maybe you can help me with: is Dan Kazseta’s reasoning in this instance ‘inductive’ or ‘deductive?’ Just so I can decide whether it’s “scientific” or not, eh?

        So many questions. So little information. So many political agendas. So many “steaming mountains” — to pilfer a rather felicitous phrase from Tim.

        So the work must continues, eh, DDTea . . .

  17. Pingback: Rejoinder to George Monbiot on Syria | Taking Sides

  18. M Kavanagh says:

    WHITE HELMETS: Terrorist Whistleblower Exposes Staged Chemical Weapon Attacks
    MAY 14, 2017 BY 21WIRE 2 COMMENTS
    White_Helmets [photo]
    21st Century Wire says…
    On the back of reports that the White Helmets had recently, sent a team to Ariha in Idlib, with the intention of staging another chemical weapon attack, Syrian Arab News Agency has focused on interviews with captured terrorist fighters. These NATO and Gulf state-armed terrorist testimony adds another layer to the ever increasing evidence that the NATO and Gulf state-multi-million-funded White Helmets are nothing more than “Al Qaeda with a facelift”, designed to fabricate the intervention-supporting narratives on behalf of the US, UK & their NATO/Gulf state partners.
    Aleppo, SANA – Terrorist, Walid Hendi confessed to taking part in fabricating videos and photos for a Turkish TV channel while working with the so-called “White Helmets” that depict neighborhoods and areas in Aleppo being attacked with chemical weapons in order to blame the Syrian Arab Army.
    In confessions broadcast by the Syrian TV on Saturday evening, al-Hendi said that he joined the “White Helmets” three years ago in return for receiving funds from the so-called “local council” and financers from Arab Gulf countries.
    Hendi said that they were told that there will be chemical attacks, and they were given protective clothing and they staged a fake chemical attack that was filmed by a Turkish channel, adding that they were filmed by two people called Ibrhaim al-Haj and Mohammad al-Sayyed as they sounded sirens and brought stretchers to transport supposedly injured people, with the intent of posting these videos online and accusing the Syrian Arab Army of carrying out a chemical attack.
    The terrorist also confessed to taking part in fabricating videos and photos depicting alleged attacks several times.
    A Russian diplomatic and military source had revealed on May 4th that reporters working for Qatar’s al-Jazeera TV filmed a fake chemical attack against civilians in Idleb province in order to blame the Syrian Army.
    In turn, terrorist, Imad Abdeljawad said in similar confessions that terrorists in Aleppo possessed toxic chemicals and that he took part in transporting them.
    Abdeljawad said that he was asked to transport what were claimed to be cleaning agents from al-Sukkari neighborhood to al-Ameriya neighborhood to cover up the fact that they were actually transporting dangerous chemicals, adding that after unloading materials from two cars and starting with the third, they wanted to know what materials they were transporting because their smells were agitating, particularly since he suffered asthma.
    He went on to say that he saw people in silvery clothing, protective masks, and long boots transporting the materials to a basement, and they looked through windows and saw them opening barrels and pouring a liquid from them into cylinders, and when the man in charge of the terrorists noticed that Abdeljawad and his cohorts were watching he expelled them and prevented them from bearing arms.
    Back in January, army engineering units uncovered, while combing the Old City neighborhoods in Aleppo, an amount of chemical materials of Saudi origin left behind by terrorists, which included sulfur, chlorine, and other materials.

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