[Marxism] Why Seymour Hersh has it wrong this time

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 16 07:39:15 MST 2014

The most damaging assertion made by Mr. Hersh is his insinuation that 
the insurgent group Jabhat al-Nusra may have been responsible for the 
chemical attacks. As a life-long professional in defense against 
chemical weapons, it seems increasingly improbable to me that a 
non-state actor, Nusra or otherwise, perpetrated the sarin attack on 
8/21.  Even if Nusra has an individual who might understand the science 
of how sarin is be made, there is a wide gulf between understanding the 
basic chemistry and perpetrating the 8/21 attacks.

Mr. Hersh patently ignores the practical barriers to al-Nusra, or any 
other Syrian non-state faction for that matter, producing enough sarin 
to have done the 8/21 attacks.  A large, but still indeterminate number 
of people (Hersh is right to point out discrepancies in the fatality 
figures) over a large area were killed or injured.  The practical 
reality of chemical warfare is that it is far less efficient, in terms 
of amount of material required, than most laymen understand.  Numerous 
casualties over a large area require a large amount of material.  A lot 
of sarin was used.  My own attempts to apply Cold War-era methodologies 
to reverse-engineer the attack gave me a rough range of sarin from 370 
kg to 4400 kg of sarin.  Although my methods are too lengthy to state 
here, my best guess is that the real answer is somewhere in the middle 
of this range, perhaps a ton.  The current total of "Volcano" rockets so 
far discovered is eight, giving a yield of perhaps 400-420 kg of sarin, 
well within this range.

Mr. Hersh seems unaware of just how hard accumulating a ton of sarin 
might be. It can’t be summarily waved away as he does by saying (I 
paraphrase) that “Nusra has a guy who knows how to do it.”  A ton of 
sarin is no easy undertaking for anyone to manufacture, regardless of 
expertise or access to precursors.  Sarin manufacture, as I pointed out 
in various places, is complex and can’t be done in a kitchen or bathtub, 
and certainly not in the quantities needed for the 8/21 attack.  To put 
it into proper perspective, in 1994-1995 the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan 
built a purpose-built facility, spent many millions, and had a number of 
chemists and engineers.  (Amy Smithson describes the Aum operation quite 
well in her book, “Ataxi.”)  But the best that Aum could do, despite 
mastering the mechanics of the process, was to produce bucket-sized 
quantities.  To produce at the scale required for the 8/21 attack, a 
large, sophisticated, and very expensive factory-scale facility is 
needed.  By hinting that Nusra performed the attack, he implies the 
presence of such a factory somewhere.  Where is it?   Sarin doesn’t get 
conjured up out of nothing.


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