Thursday, April 25, 2013

US on Syria's CW: "Origin unknown, ...'low or moderate confidence', ... 'fertilizers 'byproduct'? "

"...We cannot confirm the origin of these weapons, but we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime,” he said. “As I’ve said, this is serious business. We need all the facts.”But experts say the reports should be met with some skepticism because of the small amount of sarin that was found, the lack of widespread deaths and injuries, and inconclusive U.S. intelligence assessments.
The intelligence findings cited in a letter from the White House to Capitol Hill on Thursday were of “low or moderate” confidence, said a U.S. intelligence official who requested anonymity in order to discuss the classified reports.
Another person familiar with the issue, who asked not to be further identified because of its sensitivity, said that only a minuscule trace of a “byproduct”– a toxic residue left behind after use of a nerve agent, and which he did not identify – had been found in a soil sample.
“They found trace amounts of a byproduct in soil, but there are also fertilizers that give out the same byproduct,” the person said. “It’s far from conclusive.”...
..., ...
Jean Pascal Zanders, a senior researcher at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, said that a video broadcast internationally showing the effects of the alleged attack doesn’t necessarily comport with a sarin attack. He said it could represent a number of other problems, including drowning.
And there were other possible red flags in the video.
“Why only one person?” he said, referring to the video showing one patient it said was a victim. “Why do I find the hospital setting, again, unlike what I would expect in a case of chemical exposure? Why is the guy ‘foaming’ in the hospital, considering the rapid action of sarin.” Zanders explained that without an antidote, death is possible within one minute after exposure to sarin.
Richard Guthrie, formerly project leader of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the number of those affected appears low. He said, for example, the Tokyo underground attacks in 1995 that involved a small amount of sarin resulted in 13 deaths and more than 1,000 wounded.
Even if there was certain sarin contamination, he said the apparent small effect would raise questions about whether it might have been the result of a mistake, a rebel attack somehow damaging a Syrian chemical weapon in transit, or as happened on several occasions in the Iran-Iraq war, a single poorly labeled artillery shell being used accidentally.
“Even that would seem to fall short of a red line,” Guthrie said....."

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