This post will review the UN report published September 16th.
The investigators' charter was to determine whether chemical weapons were used, and not by whom. However, it's hard to miss the report's efforts in pointing out evidence which could be used to determine the source of the attack. The two main items are:
- Details of a 140mm rocket body with Cyrillic writing. This was already identified as an M14 artillery rocket. Since the munition is of Soviet origin, and known to be part of the Syrian Army's arsenal, its source should be clear.
- Calculation of 2 trajectories of rockets, which converge exactly at the Syrian Republican Guard base north of Damascus. Here's a great diagram from HRW:
I tried to delve a bit deeper into the details, and some serious flaws in this analysis immediately emerged:
First, a detailed analysis of the Moadamiyah site indicates that, (a) unlike Zamalka, there was probably no chemical attack at this site, (b) even if we assume there was one, there is no evidence tying the M14 to a chemical attack, (c) the UN trajectory calculation is based on a dent in the floor that is unlikely to be a rocket impact site, and (d) the UN speculate that the rocket has previously hit another building before reaching the site.
The Moadamiyah trajectory calculation is therefore of no value.
Next, let's examine the second trajectory.
The investigators state that only one site in Zamalka provided trajectory evidence. This was a rocket dug into the ground which they believe was undisturbed since. This is analyzed here as Impact Site 1.
There are 2 major problems with the trajectory assumed for it:
- The range of a rocket with such poor aerodynamics, a large 60kg warhead, and a relatively small engine could never reach the 9km implied here. (Update: the UMLACA is now reliably estimated to have a range of 2.5 km).
- The report states the rocket points at azimuth 285. However, as shown here this implies a 5 degree angle to the wall, which the screenshots below show cannot be the case:
The "trajectory intersection theory" is therefore based on faulty evidence and is incorrect.
The actual location of the source of the attack may be seen here.
I noticed some reporters are stating that the UN report includes evidence that the sarin was of military-grade. Since I read the report numerous times and had no recollection of that, I tried to figure out the source and tracked it to the following sentence (Page 4):
“In addition, other relevant chemicals, such as stabilizers are indicated and discussed in Appendix 7”
This was then quoted as:
The U.N. investigators analyzed 30 samples, which they found contained not just sarin but also "relevant chemicals, such as stabilizers."Which seems like a clear distortion of the original meaning.
Furthermore, a detailed analysis of Appendix 7 indicates there were no stabilizers found, and that the sarin was not manufactured professionally.
I don't think the reporters are fully to blame for this distortion. It again seems that the investigators chose wording that invites misinterpretation. This puts me in the uncomfortable position where I find it hard to believe that all these omissions and modifications are an honest mistake. But if anyone has access to the UN team and can get their response - I would love to be proven wrong.
See here a more detailed analysis of the chemical findings in the UN report
Gleb Bazov referred me to this report from Dan Kaszeta which analyzes the UN report. It indicates an unlikely distribution of symptoms in the victims, specifically the low incidence of miosis (pupil constriction) compared to more advanced symptoms of sarin.
This is easily explained when examining page 13 of the UN report, which contains two paragraphs about symptoms. One is based on interviews, and another on medical exams (including miosis). They were then joined into one graph, which is the cause of the confusion.
So the miosis sample is from 1 week after the attack, while the rest are from any time after the attack. According to this report, full recovery from miosis takes weeks, but significant recovery is reached within 6 days. Since the UN team did not have the time and setting to do this full miosis test (they reported doing just "brief eye and respiratory examinations"), the patients reported to have no miosis probably just recovered enough to be undetectable in a simple test.
A later report also from Dan Kaszeta (discussed at Brown Moses Blog) discusses a few more items from the UN Report. I agree with most of its analysis, except for a few comments:
- I don't agree with its association of the M14 with a chemical warhead. My analysis of the impact site strongly indicates contamination from a different site. Specifically, items on the outside floor, where activists are known to have traveled, were positive, while those taken inside the apartment (from items not on the floor, and where the victims were allegedly poisoned) were negative.
- I don't agree that the smaller warhead could explain the weaker findings in this site. Degradation processes are exponential in their nature (have a half-life). Therefore a ratio of 1:25 in source material is meaningless, especially when considering the Zamalka samples were taken 2 days later.
- I don't agree that disintegration explains the missing warhead. An explosion that leaves nothing of the warhead would have to show significant damage to the adjacent rocket body, which seems intact. The UN Report speculates that the warhead sheered off when hitting a nearby building. I think this makes more sense, and also explains why the M14 body was found intact - it was not a chemical carrier, just a conventional weapon that malfunctioned.
- The UMLACA was most probably not originally designed to be a chemical weapon, and definitely not a binary one (e.g. it does not seem to be spin stabilized). There are indications that the sarin was produced in a binary process, but this could have been done manually by mixing the precursors before launch.
I prepared a summary of all the anomalies found in the UN report here.
Conclusion: While the UN report attempted to hint at regime culpability, the evidence it provided actually contradicts this claim.
Did I miss anything? Please share your evidence and analysis and help me improve my conclusions.