Sep 19, 2013

The UN report

If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the conclusion page.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

And Indeed, within days dozens of people connected the dots and shared the obvious conclusion.

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:
  1. 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).
  2. 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.

Update 2:

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

Update 3:

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:
  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Update 4: 

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.

37 comments:

  1. The M14 rocket trajectory passes through part of Mezzeh airbase which is immediately adjacent to the target zone.

    Mezzeh has been documented multiple times as a location for rocket fire into the area, particularly into Darayya.

    It seems much more likely that the M14 rockets were fired at short range from Mezzeh rather than extreme range from the Republican Guard Base.

    Regarding the 300+mm rockets. Brown Moses refers to them as 330mm while the UN report describes them as 360mm. Are they even the same rocket?

    Your estimate of 2000-3000m for the larger rockets may well be excessive. The nearly identical and higher powered SLUFAE doesn't appear to have a range over 1000m.

    Finally, there were initial reports that I can't now find of rockets being fired from a motorway overpass. I suspect it was very close to the Ghouta target area and would match neatly with the short range of the 300m+ missiles.

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    1. Charles,

      I added Mazzeh to the options.

      The UN gives 310mm for the stabilizer ring, and 360mm for the warhead, while previously it was estimated at 330 and 350. Since previous measurements were based on photographs, I don't think this discrepancy is enough to classify them as different weapons.

      I agree that 1km is also a possibility, but I'd like to be on the safe side for now. Let's hope someone will provide an expert analysis soon.

      If you can find the motorway reports, that would be great.

      Thanks for your help!

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    2. The Brown Moses measurements were based on photos with tape measures in place.

      I think the difference is enough to be significant

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  2. The distances on the HRW map are wrong. The 'Base to Ghouta' range is around 7500m. The other range is inaccurate as well.

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    1. I tried it myself and also got 9.5 from the Republican Guard to Zamalka. How did you measure?

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    2. Their drawing base to Ein Tarma is labelled 9.6km when the actual distance is closer to 7.5km

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  3. The "330mm" thing is not supported anywhere, as far as I can see.

    The UN says that the rocket itself, at its widest point (i.e. the fin assembly) was around 310mm. The generally agreed-upon width of the rocket core is 120mm, and the other measurements of the fin dimensions give them a height of just over 80mm, ergo the rocket is somewhere in between 280 and 310mm at its widest point. The 330mm figure seems completely made-up, possibly as a not-so-well thought out attempt to connect it to existing Iranian systems (Fajr, Falaq) and by extension implying Iran/Hezbollah/SAA just based on that.

    The warhead is much wider, in the 350mm+ ballpark, which obviously requires a launch tube of such a large diameter. Again not matching any extant systems.

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    1. Very good point. I didn't realize the importance of claiming a measurement lower than 333mm until now. Seems like the Falaq-2 theory is incorrect. I'll incorporate it into my analysis of the munitions in the future.
      Thank you!

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  4. There is a lot more information available on

    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_August_21,_2013/Rocket_attack

    What particularly caught my attention was the comment that the the new videos implicating the opposition were first uploaded on 21 August and talked of gas attacks against Assad agents.

    Maybe I misread that? Unfortunately the videos they link to have been deleted off YT and the "Amer Mosa" account deleted.

    Asides from that there is plenty of ballistics information,

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    1. I did misread that. What they said was the first video saying the launch of a chemical attack was uploaded at 4am on 21 August

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    2. Yeah, I remember those videos. They showed rockets launching in night from a distance. Not very valuable.

      However, the forum you linked to contained interesting information about rebel rockets being launched from Qaboun. When I looked it up on the map I found that Qaboun is exactly 3 km on the green trajectory i calculated in this post. Definitely something I'll be looking into.

      Thanks!

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  5. I think you're onto something very interesting here. I've snipped this from "http://www.military-today.com/engineering/slufae.htm":

    The XM130 was also highly effective as an artillery weapon, due to the speed, range and trajectory of it’s rockets. However, having been conceived for Combat Engineering purposes, it’s range is extremely short (only about 150 m, requiring the SLUFAE launch vehicle to venture perilously close to it’s target.

    So the original SLUFAE, similar in design and engine power - only had an estimated range of 150 meters. I am not a rocket expert, but it seems unlikely that even an improved version could travel 9 km+ with any precision.

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    1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
      The ratio of weight to engine, and the aerodynamics indeed seem very similar. But I doubt anyone in Syria will find a use for a 150m range rocket. I'm guessing the SLUFAE just wasn't optimized for range.
      Again, if anyone here is experienced in rocket distance calculations - your help in estimating the distance would be appreciated.

      Delete
  6. Did my earlier post get deleted? Let me try again. The jury-rigged rockets appear to be modified BM-21 Grad rockets or Arash rockets (Brown Moses tweeted to me earlier today that 'apparently' it is not a Grad rocket because the end doesn't match.) With that said, I still haven't been able to find any evidence of the Syrian army using Falagh-2 launchers, but Hezbollah definitely has them. Hezbollah also has a history of modifying their existing rockets to improve them or allow them launch ball-bearings. It is not difficult imagining Hezbollah forces occupying SAA territory, so...thoughts?

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    1. Interesting theory that I didn't consider yet. To make it likely, I'd like to see more indications, such as:
      1. Hezballa researching or discussing chemical warfare (as known for the SAA and the opposition).
      2. Showing the UMLACA can fit in a Falaq-2 (currently seems that it doesn't).
      3. Significant presence of Hezballa with rocket launchers in the area.

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    2. Thanks for the response, and in time, I will do my best to try to find any indications of the things you mentioned.

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  7. 2-3km for a non spinning 330mm rocket with a 55 liter trashcan with liquid inside on top is to far, a better figure is 150 meters.

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    1. Can you share the full calculation?
      Thanks!

      Delete
  8. When reading reports pay attention to detail experts double check figures.By manipulating figures it is possible to take one rocket and and cover two launchers by way of claiming a mistake. The HRW report diagram detailing the 330mm rocket is flawed intentionally.The measurement of the body of the rocket clearly states 345mm and cannot be fired from a launcher designed for firing rockets of 330mm (15mm error), However it can be fired from 350mm launcher if you allow for a (5mm error) instead of trying to kill two birds with the one stone HRW and Brown Moses should recheck measurements and be specific as to what is the correct diameter of the rocket. As to the logistics to actually firing the rocket HRW and Brown Moses are trying to paint the illusion that rebels do not have the capability to launch rockets.
    Lets look at the falagh 2 / falaq 2 and what HRW and Brown Moses are trying very hard to imply 1)the range of the falaq 2 being 10.8km therefore any rocket fired from a falaq 2 launcher will also have a range of 10.8km this is misinformation and false. HRW need the 10.8km figure to draw their trajectory to a military base.
    By posting videos of flat bed trucks fitted with what they describe as a falaq 2 style launcher with the purpose again of painting the illusion that it is beyond the capabilities of the rebels both tactically and logistically to fire such a rocket.
    a)The only known 333 mm Falaq-2 system fielded to date by Iran is based on a 4 × 4 jeep light cross-country vehicle with the engine at the front and two door fully enclosed cab in the centre.
    http://www.army-guide.com/eng/product4689.html
    b)I dont know who the HRW and Brown Moses are trying to fool by hinting that the rocket which they class as 330mm can travel over 9kms. Lets look at a falaq 2 rocket found in section 3 of the manufacturers brochure http://diomil.ir/pdf/Section3.pdf do you think it is possible for HRW/Brown Moses 330mm rocket to strike targets at 9kms. As you can clearly see HRW are playing a propaganda game they have the finances to perform proper research instead their agenda is to misinform the public.
    Rachel the best the US Military could do with a similar design was 150 meters that being the effective range, no doubt it could travel further but 9kms.

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    1. Here is the link. http://www.military-today.com/engineering/slufae.htm

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    2. Link worth reading..http://www.inss.org.il/publications.php?cat=21&incat=&read=97 confirms falaq 2 is jeep mounted

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    3. Thank you Adam! This is valuable information which I will incorporate into future reports.
      IT would be awesome if you could get me an expert estimate of the UMLACA range.

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  9. In the absence of rocket scientists - maybe its worth looking into 3D software-simulation of rockets? I've found an open source rocket simulator here: http://openrocket.sourceforge.net/
    It looks like it is quite easy to build an "UMLACA" and fit it with a motor. I have no idea if this might lead somewhere, but maybe it could give an indication of range, if the right parameters are used.

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    1. Great Idea! I'm currently working on another post, but if you or anyone here wants to give it a try, that'd be awesome.

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    2. Actually it looks so cool I have to try it myself. Hang on...

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  10. Very nice work!!
    I'm reading and sharing your articles. Maybe when you finish it you could compile it in a PDF and publish it as a "report" that seems people catch more attention.

    Btw, frist time that I saw HRW image I though "wow, that's a huge base! bigger than center dasmascus!" and reding this blog seems that... simply they fit the shapes to accuse govt.

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    1. Thank you!
      A PDF sounds like a good idea once I'm done.

      Note that I didn't say the location of the base is incorrect, just that the trajectories are completely off.

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  11. Just want to express my thanks for your hard work and determination in conducting your analysis, and being so transparent and open. If you need any help with graphics, multimedia, etc please consider me a willing volunteer. mail.lissnup is my gmail

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    1. Thank you for the kind offer. I just may do so.

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  12. "And Indeed, within days dozens of people connected the dots and shared the obvious conclusion."

    That article says the Syrian Army did it....? Can you point to where in that article it says otherwise? Are you taking about people comments? If so, can you point out a few? I read thru some of them but there are a lot of comments.

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    1. I'm not sure which article you are referring to. You may see the ones "connecting the dots" by clicking on the links in this sentence. Or did I misunderstand what you meant?

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  13. Sasa, I am reposting this here, as you have updated above dismissing the miosis issue as a misunderstanding. I think you could not be more wrong.

    --------------------------------------

    Sasa, I am confused, exact data is impossible, but you have Dan Kaszeta clearly stating "it should have been more than 14%, but perhaps less than 99% reported in Tokyo" - is that good enough for you? I have given you Dan's tweet on the issue.

    I also cited a scientific paper that says that wich heavy exposure, the presence of miosis would last closer to on the order of several weeks, rather than several days.

    What other source/paper/statement do you need to be convinced? I am not certain I could give you lab results, if that's what you are asking for :)

    You are in error to dimiss miosis. I am not sure how you don't see that.

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  14. Sorry, but the idea that you can get more accurate rocket trajectories from your bedroom than the UN on scene is not credible.

    All you are seeking to do here is cast doubt on the UN findings.

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    1. It's not me and my bedroom. It's the combined work of dozens of people around the world, including local activists that visited several impact sites and shared direct evidence. It's not at all surprising this could be more accurate than the work of two people visiting a scene for 30 minutes.

      The fact that something has the UN logo on it doesn't mean it is immune to mistakes. The evidence is what counts.

      Having said that, if you have any evidence or analysis that contradicts the work done here, please share it: Can you show that the locations were not geolocated correctly? Can you show the three sites don't have signs of impacts from the north? If so, that would be very helpful for our understanding of the events of that day.

      Thanks for your help!

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