09.04.2014 Author: Seth Ferris

Denial of Turkish Involvement in Sarin Gas Attack is a “Very Convenient” Admission

4643There is a simple rule of thumb when it comes to any government’s press service statements: Don’t believe anything until it has been officially denied. There is also a second rule of thumb: if the truth is then made obvious, it isn’t as simple as it appears.

Damming reports have recently emerged suggesting that the Turkish and American intelligence services have jointly “cooked intelligence” in order to impose a fully fledged shooting war on Syria. This has, or course, been officially denied. Well they would, wouldn’t they? Well, we would see it that way, wouldn’t we?

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has begun dropping bombshells which may finish off a string of carefully spun stories at the most inopportune of times. His revelations may prove to be the straw which broke the US administrations “back” over Syria. Or maybe they are breaking another back entirely, under the convenient cover of damaging the US.

Hersh has posted a report which includes investigative material which is taking the mainstream media by storm, entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line.” This takes as fact what I previously suggested in this journal, that the Sarin gas attack in Syria last summer was a US operation, and alleges that an al-Qaeda affiliated organisation, the al-Nusra Front, and Turkish intelligence were also involved in planning and executing it.

Obama’s White House and the Turkish government have both been quick to categorically dismiss this story. They take exception to even the suggestion that the Turkish government was involved in the attack.

“We have seen Mr. Hersh’s latest story, which is based solely on information from unnamed sources and which reaches conclusions about the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria that are completely off-base,” said the White House press office.

Then explain why Hersh’s conclusions are wrong, and what sources are there for the US version of what happened? Strangely, or perhaps not, the White House does not mention this, nor does it give the many examples it could give of its own record of acting on the basis of unnamed sources – the invasion of Iraq being a glaring example. 

The London Review of Books has republished Hersh’s article, which presents the Turkish government as culpable for the Sarin attack which killed anywhere between several hundred and over a thousand people, depending on the source and discounting how many of these were crisis actors to start with. As the Washington Post reported in August 2013, “varying opposition claims put the death toll in the hundreds; some saying it was more than a thousand.”

Earlier email intercepts, and investigative journalists working out of Georgia and the US, have confirmed that this attack was designed to create the pretext for a fully fledged war in Syria, and that it was staged from the onset. 

Emails between Jennifer MacDonald, the wife of a defence contractor, and a friend named Mary Shapiro show her reassuring her friend that her husband had “comforted her” by saying that (Syrian) “kids weren’t hurt, it was done for cameras.” If this claim has any other source than her husband, or is in any way inaccurate, let the White House press service demonstrate this – after all, they have had many months to do so, and it is in their interest to do so.

Is the story credible?

Hersh’s inability to get his first story on this topic, Whose Sari?, publishedwas a telltale sign that the story was too hot to handle then because it was true. These are the tactics always resorted to when official lies are exposed.

Ask Michael Morpurgo. Many years ago he wrote a book about AIDS which stated that it was not transmitted through heterosexual sex but purely through homosexual activity and drug use. Though this is a medical opinion, not a political statement, and was backed up by considerable documentation and research, he was unable to get a mainstream publisher in his native US.

When he took his book to the UK he got no publisher at all, apart from The Observer newspaper, such was the strength of the gay political lobby and its desire not to be blamed for the death and destruction of the AIDS pandemic. At the same time fabulous theories about the fate of the Romanovs, or the Tomb of Christ, were hitting the bookshelves without anyone saying a word.

The London Review of Books finally published Hersh’s new story, and there is no reason why it should not have done. Seymour Hersh is not an isolated mad hatter with a record of fabricating wild theories but a respected international affairs journalist who has had a long career of producing accurate and well-received articles (and changing history).

The London Review of Books is a high-level publication which is always vastly oversubscribed with articles. Anything published there has to meet a very high journalistic standard, whether or not you agree with its conclusions. So being published there gives the article the credibility it needs to override the official denial.

So do the facts we know from elsewhere. Many in the intelligence community have been alleging for some time that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan, who is not exactly the international flavour of the month, supports the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction within the rebel opposition in Syria, and other Islamist rebel groups.

This allegation is made whenever it suits the US and its allies to paint Erdogan as a malign influence. Now the same allegation is made and the US is implicated, the White House tries to pretend there cannot be any truth to stories it has been willing to repeat for its own ends for long enough.

Hersh states in his article that according to a former senior US intelligence official he has spoken to, “We knew there were some in the Turkish government who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a Sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.” The White House’s reference to “unnamed sources” reveals how keen it is to get its hands on this former senior US intelligence official.

We know this because we remember that the White House was similarly keen to identify Deep Throat, the informant who blew open the Watergate scandal which forced President Richard Nixon to resign. Even though Nixon is now officially vilified, Deep Throat was still attacked by the White House as a traitor, not a lover of justice and upholder of American values, when his identity was finally revealed many years later.

 Why now?

Hersch’s article merely claims made earlier on how the Sarin gas used in Syria was produced, claims denied at that time too. So we may ask why this article has appeared in print now, and not previously – unless, of course, we really want to know the answer.

Obviously the refusal to publish his initial story is a factor. There are many scandal stories widely known within the media which are not published because it is too difficult legally to do so with the evidence available. But if they can be made watertight the same media outlets embrace them enthusiastically, as in this case, so that the author can show they were right and the outlet can show that it is above lawyers.

Secondly, the local elections in Turkey did not turn out as badly for Erdogan as expected. If people vote for him, he must be right. Therefore the story about the planned attacked on the Turkish-controlled Mosque within Syrian territory is going to be accepted for now, on the principle of benefit of the doubt, unless it can be shown to be false.

Thirdly, we know of weapons arriving in Syria from Georgia, having travelled via Turkey, and that Turkish intelligence is providing protection for former intelligence assets who have been involved in the logistics of organising material and terrorist flights. All this has previously been reported, but has fallen through the cracks of analysis. Hersh has merely linked all the pieces together, but maybe this linkage is now all too convenient for those who sought to stifle it before.

 What does the article purport to achieve?

 Obviously Seymour Hersh has an interest in exposing the Turkish link with the gas attack in Syria, even if that interest is the most appropriate one, i.e. serving the truth. He is to be applauded for saying what he has, but maybe there is more to this than appears at first glance.

Some of the information previously reported about this topic is reproduced below. Here is a transcript of original material used in compiling previous articles:

“Re: Megis Kardava 

Megis Kardava is known to be under the protection of Turkish intelligence, thanks to his use of terror and trafficking of foreign fighters and weapons to further Turkey’s geopolitical interests in Syria and Iraq. “

All this is swallowed by Seymour Hersh. The result has been damaging to both the US and Turkey. But which of those two thinks it is more able to withstand negative press stories?

What is really going on

Governments the world over have a history of saying one thing and doing another. They will deny there is a problem in a social welfare area, such as homelessness, then take steps to address that non-existent problem. They will say that such and such a world leader is their friend but not hand over most of the aid or conclude the big deals until he is out of the way.

The US could never admit to doing what it thinks Hersh accuses it of doing in his article. But his revelations will not have any real effect on political processes in America. The US will also deny what is said about Turkey, but the claims are not new. The US makes the same claims about Turkey when it chooses to, though not directly and not in relation to a specific incident. Why this contradiction?

This story is being published now because it is being spun on itself. The US is hoping that it will damage Turkey, and in particular Erdogan. It won’t admit this either of course, but if someone has to take the flak for the continuing failures in Syria, will it be the US or its weaker ally? Erdogan is making the wrong noises from a US point of view, wanting to recast modern Turkey as a new Ottoman Empire. We can expect him to be pushed out by internal forces over this story, with US assistance, while the US continues publicly proclaiming his innocence.

If Turkey can be blamed for US failures in Syria, where it loses ground by the day, it can be presented as Turkey’s conflict which the US was duped into supporting before it knew the full facts. Now-unreliable Turkey can be dumped and the US can extricate itself from Syria before it becomes another Vietnam. Hersh will have done the White House’s dirty work for it, whether he wanted to or not. 

Maybe the whole Syrian conflict was merely an attempt to entrap Turkey. Maybe, too, the world would be a better place if its self-appointed policeman actually sought to uphold justice and honesty once in a while.

Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.