The Red Line and the Rat Line
April 17, 2014 2:11 PM   Subscribe

"The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’"
A report by Seymour Hersh alleges that Turkish PM Erdoğan's National Intelligence Organization is responsible for last August's sarin attack in Syria, in an attempt to force Obama's hand on air strikes.

Additional allegations:
  • The US Consulate in Benghazi existed solely as part of a network supplying Syrian rebels, including Al Qaeda affiliates
  • Turkey supplied and trained radical factions in the use of sarin
  • Obama allowed Erdoğan to violate trade sanctions with Iran (as reported late last year), even after becoming aware of Turkish involvement with radical elements
tip o' the hat to bukvich for linking this
posted by p3on (46 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I am wondering if the New Yorker, where Hersh usually appears, considers this not yet solid enough to publish.
posted by Danf at 2:17 PM on April 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Didn't we ban Seymour Hersh links after the last bit of conspiracy nonsense turned up bunk?
posted by dios at 2:51 PM on April 17, 2014

New Yorker hasn't touched anything he's written about Syria, afaict (his previous piece was also published in LRB, after New Yorker and WaPo had both told him to get better sources or get out).

This one was published almost two weeks ago, btw, and besides Turkey and US immediately denying it, the story seem to have gone absolutely nowhere.
posted by effbot at 3:00 PM on April 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

The US Consulate in Benghazi existed solely as part of a network supplying Syrian rebels, including Al Qaeda affiliates

If that were true, the attack would not have happened.

The US Consulate in Benghazi exists because Benghazi is a large enough town whose population is important for several US foreign policy interests and many of whom will not travel to Tripoli.
posted by ocschwar at 3:03 PM on April 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

The credibility of this piece comes down entirely to the credibility of the unnamed "former intelligence official"--and that's something we can't judge. Hersh doesn't seem to have found any corroborating evidence--not even a corroborating off-the-record source--on the basis of what he's been given by the "former intelligence official." I can see why he'd have had difficulty getting such a piece published.
posted by yoink at 3:08 PM on April 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

sorry, when did we start hating Seymour Hersh?
posted by angrycat at 3:19 PM on April 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't hate Hersh at all, but over the past 5 years or so he has started to publish unsubstantiated rumours. I think the last article of his I took seriously was the one where he said the US was planning an attack on Iran.

It's important not to forget about Hersh's role in helping expose American war crimes at Abu Ghraib, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:25 PM on April 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

sorry, when did we start hating Seymour Hersh?

I don't know that anyone's "hating Seymour Hersh" (well, maybe dios, above)--the "Why would anyone believe Seymour Hersh" link above is actually a defense of Hersh. But it's undoubtedly the case that Hersh has been on a less than stellar streak in the last decade. He's pushed his luck on single-anonymous-source stories and they've bitten him in the rear a few times (see his 2007 New Yorker piece on Fatah al-Islam, for example; a piece, by the way, which a lot of people saw as suggesting that Hersh was somewhat captive to pro-Syrian voices in Lebanon). One gets the feeling that Hersh has come to believe his own legend a bit and feels that normal rules of good reporting (like, getting confirmation of things your source is telling you) don't really apply to him. That's not to say that this story is or isn't false, but it is to say that it is self-evidently thinly-sourced.
posted by yoink at 3:30 PM on April 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

The US Consulate in Benghazi exists because Benghazi is a large enough town whose population is important for several US foreign policy interests and many of whom will not travel to Tripoli.

It only has around a million people and its economy doesn't seem very significant. It seems weird that it would have a consulate; doubly weird that it would have a consulate and a Sekrit Spy Base.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:42 PM on April 17, 2014

It only has around a million people and its economy doesn't seem very significant.

Wikipedia seems to state otherwise - major port for the country, oil industry, etc.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:48 PM on April 17, 2014

It only has around a million people and its economy doesn't seem very significant. It seems weird that it would have a consulat

I'm not sure if you're being ironic--given that the site you link to directly contradicts your claim--but just in case: I think the main reason for the consulate in Benghazi was because Benghazi had been a major center for the resistance to Gaddafi. The State Dept. wanted a presence on the ground there to liaise with the various rebel forces that had played such a large role in the uprising and were continuing to play a large role in shaping post-Gaddafi Libya.
posted by yoink at 3:53 PM on April 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Boston only has 650,000 people and we have lots of consulates (and very little oil).
posted by maryr at 3:54 PM on April 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

You possibly don't realise how few diplomatic missions the USA has. Benghazi having a consulate on economic grounds is risible; the political grounds are a different matter, but that argument supports Hersh's claims.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:27 PM on April 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

that argument supports Hersh's claims

Well, no, it really doesn't. Hersh's claim is that the Benghazi consulate existed solely for the purpose of funneling arms to Syrian rebels. That claim is not supported, at all, by demonstrating that there were legitimate political reasons for the US wanting a State Dept. presence in Benghazi. It doesn't disprove it, either, of course.
posted by yoink at 4:34 PM on April 17, 2014

Nonetheless, the Syrian attack build-up was real (even if I hadn't been reading, or hadn't been believing, the news reports around that, the increase in traffic on the military shortwave stuff was dramatic) and it unhappened quite, quite suddenly.

If Hersh has been sold a pup on this one, the events still need a lot of 'splaining.
posted by Devonian at 5:20 PM on April 17, 2014

Hersch has broken some huge stories. He isn't always right, but he isn't Alex Jones or some other crank you can just dismiss.
posted by humanfont at 5:23 PM on April 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

He isn't always right, but he isn't Alex Jones or some other crank you can just dismiss.

But these days, you HAVE to be ALWAYS RIGHT. The need for almost Pope-Level Infallibility among news sources is one of the worst media trends of recent years (and its counterpoint, the News Cultists who do believe in the Infallibility of the NYT, WSJ, etc.)
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:58 PM on April 17, 2014

That's a good article, gorbweaver.


Brown Moses: “with the greatest respect to the work of Lloyd and Postol I do not believe their calculations have been peer reviewed.”

Postol: “And he’s qualified to say that?” Postol asked incredulously.


My bet's with Brown Moses on this one.
posted by stbalbach at 7:39 PM on April 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

He isn't always right, but he isn't Alex Jones or some other crank you can just dismiss.

My Metafilter must be broken because I'm not seeing all the posts where people are just dismissing what Hersh says, or saying that because he was wrong once he can never be right again.
posted by yoink at 9:52 PM on April 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sadly, Seymour Hersh is almost certainly wrong here. I hate to see this happen, because he's been important in the past. I've even spoken with him before. Even then though, I got the sense that he was a bit past the "sell-by" date and slow on the uptake.

The giveaway in this case is the clear evidence that the sarin gas attack was fired basically from the center of Syria, in government controlled territory, using a relatively short-range rocket -- and a rocket launcher -- and that several of the rockets identified were numbered and color coded in accordance with markings that match recent known videos of Syrian ordinance.

It's simply not credible. No wonder you get independent NGOs like Human Rights Watch taking Hersh to task... he didn't do his homework.
posted by markkraft at 10:14 PM on April 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I should point out... I gave Hersh photos provided to me by a US soldier, showing US soldiers documenting the death and wounding of very young teens with cameras, assigned to their officers.

The damning element of this wasn't just how young these kids were... between about 10 and 16, reported by locals as having been shelled while playing soccer at the time. Indeed, they weren't dressed like fighters, but dressed like teens would be dressed who were playing soccer.

The most damning element of this, however, was that the photos were staged, with weapons and ordinance added into the photos... a rocket-launcher here, a shell there. It was only when I took a closer look at the photos that it became obvious to me that these photos showed the same rocket launchers and/or shells. with the same scuffs and markings, appearing over and over again in different shots and entirely different locations.

Most of these kids were killed. Some of them were still alive (graphic and disturbing)... and presumably treated, then handed over to Iraqi authorities to be tried by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, with the relevant evidence of their crimes. (i.e. Staged photos.) Based on that evidence, suspected insurgents routinely faced life or even death sentences.

The people at the New Yorker verified that the photos were authentic and had all the correct metadata you'd expect. I talked to Hersh for quite some time, and then had him get anonymously in touch with the soldier in question. ... and then several months passed, with no story. I asked Hersh about this later, and he didn't think the story was large enough. I got the sense that he was looking for another Mai Lai, or that Iraq was starting to be old hat and he wanted something new.

After that point, I released them independently to the web. (warning:graphic and disturbing.)

In retrospect, I would've been better served by going to another journalist, and I got the distinct sense that Sy Hersh was looking for the equivalent of a "long bomb", running everything through that filter, and working on that presumption. Obviously, that kind of practice doesn't lend itself to consistently good, responsible journalism.
posted by markkraft at 10:51 PM on April 17, 2014 [16 favorites]

And Bush, Cheney, and their crew are guilty of war crimes that are orders of magnitude worse. But, hey, that's in the past.

Obama is shit, but what's new in the Presidency? This is just more of the same old, same old. Ain't gonna change unless the masses finally make it change.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:45 PM on April 17, 2014

"Obama is shit..."

Relative to who? Bush, Jr.? No.

Clinton? Perhaps when it comes to military action, in that Obama inherited two ugly wars... but overall, he has been more honest. less corrupt, more just when it comes to gay rights, and more effective when it comes to making healthcare available to people.

Bush, Sr.? No. He was deeply involved in Iran-Contra, for starters.

Reagan? No. He was instrumental in several genocides around the world.

Carter? Yes... which is part of the reason Carter only was allowed to serve one term.

Nixon? No. Laos. Cambodia, etc, etc.

Johnson? Vietnam escalation. The Gulf of Tonkin incident. No.

Kennedy? The Bay of Pigs. Vietnam escalation, followed by all-too-late attempts to deescalate the conflict. Affairs and general duplicity. Probably roughly the same level of shitty behavior as Obama, packed into an all-too- brief time in office. Push.

Eisenhower. Korea. Supporting the French oppression of Vietnam. Opposing Ho Chih Minh, despite his original democratic intentions. Preventing democratic elections in Vietnam. Escalating US involvement. J. Edgar Hoover. CONTELPRO. General support for McCarthyism and an anti-communist witchhunt. No.

The truth is, saying a president is shit overlooks the role. It's a bit like saying a sanitary engineer is shit, when actually most of what they are doing is basically their job... and no one else's.
posted by markkraft at 2:09 AM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

But these days, you HAVE to be ALWAYS RIGHT.

You don't have to be always right. But you need something besides one anonymous source. That's basic journalism.
posted by Justinian at 2:39 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Ain't gonna change unless the masses finally make it change."

Those masses being an increasingly polarized, older group of people.

The fact is, America does not resemble a nation with young, active, pro-intellectual, pro-revolutionary fervor. Quite the opposite. And while gradual generational and racial shifts bode well for the Democrats in the very long term. In the short and even medium term, we're looking at Republicans having control at the state and local level, and at the ultra-wealthy having unchecked political power across the board.

We're dealing with a LOT of people in America, and the chance of the perfect storm hitting and flushing out all the refuse is *really, really* low right now, so might I suggest a more pragmatic viewpoint, to the effect that as compromised as Obama can be at times, he was *still* arguably the best viable choice available at the time, and the best way to move the ball forward towards your particular goals?

The Obama administration gave up on single-payer healthcare before the battle was ever fought or the argument made... but on the other hand, they also *knew* that with Lieberman and the Blue Dog votes they'd need to pass health care reform, single payer was dead on arrival. I'm not saying that they shouldn't have fought for more, but odds on are that they have a better feel for what is possible under the circumstanes than most Americans do.

The positive aspect of all this compromise and the general level of public frustration with it, frankly, is that we are likely to see Hillary Clinton 2016 run to the left of Hillary Clinton 2008, in order to keep the party more or less together. This, I believe, is an intentional tactic on the part of the Democrats, and one that is likely to be beneficial to the eventual outcome of the race and the ability to create some additional hard-fought change in the future.
posted by markkraft at 3:12 AM on April 18, 2014

"you need something besides one anonymous source. "

Presumably, the source is a machiniacal Turk.
posted by markkraft at 3:15 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and regarding the one source issue, I can theorize a really, really easy way that Hersh might've been led to believe that Turkey did the attack.

There are two types of sources that would've found it advantageous to suggest Turkey was responsible:

1> An anti-Turkish, pro-Kurdish nationalist agent / supporter... of which there are many
2> A pro-Assad supporter in Turkey... of which there are many

I would tend to think option 2 to be the most likely here, but the thing is, it would be pretty easy to be misled, if you weren't keenly aware and informed on the local situation and who is and isn't an unbiased source on a given issue.
posted by markkraft at 3:35 AM on April 18, 2014

For those interested, Hersh mentioned the pictures in an interview once, but never reported on them.

"After I did Abu Ghraib, I got a bunch of digital pictures emailed me,
and -- was a lot of work on it, and I decided, well, we can talk about it
later. You never know why you do things. You have some general
rules, but in this case, a bunch of kids were going along in three
vehicles. One of them got blown up. The other two units -- soldiers ran
out, saw some people running, opened up fire. It was a bunch of boys
playing soccer. And in the digital videos you see everybody standing
around, they pull the bodies together. This is last summer. They pull
the bodies together. You see the body parts, the legs and boots of the
Americans pulling bodies together. Young kids, I don't know how old,
13, 15, I guess. And then you see soldiers dropping R.P.G.'s, which
are rocket-launched grenades around them. And then they're called in
as an insurgent kill."

The whole "I decided, well, we can talk about it later. You never know why you do things" answer wasn't exactly the kind of reporting either I or my informant - who risked his career and reputation -- wanted after taking risks to release these photos. Likewise, his description of what happened was somewhat vague and somewhat in error... more in error than either of us felt comfortable with.

Seeing him run a story as full of holes as this Turkish conspiracy theory, while ignoring what a couple of Americans served him on a silver plate, with absolutely compelling photos... well, it's disheartening. He was someone both I and my source once looked up to.
posted by markkraft at 3:50 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Failed Pretext For War

Ah, Mint Press. Their big Syria story last year was a victim-blaming conspiracy thing (with a fake byline to give it more credibility) in which an evil Saudi prince brought huge gas bottles to the area, hid them in a tunnel, and then some fumbling rebel hiding in the same tunnel accidentally blew things up and took a thousand people with him.
posted by effbot at 4:38 AM on April 18, 2014

markkraft, I may be slow on the uptake here (and I'm avoiding looking at the photos) you're saying that the U.S. killed a bunch of kids in Iraq and then posed them with weapons so they would appear as insurgents? And nobody else wanted to pick up this story?
posted by angrycat at 6:00 AM on April 18, 2014

Here's Cryptome's page on the Buhriz photos: Eyeballing the Buhriz Body Count, which includes an account of what happened that day from the platoon leader (who took the photos).

(photos of dead people near the end of that page)
posted by effbot at 6:37 AM on April 18, 2014

but never reported on them

Are you still trying to sell that story?
posted by jsavimbi at 9:50 AM on April 18, 2014

That mintpress article is pretty slick. It is the first time I have ever visited their website. From the article:

“Although Higgins has never been to Syria, and until recently had no connection to the country, he has become perhaps the foremost expert on the munitions used in the war,” according to a profile of Higgins in the British newspaper The Telegraph.

He has also been described as ‘‘an authoritative source” and has been lauded by C.J. Chivers, war correspondent for The New York Times and author of “The Gun,” a history of the AK-47.

This is great. I particularly liked the part where Hersh says he told the White House the classification serial numbers on his leaked documentation and their response was no comment. The part of the thread where markkraft claims his sources are better than Hersh's? It's interesting, I will give it that.
posted by bukvich at 9:59 AM on April 18, 2014

That mintpress article is pretty slick.

Eh, it's pretty tendentious, in fact. He sets it up as if the case for Syrian govt. involvement stands or falls on whether you believe Higgins and then has lots of fun "exposing" Higgins lack of credentials and gazing awestruck on Postol's. But, in fact, the MIT team relied heavily, as they themselves admit, on Higgins's data gathering and Higgins accepts their findings--which don't rule out the involvement of the Syrian government.

More to the point, Postol's analysis is based entirely on second-hand evidence (the evidence largely gathered by the reviled Higgins) and a whole bunch of speculative hypotheses about the munitions used. Unlike the UN team, for example, Postol didn't get to go into Syria and actually examine the evidence first-hand. So at most Postol makes a pretty good case that the account given by Kerry of where the missiles were launched from was probably (but not certainly) misleading; he by no means, however, makes the case that the gas was more likely to come from rebel forces than from government forces. And there are many other expert analysts who, for a variety of reasons, continue to argue that the Syrian government is by far the most probable culprit.

I'm in no position to judge the various arguments being made, of course--but then I'm also in no position to assess the credibility of Hersh's single anonymous source, either.
posted by yoink at 10:38 AM on April 18, 2014

The only real sources are Syrian military and rebels. If you are in with them you are likely on multiple enemies lists of the United States government. And pretty shy about posting stuff on the internet.
posted by bukvich at 10:47 AM on April 18, 2014

The only real sources are Syrian military and rebels.

Not really. Hersh's article is making a bunch of claims about what the administration knew and when it knew it--there are a ton of US sources who should have good information on that. It does seem a little odd to me that with all of Hersh's many, many years of cultivating sources in the US govt. he can't find a single other person than his one, solitary source who's willing, even anonymously, to support this version of the story.
posted by yoink at 10:52 AM on April 18, 2014

I thought he came off as fairly well having been used when he broke that Iran-attack piece. It seemed clear that somebody in the administration at the time had slipped him this story as a warning to the Iranians. Probably also a good way to demolish his credibility as well.
I refer you to Colin Powell's testimony to the UN as an example.
posted by atchafalaya at 11:39 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

The said thing about human existence is entropy is the defining factor as we age. My dad, who is a couple of years younger than Hersh, is not the same man he was 45 years ago. But it's a fact of life and my dad doesn't try to pretend anything different.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:42 AM on April 18, 2014

So he's old. He is still Seymour Hersh. I thought we learned from all those anti-ageism movies like "Up" and "Gran Torino" not to put it past the wily old codger to come up with one last amazing feat.
posted by johngoren at 12:57 PM on April 18, 2014

> Why would anyone believe Seymour Hersh?

Just so we're all on the same page, the author of that piece tips his hand strongly with "Besides, has the US government ever lied to you in the past?" and makes his position clear at the end: "But he is Seymour Hersh, and I strongly suspect that he is right." I'm agnostic on whether he's right or not, but I'm sure as shit more likely to trust him than most of the other players peddling usually slanted info. Yes, he's been wrong before. Most of the other players have been wrong a lot more often. In fact, unlike him, they're not even trying to be right. Let's try to keep some perspective here.
posted by languagehat at 1:01 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd be happy to believe Seymour Hersh if he actually provided some documentary evidence or basically anything except a single anonymous source. I don't care if it was Jesus Christ himself speaking from a mountaintop I still want more than one frigging anonymous souce! Did we learn nothing from the leadup to Iraq and that curveball guy?
posted by Justinian at 1:06 PM on April 18, 2014

With any Seymour Hersh article, it helps to remember the wise words of Mr Weasley in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: 'Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain'. You have to ask 'where does this article keep its brain?' -- in other words, what were Hersh's informants thinking when they spoke to him?

With Hersh's articles on the Iraq War, it's fairly clear that his CIA contacts could see disaster approaching and wanted to distance themselves from the inevitable fallout. Their method of doing this was to suggest unattributably, through Hersh, that the fault lay not with the processing of intelligence by the CIA but with the selective use of that intelligence by the White House. To take this at face value would be naive. But Hersh's articles were, and are, highly informative about the relationship between the CIA and the Bush administration.

So where does this latest article keep its brain? Well, it seems to be the same old story, only for 'Iraq' read 'Syria'. Again, Hersh's intelligence contacts can see trouble ahead, and want to shift the blame. Again, their method is to suggest, through Hersh, that the White House just isn't listening to their good advice:
in recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. [..] there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’
Again it would be naive to take this at face value. But if Hersh's CIA contacts are trying to deny all responsibility for US policy in Syria, it doesn't bode well.
posted by verstegan at 6:38 AM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

TIL about the importance of applying Harry Potter to the evaluation of intelligence assessments.
posted by homunculus at 1:45 PM on April 22, 2014

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