Ghouta Sarin Story: Bullbleep Mountain or Veritas Valley?
Episode 1: Getting the Rocket-Dose Right
[I am eternally indebted to Jon Stewart for the
Bullbleep Mountain concept, which is applicable to myriad modern day
contexts. At least I think thatís what heís saying. Every time he
says it, somebody hits that fu-[bleeeep]-ing bleep button.]
Sometimes there's a
man. An' he's the man for his time and place. He fits right
in there, and I'm talking about Dan Kaszeta here, who
self-applies the label one-time "Chemical Officer in the US
Army," which is, as I take it, someone who is paid by US taxpayers
to figure out how to inflict an agonizing death on as many people as
possible if push comes to shove. Dan is making a name for himself by
explaining to those of us who have never had the opportunity, desire, or
need to drop sarin on our mortal enemies how to do it. Even those of us
who have no mortal enemies find the information morbidly fascinating in
the wake of Ghouta, and Dan is becoming the go-to guy on the technical
aspects of packaging and delivering sarin, or GB, as it it more commonly
called in the Army warfare literature, probably because "GB"
is harder to misspell. In his latest effort Dan walks us through some
calculations with the aim of coming up with a ball-park figure for how
many actual rockets full of sarin had to be delivered to Ghouta on
Aug21.2013 in order to get the deadly effect that has been advertised by
the insurgents, the MSM, and Obama: to wit, 1429 fatalities. Not 1430.
Not 1425. Not approximately 1400. No . . . 1429, precisely. I will
examine the origin of that ghastly, ubiquitous figure in a future
Bullbleep Mountain/Veritas Valley piece.
Danís piece, titled Managing
the Deficit, is a tidy 5 page look at how an Army weapons
guy would determine how many rockets would be needed to really screw the
maximum number of sleeping people in Ghouta using sarin. (Actually, Danís
piece is only about 3.5 pages if you subtract the ads, which seem really
out of place in an article like this. These ads are particularly
offensive to an academic, and I found myself asking myself: Like, is
this a business promotion, a self-promotion, or an attempt to figure out
the Ghouta mess? But I guess somebodyís gottaí feed the monkey.)
In addition to being confounded by its commercial aspects, after
reading Danís piece I came away more confused than convinced by his
calculations. But then I would have to admit to coming away confused
just about any time numbers start getting manipulated by people smarter
than me, and anybody manipulating numbers is almost, by definition,
smarter than me. But I stuck with it because I have to allows how
playing with these rocket numbers is an interesting exercise and on the
whole probably worthwhile, if for no other reason than to set some outer
limits on what is possible. But at the end of the day the piece seems to
move the ball up Bullbleep Mountain more than down the field toward
Here are a few comments on the particulars of Danís paper, and some
of my own numerical monkeying around.
Assuming a sarin-rocket attack took place . . . not so fast.
Dan starts off by asserting that the evidence is clear that a sarin
attack tool place in Ghouta on Aug21. This is consistent with his Sep25.2013
interview by Eliot Higgins regarding the findings of the
report, which I have previously dissed as being as helpful as pigeon
poop on the pump handle. In the Higgins interview Dan was
adamant that a sarin-rocket attack took place.
More specifically, when it came to the 140 mm rocket the UN
investigated in W. Ghouta, Dan really dug in, saying the rocket must
have carried sarin even without any supporting direct evidence by the UN
because he was not able to think of any other reason that would account
for sarin-related chemicals DIMP and IMPA being found in other samples
at the scene. And thatís really weird. I mean a number of people have
come up with other possible reasons Ė the most obvious one being that
the insurgents (who set up the entire UN investigation itinerary)
planted sarin in the areas they knew the UN investigators would
investigate. Of course, Danís entitled to his opinion as well as his
own lack of imagination, but anyone who says they canít see the very
obvious potential of foul play must at least be living in the shadow of
Bullbleep Mountain. And so Dan wades into his sarin-rocket article on
the back of the assertion that a massive sarin-rocket attack actually
took place in Ghouta on Aug21.
Of course, I canít let this go because I couldnít disagree more.
For if by "sarin attack" Dan means "sarin-rocket
attack," which is what his article is about, I would argue that not
only does the evidence to date fail to support the conclusion that such
an attack occurred and killed hundreds or thousands of people, but the
current evidence suggests rather convincingly that such a large scale
sarin attack Ė by rocket or otherwise Ė did not occur. I have
argued previously, for instance, that there are certain unpleasant but
clear clinical signs of organophosphate (e.g., sarin) toxicity that are
absolutely unavoidable Ė fecal incontinence, urinary incontinence,
uncontrollable vomiting. These are biological certainties, and if you
look at scores of dead and dying "sarin victims" like the ones
weíve been looking at for two months and donít see a fair few of
them displaying those signs, then you are not looking at a sarin attack.
Thatís just biological reality, plain and simple. Itís not a
political statement. Itís not conjecture or hypothesis. If you donít
see the clinical signs that we are not seeing, you need to look for
other explanations for what went down in Ghouta, and for what the UN
reported, and for what is being shown in the vids.
Another obvious argument against an attack of the magnitude claimed
by Dan and the insurgents is that we are not seeing 1429 bodies. Not on
CNN, not on MSNBC, not on YouTube. Not anywhere. We are not seeing
videos of any of the massive burials that would have had to have taken
place Ė and Iím not talking jury-rigged burials of the type you see
when the enemy has the bodies. Here, the insurgents claimed to have been
massacred in their own turf, so they had control of their own bodies and
would have given them proper Muslim burials. So whereís the funerals?
Agnes asks: Why didnít we have constant burial announcements
from the minarets? We see a couple dozen bodies wrapped in white and
thatís pretty much it. As far as I know, the vids show dirt actually
falling on just eight bodies, and they are all in the same hole. Where
happened to the other 1421?
Logic suggests that if youíre going to video bodies wrapped and
waiting for burial, you would hang around long enough to video the
burial itself Ė thatís were the real drama is. And the reason Iím
raising this point is that if you look closely, a lot of those wrapped
bodies have awfully good color and might not even want to be buried
quite yet. How is it the insurgents can upload detailed videos of
pinpoint pupils and violently thrashing victims and yet the most
dramatic evidence of all Ė dead humans being buried Ė is no where to
be seen? I mean, there is a video out there getting a lot of traction
showing a pile of dead goats in obvious rigor mortis. Is that supposed
to convince us that 1429 people died? And I donít know about the
goats, but some of the videos of human victims are almost certainly
faked. Sometimes it seems you can almost smell a foul wind blowing off
of Bullbleep Mountain.
And so, two months into this depressing analysis of what happened, I
have altered my original position to the point I am now 180 degrees
opposite Dan. No longer do I merely feel that it is not possible to know
whether or not a large-scale sarin attack took place in Ghouta; I feel
it is almost certain one did not. That is not to say that the SAA didnít
lob a sarin-rocket or two into Ghouta, and itís not to say the
insurgents didnít. After all, the UN Mission went in there and found
bits and pieces of metal with sarin or sarin indicators on them. But
again I point out, as others have, that in addition to rockets, an
equally likely explanation for the source of the sarin is that sarin was
planted by the insurgents in places they knew the UN was going to
investigate. I donít know that this is true, and Iím not asserting
it as a fact; I am only saying that from what we know, this is as good a
guess as sarin-rockets. And as long as one or more alternative
as-good-a-guess-as-any exists, skepticism is not just warranted, it is
obligatory, at least in Veritas Valley.
But I realize that, even discounting a few obviously fake videos,
there are still a lot of dead people in the remaining vids to answer
for. And there are blood and urine samples collected by the UN Mission
that tested positive for something Ė weíre not told what. So Iím
willing to allow that a bunch of people died somewhere and somehow,
which is precisely what has got me so upset that I spend waay too much
time on this whole issue while my own monkey goes unfed. And Iím
willing to allow that a few people may have been intentionally or
maliciously intoxicated by sarin. Thatís a near certainty given the
blood samples. But what is virtually impossible is that the scores of
"victims" Iíve seen on the videos Ė including the
Feinstein Package of 13 videos relied on by Congress Ė were victims of
sarin. In sum, the preponderance of the evidence Iíve seen is not
sufficient to prove any sarin-rocket attack occurred, and certainly is
not sufficient to prove that anyone died from such an attack.
And the reason Iím saying all of this is that I want to explain why
Iím playing the uber-skeptic and devilís advocate in looking at Danís
incredibly interesting article on how many sarin rockets would have been
needed to kill 1429 people in Ghouta. It is important to understand that
a military-style analysis of the Ghouta event and explaining how
military experts would have done the job does not add one iota of
evidence, it merely organizes the evidence along one particular
hypothesis Ė the hypothesis that there was a sarin-rocket attack. I
believe Dan is sort of setting the boundaries from a military
perspective as to what was possible in the context of that hypothesis,
and he is not arguing what actually happened. And while I am not able to
follow his arguments completely, or even his conclusions, he seems to be
knocking on the same door as a weapons expert that I am knocking on as a
neuropharmacologist: this thing just ainít adding up to a sarin-rocket
attack. As he says:
"I canít make the numbers work and Iíve got a nagging
suspicion that something strange is going on here."
Fatality and casualty numbers.
The truth is, itís two months after the fact and nobody has a clue
in hell as to how many casualties there were. In the absence of hard
data, Dan takes rumors as to fatalities (200 to 1429) and rumors as to
kill:casualty ratios (1:6 to 1:10) and without sourcing those numbers he
relies on them to obtain a rumor-based ball-park range of 1200 to 14,290
casualties. By rumor I mean "information" coming from the
insurgents, who, of course, benefit politically from inflated numbers.
If what Dan is trying to do here is get us to Veritas Valley, Iím not
sure thatís possible using numbers from Bullbleep Mountain.
Then there is the problem of how Dan uses the numbers. For, as I
understand him, Dan analyzes just an E. Ghouta "target zone"
but bases his analysis on fatalities numbers that, so far as I know,
relate to the combined fatalities of East Ghouta, West Ghouta, North
Ghouta, and South Ghouta Ė anywhere Facebook and YouTubes say there
were "victims." It seems to me that what one would want is a
number of casualties restricted to the same geographical area one is
analyzing. So while I see the need to have a numerical starting point
for this analysis, the relevance of these casualty numbers to the actual
calculation is lost on me. Below I will attempt to plug numbers into Danís
assessment that include both East and West Ghouta.
But Iím rambliní again. Let me get back to sarin-rockets.
US VX shells waiting to be destroyed. Source
All of Danís calculations are based on three US Army tables he
provides, which is what makes his article so durn interesting Ė this is the
real deal, bona fide Army stuff. Those tables are based on an artillery
round called a "M121 155mm projectile," which is a
chemical artillery shell that is fired from howitzers (or
M198 (155 mm) towed howitzer
But what we are (presumably) talking about in Ghouta are not
artillery shells but crude self-propelled rockets. At least thatís all
the UN Mission found evidence for. There was no evidence of a CW
artillery attack, so far as Iím aware. There are two crude rockets in
the UN report. One associated with W. Ghouta is called a 140 mm and it
is a surplus or out-dated Soviet rocket. The other rocket, associated
with E. Ghouta, is referred to as a 330 mm rocket and we know next to
nothing about it from the UN report. The UN doesnít identify it to any
known type of rocket. It looks in the videos to be jury-rigged. The UN
calculates itís capacity at an amazing 60 liters, which would convert
to 132 pounds in American units Ė and that doesnít include the
rocket motor/fuel. That is one fat rocket.
UN diagram of unidentified 330 mm rocket
And thatís all we have, just these two rockets. And the UN
report is entirely vague on how many of each, but they only saw 5 impact
sites total, so the number of UN certified rockets in Ghouta couldnít
be more than that.
Now, I donít have any experience with home-made rockets or out of
date Soviet rockets, or any rockets. And I donít have anywhere near
the military experience that Dan does with artillery shells. But I have
a real good idea what a bunch of 155 mm artillery shells can do. For a
brief period in my checkered "professional" history I was a
forward observer in a Marine Corps recon team calling in, among other
things, 155mm rounds against Vietnamese people who had been pretty much
minding their own business before we got there. And so I have a
feel for how accurate 155mm artillery is and how fast they can be fired.
I would estimate that the difference in expected accuracy between a
155mm shell fired from a howitzer and a 130 pound DIY self-propelled
rocket would be comparable to the difference in expected accuracy
between, say, Phil Michelsonís 9-iron from 150 yards and Barack
Obamaís. In other words, looking at the photos of those
allegedly sarin-rockets the UN has published, I would venture to guess
you couldnít reliably hit the side of a barn with one . . . not even
firing from inside the barn. These things are just thrown out there in
some general direction knowing they have to land somewhere and hoping
that when they do, someone you donít like will get hurt or killed. The
smaller rockets can be fired in bundles from a multi-launcher to
saturate an area, but there is no indication at all that that happened
in Ghouta. As far as the 132+ pound rockets, it must be totally a matter
of Allah-willing for it to hit any specific target at all.
What Iím saying is that, absent some evidence that advanced
artillery was used, calculations based on 155mm tables are pretty much
irrelevant to the Ghouta situation. If you know you can hit a
predetermined target area measuring W meters by L meters, you can
calculate the square footage or hectares. Then you can look in the
tables and calculate that you need X rounds to cause Z amount of damage
in an area that size. But if all you have is crude rockets that might
land in this county or might land in the next, then all bets Ė and all
calculations based on how many rockets land in a given hectare Ė are
off. And while calculations based on 155 mm artillery tables that are
applied to crude rockets might look impressive, at the end of the
exercise what have you got? Having started with unverified and
unverifiable casualty numbers you have started somewhere up the side of
Bullbleep Mountain, and having plugged those numbers into Army tables
for 155mm CW artillery rounds, you have moved so far up the mountain
that Veritas Valley is not even visible in the misty distance.
So one must keep in mind with respect to both Danís numbers and
mine, this is really just goofing around to get some sort of feel for
whether the extent of damage claimed by Obama and the insurgents is even
possible. What these numbers really indicate is what the US Army would
have done, or could have done, with unlimited howitzers firing unlimited
155 mm CW shells at Ghouta. Having cranked out those numbers, one
assumes the SAA or the insurgents couldnít do any better Ė if
killing kids with sarin is properly referred to as "doing
The weather on Bullbleep Mountain
Weather conditions for Damascus, Aug21.2013
As I noted in my critique of the Sellstrom Report, those UN guys made
a really big deal of the fact that the attack took place in the wee
hours of Aug21, according to the insurgents. Sellstrom implied, without
actually saying it, that sarin delivered by Assadís rockets would be
most effective in the wee hours because the air temperatures were
dropping, which means there was an atmospheric inversion, which means
the sarin would stay on the ground and kill more people seeking
"shelter," which means there must have been a rocket attack,
which obviously implies that Assad did it. Which means these UN guys Ė
like the NYT, HRW, and Brown Moses guys who bought into this crap Ė
are totally circular.
Dan does a bit of the same thing, and like Sellstrom he does not
present enough weather data to support his position. For instance, both
of them seem to be saying one can deduce the presence of an inversion
from nothing more than air temperature at ground level. Here we are,
going up on Bullbleep Mountain again.
The weather data for Damascus for the morning of Aug21 are available
online at World Weather Online. Donít take my word;
go look at them for yourself. The data Dan reports are
considerably different than the data reported by WWO. [Dan cites the World
Meterological Organization as his source but does not give a link to
the data he relies on. Maybe WMO has data relevant to an inversion
occurring in Damascus on Aug21 but if so, I canít find them.] The
chart from WWO is given above.
WWO says that between 2am and 5am on Aug21, the wind
was 4-5 mph from the west, with gusts to 7-8 mph. Dan says the wind was
10 mph. The temperature according to WWO dropped from 23 C. to 21 C.
between 2am and 5am. Even the low temp of 21 C. is considerably warmer
than 13 C. to 16.5 C. cited by Dan, and considerably more conducive to
increasing the sarin kill-rate, according to Danís Table 2-4 . The
humidity is also important and it works in the opposite direction to
lower the kill-rate because sarin hydrolyzes more readily in a humid
environment. The humidity during the wee hours of Aug21 was not
insubstantial: 56%. Dan doesnít factor in the humidity.
But the point Dan and Sellstrom are making is the one that really
sounds like something from BM. They claim that judging from the air
temps or the time of night, there would have been an atmospheric
inversion in progress and therefore the conditions would have been
optimal because an inversion pushes the sarin to the ground and holds it
there. But neither one presents any data or evidence of such an
inversion Ė all they present are air temps. Obviously, one cannot
deduce the presence of an inversion merely from dropping air temps or
there would be inversions virtually everywhere every night.
And so all this talk about Ghouta weather and inversions seems to me
to be irrelevant BM flak. For instance, these neighborhoods are
high-rises. The people were asleep. Even if there was an inversion and
sarin stayed at or near the ground, that would be a disadvantage
as far as killing people sleeping on, say, the fifth floor. Looking at
the weather data for Damascus on Aug21, it seems to me that if you
wanted to max your kill rate with sarin-rockets, you would have dropped
them at 2pm when most people would be out in the open and exposed, and
you would have the advantage of the 10 mph wind and low humidity
occurring at that time.
So what Iím saying is this whole weather angle Ė without some
sort of expert analysis of this specific situation in this specific
place on this specific night Ė is not convincing, and is certainly not
leading us toward any insight. Maybe if this weather angle were properly
developed it would tell us something, but Iím just not seeing what.
Even if there was an inversion, that doesnít tell you anything Ė or
even imply anything Ė about who, or how or, even, whether sarin was
used. As it is, this inversion theory smells like a diversion at best
and an attempt to frame Assad by implication at worst.
TZ #1 -- Ein Tarma, Kafr Batna, Zamakla. 3.5 km x 4.5 km ~ 1600
TZ #2 -- Duma 1km x 1 km ~ 1000 Ha.
Dan basis his calculations on a "target zone" that is 1.4
km x 0.45 km or 630,000 sq. meters Ė 63 hectares. [Danís areas are
in Ha because thatís the unit used in the Army tables.] He somehow
derived this target zone from Felim McMahonís work on the
Zamalka impact sites in E. Ghouta, but I donít get it and Dan doesnít
explain. I have reviewed McMahonís work extensively and I do not see
any reference to those measurements or to a target zone. The only
measurements I see McMahon making is that there is 140m between two
alleged impact sites in Zamalka. So Ė as with the 1429 fatalities Ė
I donít have a clue where the 63 Ha comes from, and Iím feeling,
quite frankly, data deprived, which is a very common malady in Veritas
Valley. In fact, I don't even know what Dan's term "target
zone" means in the context of something as random as a 132 lb. DIY
rocket. Anyone firing off something like that would likely
consider the "target zone" to be, say, Zamalka, Allah
When I go to the website that Dan links to, I find McMahonís
excellent work and a link to the map above. I have added boxes marked TZ#1
and TZ#2. These boxes surround the two places in E. Ghouta that McMahon
marks as most active in terms of reports of casualties, etc. So if there
were any "target zones" in E. Ghouta, these hot spots appear
to be to be them. Using Google Earth I have calculated the areas of
these two possible target zones. I did that by converting McMahonís
map to satellite and determining the street-boundaries of the two hot
spots. Then I went to GE and used ruler to get rough linear measurements
of the sides of the boxes.
TZ #1 is about 1600 Ha and TZ #2 is about 100 Ha, for 1700 Ha total,
compared to 63 Ha calculated by Dan. Again, I emphasize that I am not
putting these figures out there as being correct, I am putting them out
there because they are the best I can do and because Dan doesnít say
how he came by his 63 Ha number.
My estimate of the total combined target zones of 1700 Ha is thus 27x
larger than Danís. So, to save time and pencil lead, I simply scale up
Danís numbers accordingly. Where Dan uses a target zone of 63 Ha to
estimate that on the order of 80 (330 mm) or 2000 (140 mm)rockets would
have been required, my estimate based on McMahonís map and 1700 Ha
would be 27x that; i.e. 2160 (330 mm rockets) or 54,000 (140 mm
rockets). And that is only E. Ghouta. If the target zone in W. Ghouta is
of a similar size, then we are talking more than 4000 of the large
rockets and 100,000 of the small ones.
That did not happen. I will absolutely guarantee you that no Syrian
army (and certainly no insurgent forces) fired off 2000 Ė 54,000 sarin-rockets,
much less 4000 Ė 100,000 of them.
Two rockets, maybe.
Ten rocekts, maybe.
2,000? No way.
54,000? Ha, ha, ha . . . and by that I mean, if the actual target
zone was 1700 Ha in E. Ghouta, and you use Danís calculations based on rumored
fatalities figures plugged into US Army tables for 155 mm artillery, what you get is: LOL.
Donít even consider W. Ghouta.
So you can see why I canít follow Danís arguments and numbers. In
truth, I can't see what he provides in this piece
other than a pretense for his commercial advertisements. He ends his piece with the same
contradictory statement that he begins it with Ė he says, in effect,
the numbers donít add up. That is contradictory not with respect to
his calculations but in view of his rock-hard assertions to Higgins on Sep25 that a sarin-rocket attack
is what killed all those people in Ghouta. And so Iím confused.
Doesn't the numbers not adding up add up to there being no sarin-rocket
But Dan comes to one conclusion that even I can get:
"This confirms my suspicions, for a large target zone and a
large number of casualties an attack requires a large amount of
Some how, even to a CW layman, that just sounds right Ė obvious as hell, but right.
If nothing else in Dan's article belongs in Veritas Valley, that
statement surely has a place here.