The Establishment Has Learned Nothing From Iraq: The Syrian Chemical Weapons Edition

Does this sound familiar? Boldly rushing forward to the past, our intelligence agencies are (boldface mine):

The NSA would of course monitor Assad’s office around the clock if it could, the former official said. Other communications – from various army units in combat throughout Syria – would be far less important, and not analysed in real time. ‘There are literally thousands of tactical radio frequencies used by field units in Syria for mundane routine communications,’ he said, ‘and it would take a huge number of NSA cryptological technicians to listen in – and the useful return would be zilch.’ But the ‘chatter’ is routinely stored on computers. Once the scale of events on 21 August was understood, the NSA mounted a comprehensive effort to search for any links to the attack, sorting through the full archive of stored communications. A keyword or two would be selected and a filter would be employed to find relevant conversations. ‘What happened here is that the NSA intelligence weenies started with an event – the use of sarin – and reached to find chatter that might relate,’ the former official said. ‘This does not lead to a high confidence assessment, unless you start with high confidence that Bashar Assad ordered it, and began looking for anything that supports that belief.’ The cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war.

Of course, evidence to the contrary was ignored:

Theodore Postol, a professor of technology and national security at MIT, reviewed the UN photos with a group of his colleagues and concluded that the large calibre rocket was an improvised munition that was very likely manufactured locally. He told me that it was ‘something you could produce in a modestly capable machine shop’. The rocket in the photos, he added, fails to match the specifications of a similar but smaller rocket known to be in the Syrian arsenal. The New York Times, again relying on data in the UN report, also analysed the flight path of two of the spent rockets that were believed to have carried sarin, and concluded that the angle of descent ‘pointed directly’ to their being fired from a Syrian army base more than nine kilometres from the landing zone. Postol, who has served as the scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations in the Pentagon, said that the assertions in the Times and elsewhere ‘were not based on actual observations’. He concluded that the flight path analyses in particular were, as he put it in an email, ‘totally nuts’ because a thorough study demonstrated that the range of the improvised rockets was ‘unlikely’ to be more than two kilometres. Postol and a colleague, Richard M. Lloyd, published an analysis two weeks after 21 August in which they correctly assessed that the rockets involved carried a far greater payload of sarin than previously estimated. The Times reported on that analysis at length, describing Postol and Lloyd as ‘leading weapons experts’. The pair’s later study about the rockets’ flight paths and range, which contradicted previous Times reporting, was emailed to the newspaper last week; it has so far gone unreported.

The Times ignores contradictory evidence? Inconceivable!

At this point, one can only conclude that intelligence agencies, along with most national security reporters, exist not to inform policy makers but to justify their actions.

We barely missed screwing the pooch in Syria the same way we did in Iraq.

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3 Responses to The Establishment Has Learned Nothing From Iraq: The Syrian Chemical Weapons Edition

  1. Pingback: Boston Traffic Cameras: A Microcosm of the Failure of the Security State | Mike the Mad Biologist

  2. Horace Boothroyd III says:

    Are you really suggesting that President Obama came into office harboring a profound determination to bomb Syria and that, having bided his time until safely re-elected (as with his plan to disarm the American people) and free of political constraints, he was only stopped at the last minute from implementing his evil scheme? Because that is the only way in which Syria would be like Iraq.

    If you would cool down your overheated rhetoric and drop the sneering condescension, we might be able to work together and find a point to this blunt instrument. Everyone agrees that closed organizations are prone to certain types of deficiencies. Biologists, for instance, tend to drink heavily and squabble over meaningless trivialities. Intelligence agencies are susceptible to groupthink and to capture by political agendas.

    Regarding Syria, the former appears obvious while the latter appears dubious. If you want to argue otherwise, I would shout MORE LIKE THIS, PLEASE! But do not simply bleat out your Obama is Worser than Boosh Even bullhockey and expect me to agree that it tastes good.

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