WHO on Douma

Jordan Peterson, a fellow Torontonian who is obviously not shy about challenging authority, recently cited the World Health Organization (WHO) on Douma chemical attacks as follows:

WHO says: “Bombs were dropped at two locations in Douma. Within hours, more than 500 people were exhibiting symptoms consistent with suffocation by poison gas.”

On such a controversial issue, it is entirely understandable why Peterson (or any other concerned person) would look to WHO for an unbiased and authoritative opinion.

However, in this case, reliance was unjustified. WHO did not have any personnel in Douma and did not carry out any due diligence or verification prior to issuing its statement. (Its published statement was very caveated, but the caveats were ignored in nearly all media reports on the WHO statement.)  WHO did not disclose its sources, but they appear to be primarily two medical NGOs, Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) and the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which are active in parts of Syria controlled by Al Qaeda and allied jihadists e.g. Jaish al-Islam then in control of Douma. However, neither of these NGOs appears to have actually had employees present in Douma on April 7.

In this article, I’ll closely examine the actual sources for the UOSSM, SAMS, VDC and WHO statements, finding that the claims in their statements are typically third- or even fourth-hand, often inconsistent, often derived only from Jaish al-Islam social media. Worst of all, the chemical symptoms attributed to patients by supposedly authoritative organizations do not appear to originate from local medical staff, but from jihadist media activists who were merely reciting stereotyped lists.  These were then passed in several stages to western media, in a modern social media version of Pass The Telephone.

 

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Douma Videos and Photos

In this post, I will provide a timeline of original appearances of videos and photos of the Douma chemical incident. There were two locations for these videos: (1) the emergency ward of the Douma hospital; (2) a small apartment building about 10 blocks from the hospital, where dead bodies were found on two floors and on the outside street. All of the videos and photos through the night of April 7-8 at both locations originated with two Jaish al-Islam social media activists: (1) the pseudonymous Yaser al-Doumani (Yaser of Douma) and (2) Fadi Abdullah, either personally or via Douma Revolution.

From the daytime of April 8, I’ve listed five videos with new footage from the massacre building.  In addition, there are several tranches of original photos on April 8, most of which document bodies after removal from the house (and thus less useful for reconstruction of the original crime scene.)

The date and order of each video has to be examined carefully, as some bodies were re-arranged between videos.

Night April 7-8

First Victim Photos 22:53 (Damascus Time)

The first victim photos were published almost simultaneously by Yaser al-Doumani and Douma Revolution (22:53 and 22:56 respectively.) Doumani published 11 photos, 8 of which were published in the first Douma Revolution tranche. Doumani first published the photos on Facebook (archive ), announcing publication on Twitter (archive ).  Douma Revolution similarly first published the photos on Facebook (archive).

A second tranche of 6 photos  was published by Douma Revolution at 23:27 (archive ).  This included five victim photos (a few repeats) plus the first photo from the hospital incident.

A third tranche of victim photos (one) was published by Douma Revolution at 23:48. Six of these photos were published by White Helmets at 0:08

Fadi Abdullah, First Victim Video 23:40.

The first victim video (DfQiFEyin_4) was published by Douma Revolution on Facebook at 23:40 (archive). It was uploaded to Youtube at 23:49 (archive) by Fadi Abdullah. It was 55 seconds long and showed 18 victims in the first floor apartment building. For some reason, it did not show five victims from later videos (four in the front doorway and one on the first floor landing) who they would have had to have stepped over on their way to the first floor apartment.

Several dead bodies are in different locations in this video than in later videos:

  1. the baby in the purple sweater, as noted above, was moved from the washing machine room to the pile in the main room;
  2. the woman in the back room in this video was moved soon afterwards to a pile in the washing-machine room. In this first video (and an early photo), she does not display any foaming, but copious (post-mortem) foam has appeared in videos later in the night-time of April 7-8.
  3. two babies in white (one in the laundry room to south of main room, one on the pile in the doorway leading north from the main room) were moved overnight so that they nestled on top of the boy in the red-and-grey striped shirt in the main room in the early April 8 videos
  4. two children were removed from the pile in the main room overnight (the child in red immediately to the east of the boy in the red-and-grey striped shirt; and a child in a checked shirt at the bottom of the original pile in the main room).

First Hospital Incident Photo, 23:27

The first photo from the hospital incident, as noted above, was published in the  second tranche of Douma Revolution victim photos at 23:27 (archive).

The next tranche of hospital photos (two) was published by Douma Revolution at 23:53 () and consisted of photos of (1) an injured jihadi; (2) a photo of Hassan Diab and a young girl sitting on the hospital cot.

A third tranche of hospital photos (eight) was published at Facebook at 0:02 by Douma Revolution (), showing children also portrayed in videos, including a girl in a purple sweater later interviewed by CNN in Turkey (CNN conspicuously not interviewing doctors or children remaining in Douma).

First Hospital Videos

Four hospital videos were published in quick succession around midnight.

At 23:55, Fadi Abdullah uploaded a 28 second video (vNcag20DnZw) starting with a baby with a blue puffer to Youtube (), also published by Douma Revolution at 0:29 at Facebook.

At 0:05, Fadi Abdullah uploaded a 33 second video (FWF-z0tkmmQ), which began with men being washed (in a room dominated by adult males), later panning to two children identificable in other videos and photos: the boy under brown towel shown in first photo; a little girl in oshkosh-style jeans and maroon shirt; and a little girl in purple. Later published by Douma Revolution on Facebook at 0:32.

At 0:08, Fadi Abdullah uploaded a 31 second video (IC6_Y1YXZn0), which began with drenching of a recognizable young girl in a purple sweater (later interviewed in Turkey by CNN), later panning over to young Hassan Diab, sitting on a cot with the little girl in oshkosh jeans and the boy under the towel. Published soon after by Douma Revolution at 0:13.

At 0:33, Douma Revolution published a 16 second hospital video ( not identified so far in Fadi Youtube feed), showing an adult man in a corner, later panning to a second adult man.

Anadolu Photos (Halil al-Abdullah) Hospital Photos and Video

in a non-timestamped April 7 article by the Anadolu Agency in Turkey. They include five hospital photos, with several of the photos e.g. Hassan Diab with two girls firmly placing them at the same incident as the Douma Revolution photos. They also include two photos of the first floor scene – one of which shows the baby in purple sweater in the washing machine room – placing this photo relatively early in the sequence.

Anadolu also published a video which included a scene in which a male nurse (one of the later interviewees who described the incident as a White Helmets stunt) gave a puffer to an asthmatic baby in the same location and procedure as he did with a similarly aged baby in a Douma Revolution video.  This video included a scene which, for some reason, was not included in the Douma Revolution videos. In it, a fierce-looking man with black head band and mask brandished a terrified baby over his head.

Second Fadi Abdullah Victim Video, First Floor, 0:20 a.m.

The second victim video, 2:27 in length, was published by Fadi Abdullah on Youtube (0K9H8dh12uE) at 0:20, only a few minutes after his fourth hospital video. Published a few minutes later by Douma Revolution at 0:23.

Like the previous video, it showed bodies in rooms in the first floor apartment. It made a point of zooming in on individual dead bodies to show foaming. The baby in the purple sweater has not yet been moved.  It includes five victims not shown in the first video: a woman on the first floor landing and four bodies on the very dusty street, more or less in the doorway of the building.

 

 

Halil al-Abdullah Photos of Apartment, ~ 1 a.m.

Halil al-Abdullah took high-resolution still photos of first floor apartment scene on day 1, which were widely used. Getty numbers are: 943130304, 943130318, 943143850, 943143852,  943143852,  943143956,  943143962,  943143968). His visit to the apartment (center below) can be placed between the second Fadi Abdullah video (left below, uploaded 0:20 a.m.) and the first Yaser al-Doumani video (right, uploaded 1:43 a.m.) – say, about 1 a.m. The woman with white cap has been moved beside green-plaid pillow at time of his picture, but not in Fadi video. The baby in purple was moved during Halil photo shoot, being moved from washing-machine room to pile in main room.

First Doumani Video, First Floor, 1:43 a.m.

The next victim video (ajpjrYSOoYM) was published by Yaser al-Doumani at 1:43 a.m. (FBTwitter ) Doumani himself appears in the video, emotionally cursing.

The video begins on the dusty street at the front door of the building, where four bodies are visible. Doumani looked down the steps into the cellar (which are located beside the landing leading to the first floor apartment and stairways to upper apartments). They stopped after a few steps and segued to the first floor of the apartment. They panned around the main room, looking into the laundry room to the south and through the doorway leading north to the washing-machine room but did not proceed through the doorway.

Prior to this, the baby in purple sweater had been moved from the washing-machine room (in first Fadi Abdullah video) and placed on top of the pile. This event appears to have been recorded in a photo posted by White Helmets at 1:41 a.m., showing the baby in purple sweater being carried by a White Helmet in an ostentatious gas mask, donned for the photo, but not worn by videographers and companions in their explorations of the apartments.  In addition, a woman in brown cap and black hijab was also moved from the backroom to a pile near the doorway to the washing-machine room. In this second scene, she was lying on her back, with profuse foam from nose and right eye.brown hijab foam.PNG

First Photo and Video from Second Floor, Third Floor, 2:30 a.m

At 2:30, Douma Revolution published four photos. Three recycled previously published photos, but the fourth was the first photo from the second floor: a picture of a little girl in a red shirt and blue pants face down on a red-white striped blanket on a couch with a square pattern, which is located in a room on the east side of the building. She has what seem to be mud stains on her back. She is prominent in a video from the next day.

More Hospital Photos, 2:32 a.m.

At 2:32 a.m., Doumani interrupted production of victim videos to publish his first hospital photos – 10 new photos. These began with a little girl in a red sweater, continuing with a series of photos of baby in a pink shirt beside a second baby being given a green inhaler by an adult male in grey muscle shirt.

Second Doumani Victim Video, 2:47 a.m.

At 2:47 a.m., Doumani published his second victim video (8TElceE3aLI), simultaneously on Twitter and Facebook. It was 2:29 in length.

This video begins in the washing-machine room. Based on the appearance of the baby in the purple sweater in the washing machine room, this part of the video must have been recorded BEFORE the first Doumani video (uploaded an hour earlier). Its first portion is identical to the second Fadi Abdullah video from about 0:37 to the end of the Fadi Abdullah video, which occures at 1:56 of this video. For the rest of the video, Doumani utters imprecations against a backdrop of the main room of the first floor. The baby in purple sweater in prominent in the background, placing this portion of the video after the transfer of the baby.

First Video from Second Floor, Third Floor, 3:46 a.m

At 3:46, Fadi Abdullah uploaded his third victim video (m4lkf1SNcJI) to Youtube, this one being the first to show anything from the second and third floors. The publication at Youtube was presaged by publication a few minutes earlier (3:32) at Yaser al-Doumani’s Facebook , at 3:42 at Douma Revolution Facebook.  This is an important video as it shows arrangements on the second floor before being embellished by White Helmets and a curious episode on the third floor.

The activists first ascend the stairs, panning past a girl in grey striped clothes on the stairway leading to the third floor. The layout of the second floor (like the layout of the first floor) is not totally clear, but is approximately as shown at right: with a kitchen at the back of the house, a room with the square-patterned couch on the east side as show with a hallway connecting to the back. The front room, not shown in this video, appears to be a bedroom (from background to a April 8 daytime video).

This video segues from the stairway to the room with couch, where the girl in red shirt, blue pants is shown on the red-white blanket. It then proceeds down the hallway, passing over five bodies: two women in black hijab, a girl in red with a brown scarf, then a girl in a pink shirt facedown, a woman in light purple. Proceeding into the kitchen, there is a man lying sideways with his face on the bare stomach of the pink-shirt girl, with foam dripping onto her stomach. (This man was later said to be the brother of a young man interviewed by CBS and BBC.)  In the kitchen itself (which has a counter along its west wall), there is a boy underneath an upside down chair and, on the other side of an upside down table, a woman in a black dress with red chest decoration and brown cap.

Nearly all of these people were re-arranged during the night.

  • one of the two women in black hijab in the hallway was moved into the room with couch. Her ring, very visible in this first video, was stolen.
  • the girl in pink was also moved into the room with couch, hugging the woman in black hijab.
  • a children’s book, strewn in the hallway of the first video, was placed in the hand of the woman in black hijab.
  • the girl in red in the hallway was placed beside the woman in purple, replacing the girl in pink.

About half-way through this video, the team goes upstairs to the third floor, passing two dead girls on the stairway,  They entered a third floor bedroom directly underneath a balcony on the north side of the building.  There is a hole in the top of this bedroom, through which the team observed something bright and white against the hard black background of the night sky and the illumination of the hole in the roof.  When they saw this bright white light/object, the team quickly beat a retreat downstairs, pausing only briefly to peek into the first floor apartment. Two days later (and after the inspection of the building by the Russians on April 9), Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat published a picture showing an approximately 40-liter yellow cylinder of the type commonly used as a chlorine container in the location where the white light/object had been observed in the earlier video. Kline argued  that this was frost from escaping chlorine.

Doumani’s Hospital Video, 3:59 a.m.

Doumani continued to work feverishly through the night on both Twitter and Facebook.  At 3:59 a.m., he uploaded a hospital video (KpwcV0sup_o), linking to it from Twitter at 4:55 a.m. and again soon afterwards at 5:06 a.m.

Doumani’s hospital video was 4:12 minutes long.  It spliced scenes from the  previously published Douma Revolution hospital videos (e.g. the drenching of the girl in the purple sweater) and Yaser’s imprecation in the street in his first victim video, but also included several minutes of new hospital footage in which there are multiple appearances by faces familiar from the photos published earlier in the day.  The additional footage contains some interesting scenes of the emergency room being swarmed by 40 or so adult males, none of whom appear particularly injured or sick – entirely consistent with the subsequent video (2mw8DZEiSR0) testimony of hospital medical staff.

There is very large overlap between Doumani’s video and a video (cOlKS_Aaz20) from SMART. The order of scenes is considerably scrambled between the two, making them seem more different than they are.

Doumani signed off for the night at 5:53 a.m., re-posting five previously published photos on his Facebook.

Day April 8

There were no new hospital videos during the day of April 8. In a later interview, one of the doctors at Douma hospital observed that there would have been many victims in the hospital on April 8 if there had been a chemical attack, but there weren’t any.

However, daylight brought fresh faces to the apartment where the dead bodies were located and a clearer perspective on the layout of the apartments.

Qasion 

The earliest video (LozZlXcYQ9c) from April 8 appears to be from Qasion News though not uploaded until 4:10 pm, well after several other videos.

It begins on the first floor landing to which the two girls discovered on the stairs (grey-striped clothes; and red with yellow pinstripes) have been moved and placed on top of one another. It then carries out an overview of the main room of the first floor apartment. Overnight, the faces of the dead bodies have become very discolored.  Some of the bodies have also been re-arranged.  As noted above, the two babies in white have been moved from their previous location and added to the pile in the main room. Meanwhile, two children (the girl in red on the east; and the child in a checked shirt in the center) have been removed.

“Abdullah al-Doumani” and Halab TV, 10:18 a.m.

The next new video (2mw8DZEiSR0), 5:44 minutes in length, was uploaded by Abdullah al-Doumani at 10:18 a.m.

It first pans the first floor main room, which has no material differences in this video from the Qasion version.  Light is now visible in the back room from a window. Light is also visible in the bedroom off the main room, which also has a window (see at right).  At about minute 1:21, the narrator utters imprecations to the sky. The same narrator in the same location, from a very slightly different angle, appears in the Halab-TV video uploaded six hours later, showing that either there were two different cameramen recording this oration or that there were two takes of this scene.

In the background of this scene, the front window can be seen, yet none of the dead persons availed themselves of fresh air from this window, or, for that matter, managed to descend the three steps from the first floor apartment to the street and safety from any chlorine.

At 2:57, a second narrator issues further curses. Behind him in the second floor hallway (with the second floor front window in the background) is a balding man with medium length beard with some missing teeth, in a beige shirt, greenish undershirt holding the little girl in red shirt and blue pants, who was located on the couch with square patterns the previous night. The man first nods with the narrator, then, shaking the little girl, utters his own curses and imprecations.  After the curses, the camera pans towards the kitchen in the rear, also now illuminated by a window. They peeled back the red-stripe blanket (which had been in the room with couch the previous night) revealing the girl with brown scarf, who had previously been located in the hallway facing the opposite direction, beside the woman in light purple.  The child in a pink sweater, on whom the man’s head had previously rested, has been removed.  After briefly panning the kitchen in the back, the camera returns to the man with child, this time showing the front bedroom more clearly. A khaki jacket with white scarf has been placed on the bed. The disconsolate man remains in the scene until the end of the video.

The HalabTV video commences with the narrator in black-and-grey striped shirt in the front vestibule of the first floor apartment, uttering the same imprecations as the Abdullah al-Doumani video. It pans into the baby with purple sweater, who is still wearing gold stud earrings. It similarly pans to the balding man with red child. This time, the narrator with the grey-black striped shirt utters curses, instead of the narrator in the blue shirt. The curses go on for a while. Once again, the red-white blanket is peeled back to show the girl in red with the beige scarf.

Orient News, 2:35 pm

About four hours later (2:35 pm), Orient News published a video with original footage (Twitter); a better quality version was uploaded about seven hours later to Youtube (t99NFijj4Pg).

Orient News had published several earlier videos on the incident, but all were secondary.  This video contained original footage. The opening scene of this video was in the second floor hallway, with a bearded man in a dark blue hat grieving over the body of the woman in light purple, located under the red-white striped blanket. The team then moved into the back kitchen, moving aside a patterned rug.  Light from the back window enters the room, fresh air only a few feet away from two dead bodies.

A balding man with brownish beard, dressed in khaki and wearing boots, can be indistinctly seen over the dead boy beside the upside down table. Blogger ilmastotiede/ilmasblogi plausibly identifed the balding man in khaki in this scene with the grieving balding man in khaki in the Abdullah al-Doumani and Halab TV videos. (He made another surprising identication of the balding man in khaki in the SMART Agency video discussed below.)

They pass back through the hallway. Instead of the two women in black hijabs in the hallway, there is now only one woman in striped socks, the one who had previously been to the left (west).  The camera now pans into the room with the patterned couch, into which the woman in black hijab previously on the right has been moved. Hugging her is the child in pink sweater, who, on the previous evening, had been located in the hallway between the man and the woman in light purple, with froth from the man on her bare stomach. A children’s book, previously in the hall, has been placed in the hand of the adult woman.  The camera pauses briefly on the child in red, still on the square patterned couch, but her red-white striped blanked is no longer there but in the hall. The ring, which was clearly visible on the woman’s right hand in the Fadi Abdullah video, has been removed – presumably stolen by the White Helmets.

SMART Agency

The SMART agency published a video, 1:52 minutes long, with original footage at 5:48 pm, but it appears to have recorded earlier events than the Doumani video published at 4:03 pm. It began by showing five photos from the first floor. SMART also published a set of high-resolution photos from the same events.

It then shows a scene (early morning from my reading of shadows and sun angles) in which recognizable first floor victims were placed on the street outside the building: at 0:24, one can see the boy with arm-stripes from the washing machine room, the baby in purple sweater, the two babies in white, the boy in red-white striped shirt, the boy in green-blue stripes and the boy in a grey sweater with red-white front stripes (the girl in red not having arrived to give him his last hug) etc.  Other bodies, previously transported to the street, are under various blankets. The scene was recorded by multiple cameramen – one picture shows three other photographers recording the scene. There was a previous glimpse of the cameraman in the red shirt and blue jeans in the third Fadi Abdullah video of April 7-8 (going to the second and third floors).

At 0:57, a balding man in a camouflage jacket with blue-white tasseled scarf, khaki pants and loose boots can be seen depositing the boy in a black-grey striped shirt from the north doorway of the first floor main room onto the street beside the girl in grey-striped clothes.

White Helmets water down the bodies on the street, while also loading bodies wrapped in blankets into a waiting van. At minute 1:47, one of the White Helmets – a balding man with brownish hair and beard, dressed in a khaki shirt and pants with greenish undershirt, with loose boots, jogged back to the building. Ilmastotiede has plausibly identified this man as the identical-looking White Helmet who had carried out the boy in the grey-black striped shirt (at left) – having removed his camouflage jacket and tasseled scarf in the meantime.

Ilmastotiede also convincingly identified this balding man with the grieving “father” of the girl in red in the Abdullah al-Doumani/Halab TV videos discussed above, even pointing out an identical blemish in their left boots.  Ilmastotiede even appears to have located the camouflage jacket and tasseled scarf removed by the White Helmet between scenes – dropped on the bed in the front room observable in the background of the Abdullah al-Doumani video (as shown above). If this plausible identification is correct (and it appears to be), then one has to ask whether the White Helmet was simply play-acting as the father of the girl in red.

Yaser al-Doumani, April 8

At 4:03 pm, Yaser al-Doumani returned to action with a new video  (PIyGJugmGaI) length 3:48 minutes, (showing the street scene after the White Helmets had moved the dead bodies onto the street outside the apartment. Many bodies are covered in blankets, but numerous individuals can be recognized. Some of the bodies arrayed on the outside street did not appear in the videos of the night of April 7-8 (e.g. a boy in a bright blue sweater.)

Narrator (Yaser?) was intent to show the eyes of the dead, prying them open and declaiming to the camera. However, rather than the pupils being contracted to pinpricks, the distinct characteristic of poisoning by sarin and other nerve agents, they are dilated. If anything, these images contradict theories of death by nerve agent, thus leaving unanswered the underlying question of why people didn’t simply walk downstairs away from any chlorine.

One street photo, captioned the “Last Hug” by Douma Revolution () showed a young girl in bright red, affectionately holding on to her older brother as they both died. However, this was pure staging. They were actually discovered on different floors: the “older brother” was located by himself in the first floor bedroom, while the girl in red was originally located by herself in the second floor hallway (and already moved once within the hallway to a location under the red-white striped blanket beside the woman in purple.)

The closeup of the baby in purple revealed something presumably unintended: the baby’s gold stud earrings, easily seen in videos of the previous night and even earlier that morning, have been stolen, presumably by the White Helmets.

Doctors and Medical Staff

Placeholder for now.

Over the next two weeks, many doctors and medical staff both at the Douma emergency ward and other Douma hospitals stated unequivocally that they had seen no evidence of a chemical attack. One of the children featured prominently in the hospital videos, 11-year old Hassan Diab, was located and said that there was never anything wrong with him, that he was promised cookies and dates by White Helmets for participating.

To explain denial of any chemical attack by Douma medical staff,  Gabriel Tayara of UOSSM, an organization which, together with SAMS, did the most to disseminate jihadist allegations of a chemical incident, claimed that all the doctors and medical staff in Douma had been coerced and threatened by the Russians and that their evidence should not be believed.

The doctors were treated abusively and have been threatened ever since. Their families have been threatened that they will pay a price and they themselves have told they will be arrested, and much more if they give any evidence, or interviews about what happened in Douma.”

Tayara didn’t explain why jihadist evidence should be explained.

 

The “Chlorine” Cylinder

Bilal Abu Salah Video

At 3:21 pm on April 8, jihadist Bilal Abu Salah supplied what seemed to be the key missing link (video) : the very munition which had killed the residents of the massacre house.  Ostentatiously garbed in a vintage gas mask, Bilal displayed a yellow chlorine-type cylinder (equipped with a harness commonly used to fire gas tanks from jihadi “hell cannons”).  Bilal’s caption stated: ” Saw a rocket carrying chemicals that did not explode but released chemical gases until the moment. The rocket landed inside a civilian house in the city of #Doma yesterday, where more than 50 civilian casualties occurred in the chemical and dozens of martyrs were killed by the bombing of the city with various types of weapons”.

There was one fatal defect to Bilal’s munition as delivery mechanism to the apartments where the bodies found: it didn’t come from the apartment building, but from somewhere else.  He had fabricated the association between the bedroom scene and the dead bodies.

Nonetheless, within less than two hours (5:08 pm Damascus), Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat, presumably unaware of the fabrication, disseminated a scene from Bilal’s video, which he described as “the modified chlorine cylinder used in yesterday’s Douma attack”, comparing it to a cylinder displayed in a previous White Helmets video as follows (together with two photos shown below).

Left shows the modified chlorine cylinder used in yesterday’s Douma attack, the right hand image is from an August 2017 chlorine attack in Khan Al-Assal. Clear similarities, seems they’ve strengthened the suspension lugs.

Higgins continued: “Similar modifications have been seen in previous chemical attacks, some of which are documented in this @hrw image showing chlorine cylinders documented at the scene of chlorine attacks in Aleppo in late 2016″ (see illustration in original tweet) and asserted that “The remains of what are very likely the same sort of modifications were found at the impact site of the February 4th 2018 chlorine attack in Saraqib, along with two yellow chlorine cylinders.”.

Bilal’s video showed a large open hole in the ceiling above the bedroom. Higgins hypothesized that the cylinder was dropped from a helicopter, then demolished the roof, bounced off the floor and onto the bed with barely a scratch:

Looking at the information available so far on the Douma chemical attack, it appears a modified chlorine cylinder hit the roof of the building, penetrated into a bedroom, from where the gas (likely chlorine) spread 1/ cylinder. The bedroom was quite close to a stairwell, with only two doors between the cylinder and stairwell. If the doors were open the gas would have spread very quickly through the building via the stairwell 2/ Frequently these chlorine cylinder land in open spaces, so the casualties are lower, but this was a direct hit, and it appears possible the gas could have spread through the building rapidly, which is likely why we’re seeing comparatively high casualties 3/3″

Ordinarily during the Syrian war, it would have been impossible to disprove the claims of Bilal abu Saleh and Higgins, but Jaish al-Islam, which was on the verge of falling anyway, accepted a re-location deal from Russia in the afternoon of April 8, thus enabling Russian access to Douma. In the morning of April 9, Russian inspectors located and visited the massacre building (shown in Hadi Alabdallah video (rFKkTwa0TBM) posted late in the afternoon). Even though less than 36 hours had passed since the discovery of the bodies, there was no sign of them the next day on the street: everything had been removed by White Helmets.

At 1:10 pm (Damascus) on April 9, AFP reported that Russian specialists had found no trace of chemical weapons in their inspection. Within less than an hour, Higgins responded (2 pm; 11:00Z):

“Despite claims to the contrary, we do have images of the munitions used in the Douma chemical attack and they look just like the same modified yellow gas cylinders dropped from Syrian air force helicopters in previous attacks.”

Higgins attached two images to this tweet: one was the cylinder in the bedroom publicized by Bilal, the other showed a cylinder on a small balcony where, unlike the Bilal example, the cylinder had not bust through the roof, but had been stopped.  (See copy of Higgins’ tweet here.)

Higgins’ second image was from the apartment building with the dead bodies, though Higgins appears to have been unaware of it at the top. During the next few hours, Higgins engaged in controversy on twitter in which he relied on the damage to the roof in the Bilal video as damage that could only be caused by the cylinder being dropped from a helicopter, thereby demonstrating regime responsibility. For example, at 2:22 pm(Damascus), he pointed to the supposed impossibility of Jaish al-Islam (“rebels”) launching cylinders which could cause the same damage shown in the Bilal video, which Higgins had presented as the attack munition: “You see, the rebels copied the modifications on the chlorine cylinders used by the Syrian air force, planted them in the building, smashed through the roof to make it look like it had been dropped, killed everyone, then got everyone else to cover it up”. When challenged on the implausibility of the cylinder bouncing onto the bed, Higgins argued (4:50 pm Damascus) that his critic couldn’t prove that it wasn’t moved: “Which assumes the bomb wasn’t moved before it was filmed and photographed, can you be certain it wasn’t?”

Meanwhile, (with or without Higgins’ knowledge), the White Helmets re-entered the apartment building which had been inspected by the Russians in the morning at about 7:02 pm (April 9) and took a video of the chlorine cylinder on the balcony, which they sent to Higgins, who announced the existence of the video the following day (April 10) at 1:32 pm (Damascus).

Yaser al-Doumani apparently didn’t get the memo about the change in location, since, early in the morning of April 10 (6:46 am Damascus), he re-appeared in the same false location as Bilal (whose claims were now known to be false) and denounced the deaths of victims from the depicted cylinder.

The new balcony video from White Helmets included a view to the north, which Bellingcat used to geolocate the building to that inspected by the Russians. (Of course, he already knew that since the White Helmets could directly show him the location on the map.)  The video itself was not published by White Helmets until 9:06 pm on April 10. Meanwhile, Higgins deleted the earlier tweet (which was fortunately preserved by Michael Kobs (left – original image; right – replacement image here.) Both videos showed a small hole in the floor but, unlike the Bilal video, the cylinder had not busted through the roof, leaving a large hole in its wake. Also, unlike other cylinders, this one only had a slight dent. Though the extensive roof damage had been an important theme in his earlier controversy, Higgins did not walk back his earlier arguments.  Higgins surreptitiously deleted the earlier tweet; the image on the right was preserved by Michael Kobs. Squinting, one can discern that some additional concrete has broken off in the image at right and that fragments on the left side of the image have moved somewhat towards the hole. Numerous other images of the balcony were taken about 10 days later when reporters obtained access to the site.

Discussion

Casualties and Hospital Videos

At the time, there were widespread claims of 500 (or sometimes) 1000 casualties. These claims can be shown to have originated with Douma Revolution and Yaser al-Doumani, the same Jaish al-Islam media cadres who produced and published the videos. While there were many casualties on April 7 from fire and conventional warfare, the jihadist figures were more or less plucked out of thin air. These figures were quickly and uncritically disseminated into western media, with Syrian American Medical Society and UOSSM, two NGOs backed by the US and French governments respectively, playing a particularly important role, both through distribution of these figures and through their further embellishments.  The situation was made much worse when the World Health Organization unwisely cited these fabricated figures in a moralizing editorial, the caveats of which were immediately dropped in reporting by western media. In all, a social media version of “Pass the Telephone” with little to no attempt at verification through due diligence.

Subsequently, Douma medical professionals and staff have denied any patients with chemical symptoms. Anti-Syria activists now claim that the testimony of medical professionals in Douma should be rejected, claiming that they have been intimidated by Russia.  But  the oral evidence from medical staff (which, in my opinion, is convincing and ought to be relied on), is supported by this important fact: if there had been a chemical attack with 500 (or 1000 casualties), the hospital wards in Douma ought to have been overflowing with chemical victims when reporters began arriving.

The doctors said that the hospital videos were a provocation and stunt carried out by White Helmets.  In my opinion, a close examination of the hospital videos fully supports this conclusion. The videos cover a very short period of time and show a relatively small number of participants, most/nearly all of whom look healthy. Can one point to a single person in any of the hospital videos as proof of a chemical attack? I don’t think so.

The lack of chemically sick/casualties has an impact on interpretation of the massacre house. It is commonplace knowledge among specialists in the area (and acknowledged by Dan Kaszceta of Bellingcat) that, in a chemical attack, there will be many more sick/casualties than dead.  The absence of such sick/casualties therefore requires us to look very critical at attribution of the deaths in the massacre house to a chemical incident.  The need for extreme caution in attribution is further increased by the possibility or even likelihood that the White Helmets hospital videos were some kind of provocation or stunt, particularly given that the same jihadist Jaish al-Islam cadres were responsible for both hospital videos and massacre house videos.

The Massacre House

The 34 or so deaths at the massacre house were real enough, but, after parsing this data for hours, I think that there is a real issue as to whether the victims died in situ or whether they died elsewhere and were moved to this location post mortem. Without autopsies and full investigation, reasonable people can differ. However, there are already many facts which to guide an informed opinion.

Two potential causes of in situ chemical death have been proposed: (1) sarin; (2) chlorine.

The US intel assessment raised the spectre of sarin use, but without specific evidence. Against sarin, none of the corpses display the severely contracted pupils (to pinpricks) characteristic of nerve agents. To the contrary, their pupils were dilated, as Doumani took great pains to show us. In addition, nerve agent poisoning causes victims to lose bowel control, but no such soiling is evident. Further, nerve agents are relatively persistent. The videographers arrived relatively soon after the supposed time of death and would also have been poisoned by any nerve agent. All in all, the videos themselves give such striking testimony against sarin or other nerve agent that one would have to be suspicious of the chain of custody of any autopsy samples purporting to show otherwise.

The only real argument for sarin is the evidence against chlorine, which is also compelling. Chlorine is easy to smell at concentrations much less than fatal. Unless people are confined in a gas chamber, they can generally escape by holding their breath and walking away.  One line of argument was that the victims were confined in a basement, but, in fact, the bodies were found on the first and second floors, such that the victims could easily have escaped by going down a few steps to the street. It is therefore hard to understand why the victims, upon first smelling chlorine, wouldn’t have held their breath and walked down to the street to escape the poison.

In detail, as discussed above, there are many troubling details which make one question whether the victims died in situ where they were discovered:

  • Why didn’t the first floor residents merely walk a few steps outside to unpoisoned air? Or at least go to the open windows rather than cluster in the center of the house?
  • Four people made it all the way outside: why did they expire just as they escaped into unpoisoned air?
  • Foam is used as a supposed indicator of chemical poisoning, but it can be easily made and applied as a false flag. Several bodies with foam in later videos do not display foam in the earliest videos. “Post-mortem” foaming is not possible naturally; the development of foam post-mortem for several bodies seems a clear indicator of fraud both for those cases and more generally;
  • one has to presume that the mothers of the several babies in the videos would be clutching them for dear life. And yet we first encounter the baby in the purple sweater lying by herself on her back by the washing machine? Where is her mother? And how did the baby get to that particular position?
  • This inconsistency doesn’t seem to have been lost on Jaish al-Islam videographers, as, after the first video, the baby in the purple sweater was transferred into the pile of bodies in the main room, somewhat disguising its separation from its mother.
  • more generally, the changing location of dead bodies into more photogenic arrangements, e.g. the woman, child in pink sweater and children’s book in the second floor room-with-couch, ought to trouble anyone;
  • thefts of gold jewellery (the gold earrings of the baby in purple sweater and the ring of woman re-located to the second floor room-with-couch) are, in my opinion, small, but telling signs of chicanery by the White Helmets
  • overall, it’s hard to picture how someone dying from chlorine poisoning, which unlike sarin, doesn’t case quick death, would expire on the spot in the locations where they were found.

Another alternative is that these 34 people did not die in the depicted locations, but died somewhere else – perhaps in the cellar of the building, perhaps in another location – and were moved by Jaish al-Islam and/or White Helmets to the locations depicted in the videos. Many people were reported as having suffocated in huge fires earlier in the day and to have been collected by White Helmets. Is it possible that Jaish al-Islam, desirous of provoking the US into overthrowing the Syria government, re-purposed such corpses into an abandoned building, adding foam to numerous bodies?

 

Acknowledgement: The above analysis draws heavily on work done by analytic tweeters Ilmastotiede, MichaKobs, Adam Larson, Qoppa, orbi, Philip Somerville, Charles Wood and others.

 

 

 

The impact of recent forcing and ocean heat uptake data on estimates of climate sensitivity

A guest post by Nic Lewis

Judith Curry and I have now updated the LC15 paper with a new paper that has been published in the Journal of Climate

There has been considerable scientific investigation of the magnitude of the warming of Earth’s climate by changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration. Two standard metrics summarize the sensitivity of global surface temperature to an externally imposed radiative forcing. Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) represents the equilibrium change in surface temperature to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration. Transient climate response (TCR), a shorter-term measure over 70 years, represents warming at the time CO2 concentration has doubled when it is increased by 1% a year. Continue reading

Emergent constraints on climate sensitivity in global climate models, Part 3

The two strongest potentially credible constraints, and conclusions

A guest post by Nic Lewis

In Part 1 of this article the nature and validity of emergent constraints[1] on equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) in GCMs were discussed, drawing mainly on the analysis and assessment of 19 such constraints in Caldwell et al. (2018),[2] who concluded that only four of them were credible. An extract of the rows of Table 1 of Part 1 detailing those four emergent constraints is given below.[3]


Name of constraint Year Correlation in CMIP5 Description
Sherwood D 2014 0.40 Strength of resolved-scale mixing between BL and lower troposphere in tropical E Pacific and Atlantic
Brient Shal 2015 0.38 Fraction of tropical clouds with tops below 850 mb whose tops are also below 950 mb
Zhai 2015 –0.73 Seasonal response of BL cloud amount to SST variations in oceanic subsidence regions between 20-40°latitude
Brient Alb 2016 –0.71 Sensitivity of cloud albedo in tropical oceanic low-cloud regions to present-day SST variations

Two of the those four constraints, Sherwood D and Brient Shal, were analysed in Part 2 and found wanting. In this final part of the article I discuss the remaining two potentially credible constraints, Brient Alb and Zhai – which have much higher correlation with ECS than do Sherwood D and Brient Shal – and formulate conclusions. Continue reading

Attribution of 2015-6 Phishing to APT28

In two influential articles in June 2016, immediately following the Crowdstrike announcement, SecureWorks (June 16 here and June 26 here) purported to connect the DNC hack to a 2015-6 phishing campaign which they attributed to APT28.  SecureWorks identified two malicious domains in their article. In today’s article, I’ll show that infrastructure from one domain are connected to domains identified as APT28 in early literature, while infrastructure from the other domain leads in an unexpected direction.

Continue reading

Emergent constraints on climate sensitivity in global climate models, Part 2

The four constraints that Caldwell assessed as credible

A guest post by Nic Lewis

In Part 1 of this article the nature and validity of emergent constraints[i] on equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) in GCMs were discussed, drawing mainly on the analysis and assessment of 19 such constraints in Caldwell et al (2018; henceforth Caldwell),[ii] who concluded that only four of them were credible. All those four constraints favoured ECS in the upper half of the CMIP5 range (3.4–4.7°C). An extract of the rows of Table 1 of Part 1 detailing those four emergent constraints is given below.[iii]


Name of constraint Year Correlation in CMIP5 Description
Sherwood D 2014 0.40 Strength of resolved-scale mixing between BL and lower troposphere in tropical E Pacific and Atlantic
Brient Shal 2015 0.38 Fraction of tropical clouds with tops below 850 mb whose tops are also below 950 mb
Zhai 2015 –0.73 Seasonal response of BL cloud amount to SST variations in oceanic subsidence regions between 20-40°latitude
Brient Alb 2016 –0.71 Sensitivity of cloud albedo in tropical oceanic low-cloud regions to present-day SST variations

Caldwell regarded a proposed emergent constraint as not credible if it lacks an identifiable physical mechanism; is not robust to change of model ensemble; or if its correlation with ECS is not due to its proposed physical mechanism. The credible constraints identified in Caldwell are all related to tropical/subtropical low clouds and all except Brient Shal are significantly correlated with each other. Continue reading

DNC Hack due to Gmail Phishing??

In two influential articles in June 2016 (June 16 here and June 26 here), SecureWorks purported to link the then recently revealed DNC hack to Russia via a gmail phishing campaign which they had been monitoring since 2015 and which they attributed to APT28 (Fancy Bear). They had observed multiple phishing targets at hillaryclinton.com, dnc.org and personal gmail accounts of campaign officials and surmised that one of these targets at DNC must have been tricked by the phishing campaign, from which APT28 obtained access to the DNC server.

Their argument was quickly accepted by computer security analysts. In an influential article in October 2016, Thomas Rid, a prominent commentator on computer security, stated that this argument was the most important evidence in attribution of the DNC hack to Russia – it was what Rid called the “hackers’ gravest mistake”.

However, the connection of the DNC hack to the gmail phishing campaign, as set out in the SecureWorks article, was very speculative, even tenuous.  In addition, subsequent evidence in the DNC emails themselves conclusively refuted even this thin connection. To be clear, the issues pertaining to the DNC hack are distinct from the Podesta hack – which, though unknown at the time of the June 2016 SecureWorks’ article, can be convincingly attributed to gmail phishing accompanied by bitly link-shorteners.

In today’s post, I’m going to look at the narrow issue of the connection between the gmail phishing campaign and the DNC hack and whether it contributes to Russian attribution of the DNC hack.

Continue reading

Emergent constraints on climate sensitivity in global climate models, Part 1


Their nature and assessment of their validity

A guest post by Nic Lewis

There have been quite a number of papers published in recent years concerning “emergent constraints” on equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) in comprehensive global climate models (GCMs), of both the current (CMIP5) and previous (CMIP3) generations. The range of ECS values in GCMs has remained almost unchanged since the early days of climate modelling; in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5) it was given as 2.1-4.7°C for CMIP5 models.[i]

From the IPCC 1st Assessment Report (FAR) to AR5, the main cause of the large uncertainty as to ECS in GCMs has been the difficulty of simulating clouds and their behaviour.[ii] This has led to cloud feedback differing between GCMs even as to its sign – and to little confidence that the true level of cloud feedback lies within its range in GCMs. Progress in understanding cloud behaviour and related convective dynamics and feedbacks has been painfully slow. We shall see in this 3-part article that emergent constraint approaches have the potential to offer useful insights into cloud behaviour, however the main focus will be on to what extent they narrow the uncertainty range of ECS in GCMs. Continue reading

Arrest of the “Lurk” Banking Trojan Gang

On June 2, 2016, in a major police operation in Russia, 50 hackers from the Lurk banking trojan gang were arrested following 86 raids (Security Week here). Their malware was used for bank fraud (especially in Russia) and ransomware all over the world. The full extent of their activities became clear only after their arrest. In today’s post, I’m going to look back at U.S. computer security analysis (especially by Cisco Talos) prior to the arrests by Russia.  The post contains an Easter egg relating to attribution of the DNC hack, but that will be a story for a different day. Continue reading

Marvel et al.’s new paper on estimating climate sensitivity from observations

A guest post by Nic Lewis

Introduction and summary

Recently a new model-based paper on climate sensitivity was published by Kate Marvel, Gavin Schmidt (the head of NASA GISS) and others, titled ‘Internal variability and disequilibrium confound estimates of climate sensitivity from observations’.[1] It appears to me that the novel part of its analysis is faulty, and that the part which isn’t faulty isn’t novel.

As some readers may recall, I found six serious errors in a well-publicised 2016 paper by Kate Marvel and other GISS climate scientists on the topic of climate sensitivity.[2] Two of the six errors were subsequently corrected.

With regards to the new Marvel et al paper, I find that:

  • the low ECS estimates Marvel et al. obtain when using current (CMIP5) climate models’ historical simulation data arise from using a period with unbalanced volcanic forcing, with the low bias disappearing when that problem is addressed; and
    .
  • the low ECS estimates they obtain when using data from AMIP simulations (those where models are driven by observed evolving sea-surface temperature patterns as well evolving forcing) are not news. They more likely indicate problems with CMIP5 models’ ocean modules, than (as Marvel et al. suggest) that internal variability in recent decades was particularly unusual.

Continue reading