Postol: French Intelligence Lied About Sarin “Signature”

Posted: May 2, 2017 in -
Tags: , , , , , , ,

rebels-sarin1

 

Theodore A. Postol Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Flawed Chemical Analysis in the French Intelligence Report of April 26, 2017 Alleging a Syrian Government Sarin Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Sheikhoun of April 4, 2017

 

The sequence of steps that result in sarin being transformed into DIMP which FIR implies is a unique signature associated with sarin produced by the Syrian government. In fact, DIMP could easily be produced in many circumstances from the normal breakdown of sarin after its use. The point that DIMP is an expected product to be found in the aftermath of a sarin attck is made in a statement from United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) which is an arm of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The ATSDR document that describes DIMP can be found at https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/tp119-c1-b.pdf. We quote from this document below: Diisopropyl methylphosphonate, or DIMP, is a chemical by-product resulting from the manufacture and detoxification of GB (also called Sarin), a nerve gas that the Army produced from 1953 to 1957. … You might find diisopropyl methylphosphonate in places where GB has been produced, stored, or used, for example, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA) outside of Denver, Colorado. It is therefore clear that if the FIR analysis that led to the identification of sarin as being produced by the Syrian government would have led to the same unsupported conclusion from the FIR if it were applied to an indigenous sarin attack in Denver Colorado. This would particularly be the case if a sarin dispersing munition similar to the one described by FIR in the sarin nerve agent attack of April 29, 2013 was used in the postulated indigenous attack. That particular munition had a small charge of military explosives to rupture the container and disperse the sarin. The explosive would have certainly produced hexamine as a byproduct. The hexamine could have readily broken the fluorine bonds on some of the sarin residue leading to the production of DIMP. However, this is not the only path for producing DIMP the residues from a sarin attack.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. DDTea says:

    Prof. Postol is correct about diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP). It’s predominantly produced as a side-product of Sarin synthesis (~6% – 20%) in even the cleanest laboratory synthetic procedures, unsuitable to scale-up.[1] And being more of a robust molecule than the fragile Sarin, its lingering presence at sites where Sarin is either manufactured or used is unsurprising. But the FIR never claimed that DIMP was evidence of regime Sarin (and if that was implied, then I agree with Prof. Postol that the statement is in error).

    The FIR report *did* claim that hexamine is idiosyncratic of regime Sarin. And once again, Prof. Postol stumbles into an error he easily could have avoided with due diligence.

    Hexamine is emphatically *not* a byproduct of RDX thermal decomposition/detonation. The decomposition of RDX has been studied both experimentally[2,3] and computationally.[4] The decomposition of hexamine yields nitrogen, nitrous oxide, nitric oxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water, formaldehyde, hydroxymethyl formamide, and methylene diformamide.[2] The latter two, and polymers thereof, are the only expected non-gaseous residues. I include only a few references here, but I have looked through others as well. SciFinder shows no results for the reaction search for RDX leading to hexamine.

    And this makes intuitive sense. High explosives are molecules built like a house of cards. They’re high energy (endothermic, unstable) species that are dying to reorganize to a more stable arrangement of atoms and electrons. This is why stable gases like water vapor, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen are the major decomposition products. If hexamine were a major product, then RDX would be a very mild, weak explosive–it simply wouldn’t release much energy on rearrangement. By analogy, the flattened deck of cards (stable configuration) looks nothing like the house of cards it started as. And by common experience, houses of cards do not fall halfway. It’s the same reason that nitroglycerin or TNT do not leave puddles of glycerol or toluene upon detonation.

    Similarly, hexamine is not going to be present as unreacted starting material from RDX synthesis. Hexamine and RDX have disparate solubilities, and separating the two is as simple as washing precipitated RDX with cold water.[4]

    So the hexamine found at these Sarin sites is for certain NOT from any explosive charge. It’s from the Sarin payload itself.

    [1] Muller, A.J. “The use of organosilicon esters for the synthesis of alkyl phosphonofluoridates” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1988, 53, pp. 3364-3365. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jo00249a046
    [2] Cosgrove, J.D.; Owen, A.J. “The Thermal Decomposition of 1,3,5 Trinitro Hexahydro 1,3,5 Triazine (RDX)-Part 1: The Products and Physical Parameters” Combustion and Flame, Vol 22, Issue 1, Feb 1974, pp. 13-18 . DOI: 10.1016/0010-2180(74)90005-4
    [3] Cosgrove, J. D.; Owen, A.J. “The thermal decomposition of 1,3,5 trinitro hexahydro 1,3,5 triazine (RDX)—part II: The effects of the products”Combustion and Flame, Vol 22, Issue 1, Feb 1974, pp. 19-22. DOI: 10.1016/0010-2180(74)90005-4
    [4] Hale, G.C. “The Nitration of Hexamethylenetetramine.” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1925, 47 (11), pp. 2754-2763. DOI: 10.1021/ja01688a017

  2. Editor says:

    Postol makes no mention of “RDX” and yet you base your criticism on RDX being present. Your entire thesis concerns this specific compound, which is not established as being necessarily used.

    “Hexamine is emphatically *not* a byproduct of RDX ”

    Further, you concede his entire argument in the first sentence.

    “Prof. Postol is correct about diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP). It’s predominantly produced as a side-product of Sarin synthesis (~6% – 20%) in even the cleanest laboratory synthetic procedures, unsuitable to scale-up.[1] ”

    There is NO “signature” because of DIMP. It is common to all sarin production. Nothing identifies it as unique to the Syrian military. Nothing.

    French intelligence, which is a party to the covert, illegal war there, LIED.

  3. DDTea says:

    “Postol makes no mention of “RDX” and yet you base your criticism on RDX being present. Your entire thesis concerns this specific compound, which is not established as being necessarily used.”

    Then what does he mean when he writes:

    “That particular munition had a small charge of military explosives to rupture the container and disperse the sarin. The explosive would have certainly produced hexamine as a byproduct. ”

    Find me one example of an explosive that leaves hexamine as byproduct/residue/decomposition product/etc. upon detonation. Peer reviewed reference, preferably.

    Look, I gave Postol the benefit of the doubt. I did some library research on RDX and HMX, which would be the best candidates to produce hexamine given that hexamine is used in their syntheses. No dice. But I’ll take any other examples you (or Postol) or anyone else may find.

    The central tenet of Postol’s thesis (since 2014) is that hexamine has nothing to do with Sarin. He’s taking pains to explain why it always seems to be found in the presence of Sarin residues. He’s making the unsupported assertion that hexamine is somehow from conventional explosives. And on the basis of this tenuous claim, he feels confident enough to dismiss the FIR.

  4. Editor says:

    I guess you never heard of a moot point.

    “Prof. Postol is correct about diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP). It’s predominantly produced as a side-product of Sarin synthesis (~6% – 20%) in even the cleanest laboratory synthetic procedures, unsuitable to scale-up.[1] ”

    You threw in the towel already. Give it up. The issue is whodunnit, not the intricacies of chemistry.

  5. DDTea says:

    I’m not sure why you’re deliberately trying to misunderstand the points that I’m making, but I’ll allow this to be my final comment on this post.

    Hexamine, not DIMP, is idiosyncratic of regime Sarin. That’s the point you’re trying to ignore.

    Prior to the Syrian chemical attacks, hexamine had never been associated with sarin production. Then it started turning up at every site where Sarin was used. French intelligence identified it in the Saraqeb device. Russia appears to have found it in Khan Al-Assal (leading them to conclude RDX was used as a bursting explosive). OPCW inspectors found it all over Ghouta. Then the Syrian government declared 80 tons of it to the OPCW as part of their chemical weapons program. Ake Sellstrom confirmed that it was used as “their acid scavenger” for Sarin, but qualified the statement by saying it’s “in no way a smoking gun” of regime culpability. He raised the possibility that it may be from explosives. I have shown that explosives are not a credible source for hexamine based on available knowledge of explosive decomposition products. That leaves us with hexamine most likely being mixed with the sarin payloads themselves.

    And that’s what happens when we honestly engage with “the intricacies of chemistry:” it narrows the realistic possibilities as to “whodunnit.”. And if we can’t be bothered with physical facts and the scientific method, we will end up lost in a sea of possibilities like Prof. Postol. He still can’t formulate a coherent hypothesis because he’s chosen to let his pet conclusion guide his findings:

    “He said it was an on-the-ground detonation – before calling it an aerial attack; he said there was no chemical attack – before calling it plastic combustion “like Bhopal”; he said the attack happened early in the morning – before suggesting that the shape of its plumes proved a Russian theory about a bombing five hours later; he said the wind was blowing southeast, proving the attack “never occurred” – before conceding the wind was blowing northwest, which apparently also proved the attack never occurred; he said the French in their assessment had directly contradicted the White House – before admitting that the French had actually supported the White House in their report, which was now “irrational” and “unsound”.

    Postol’s facts and analyses appear to change from day to day; but his conviction about Assad’s innocence appeared unshakeable.

    Postol appeals to the denialists, not because his arguments are persuasive…they like him because he is a man with credentials giving their conspiracy theories a veneer of scientific plausibility with superfluous tables and diagrams… ”

    (From Al Araby: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/Comment/2017/5/5/Chomsky-and-the-Syria-revisionists-Regime-whitewashing )

  6. Editor says:

    The Ghouta attack was Al Nusrah Front with Sarin that came from Turkey. There is zero evidence the government has EVER used sarin in the war to date.

    That’s square one. You just admitted the samples you are comparing to are from the previous attacks, which were the US backed TERRORISTS. I’m sick of listing all the links to these terrorists who openly brag about gassing their enemies, while you pretend not to know about it.

Your Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s