Exclusive: Seymour Hersh dishes on new exposé upending the official story about Trump and Syrian chemical attacks


Seymour Hersh at the 2004 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award PHOTO/ Wikimedia Commons/Institute for Policy Studies

The veteran investigative reporter is turning the narrative upside down with his latest investigation.

Ken Klippenstein: Why is the deconfliction process by which forces in Syria notify each other of air operations to avoid accidents so important?

Seymour Hersh: More air force is involved than people think. It’s not only Russian… Syria’s flying, Russia’s flying, America’s flying… The Brits fly, the Canadians fly, the Aussies fly. It’s sort of like air [traffic] control at an airport… We have something called AWACS. It’s a big plane that monitors everything and the Russians and the Syrians will communicate their routes and their packets and where they’re going and what they’re delivering in English to these aircraft, AWACS, which monitor large parts of Syria. So there’s a lot of coordination. That’s what deconfliction is.

KK: Can you take us through the extraordinary events you reported on in rebel-held Syria and how they unfolded?

SH: So the story I wrote is simply about the fact there was a very special mission. It was a secret mission, it was a mission to bomb a meeting of the jihadist headquarters in this town Khan Shaykhun. It was a major town of about 48,000 (before the war began anyway) and the Russians told us about a serious meeting of the leadership there on the fourth and we had it early. It was a command-and-control for the region. One way they control the areas is by controlling food, medicines.

Russia and Syria do a lot of bombing in that area. It has propane gas tanks, it has plastic canisters of cooking oil, it has fertilizer, it has insecticides—it’s a big farming area. We also assumed some weapons were stored there because it’s a big operational base for al-Nusra [Syria’s Al Qaeda affiliate], so they expected some secondary explosion; they weren’t surprised to see a cloud arise.

It was a laser-guided bomb that the Russians supplied to Syria. We had the intelligence of a meeting and we planned for it, we planned for it days in advance. It was coordinated very carefully. Everybody: us, the UK, the NSA, the CIA—everybody knew there was going to be a meeting there. In fact Russia even contacted our intelligence people, our CIA through a liaison I guess (I don’t know how), that there was going to be a secret meeting and if we had an asset there, if there was somebody we owned at that meeting, get him out of there because it’s going to be hit.

So all of this was pre-planned, the Russians supplied a laser-guided missile, no chemicals involved at all. If you’re dealing with sarin—are you kidding? Military-grade sarin? My god, you’d have to have huge facilities for storing sarin, for protecting anybody who gets near it. Just a drop will kill. You can’t smell it; it’s odorless, sightless. It doesn’t [cause] smoke.

The idea of sarin was on nobody’s table. It was not sarin. Whatever happened, and I don’t know—the opposition may have had sarin on the premise that got blown up and I don’t know. But I do know that Trump ignored the intelligence about it. He saw pictures of what were said to be children wounded or killed by sarin. Ambassador [Nikki] Haley [showed] some [photographs] and he saw it and he said, from that point on, he was going to bomb. It didn’t matter what the intelligence was.

KK: Why didn’t Trump listen to the intelligence?

SH: I quote somebody as saying, when he makes up his mind he makes up his mind; it didn’t matter what the intelligence was. In this case what we know is that he was told the day before that there’s no reason to think the Syrians dropped a sarin bomb. We know that Doctors Without Borders were at a clinic about 60 miles away, still in Syria, and they said that there were people there who definitely came in [having been] gassed by chlorine, which can also cause fatalities.

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