American journalist Seymour Hersh, at his 77th birthday, talked to Diken and answered some of the questions that have been raised by his latest piece published on London Review of Books on April 4.
One of the most controversial claims Hersh makes is that it was the Turkish government behind the August 21st sarin gas attack in Damascus. Hersh also responded to criticism leveled against him by people like Eliot Higgins and Dan Kaszeta.
Hersh defended his claims, elaborated that chemical material used in the attack was transported to Syria by Turkish gendarme under the supervision of MIT, the Turkish intelligence agency,
The White House refuted your claims in a statement. What do you think?
It’s very much like the first statement they made ( in December Hersh wrote a piece titled ‘Whose Sarin’ and he refers that WH denial). They basically claim that everything they say is true. And they say, ‘We do not acknowledge that the paper Mr. Hersh claims he holds in his hands really exist’ (laughs..). So if they want to put their heads in the sand, they can.
You are talking about a 5-page intelligence document. Do you actually have that document?
Yes, of course. It’s right here. Let me read the first line if you want me to. The first line is in bold sentence, called ‘ talking points.’ A brief to a high-level official, Deputy to the Department of Defense Intelligence Agency David Shedd. Dated 20 June. Title says, ”Al-Nusrah Front-associated sarin production cell is the most advanced sarin plot since Al Qaida’s pre-9/11 efforts.”
We know this because there was a footage captured (in Afghanistan) when we began the war there.. we know that, captured images showing the Al Qaida tested sarin with animals.
Is this production center in Syria or somewhere else?
No, it’s Al Nusra cell. This is obviously near Aleppo. The document I am talking about, it talks about Al Nusra is operating, has facilitators inside Turkey to buy chemicals, including nerve gas, components and equipment and hardware. It talks about that. We obviously tracked that (the U.S. government) and we know what they are doing. We have watched them happen and it is very unlikely that MIT doesn’t also watch them. But this is a different story. So, it is in Syria, not in Turkey.
Since the story is published, has anyone from the Syrian regime contacted you?
No. But it’s fascinating to watch it… Obviously there are tons of stuff on internet about this. Some people, for example, question that since these stuff came from Russia.. Oh my God.. How can we trust something Russian (they ask…). Look, this has been looked by the high authority, senior general of the Britain, then it has been looked at by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then taken to the president. What are they talking about? Because it is Russian?? (laughs) It’s crazy. Also I am now Alawite fascist. I didnt know that! (laughs)
So far Deputy PM of Turkey said that your claims are total slander. What do you say to that? Do you think if what you are saying is true and proven, this can be considered as crimes against humanity?
Turkey was helping Sarin gets developed inside Syria..
Forget about Turkey now.. Let me tell you what the issue is. I’m an American. My government still insists that we don’t have any evidence Sarin exists inside the rebel opposition.. whether secular or non secular…
Meanwhile, just last month, there was an exercise in Florida, at the headquarters of the ‘ Central Command’, commander-in-chief for central operations in Florida… which is in charge of the Middle East. Just as an intellectual exercise conducted. The Issue was being a counter-terror operation on what do we do if Al Nusra, AQI or ISIS, as they get driven out, in desperation and as a final act, if they give Sarin stock, and expertise and methods to other Sunnis, Jihadists, Wahhabis or Salafi group or operations in Middle East or N. Africa. That was the exercise.
At the same time, my government in Washington saying, ‘We don’t know if anyone has any Sarin.’ The Military community responsible from operations in Middle East is worrying about how to defend against Sarin showing up who knows where. I mean… Are you kidding me?
It’s called heads buried in the sand. So why do it? As I said in the article, because if the U.S. President said something, you can’t say it is wrong.
In your essay, after August 21, you talked about how the Turkish intelligence officials being eavesdropped by the US intel. How widespread do you think this is?
I answer this with a question for you. Two times two is what? Four. The answer is here. Do you want me to say anything else? What’s left to say?
Generically, smart people understand, often in the days after the incident is when you learn most about the incident. Because before the operation many security measures are taken. After the operation, generally you get to hear a lot of chest beating. That’s why smart people go and listen afterwards too. That means you listen in real-time. Most of the time, those calls are just being collected by the computer and often not looked at right away. This time, you may listen in real-time, on the same day.
In your piece, the Turkish intel conversations you said that were intercepted. Have you seen those transcripts?
First of all, this is an improper question. I quote somebody that exists. As you know I am not new to this. I talked to some people I ‘ve known for 30 years while writing this piece. We have grown up together. They are nice people. So, you gotta sense of trust. Today is my birthday, I am 77. I am old!
There are obviously pieces written that are criticizing your essay. One of them was about volcano rockets..
Oh, yes, you mean Elliot Higgins, or Brown Moses they call..
Yes, Higgins and also Dan Kaszeta..
Do you know of Kaszeta? He says that there had to be some 1000 gallons you need. Have you heard of Ted Postol? I would suggest you talk to Ted Postol. Postol (currently at the University of MIT physicist and missile defense experts), was scientific adviser to Chief of Naval Operations. You know when he (Postol) first called me months ago (after the first piece), told me: “Hersh, you are in really trouble this time. You are wrong!” Later he wrote back to me and said “Shit!”
Look! So, I do not know anything about Higgins. All he talks about is volcanos. Have you looked at the UN meeting on September the 16th by Åke Sellström ( UN chemical weapons team chief in Syria). He gave a news conference on that day, he wrote about how the rockets couldn’t have gone more than a mile. He says that. It’s on the report.
All I want to tell you, if you think that the Syrian Army would fire nerve gas a mile away.. (laughs..) when the wind can change.. you believe in suicide. You gotta be really gutsy to do that baby.. Because that stuff blows back.. that’s a terrible weapon.. because the wind change any minute.. you know that.. also it wasnt persistent.. that also tells you something too.
He (Higgins) is saying the same things for four months now. Somebody asked me about it yesterday and i told them, this was way back.. This was last year… (laughs) We are talking something different now. We talk about new information now. He keeps quoting this other guy.. Go and look at his website. What is his name? K..a..s..
Yeah. Do me a favor. He got a website. He is in defense business. And he got a bunch of companies. Look at them carefully. All those companies are consisted of one person. I mean who is he? He doesn’t have qualifications.. Because he worked at the chemical warfare more than 10 years ago? Would you trust anyone who worked in the cell phone business 10 years ago and now? Has there been no change in the chemical warfare in the last ten years? He is just somebody..
Higgins repeats the same thing because he doesn’t change his opinon. And I know he had private communication with Postol and man named David Lloyd or something… In which he sort of acknowledged that maybe he isn’t right. But he cant undo it. He is defending the base too. Higgins is a bit like the White House to me.. Once I said something, I m not gonna change it.
I talked to Ted Postol matter of fact this morning.. He sent me an email and said “What? does he (Higgins) still talk about volcanos?” Has there been anything said by my government to substantiate the argument (Volcano argument)?
What does it tell you? Has Israel said one word about this since the August 21st? No. What does it tell you? You think Israel wants to see Salafists on the borders? If they think Assad did it, wouldn’t they have talked about it?
But you understand, the problem is, and it’s a legitimate problem, people don’t like Bashar. And automatically since I write these, I’m assumed two things, lackey for the Russians, because the Russians provided the chemicals, and I am now Baathist. Alawite Baathist.
But when I was writing in 1969 Vietnam, and told that the American soldiers killed 550 children, men and women, that was worse.
Turkey’s training for Sarin, handling, transporting into Syria under the war conditions.. All these sound like a big operation and needs a big facility center, some suggest. What do you think ?
American intelligence has concluded that Turkish intelligence, MIT, by the way, MIT doesn’t do hands-on… Technical stuff. But they do thinking, strategic staff. Turkish gendarme are the people actually trucked the stuff in. So, materials trucked from Turkey into Syria and Aleppo. Including chemical to make up nerve gas… When they melted together, and they became something different. There is an intelligence report to that effect. That’s what I have written.