Chemical Weapons, Confirmation Bias and Missing the Point in Douma

Syria Apr 19, 2018

I was planning on a differnt post after a break from the blog, including posting some backlogged posts from my time away and at least one talk I've done, but I've a lot of friends who have a lot of idea's about the commited the Chemical Weapons attack in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Syria on the 7th of April and none of them are correct. So I though I would break down the why I'm confident in my assertion that it was the Assad Regieme and not some flase flag conspiracy theory

I think first and most importantly, anyone who has been following the conflict for a while knows that this isn't the first time Chemial Weapons have been used in 2018, not only that, but it's the fifth time in 2018 in Eastern Ghouta alone that an attack has happened The following attacks have happened:

  1. January 13th
  2. January 22nd
  3. February 1st
  4. March 15th
  5. April 7th

So I'm going to examine the evidnce that shows me, without a shodow of a doubt that the Assad Regieme was behind the attack and I'm even going to be kind and ignore some evidence that looks really bad for the Syrian's and the Russian's

  1. A UN reconnaissance team, escorting the OPCW Inspectors came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated while in Douma on April 18th, which is an aera under the total control of the Assad Regieme and Russian Forces
  2. Gen. Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, basically predicted the attack, in detail. He could have put the districts under some form of greater protection as he knew the attack was coming in the form of Air Defence or boots on the ground, or called the OPCW to investigate the coming incident for credibility or raise the issue with the US and it's allies along with evidence to prove he was right to completly discredit the coming attack. But he did literally nothing at all, other than mention it. This to me reeks of dezinformatsiya

So lets get on with it and examine the evidence we have from Open Sources

Imagery Evidence

1. We know what the munition looked like

CBS journalist Seth Doane visited Douma and on April 16th, published a piece with and image of munition which looks strikingly similar to the pressure vessels that Human Rights Watch have been keeping track of, as used for Chlorine Gas munitions in Aleppo by the Syrian Government.

2. The delivery method is consistant with other chlorine gas attacks

Bellingcat mentions that @Sentry_Syria observers had seen two Mi-8 Hip helicopters headed in the direction of Douma (though I am unable to find the tweet as I don't speak arabic):

Aircraft observers that are part of the Sentry Syria network observed two Hip helicopters heading southwest from Dumayr Airbase, northeast of Damascus, in the direction of Douma, 30 minutes before the chemical attack in Douma, and two Hip helicopters were observed above Douma shortly before the attack. Hip transport helicopters have also been linked to previous aerial chlorine attacks.

3. The injuries we see are consistant with a Chlorine Gas and potentially a Sarin Gas attack

This is going to be graphic. You have been warned. I will also correctly reference information so you can see the exact information I'm working from.


Exposure to Chlorine Gas is identified by coughing/wheezing and a runny noise(rhinoreha) and symtopms consistant with a runny nose is visible in imagery taken from the scene

Chloirine readily disolves in the moist mucosa of the upper respriatory tract. The resulting reaction with water causes rhinorehea, hyperventalation and may cause laryngeal edema. In the lower respratory tract, the reaction causes coughing, wheezingabd pulmonary edema.
(Weapons of Mass Casualties and Terrorism Response Handbook, 2000)

As well as this, high concentrations of Chlorine gas cause Chemical Burns which are also potentially visible on a victims face and arms at the scene

High concentrations of of chlorine gas will produce chemical skin burns
(Weapons of Mass Casualties and Terrorism Response Handbook, 2000)


A key telltale that Sarin was used is foaming at the mouth, which is visible from video taken at the scene. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense has a Field Manual on the treatment of casualties on Chemial Weapons and discribes the effects of Sarin on victims with the following quote:

If the damage is severe, the casualty will start coughing up a clear, foamy sputum, the plasma from his blood that has leaked into his alveoli.
(Field Management of Chemical Casualties, 2006)

As of yet, it is unclear that Sarin was used, as Bellingcat points out

With allegations of Sarin use, it is important to note that these yellow gas cylinders are not associated with the use of Sarin, and as Sarin is a liquid a compressed gas cylinder seems an unlikely method of delivery for Sarin. Possible explanations for the allegations of Sarin use may be a result of the severity of the symptoms presented, of an undocumented munition being used, or another chemical agent being used that presents symptoms that could be confused with Sarin use.

Though, that said, there is a report from NBC that US Intelligence has blood samples showing the presence of Chlorine and an unnamed nerve agent

So lets conclude before moving on. We have imagery of the munition that is consistant with used in previous attacks by the Assad Regime. The helicopters reported in the area are consistant with previous attacks by the Assad Regime. The injuries of the victims are consistant with victims of clorine gas attacks and also potentially Sarin attacks. It walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck. It's an attack commiteed by the Assad Regime

Emmanuel Macron

I've seen a lot of people rage against the establioshment and claim that it was a false flag to get the US to stay in Syria by just about everyone from Trump, who wanted to leave Syria just days before hand or by Defence Contractors who saw their stocks rise. Basically anyone under the sun who wasn't Syria. But Macron is no establishment stooge. If anything he's also an outsider. He was also initially skeptical of reports, even though there was verifiable open source information that showed the use of Chemial Weapons after this statement. Though he has seen the evidence of the most recent attack and is convinced by it. The evidence that the US has is clearly so credible that the skeptic was convinced that Chemical Weapons were used.

The Robert Fisk Article

Robert is a journalist with the Independent and he published an article on the 17th of April that a lot of people are digging way to deep into and letting confirmation bias take over. The most common thing I have heard is that Fisk reports that the attack didn't happen. He didn't. He reported a claim from a docter who reports that the attack didn't happen:

War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.

As Dr Assim Rahaibani announces this extraordinary conclusion, it is worth observing that he is by his own admission not an eyewitness himself and, as he speaks good English, he refers twice to the jihadi gunmen of Jaish el-Islam [the Army of Islam] in Douma as “terrorists” – the regime’s word for their enemies

He wasn't an eyewitness and he openly declares a pro government bias. He could be right, but given that he wasn't a witness and is pro government, I find that hard to stomach. Not only that, he only got one side of the story, as the doctors who were treating victims where giving oral testimony to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons , which Fisk also lets people know:

By bad luck, too, the doctors who were on duty that night on 7 April were all in Damascus giving evidence to a chemical weapons enquiry, which will be attempting to provide a definitive answer to that question in the coming weeks.

What is interesting is that he was given video of such hypoxia that was mentioned above by the doctor:

I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night -- but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a ‘White Helmet’, shouted ‘Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.

What I find really interesting is that somewhere, someone is lying becuase in the same article

Of course we must hear their side of the story, but it will not happen here: a woman told us that every member of the White Helmets in Douma abandoned their main headquarters and chose to take the government-organised and Russian-protected buses to the rebel province of Idlib with the armed groups when the final truce was agreed.

So the Whte Helmets were both there and not there, simulataniously, a Schrödinger's Whte Helmet if you will, and the artilery barrage caused hypoxia, to such an extent that it caused the injuries seen above and not just that, this is to my knowlege, the first ever, reported case of artilery causing hypoxia that isn't from chemical weapons. Including all of the worst Hurricane bombardment's devised by Durchbruchmüller for der Kaiserschlacht.

Someone somewhere is not telling the truth. It could be the info about the White Helments not being in town, it could have been the doctor, I don't know. But it's poor reporting from a great journalist who didn't get the whole story.

The Grand Conspiracy

Finally, a lot of people would have been needed to pull of a conspiracy of this size, over multiple countires Governements, Inteligence Agencies and Militaries. That level of coordination is totally possible, but building it on a lie is impossible to sustain. It has been studied and all conspiracy's are mathmathically destined to fall apart under their own weight. Dr. Steven Novella summed it up best:

Grand conspiracies can only exist in a fantasy world in which individuals can have preternatural competence, in which it is possible for a few people to secretly have tremendous reach and control, and in which these powerful and brilliant people also make ridiculously stupid mistakes that expose them to the enlightened few who can see through the conspiracy.

So why is any of this important in any way shape or form?! Simple. There has been a taboo on the use of Chemical Weapons since WWI and ever since then any use of Chemical Weapons has caused massive international backlash. This taboo is sliding away before our eyes as we care about other things that aren't nearly as important and worse, as you can see above, we aren't even really talking about the use of Chemical Weapons but we are talking about who had what motive and why. We aren't even talking about the use of Chemical Weapons anymore, we're caught up in a game of Whodunit and Whataboutism and this is a deeply disapointing and frustrating problem. It's an all too common problem in Arms Control too as you see, Arms Control is like Fiat Currency, it's worth the value you place in it. We are demonstrating though actions and words that Russia and Syria espescially, but everyone is guilty of not caring and moving on, while we witness, and now ignore monthly uses of these horrific weapons


Weapons of Mass Casualties and Terrorism Response Handbook. (2006). 1st ed. [ebook] Jones & Bartlett Learning, pp.37-39. Available at: [Accessed 18 Apr. 2018].

Field Management of Chemical Casualties. (2000). 2nd ed. [pdf] U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense (USAMRICD), pp.33-35. Available at: [Accessed 18 Apr. 2018].


Paddy Kerley

DFCS at TU Dublin's Cyber Program and talk giver TU Dublin Hacker Soc. Mostly talks about Cyberwarfare, NatSec, Infosec, Big Safari, Arms Control, North Korea, OSINT and stuff that goes boom

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