Shameless Self-Promotion

I’ve been quoted recently in articles at The Verge and the Daily Beast. Both have to do with the chemical weapons being used in Syria.

There is a lot of disinformation being floated by Russia and its allies about both the Skripal poisoning and the Douma attack. Russia and Syria are now preventing international inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from visiting the Douma site and taking samples. Russia has, of course, complained that proper samples haven’t been taken so nothing is proved about who used the chemical weapons. But no, you can’t come and take samples. That’s only one of their tactics. They throw multiple garbage stories out to confuse the issue. They’re doing it in the United Nations and conflate the Skripal poisoning and the Douma attack (spoiler: the UK did them both).

It’s a lot of work to refute them all, but Adam Rawnsley at the Daily Beast decided that this one was being used generally enough that it deserved debunking. His article also appears at Bellingcat, with different pictures.

Update (already!): Here’s a long thread that investigated Russian disinformation on the Skripal poisoning.

49 replies
  1. 1
    MattF says:

    The constant Russian lying has to be pointed out and exposed. Tiresome, but it has to be done. And retweeters like Assange and Galloway (!) need to be pointed to. One supposes that they are paid well, but considering the actual events they are lying about, one wonders if they have really assessed the risks.

  2. 2
    Formerly disgruntled in Oregon says:

    @MattF: Constant gaslighting – so tiresome

  3. 3
    Comrade Colette Collaboratrice says:

    I read enough to see that “Ian56789” is a Russian disinformation account, but who/what is “DrDenaGrayson”?

    ETA: If I’m reading the graphic correctly, red is for tweeters attributing the attack to Russia, and green shows those blaming someone else – right?

  4. 4
    raven says:

    The folks over at Pat Lang’s blog say it is us that are lying.

  5. 5
    PeakVT says:

    Russian/Soviet officals have always been bad liars in person. But hiding behind Suckbook and the like has made the lies much less obvious and more tenacious.

  6. 6
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Assmuch is dogshit in stinking up the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

  7. 7
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @raven: The terms “fellow traveler” and “useful idiot” never lost their usefulness. The folks at Pat Lang’s blog seem to be useful idiots. Assange is a fellow traveler.

  8. 8
    Hkedi [Kang T. Q.] says:

    @Comrade Colette Collaboratrice:

    but who/what is “DrDenaGrayson”?

    A quick google search shows her to be the wife of Alan grayson. Here’s her wiki page:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dena_Grayson

  9. 9
    grubert says:

    I’m not at all convinced George Galloway is part of any Russia conspiracy.. but he does hate the way America lied it’s way into Iraq, so he could be open to believing Russian agitprop.

  10. 10
    cervantes says:

    While I do not doubt that they Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on multiple occasions, I do object to the importance given to this. Personally, I don’t care if you blow me up or gas me, and I don’t think anybody else cares either. As Malak Chabkoun writes for al Jazeera:

    “It is positively ridiculous to hear grown men and women pontificating on the horror of gas attacks against Syrian civilians without the mere mention of the multitude of other ways Syrians are being killed by the regime, Russia and Iran. . . .

    To be fair, the Obama administration is primarily responsible for this rhetoric of limiting the Syria red line to chemical weapons (and even then, not enforcing it), as well as for handing the Syrian “file” over to Russia and Iran. . . .

    US-led airstrikes on so-called ISIL targets, which began in 2014 and number over 15,000 and counting, have killed thousands of Syrian civilians, including children, as well as contributed to the decimation of Syrian cities such as al-Raqqa and Deir el-Zor. . . .”

    Gas Shmas. That’s a red herring.

  11. 11
    Roger Moore says:

    @MattF:
    It would help a lot if the networks they’re using to spread their lies took the whole thing seriously.

  12. 12
    Comrade Colette Collaboratrice says:

    @Hkedi [Kang T. Q.]: Aha. So she’s NOT one of the Russians/fellow travelers/useful idiots? Dr. Jill Stein has made me suspect all MDs in politics of dipshittery, at best.

  13. 13
    rp says:

    [greenwald] Where’s the proof? [/greenwald]

  14. 14
    grubert says:

    @cervantes:

    In WWI it was the Kaiser’s solders bayoneting babies ( didn’t happen )

    In Gulf War I it was Iraqi soldiers throwing babies out of incubators ( didn’t happen )

    The gassing might be real, but the purpose is most certainly political.

  15. 15
    Manyakitty says:

    @Comrade Colette Collaboratrice: She’s wrapped up with the Mensch/Taylor/Schindler bunch, but in this case, (again, assuming the red spray means spreading facts rather than disinfo) it doesn’t look like she’s part of the problem.

  16. 16
    Mart says:

    Just a dirty old hippie but… How is packing high explosive chemicals into a metal shell and dropping those shells onto civilians with the intent of killing and maiming them okey dokey, but putting a poisonous gas in the shell is a no-no. Don’t they both get you to the same place?

  17. 17
    grubert says:

    @Mart:
    There are degrees of gruesome. I guess the common opinion is that having your body ripped apart into various chunks isn’t as gruesome as having your body choke itself from the inside out. It’s somewhat slower for one thing..

  18. 18
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @cervantes: @grubert: @Mart:

    I don’t think that anyone is saying that the war in Syria is okay in any of its respects.

    My read is that chemical weapons induce a particular revulsion in people. I know I felt it before I had to get past it in order to work with the chemical weapons people on peaceful ways to destroy the stuff. That revulsion leads to a stronger desire for action than does the ordinary conduct of war. Yes, I know that pictures of bodies blown apart by ordinary explosives are horrible to see. But people are irrational and respond more strongly to chemical weapons.

    Trump’s reaction, as his reaction to many other things, seems to be totally emotional. Hence his strikes.

    The use of chemical weapons is outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention as a war crime. I don’t think we’ll see a treaty against ordinary explosives being used in war any time soon.

  19. 19
    Mnemosyne says:

    @grubert:

    Gas attacks have a much wider radius — people who are nowhere near the actual bomb can be injured or killed by them, depending on the prevailing winds.

    You can go down to a bomb shelter or basement to escape a conventional bomb, but a gas attack turns that same shelter into a mass grave.

    Depending on the agent used, a gas bomb can be physically dangerous long after it’s no longer explosive.

    And those are just the differences off the top of my head.

  20. 20
    different-church-lady says:

    @PeakVT: Lie laundering?

  21. 21
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Manyakitty: I may have missed an example, but I can’t think of when Mensch and Schindler were on the same page, so calling them a “bunch” is one hell of a stretch.

  22. 22
    grubert says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:
    @Mnemosyne:
    Of course you’re both completely correct.

    I do wonder though, if chemical weapons would have been quite as unpopular worldwide if they weren’t so unreliable and have such a propensity to backfire.

  23. 23
    different-church-lady says:

    Analysis of a third node, coded in gray:

    This network centers around five accounts that tweet in Russian: @lastochkina984, @glinka768, @beregovaya768, @ponchik984, and @borisovrealtyRu. Each of these accounts has posted exactly one #Novichok tweet, but the tweets appear unrelated to the Salisbury attack.

    The #Novichok tweets from those five accounts were retweeted by 64 others, 47 of which RT’d all five. Most have female avatars and handles ending in 3 digits. It’s possible these are human-operated sockpuppets amplifying the five main nodes, but automation seems more likely.

    As far as being a tool ready-made for abuse by damaging propagandists, Twitter will at some point have to go through a reckoning similar to Facebook’s.

  24. 24
    Yarrow says:

    Congratulations, Cheryl and thanks for the post. I have enjoyed watching the posts and Twitter threads that track Russian disinfo. The Russians are very good at doing that kind of thing. So many hashtags start in Russia or Russia-linked states or regions. It’s kind of mind boggling once you see it.

    I linked previously the story about Sweden starting a school program to teach students how to identify propaganda. This article has a roundup of various things other European countries are doing to counter Russian disinformation and propaganda. We could really use something along those lines.

  25. 25
    cervantes says:

    @Mnemosyne: And there are counterpoints. The kill radius depends on the size of the explosive weapon, whereas chemical weapons are much less reliable as the effect depends on wind speed and direction. Going into a basement to escape an explosive bomb doesn’t work very well when the building collapses on top of you. And of course dangerous unexploded ordinance from WWII is still being unearthed. Chemical weapons are battlefield weapons, not “weapons of mass destruction.” And btw highly effective protective measures are possible against them which are not possible against high explosives. Differences between these classes of weapons, in general, are minor and of little or no qualitative importance. So this is really an irrational distinction.

  26. 26
    Procopius says:

    @Mnemosyne: I really should not comment on this, but:

    Depending on the agent used, a gas bomb can be physically dangerous long after it’s no longer explosive.

    Are you familiar with what are called “cluster bombs?” Such as we dropped millions of tons of on Laos? Also on the village of al Ma’jalah in Yemen? That we sell lots of to Saudi Arabia? These are casings or “shells” that contain several dozen “bomblets,” usually spherical in shape and a bit larger than a golf ball. When the bomb, such as the BGM-109D Tomahawk that was used in al Ma’jalah, hits the ground, the bomblets are dispersed over a wide area. They are supposed to blow up then, but lots of them don’t. Then they may sit there, maybe for years, until some kid finds one or two and decides they are something to play with. We still have kids and adults getting blown up in Laos from these things. And people wonder why I’m skeptical of government claims about gas attacks. It is a constant source of amazement to me that so many people believe these stories. What is it, signalling that you’re a member of good standing in the tribe?

    ETA:

    Russia and Syria are now preventing international inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from visiting the Douma site and taking samples.

    I meant to ask, but forgot. Where is this from? I sometimes forget to provide a link to something I read a couple of days ago, didn’t bookmark, and now can’t remember. Is that what happened here? It seems like this is too important an accusation to treat it the way Trump or Bolton of Haley do.

  27. 27
    Repatriated says:

    The problem with chemical weapons is that if used against a prepared (and equipped) adversary, they’re basically only effective in reducing efficiency, not killing or injuring troops. Working and fighting in chemgear is, obviously, awkward and it takes time and effort to decon troops and equipment, but the suits do work. On the other hand, nearby civilians (who generally aren’t properly equipped) get slaughtered.

    Too much collateral damage relative to the desired military effect.

  28. 28
    Repatriated says:

    @Repatriated: … which is the reason they’re illegitimate weapons.

    Now, if you’re targeting unprepared/unequipped adversaries, they can be quite lethal. If you’re targeting adversaries blended in with civilian populations, that’s going to be a war crime by default.

  29. 29
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Procopius:

    Where is this from? I sometimes forget to provide a link to something I read a couple of days ago, didn’t bookmark, and not can’t remember. Is that what happened here?

    What happened was that it was all over Twitter as I wrote the post. I added this link later.

  30. 30
    raven says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: It’s puzzling to me. Lang seems like such a fascist commie killer why does he love Russia?

  31. 31
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @raven: I have not followed Lang’s intellectual trajectory. I read his blog, oh maybe ten years ago and found his takes on strategy wise. I haven’t read him in at least a couple of years.

    Russia’s disinformation is very effective. Are you doubtful about US veracity because of cluster bombs or Iraq’s nonexistent WMD or pretty much anything else? There’s an answer in Russian disinformation for you. It doesn’t always present as Russian disinformation because it is so easily magnified by fellow travelers and then useful idiots on social media. I just saw a comment from Noam Chomsky that indicated he had bought some large chunk of it.

    [Yes, I know, Chomsky. But he’s a pretty smart guy and this particular issue seemed transparently disinformation to me]

    Add in most people’s revulsion to and ignorance of chemical weapons, and all kinds of things can sound convincing to them.

  32. 32
    raven says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Oh, I’m not doubtful I’m just interested.

    eta I’m banned there again for abut the 10th time.

  33. 33
    Mike J says:

    It was bizarre watching Mock the Week and seeing all the panelists take it for granted that the UK was making everything up to distract from Brexit woes.

  34. 34
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @raven: That was a rhetorical question, not aimed at you. I was just giving examples of the kinds of things Russia uses to hook people.

  35. 35
    raven says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Sorry, I’m multi-tasking!

  36. 36
    Mnemosyne says:

    @cervantes:

    The kill radius depends on the size of the explosive weapon, whereas chemical weapons are much less reliable as the effect depends on wind speed and direction.

    Which is another reason why they’re banned — they’re unreliable and frequently end up harming innocent bystanders because you can’t control where the chemicals go.

    Going into a basement to escape an explosive bomb doesn’t work very well when the building collapses on top of you.

    And if the building doesn’t collapse on top of you, you survive … unless it was a chemical weapon. You can use far less ordnance and still kill lots of people with chemical weapons. That’s the purpose.

    And of course dangerous unexploded ordinance from WWII is still being unearthed.

    Yes, and … ? I’m not talking about things that are still dangerous decades later. I’m talking about things that contaminate the immediate area after being used and force people to relocate.

    Chemical weapons are battlefield weapons, not “weapons of mass destruction.”

    Which is why it’s a war crime to use them in a city filled with civilians.

    And btw highly effective protective measures are possible against them which are not possible against high explosives.

    On the battlefield, sure. If you’re out doing your grocery shopping and someone drops a chlorine bomb nearby, good luck finding that protective equipment. Or should we just have all civilians in Syria walk around in gas masks all day, just in case?

    Differences between these classes of weapons, in general, are minor and of little or no qualitative importance.

    On the battlefield, perhaps. But when they’re dropped in the middle of a civilian population, chemical weapons are much further ranging for the size of the ordnance than a conventional bomb is. Which, again, is why it’s a war crime to use them.

    So this is really an irrational distinction.

    This is the same rationale that gun nuts use to say that there’s no reason to ban AR-15s. After all, a gun is a gun is a gun, so there’s no need to ban the more powerful ones since someone who wants to kill people will just use a different gun.

  37. 37
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Procopius:

    Are you familiar with what are called “cluster bombs?”

    Ah, the Russian troll has arrived. Tell me, comrade, what part of “no longer explosive” in my comment was confusing to you?

    And you may not want to use cluster bombs to bash the US right now since Russia is using them extensively in Syria. Or is that just more Western propaganda against the Motherland?

  38. 38
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @raven: No problem – I didn’t want you to think I was singling you out!

  39. 39
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    I find it kind of amusing, but nicely illustrative, that in a thread on Russian disinformation we have someone join who is either a fellow traveler or a useful idiot.

  40. 40
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Repatriated:

    On the other hand, nearby civilians (who generally aren’t properly equipped) get slaughtered.

    Yep. Which is why all the cries of But the civilians don’t care how they got killed! are bogus. You can potentially run and hide from a conventional bomb. Not so much from a chemical one.

  41. 41
    bluefish says:

    Thank you for this info. Very interesting and instructive.

  42. 42
    TenguPhule says:

    @Mart:

    How is packing high explosive chemicals into a metal shell and dropping those shells onto civilians with the intent of killing and maiming them okey dokey, but putting a poisonous gas in the shell is a no-no. Don’t they both get you to the same place?

    Dying in your sleep and being fed feet first into a mulcher will get you to the same end point, but the process varies considerably.

  43. 43
    TenguPhule says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    You can potentially run and hide from a conventional bomb. Not so much from a chemical one.

    Also, bio/chem/radiation deaths are really fucking horrible. Which is part of the reason why almost everyone civilized agreed to ban them from use.

  44. 44
    Kayla Rudbek says:

    @grubert: there are still unexploded gas shells in northern France and Belgium left from WWI. The ground is still contaminated with heavy metals from the shelling there, and the estimate for cleanup of all the unexploded shells (gas and regular) and the heavy metal contamination is about 900 years

  45. 45
    Brachiator says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: If this thread is still live, I just wanted to add my congratulations and thanks for all the posts.

  46. 46
    Manyakitty says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Could be. I tend to lump that group together, but they might well glom on to Schindler, rather than including him as one of them. Point taken.

  47. 47
  48. 48
    grubert says:

    @Kayla Rudbek:
    Yes, plenty of that still around.

    And then we have depleted Uranium, which is still somewhat radioactive as well as being chemically poisonous. Blargh.

  49. 49
    Keith G says:

    @Mnemosyne: All of your points are spot on. I would like to add another point that often goes under-argued:

    Even minimal development/use of CWs needs to be aggressively confronted since once manufactured they can be put into ordinance requiring remarkably low tech delivery platforms as compared to other mass casualty weapons. I think the CW death count is so low because of significant efforts in the past and the likely future actions to disrupt and punish users.

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