M4000: The Sarin Deception – Part 1

You may recall my report of the 18 August 2019 in which I addressed the claims made by Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat that he had, “established a Syrian M4000 Sarin bomb..was used in.. Khan Sheikhoun”. In that report, I showed how Eliot made that claim in the absence of supporting evidence. In this report, I will shift the focus to his claim an M4000 was also used at Lataminah on the 30 March 2017.

Date of Report: 30 August 2019

Introduction

You may recall my report of the 18 August 2019 in which I addressed the claims made by Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat that he had, “established a Syrian M4000 Sarin bomb..was used in.. Khan Sheikhoun”. In that report, I showed how Eliot made that claim in the absence of supporting evidence. I also drew attention to how when asked about Khan Sheikhoun he deflects to Al-Lataminah. My theory on this is because he is acutely aware of the lack of evidence to support his claim at Khan Sheikhoun and therefore by deflecting to Lataminah, were more alleged evidence was gathered, he was able to create a smokescreen.

In this report, I will shift the focus to his claim an M4000 was also used at Lataminah on the 30 March 2017. To support that claim Eliot employed the services of Forensic Architecture to investigate the alleged M4000 remnants with the view of constructing a 3D model of the bomb and to see if the fragments fitted its design. Having contacted Forensic Architecture I can now shed further light on Eliot’s claim and I will also shine a light on FI and their methodology used in the modeling of the M4000.

Methodology

Following on from the conclusion reached in my previous report into the alleged use of an M4000 I will now look into whether there is evidence it was used in Al-Lataminah on the 30 March 2017 to deliver sarin.

I will draw upon new information gathered from further research and various lines of communications that I opened up with different parties. I will provide evidence for all my work and will deliver this report in a clear, concise manner with the focus being on the observer who may not be interested in boring technical jargon.

Narrative

I will begin with a timeline mapping the origins of the M4000 narrative as this will be a helpful guide going forward.

Timeline

Review of M4000 Narrative

For those that may not be up to speed with this, here is a summary.

On April 4, 2017, it is alleged the Syrian government dropped a sarin bomb on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib governorate. There were several fragments of the alleged bomb photographed at the impact crater. The OPCW-FFM (Fact-Finding Mission) would be asked to investigate the incident to identify what happened. Given security concerns the team was unable to visit the location as it was predominately ruled by a group called HTS (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – formerly al-Qaeda in Syria). The FFM, therefore, relied upon the highly contentious rescue group known as the “White Helmets” to provide them with the evidence.

The FFM would conclude:

6.19 Although, some witnesses advised that the release was due to a munition dropped from an aircraft, the FFM was unable to retrieve any items from the site which would indicate the means of dispersal of a chemical. After analysing photographs and video supplied by witnesses, the FFM could not establish with a great degree of confidence the means of deployment and dispersal of the chemical.

The OPCW-JIM (Joint Investigative Mechanism) was then tasked with assigning blame. They would conclude:

The munition remnants recovered from the crater by unidentified individuals are assessed as being associated with an air-delivered chemical bomb. Specific munition remnants, particularly the tailfin, could not be recovered. The absence of a chain of custody relating to the munition remnants diminishes their probative value.

They go on:

56. According to information obtained by the Mechanism, the filler cap, with two closure plugs, is uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs. The Mechanism was provided with an assessment of the filler cap and with chemical analysis showing sarin and a reaction product of sarin with hexamine that can be formed only under very high heat. Information was also received that additional metal fragments collected from the crater might correspond to parts of Syrian aerial chemical munitions. 

(Emphasis mine)

Whilst the US, France, and the UK, had already concluded an aerial chemical bomb had been used by the Syrian government, all eyes were on the JIM to see what conclusion they would reach. Many had felt that since the aforementioned alliance had already carried out airstrikes on Syria as a punishment for allegedly using sarin, there was no way the JIM could conclude anything other than a guilty verdict. Which is what they eventually concluded.

The JIM report was the first time the “filler cap” found at the crater came to the fore and for them to go on to link it to a “Syrian chemical aerial bomb[s]” was significant.

This conclusion spurred the Russian Foreign Ministry and MOD into holding a press conference on November 2, 2017, when they presented technical drawings depicting two aerial chemical bombs of the Syrian army; the MYM6000 and the M4000. The purpose of the press conference was likely to present the chemical bombs the Syrian government uses and therefore evidence how it couldn’t have been those munitions. It was a week or so after this press conference occurred did news of it begin to filter out on social media.

After it was picked up, Gregory Koblentz tweeted:

That same day, November 13, 2017, Bellingcat produced a report entitled: “Did Russia Accidentally Provide the Best Evidence of the Syrian Government’s Involvement in Sarin Attacks?”

From here Eliot took the idea that he’d uncovered the smoking gun of how the sarin was delivered and set about making the myth a reality.

Fast Forward to October 2018 and Eliot commissions Forensic Architecture to carry out an investigation and 3D modeling of the M4000 to see if they can match the fragments found at the alleged sites with that of the bomb. Something they were able to do. Eliot’s narrative had now been authenticated.

The M4000 and Eliot Higgins

As discussed in my previous report on the M4000, Eliot bases his assumption the M4000 was used in Khan Sheikhoun due to the presence of a similar filler caps at that also appeared at Lataminah. I debunked his claim here.

The filler cap idea is something that Higgins consistently pushes as proof of M4000 usage. Here is a clip of him during a debate with Ted Postol in November 2018 discussing the caps in detail.

You will note from his presentation that Eliot doesn’t have a technical argument of his own. His arguments are all snippets of the claims of others as he consistently appeals to authority to validate his personal opinions. This method serves him, yet hinders him. It serves him in that if someone shows he’s wrong he takes cover behind whatever authoritative body made the claim he’s trying to push. But it exposes his ignorance and leaves his arguments looking weak, on the flip side. This report will show that.

As part of his presentation at this event, Eliot asked Forensic Architecture to carry out the 3D modeling I mentioned earlier. This was confirmed to me by the aforementioned group via email.

Here is that presentation in full:

Next, is an image that some of you may be familiar with now and is from the Bellingcat website. I have added numbers to each piece of evidence as this will become important in the proceeding steps.

If you watched the Forensic Architecture video you may have noticed something strange? The “filler cap” (marked 3) is missing from their modeling. But wasn’t that the piece that linked Khan Sheikhoun to Al-Lataminah to the M4000? Odd then that FI didn’t model it, so I asked them why that it was. They replied:

..the initial commission did not entail our modelling [this] fragment.

Forensic Architecture

After spending 18 months telling anyone who would listen, the “filler cap” was the smoking gun, Eliot didn’t ask for it to be modelled into a 3D image of the M4000.

But there are other pieces missing from FI’s model too. No. 1, the fuse, and No. 7, a metal rail, that Higgins claimed joined parts of the bomb together are not included in the model either. I asked Forensic Architecture about this, and they replied:

I can only say once again that the initial commission did not entail our modelling those fragments.

Forensic Architecture

Why did Eliot not ask for those pieces to be modelled? Could it be because they didn’t fit or couldn’t be made fit?

Then I came across an effort by Michael Kobs to measure the diameter filler cap. What he did was take the drawing of the M4000 along with its measurements (per the technical data) and added a ruler to scale the caps to the overall length of the bomb. He concluded the caps couldn’t be more than 70mm in diameter and not the ≈105mm as claimed Higgins et al. I have Michael’s permission to share the image with you. The caps in question are depicted in green along the uppermost horizontal section on the munition.

Could this be why Eliot decided against having it modelled or did Forensic Architecture possibly advise him it wouldn’t scale correctly? That last part is speculation but it may not be that unfounded as I’ll explain to you in the second part of this report.

And what of the “brace” (No.7) that Eliot argued with me was a perfect 45° angled piece of metal before it “was involved in an explosion and impact” and suddenly metamorphosed into a nice 90° curved piece of metal? He left that out too.

And the fuse? It’s commonly used in Russian aerial bombs and has been used in Syria since Russia’s interjection, and maybe before if Syrian bombs are equipped with it. So he left that at as well.

MYM6000 & M4000 Explained

The MYM6000 came in two varieties, a binary ‘mix in-flight’ version, and a “bulk fill” version. The difference being, the binary variant contains two precursors for a chemical agent that are separated into chambers via a partition within the munition. Upon launch, the force of acceleration breaks down the partition and the precursors are mixed in flight with help from a “mixing arm” so as to be ready to deliver the agent upon impact.

Unitary munitions, or “bulk filled”, contain the agent itself, thus no mixing is required. Therefore the make-up of both the binary and unitary munitions is very different.

The M4000 is not designed to carry sarin, it’s a unitary bomb to be filled with the chemical agent and is not suitable for mixing binary precursors. And we know that Syria’s sarin was binary as per the various OPCW reports. Also, Gregory Koblentz of George Mason University, who has links to the OPCW, said of the bulk filled MYM6000 and M4000:

Since Syrian sarin and VX/VM were binary, the bulk fill versions were probably meant for sulfur mustard.

Here is the image from the Russian press conference showing the munitions in question. I had added some drawings to to help explain the points I am raising:

Here is a video of Gregory speaking at the UN.

Yet whilst knowing this, Gregory permitted Higgins to perpetuate a lie and even enabled him to do so. Gregory was aware of Higgins’ M4000 fraudulent claim, as many times he tagged Bellingcat and Eliot when referencing the munitions. Here is an example:

And another:

Note the date of this tweet, November 15, 2017. The date of Eliot’s report claiming the M4000 was used was at Khan Sheikhoun was November 13, 2017.

Between that date and today, we can assume that Koblentz has either advised Eliot of his mistake and was ignored or just didn’t advise him at all. Either of those scenarios is concerning.

Is there any other evidence the M4000 was used for sulfur mustard and NOT sarin in Syria? There is.

From my last report on the M4000, you will recall that in order to establish it existed outside of a technical drawing I made contact with the senior diplomatic editor of Foreign Policy Magazine (FP) at the UN, Colum Lynch. Who had reviewed:

..a highly confidential, 75-page report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) 

In his report on the leaked document he notes:

Damascus also conducted tests with at least two M400 bombs filled with sulfur mustard. But regime officials insisted they never filled tactical munitions, including artillery shells, with mustard gas for use on the battlefield.

Colum has confirmed to me M400 is a typo. He was referring to the M4000.

The date of Colum’s report? August 31, 2016. Seven months before either attack of Lataminah or Khan Sheikhoun had occurred, the M4000 was linked to sulphur mustard.

The OPCW leak that Colum had reviewed was from the Declarations Assessment Team (DAT). They are the team that is responsible for obtaining declarations of chemical programs from respective countries and monitoring that said countries are following strict protocols and abiding by the disarmament process.

Colum then goes on to give me a little deeper insight into the M4000 and its sulphur mustard use. He informs me, citing a May 2016 leak, the Syrians declared to the DAT they had,

a small amount [left over after the rest was destroyed] – 125 litres – of sulphur mustard at a pilot plant in Al Dhamir 1. It was loaded into an M4000 to study the stability of the agent and its effect on the metal body of the munition. It was decided to destroy the sulphur mustard loaded into the M4000 by exploding it at the Bir Matroud testing range.

[…] = my own paraphrasing

Scott Ritter also made the same claim as Koblentz in a tweet:

Yet all this while Higgins has been allowed to peddle a mistruth unabated and even enabled. Remember that Eliot had “established…an M4000…was used in…Lataminah..and..Khan Sheikhoun”.

Recap

I have shown how Eliot has fraudulently been passing off a narrative that an M4000 Syrian chemical bomb was dropped on Khan Sheikhoun and Al-Lataminah releasing sarin at both sites. I have shown that in the absence of evidence at Khan Sheikhoun he consistently deflects to Lataminah in the hope he could conflate the two.

I have shown how he employed the services of Forensic Architecture to model the alleged munition fragments found in Lataminah and did so by conspicuously not requesting the team to model the filler cap with lug, fuse and metal rail. I have provided a measurement, to scale, of the M4000 filler cap by Michael Kobs who has determined the cap, that Higgins proposes “links” the two incidents, cannot be the ≈105mm Higgins needs it to be but measures only 70mm in diameter.

I supplied evidence from experts that the M4000 is not used for binary agents as it has no mixing ability. It is used for bulk agents only and as Syria’s sarin is binary the M4000 is not suitable for its delivery.

I provided confirmation the DAT was aware of the M4000 as a unitary bomb for use with sulfur mustard. I also pointed to the OPCW linked Gregory Koblentz claiming the M4000 was “meant for sulfur mustard”. Gregory has an inside track to the DAT and to the declarations made by Syria on its chemical program.

Note the carefully worded statement;

These designations match bombs declared by Syria to the OPCW..

How would Gregory have known what the “designations” of bombs were that Syria declared unless he had been informed by the DAT? I also have been reliably informed that Gregory has the links with the OPCW that I claim he has.

Premixed Sarin?

Could the sarin precursors have been mixed before being put into the M4000? That was the claim that was made in regards to the 2013 August Ghouta attacks; that the sarin was mixed before being filled into the munitions used.

According to OPCW-JIM, in the same report in which they accuse Syria of dropping chemical bombs on Khan Sheikhoun, they state clearly;

45. The Mechanism commissioned an in-depth laboratory study of the origin of the precursor chemical methylphosphonyl difluoride (DF) used to produce the binary sarin released in Khan Shaykhun

Emphasis mine.

I have been advised that you cannot mix sarin and load it into a chemical bomb of the M4000’s design, “on the fly”, without major risks and requiring specialist equipment that the OPCW confirmed Syria destroyed. (More on this in part 2)

Conclusion

The fact that Eliot Higgins has gotten away with this fraud for so long is more the fault of the stenographers employed as journalists within the corporate press. Had any of them done their due diligence this ignorant fabrication would not have been allowed to carry on, unchecked, for well over 20 months. I say “ignorant fabrication” because I’m sure that Eliot believes he’s right. I believe he’s convinced of it! So much so that he claimed he had “established” the M4000 was used at Khan Sheikhoun and Al-Lataminah. Further evidence that he had convinced himself he was right lies in this tweet:

He wanted pictures of the M4000 because he believed they held the key to unlocking his hidden genius. All that time wasted. When all he had to do was open his eyes.

The M4000 is a unitary, bulk filled munition. It cannot mix binary precursors and is known to the OPCW-DAT as a sulphur mustard bomb that would have had to have been destroyed as part of Syria signing up to the CWC. The DAT has never registered any concern these munitions are still in use or that they are, or were used with sarin. I have been advised that after 2013 there was no further concern noted by the DAT surrounding the continued use or storage of the M4000 by Syria [*for use as a chemical weapon] *added after further clarification sought.

Besides that, there is no evidence at Khan Sheikhoun of anything resembling an M4000 having been used there. The filler cap doesn’t match the other remnants in the crater. As noted previously, I debunked Higgins’ claim on this in my previous report.

The other site he “established” the M4000 was used at was Lataminah, as discussed at depth in this report. There is no evidence the M4000 was used in this town. The remnants allegedly discovered there more resemble that of a Russian made ODAB-500PM bomb that is commonly used in Syria.

It uses the same fuze found at Lataminah, has similar lifting lugs, filler cap, and tail fin. I am not determining this was the munition used but I am offering a viable alternative that better fits the alleged evidence. This is not a chemical bomb.

The schematic presented by Higgins depicting the fragments matching parts of the M4000 is nothing more than the attempt of a hobbyist mixed with heavy doses of wishful thinking.

Upon commissioning Forensic Architecture to model the remnants he left out the pieces he knew wouldn’t fit the design and allowed FI to make the other pieces fit the scaled drawing however they could. Surely at this stage, he should have begun to question whether he had gotten this right? He even took these ludicrous claims to a debate with Ted Postol and Ted, so intent on proving himself right thus finding himself on defense, missed the elephant in the room – that Higgins’ arguments were fundamentally wrong to the point of being fraudulent.

In the second part of this report, I take a closer look at the role played in this saga by Forensic Architecture. I also look at claims made by the OPCW-JIM in light of the findings of this report.

10 thoughts on “M4000: The Sarin Deception – Part 1

  1. https://twitter.com/EliotHiggins/status/917061633394008064

    Higgins couldn’t identify the fuse “used on a large number of aerial bomb types by numerous nations”.

    The parts from Latamneh were all pre-selected by the FFM (not Higgins) as being consistent with a chemical bomb from a selection filtered and presented by the White Helmets.

    Bellingcat ‘discovered’ nothing at all – it is no revelation that the parts in the FFM report are consistent with a chemical bomb schematic.

    1. The AVU variation of fuses are Russian made and come in a few different models depending on whether they are mechanically or electrically triggered. The fact the JIM preferenced the filler cap as “unique” whilst ignoring the rest of the remnants would suggest they accepted the other components are *not* unique to a Syrian chemical bomb.

      1. Yes all seems to be based on the ‘cap and hexamine assessment’, the JIM even state in Annex II #47 (https://undocs.org/S/2017/904) the SAR provided a report saying the three pieces are from an “unknown source” – having first provided a schematic showing the supposedly ‘unique’ cap.

        For Latamneh March 30, the FFM have caused much confusion by putting 2 craters on their map, see S/1548/2017 5.28 – impact point 3 (sarin) is the one by the ‘burnt’ vegetation and what can only be 07SDS is shown inside that crater, making the FFM debris map completely unreliable

        https://youtu.be/pq_Ne3CnkKA?t=65
        https://youtu.be/TwUat45Vg4o?t=221

        The White Helmets are shown going to sample the second crater to the south in videos

        https://youtu.be/TwUat45Vg4o?t=186

        Mohammed Kayyal explains to SNHR they sampled “two sites” at Latamneh (the two craters)

        http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/The_First_Anniversary_of_Khan_Sheikhoun_Chemical_Attack_en.pdf

        1. Hi, thanks for the info. You will find item number: 07SDS is, in fact, the location the FFM says the filler cap was recovered. I deal with this in the report.

  2. The FFM pin for 07SDS is about 35m from where it is seen on the video from the 30th, also means enough force to rip the ‘filler cap’ from the main body but not enough to propel it beyond the crater.. twice in a row at Khan Sheikhoun.

    Notice the pin called “Debris collection area” is over the impact point 3 crater (location identified by Bellingcat): I believe the FFM originally mapped both craters from the White Helmets’ soil collecting hazmat video but then left out the sample results for the south crater (as no sarin). The FFM then didn’t request any metal parts (4.10 in report) from that part of the field, only those ‘found’ by impact point 3. The FFM lazily updated the map leaving both craters on with “gravel from crater” actually meaning “gravel from impact point 3”. And, as you point out, the news agencies only closely film that one crater at impact point 3 which, if I am right about the explanation for the crater discrepancy, just happens to be the sarin positive one.

    1. I disagree. They would have labelled “debris collection area” as “impact location” in that case. Gravel was allegedly collected from the crater and 50m away. It fits with the evidence in the video.

      https://i.imgur.com/TCxNpEO.png

      “The FFM pin for 07SDS is about 35m from where it is seen on the video from the 30th, also means enough force to rip the ‘filler cap’ from the main body but not enough to propel it beyond the crater”

      The filler cap was filmed at the “impact location” but was recorded by the White Helmets as being recovered at the location of the pin.

      “The FFM then didn’t request any metal parts (4.10 in report) from that part of the field, only those ‘found’ by impact point 3”

      It doesn’t say in 4.10 that “the FFM didn’t request any metal parts from that part of the field”. It says:

      “Soil samples relating to the allegation of 30 March 2017 were received by the FFM team on 12 April 2017. Based on the witness testimony and evidence supplied during interviews, the FFM identified potentially relevant munition parts and arranged for their collection. As a result, further environmental samples, including remnants of alleged munition parts, were received by the FFM team on 17 July and 17 August 2017. Samples were not analysed immediately, due to the priority placed on analysing samples relating to Khan Shaykhun.”

      So I am unsure where you are getting that from.

      1. Will have to disagree then, I think the FFM just messed up the labels rather than an attempt to mislead. There is a consensus about the crater location, Bellingcat, SNHR etc. and it is at least comparable with Khan Sheikhoun. Even down to where the cap ‘landed’… until someone moved it.
        https://imgur.com/kCMdDnW

        How do you know the location in your image is 31SLS?

        For 4.10, this part:
        “Based on the witness testimony and evidence supplied during interviews, the FFM identified potentially relevant munition parts and arranged for their collection.”

        My point is this the White Helmets didn’t simply collect and hand over every (or any!) metal piece in those fields when delivering the initial soil samples in April. The FFM identified and requested them based on those first interviews and video, so it would be a mistake to assume the FFM list is exhaustive or that there were simply no parts at all by the southern crater:

        6.5 “Whilst the munition parts were retrieved sometime after the allegation, from interviews and through analysis of video evidence, the FFM ascertained that munition parts collected later were the same parts present at the site when the original environmental samples were collected.”

        The FFM apparently have video of the original location of the parts on the 30th but instead include only some locations of parts later when finally collected – useless for anyone trying to determine where anything is meant to have landed.

        1. “I think the FFM just messed up the labels”

          That’s a big assumption. I stick to the facts. If the FFM were incompetent enough to ‘mess up the labels’ then the whole investigation is a total sham and nothing they say or do should be taken with any degree of seriousness on the matter.

          “so it would be a mistake to assume the FFM list is exhaustive or that there were simply no parts at all by the southern crater:”

          Speculative.

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