Since its founding, Rootclaim has tried to bring clarity to areas of uncertainty surrounding world events. Today we are one step closer to that goal, with new discoveries that effectively resolve the major controversy of who was behind the 2013 chemical attack near Damascus.
Responsibility for the 2013 chemical attack has been a hotly contested, politically divisive issue, with a wide consensus in the West that the Syrian government was to blame, while Syria and its allies claimed that it was a “false flag” opposition attack, intended to bring about US intervention.
Rootclaim’s 2017 analysis went against this Western consensus, calculating an 87% likelihood that the Syrian opposition carried out the attack. Following the discoveries discussed below, this has now been updated to 96%, one of our most certain conclusions. Read our updated probabilistic analysis here, including a summary of the main claims of each side.
The new findings are a result of what we believe to be the most impressive independent open-source investigation in history. It was initiated nearly a year ago by several volunteers who reviewed all the evidence from the attack and managed to uncover incontrovertible evidence implicating an opposition faction, confirming Rootclaim’s conclusion. The full report is available here, and following is a summary of its findings.
The investigation began by examining the many videos of rocket impact sites that were uploaded following the attack. Each video was examined for clues pointing to its exact location and the trajectory of the incoming rocket.
For example, in this video, the chemical rocket penetrated a wall on a roof and continued to the floor below. Several landmarks in the background can be matched to satellite photos, identifying the exact location (33.519130°, 36.354841°).
Stitching together a few shots from the video shows that the rocket first hit the far wall and then the floor below. Connecting the two impacts provides an estimated trajectory for the rocket, with a launch location to the northwest.
This location is especially interesting as it singlehandedly invalidates the current hypothesis for government involvement in the attack.
Originally, the common claim was that the attack originated in a Syrian army base. But when the rockets were discovered to have a short range of around 2 km, this claim had to be retracted, as no bases were within that range.
This prompted Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat, an investigative journalism website that specializes in open-source intelligence, to look for new possible launch locations. In Higgins’ diagram below, the green area is under government control, and the red circles are 2 km from the impact sites (2.1-2.3 km is considered the maximum range). Consequently, he suggested that the Syrian army launched the chemical rockets from the area south of the Air Force Intelligence Branch (yellow rectangle).
However, this entire area lies east of the blue line we added to the diagram, which shows it could not have been the source, as a rocket shot from there would have penetrated the northern wall of the building rather than the western wall, as seen in the video.
This next video was also reexamined. Its location was identified in 2013 (33.520415°, 36.356117°), and the rocket’s trajectory is clearly evident, since it lodged in the ground without bending, pointing to its source.
In two shots from the video the camera is almost directly behind the rocket, and it is seen to align with a tree and buildings in the background.
Connecting these features in satellite imagery provides the trajectory’s azimuth (towards the yellow building).
Interestingly, the UN misreported this angle by 30(!) degrees (towards the purple building below).
The UN also misreported another trajectory, both of which conveniently intersected at a Syrian army base (which we now know is 5 times beyond the rockets’ range). Subsequently, the New York Times printed these mistaken findings on their front page as “forensic” evidence for Syrian army culpability.
Side note: Misuse of power
A similar failure occurred in the OPCW investigation of the 2018 Douma chemical attack, where OPCW personnel who pointed out evidence that the attack was staged were silenced.
This hijacking of international bodies by political and financial interests is becoming a major world threat, hurting the lives of millions. Additional examples exposed in other Rootclaim analyses include the failure of health organizations to realize the efficacy of vitamin D (and other unpatented treatments) in treating Covid-19, and when the scientific community and the WHO suppressed evidence supporting the hypothesis that Covid-19 resulted from a lab leak (see our analysis).
The open-source investigation repeated the process above for seven impact sites, producing this map of all trajectories (triangles represent uncertainty of a trajectory).
The agreement between the trajectories is remarkable, with all of them converging on a small area that also happens to be at the expected ~2 km range from the impact sites.
It is widely recognized that this location was under opposition control at the time (the significance of this spot was not known until now, so both political sides had no problem agreeing who controls it…).
Right in the middle of the identified area is this small field with enough space from which to launch rockets, whose importance will soon become evident.
Video of the chemical attack
A month after the attack, when the US threat to attack Syria had already been removed, a video surfaced, which was claimed to have been found on the bodies of “Syrian terrorists”. The video shows Islamist fighters in gas masks launching the exact same rockets, identifying themselves as Liwa al-Islam (the dominant opposition faction in the area), and announcing the date as August 21st 2013 (the day of the attack).
The existence of video evidence of opposition fighters carrying out the chemical attack is a remarkable story all by itself. What would normally be considered the highest level of evidence, was here dismissed out-of-hand as fake and wasn’t even mentioned in mainstream media, while overconfident unfounded accusations by the US government and false evidence reported by the UN made headlines.
The Rootclaim method prevents this bias by requiring a thorough investigation of all evidence, without filtering. We carefully examined those videos years ago, and also researched video fabrications in general. We found staged videos to be very rare, and that this video has multiple features that are highly uncharacteristic of a fabrication. This finding was a major factor in our initial conclusion.
Thanks to this new investigation, we now have a much deeper understanding of these videos.
The videos are fairly dark with little detail, but a frame-by-frame examination managed to uncover many features of the launch spot, and they perfectly match that same field where all the rocket trajectories intersect.
For example, in several frames the rocket illuminates the area, exposing details such as trees in the background, a field with low vegetation, and a paved platform where the cameraman stands.
In another shot we see a ditch or edge, while other shots show a few scattered trees and brush.
Other such shots in the video provided further features, which were all modeled in 3D, creating a unified view of the area:
This is a perfect match to our field:
We have a video showing opposition fighters with gas masks launching the rockets used in the chemical attack on the night of the attack. This video strongly matches the characteristics of a small field that lies right at the intersection of seven trajectories calculated from the impact sites, within rocket range of all of them.
Continuing to support the government attack hypothesis in light of this new evidence would require constructing a very unusual scenario. Nevertheless, given the political interests surrounding this issue, we will likely witness such attempts soon.
This breakthrough demonstrates the superiority of Rootclaim’s method, which was able to reach this conclusion years ago, without using the new findings, and with much less information and resources than the Western intelligence agencies who confidently claimed the opposite. That is the strength of probabilistic inference: its ability to extract better insights from less evidence.
Of course, many others also took this position, and have now been proven right, but their position was often politically influenced, causing them to reach the wrong conclusion in cases where the West’s claims happened to be true, such as the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine (we at Rootclaim concluded that it was downed by the pro-Russian DNR, agreeing with the prevailing narrative in the West).
It is very rare to be consistently correct on contentious issues, when each time the truth supports a different political side. We believe Rootclaim is unique in its consistent success in that aspect.
To summarize the key takeaways from these new discoveries:
- Having superior inference methods is far more important than gathering more evidence.
- Sometimes, a “smoking gun” is already available, and there is no need to collect more evidence (the information here was all available in 2013). This is especially true for videos and photos, which are so rich in information that there is nearly always another discovery to be made.
- The current crisis regarding the public’s trust in authorities and experts is not just about ‘fake news’. Experts are repeatedly failing to serve public interests, due to failures of human reasoning and heavy politicization.
- Our society needs to quickly improve its inference methods and especially how our intelligence agencies, courts, international bodies, NGOs, and media operate. The current state of affairs is dramatically increasing the probability of a global catastrophe.
Rootclaim will continue to contribute its part in furthering these goals, by continuing to improve our methodology and by disseminating our analyses to a wider audience.
Promoting Rootclaim is quite a difficult task, when practically every person finds at least one of our findings deeply offensive. But we’re in it for the long run, and will continue to work to consistently provide highly accurate, unbiased analysis of major world events.
Many thanks to the researchers who uncovered these new findings: Michael Kobs, Chris Kabusk, Adam Larson, and many others.