Anglo Irish Bank Tapes – The Transcripts

This past summer, a series of recorded phone conversations between senior executives at Anglo Irish bank were leaked.  These tapes date back to the peak of the financial crisis in September 2008.  The release of these tapes in ongoing and has, thus far, exposed the outright criminality of the bankers involved.  The tapes show the level of fraud and manipulation that was used to swindling the Irish taxpayers into what amounted to an open ended bailout which ultimately ended in the bankruptcy of Ireland.

My next post will present a timeline of these events and analyze the content of the leaked tapes.

This post provides the transcript of several of the more interesting leaked conversations, several of which exist only in audio form – until now.


  • John Bowe: Acting Director of Treasury and Director of Capital Markets
  • Peter Fitzgerald: Director of Retail Banking
  • David Drumm: CEO

September 18th, 2008

John Bowe: Hello

Receptionist: John I have Peter Fitz for you.

John Bowe: Oh yeah, okay.  (Call patched in) As me granny used to say: ‘You must be therapeutic’.

Peter Fitzgerald: Eh what does that mean? Can I work the computer is it?

John Bowe: Therapeutic, therapeutic. I was just ringing you.

Peter Fitzgerald: I’m ambidextrous as well. It means I can walk on land and water.

John Bowe: You can drink, you can drink beer out of both hands.

Peter Fitzgerald: Look c’mere, what’s going on?

John Bowe: Ah Jesus…

Peter Fitzgerald: Tell me the…

John Bowe: Fun and games. yeah. We went down to the, we went down to the regulator. Did I tell you that we went down to the regulator yesterday?

Peter Fitzgerald: Yesterday? Yesterday, yeah, yesterday was fine. Yeah, I got yesterday, yeah.

John Bowe: And we basically…did I tell you we went down in the evening?

Peter Fitzgerald: No, no you didn’t.

John Bowe: Went into IFSRA and basically kind of gave it to them between the eyes and there were sort of pointing in different directions. Not us, not us but Jeez, you would want to get on that, that sounds…hmm…hmm. So we went down… and we basically said…

Peter Fitzgerald: In Central?

John Bowe: In Central yeah. And I mean to cut a long story short we sort of said look, what we need is €7 billion and we’re going to give you, what we’re going to give you is our loan collateral so we’re not giving you ECB, we’re actually giving you the loan clause. We gave him a term sheet and we put a pro note facility together and we said that’s what we need. And that kind of sobered up everybody pretty quickly, you know.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah.

John Bowe: And why do you need that and what’s happening…and Jesus oh…oh…you have certainly focused our minds. So I think.

Peter Fitzgerald: And is that €7bn a term?

John Bowe: This is €7bn bridging.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah.

John Bowe: So… so it is bridged until we can pay you back…which is never.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah, and that’s in the pro note, that’s in the terms and conditions?

John Bowe: (Laughing) That’s right. So under the terms that say repayment, we say: no.

Peter Fitzgerald: None…just none. Not applicable. Okay and what did he say? “I need a change of underwear?”

John Bowe: (Laughing) There was a bit of that, there was a bit of that [discussing meeting with regulator]. Jesus that’s a lot of dosh. Jesus fucking hell and God. Well, do you know the Central Bank only has €14 billion of total investments so that would be going up to 20. Gee, that would be seen. And how would we do that? Gee, we would need to give you. We need to. Jesus, you’re kind of asking us to play ducks and drakes with the regulations,” and we said yeah. We said, look what we are telling you is that if we get into difficulties we have 100,000 plus lump sum depositors in Ireland, all of whom would be very vocal. And I said, “take it that the other Irish banks will not be able to raise any wholesale funding for, for how long you want. So I said, “Bank of Ireland, their balance sheet is €200 billion and 45 per cent of that is wholesale, so let’s call that €90bn. And let’s say that 60 per cent of that is rolling in the next 12 months, so that’s €54 billion – take it that that won’t roll…okay. And I said you can also do a similar sum for Allied [Allied Irish Bank] and Irish Permanent. So I said that’s what is at stake because these guys, even though they’re big in our world, are minnows in the outside world.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah.

John Bowe: So I said that’s what you’re protecting. And I said you have got to. So anyway, that sort of got everybody’s attention and then we had Pat Neary. Pat Neary coming in and saying (mimicking), “C’mere lads, I just want to have a word with ya…yeah Jesus…so look c’mere, have you actually got assets, decent assets, that you can put in play? Is there stuff in there, like, that has value, you know?’

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah.

John Bowe: “And look lads you know, if you’re going for this now make sure whatever you get sorts it out. Okay? You know?”

Peter Fitzgerald: What do you mean whatever you get sorts it out?

John Bowe: In other words, whatever you get from the Regulator sorts out the issue.

Peter Fitzgerald: Oh yeah, yeah…just makes it fuckin’ happen

John Bowe: Don’t…

Peter Fitzgerald: Don’t fuck it up.

John Bowe: Don’t be coming back.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah…don’t fuck it up…yeah, yeah, yeah.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah okay. Is anyone else having these meetings with them?

John Bowe: What do you mean?

Peter Fitzgerald: Well I mean, have they had the same conversations with Permo (Irish Permanent) or have they told Permo that they’re fucked like?

John Bowe: No, I wouldn’t say so…

Peter Fitzgerald: Okay and what about the Irish Nationwide?

John Bowe: I think they’ve had discussions with them going back weeks, you know.

Peter Fitzgerald: They took their hands off the steering wheel over there and said we’re doing this now.

John Bowe: Yeah.

Peter Fitzgerald: Okay, okay…will it happen?

John Bowe: Well it has to happen. It has to happen, because if it doesn’t happen we’re going to hit a wall in the next week.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah.

John Bowe: So you tell me what’s going to happen.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, and what em…

John Bowe: We’re already in breach, you know.

Peter Fitzgerald: I know yeah, but how does this play out? What’s the playbook like? What does it look like?

John Bowe: Well, I think there’s different playbooks. I thought one playbook is that they, they decide they’re willing to put their hands in their pockets and support the financial sector, or at least support the weakest elements of the financial sector.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah.

John Bowe: I think another, and I think what comes out of that is that ultimately that gets, that will become apparent, you know what I mean? So either in your accounts or whatever, it will become apparent at some level, it will become apparent that somebody somewhere has borrowed a lot of money, you know. And there will be explanations for that or speculation, so I think what it does is it buys us time. And I would say it buys us up to our year-end results, max.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah. And what then?

John Bowe: Well, I think it’s what can we do before that, you know, so can we do a deal before that?

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah. Would it not be easier for them to stuff us into Allied?

John Bowe: Well I think, I think how this works, I think their playbook is stabilise it and then try and sort it out. And I think sort it out means sooner rather than later. So my guess is that within a few weeks they will be asking Allied to get involved or Bank.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, but do they have the capacity to get involved?

John Bowe: I don’t think so.

Peter Fitzgerald: That’s the problem.

John Bowe: I don’t think so. I don’t think they have the financial muscle themselves. They don’t have the standing in the markets themselves to get involved.

Peter Fitzgerald: True. Well they don’t now. Do you know what I mean? They might have had earlier but they don’t now. The perception of, like Bank is all over the UK press today, Bank of Ireland you know.

John Bowe: Over what?

Peter Fitzgerald: Just I mean, their, their, their interim statements, their, their..ah, just about everything. I read three or four articles about them online today in the UK.

John Bowe: Yeah.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, I have been hearing like fuckin’. I got a text to say that Allied and Bank fuckin’ play on.

John Bowe: I know yeah, yeah. I know and I know rumor, I think you were there that Bank and Permo (Irish Permanent) had done a deal, you know what I mean. The market is just rife at the moment, you know. I think the reality is that there is certainly a lot more happening than nothing at all. You know what I mean?

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, oh yeah, yeah.

John Bowe: You know what I mean. You can take it that in every bank there is boardroom discussions on where to next, you know.

Peter Fitzgerald: …wants to see us all at a quarter to one.

John Bowe: Right okay.

Peter Fitzgerald: Do you know what that is?

John Bowe: Okay. Are you going to it?

Peter Fitzgerald: No, no, I wasn’t invited. I am working here on tactical retail stuff, what we can do today, tomorrow etc.

John Bowe: Is that going on at the moment?

Peter Fitzgerald: It is yeah.

John Bowe: Okay. Jesus I hope he doesn’t decide he has to unburden himself.

Peter Fitzgerald: I know, I know. Em…there’s a lot at stake here isn’t there?

John Bowe: Yeah.

Peter Fitzgerald: How do they make it happen?

John Bowe: How does who make it happen?

Peter Fitzgerald: How do they make it happen you know?

John Bowe: Yeah, yeah. But we’re into a different phase now you know.

Peter Fitzgerald: Ah we are, yeah, and what, who did you arrive at the seven?

John Bowe: Just, as Drummer would say, picked it out of my arse, you know. Em…I mean, look, what we did was we basically said: what is the amount we can securitize over the next six months? And basically say to them: look, our problem is time; it’s not our ability to create the liquidity, the enemy is time here.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah.

John Bowe: So we can rebuild, in other words, we can rebuild the liquidity off our loan book, but what we can’t do is, we can’t do it now and the balance sheet’s leaking now.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah unless the balance sheet stabilises, then you can buy some time.

John Bowe: Yeah and that number is seven. But the reality is that actually we need more than that. But you know the strategy here is you pull them in, you get them to write a big check and they have to keep, they have to support their money, you know.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. They’ve got skin in the game and that’s the key.

John Bowe: They have and they have invested a lot. If they saw, if they saw the enormity of it upfront they might decide, they might decide they have a choice. You know what I mean? They might say the cost to the tax payer is too high. But em…if it doesn’t look too big at the outset…if it looks big, big enough to be important but not too big that it kind of spoils everything.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah.

John Bowe: Then, then I think you have a chance. So I think it can creep up.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’ll give you a bit of drip.

John Bowe: Yeah.

Peter Fitzgerald: What do you think will happen?

John Bowe: What do I think will happen? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I mean I don’t think we’re an easy sell to anyone.

Peter Fitzgerald: No.

John Bowe: And the home interest should be, should be there, except that they don’t have the financial standings themselves. So do I think it’s going to be possible to offload it? No I don’t. What will it end up being? It could be breaking it up and selling individual books; it could be nationalization, you know.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah.

John Bowe: That would be fantastic.  If it was nationalization we’d all keep our jobs.

Peter Fitzgerald: It would be fantastic, wouldn’t it?

John Bowe: Yeah, civil servants, you know?

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah.  Em, but in effect that’s what it is.

John Bowe: It is.  Yeah, it is.

Peter Fitzgerald: It is.

John Bowe: But once you do that then it’s a very slow process.  You know what I mean?  It’s five years now, it will be five years then.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah.

John Bowe: You know.

Peter Fitzgerald: True, true.

John Bowe: With the other things it would be quicker, because you’re just, what you are is, you’re being prettied up for a sale and when the market comes back you’ll be sold, you’ll be offloaded then.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah.  Are they worried about what’s going on on the street?

John Bowe: Yeah, they are, they are.

Peter Fitzgerald: Did they say anything about it?

John Bowe: Well we said a lot about it and they just listened but they didn’t, we didn’t get ‘oohs and aahs’ out of them, you know?

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  ‘We are monitoring the situation carefully’.

John Bowe: Yeah.

Peter Fitzgerald: Ok, ok, so what now?  As in line today, tomorrow…what and see?

John Bowe: We are just going through a process now.  You know, I mean, what’s happened is that we have gone in and we have asked for the loan and we haven’t shook hands at the end of it but you know, we know they, we know they have an interest in giving it to us and they’re putting the credit pack together.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah.

John Bowe: You know, and then there’s another series of meetings to take place, so Drummer will probably be in, in with the Ministers over the weekend.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah.  That will get out.

John Bowe: I think there’s a possibility it could get out, yeah.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Are they worried about the big boys?

John Bowe: No, I don’t think so.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah ok, ok.  Right, well it’s in the hands of the Gods now, isn’t it?

John Bowe: Yeah it is, yeah.  But don’t worry Peter, you know, I’ll look after things here you know.


Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah, I’ve a kind of headset on me at the moment.  ‘Excuse me, I’ll be with you shortly’.

John Bowe: I know that you’re just going back into your lunch now, you know, so, you know.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, well there’s a Merlot there so…

(Here there is a portion of the conversation that is missing from the tapes)

Peter Fitzgerald: Leadership now, you just need to show them leadership now, right?

John Bowe: Ah, fuck’s sake.  Well, I’m going to say to people: ‘Look, we gotta keep out, keep going here; don’t worry about things…  The bank has liquidity and we are using our liquidity now.  And, you know, the regulators, we are in contact with the regulators at the highest levels, so don’t worry about it, you know.

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.  (Laughs) Don’t bother, take the rest of the day off.

John Bowe: I don’t know.  Are you still?  I think you should say something in London or somebody should say something in London just to the guys, you know?

Peter Fitzgerald: Yeah, well maybe.  But what do you say?  Like, what is the message?

John Bowe: The message is look, keep your heads up, everything is ok, it’s a shitty world out there, every bank is going through horrors at the moment and you know.

Peter Fitzgerald: As Drummer says to me: ‘Don’t worry we’re going to be around for a long time.’

John Bowe: And then the phone went dead.


September 19th, 2008

John Bowe: But anyway I think we should, now, either we do it tomorrow morning or we do it this evening but we should sit down and go through all the, map out how this is going to play out, as well, in terms of tomorrow.

David Drumm: Em, You can do.  I told _ we would meet in here at half ten.  But ah, but em, being honest there’s not a lot to map out.  There are three strands here that are alive at the minute.  Two of them concern the Central Bank and one doesn’t.  The other one is: ‘Can I have the loan please?’

John Bowe: Yeah, that to me, that’s the first order and then I’ll be saying: ‘Ok, thanks very much, can we leave now?’  And I’ll want them to be saying: ‘No, no, come here, we’ve got something else for you to do.’

David Drumm: Yeah.

John Bowe: You know

David Drumm: No, well, we’ve already talking about the loans, what do we need to think about?  We need the fucking loans because we’re running out of money.  We gave you the term sheet.  Can we have the money?

John Bowe: Yeah, ok.

(Laughs exasperated)

David Drumm: Do ya know?  Just keep it simple.

John Bowe: Yeah I know.  I don’t know how simple it’s going to be though.

David Drumm: It’ll be stupid simple ‘cause that’s where I’m going to take it.

John Bowe: Yeah.

David Drumm: I’m going to keep asking the thick question.  ‘When?  When is the cheque arriving?’

John Bowe: Well Jesus, you know, you definitely need the donkey in the room.  You know.

David Drumm: Well, it’s worked so far.  Because if we stay in their language, nothing happens.

John Bowe: Yeah.

David Drumm: Get into the fucking simple speak: ‘We need the moolah, you have it, so you’re going to give it to us and when would that be?’  We’ll start there.

John Bowe: Yeah.

David Drumm: And by the way the game has changed because really the problem now is at their door.

John Bowe: It is yeah, yeah.

David Drumm: Because if they don’t, don’t give it to us on Monday they have a bank collapse, potentially, if the fucking money keeps running out the door the way it has been running out the door.

John Bowe: That’s it.

David Drumm: Really we’ll be sitting there kind of going we’ll be kind of a little looking a bit somber looking, sort of look, d’ya know, ‘What do you want?  How are you getting on with that loan lads?’

John Bowe: Yeah.

David Drumm: Or do you want the fucking keys now.  I can given them to you.  So I’m relaxed about it John.

John Bowe: Ok.

David Drumm: But anyway we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

John Bowe: Half ten in here for a pep talk and then off we go.  We go down in one car and into the car park.  That way we won’t be seen going in.   I’d say, well look, eh, I would say ten.  I would say ten.  We get a cup of coffee around the corner.

David Drumm: 10 o’clock it is.  You the man.

John Bowe: Okay.

David Drumm: Alrighty.

John Bowe: See you, bye, bye, bye.

September 29th, 2008

David Drumm: J.B.

John Bowe: Hiya doing.

David Drumm: How’re ya.

John Bowe: Grand

David Drumm: Another day, another billion.


John Bowe: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I’d like to say if your friend _ was talking, he’d say: ‘A great day.  A great buzz in the dealing room.  Everybody’s tail was up.  Fantastic’.

David Drumm: Oh yeah, did I lose him a billion?


John Bowe: A great day but we lost a bill.  Yeah, the money, I mean, it was another bad day but, but perversely it actually felt like it was a much better day than it turned out to be.

David Drumm: Going to prove that everything is in the head.  We’re on the front foot today.  That’s the difference, the mood is better and view towards us is better, so we just want to keep that momentum.

John Bowe: We do, yeah.  We do.

David Drumm: What, what just in terms of gameplan for tomorrow, are we going to sit down and go through what the, what’s on the table.

John Bowe: Now I sent you the document.  But that just says what we are going to be discussion.  Is it us we’re going to be talking about or is it…?

David Drumm: Well now, well now.  We don’t know.  We’re going down to meet the whole fucking shooting gallery of them.

John Bowe: Yeah.

David Drumm: I do know this.  There’s a big meeting in the Department of Finance tonight, which I am told is a kind of a pow-wow.  I assume they’re going to make up their minds what the fuck they’re doing on the basis that they can’t spend another week, next week, flapping around.  So I’m making the, jumping to the mad conclusion that the meeting of tomorrow is about discussing bringing that to fruition.

John Bowe: Yeah.

David Drumm: But I could be bitterly disappointed.  It could be another bureaucratic go nowhere meeting.  But having said that, I won’t, I won’t put up with that.

John Bowe: Yeah.

David Drumm: I’ll be forcing the agenda.  Really, we’ll be going down there with our arms swinging.  I’m very clear on the proposal and what we can and can’t do.

John Bowe: I think, I think the first order of business is sorting ourselves out.

David Drumm: No, no, that goes without saying.  Do you have the cheque here now for the loan.  That will be the first thing I’ll ask.  Ehm, have we got the collateral ready or do we need to have it ready?

John Bowe: Well, we don’t have it ready in the sense that, eh, we, we’ve never, we’ve never got into a discussion about what is it you will be giving us exactly.  You know what I mean?  What we’ve got is we’ve got collateral that we can put our hands on, and you can describe it so in other words we can identify the loans pretty quickly, we can identify the amounts of loans outstanding, we can put any covered bonds, non-eligible, and anything into it.  We can put two and a half billion of non ECB eligible stuff into it so.

David Drumm: I think it would be very helpful if you had a schedule of available collateral…

John Bowe: Ok, ya.

David Drumm: …including all those bits and bobs, such that if we get into it tomorrow, we’re not embarrassed, kind of, you known trying to explain it.  Just shove the pages, bring a few copies, shove the pages there and say: ‘Look, this is by way of tidying up, this is the collateral that’s available to you and you have your auditors in confirming you are in rude financial health and this is obviously a liquidity issue, so, em, can we have the money on Monday ‘cause we may need it.

John Bowe: Yeah, yeah.

David Drumm: That’s the line.  Well we do need it on Monday.

John Bowe: Well, I think things are, things are, we’re, we’re deteriorating more slowly than our worst case scenario, which only means, it doesn’t mean, it means that instead of the two weeks that we are going to be, or the, the week that we are going to be dead, it’s still a week, but it will be a week tomorrow, as well, or a week the next day, you know what I mean.

David Drumm: Yeah, the retail will recover slightly.  We’ve got momentum on that.

John Bowe: And the corporate will continue to go out but.

David Drumm: But there’s a bottom to that.

John Bowe: Yeah, there is, yeah.  So what will happen is that the amounts will get smaller, which means that your time from death extends out, but, you know, you are still two weeks away, you’re not, it’s not disappearing.  It’s only when we can actually start attracting net funding in that you can start talking about, you know, life.

October 2nd 2008

Receptionist: J.B.

John Bowe: Hiya.

Receptionist: Hi, how are you?

John Bowe: Grand, grand.  Is David there?

Receptionist: Yep, one sec. (Background music)

David Drumm: John.

John Bowe: Hiya.

David Drumm: How’s it going?

John Bowe: Grand.

David Drumm: What’s up today?

John Bowe: En, ah no, making, em, nice progress.

David Drumm: Ah, you’re abusing that guarantee.  Paying too much in Germany I hear now as well.  Fucking ridiculous, John.

John Bowe: (Singing) Deutschland, Deutschland, Ubber Alles.

(Both laughing)

David Drumm: I had _ on this morning.  I just should be recording these calls for the fucking crack – or at least making notes.

John Bowe: He was on to me as well.

David Drumm: (Mimicking) ‘It’s fucking awful what’s going on out there.  I mean the fucking Germans are on to us now, David, you know.’

He’s saying: ‘Look eh, have you seen any, eh, kind of strange money market money coming through on term?’

And I said: “I’m not sure what you mean.’

He says: ‘Ya know, two year money.’ (Laughs)

And I said: ‘Eh..’.

He says: ‘ ya know, ya have to be careful here because there’s people setting us up.’

And I said: ‘Is it a bit of eh, beware of strangers bearing gifts, _.

‘Exactly, exactly.’

Setting us up by giving us money.  I don’t mind being set up that way.

John Bowe: Well, what he’s suggesting is that UK banks are setting us up by pointing money in our direction and then saying: ‘There ya go.  That’s something that was ours that they’ve got.’

David Drumm: So fucking what?  Just take it anyway.

John Bowe: Yeah.

David Drumm: Stick fingers up.  I had a pop at him this morning about Northern Rock.  I said: ‘Look, they went around with the fucking Union Jack wrapped tightly around them like a jumpsuit and grabbed all the deposits and where was out fucking Minister of Finance then?

(Mimicking) ‘I know, I know, I’m getting it from all sides here David.’

(Laughs) So I’m playing a little bit of a game of ‘oh Jesus_, look we don’t want you to be under pressure, we’re going to do the best we can.  We won’t do anything blantant, but _, we have to get the money in’.

Well we’ll have to fucking tiddly-winkle for it.

John Bowe: So I’m just saying to the guys ‘look, just be smart, don’t be stupid, get it in, don’t be overtly pumping it so that somebody can quote you but we want to get the liquidity ratios up.

David Drumm: Correct.

John Bowe: You know?

David Drumm: Correct and right.  So ok so just keep nursing along.

John Bowe: We will.  Now I have… Sorry go on.

David Drumm: Jack the rates up.  That’s what I really meant, get the fucking money in.  Get it in.

John Bowe: That’s right, just do it.

David Drumm: How do you think the cashflow’s going today?

John Bowe: I haven’t heard.  I’ve been in meetings all morning you know but, em, I’ve got our treasury policy done, customer deposits, how much within the deposit protection limit, eh how we’re going to regard institutional stuff, how mu… what the composition of the retail is going to look like, eh… short-term funding, how much term, all that sort of stuff okay?  What are we going to put our money into in terms of liquid assets.

David Drumm: Yeah

John Bowe: Do you want to see a copy of that?

David Drumm: I do, will you send it to me?

John Bowe: Yeah.

David Drumm: And then when I’ve absorbed it I’m going to meet, just sit with you and just talk about it a bit.

John Bowe: Okay.

David Drumm: Because we’ve go this board meeting coming at us fast and I’m not going to be ready at all but we just need to get the conversation going with them.  It’s more political I think than anything else.

John Bowe: Okay, I’ll send it up to you now.  Now the numbers we’re going to have a kind of senior management meeting today and I was going to throw this out and say now… just sort of set the tone you know what I mean?

David Drumm: Yeah, exactly.

John Bowe: Now so there might be some discussions around the percentages…

David Drumm: That’s fine.

John Bowe: …but you can see the intent anyway.

David Drumm: That’s fine.  I actually just want to get the thrust of it.

John Bowe: Okay.

David Drumm: Excellent.

John Bowe: Okay.

David Drumm: Cheers, see you, bye.

John Bowe: Bye.

The Destabilization of Syria – Who Gains?

I’ve spent the last several posts analyzing the Ghouta chemical weapon attacks in Syria including:

Today I want to take a big step back and look more generally at the geopolitical motivations affecting Syria.

Of course, understanding all the players and motives operating in Syria is a very tall order.  I don’t presume to say what follows is a complete analysis but simply a summary of the major movers and shakers I bumped into over the last several months as I tried to answer the question: Why?  Why has Syria, like Libya before it, been targeted for destabilization?

A Tale of Three Pipelines

Before we run down the list of players and their motivations we need to talk a little bit about pipelines.  Natural gas pipelines to be exact.  Because, of course, what Middle East conflict would be complete without energy resources being a major factor.

The first pipeline to discuss in the so-called Islamic pipeline.  Back in July of 2011 (not coincidentally around the time the fighting broke out in Syria) Iran, Iraq and Syria signed an agreement to construct the Islamic pipeline.  This proposed pipeline would run from Iran’s massive South Pars and Assalouyeh gas fields, through Iraq, and into Syria to the Mediterranean.  From there the gas would be shipped to Europe via Syria’s ports.  Plans to extend the pipeline under the Mediterranean sea to connect directly to European markets are also being floated.

This Islamic pipeline would complete directly with the Western backed Nabucco pipeline which will connect Azerbaijan gas with Europe through Turkey.  Planning for the Nabucco pipeline began back in 2002 with Turkey, the U.S. and EU all heavily invested in the project’s success.

The third pipeline playing into this is the Qatar-Turkey pipeline which Qatar proposed to run from its side of the South Pars gas field (which it shares with Iran) through Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Syria and into Turkey and Europe.  Qatar proposed this pipeline back in 2009 but Syria rejected the plan in favour of the Iran/Iraq/Syrian Islamic pipeline.

Here’s a rough representation of the three pipelines.  Note that I’m simply showing the general routes through the countries involved and not the specific route the pipeline will take through those countries.  But, this is sufficient to give us the strategic perspective on the pipelines.


Next let’s look at some of the religious tensions that are always boiling under the surface in any Middle Eastern conflict.

The Sunni-Shia Tension

Next to competition for scarce resources, religion is a leading cause of conflict.  This is especially true in the Middle East where two branches of Islam compete: Shia and Sunni.  I won’t go into the differences between the two sects; suffice to say that, to many muslims in the region, the differences are important enough that they’ll kill each other over them.

What’s important here is to look at a map and understand the natural alliances and adversaries that form along these religious lines.  This is not a hard and fast rule but still useful in the general sense.


While Shiite’s only comprise 15-20% of the population in Syria, Syria has been traditionally Shia friendly.  Indeed President Assad’s family is in fact Shiite (well, Alawite more precisely but this is a sub-sect of Shia) though his wife is a Sunni.

With these religious divisions in mind. the Islamic pipeline and Syria’s generally close alliance with Iran starts to make more sense.  Likewise, the reason Syria would be inclined to partner with Iran on a pipeline while turning down the Qatar-Turkey pipeline starts to come into focus.

With that general background covered, let’s look at each of the various players meddling in the Syrian civil war.  In many cases we’ll see that they are at least partially motivated by pipeline politics and religion.


Israel quite obviously has an interest in anything that happens in the MIddle East.  In the case of Syria, lying on its north-eastern border this is certainly the case.

Recall that Israel currently occupies the majority of the Golan Heights, territory it annexed in the 1967 six day war.  Since that time Israel has been steadily building settlements on the disputed land despite condemnation of this action by the international community including the U.N. (see U.N. Security Council Resolution 497).  Obviously Syria has and will continue to oppose and protest this situation.  But if Syria were to cease to be a viable sovereign nation, these hassles would simply disappear for the Israelis.  Thus, the destabilization of Syria could allow Israel to finalize a land grab begun decades ago.

And there’s a further factor with respect to the Golan Heights.  The Israeli government recently awarded U.S. based Genie Energy (to which Dick Cheney is an advisor) the rights to explore the Golan Heights for oil and natural gas.  Genie Energy believes that the region may hold substantial reserves.

Obviously were substantial oil or gas reserves be verified in the Golan Heights, there would be massive pressure brought to bear on Israel not to exploit these resources given the territory is still legally a part of Syria.  But, if Syria no longer existed as a state having dissolved into chaos or fractured into several states along ethnic and religious lines, the way would be open for Israel to exploit any resources found.

Of course, Israel is already relatively flush with natural gas and nurturing ambitions of becoming a player in the natural gas arena.  They’ve recently discovered two large gas fields under the Mediterranean (Tamar and Leviathan).  This new-found status as a natural gas superpower could well be factoring into Israeli calculations on Syria.  Destabilizing Syria would kill the Islamic pipeline and ensure that Iran’s gas could not compete with Israel for supply to the European market.  It would also limit the possibilities for Qatar to get their gas to market.

Taking Syria out also further isolates Israel’s main adversary in the region: Iran.  Iran and Syria have long been strategic allies and many analysts see eliminating Syria as simply the first step of a larger plan to take down Iran.

And finally, it’s clearly in Israeli interests to have the various muslim sects in neighbouring countries fighting amongst themselves and not unified and fighting against Israel.  This ‘balkanization’ of Syria is a well known and documented plan by Zionist elements in Israel.  Many of these Zionist thinkers do hold senior positions of power within the Netanyahu government, the Likud party and Israeli military and intelligence services.  The topic of Zionism and its goals is outside the scope of this post but something I will likely be researching and writing about in more detail in the future.  But the basic premise applicable here is simply divide and conquer.


Qatar is a small but extremely wealthy nation just off Saudi Arabia’s east coast.  Qatar’s wealth comes from large oil and natural gas deposits.  They have recently started to put this wealth to use trying to gain influence in the region.  This has include large donations both to Gaza (to the fury of the Israelis) and to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood earlier this year prior to the coup.

And, in the case of Syria, they have been far more sinister with using their wealth to influence the geopolitical realities in the region.  There is clear documented evidence of at least $3 billion dollars being spent by Qatar to fund and arm the Syrian rebels.  This support can be tracked right back to the very start of the civil war.  Moreover Qatar makes no scruples about funding the most extremist Al Qaeda linked groups involved in the fighting.  From Qatar’s perspective anyone willing to take down Assad is an ally.

So the question is why?  Why has Qatar been so determined to topple Assad right from the start?

One answer is the Islamic pipeline I discussed above.  Recall that back in 2009 Qatar proposed the Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would give Qatar access to European markets.  Syria was to be the key middle section of this pipeline.  But in 2011 Syria rejected Qatar’s offer and instead accepted Iran’s competing offer to construct the Islamic pipeline.

It’s not a coincidence that within weeks of Syria announcing its acceptance of the Islamic pipeline, Qatar started openly funding the rebels.  The Islamic pipeline coupled with the religious tensions that already existed between Sunni Qatar and Shia-friendly Syria seemed to convince Qatar that Assad had to go.  And, with massive wealth at their disposal, the Qataris have been one of the main funders for the rebels ever since.

Another factor that’s important to document when talking about Qatar is that they have gone to great lengths, and expense, to ingratiate themselves to Western interests.  Qatar hosts the U.S. military’s Central Command’s Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Center as well as two U.S. Air Force bases and one U.S. Army base.  Since 2003 the U.S. has spent over $400 million dollars building up these various installations in Qatar.

Qatar has also been keen to throw its wealth around to gain further political influence amongst Western nations.  With an outsized sovereign wealth fund, Qatar has been busy buying influence throughout the Middle East, Europe and beyond.  Qatar may be small but it’s got big ambitions and the chequebook to back them up.

The point here is not necessarily that Qatar is aligned with Western policy on Syria, but rather that Qatar is leveraging its position to help shape Western policy on Syria and further their goal of becoming a more dominant regional player.

Saudi Arabia

The involvement of Saudi Arabia in funding and supplying the Syrian rebels is, as with Qatar, well established and known in the main stream.  There’s also a crazy, and seemly founded, story circulating about the head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar (aka Bandar Bush), trying (and failing) to cut a deal with Putin to stop supporting Assad’s government.  In return for their cooperation the Saudis proposed giving the Russians large weapons orders and guarantees that, whatever regime comes into power in Syria next, it will be under the thumb of the Saudis who will ensure no pipelines get built.  When this offer was rebuffed Bandar tried to sweeten the pot by offering to reduce oil supply boosting price which would benefit Russia.  Still meeting resistance Bandar allegedly next threatened the Putin with unleashing the various extremists groups in the Caucuses (like the Chechens) for attacks on Russia’s pipeline and disruption of the upcoming winter Olympics being hosted in Russia.  Putin, as one might expect, did not take kindly to this tactic.

Historically the Saudis have been a major regional power and spent huge sums of money to maintain their influence both in the Middle East and also with Western powers.  The cozy relationship between both Bush administrations and the Saudis is well known.

In this respect the Saudis can, in fact, be seen as in competition with the Qataris to a large degree.  This has been most readily apparent in Egypt with Qatar financing the Muslim Brotherhood’s successful ouster of Saudi backed Hosni Mubarak.  The Saudis then funded and influenced to a large extent the coup against the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi.

But then why is Saudi Arabia trying to destabilizing Syria?  We know there is tension between Qatar and Saudi Arabia as the two battle for regional influence.  We can understand pretty easily the Qatari motives for taking Assad out.  But what do the Saudis hope to gain from Assad’s removal?

I’m afraid I don’t have a slam dunk answer for that.  If any readers out there fully understand the Saudi angle here please comment on this post and explain it.  All I can come up with are the following relatively weak reasons.  There’s surely much more to the Saudi Arabia story that I am missing.

First, Saudi Arabia has a large Sunni majority which is mostly Wahhabi.  Wahhabism is what we in the West would consider the extremist form of Sunni Islam.  Many of the jihadists fighting in Syria are, in fact, Wahhabi.   These Wahhabi hate Shiites and believe that they must be wiped out.  Thus, the Saudi government, by supporting the rebels in Syria, appeases a large portion of its population.  It also isolates Iran which has long been a major adversary to Saudi Arabia.

But there’s another factor always lurking below the surface in Saudi Arabia.  Despite its regional power, Saudi Arabia’s ruling class of royals live in constant fear of the kind of unrest that was witnessed throughout the region during the Arab Spring.  How precisely this fits into the Syrian picture is not clear to me but it’s doubtlessly a factor.

Then, there’s the real possibility that Saudi Arabia might have gotten involved in Syria simply to prevent Qatar from gaining dominance there.  In this light Syria can be viewed as a strange kind of proxy war with the two adversaries, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both funding the same side of the conflict in an attempt to secure political influence over the state or states that emerge from the chaos.

And finally, obviously energy must be a huge factor for the Saudis.  We know they are an oil production super-power.  We know they have the fifth largest natural gas reserves in the world.  We know that they haven’t really begun to tap those reserves in a serious way.  Could the Saudis be hoping to shut-out the competition by denying them Syria as a pipeline route?

Clearly the Saudis have a long term energy agenda into which they have factored their support for the destruction of Assad’s government.  But, as with the other elements motiving Saudi Arabia, the exact details and grand strategic picture escape me.


Turkey’s long term involvement in the conflict in Syria is also well documented.  Unlike Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Turkey is not directly funding the rebels to any large extent.  Rather Turkey role is mainly to provide sanctuary, training and a crossing point for the rebels to enter into Syria.

Turkey’s regional ambition is to become the energy cross-roads linking the Middle-East to Europe, east to west.  After all, Turkey is in the enviable position of providing the only land link between the Middle-East and Europe short of detouring up through Russia (which is not feasible for practical as well as geographic reasons).

There’s huge money to be made off the transit fees charged by host nations on pipelines running through their territory.  This is why Turkey has spent literally years pushing the Nabucco pipeline which runs through Turkey to Europe and is vehemently opposed to the Islamic pipeline.  If the Islamic pipeline were to be built it would totally undermine Turkey’s geopolitical power and rob it of the massive revenues it expects from the Nabucco pipeline.


Iran’s motives are probably the easiest to understand in this whole twisted network of motives and shifting alliances.  Iran and Syria are longterm, steadfast allies.  Further, Syria’s backing of the Islamic pipeline would provide Iran with a way of getting its vast natural gas reserves to market.

If Syria was to disintegrate into warring factions or be balkanized into several states along religious lines, the vital Shia land bridge – the corridor running from Iran, through the Shiite section of Iraq, and into Syria and Lebanon – would be broken.  This would further isolate Iran which is fast rising to the top of the list of nations being targeted for destabilization.  Thus, from an Iranian perspective, it really comes down to a question of ‘fight together or hang separate’.  This has motivated Iran to provide as much support as possible to the Syrian government.


Russia, despite international pressure from Western powers, despite attempted brides and threats from the Saudis, has steadfastly supported the Syrian government in the civil war.  This support has included extensive military aid, use of its veto power on the U.N. security council, and most recently the Russian’s deft out-manoeuvring of the U.S. to head off what appeared to be an imminent air campaign against Assad’s forces.

Starting with energy, Russian support for Assad would seem to be counter-intuitive.  After all, Russia’s largely government owned Gazprom, the world’s largest natural gas extractor, currently has a virtually monopoly on supplying natural gas to Europe.  The Islamic pipeline, supported by Syria, would obviously introduce competition into the equation.

But given the close alliances between Syria, Russia and Iran, this might not be quite as egregious to the Russians as one might think.

Russia knows that, through one pipeline or another, their stranglehold on natural gas supply to Europe will be broken sooner or later.  That being the case, it’s obviously in their interest to support regional allies like Syria and Iran to the detriment of their regional enemies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey.  Even once the Islamic pipeline is in place and supplying gas to Europe, one can easily envision an OPEC like cartel arrangement being leveraged to control price and maximize profits for all involved.  And this is not just idle speculation.  Here’s an article back from 2008 discussing the groundwork for precisely such a cartel being agreed upon.

Russia is also looking at Syria through the lens of a resurgent cold war.  After years of U.S. and NATO powers having free-reign to pursue their geopolitical agenda around the globe, Russia has recently decided enough is enough.  Once again we see Russia trying to assert herself into world politics and check U.S. hegemony.  Events such as accepting NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s asylum request are clear indicators of how far-gone relations between the two superpowers really are.  From this perspective the battle for Syria can be seen as a good old fashion proxy war between Western interests backing the rebels and Russia backing the Assad government.

But Russia also has a more pressing and concrete reason to keep Syria from falling into chaos and extremism: The security of Russia against those same extremists.  Russia knows all too well the cost and danger associated with muslim extremists (remember Chechnya?).  The fall of Syria would be yet another movement of an extremist group closer to Russia borders.  This is something the Russians have every motivation to hold in check.


There are several factors drawing the U.S. into the fight.  Many stem from the completely undue and corrupt influence of lobbies on U.S. foreign policy.  There are two main lobbies whose influence is undeniable and which are clearly pushing the U.S. to war:

  1. Israeli Lobby.  The Israeli lobby has an absolute stranglehold on the reigns of power in the U.S.  For decades U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has, first and foremost, been about supporting Israel.  As we have seen, Israel has strong motivations for pursuing the destabilization of Syria.
  2. Military Industrial Complex.  President Eisenhower presciently warned the American people in his farewell address of the dangers of a large and omnipresent defence industry.  Post 9/11 has seen U.S. defence spending more than double to $800 billion dollars a year.  The defence industry’s only way to justify this type of expenditure is through fear (war on terror anyone?).  But fear alone isn’t enough.  The gears of the military industrial complex must be greased from time to time with blood.  Syria is the latest manifestation of this need of the military industrial complex to flex its military might, assert its dominance, and justify the continuation of exorbitant defence spending.

Of course we could add the Saudis to this list along with other smaller players.  But beyond all these lobbies and their influence on U.S. politicians and foreign policy there are other factors motivating the U.S.

The U.S. economy is in full scale meltdown.  The only reason this isn’t apparent is the Federal Reserve’s massive quantitative easing program which at this point is outright monetizing $85 billion a month of U.S. debt.  As the Fed starts to try and withdraw itself from this lunatic monetary policy the mirage that was a supposed economic recovery will vanish.

Throughout history wars have been waged to distract from economic problems at home.  This time is no different.  With the war on terror losing some of its luster in recent years as Americans tire of constant encroachments on their liberties, a new foreign enemy to demonize is just the distraction needed.  An evil dictator who allegedly uses chemical weapons against his own people is the perfect target for such a propagandized distraction.

And, as discussed above for the Russians, there’s a new cold war brewing.  Syria, viewed as the first flash-point of this new war, is obviously important to the U.S. as it attempts to retain its position as the world’s sole superpower.  Thus, a far away conflict in little Syria suddenly becomes a strategic battle in a far larger and higher stakes war.


Untangling the web of geopolitical players and their motivations in Syria is a tall order.  This post just scratched the surface to reveal why Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are so eager to stoke the flames of revolution in Syria.  And, we start to understand why Iran and Russia are standing firm in their support of Assad even in the face of enormous international pressure.

The conflict in Syria ultimately boils down to natural gas pipelines, religious strife and extremism, the quest for regional power in the Middle East, and the emergence of a new cold war between the U.S. and Russia.  Viewing the players and events in Syria with an understanding of those core facets brings us much closer to understanding the truth about what’s really happening in Syria and why.

Syria Chemical Weapon Attacks – The Case Against the Rebels

I’ve recently discussed the complete lack of evidence linking Syrian government forces to the chemical weapon attack that occurred on August 21st in Ghouta.  In addition, I’ve presented analysis indicating that Assad had every motive to not engage in such an attack.

Today I want to answer the question: If not Assad, than who?

In short, I believe the rebels, possibly supplied or assisted by foreign intelligence assets, carried out the attacks of August 21st.  This has all the markings of a classic false flag operation.

False Flag and the Hegelian Dialectic (Problem, Reaction, Solution)

For those of you unfamiliar with the false flag paradigm, give Geoff’s first post on Project Souvenir a read.  In short, a false flag operation is an attack carried out by one group, often against themselves, for the purposes of blaming another party.  False flags have been well documented throughout history and have been used often by nations or governments seeking justifications to start wars or consolidate power.

Essentially a false flag is a specific flavour of the more general Hegelian Dialectic or Problem, Reaction, Solution.  In this paradigm an entity seeks to achieve a desired outcome by manufacturing or introducing a problem designed to elicit a reaction from another group (usually the public at large).  The afore mentioned entity then offers its originally desired outcome as the solution.

The paradigm is effective because people don’t realize they’re being controlled and manipulated for a desired effect.  This haze of unawareness is often amplified because the problem events are typically chaotic and highly emotional which serves to undermine logical and critical thinking and permits herd mentality to reign supreme.

False Flag As Applied to the Ghouta Attacks

Interpreting the Ghouta attacks as a false flag operation would break down into the following components:

  1. Problem.  Usage of chemical weapons resulting in civilian casualties.  High numbers of children among the dead.  Guaranteed to invoke strong emotional response.
  2. Reaction.  Universal outrage at the dastardly act.  Requirement for immediate action to prevent further loss of life.
  3. Solution.  Introduction of overt U.S. military action against Syrian government forces to eliminate them as a threat.

Rebel Motives

I think it’s obvious that the rebels had the most to gain from the attacks in Ghouta.  As I discussed in the my last post, Assad had every reason not to engage in such an attack given:

  • His forces were clearly winning the war.
  • Ghouta held no strategic and only limited tactical importance.
  • It would virtually guarantee an overt military response from the U.S. and other Western powers which would, in all likelihood, change the tide of the war against government forces.
  • It would jeopardize his vital re-supply lines with the Russians who couldn’t continue to support him if he used chemical weapons.
  • U.N. chemical weapon inspectors had just arrived in Damascus three days before the attacks occurred.

Conversely, and for exactly these reasons, the rebels had every motive to try and frame Assad for such a chemical weapon attack.  If Assad had everything to loss, the rebels had everything to gain.

Means and Opportunity

But of course just benefiting from some event doesn’t mean that you are the perpetrator of a false flag.  Just because the rebels will clearly be the beneficiaries of the chemical weapon attacks once the U.S. bombs start falling, this doesn’t mean they are responsible for the attacks.

And, given the lack of concrete evidence, proving with absolute certainty that the rebels carried out the attack is, at this point, not feasible.

That said, in addition to motive, we can easily show means and opportunity.  Namely we can establish with certainty that rebel forces do possess chemical weapons.  Further we can provide circumstantial evidence that the rebels have used chemical weapons already in the conflict.

Rebel Possession of Chemical Weapons

In an attempt to keep this to a manageable length, I’ll simply itemize some of the stronger evidence that the rebels do possess chemical weapons.

  • Starting late last year, senior U.S. politicians began expressing their fears that some of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile would fall into the hands of rebel forces.  Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worried that Assad “might lose control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria“.
  • Those concerns turned out to be well founded.  In early December after a bloody two day battle, rebel forces gained control of the Sheik Suleiman military base.  This base was a known centre of chemical weapons research in Syria.  In the aftermath the Syrian government sent letters to the U.N.’s Security Council and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon indicating that “terrorist groups may resort to using chemical weapons against the Syrian people… after having gained control of a toxic chlorine factory” and reiterating that the Syrian government would “not use chemical weapons under any circumstance“.
  • In January 2013, Bassam Al-Dada, the Political Advisor to the rebels went on record with Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency indicating the the rebels had both the components and expertise required to carry out chemical weapon attacks.  Al-Dada stressed that “if we ever use them, we will only hit the regime’s bases and centers“.
  • Since April 2013 the battle has raged for control of the Al-Safira chemical weapons plant.  This complex is one the largest chemical weapon manufacturing facilities and produces, amongst other things, sarin gas.  Despite some reports in the alternative media that the rebels have siezed control of Al-Safira, the complex does still appear to be in control of Syrian government forces.
  • In May 2013 Turkish police arrested several members of the Syrian rebels with a 2 kg canister of sarin gas.  Whether the gas was to be used in Turkey or across the border in Syria is unclear, but the important point is the documented evidence of Syrian rebels in possession of sarin gas.
  • Also in May, Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria which investigated the March 2013 chemical weapon attacks (discussed here) stated to Swiss media that there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that rebel forces were behind the attacks.  Del Ponte concluded that “the gas was used on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities“.  Del Ponte is a fairly credible source given her direct involvement on the investigative team and the fact that she previously served as the head of the U.N. war crime tribunals for both Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
  • Also on the topic of the March 2013 attacks, Russia, which conducted its own on-site investigation into the attacks, provided the U.N. with an 80 page report which concluded that it was the rebels who had used the chemical weapons.  While the report has not been made public it’s understood to stand on the following physical evidence:
    • The sarin gas used in the attack was not industrially produced but rather bore the signature of being produced in a makeshift lab.  Hexogen (aka RDX) was used as the explosive charge.  This chemical is not in standard military munitions but is heavily used in IEDs and other terrorist devices.
    • The delivery system was a jerry-rigged Bashar 3 missile.  The rebels do possess this missile.
  • In July, the Syrian government reported that it had uncovered a rebel chemical weapons lab in Jobar, on the outskirts of Damascus.  Among the chemicals present was chlorine.  Given the source, it is of course possible that this ‘discovered’ chemical weapons plant was in fact a fake.
  • In late August, just after the Ghouta attack, a video was posted on YouTube showing Syrian rebels firing a jerry-rigged chemical weapon using field artillery.  The device consisted of a very conspicuous blue canister mounted atop a simple projective with stabilizing fins welded on.  The authenticity of this video cannot be definitively verified.
  • AP’s Dale Gavlak (who also writes for Salon and BBC amongst others) reported that interviews with people in Ghouta heavily implicated the rebels in the August 21st attack.  Specifically, the story features the father of a rebel killed along with 12 others handling chemical weapons allegedly supplied by the Saudis.  Says the father, the weapons had the appearance of a “huge gas bottle”.  The story goes on to report on an interview with another rebel who complains “They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them…  We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”.  I give this story high credibility due to the credentials of Dale Gavlak and his extensive experience in the region.

Looking critically at this summary the only thing I would be willing to say with certainty is that the rebel forces do possess chemical weapons.  This fact is established by their seizure of the chemical weapons research centre at Sheik Suleiman and the arrest of Syrian rebels in possession of sarin gas near the border with Turkey.

Beyond the proven possession of chemical weapons, the rest is admittedly circumstantial.  It does however paint a very different picture than the one presented by Western media.  And, compared to the complete lack of evidence provided to implicate Assad, this information is interesting, to say the least.


In the absence of any evidence implicating the Assad government, and with Assad having strong motives to not use chemical weapons, we must look at other possible culprits.

The rebels have both the motive and means to carry out this attack.  If successful such a false flag operation would result in the U.S. entering the conflict on the side of the rebels allowing them to avoid pending defeat.

Syria Chemical Weapon Attacks – Do You Really Think Assad is That Stupid?

In my last post I deconstructed the facts presented by Secretary of State John Kerry in his speech asserting that the Assad regime was responsible for the August 21st chemical weapon attacks in Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus.  I showed how there was a complete and utter lack of any evidence to back up Kerry’s claims.  I showed how the declassified U.S. intelligence estimate cited by Kerry similarly provided no evidence to support its allegations.

Given the complete absence of evidence linking Assad to the attacks, this post will analyze the motivations, or rather lack there of, for Assad to perpetrate such attacks.

Lack of Strategic Necessity

I think the first thing to note is that it’s widely acknowledged that Assad’s forces are currently winning the civil war.  Even the rebels admit as much.  Most analysts believe that given the current status quo, Assad will inevitably win the war of attrition (though Syria may be ultimately divided).

Having seized the initiative, and with the tide of the war clearly going his way, there’s simply no strategic need to resort to chemical weapon attacks.  It would be one thing if there was a last-stand situation with rebel forces threatening to over-run key government strongholds but this was clearly not the case in Ghouta.

No, there was no strategic reason for Assad to resort to chemical weapons in Ghouta.

Risk of Drawing Western Powers into the Conflict

On the other hand, use of chemical weapons incurs massive strategic risk to Assad.  He knows that any use of chemical weapons will assuredly:

  1. Bring the U.S. down on him.
  2. Make it difficult for the Russians to continue support him thus threatening his vital re-supply line.
  3. Completely isolate him on the geopolitical stage – he becomes damaged goods.
  4. Result in the loss of the moral high-ground.  No longer could he argue to be protecting his civilian population from foreign jihadis.

These outcomes from use of chemical weapons would certainly cost Assad the war.  There is no way he could stand up to the constant stream of foreign jihadis if U.S. airpower is brought to bear against his forces.  Add to that the lose of his Russian re-supply lines and defeat would be all but certain.

There is no way Assad would incur these massive strategic risks for the sake of such a limited, even non-existent, tactical gain.  It just doesn’t make sense.  Assad is too intelligent to make such an obvious blunder knowing that his country, and ultimately his life, is on the line.

U.N. Inspectors Had Just Arrived in Damascus

The timing of the attacks is also unbelievably suspect.  A team of U.N. inspectors tasked with investigating allegations of previous chemical weapon attacks had just arrived in Damascus three days before the August 21st attacks.  This team was led by a Swedish chemical weapons expert.

Why would Assad unleash a chemical weapon attack at the very time U.N. chemical weapon experts where in his country?  Why would he carry out these attacks in the same city where those U.N. investigators were located?  It makes no sense whatsoever.  Why wouldn’t he just wait a week or two until the U.N. team wrapped up its investigation and left?

No, this doesn’t make any sense at all.  Given the huge strategic risks why would Assad carry out attacks under conditions that virtually guaranteed he’d be caught?


Are we honestly supposed to believe that Assad carried out chemical weapon attacks at the exact time and in the exact location that U.N. chemical weapons experts had just arrived to investigate previous allegations?  Are we supposed to believe that Assad would risk giving the U.S. an excuse to commence overt military action against him?  Are we supposed to believe that Assad would risk losing the moral high ground and with it his Russian re-supply lines?  And finally, are we supposed to believe that Assad would risk all these things to carry out an attack of no strategic and negligible tactical importance?

Syria Chemical Weapon Attacks – Where’s the Evidence John?

Back in early May I posted about the major geopolitical news of the day: Alleged sarin gas attacks in Damascus and Aleppo by the Assad government.  In my analysis I argued that, despite the political rhetoric, there was scant evidence to implicate the Assad government.  Further, I argued that it was strategically non-sensical for Assad to use WMDs given the current state of the civil war in which the Syrian government was clearly gaining the upper hand.  On the other hand, the rebels had every motivation to perpetrate false flag chemical weapon attacks to give the West the justification needed to commence overt military action against Assad.

Well, fast-forward four months and the narrative hasn’t changed.  The evil Assad is again accused of using chemical weapons in an attack against rebel forces that left hundreds of civilians dead.  Let’s once again step back, take a deep breath and analyze the facts rationally, cutting through the appeal to emotion rhetoric that is being used to cloud the issue.

The Facts

On August 21st at around 3 AM, a series of chemical weapon attacks occurred in the rebel-held area of Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus.  In the aftermath of the attack Doctors Without Borders (who operate three hospitals in the vicinity) recorded roughly 3600 patients suffering from exposure to nerve agents.  355 deaths were reported.  The final toll is likely higher though it appears the initial reports of 1400+ dead are possibly exaggerated.

Eyewitnesses report that the deliver system used for the attack were around 20 non-explosive rockets which dispersed their chemical prior to impact.

On August 24-26, a U.N. inspection team conducted onsite evidence gathering and interviewed survivors.  The mandate of this investigation, as has been repeatedly stressed by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, is only to establish if chemical weapons have been used and not which side used them.  The effectiveness of the U.N. team was reportedly hindered by continued hostilities in the region that included Syrian government forces shelling the affected areas and sniper attacks by forces unknown.

And that’s it for facts.  Everything else appears to be conjecture and rhetoric.  Let’s look at some of this now.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s Speech, August 30, 2013

Secretary Kerry’s speech of August 30th (read the transcript here) largely consisted of appeal to emotion.  Here’s a sample of what most of the speech consisted of:

…Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home, we saw rows of children lying side by side, sprawled on a hospital floor, all of them dead from Assad’s gas, and surrounded by parents and grandparents who had suffered the same fate. 

The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children. Even the first responders — the doctors, nurses and medics who tried to save them — they became victims themselves. We saw them gasping for air, terrified that their own lives were in danger.

This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people.

But what about the evidence?  What about hard facts?  Well, Kerry states the following to be definitive conclusions of U.S. intelligence:

  • Syrian government forces used chemical weapons several times already in 2013.
  • Syrian forces in the area were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking other precautions associated with chemical weapons.
  • The rockets were launched from government controlled regions and landed in rebel controlled regions.
  • A senior official in the Syrian government knew about the attack, confirmed they were carried out by the regime, and was fearful that they (the Syrian government) would be discovered as the perpetrators.
  • After the attack Syrian artillery bombardment of the area dramatically intensified and hindered the U.N. team’s ability to collect evidence and conduct interviews with survivors.

Those are the facts that Kerry claims.  One problem: There is no direct or supporting evidence of any kind provided in the speech to back up any of these statements.  Kerry simply states them as absolute truths.  Presumably this is because the irrefutable evidence proving the truth of his statements can be found in the U.S. declassified assessment of the incident of which John says the following at the beginning of his speech:

That’s why this morning’s release of our government’s unclassified estimate of what took place in Syria is so important. Its findings are as clear as they are compelling. I’m not asking you to take my word for it. Read for yourself, everyone, those listening, all of you, read for yourselves the evidence from thousands of sources, evidence that is already publicly available, and read for yourselves the verdict reached by our intelligence community about the chemical weapons attack the Assad regime inflicted on the opposition and on opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods in the Damascus suburbs on the early morning of August 21st.

Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and rereviewed information regarding this attack. And I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment. Accordingly, we have taken unprecedented steps to declassify and make facts available to people, who can judge for themselves.

But still, in order to protect sources and methods, some of what we know will only be released to members of Congress, the representatives of the American people.

That means that some things we do know, we can’t talk about publicly.

Ok John, let’s take you up on that.  Let’s read for ourselves the unclassified assessment you claim holds the verifiable proof we seek.  Here it is here.

I don’t know about you but I’m underwhelmed.  As opposed to the ‘clear and compelling‘ findings cited by Kerry, the document simply enumerates the same conclusions from Kerry’s speech.  There’s a complete and utter lack of any evidence to back those conclusions up.

We Can’t Take U.S. Intelligence’s Word For It

U.S. intelligence is infamous for lying to the public and releasing faulty intelligence estimates during the lead up to major conflict.  Kerry himself draws attention to this fact in his speech but assures us that this time U.S. intelligence is “more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment.“.  Again, we’re supposed to take his word for it.  Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and look at a few recent examples of blatant lies used to justify foreign conquests:

  • Operation Desert Storm.  On October 10th, 1990 a female by the name of Nayirah testifies before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus that during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, she witnessed Iraqi soldiers removing babies from incubators and leaving them to die.  The story received extensive media coverage and was cited by several U.S. senators as well as President Bush (senior) as a major justification for U.S. intervention.  It was later revealed (after the U.S. led intervention) that the story was a complete fabrication and that Nayirah was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S.  This fact would have been well known within U.S. intelligence circles and yet nothing was done to bring the attention of the American people to the deception.  Read about the whole sordid affair here.
  • Iraq War.  As alluded to by Kerry and hopefully known to readers, U.S. intelligence was involved in a shameful deception in the lead-up to the Iraq war.  The main justification for this war of aggression was the supposed possession of chemical and biological WMDs by Saddam Hussein.  This culminated with then Secretary of State Colin Powell testifying before the U.N. on the conclusions of U.S. intelligence about Iraqi WMDs.  His testimony, and the U.S. intelligence on which it was based, was later revealed to be intentionally falsified to justify the invasion.
  • Libya.  In the lead-up to the completely unprovoked and nonsensical destabilization of Libya in 2011, Western media was again abuzz with stories of atrocities.  This time the narrative given by senior U.S. politicians (including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) was that the evil Libyan government was dispensing Viagra to its forces to fuel the systematic raping of the population.  Once again these allegation were later discovered to be complete fabrications to sway U.S. public opinion in favour of the military assault on Libya.

Time and time again we’ve been manipulated in this way by the mainstream media, senior politicians, and U.S. intelligence.  Time and time again WMDs have been used to justify military actions or economic sanctions against countries that, for whatever reason, have fallen out of favour with the powers that be.  The only reasonable response to known liars is to not believe them.  Demand proof.  Dismiss appeals to emotion.

With this in mind let’s look critically at each of the claims made by U.S. intelligence and parroted by Kerry.  Can we find any evidence which supports any of these claims?  Can we find any evidence which contradicts any of these claims?

Claim: Previous Chemical Weapon Attacks By Syrian Government Forces

This conclusion is simply not supported.  The March 2013 chemical weapon attacks (discussed here) have not been tied to the Syrian government by any physical evidence.  On the other hand, strong suspicion and circumstantial evidence has since emerged that these attacks were, in fact, carried out by the rebels.  Here’s a summary of that evidence:

  • Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria which investigated the attacks stated to Swiss media that there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that rebel forces were behind the attacks.  Del Ponte is a fairly credible source given her direct involvement on the investigative team and the fact that she previously served as the head of the U.N. war crime tribunals for both Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
  • Russia, which conducted its own on-site investigation into the attacks, provided the U.N. with an 80 page report which concluded that it was the rebels who had used the chemical weapons.  While the report has not been made public it’s understood to stand on the following physical evidence:
    • The sarin gas used in the attack was not industrially produced but rather bore the signature of being produced in a makeshift lab.  Hexogen (aka RDX) was used as the explosive charge.  This chemical is not in standard military munitions but is heavily used in IEDs and other terrorist devices.
    • The delivery system was a jerry-rigged Bashar 3 missile.  The rebels do possess this missile.

While I don’t feel this information is conclusive, it certainly calls into serious question Kerry’s assertion that Assad had carried out the March attacks especially in light of the total absence of evidence implicating government forces.

Claim: Syrian Forces Had Pre-knowledge of Attacks

This is a conclusion that is made with absolutely no evidence offered.  It appears that the source of this information is intelligence provided by the Israeli Defence Forces Unit 8200 (the Israeli version of the NSA specializing in signals intelligence and electronic intercepts).

Given the lack of details provided, this argument cannot be accepted blindly as true.  If it was confirmed that the intelligence originated with Unit 8200, it would need to be corroborated in some way given the dubious motivations and previous covert and overt attacks made by the Israelis on Syrian government forces.

Finally, even if the raw intelligence were to be independently verified and confirmed it still wouldn’t allow us to conclude anything.  For example, an alternative logical explanation would be that Syrian intelligence learned of pending chemical weapon attacks by the rebels and ordered precautions for their forces.

Claim: Rockets Launched From Government Held Areas

I agree completely with Kerry that where the rockets were launched from should allow blame to be placed on the guilty party.  It should be all too simple for the U.S. to release the raw data documenting the missile attacks (since they claim to have such data).  This data would be extremely convincing and constitute just the sort of hard evidence I’m calling for.

But they (U.S. intelligence) haven’t release the data.  They haven’t even said where the attacks originated from except to make the general statement about it being from regime controlled territories.

Why hold this information back?  How could the release of the exact location and raw data possibly compromise U.S. intelligence assets in any way?  If U.S. intelligence is telling the truth there would be no reason not to release the data (or a ‘scrubbed’ version of it).  Failure to release any supporting evidence whatsoever fatally undermines the claim that attacks were launched from regime held areas.  We must dismiss such unsubstantiated allegations from known liars.

Claim: Syrian Government Officials Knew of Attack

The basis for this claim is more intelligence provided to U.S. authorities by the Israeli Unit 8200.  According to a leak from an ex-Mossad agent, the Israelis intercepted a call between senior regime officials discussing the attack.  There are no further details given.  No details about the conversation or its participants are provided.

First of all, we once again need to be wary of the source.  Israeli intelligence is not an objective observer here and can be expected to act in their best interests.

Next, even if we accept that the conversation took place, we can’t possibly conclude anything since all we’ve been told is that senior Syrian officials discussed the attack.  This proves nothing.  Discussing an attack that has already occurred does not make you the perpetrator.  Obviously Syrian government officials would be talking about large scale chemical weapon attacks that just occurred in their country.

Why hasn’t the transcript of the call and names of the participants been released?  Why are we once again just supposed to take Kerry’s word for it?

Claim: Intensified Syrian Artillery Bombardment

According to Kerry the areas struck by the chemical weapons were subsequently subjected to artillery bombardment “at a rate four times higher than they had over the previous 10 days“.

Leaving aside the complete lack of data provided to back this up (by now a familiar theme), this again, proves nothing.  Damascus’ suburbs are a dynamic battleground where the front lines are constantly changing.  It’s not unexpected that on a day-to-day basis the region of highest confrontation, and thus highest artillery usage, changes.

Again, even if we accept Kerry’s totally unsubstantiated claims, this does not amount to evidence of anything.


The U.S. has once again started the march to war.  Again we see a war of aggression sold to the public based on blanket statements without a shred of real evidence.  Again we see WMDs being used to justify intervention.  Again we see pervasive use of rhetoric and appeal to emotion as opposed to calm and rational analysis and proof.  And again we’ll see the gears of the military industrial complex greased with the blood of the innocent.