Excerpts of Interview with Seymour Hersh

In a video interview with Amy Goodman (no relation) aired today on Democracy Now!, Sy Hersh elaborates on his story published in the London Review of Book (LRB). Below are some of the most interesting excerpts from the interview (full transcript), which provide additional insights into Hersh’s account. I will publish a post soon at Just Security with my take on Hersh’s story. (For Just Security‘s earlier coverage of the reaction on Twitter, see here.)

Excerpts of today’s interview follow:

1. Hersh claims that intelligence reports showed that al-Nusra had produced sarin. His LRB story claims only that the group had the ability to “acquire,” “manufacture,” and “use” sarin.

SEYMOUR HERSH: “The case is simple. We had—in the spring, there were a number of chemical warfare attacks in various parts of Syria that were investigated by everybody.  … And the thing that surprised us the most is there was a lot of reporting in—known to the American [intelligence] community and to our allies, that al-Nusra…had not only the capacity and potential and the know-how, how to produce sarin, but also had done some production of sarin. And these are reports that were very highly classified that went up the chain of command. In some cases, they were so secret that not many people in the government knew about it. They went to senior officials in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The CIA certainly was forwarding many of these reports.
It got to the point where the American government, the military, the Pentagon, looked into the whole prospect of let’s go in and clean out all the—all the nerve gas on both sides. And they did what they call an ops study, operations study. It’s an ops order, really, it’s called. It’s a major, major study, 60 or 70 various sub-parts to it. You’re going to send—they concluded 70,000 American soldiers would have to go into Syria to clean out the chemical weapons on both sides.”

2. Hersh elaborates on the National Reconnaissance Office (and NSA) passive sensor system in Syria.

SEYMOUR HERSH: “But the point being that the sensors monitor not only when the—when sarin or the chemicals are moved; more importantly, they’re capable of monitoring when the Syrian army begins to mix the stuff. …. [T]he Israelis are right there with us on this sensor system. And so, it’s like a fire alarm, early warning system. You know, it’s—an alarm goes off, and the Israelis know about it, as we know about it, right away. And we are not going to let the Syrian military or army get—take—create weapons, pour this stuff into warheads, move it and be ready to fire. That’s not going to happen. The Israelis will attack before that happens.
… What that means is that if—if chemical warfare was used on the 21st, it didn’t come from that arsenal, because there was no warning of any mixing. That doesn’t mean something else could have happened, that some renegade group got some and did something. But the main warning system we had was quiet. That’s a clue. That’s a big clue that at least you should consider something other than the Syrian army when you begin an investigation.”

3. Hersh states that the administration “tampered” with the findings of the sensor system—an allegation, or a way of framing the allegation, that is not in his LRB story.

SEYMOUR HERSH: “And as I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult, because passive sensors are something that, as a journalist, I’m glad we have. Passive, nobody’s hurt. We collect information that we can make judgments on.”
AMY GOODMAN: “These are run by the National Reconnaissance Office.”
SEYMOUR HERSH: “Yes, and the National Security Agency, too, runs a lot of them. And presumably, they’re not to be tampered with, the findings. This administration tampered, is one of the points of the article in the London Review of Books, was that they tampered with something they shouldn’t tamper with, a system that should be taken very seriously.”

4. Hersh acknowledges that the White House has not alleged direct evidence that Bashir himself ordered the chemical attack.

SEYMOUR HERSH: “[F]rom the day the opposition, the rebel war, began in Syria years ago—it’s been a couple years now—we lost the ability to monitor Bashar and his senior persons. … I’ve talked to people. We still don’t have him, and there’s no question we would have picked up some clue if Bashar had been actively involved in ordering the nerve gas attack. And one thing the government, to its credit, has not said in this whole thing since August the 21st, this White House has never claimed to know a thing about Bashar. We use his name all the time. We say, ‘Oh, Bashar did this and that.’ But we’ve never claimed to know anything about what he did or did not say, because we don’t have it.”

5. Hersh suggests that his piece was already “scheduled to run for a few weeks” in the Washington Post

AMY GOODMAN: “Why did the piece appear in the London Review of Books and not in your traditional place where you publish, in The New Yorker or, as it was expected to appear, in The Washington Post, with Executive Editor Marty Baron saying the sourcing in the article didn’t meet the Post’s standards?”
SEYMOUR HERSH: “Well, that’s what he told me in an—or one of his editors said in an email, after the story, when it had been, I thought, scheduled to run for a few weeks, was—and, you know, he’s—look, he’s the boss. He’s a rational, good editor, and he’s entitled to say it didn’t meet—the information I got is that it didn’t meet the standards of The Washington Post. And I respect that. He’s no fool, you know, and I don’t know the guy, but everything I heard about him is that he’s a very competent editor. I know people that worked with him when he was that the L.A. Times, which he was. And so, I don’t begrudge an editor to say what he wants.”

 

About the Author(s)

Ryan Goodman

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, former Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-2016). You can follow him on Twitter @rgoodlaw.