If you have been following the response to Sy Hersh’s claims that rebels—and not Assad’s forces—used chemical weapons in the fateful attacks on civilians in Syria in August 2013, you likely know that his story depends—critically—on the trustworthiness of Russian military intelligence. Hersh wrote that “Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta,” the site of the attacks, and sent those samples to the British. In an earlier post, I raised concerns about this link in Hersh’s story, and others have as well (here, here, here, see also these tweets Tom Coghlan, Foreign Correspondent for The Times).
Scott Horton interviewed Hersh, and unlike others who interviewed Sy, Scott raised the Russian question.
Below is Just Security‘s transcription of Hersh’s response in full. In his own words, he explains the reason why he thinks Russian intelligence is to be trusted (and was trusted by the US and British agencies) and laughs (literally) at people who don’t think so. I will let his explanation speak for itself:
Scott Horton: … I think, well, it’s all over Twitter, anyway, that like, well yeah, you know, right, it’s a Russian sample so how can you believe it? But it seems to me from your reporting here that the UK and the US Governments didn’t have a problem with the Russian origin of the sample.
Seymour Hersh: Oh my God, don’t forget, we and the Russians were pretty good allies in the 1990s. And when the chemical warfare treaty went into effect in 1997, we pooled information with the Russians. And I can also tell you, I write about this in my article, it certainly did come from a Russian. It was delivered by a Russian source who was described to me by an American as somebody really solid. Somebody we all knew, somebody we all trusted. This is not a game. We also had our own information about what was going on inside the Syrian arsenal. Believe me, the Syrian government would be more than happy to give a sample of any of it because they were eager to have this looked at. So that’s just, you know, only in America, it’s so funny, Scott, only in America, would you read that “Oh my God, Russia!” (laughs) The Cold War is still on. It can be very strange. Yes, the Russians supplied the sample. They picked up a sample right away, a lot of samples. The British had absolutely no trouble with the provenance. They knew it came from Damascus, the British analyzed it. It was the British finding out of Porton Down that convinced our army that we had to tell the President he doesn’t have a case. And I think, that if you want a run on with the Russians, go ahead.