TEL AVIV – After publishing an influential analysis in September that claimed a missile carrying chemical weapons was fired from a Syrian military complex, the New York Times just reported on a new study that, if accurate, would make its analysis an impossibility.
The details are critical because the original study was utilized by the Obama administration in its accusation that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had committed atrocities against civilians.
On Sept. 17, the Times utilized data released by the United Nations to conduct its own analysis pinpointing the origin of a reported chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21. The attack killed hundreds, including children.
The U.N. report stated its investigation of munitions showed at least two kinds of rockets had been used, an M14 artillery rocket and an unidentified 330-millimeter rocket.
The Times focused on an aspect of the U.N. report: “One annex to the report identified azimuths, or angular measurements, from where rockets had struck, back to their points of origin.”
The Times used the U.N. data and the known distance the rockets can travel – some up to 20 kilometers – to conclude that the origin “pointed directly” to a Syrian military complex.
Reported the Times: “When plotted and marked independently on maps by analysts from Human Rights Watch and by The New York Times, the United Nations data from two widely scattered impact sites pointed directly to a Syrian military complex.”
On Saturday, however, the Times reported on a new study that showed the rockets used had a range of only about three kilometers – far less than the distance assumed by the newspaper’s original analysis putting the Syrian military complex “directly” within range.
The new study was conducted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Theodore A. Postol and Richard M. Lloyd, an analyst at Tesla Laboratories, a military contractor.
The study utilized video and photographic evidence to determine that the rockets used in the attack were taken from the motors of 122-millimeter conventional artillery rockets, or BM-21. The rockets have a distance of less than three kilometers, putting rebel-controlled areas within the firing range.
The Times admitted in the new article about the study that its own trajectory analysis from September based on the original U.N. data could have been wrong.
The Times reported the new, smaller range “would be less than the ranges of more than nine kilometers calculated separately by The New York Times and Human Rights Watch in mid-September, after the United States had dropped its push for a military strike.”
“Those estimates had been based in part on connecting reported compass headings for two rockets cited in the United Nations’ initial report on the attacks,” continued the Times.
The Times noted that the new analysis “could point to particular Syrian military units involved, or be used by defenders of the Syrian government and those suspicious of the United States’ claims to try to shift blame toward rebels.”
The Times further reported that both the Syrian army and the rebels possess BM-21s and that the rockets were not noted in Syria before the rebel-led insurgency.
The new report was published the same day the Times released an extensive investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack. The Times investigation claimed al-Qaida or international jihadists were not behind the Benghazi attack and that the attackers were largely motivated by an American-produced, anti-Islam film.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.