Do we trust reports coming out of Syria?

Shorter Question Everything

When the anti-Syrian propaganda sounds just like the anti-Iraqi propaganda, how can we believe what we are seeing and reading? Tossing around scary sounding words like “chemical weapons”, “Agent 15″ and the like may make for good copy, but what does it really mean? Syria hasn’t signed the chem. weapons convention, and BZ is an “incapacitating agent” – which may not be nice and is definitely a chemical weapon (as is tear gas and white phosphorous), but it’s certainly not sarin, ricin, tabun, VX, or any number of truly terrifying weapons. The best propaganda always takes a small truth and around that builds a story. This coming out of Syria may well be what we’re seeing and, like Iraq, it’s likely to come out as something very different when the facts come out.

Video: Iraq lies cast shadow of skepticism on Syria chemical weapons reports

• PROPAGANDA ALERT: A secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month, The Cable has learned. The cable, signed by the U.S. consul general in Istanbul, Scott Frederic Kilner, and sent to State Department headquarters in Washington last week, outlined the results of the consulate’s investigation into reports from inside Syria that chemical weapons had been used in the city of Homs on Dec. 23. The consul general’s report followed a series of interviews with activists, doctors, and defectors, in what the administration official said was one of the most comprehensive efforts the U.S. government has made to investigate claims by internal Syrian sources. The investigation included a meeting between the consulate staff and Mustafa al-Sheikh, a high-level defector who once was a major general in Assad’s army and key official in the Syrian military’s WMD program. An Obama administration official who reviewed the document, which was classified at the “secret” level, detailed its contents to The Cable. “We can’t definitely say 100 percent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23,” the official said. Activist and doctors on the ground in Homs have been circulating evidence of the Dec. 23 incident over the past three weeks in an attempt to convince the international community of its veracity. “The symptoms of an incapacitating agent are temporary. If someone is exposed to BZ, they are likely to be confused, perhaps to hallucinate,” said Amy Smithson, a senior fellow with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “While it is not good news that a chemical agent of any kind may have been used in the Syrian conflict, this Agent 15 is certainly on the less harmful end of the spectrum of chemical warfare agents believed to be in the Syrian arsenal.”

• (Incapacitating agent) Agent 15 – “BZ”, 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate: 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate (QNB, BZ, EA-2277), IUPAC name 1-azabicyclo[2.2.2]oct-3-yl 2-hydroxy-2,2-diphenylacetate, is an odorless military incapacitating agent. Its NATO code is BZ. BZ is a glycolate anticholinergic compound related to atropine, scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and other deliriants. Dispersal would be as an aerosolized solid (primarily for inhalation) or as agent dissolved in one or more solvents for ingestion or percutaneous absorption. Acting as a competitive inhibitor of acetylcholine at postsynaptic and postjunctional muscarinic receptor sites in smooth muscle, exocrine glands, autonomic ganglia, and the brain, BZ decreases the effective concentration of acetylcholine seen by receptors at these sites. Thus, BZ causes PNS effects that in general are the opposite of those seen in nerve agent poisoning. CNS effects include stupor, confusion, and confabulation with concrete and panoramic illusions and hallucinations, and with regression to automatic “phantom” behaviors such as plucking and disrobing. Physostigmine, which increases the concentration of acetylcholine in synapses and in neuromuscular and neuroglandular junctions, is a specific antidote. Production of BZ is controlled under schedule 2 of the Chemical Weapons Convention. [link]

PROPAGANDA ALERT: Agent 15 is another name for 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate or BZ, a powerful hallucinogen that the American military tested out on its own soldiers during the Cold War. Its emergence on the Syrian battlefield would be nothing short of bizarre. While Syria is well-known to have a massive supply of chemical weapons, international observers haven’t ordinarily included BZ on that list.

Gun crazies

A new low? NRA targets Obama’s kids in scathing new ad. The National Rifle Association is getting personal. In a new web video the gun lobby calls President Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for using the Secret Service to protect his two children, Sasha, age 11, and Malia, age 14. “Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” asks the voiceover on the ad. “Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?” It continues, “Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security. Protection for their kids and gun-free zones for ours.”

Oh, right, because there’s absolutely no difference between the number of people — terrorists, lunatics, hatemongers — targeting the president’s family and the number of people targeting yours and mine. It’s just silly to think there’s a difference.

Gene Rosen sheltered six kids during the Sandy Hook massacre. Now he’s become a target of conspiracy theorists. “I don’t know what to do,” sighed Gene Rosen. “I’m getting hang-up calls, I’m getting some calls, I’m getting emails with, not direct threats, but accusations that I’m lying, that I’m a crisis actor, ‘how much am I being paid?’” Someone posted a photo of his house online. There have been phony Google+ and YouTube accounts created in his name, messages on white supremacist message boards ridiculing the “emotional Jewish guy,” and dozens of blog posts and videos “exposing” him as a fraud. One email purporting to be a business inquiry taunted: “How are all those little students doing? You know, the ones that showed up at your house after the ‘shooting’. What is the going rate for getting involved in a gov’t sponsored hoax anyway?” What did Rosen do to deserve this? One month ago, he found six little children and a bus driver at the end of the driveway of his home in Newtown, Conn. “We can’t go back to school,” one little boy told Rosen. “Our teacher is dead.” He brought them inside and gave them food and juice and toys. He called their parents. He sat with them and listened to their shocked accounts of what had happened just down the street inside Sandy Hook Elementary, close enough that Rosen heard the gunshots.


The South’s Shocking Hidden History: Thousands of Blacks Forced Into Slavery Until WW2. The horrifying, little-known story of how hundreds of thousands of blacks worked in brutal bondage right up to the middle of the 20th century.

Hurricane Sandy – By a vote of 241 to 180, the House of Representatives passed an aid package of $50.7 billion, including $17 billion in immediate disaster relief funds for victims.

• The owner of a Utah smoothie shop is trying to teach liberal customers a lesson by charging them extra and donating their money to conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation. “I’m very open about it, very public about it, that I’m going to charge them a little bit more, and I have liberals come in and pay the extra dollar surcharge,” I Love Drilling Juice & Smoothie Bar owner George Burnett told KSL. Under Burnett’s pricing structure, conservatives pay $4.95 and liberals pay $5.95 for smoothies.

• Jan Brewer has never hidden her contempt for the President or his policies, but she seems to know a good deal (and a done deal) when she sees one. On Monday, Arizona’s Republican governor announced she would stop fighting Obamacare and actively embrace one of its key provisions: an expansion of Medicaid to cover citizens earning up to 133% of the federal poverty level ($26,344 for family of three last year).

Shortly after the United Nations General Assembly voted in late November to upgrade the status of the Palestinians, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that it would advance plans to establish a settlement in an area of the West Bank known as E-1, and that it would build 3,000 additional housing units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. When informed about the Israeli decision, Obama, who has a famously contentious relationship with the prime minister, didn’t even bother getting angry. He told several people that this sort of behavior on Netanyahu’s part is what he has come to expect, and he suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart. In the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.


U.S. military warplanes assisted French forces battling Islamic extremists in two African countries over the weekend, according to the Pentagon, highlighting the growing threat of al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the region. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta offered few details on the nature of support to French troops in Mali or Somalia.

The U.S. is preparing to ferry more French troops to Mali and provide other help. The fight against Al Qaeda affiliates gained urgency given the rebel advances. U.S. officials said they also were making plans to send drones or other surveillance aircraft and provide help with aerial refueling of French fighter jets, which bombed columns of Al Qaeda-allied militants in northern Mali for a fourth straight day Monday.

Former Army psychologist critical of military dies by suicide. Peter Linnerooth was an affable, punctual and conscientious graduate student at Minnesota State Mankato. He later earned a doctorate degree, became an Army psychologist and was deployed to Iraq during the height of the war. When he returned to Mankato, Linnerooth was a paranoid and disorganized assistant professor, friends say. He went to Iraq to help U.S. troops deal with the damage post-traumatic stress disorder inflicts, but upon return, he also was in the clutches of PTSD, said his mentor Dan Houlihan, professor director of Minnesota State’s School Psychology Doctoral Program. On Jan. 2, Linnerooth, 42, killed himself in Mankato.

USAMRIID posts Fort Detrick incident report count online. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, recently posted a long-awaited web page disclosing information about safety and security incidents in their BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories. The website separates incidents by type, including slips, falls, leaks, spills, cuts, needle sticks and animal bites. In 2011, BSL-3 labs at USAMRIID registered 34 incidents with nine potential exposures and BSL-4 labs reported 30 incidents and one potential exposure, according to

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