The Other Questions Raised by Seymour Hersh’s Syria Scoop

„Obama did not tell the whole story“ on Bashar al-Assad’s alleged involvement in a chemical weapons strike in Syria last August, begins Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh’s latest piece.

The investigation, published at the London Review of Books this weekend, argues that the Obama administration „cherry-picked intelligence“ in order to make the case for a military strike against Syria, omitting indications that Syrian rebels were also capable of obtaining Sarin gas. Hersh is one of the country’s best-respected investigative journalists, with an unparalleled track record of breaking big news. But while his latest work, called „Whose Sarin?“ has gained substantial attention for the claims it contains, not everyone is convinced that Hersh got the story completely right this time.

According to multiple reports, Hersh first took „Whose Sarin?“ to the New Yorker and the Washington Post, both of whom passed. While the New Yorker (where Hersh, a freelancer, regularly publishes his biggest scoops) did not comment on their reasons for not publishing the story, the Post reportedly rejected the piece because it didn’t meet the paper’s sourcing standards. The London Review of Books, apparently in response to questions about the piece’s provenance, told the Huffington Post that Hersh’s work was fact-checked by a former New Yorker fact checker before publication. Hersh’s story relies on anonymous sources, which is how Hersh tends to work, as do most reporters who deal with the world of foreign intelligence. It’s produced some of his best reporting.

Speaking to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! on Monday, Hersh argued that the „mainstream press“ was already sold on the Obama administration’s narrative, that „Bashar did it.“ Hersh added: „This is why creepy troublemakers like me stay in business.“ He responded to questions about the Post’s decision to drop his story in a similar manner: „Why did I think a mainstream press paper would want to go so hard against, you know, from a freelancer?“ Hersh told Goodman, adding, „It was silly of me. I should have just gone to the London Review very quickly. My mistake.“

At least a few Syria experts are critical of Hersh’s conclusions at the London Review, including Eliot Higgins, a noted weapons expert who goes by the pseudonym Brown Moses on Twitter:

@Brown_Moses: „The fact is, there’s some key missing information from Hersh’s article about the munitions used that has been available for weeks.“

Dan Kaszeta, another security expert, while not dismissing Hersh’s reporting outright, suggests that it is incomplete and out of date:

@DanKaszeta: „I’ve been reading Seymour Hersh’s latest re. 8/21 and Syria. He’s months behind the dialogue and data.“

For what it’s worth, the White House has also denied Hersh’s allegations: Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence, told The Hill that „the intelligence clearly indicated that the Assad regime and only the Assad regime could have been responsible for the 21 August chemical weapons attack,“ adding that „the suggestion that there was an effort to suppress intelligence about a nonexistent alternative explanation is simply false.”

When it comes to investigative reporting, few have built up a stronger track record than Hersh, but recent comments by him about other members of the media have probably undermined a bit of that goodwill. Back in September, Hersh stated flatly in an interview with the London Guardian, that the official story of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hand of U.S. Navy Seals is a fraud, saying, „Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true.“ His solution was for media outlets to fire all their editors, except the „ones that you can’t control.“ Perhaps one of those editors would have published his sarin story a little faster.

Reprinted with permission from The Wire. The original story can be found here.

This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.