NYT Report: Assad Fires Scuds At Rebels

The New York Times has run a report by Michael Gordon, one of the foremost catapulters of Bush propaganda in the lead up to the Iraq war, which quotes anonymous US officials who claim the Assad regime has fired more than half a dozen Scud missiles at rebel fighters over the last few days.

I’m seeing a fair bit of healthy scepticism from some analysts and reporters on my Twitter feed though – based on the logic that if this were actually happening we wouldn’t be hearing about it from officially unofficial US figures, but rather hearing about it from the various rebel groups themselves in every media outlet worldwide they could access. For me, at least, Michael Gordon quoting un-named apparatchiks does not qualify as an ironclad story – not even close – and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more and harder evidence and for official statements from people with actual names.

If true, as the NYT notes, “the move represents a significant escalation in the fighting”. If not, it would represent a serious escalation in US propaganda which has seen anonymous officials recently turn a fairly innocuous intercepted communication about moving some chemical weapons into edge-of-intervention brinkmanship in which Assad has been accused of being about to unleash WMD on his own people at any second and that accusation used as a causus belli. I suspect the beating of war drums is coming from State rather than the Pentagon, where they seem to appreciate the military reality that any intervention by the US in Syria will rapidly take on the size and scope of the Iraqi war and occupation.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • The business of reporting inflammatory news from anonymous sources has to stop. If government officials are going to say stuff like this, they have to be identified. We can’t necessarily expect Michael Gordon to do it, but, as you say, I saw one reporter on Twitter calling him on it.

    The other place where anonymous sources seem to carry the day is around IAEA headquarters in Vienna. But Julian Borger the other day “outed” one of the anonymous nests there as, surprise, Mossad. There needs to be more of this.

    We have to keep pounding on this issue.

  • Sources: Syrian Rebels Training On Anti-Aircraft Weapons In Jordan

    This article is full of “sources”

    In Jordan, several Syrian sources said …

    One Syrian rebel fighter, who did not want to be named, said …

    Another source said …

    These two sources — along with two other sources (none of whom wanted to be named) — said …

    It’s all about structures,” said a second source

    Several sources said the focus of …

    And this is how the story ends:

    The U.S. Embassy in Jordan referred questions about this story to the State Department in Washington. Neither the State Department nor the Pentagon responded to requests for comment.

    • Thanks for the careful read, Adrena!

      Some of this anonymity may be reasonable – like for the Syrian rebel fighter. But government officials making statements that could be the basis for war should be made to go on the record.

      It’s lazy journalism, and, as you see, using one anonymous source all too often leads to more.

  • If I had to bet, I would not bet on this being their SCUD’s but some of the shorter range systems instead (NTI indicates they hold stores of both FROG-7 and SCARAB).

    As to the anonymous “leaking” of information like this, it makes sense. Given that everything these days seems to be a political football slung about by folks whose certainty in commentary greatly outstrips their knowledge, me, I’d leak it out gradually too. Then I don’t have to instantly have a fully formulated policy held out there to have holes [supposedly] shot in it by the posturing for the endlessly outraged.

  • U.S. confirms Syria has used scuds against rebels

    Al Arabiya, December 13

    The Syrian regime has fired Scud missiles at rebel forces trying to oust Bashar al-Assad, a U.S. official said Wednesday, after Human Rights Watch (HRW) report warning that incendiary bombs were also used.

    “Scuds landed within Syria,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

    Earlier Wednesday an AFP journalist in northwestern Syria reported hearing several fierce explosions daily from up to 15 kilometers (10 miles) away.

    State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said “we’re seeing missiles employed now” but she refused to divulge intelligence on what type of missile.

    But the U.S. official speaking later said he could confirm a New York Times story that the regime was unleashing Scuds.


    Meanwhile, on Wednesday, HRW warned that Syrian forces have dropped incendiary bombs on populated areas, calling on the authorities to stop using a weapon that causes “especially cruel human suffering”.

    Most of the weapons found appeared to be two kinds of Soviet models, one of which releases 48 incendiary submunitions over an area the size of a football field, it said.

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