2011-08-15 Announcing the WikiLeaks Central Cable Analysis Competition Winner

The second monthly WikiLeaks Central Competition 2011 focused on soliciting analysis of one or more of the US State Department cables released by WikiLeaks.

The winner is:

Syria: the canary in the coal mine

by JP Orient

What we liked most about the winning essay was the writer's ability to directly cite cables, and his thorough study of the issue.

We give a special mention to the other finalist: WikiLeaks: Can the Venezuelan Opposition Benefit from Chávez’s Illness? The quality of these two pieces were far superior to the other entries submitted to the competition.

All the submissions were judged on (i) newsworthiness; (ii) supporting research; and (iii) organization and writing style. (iv) We also considered the submission's capacity to engender online discourse in the form of comments and retweets.

Frankly, anyone who writes on

Frankly, anyone who writes on that particular subject without reading Seymour Hersh on the subject shouldn't be taken seriously.

Seymour Hersh suggested, based on leaks from Syrians and American sources, that the site probably produced rockets. We know that Israel doesn't like rockets, we know that Israel's enemies are building arsenals of rockets with increasing range. Nothing could be less surprising that Israel would want to knock out such a site, it is rather unlikely that Syria sees producing uranium coated munitions as priority - rather than seeking strength in proven assymetrical warfare tactics.

The sole positive for an explanation based around uranium munitions was it seems to explain that claim the uranium allegedly was found at the site. But such claims are only as strong as the integrity of the organisation that makes it.

Big Brown Fox

Dear little grey rabbit,

1. Thank you for your comment.
2. The Hersh story's conclusions and my analysis don't necessarily contradict one another. It is the composition of the rocket casing that is at issue. Uranium metal casings shift military calculations.
3. My essay relied on open-source material supplemented by Wikileaks-released cables. Mr. Hersh has the privilege of using unidentified sources which, in the hands of lesser journalists than Mr. Hersh, has proven problematic in our current media environment.
4. Beginning a comment with the word "Frankly" hasn't proven to win many arguments.


I thought, "...the canary in the coal mine", was a good essay.

Intellectual rebutals should never contain denigrating tones
They should properly cite contrary evidence and to be credible, are best delivered by identifiable authors.

Foreign policy carried out by pre-emptive strikes would not be internationally tolerated if practiced by anyone other than Israel and the US. Why these two nations are afforded such a privilege is beyond my understanding. Acting this way in any circumstance is morally risky. Doing so in the international arena is an invitation to global warfare. Given the ignored but obvious embarrassment of the 'Yellow cake' and 'WMD' fiascos, the United States is left in a position where continued aggression is their chosen path to avoid the consequences of committing atrocities with no justification at all.

Failure to conisder alternatives

The strongest point of JP's canary story is that he considered alternatives. The IAEA failed to look beyond the reactor story fed to it by the US when there are any number of credible alternatives. (The IAEA did decide it was not a rocket launch site which is instantly obvious when you look at the imagery. How they chose this one scenario is a mystery.) The mindless acceptance of the reactor story in the face of contradictory evidence is puzzling. In any case, Syria knows what the site was and they have not even complained about being bombed. Maybe there was something more important than a reactor they were hiding from inspectors!

No one said it was a rocket

No one said it was a rocket launch site, it was supposedly a factory for manufacturing rockets. You may recall several thousand of them reigned down from Hezbollah a few years back - they have to be made somewhere.

There are few journalists that a trust implicitly, Seymour Hersch would be one of those very few. He makes it very clear that US intelligence were consistently telling him that had had absolutely no intelligence about a nuclear program prior to the strike.
Anyone seriously interested in the story should read his article


Trivial imagined similarities with shapes of buildings are utterly without evidential importance. As are sitting factories near the Euphrates - everything in that part of the desert is near the Euphrates, is is where the major road routes are.

About the only interesting part of the article was the information that it was Syrian opposition circles that reported on the assassination of a senior Syrian figure involved in the site - suggesting that they probably had something to do with it.

Some of these opposition "human rights activists" are far from the cuddly individuals that Wikileaks-types seem to believe. Personally I have nothing against Saudi Arabia, but I think the current attempt to Hamasify Syria is not worth the bones of a single Syrian policeman or soldier.

Any is probably doomed to fail as the Russians are not going to stand aside and wave good-bye to their Mediterranean naval base.

Big Brown Fox

The rockets that caused the most concern during the 2006 border conflict were Russian in origin. Moscow has subsequently supplied its P-800 Yakhont supersonic cruise missile to Syria. Damascus also possesses Chinese
C-802 anti-shipping missiles.

What would be seen as a pre-emptive act of war by some nations wasn't ordered against a run-of-the-mill rocket factory, no matter what "little grey rabbit" intuits from Mr. Hersch. The months of Damascus' waffling before it would even even confirm a strike occurred is telling.

Syria can't produce the rocket control systems that they buy from Russia and China. They could produce the uranium ingot ballasts that would give military leadership new strike options against heavy armor.

This UNIDIR analysis may help get you up to speed: http://www.unidir.org/pdf/articles/pdf-art2759.pdf

(Williams, Dai, "Under the radar: identifying third-generation uranium weapons."

IAEA says it was not a missile launch site

IAEA says implicitly that Al Ki bar was not a missile launch site. This is from their last board report:

B.4. Stated Function of the Dair Alzour Site
23. The Agency’s assessment of the features observed at the Dair Alzour site prior to the building’s
bombing and immediately thereafter is that it is unlikely that the purpose of the site was missile
assembly, storage or launching. Factors considered in the Agency’s assessment included the building’s
configuration, the construction materials, suitability of openings and hatches for missile handling or
launching, the assessment of the water infrastructure described in paragraph 17 above, Syria’s
declaration of the civilian nature of the water infrastructure on the site and normal missile handling

So IAEA chose to eliminate one extremely unlikely possibility. Why they chose an imminently unlikely one is their problem.

"IAEA says implicitly that Al

"IAEA says implicitly that Al Ki bar was not a missile launch site."

What part of "Neither Seymour Hersh or anyone else claimed it was a missile launch site" do you have difficulty understanding.

Here is what Mr Hersh claimed Syrian officials told him
"A senior Syrian official confirmed that a group of North Koreans had been at work at the site, but he denied that the structure was related to chemical warfare. Syria had concluded, he said, that chemical warfare had little deterrent value against Israel, given its nuclear capability. The facility that was attacked, the official said, was to be one of a string of missile-manufacturing plants scattered throughout Syria—“all low tech. Not strategic.” (North Korea has been a major exporter of missile technology and expertise to Syria for decades.) He added, “We’ve gone asymmetrical, and have been improving our capability to build low-tech missiles that will enable us to inflict as much damage as possible without confronting the Israeli Army. We now can hit all of Israel, and not just the north.”

Far more use to Syria and danger to Israel that a hypothetical facility to manufacture uranium munitions - since it is bound to lose the sort of war in which they could be deployed.

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