Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Say What, NBC?

Syria loads chemical weapons into bombs; military awaits Assad's order

Pretty scary headline.

The military has loaded the precursor chemicals for sarin, a deadly nerve gas, into aerial bombs that could be dropped onto the Syrian people from dozens of fighter-bombers, the officials said. 
As recently as Tuesday, officials had said there was as yet no evidence that the process of mixing the "precursor" chemicals had begun. But Wednesday, they said their worst fears had been confirmed: The nerve agents were locked and loaded inside the bombs.

Ready to go, it sounds like.

U.S. officials stressed that as of now, the sarin bombs hadn't been loaded onto planes and that Assad hadn't issued a final order to use them.

Oh, wait.

But U.S. officials said this week that the government had ordered its Chemical Weapons Corps to "be prepared," which Washington interpreted as a directive to begin bringing together the components needed to weaponize Syria's chemical stockpiles.

That process would involve mixing "precursor" chemicals for the deadly nerve gas sarin, which could be used in artillery shells, U.S. officials told NBC News, stressing that there was no evidence that process had as yet begun.

 Um, could we have that last clause again?

stressing that there was no evidence that process had as yet begun.

"The process" apparently being mixing precursor chemicals. Or putting them in shells? I don't know exactly what kind of chemical weapon shells Syria has, but the way precursor chemicals (no need for quotes unless you don't know what you're talking about) are generally used is in shells that mix them together on the way to the target. Yesterday's Wired report sounded like they were mixing the precursors, then loading them in shells. The NBC report sounds like it could be either. I'd opt for mix-in-flight if I were working in the program. Handling that stuff is dangerous.

 It would be really, really nice if reporters understood some of what they were reporting on. It would be even nicer if editors could detect contradictions within an article and if headline writers read the whole article.

That's not to say that Bashar isn't preparing - just that we can't tell whether he is or not from what NBC has told us.

Updated (12/6/12): I see that NBC has edited the piece and that last paragraph I quoted has been deleted. But the first two paragraphs I quoted still stand. There's confusion there as to whether the precursors have been mixed or loaded into bombs unmixed. I conclude that what the government is reporting is that the level of readiness has increased. I'm also concluding that the NBC reporters have muddled what they heard because they don't know enough about nerve agent bombs. I'm hoping that the government spokesperson knew better what he was talking about.

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