Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Syria: More questions about the alleged nuclear Site (LA Times)

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SYRIA: More questions about alleged nuclear site

Professor William Beeman at the University of Minnesota passed along a note today from "a colleague with a U.S. security clearance" about the mysterious Syrian site targeted in a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike.

The note raises more questions about the evidence shown last week by U.S. intelligence officials to lawmakers in the House and Senate.

The author of the note pinpoints irregularities about the photographs. Beeman's source alleges that the CIA "enhanced" some of the images. For example he cites this image:

The lower part of the building, the annex, and the windows pointing south appear much sharper than the rest of the photo, suggesting that they were digitally improved.

The author points to more questions about the photographs of the Syrian site.

1. Satellite photos of the alleged reactor building show no air defenses or anti-aircraft batteries such as the ones found around the Natanz nuclear site in central Iran.
2. The satellite images do not show any military checkpoints on roads near the building.
3. Where are the power lines? The photos show neither electricity lines or substations.
4. Here is a link to a photo of the North Korean facility that the Syrian site was based on. Look at all the buildings surrounding it. The Syrian site was just one building.

Now compare this photograph of the site:


To this one:


The site looks like a rectangle in the first shot, but more like a square in the second shot. Huh?

Thanks to Beeman, a professor of anthropology and Middle East studies as well as a member of the blogosphere, for allowing us to share his colleague's comments.

— Borzou Daragahi in Amman, Jordan

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the frictions between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

03:25 PM PT, Apr 28 2008 in Israel , Nuclear Technology , Syria | Permalink | Comments (37) | TrackBack (0)

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Scott Ritter pointed out yesterday that there would be no violation of the NPT unless they had introduced nuclear material to the site, then they would be obligated to declare it as a nuclear reactor. If they blew it up with nuclear material, there would be a measureable amount of radiation. So far there is none. He also stressed that this looked more like a test reactor, and not one that could produce enough plutonium to make a bomb. In addition there was the absence of fences around the perimeter, or guards. So Syria committed no "violations". Also, since no nuclear material was present, there is nothing for the IAEA to do, since without nuclear material, it's out of their jurisdiction.

Israel, on the other hand, bombed a sovereign nation without a declaration of war, which is a war crime.

In short, looks like another "yellow cake" affair. They blew up a hunk of concrete, nothing more. They broke international law to do it. And now they're trying to whip up international sediment against the Syrians for it. The whole thing smells like old fish on a hot day.

One note about the timing of the "coming out" of the recent information. It occurred the day after the biggest Israeli spy scandal since Jonathan Pollard. Turns out the Israeli spy network was much larger than previously thought. Seems like every time there's a story that hurts the Israelis or the US administration, the next day we see a big "fear monger" story. Tell me I'm wrong.

Posted by: Zardoz | April 29, 2008 at 06:53 AM

The destoyed building in top photo has as aspect ratio of .74/1.00.

The destroyed building in bottom photo has an aspect ratio of .95/1.00.

The difference in angle for aerial photos is not going to account for that great a difference. They are not the same building.

Posted by: bobdevo | April 29, 2008 at 06:45 AM

Hahaha, this is a 3-d representation of the building. I'm surprised nobody at the Times saw the actual video presentation. (for the video and some more intelligent commentary, go to armscontrolwonk.com )

the discrepancy in the shadows is because the two pictures were taken from a slightly different angle. Jeez. There's enough to criticize in this story without this.

Posted by: Nate | April 29, 2008 at 06:44 AM

Sounds like the LA Times and it's far left minions are using their 9-11 conspiracy caps again barking up this tree here. Ugh...

Posted by: Effivin Cod | April 29, 2008 at 06:40 AM

LA Times,
Thanks for the Syria version of events. It's good to know America's enemies have a friend and voice in this country to spin for them plotting to kill thousands of people.

Are you guys aware of how dangerous it is what you are doing or are you leftists that willing to be useful idiots for our enemies?

Posted by: Effivin Cod | April 29, 2008 at 06:38 AM

As a Professional Retoucher, I would have to say that the professor is right on the money. The Photos have been retouched. To really tell, see if there is any way to seethe original released pictures. If there was retouching there will be tell-tale differences in the pixelation when viewing the photo's various channels.

Posted by: Ed | April 29, 2008 at 06:21 AM

Israel, who's sitting on 'X' amount of unlawfully obtained and maintained nukes and who is allied with the U.S. who sits on 'XXXX' nukes illegally attacks Seria who has '0' nukes. What's wrong with this picture is not the picture at all; it's the international laws that are being blatently ignored by the US and Israel in persuit of their Imperialist aims.

You can't be attacked by the knee-jerk authoritarians in this thread-- who believe that anyone but the U.S. and Israel who even THINKS about defending themselves with nukes-- should be "obliterated" if you just stick to the facts--rules of international law--and skip speculating about faked photos.

Posted by: Antiup | April 29, 2008 at 05:57 AM

Be sure to see Scott Ritter's take on the affair here:


Posted by: Eli Stephens | April 29, 2008 at 05:56 AM

I have been photoshopping since 1992 or 3 -- or since version 2. - Without a speck of reservation -- THOSE PHOTOS ARE PHOTOSHOPPED - digitally enhanced. America - you've been dupped -- AGAIN! It's time to take this Government DOWN -- IMPEACH IMPEACH the lying thieving bastards....!!

Posted by: Marc W | April 29, 2008 at 05:42 AM

So I hadn't seen the "VOAvideo" on YouTube before writing my earlier comment about the necessary cooling tower or other cooling facilities. It is the claim of US authorities that cooling water was pumped from the nearby Euphrates river to cool a graphite-moderated, gas-cooled, plutonium-production reactor. The coolant is a major point of the video, and the ancillary facilities (a pump house, buried storage pond, gas-to-coolant heat exchangers, etc.) are all indicated as well.

The problem is almost all of these data are suggested by computer-generated graphics. It is unclear what actual photographic evidence exists to support these various claims.

Surely, the IAEA must have some sort of independent analysis to support, or not support, the US interpretation. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Syria is a signatory nation and a declared "non-nuclear-weapon State" -- the IAEA has certain inspection rights under Article III and other provisions.

What does the IAEA have to say about these claims about a plutonium-production reactor? Surely. the IAEA would have conducted on-site inspections of the ruins by now. If Syria has been such a flagrant violator of its treaty obligations as a non-nuclear-weapons State, wouldn't the IAEA have something to say?

See http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/Others/infcirc140.pdf

Posted by: Theophilus | April 29, 2008 at 05:27 AM

"Note the North Korean facility has a very large hyperbolic cooling tower nearby. I suppose if there were a substantial water supply, you might use some sort of drilled well to reject waste heat -- but this would require a lot of water and a lot of work. Is there any evidence for how they got rid of waste heat, if this were a reactor facility?"
Did any of you "CIA IS BAD!" conspiracy theorists see the videos on youtube? The first photo is from A COMPUTER GENERATED VIDEO!!!!!!!!!

1. Syria built a second building AROUND (and over) the reactor was built to change the outline in order to be covert (may they just wanted a more asthetically pleasing useless building in the middle of nowhere)
2. There were pipes from the Euphrates river bringing up cooling water to a underground holding tank and another returning heated water from the "reactor" back to the river. Probably just a useless building on the middle of nowhere... that needed a lot of water.

Good, Gosh! Another MSM hatchet job w/ no proof or clue. Methinks your heads are buried deeper than the remains of this reactor.

Posted by: Brad | April 29, 2008 at 04:10 AM

But it has to be real because Diane Feinstein said that she was briefed about this and well it just has to be true don't you know. Why would those experts say it was true if it wasn't. Yada, yada, yada. She needs to go!

FEINSTEIN: Well, Wolf, the Senate Intelligence Committee did have a classified briefing. And I can say this, based on the analysis of the people that were there, namely Admiral McConnell, General Hayden and national security adviser -- the national security adviser, the facility was not configured for civilian use. They had a number of I think documenting points to make the case that this was, in fact, a nuclear weapons facility.

Now, having said that, I was surprised that they hadn't given the information to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and I was also surprised by the timing of it, because there have been some reports that Israel and Syria were looking at a settlement, quite possibly, and this could very well disrupt that settlement. So I...

BLITZER: But you believe -- based on what you know, Senator Feinstein, you believe that this was a nuclear reactor that North Korea was constructing in Syria?

FEINSTEIN: Look, none of us on the committee are nuclear experts. We take the views of nuclear experts. According to those experts, the answer is yes, this was a nuclear facility. I would be very surprised if it turned out to be anything other than that.

Posted by: pmorlan | April 29, 2008 at 03:49 AM

Has anyone asked whether they pulled the appropriate building permits? No cooler tower, no power lines, etc. Obviously shoddy workmanship.

OK. So hopefully you had a quick laugh from this scary stuff.

Posted by: Luca Ponti | April 29, 2008 at 01:49 AM

I say, digitally plonk a few granite columns at the front and drop the bloody thing in Washington, DC. It'd fit right in with the neo-classical mythology of the damn place.

Posted by: Novista | April 29, 2008 at 12:38 AM

The obviously doctored photo looks like the building has been created in a 3D rendering package like Strata 3D.

Extremely poorly done. I could do a much better job in 30 minutes.

For some time now the government has obviously felt so powerful that it doesn't need to try too hard with its bogus evidence. Plausible deniability is the term, I believe.

Posted by: bern Dell | April 29, 2008 at 12:15 AM

The article is specific to the subject of whether these photographs (or representation in the case of the first image) are genuine. It's a valid, healthy question.

But that's a bit of a red herring in terms of what's happening right now. What we should be asking:

1) The Israeli strike took place on 6 September, 2007, at which time it was mentioned discreetly in various media. Why is the White House publicizing the attack in April 2008? What other current events may be related to or impacted by this news?

2) Why is the United States publicizing this information instead of Israel?

3) Does anybody benefit from the publicizing of this information? If so, who benefits and in what way?

If you pay attention, there is a great deal of tension between the US and Israel right now -- perhaps so much as to be unprecedented. This is an interesting article, even if it is highly inaccurate, but if you narrow the focus of your questioning to something so granular, you're going to miss the big picture. No bad pun intended. ;]

Posted by: Phillip | April 28, 2008 at 11:45 PM

Um, if that's a reactor, where's the cooling tower? There is clearly one at the N. korean site, and it would be pretty insade to not have a way of drawing heat from the reactor core.

Posted by: Squeegee | April 28, 2008 at 11:41 PM

My question is -- if this is a nuclear-reactor facility, where's the cooling tower?

All nuclear reactors, even very small research ones, require a fairly large cooling towers. I live two blocks from MIT's research reactor in Cambridge, which operates with less than a few kW; nonetheless, it has an adjacent slat-type cooling tower about the size of a small house. If this were a plutonium-production reactor, it would work with hundreds to thousands of times the thermal output, and it would require either a comparably larger cooling tower, or would need a large cooling pond or an adjacent river into which to reject its waste heat. But I see no obvious evidence of such a tower or alternative cooling apparatus.

Note the North Korean facility has a very large hyperbolic cooling tower nearby. I suppose if there were a substantial water supply, you might use some sort of drilled well to reject waste heat -- but this would require a lot of water and a lot of work. Is there any evidence for how they got rid of waste heat, if this were a reactor facility?

Posted by: Theophilus | April 28, 2008 at 11:38 PM

The first picture is obviously CGI...because it is from a CGI video:


Posted by: random bystander | April 28, 2008 at 10:52 PM

I'm a professional graphic designer and work with Photoshop every day in my work. I concur with Illustrator's comments about the first image. It has been heavily and inexpertly modified using digital means, and as such should not be regarded as a useful piece of information unless further explanations were forthcoming regarding the manipulation of the image.

Regarding the two images of the bombed structure, I also agree with others here in that there is no obvious graphic manipulation. There are none of the telltale digital artifacts that usually accompany modification, and the apparent differences in the site are due to the different times of day and viewing angle.

Posted by: bluestatedon | April 28, 2008 at 10:17 PM

I am a professional illustrator, using Photoshop everyday. The top photo is obviously Photoshopped. The giveaways are the shadows- the 'hook" in the shadow of the front gable is rounded- this is a classic trace left by an inexpert use of the eraser tool set to a soft feather. Additionally, the shadow is the wrong shape, and is too simple. Further, the shadow on the shaded side of the structure is all the same value and hue. This is incorrect and is characteristic of invented structures with bad painting.

This image is heavily modified, and may be entirely fake. At the very least, someone tried to change it, and botched the job.

Posted by: illustrator | April 28, 2008 at 09:40 PM

I have some serious issues with the weight of this " colleague with a U.S. security clearance".

First, yes - the top photo was enhanced, but it's a still from a 3D enhanced video (linked just above it). It wasn't enhanced to fool anyone, it was enhanced with advanced methods - not some Photoshop hack job.

Also, the bottom two photos are the same building - taken at different times of the day from slightly different angles.

As well, the photo comparison to the N. Korean facility would be easier to see if you flipped one of the images, they are currently oriented opposite of each other - as is the top image in comparison to the bottom two images.

I'm a former AF imagery analyst and I'm actually more convinced now that this was a real facility than I was before seeing the evidence.

The facilities are very similar, considering they were built 35 years apart - the subtle differences can be accounted for by looking at the building post destruction.

Posted by: Shawn | April 28, 2008 at 09:31 PM

The photo at the top looks a lot like the kind of image you'd find in a common videogame. It looks like 3d geometry textured with low res images and rendered in a 3d game application.

Thats why you see the sharp details on the front of the building and the unrealistic reflections of the windows.

Posted by: jeff | April 28, 2008 at 09:31 PM

Rebuttal reasons

1) put SAM sites around and you might as well flag the area for containing something of value

2) ditto

3) Graphite core reactors only require only a little power to operate..obviously something was powering up the pumping station down at the river. There is a building just to the north west that could be a generator building and a diesel plant could be built nearby in short order to supply enough power for full operation

4) one photo is directly overhead the other from a side angle ...distortion will occur from that alone.

Posted by: SlimGuy | April 28, 2008 at 08:58 PM

It's obviously a 3D representation of the building. The CIA is displaying some of its more sophisticated satellite based radar mapping or equivalent tech. This is how modern militaries map out the battlefield. This is not photoshop.

Posted by: Jesse | April 28, 2008 at 08:48 PM

The site looks like a rectangle in the first shot, but more like a square in the second shot. Huh?

The pictures were taken from different satellites at a different time of day which accounts for some of the oddities. But the resolution we see is not even worth attempting to identify. It could be anything. Both satellites have the ability to read a phone number on a desk in those buildings, if they are even the same building. One looks like a mock-up.

This is not evidence of anything. It's more blarney. Bush will use the same kind of 'evidence' to bomb Iran, and it will be a huge mistake. Like Iraq, except with even more unimaginable consequences.

Posted by: tc399 | April 28, 2008 at 08:39 PM

It seems that we are being lied to again--lied into another probable war. Who is running our country, demons from hell?

Posted by: Aride | April 28, 2008 at 08:33 PM

Given the Bush Administration's pattern of near-absolute deceit, all evidence they produce on any subject should be considered suspect.

Posted by: DanR | April 28, 2008 at 08:18 PM

Make no mistake - the Bush crazies are going to attack Iran. They are looking everywhere for pretext.

Unfortunately the world is not buying it. The only way they will get their justification will be a false flag attack against an American warship in the Gulf or "terrorist" attack in the U.S. Homeland. I expect this within 60 days as they have to go into Iran before August.

Just Google Earth Iran - it's all friken mountains - a horrible place for an infantry offense and an air attack is just going to poke a stick in the bee's nest.

It will be the final death knell for the American economy as if these crooks and war criminals haven't done their best to destroy us in the last 8 years.

Posted by: Bill S | April 28, 2008 at 08:09 PM

Hey, those final two photos are taken from two different angles.

The first is nearly straight above birds-eye-view and the second, "square" shape is taken from a lower angle that faces the front wall of the building. You can see the walls in it and not in the "rectangle" straight above view.

When you tilt your angle like that, shapes shorten vertically.

Come to think of it, the first photo looks like a google-earth 3D building overlay - sharp corners and shapes with very low resolution photographic textures on.

I won't claim any knowledge of nuclear plants but just answering the questions posed in this post.

Posted by: Observant Person | April 28, 2008 at 07:28 PM

I have analyzed sat images professionally for 4 years

I can't explain the first shot. Maybe there is a quality to windows that cause their light band signature to be sharper?

The second comparison shots that the author though were different shapes is really typical in sat images from different times and angles. I am sure that is nothing more than phones fooling the eye.

Just look at the underground entrance on the top photo, due to the difference in shadow and angle you almost can't see it in the second

Posted by: guest | April 28, 2008 at 07:27 PM

The last two photos likely look different because they were taken at different angles. The first one is obviously right overhead, while the second one is at an angle. Besides, that wouldn't gain anyone anything. As far as the first one, it looks to me like it was 3D rendered using the image as textures... which is weird, but could account for the sharpness of the lower roof. Disclaimer: This is the opinion of a novice.

Posted by: Nick B | April 28, 2008 at 07:18 PM

I too was puzzled about the lack of utility power.
I scoured Google Earth, and there are no power
lines for miles. And I would guess that most of
the processes inside a nuke facility would require
an awful large supply. I have to imagine the need
for cooling water, etc. and these would require
hundreds of amps of AC. And to anyone that thinks that it's
an issue of visibility vs. resolution limits of GE,
I've found many cases of just residential power that's easily
visible, let alone 3 phase megawatt towers needed for
a facility like this.


Posted by: D Dulmage | April 28, 2008 at 06:50 PM

Sounds like LA Times is engaged in another hatchet job like
P .Diddy knocked off Tupac.

Those of us who are in intelligence clearly understand what the problem with the picture is.

Posted by: Navin | April 28, 2008 at 06:40 PM

The first image is a composite and is taken from the fly-through at the beginning of the presentation. It's make with similar technology that google earth and google sketchup use so no, it's not an "actual" photograph.

As for the questions, here are answers:

1. Air Defenses clue in intelligence agencies that something is important. The entire point of this facility was that it was covert. For an extended explanation, see this: http://geimint.blogspot.com/2008/04/syria-and-north-korea-nuclear-partners.html

2. See answer to #1

3. Powerlines are not needed unless the reactor intends to produce electricity. And anyway, at one corner of the building there is a single powerline coming in to provide power to the facility.

4. Yongbyon (the DPRK facility) has so many buildings because there is so much going on there. There are two reactors (one uncompleted), a fuel fabrication plant and rreprocessing plant, among other things.

Finally, the square vs rectangle is the result of the angle the to two images were taken. In the first, the shot it almost directly overhead - in the second, it's at an oblique angle. Unlike the movies, not all satellite imagery is straight down.

Posted by: Andy | April 28, 2008 at 06:35 PM

The question of after touching on the Photos is an important one, but before we jump to any conclusion maybe we should think about the fact that the NRO and CIA are known to digitally downgrade Sat imagery to protect the classified specs of the collection assets

Posted by: Sam | April 28, 2008 at 06:13 PM

As someone who has worked with satellite imagery before, I can safely say the top image was touched up to bring faint elements into focus. The difference between the bottom two photos is created by (A) the angle of the photo (B) damage to the building, whether by attack or collapse of a section post-attack. Imagery is never "straight-up" and requires a trained eye; this has been true ever since the first photographic reconnaissance flights by balloon in the US Civil War. There are WWII recon photos that still stump trainees in service schools throughout DOD. I'll never forget a photo at which I stared for what seemed an hour, increasingly sure that I was seeing ICBM silos. But not: they were tethered cows in a field, and they had eaten circles of grass around their pinions.

Posted by: Matt Osborne | April 28, 2008 at 06:10 PM