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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.

Comments () | Archives (66)

I'm actually a former student of Professor Beeman's (Hi, Bill!) and an archaeologist with a lot of experience in satellite and aerial imagery. Now whether this site indeed represents a nuclear reactor or not is certainly beyond my expertise, but I have to respectfully disagree that there is any evidence here of nefarious image manipulation.

As several readers have pointed out, the first is a still from a rendered 3-d animation distributed by the DOD and was never claimed to be an unaltered photograph, so we can remove that one form the discussion immediately.

As to the second set of photographs, a review of the surrounding terrain, especially the shape of the roads in the upper left and lower right corners, reveals that the two pictures are almost certainly in the same location. The apparent difference in the shape of the buildings has entirely to do with the angle from which the shot was taken (doubly likely if these are spy plane photos rather than sat) and the time of day.

Unlike in the first, where light is coming from the upper half of the image, in the second photo, the sun shines from the lower left, causing the lower edge of the building to be poorly defined. There is also the possibility that the wall has collapsed, making the true edge even harder to see. An examination of the area surrounding the site reveals similar differences in contrast and visibility in the vegetation and outbuildings surrounding the site.

A good illustration of how differences in angle and lighting can make sat images of identical locations seem very different is this comparison ( showing several shots of the so-called "face" on Mars, which, with different lighting, is recognizable as nothing more than the eroded hilltop it is.

The first photo doesn't look "digitally enhanced" as I understand the term, it looks FAKE. It actually looks like a GoogleEarth building rendering, or something rendered in a video game. I look at that image and immediately see it as fake. I suspect US "intel" is making extravagant use of GoogleEarth and its tools to create rendered buildings the way they WANT them to look rather than the way they actually look.

As the "source" for the relaying of this information, I want to emphasize that there is nothing secret about these photographs. They have been promulgated by the U.S. government as "proof" of their assertions. My colleague, who drew my attention to this material makes no claims of having any secret or privileged information, beyond having a sharp eye and a skeptical view of this material. The commentary on this shows a variety of opinions, and has drawn people with real expertise in image analysis. I invite readers to draw their own conclusions.

William O. Beeman
University of Minnesota

It's simple. Our elected leaders have lied before about WMDs, so we have no actual idea if they are lying this time.

Poorly doctored like, oh, say, the Iranian gun boat incident that had most people laughing because of its silliness...yet could have been a trigger to war with yet another country.

And then there's this bit:

Bush and the neo con's bringing forth WW3.

Recall in 1991 leading invasion of Iraq--USA used phonie pictures of 1000's of Saddam's tanks on the border of Saudia Arbia to UN. The Photo shop geek forgot to paint in the tank and military tracks. After the killings of over 282,000 fleeing iraqies,the Russians provided satelite photos--no tanks ever were stationed at the border. Suadias--got suckered to pay 90% of USA military bill$
So tell us more bullsh!t!

A response to Effivin Cod

"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?"

But as we've seen from Iraq, there is no danger whatsoever to flying headlong into war based on faulty or false intel.

Do you remember a time in America when right wingers considered the government to be something to be treated sceptically? Remember when you wanted to keep the govenment out of your lives? Remember when you thought the only reason the government wanted to spy on American was to find out who was a gun collector so they could be rounded up in the future? Remember when you were appalled by government waste and mismanagement?

Whatever happened to turn such proud mavericks into frightened toady's that will swallow whatever the government feeds them?

Just for laughs, a state exists between Syria and Israel and has since 1948, The attack thus wasn't a war crime no matter how you hate Israel.

Syria's Smoking Gun
by Trish Schuh – "Syria Comment" Sept 17, 2007

DEIR EZ ZOR, Syria- On a bridge over the Euphrates River at sundown, neighboring mosques weave a chorus calling Muslims to prayer. This destitute, ramshackle oil town on Iraq's desert frontier seems calm, despite Israel's recent raid on a military base outside the city to destroy "Syria's nuclear program."

The Qamishli-Deir Ez Zor highway, alleged by Israel to be a weapons route for Iraqi insurgents, was also quiet, and there were no heavy construction machinery or building cranes visible in the opposite direction on the road from Deir Ez Zor to Iraq.

At the Syria-Qusayba checkpoint near the Iraq border, I was stopped by the Syrian military. Across the road on the Iraqi side, sounds of American military operations puttered as blackhawk helicopters flew overhead. "No photos," said the Syrian military captain. Cameras could draw US sniper fire.

The surrounding terrain is flat barren desert, with visibility extending for miles. It is difficult to see how smugglers, insurgents or anything that moves could penetrate here. This is also where CNN claimed Israel punched "a big hole in the desert" by attacking North Korean nuclear materials. But the big hole could be in CNN's story.

As far back as 2002, Charles Duelfer of the United Nations Iraq Survey Group called then Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, John Bolton's nuclear claims against Syria "exaggerated." It was also the assessment of the CIA. In 2004, Muhammad El Baradei chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reiterated that there was no evidence Syria had a nuclear program.

After the invasion of Iraq, former US Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner identified charges against Syria as one of 50 false news stories created by Israel and the White House to justify war. "Saddam's nuclear WMDs moved to Syria" was propaganda he said.

Several days ago, after the attack on Syria's "nuclear program", I spoke to western oil company officials in Deir Ez Zor. One technician told me they routinely monitor radiation as part of the refining process. They registered no heightened levels of nuclear residue in the area as there would have been if the Israelis had hit a North Korean atomic stockpile. Operations and technical foremen put it this way: "The nuclear claims against Syria are pure bullsh*t."

The Syrian smoking gun is the complete lack of any mushroom cloud.

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.

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.

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 )

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.

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...

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?

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.

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.

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....!!

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?


"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.

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