Virginia State Senator Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) has been accused of regurgitating Syrian propaganda by saying in an Arab TV interview that he believes British intelligence is preparing a chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians, which it will then blame on dictator Bashar Assad as a pretext for military action.
The Washington Post on Saturday published both Black’s initial allegations from last week and his subsequent clarification, which did little to soften the outrageous character of his commentary:
“Around four weeks ago, we knew that British intelligence was working toward a chemical attack in order to blame the Syrian government, to hold Syria responsible,” Black said on Al Mayadeen, an Arab news channel based in Beirut.
Black (R-Loudoun) said later that he meant the British were planning not to carry out an attack themselves, but to either direct rebels to do so or stage a phony attack, with actors posing as victims.
Black also said some chemical attacks previously reported to have occurred in Syria were British fakes, pulled off with help from volunteer first responders known as White Helmets.
“From what I can tell, they have been planning a fake attack, not a genuine one, but one where they actually move people out of a town and they have trained people to portray victims of a gas attack,” Black said Friday in an interview with The Washington Post. “And the plan is to use the White Helmets who have always been involved in these notorious deceptions, to portray an attack.”
The White Helmets are a volunteer civil defense organization praised for rescuing civilians from the bloody battlefields of the Syrian civil war. Propaganda from the Syrian and Russian governments routinely portrays the White Helmets as a sinister subversive organization that seeks to embarrass Assad and his allies by staging war crimes.
The conspiracy theory Black touted on Arab television has been assiduously pushed by the Russian government in the runup to a massive military operation against rebel-held areas of the Idlib province. The Russian Defense Ministry spent the last several weeks pushing a story that the White Helmets are kidnapping children to use as victims in a staged chemical attack in Idlib, acting under the direction of British security experts.
An official from the U.S. State Department dismissed Black’s allegations in an email to the Washington Post:
The Syrian regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons. Russian and regime denials have no credibility, nor does the increasingly offensive and outrageous Russian propaganda accusing the US and the UK of planning and executing CW attacks in order to justify retaliation in Syria. … The White Helmets are a humanitarian organization that has saved thousands of lives and continues to respond to bombardments by Russian and regime military forces.
The British Embassy also called Black’s charges “nonsense” and accused him of relaying propaganda from “Russia and the Assad regime.” Other critics cited by the Washington Post noted the Arab TV station that interviewed Black is affiliated with the terrorist organization Hezbollah, and he has also done recent interviews with Russia’s state-controlled RT network.
For his part, Black said he is “deeply concerned about achieving peace and stopping the slaughter in the Middle East” and worried about America being drawn more deeply into the Syrian civil war.
“Black, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and retired Pentagon lawyer, regards Assad as a protector of Syrian Christians and a buffer against Islamist extremism,” the Washington Post noted.
Black flew to Damascus to meet with Assad for the second time last week. Syrian state media said he was impressed with the “love” of the Syrian people for Assad and his military, “who maintained the unity of the country and restored security to it.”
“Black criticized the American diplomats who do not stop threatening people with war, killing and imposing sanctions instead of looking for common ground for cooperation between nations and peoples,” Syrian state media added.
The website for the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) got his name and office wrong, mistakenly identifying him as “American Senator Richard Blake,” and claimed he “expressed his happiness over the return of security to Syria and his hope that the remaining terrorist spots will be eliminated, saying that the whole world should rejoice in the victories achieved by Syria.”