An article in this past Thursday's International Herald Tribune has many of the earmarks of the deliberate mis-information campaign that accompanies an intelligence maskarovka (mask) effort.
This quote from the IHT encapsulates the situation well:
"Two photos, taken Wednesday from space by rival companies, show the site near the Euphrates River to have been wiped clean since August, when imagery showed a tall square building there measuring about 150 feet on a side.
The Syrians reported an attack by Israel in early September; the Israelis have not confirmed that. Senior Syrian officials continue to deny that a nuclear reactor was under construction, insisting that Israel hit a largely empty military warehouse.
But the images, federal and private analysts say, suggest that the Syrian authorities rushed to dismantle the facility after the strike, calling it a tacit admission of guilt.
"It's a magic act — here today, gone tomorrow," a senior intelligence official said. "It doesn't lower suspicions; it raises them. This was not a long-term decommissioning of a building, which can take a year. It was speedy. It's incredible that they could have gone to that effort to make something go away."
In fact, the photos show that the structure is no longer visible to the usual visual spectrum, not that the building has been dismantled - which is the unstated suggestion the reader is left with. In fact, I question whether the "senior intelligence official" is being quoted in context. Read another way, his/her statement could equally mean that an extraordinary effort was entailed by the Syrians to create the photographic effect.
This quote from James Cirincone clearly makes the effort to place the existence of the structure into the past tense:
"It's clearly very suspicious," said Joseph Cirincione, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the Center for American Progress in Washington. "The Syrians were up to something that they clearly didn't want the world to know about."
As does this quote from one David Albright:
"It looks like Syria is trying to hide something and destroy the evidence of some activity," Albright said in an interview. "But it won't work. Syria has got to answer questions about what it was doing."
This is not to say that either of these two men, or the authors of this article, are intentionally cooperating in a deception effort on the part of the Syrian government. The fact remains that a close examination of the two photos provided, using only the naked human eye, shows that multiple changes have occurred at the site pictured in addition to the apparent disappearance of the central building.
Earthen ramps appear to have been built up on the three sides of the main structure that don't face the abrupt cliff.
A new structure has gone up interrupting the apparent foot path leading into the cliff face (beginning from the lower-right quadrant of the picture).
It seems likely to me (based upon this admittedly skimpy "evidence") that a covering material has been erected over the building, that the material is anchored around the edges by/to the earthen ramps and that a ventilation or similar tower structure has had to remain exposed outside the material (the small square form visible in the r/h picture consistent with the upper-left corner of the large building in the l/h photo).
Nothing can be decided from such information/speculation as offered here. What does seem clear though is that whatever questions existed on August 10th remain unanswered today. In fact, the obvious changes in the site pose additional questions that should only add urgency to efforts seeking satisfactory answers.
I discovered something interesting about the maskarovka technique itself. Sort of. I attempted to research the topic to add greater depth to this post. I discovered that Google, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Brittanica and the CIA provide "no result" to queries into the subject, beyond some few references to other's use of the word. I admit my google-fu sucks for the most part, but I put extensive (a couple of hours or so) effort into building differing search strings
on those sites. I won't come right out and declare that they've never heard of the concept, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, but I would be interested to learn what other, better capable users can come up with.
As for the IHT article itself, I think it mystifies more than clarifies the issue(s) and interests involved. Despite Israel's proximity to the locale and it's recent "alleged" activities in the immediate area, I feel certain that many others, and much more, is involved then that simplistic storyline would allow. Strategic science recognises that the calculation of interests involved in a circumstance can be numbered linearly, but their interactions accumulate exponentially as a factor of that numeric growth. In other words, the more players there are, the more opportunities exist for them to make trouble. You know, multi-tasking and all that.
Via James Hudnall, who seems more ready to believe then I am.