Theodore Postol

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Theodore A. Postol
BornApril 1946 (1946-04) (age 75)
Alma materMIT
Known forCriticism of U.S. missile defense effectiveness
Scientific career
FieldsPhysicist and Science and technology studies
Argonne National Laboratory
Office of the Chief of Naval Operations

Theodore A. Postol (born 1946) is a professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and International Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to his work at MIT, he worked at Argonne National Laboratory, the Pentagon, and Stanford University.

He also criticized the US government's analysis of the 2013 Ghouta chemical attack in Syria, analysis by the US and other western governments of the April 4, 2017 Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, and accused the OPCW of "deception" concerning the Douma chemical attack. Earlier, he criticised US government statements about the reported success rates of Patriot missiles during the first Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm.


Postol received his undergraduate degree in physics and his PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT. Postol worked at Argonne National Laboratory, where he studied the microscopic dynamics and structure of liquids and disordered solids using neutron, X-ray and light scattering techniques, along with molecular dynamics simulations. He also worked at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, where he studied methods of basing the MX missile, and later worked as a scientific adviser to the Chief of Naval Operations.[1]

After leaving the Pentagon, Postol helped to build a program at Stanford University to train mid-career scientists to study weapons technology in relation to defense and arms control policy.[1] In 1990, Postol received the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical Society for "incisive technical analysis of national security issues that [have] been vital for informing the public policy debate".[2] In 1995, he received the Hilliard Roderick Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[3] In 2001, he received the Norbert Wiener Award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility for "uncovering numerous and important false claims about missile defenses.".[4] On September 28, 2016 the Federation of American Scientists awarded Postol their annual Richard L. Garwin Award,[5] "that recognizes an individual who, through exceptional achievement in science and technology, has made an outstanding contribution toward the benefit of mankind."[6]

Patriot missiles in Operation Desert Storm[edit]

The Patriot Missile was used in the first Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) to intercept descent-phase SCUD missiles fired by Iraq. The U.S. Army claimed a success rate of 80% in Saudi Arabia and 50% in Israel, claims that were later reduced to 70% and 40%. But President George H.W. Bush claimed a success rate of more than 97% during a speech at Raytheon's Patriot manufacturing plant in Andover, Massachusetts in February 1991, declaring, the "Patriot is 41 for 42: 42 Scuds engaged, 41 intercepted!"[7] In April 1992, Postol told a House committee that "the Patriot's intercept rate during the Gulf War was very low. The evidence from these preliminary studies indicates that Patriot's intercept rate could be much lower than 10 percent, possibly even zero."[8] Postol later criticized the Army's "independent" Analysis of Video Tapes to Assess Patriot Effectiveness as being "seriously compromised" by the "selective" and "arbitrary" use of data.[9] A House Government Operations Committee investigation in 1992 concluded that, contrary to military claims on effectiveness, Patriot missiles destroyed only 9 percent of SCUD missiles during attempts at interception.[10]

National ballistic missile defense[edit]

In 1996, Nira Schwartz, a senior engineer at defense contractor TRW blew the whistle on TRW for exaggerating the capabilities of an antiballistic missile sensor.[11] The sensor was subsequently used in a "successful" missile test in 1997. The then-Ballistic Missile Defense Organization launched an investigation in 1998 and asked a Pentagon advisory board called POET (Phase One Engineering Team), which included two staff members from MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, to review performance of TRW software, using data from the 1997 flight test. These engineers concluded in their report that Schwartz's allegations were untrue and despite failure of the sensor, the software "basically worked the way TRW said it worked."[12] In December 1998, TRW's contract was not extended by the government, which chose a competing system built by Raytheon.

In 2000, Schwartz gave Postol an unclassified version of the POET report from which sensitive text and graphs had been removed. Based on this redacted report, he notified the White House[13] and senior MIT officials of possible fraud and research misconduct at TRW and MIT Lincoln Laboratory. The Pentagon responded by classifying the letter and dispatching Defense Security Service members to his office.[14] Three agents of the Defense Security Services arrived unannounced to his campus office and attempted to show him other classified documents, but Postol refused to look at them. If he had read them, he would not have been able to criticize the antimissile system without putting his security clearance at risk. Postol said the visit was meant to silence him, which the Defense Security Services denied.[15]

Investigation into TRW/MIT Lincoln Laboratory report[edit]

Postol demanded the MIT administration under President Charles Vest and Provost Robert Brown investigate possible violations to MIT policies on research misconduct. The administration initially resisted,[16] but later appointed another faculty member to conduct a preliminary investigation. In 2002, this professor's investigation found no evidence of a credible error, but he subsequently recommended a full investigation when Postol provided a statement of additional concerns. A subsequent 18-month investigation by the General Accounting Office in 2002 found widespread technical failures in the anti-missile system, contradicting the original report in 1997.[17] In May 2006, a panel composed of MIT faculty members concluded that the investigator recommended a full investigation "because of his inability to exhaust all the questions that arose during the inquiry," not because it appeared likely misconduct had occurred, and that a full investigation had not been warranted.[18]

Under National Science Foundation regulations governing research misconduct, a preliminary inquiry should be completed within 90 days of an allegation, and a full investigation within 180 days subject to penalties as severe as suspension of federal funding.[19] By December 2004, four years later, no formal investigation had been performed, and the Missile Defense Agency formally rejected MIT's request to investigate the classified data.[20] Postol stated that the MIT administration was compliant with the Pentagon's attempts to cover up a fiasco by dragging its feet on an investigation because defense contracts through Lincoln Laboratory constituted a major portion of MIT's operating budget.[21][22]

In early 2006, a compromise was reached whereby MIT would halt any attempt to conduct its own investigation and senior Air Force administrator Brendan B. Godfrey and former Lockheed Martin chief executive Norman R. Augustine would lead a final investigation.[23] Postol disputed the impartiality of this new investigation as Augustine was CEO while Lockheed was a contractor with NBMD.[24]

In May 2006, an MIT Ad-Hoc Committee on Research Misconduct Allegation concluded delays in the investigation were caused by a number of factors, including: "initial uncertainty about the applicability of MIT's research misconduct policy to a government [non-MIT] report"; government classification of relevant information, possibly in an attempt to make it unavailable to plaintiffs in the TRW whistle-blower trial; and Postol's failure to provide a clearly written summary of his allegations, which changed repeatedly during the investigation. The committee also found that Postol repeatedly violated MIT confidentiality rules "causing personal distress to the Lincoln Laboratory researchers, their families and colleagues".[18]

SM-3 interceptor[edit]

In September 2009, President Barack Obama announced that his administration was scrapping the Bush administration's proposed anti-ballistic missile shield in Europe and replacing it with reconfigured SM-3 missiles.[25][26] A "Ballistic Missile Defense Review" was completed in March 2010 concluding that existing ballistic missile defense technologies provided a reliable and robust defense against limited ICBM attacks.[27][28] In May 2010, Postol and George N. Lewis published an analysis concluding that the majority of SM-3 interceptor tests classified as "successful" actually failed to destroy incoming warheads.[28][29] The Missile Defense Agency challenged a New York Times article which described Postol and Lewis' results, stating that the SM-3 program was one of the most successful programs within the Department of Defense and that the New York Times chose not to publish information supplied by the MDA in response to the allegations made by Postol and Lewis.[30]

Iron Dome[edit]

In July 2014, Postol was quoted in the MIT Technology Review criticising the effectiveness of the Israeli Iron Dome antimissile system.[31] The article received so many negative comments[32] that the website invited Postol to present his evidence. His response, in August, was based on photographic evidence of the system in operation.[33]


In 2013, Postol and Richard Lloyd, an expert in warhead design at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories, wrote about the August Ghouta chemical attack.[34][35][36][37] Analysing YouTube footage of the attacks and its aftermath, Postol and Lloyd believed they found a number of items to be inconsistent with the US government's claims about the incident.[38][34][39] Postol subsequently worked with Maram Susli to analyze the Ghouta attack.[37][40][41][42][43]

In 2017, Postol criticized the unclassified intelligence assessment released by the Trump administration blaming the air forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the April Khan Shaykhun chemical attack.[44][45] Postol analysed the photographic evidence and concluded that the chemical attack was not an air raid, but was conducted from the ground using most probably an emptied 122mm artillery rocket tube, which is normally used as munition of a multiple rocket launcher, filling it with a chemical agent and detonating it by an explosive charge laid on top of it.[46][47][48] On 18 April, Postol published his findings that the crater present in the photographs could not have been the source of the necessary sarin smoke plume, as persons were seen in the video material live at the site, without appropriate protection gear. A sarin smoke plume would have killed them even hours after a sarin gas grenade explosion.[49][50][43] On 21 April, he corrected this view in one aspect: "In my earlier report released on April 18, 2017 I misinterpreted the wind-direction convention which resulted in my estimates of plume directions being exactly 180° off in direction", which was however irrelevant for his main statement, that no sarin could have been emitted at the crater-site.[51] Later in April, Postol wrote that the "French Intelligence Report of April 26, 2017 contradicted the White House Intelligence Report of 11 April 2017".[52][50] The following day he revised his view, saying he had confused the date and location for a different chemical attack four years earlier.[53][50][43] Postol stated that none of the forensic evidence in The New York Times video[54][55] and a follow-on Times news article[56] on the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack supported the conclusions reported by The New York Times.[57]

In 2019, the Princeton based journal Science & Global Security, on whose editorial board Postol sat,[58] intended to publish a report titled "Computational Forensic Analysis for the Chemical Weapons Attack at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017" about the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack written by Postol, Goong Chen, Cong Gu, Alexey Sergeev, Sanyang Liu, Pengfei Yao and Marlan O. Scully. The report questioned the findings of the OPCW investigation which concluded that the Assad regime had used sarin.[59] The website Bellingcat disagreed with the report's interpretation and stated there were many caveats in the reports analysis.[60] According to Bellingcat, the report's use of simulation was methodologically flawed, as the paper only provided a simulation of a 122mm type rocket, and did not attempt to study other possible options.[61] In response to the Bellingcat article, the editors of Science & Global Security said "Regrettably, the Bellingcat group blog post contains a number of incorrect statements about the contents and conclusions of the paper to be published. Some of the statements appear to refer to an earlier manuscript and do not take account of all the changes made during the peer review and editorial process managed by this journal".[59] The journal later decided not to publish the paper after it "identified a number of issues with the peer-review and revision process".[62][63]


In August 2017, Postol shared with Newsweek a paper he co-authored with Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker of Schmucker Technologies which stated that missiles tested earlier in 2017 by the DPRK were incapable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the mainland United States despite being widely described as intercontinental ballistic missiles.[64]


  • Blair, Bruce G.; Dean, Jonathan; Fetter, Steve; Goodby, James; Lewis, George N.; Postol, Theodore; Von Hippel, Frank N.; Feiveson, Harold A. (June 1999). The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and De-Alerting of Nuclear Weapons. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 978-0-8157-0953-4.


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  2. ^ "Theodore Postol, MIT ballistic missile expert, to speak March 25".
  3. ^ "Theodore Postol, AAAS Awards and Honors".
  4. ^ "Winners of the Norbert Wiener Award for Professional and Social Responsibility".
  5. ^ "FAS 70th Anniversary Symposium and Awards Gala".
  6. ^ "FAS Awards".
  7. ^ "Remarks to Raytheon Missile Systems Plant Employees in Andover, Massachusetts". February 15, 1991. Archived from the original on November 8, 2006. Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  8. ^ "Optical Evidence Indicating Patriot High Miss Rates During the Gulf War". April 7, 1992. Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  9. ^ Theodore Postol (1992-09-08). "Postol/Lewis Review of Army's Study on Patriot Effectiveness". Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  10. ^ Killian, Michael (March 27, 2003). "Patriot missile miscalculations a cause for U.S. concern". Chicago Tribune.
  11. ^ 60 Minutes II (December 26, 2000). "A Far-Off Dream?". CBS News. Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  12. ^ Keith Winstein (March 10, 2006). "Missile Dispute Enters 7th Year As Air Force Takes Over Inquiry". Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  13. ^ Theodore Postol (May 11, 2000). "Letter to John Podesta regarding BMDO testing claims". Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  14. ^ Sanjay Basu (July 12, 2000). "Ted Postol Involved in NMD Debate". Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  15. ^ Southwick, Ron (July 21, 2000). "MIT Professor Says Pentagon Tried to Silence Him". Chronicle of Higher Education. p. A23.
  16. ^ Keith J. Weinstein (February 22, 2002). "Provost Denies Postol's Request for ABM Review". Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  17. ^ Broad, William J. (March 4, 2002). "Congressional Inquiry Cites Flaws in Antimissile Sensor". The New York Times.
  18. ^ a b "Letter and Report of Ad Hoc Committee on Research Misconduct Allegation". Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  19. ^ "Research Misconduct Regulations" (PDF). Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  20. ^ "DoD Bars Inquiry on Fraud at Lincoln Lab". December 3, 2004. Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  21. ^ Pierce, Charles P. (October 23, 2005). "Going Postol". Boston Globe Magazine.
  22. ^ "Brown Book (Annual Report of Sponsored Research)". Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  23. ^ "Investigation of Alleged Research Misconduct by Lincoln Laboratory Members of the 1998-5 POET Study Team" (PDF). 2007-01-29. Retrieved 2007-12-17.
  24. ^ Keith Weinstein (2006-03-10). "Missile Dispute Enters 7th Year As Air Force Takes Over Inquiry". Retrieved 2006-12-06.
  25. ^ Baker, Peter (September 17, 2009). "White House Scraps Bush's Approach to Missile Shield". The New York Times.
  26. ^ "Fact Sheet on U.S. Missile Defense Policy: A "Phased, Adaptive Approach" for Missile Defense in Europe". September 17, 2009 – via National Archives.
  27. ^ "2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR) Fact Sheet" (PDF). U.S. Department of Defense. March 3, 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
  28. ^ a b Lewis, George N.; Postol, Theodore A. (May 2010). "A Flawed and Dangerous U.S. Missile Defense Plan". Arms Control Today.
  29. ^ Broad, William J.; Sanger, David E. (May 17, 2010). "Review Cites Flaws in U.S. Antimissile Program". The New York Times.
  30. ^ "Missile Defense Agency Responds to New York Times Article". U.S. Department of Defense. May 18, 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  31. ^ Talbot, David. "Israel's "Iron Dome" Anti-Rocket Technology".
  32. ^ Talbot, David. "Israel's "Iron Dome" Anti-Rocket Technology".
  33. ^ Postol, Theodore. "An Explanation of the Evidence of Weaknesses in the Iron Dome Defense System". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  34. ^ a b Broad, William J. (September 4, 2013). "Rockets in Syrian Attack Carried Large Payload of Gas, Experts Say". The New York Times.
  35. ^ "An Analysis of the Nerve Agent Attack by Theodore A. Postol" (PDF).
  36. ^ Chivers, C.J. (December 28, 2013). "New Study Refines View of Sarin Attack in Syria". The New York Times.
  37. ^ a b The Kardashian Look-Alike Trolling for Assad 10.17.14 The Daily Beast, Noah Shachtman Michael Kennedy
  38. ^ "Initial Investigation of Chemical Weapons by Richard M. Lloyd" (PDF).
  39. ^ Lloyd, Richard; Postol, Theodore A. (14 January 2014). "Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013" (PDF). MIT Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group. HTML version
  40. ^ Echoes of the Past, War on the Rocks1 May 2017: "Postol asserted that it was impossible for the Syrian government to have been responsible, and he enlisted the help of pro-Assad conspiracy theorist and Infowars contributor Maram Susli to help prove it."
  41. ^ Ellis, Emma Fray (2017-05-31). "To Make Your Conspiracy Theory Legit, Just Find an 'Expert'". Wired. Retrieved 2017-09-27.
  42. ^ Le Monde: "Maram Susli, qui a collaboré aux travaux de Richard Lloyd et de Theodore Postol, ne fait pas mystère de ses sympathies pour le régime."
  43. ^ a b c George Monbiot A lesson from Syria: it’s crucial not to fuel far-right conspiracy theories, The Guardian, 15 November 2017
  44. ^ "Addendum to A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria" (PDF). 11 April 2017.
  45. ^ "MIT expert claims latest chemical weapons attack in Syria was staged". International Business Times. 17 April 2017.
  46. ^ "White House claims on Syria chemical attack 'obviously false' – MIT professor". RT. 12 April 2017.
  47. ^ "Democrats Shouldn't Be Trying to Banish Tulsi Gabbard". theNation. 12 April 2017.
  48. ^ "Giftgas-Angriff in Chan Scheichun: Die Fakten des Weißen Hauses sind keine". Telepolis. 13 April 2017.
  49. ^ T Postol The Nerve Agent Attack that Did Not Occur: Analysis of the Times and Locations of Critical Events in the Alleged Nerve Agent Attack at 7 AM on April 4, 2017 in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria
  50. ^ a b c Muhammad Idrees Ahmad Chomsky and the Syria revisionists: Regime whitewashing, Al-Araby, 5 May 2017
  51. ^ T. Postol IMPORTANT CORRECTION TO The Nerve Agent Attack that Did Not Occur, 23 April 2017
  52. ^ T Postol The French Intelligence Report of April 26, 2017 Contradicts the Allegations in the White House Intelligence Report of April 11, 2017, 27 April 2017
  53. ^
  54. ^ "How Syria and Russia Spun a Chemical Strike". New York Times. 2017-04-26.
  55. ^ "How Syria and Russia Spun a Chemical Strike". New York Times. 2017-04-27.
  56. ^ Browne, Malachy (2017-05-01). "The Times Uses Forensic Mapping to Verify a Syrian Chemical Attack". New York Times.
  57. ^ "The New York Times Video Analysis of the Events in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017: NONE of the Cited Forensic Evidence Supports the Claims" (PDF). 2017-05-29.
  58. ^ Brian Whitaker, postol resigns Archived 17 October 2019 at the Wayback Machine
  59. ^ a b "From the Editors - From the Editors". Archived from the original on 25 September 2019. Retrieved 2019-11-20.
  60. ^ "Tulsi Gabbard's Reports on Chemical Attacks in Syria – A Self-Contradictory Error Filled Mess". 2019-08-04.
  61. ^ "Simulations, Craters and Lies: Postol's Latest Attempt to Undermine the Last Vestiges of his Reputation". 2019-09-13.
  62. ^ "From the Editors - From the Editors". Archived from the original on 14 December 2019. Retrieved 2019-11-20.
  63. ^ KupferschmidtSep. 24, Kai; 2019; Pm, 5:40 (2019-09-24). "Scientists clash over paper that questions Syrian government's role in sarin attack". Science | AAAS. Archived from the original on 20 November 2019. Retrieved 2019-11-20.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  64. ^ "Newsweek Exclusive: North Korean Missile Claims are a 'Hoax'". 2017-08-11.

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