douma continues to unravel

OPCW Whistleblowers: Management Manipulated Reports – Douma ‘Chemical Weapon Attack’ Was Staged
Moon of Alabama, Nov 17 2019

On Apr 7 2018 Syrian ‘rebels’ claimed that the Syrian government had used chlorine gas and Sarin in an attack on the besieged Douma suburb near the Syrian capital Damascus. They published a series of videos which showed the dead bodies of mainly women and children. Before the incident Jaish al-Islam, the main ‘rebel’ group in Douma, had already agreed to leave towards Idleb governorate. Under those circumstances the claims made no sense. The various details in the produced videos and pictures were inconsistent with a chemical incident. The OPCW investigated the incident and in Jul 2018 produced an interim report that showed that no Sarin was used in Douma. The OPCW inspectors had only found various chlorinated organic chemicals (COCs) which are common in every household. Media falsely claimed that those finds were proof of a chlorine gas attack. The interim report did not show any use of chemical weapons but it had, as we noted, some curious anomalies:

The preliminary OPCW report says nothing about the concentrations in which these substances were found. Without knowing the concentrations, which may may be extremely low, one can not come to further conclusion. The report includes none of the witness statements the fact finding mission took. In various TV reports the medical personal of the one hospital involved in the stunt said that none of their patients were affected by chlorine or chemical weapons.

The final report, published in Mar 2019, changed the tone. It specifically claimed that gas cylinders found at two places of the incident must have been dropped from the air. As only the Syrian government, not the ‘rebels,’ has used helicopters the report was an indictment of the Syrian government. In May 2019 one OPCW inspector came forward and said that the OPCW management had suppressed an internal engineering assessment that contradicted the claim that the gas cylinder fell from the air. OPCW management had used external expertise of unknown provenance that had come to the wrong conclusion. The cylinders must have been positioned by hand. The incident was staged. Now a second OPCW whistleblower has come forward with additional claims that the OPCW management manipulated the findings of its own inspectors after it had come under pressure from Pindo boxtops. Jonathan Steele, a former chief foreign correspondent for the Guardian, writes:

The inspector went public with his allegations at a recent all-day briefing in Brussels for people from several countries working in disarmament, international law, military operations, medicine and intelligence. They included Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on Palestine and Major-General John Holmes, a distinguished former commander of Britain’s special forces. The session was organised by the Courage Foundation, a New York-based fund which supports whistle-blowers. I attended as an independent reporter. The whistle-blower gave us his name but says he prefers to go under the pseudonym Alex, out of concern for his safety. He is the second member of the Douma Fact-Finding Mission to have alleged that scientific evidence was suppressed.

The OPCW inspector had written the original interim report and, based on his own and his colleagues findings, concluded that the incident was “a non chemical-related event.” But the OPCW management rewrote the report and left that conclusion out. The whistleblower also explained the lack of COC concentration values in the interim report that we had noted:

By then the inspector had learnt that the results of the quantitative analysis of the samples from the allegedly attacked buildings had been delivered to management from the test laboratories but not passed on to the inspectors. He got sight of the results which indicated that the levels of COCs were much lower than what would be expected in environmental samples. They were comparable to and even lower than those given in the WHO guidelines on recommended permitted levels of trichlorophenol and other COCs in drinking water. The redacted version of the report made no mention of the findings. Alex described this omission as “deliberate and irregular.” he said: “Had they been included, the public would have seen that the levels of COCs found were no higher than you would expect in any household environment.” The inspector who drafted the original report was furious when he realised it was to be replaced by a doctored management version. He wrote an email of complaint to the OPCW’s director general. The DG was Ahmet Uzumcu, a Turkish diplomat but his chef de cabinet, the man considered to have the most power in the OPCW on day-to-day issues was Bob Fairweather, a British career diplomat.

The intervention was unsuccessful and the OPCW management published the manipulated report without the concentration values. It soon became clear to the inspectors who was behind this manipulation:

On Jul 4 there was another intervention. Fairweather, the chef de cabinet, invited several members of the drafting team to his office. There they found three Pindo boxtops who were cursorily introduced without making clear which Pindo agencies they represented. The Pindos told them emphatically that the Syrian regime had conducted a gas attack, and that the two cylinders found on the roof and upper floor of the building contained 170 kg of chlorine. The inspectors left Fairweather’s office, feeling that the invitation to the Pindos to address them was unacceptable pressure and a violation of the OPCW’s declared principles of independence and impartiality.

Under Pindo pressure, the OPCW management ignored the findings of its own inspectors and published at least two manipulated reports that falsely accused the Syrian government of a chemical attack. The OPCW management did not respond to questions Jonathan Steele submitted to it.

The Hugely Important OPCW Scandal Keeps Unfolding. Here’s Why No One’s Talking About It.
Caitlin Johnstone, Nov 17 2019

The OPCW is now hemorrhaging evidence that Pindostan and its vassals deceived the world once again about yet another military intervention, which should be a front-page story all over the world. Yet if you looked at Pindo news media headlines you’d think the only thing that matters right now is indulging the childish fantasy that Donald Trump might somehow magically be removed from office via supermajority consensus in a Thug-majority Senate. CounterPunch has published an actual bombshell of a report by journalist Jonathan Steele containing many revelations about the OPCW scandal which were previously unknown to the public. Steele is an award-winning reporter who worked as a senior foreign correspondent for the Guardian back before that outlet was purged of all critical thinkers on western imperialism; he first waded into the OPCW controversy last month with a statement made on the BBC revealing the existence of a second whistleblower on the organisation’s investigation into an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria. If you haven’t been following this story you can click here for a timeline of events to fully appreciate the significance of these new revelations about the Douma incident, but just to quickly recap, in April of last year reports surfaced that dozens of civilians had been killed in that city by chemical weapons used by the Syrian government under President Bashar al-Assad. This immediately drew skepticism from people who’ve been paying attention to the narrative manipulation campaign against Syria, since Assad had already won the battle for Douma and had no strategic reason to employ banned weapons there knowing that there would be a military strike in retaliation from western powers. True to form, a few days later FUKUS launched airstrikes on the Syrian government. The OPCW released its final report on Douma in March of this year, but that report has been contradicted by two separate whistleblowers from the Douma investigation. The first surfaced in May of this year with a leaked Engineering Assessment claiming the chlorine cylinders found at the crime scene were unlikely to have been dropped from the air, and that it was far more likely that they were manually placed there, staged by the occupying opposition forces in Douma. The second whistleblower came forward last month with a day-long presentation in Brussels before a panel of experts assembled by the whistleblowing defense group Courage Foundation, the findings of which were published by WikiLeaks.

This new report by Steele focuses on information provided to him by the second whistleblower, who is going by the pseudonym “Alex” out of fear for his safety. The information provided by Alex has turned out to be far more incendiary even than the leaked Engineering Assessment. Here are seven major highlights (hyperlinks go to the relevant article text they reference):

1- Pindo government officials attempted to pressure OPCW investigators into believing that the Assad government was responsible for the Douma incident. The officials were placed in the same room as the investigators by the OPCW’s then-cabinet chief Bob Fairweather, which the investigators of course felt was a grossly inappropriate breach of the OPCW’s commitment to impartiality. For the record the Pindo government already has a known history of bullying the OPCW, an ostensibly independent and international body, to force it to allow the advancement of pre-existing regime change agendas.

2- Alex reports that internal dissent on the OPCW’s official publications on the Douma incident was far more ubiquitous than previously known, saying: “Most of the Douma team felt the two reports on the incident, the Interim Report and the Final Report, were scientifically impoverished, procedurally irregular and possibly fraudulent.”

3- All but one member of the team agreed with the Engineering Assessment that it was far more likely that the chlorine cylinders were manually placed on the scene by people on the ground.

4- Ian Henderson, the South African ballistics expert whose name was signed on the leaked Engineering Assessment, seems to have been responsible for leaking it. The identity of the leaker was not previously known to the public.

5- Investigators experienced pressures against saying anything about their mounting findings that no chemical attack occurred, with Alex calling it “the elephant in the room which no-one dared mention explicitly.”

6- The OPCW’s Final Report on the Douma incident explicitly claimed the investigation found “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place. This toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine. The toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.” Yet according to Alex the levels of chlorinated organic chemicals found on the scene “were no higher than you would expect in any household environment” and were in fact “much lower than what would be expected in environmental samples”, comparable to or even lower than the WHO’s recommended chlorine levels for drinking water. This extremely crucial fact was actively and repeatedly omitted from the OPCW’s public reporting in a way Alex describes as “deliberate and irregular.”

7- Steele mentioned last month that he’d unsuccessfully reached out to the OPCW for comment on the second OPCW whistleblower’s revelations, and in his new article he confirms that the organisation is still dodging him, with both Fairweather and the OPCW’s media office refusing to respond. La Repubblica’s Stefania Maurizi has also been reporting that the OPCW is dodging the press on this important matter. The OPCW did respond to press inquiries after the first whistleblower surfaced in May, but it appears that someone has given the order to cease doing so with the claims of this second whistleblower.

If there were any correlation between newsworthiness and actual news coverage, the OPCW scandal would be making front-page international headlines today. Instead, the mounting evidence that the US and its allies committed a war crime based on false information and that a supposedly independent watchdog organisation helped them cover it up barely registers. Why is that? If you ask Syria narrative managers like the Guardian’s George Monbiot or the Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan, this isn’t a big story because even if Assad wasn’t responsible for the Douma incident, it doesn’t matter because he’s still a very bad man. But this is an extremely intellectually dishonest obfuscation on their part, because this has nothing to do with whether or not Assad is a nice person. The OPCW covering up its findings exculpating the Syrian government on Douma wouldn’t be significant because it would mean that Assad is a good person, it would be significant because it would mean that Pindostan deceived the world about yet another military intervention. And it would make it much harder for Pindostan to manufacture public support for other military interventions in the future. Which is of course the real reason the political/media class is ignoring the OPCW scandal. Military violence is the glue that holds the Pindocentric empire together, which means it is of utmost strategic importance that that empire retain the ability to manufacture consent for military violence going forward. Because plutocrat-controlled news media outlets are set up in such a way that their employees know their careers depend on protecting the empire upon which the plutocratic class is built, the OPCW scandal is an obvious no-go for anyone who wishes to remain in the business. The only way this story will get mainstream coverage is if it goes viral without the assistance of the mainstream media, at which point the propagandists will be forced to report on it to save face and begin the near-impossible task of trying to regain control of the narrative. This will only happen if enough of us work together to shove the OPCW scandal into mainstream attention. I think this would end up being a very good thing for the world.

The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Jonathan Steele, Counterpunch, Nov 15 2019

Claims that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons are almost as old as the Syrian civil war itself. They have produced strong reactions, and none more so than in the case of the alleged attack in April last year on the opposition-controlled area of Douma near Damascus in which 43 people are said to have been killed by chlorine gas. FUKUS responded by launching airstrikes on targets in the Syrian capital. Were the strikes justified? An inspector from the eight-member team sent to Douma has just come forward with disturbing allegations about the OPCW, which was tasked with obtaining and examining evidence. Involved in collecting samples as well as drafting their interim report, he claims his evidence was suppressed and a new report was written by senior managers with assertions that contradicted his findings. The inspector went public with his allegations at a recent all-day briefing in Brussels for people from several countries working in disarmament, international law, military operations, medicine and intelligence. They included Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on Palestine, and Major-General John Holmes, a distinguished former commander of Britain’s special forces. The session was organised by the Courage Foundation, a New York-based fund which supports whistleblowers. I attended as an independent reporter. The whistleblower gave us his name but says he prefers to go under the pseudonym Alex, out of concern for his safety. He is the second member of the Douma Fact-Finding Mission to have alleged that scientific evidence was suppressed. In May this year, an unpublished report was leaked written by Ian Henderson, a South African ballistics expert who was in charge of the mission’s engineering sub-team. The team examined two suspicious cylinders which rebels said were filled with chlorine gas. One cylinder was found on the roof of a damaged building where over two dozen bodies were photographed. The other lay on a bed on the upper floor of a nearby house below a hole in the roof. The inspectors were able to check the scene because Syrian troops drove rebel fighters out of the area a few days after the alleged gas attack.

Assessing the damage to the cylinder casings and to the roofs, the inspectors considered the hypothesis that the cylinders had been dropped from Syrian government helicopters, as the rebels claimed. All but one member of the team concurred with Henderson in concluding that there was a higher probability that the cylinders had been placed manually. Henderson did not go so far as to suggest that opposition activists on the ground had staged the incident, but this inference could be drawn. Nevertheless Henderson’s findings were not mentioned in the published OPCW report. The staging scenario has long been promoted by the Syrian government and its Russian protectors, though without producing evidence. By contrast Henderson and the new whistleblower appear to be completely non-political scientists who worked for the OPCW for many years and would not have been sent to Douma if they had strong political views. They feel dismayed that professional conclusions have been set aside so as to favour the agenda of certain states. Alex, the new whistleblower, said his aim in going public was not to undermine the OPCW, most of whose investigators are objective scientists, but to persuade the organisation’s leadership to allow the Douma team to put forward their findings and answer questions at the week-long annual conference of member states which starts on Nov 25. He said:

Most of the Douma team felt the two reports on the incident, the Interim Report and the Final Report, were scientifically impoverished, procedurally irregular and possibly fraudulent.

Behind his call for the Douma inspectors to address the next OPCW conference was the hope that thereby the watchdog would “demonstrate transparency, impartiality and independence.” He told me:

Ian and I wanted to have this issue investigated and hopefully resolved internally, rather than exposing the failings of the Organisation in public, so we exhausted every internal avenue possible including submission of all the evidence of irregular behaviour to the Office of Internal Oversight. The request for an internal investigation was refused and every other attempt to raise our concerns was stonewalled. Our failed efforts to get management to listen went on over a period of nearly nine months. It was only after we realised the internal route was impossible that we decided to go public.

Within days of rebel-supplied videos of dead children and adults in the aftermath of the alleged attack in Douma Francois DeLattre, France’s representative at the UNSC, said the videos and photos showed victims with “symptoms of a potent nerve agent combined with chlorine gas.” The Douma fact-finding team quickly discovered this was wrong. Blood and other biological samples taken from alleged victims examined in Turkey (where some had fled after government forces regained control of Douma in mid-April) showed no evidence of nerve agents. Nor was there any in the surrounding buildings or vegetation in Douma. As the Interim Report published on Juy 6 2018 put it:

No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties.

The next sentence said “Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found”. The indirect reference to chlorine was reported in many media as proof of the use of lethal gas. According to Alex there were huge internal arguments at the OPCW before the Interim report was released. Chlorinated organic chemicals (COCs) are present in the natural environment so one crucial point in discovering what actually happened at Douma was to measure the amount in the locations where the two cylinders were found and in the other parts of the two buildings and the street outside. As Alex put it:

If the finding of these chemicals at the alleged site is to be used as an indicator that chlorine gas was present in the atmosphere, they should at least be shown to be present at levels significantly higher than what is present in the environment already.

But when the analysis of these key levels came back from the laboratories the results were kept with Sami Barrek, a Tunisian who was the Duma fact-finding mission’s leader. Against normal expectations they were not passed on to the inspector who was drafting the OPCW’s interim report on Douma. The inspector did have the analysis from the samples of blood, hair, and other biological data from eleven alleged victims who had gone from Douma to Turkey. In no case did the samples reveal any relevant chemicals. On this basis he wrote in his report that the signs and symptoms of victims were not consistent with poisoning from chlorine. Instead of an attack producing multiple fatalities, there had been “a non chemical-related event,” it said. The language was low-key in part, as Alex put it, because of the tension and anxiety involved when evidence doesn’t match what it is thought that management wants to hear. But the implications of implying a non-chemical event were dramatic. Like the engineering report, it hinted that the Douma incident may have been staged by opposition activists. Alex said:

It was the elephant in the room which no-one dared mention explicitly.

When the inspector’s report was submitted to senior management, silence ensued. A few weeks later on the eve of the expected publication the inspector who had drafted the report discovered that management was going to issue a redacted version on Jun 22 2018 without the knowledge of most of the Douma Fact-Finding Mission. Its conclusions contradicted the inspector’s version. By then the inspector had learnt that the results of the quantitative analysis of the samples from the allegedly attacked buildings had been delivered to management from the test laboratories but not passed on to the inspectors. He got sight of the results which indicated that the levels of COCs were much lower than what would be expected in environmental samples. They were comparable to and even lower than those given in the WHO guidelines on recommended permitted levels of trichlorophenol and other COCs in drinking water. The redacted version of the report made no mention of the findings. Alex described this omission as “deliberate and irregular.” He said:

Had they been included, the public would have seen that the levels of COCs found were no higher than you would expect in any household environment.

The inspector who drafted the original report was furious when he realised it was to be replaced by a doctored management version. He wrote an email of complaint to the OPCW’s director general. The DG was Ahmet Uzumcu, a Turkish diplomat but his chef de cabinet, the man considered to have the most power in the OPCW on day-to-day issues was Bob Fairweather, a British career diplomat. He has since been succeeded by Sebastien Braha, a diplomat from another anti-Assad government, France. In his email the inspector complained that it was wrong for the new report to describe the levels of COCs as high. He insisted that his original 105-page report be published. This request was rejected but Sami Barrek, the team leader, was put in charge of replacing the doctored version with what turned out to be a toned-down but still misleading report. During the editing four of the Douma inspectors, including Ian Henderson, the engineering expert, had managed to get Barrek to agree that the low levels of COCs should be mentioned. On the day before the new publication date, Jul 6, they found that the levels were again being omitted. On Jul 4 there was another intervention. Fairweather, the chef de cabinet, invited several members of the drafting team to his office. There they found three Pindo boxtops who were cursorily introduced without making clear which Pindo agencies they represented. The Pindos told them emphatically that the Syrian regime had conducted a gas attack, and that the two cylinders found on the roof and upper floor of the building contained 170 kg of chlorine. The inspectors left Fairweather’s office, feeling that the invitation to the Pindos to address them was unacceptable pressure and a violation of the OPCW’s declared principles of independence and impartiality. Two days later the interim report was released. Alex recalled:

That morning, a senior colleague told us: “First floor says that for the OPCW’s credibility we have to have a smoking gun.”

Meanwhile Fairweather asked the inspectors if he could get back the emails of complaint, including any which had been put into the trash folder. They complied. After Alex’s briefing, I emailed Fairweather with a request that he explain why he had facilitated the Pindo boxtops’ meeting with the inspectors as well as why he had recalled emails. He did not reply. The final Douma report which was published in March this year also failed to give any quantitative analysis of the COC samples. But its thrust went much further than the interim report. It stated that the OPCW concluded that the evidence from the Douma investigation provides “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place.” Alex argued that the concept of “reasonable grounds” was undefined. What should have been done in the report was to set out alternative hypotheses for what had occurred in Douma, and then assess the balance of probabilities of the various options and conclude which was the most likely. This is what was done in Henderson’s report on the provenance of the two cylinders. I asked the OPCW’s media office to explain why the COC levels were excluded from the interim and final reports but they did not respond. Asked whether the inspectors would be permitted to address the conference of member states, they also did not respond. An open letter to every delegate at the forthcoming OPCW conference calling for the inspectors to be heard has been signed by

Jose Bustani, first Director General of the OPCW
Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator (Iraq)
George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury.
Scott Ritter, UNSCOM Weapons Inspector 1991-1998.
Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor, MIT.
John Pilger, Journalist and documentary film maker.
Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst.
Oliver Stone, Film Director, Producer and Writer.

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