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Manipulated OPCW report on Douma exposed in UNSC testimony

On November 23, WikiLeaks published information from an OPCW employee, a member of its fact finding mission to Douma, Syria, expressing “his gravest concern over intentional bias introduced to a redacted version of the report he co-authored”.

Published: January 22, 2020, 6:56 am

    WikiLeaks has accused the OPCW “of doctoring (its Douma, Syria) chemical weapons report” after the testimony of Ian Henderson, a South African engineer and team leader at the OPCW. Henderson, a ballistics expert, had worked for the OPCW more than twelve years.

    The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) team leader revealed that the report his team had written about the situation on the ground in Douma where they found that there was no evidence that a chemical attack had happened, was redacted to hide their findings.

    Even though several members of the fact finding team “had serious misgivings that a chemical attack had occurred”, the organisation’s final report released in March 2019 was compiled by a different group that had never visited the incident site but strangely claimed “reasonable grounds” for the attack.

    With the help of the Arria Formula – a procedure to have witnesses informally testify to the UN Security Council – Russia and China invited UN members to listen to the testimony of the OPCW inspector Henderson.

    Henderson’s testimony was transcribed by Philip Watson:

    I need to point out from the outset, I am not a whistleblower. I don’t like that term. I am a former OPCW specialist who has concerns in many areas and I consider this a legitimate and appropriate forum to explain again these concerns.Secondly, I must point out that I hold the OPCW in the highest regard. As well as the professionalism of the staff members who work there.

    However the concern I have does relate to some specific management practices in certain sensitive missions. The concern, of course, relates to the [Fact Finding Mission] investigation into the alleged chemical attack on the 7th April in Douma in Syria. My concern, which is shared by a number of other inspectors, relates to the subsequent management lock-down and the practices in the later analysis and compilation of the final report.

    There were two teams deployed. One team which I joined shortly after the start of field deployments was to Douma in Syria, the other team deployed to Country X. The main concern relates to the announcement in July 18, of a new concept, the so-called FFM Core Team which essentially resulted in the dismissal of all the inspectors who had been on the team deployed to locations in Douma and had been following up with their findings and analysis.

    The findings of the final FFM report were contradictory, were a complete turn-around, with what the team had understood collectively. During and after the Douma deployments and by the time of release of the interim report in July 2018 our understanding was that we had serious misgivings that a chemical attack had occurred.

    What the final FFM report does not make clear and thus does not reflect the views of the team members who deployed to Douma. (In which case I can really only speak for myself at this stage). The report did not make clear what new findings, facts, information, data or analysis in the fields of witness testimony, toxicology studies, chemical analysis, engineering and or ballistics studies had resulted in a complete turn-around in the situation from what was understood by the majority of the team and the entire Douma team in July 2018.

    In my case I had followed with a further six months of engineering and ballistics studies into the cylinders. The results of which had provided further support for the view there had not been a chemical attack. This needs to be properly resolved, we believe (Douma FFM Team), through the rigours of science and engineering.

    In my situation it is not a political debate. I am very aware that there is a political debate surrounding this.

    Perhaps a closing comment from my side, is that I was also the inspection team leader who developed and launched the inspections, the highly intrusive inspections, of the Barzah [Scientific Studies and Research Center] facility outside of Damascus. And I did the inspections and wrote the reports for the 2 inspections prior to and the inspection after the chemical facility, or the laboratory complex at Barzah SSRC, had been destroyed by the missile strike. That however is another story altogether and I shall now close.

    The Barzah SSRC was destroyed in a large scale US missile attack shortly after the Douma incident. It had been a civil institution concerned with agricultural and medical research. No prohibited substances were found there during intrusive OPCW inspections before and after the US strike.

    Russia’s Permanent Representative at the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, noted in his closing remarks at the UNSC:

    Today’s discussions reveal one thing clearly – that something fishy is cooking in the OPCW. When we point at it, our colleagues tell us every time that OPCW, the 2013 Nobel peace prize laureate, is the gold standard of professionalism, integrity and impartiality. We would like it to be such and we adopted a PRST in November 2019 exactly aiming at this.

    Unfortunately, the impartiality and integrity of the OPCW TS is seriously questioned, and not just by us and other member states, as today’s presentation demonstrated. Members of the “Courage Foundation” can hardly be labeled as “Russian agents”. They are reputable personalities and include such figures as Jose Bustani, first OPCW DG, respectable members of academic community, former senior officials of the US and UK intelligence community….

    Videos of the Douma incident at the time showed some 30 dead bodies of which most were children. It is remains unknown to this day who they were and who had murdered them. The OPCW manipulation of the original reports of its inspectors’ findings is a cover-up for that huge crime, Nebenzia concluded.

    The OPCW’s so-called Fact Finding Mission (FFM) doctored its March 2019 report on the alleged April 7, 2018 Douma, Syria CW incident — that never happened, falsely saying the following:

    “Regarding the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon in Douma (Syria)…evaluation and analysis…of information gathered by the FFM (delaying its visit to the site for 11 days) provide(s) reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon has taken place on April 7, 2018.”

    “This toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine. The toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.”

    Russian technical experts found no evidence of chemical or other toxins in soil samples and other analysis of the site while local eyewitnesses and medical personal debunked the falsified narrative.

    Yet the OPCW FFM falsely claimed that a chemical attack had happened. At the time, Russia slammed the “fabricated” account of the alleged incident.

    Henderson stated the findings were redacted at the behest of the Office of the Director General. The alleged incident was based on reports obtained from the al-Qaeda-linked White Helmets that were present in Douma at the time.

    They had falsely said Syrian aircraft dropped cylinders containing toxins on Douma.

    WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson said the testimony provided by the OPCW whistleblower “casts doubt on the integrity of the OPCW,” adding: “Although the whistleblower was not ready to step forward and/or present documents to the public, WikiLeaks believes it is now of utmost interest for the public to see everything that was collected by the Fact Finding Mission on Douma and all scientific reports written in relation to the investigation.”

    Former OPCW director general Jose Bustani, had previously cast doubt on the findings: “The convincing evidence of irregular behavior in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had.”

    He added: “I could make no sense of what I was reading in the international press. Even official reports of investigations seemed incoherent at best. The picture is certainly clearer now, although very disturbing.”

    According to some analysts, there are reasonable grounds to suspect that blogger Bellingcat and Forensic Architecture were in on the staging process of the alleged crime scene.

    Commenting on the OPCW FFM report of 2019, Bellingcat remarked that the detail provided, “continues to make it clear that the Douma attack was yet another chlorine attack delivered by helicopter, using the same type of modified gas cylinders as seen in previous chlorine attacks”.

    It’s not exactly good optics, in terms of independence, when the Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins from 2016 until early 2019, worked as a senior fellow in the Digital Forensic Research Lab and Future Europe Initiative. These projects are run by the Atlantic Council, a leading US geopolitical strategy think-tank based in Washington, DC.

    In 2015, Higgins partnered with the Atlantic Council to co-author the report Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine which examined alleged direct Russian military involvement in Ukraine.  This report has now also been debunked as fake.

    Higgins was also one of five authors of an Atlantic Council report released in 2016, entitled “Distract, Deceive, Destroy,” on Russia’s role in Syria.

    It is therefore surprising that Bellingcat is taken seriously as a “citizen journalist” on the Internet. Such people usually do not hang out at the Atlantic Council.

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