A toxic cloud of deceit
More news about the Poison Gas watchdog, the OPCW.
Some months ago I exposed major turmoil inside this valuable organisation, over what some of its senior inspectors regarded as censorship of reports from Syria, in an attempt to alter their meaning and significance.
The OPCW responded by saying that one of these whistleblowers had not been a member of the Fact Finding Mission (FFM) which went to Syria in 2018.
Various toadies and creeps repeated this. Now a radical website, The Grayzone, has published documents which appear to show that he was officially listed as a member of the FFM. I put this to the OPCW on Thursday. So far they have not responded.
MARCH 1 2020 – “TODAY I’M PUBLISHING THE DOCUMENT THAT COULD SAVE US FROM WAR” – PETER HITCHENS – MAIL ON SUNDAY
01 March 2020 1:36 AM
Today, I’m publishing the document that could save us from war
This is Peter Hitchens’s Mail On Sunday column
Long ago, a wise teacher told me to remember these words: ‘Truth is the Daughter of Time, not of Authority.’ I had no idea how important they were. Now, after many years of experiencing official dishonesty, they are my motto.
One day, a lot of other people, in the media and politics, will accept that in the past few months they have failed in their duty to the truth, by staying silent or – worse – joining in a braying attempt to suppress crucial facts.
But by then it is quite possible that the peoples of the Western world will have been whipped into a warlike frenzy by false information, just as happened in the Iraq disaster 17 years ago. Because if nothing is done about the scandal I have been writing about, such an outcome is highly possible, even likely.
A few months ago I was told of an attempt by authority to suppress an important truth about an alleged atrocity in Syria . Claims that poison gas had been used by the Syrian state at Douma in April 2018 were not, in fact, confirmed by the scientific evidence.
This was deeply embarrassing to three governments – our own, France’s and the USA, all of which had bombed Syria soon afterwards in the unchecked belief that the claims were true.
All three are members of the UN Security Council, and are supposed to uphold international law with special care. But the facts suggested they had all violated that law.
I did not much welcome the knowledge. It was frightening to possess it. I knew that if I published it, I would face trouble. But I had to.
And I duly did. I was immediately smeared on social media as a ‘war crimes denier’, an absurd accusation. I was falsely accused of being a patsy for the horrible Assad regime in Syria, despite my record of hostility to the Assads going back more than 20 years.
I actually have a more consistent anti-Assad record than the British Government, which in 2002 compelled the poor Queen to invite President Bashar Assad to Buckingham Palace.
The vicious slanderers who attacked me paid no attention to my rebuttals, and repeated the smears, from behind false names. Their purpose was to scare others away from the story.
I suspect there have been, and will be, other consequences. I have annoyed some powerful people. But I was a minor victim ** of this spiteful rage.
The brave dissenters who had protested against the hiding of the truth are very serious men, totally unpolitical scientists who simply could not abide the suppression of the evidence they had gathered and examined. They have been hosed down with slime by their former employers.
They have also been attacked by a slippery operation known as Bellingcat, which far too many journalists and politicians treat with wide-eyed indulgence, as if it was a brave independent enterprise.
Why do they never mention that it is partly funded by the US government, through its front organisation the National Endowment for Democracy? Could it be that it would not be quite such a convincing source if it was known to be subsidised by Donald Trump? I imagine so.
The two scientists remain absolutely confident that their doubts are justified.
But their reward was to be severely, publicly attacked by their former employers, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Again, a lot of people lazily or weakly accepted this official attack on powerless individuals as true. They did not notice, or did not care, that the two men had been given no opportunity to defend themselves, that the resulting indictment was completely one-sided.
Well, it is now my privilege to publish their defence in detail.
It is on the Peter Hitchens Blog at
I hope it will stand as a vital resource for anyone seriously interested in the truth about what I regard as the biggest scandal of its kind since the dodgy dossiers and non-existent WMD that were used to hurry us into invading Iraq.
I, and others who have read it, have found it impressive and powerful. I do not think that anyone could read it without seeing that something has gone seriously wrong. Let us hope that we have enough time, before the next war, for the truth to prevail.
- Para 60 Inspectors: “Though the Director General may not recognise it, A and B are two former inspectors who are dedicated to the mission of the OPCW. Together they have a combined service of almost 30 years, have seen three Director Generals come and go and are among the highest regarded members of the Organisation. Their dedication to the integrity of science and the credibility of investigations should not be confused with lack of loyalty to the Organisation. On the contrary, it is about doing the right thing or what one believes is the right thing”
RWS Note: Says it all really.
** Peter Hitchens: “The vicious slanderers who attacked me paid no attention to my rebuttals, and repeated the smears, from behind false names. Their purpose was to scare others away from the story…I suspect there have been, and will be, other consequences. I have annoyed some powerful people. But I was a minor victim of this spiteful rage”
RWS Note: No victim is “minor”.
February 23 2020 – RWS Note
I am more than a little concerned about how to interpret the uncharacteristic ambiguity of what Peter Hitchens has written today:
“Join the dots yourself … This time I am going to ask you to do the work…”
If these ambiguous “dots” relate to Syria, I am beyond concerned – such as
“Three mysterious Americans – ‘Alex’ also recounted how astonishingly, a group of Americans had been introduced to the investigation team, and had more or less told them that chlorine had been used. Ian Henderson later confirmed that this wholly improper meeting had in fact taken place”
The Show Trial of A and B.
Kafka comes to The Hague
Why you should be worried
You might think that when two honest men, with nothing to gain and much to lose, speak the truth about a major scandal in a body which might one day decide between world war and peace, that the world would immediately do the right thing.
You would be utterly wrong.
In the movies, the dissenters would quickly be recognised as the heroes of the story, their bosses would admit to doing wrong. The media would celebrate their courage. And the matter would be set right.
But the case of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) shows that it would be foolish to expect that to happen. The OPCW is an agency of the UN. It exists to ensure impartial and rigorous inspection of the alleged use of chemical weapons. But it is now charged with being neither impartial nor rigorous.
An important story has been widely ignored, to the lasting shame of Western journalism. The organisation involved has made no move to correct the wrong. The individuals involved have been unfairly attacked by their own former employer.
Politicians have continued to repeat claims based on documents which have been gravely challenged, as if nothing had happened.
A summary of what happened
Fact: Leaks from the OPCW last summer, whose source has never been identified, showed that the OPCW had sidelined and suppressed key information undermining its own public conclusion that it was ‘reasonable’ to believe that chlorine gas had been used in warfare in Syria in April 2018.
A real expert
The leak cited work done by an OPCW inspector named Ian Henderson. Mr Henderson is a Chemical Engineer who studied at the universities of Witwatersrand and Durban and has considerable experience in ballistics thanks to military service as an artilleryman. He now lives in Australia. He is entirely non-political.
As we shall see, he has had long and distinguished service at the OPCW and was highly-regarded by them right up till the moment when he challenged attempts to exclude his work from consideration.
Fact: Asked about the Henderson disclosure, the OPCW stated that it was mounting a leak enquiry, so unintentionally confirming that the documents were genuine.
Not long afterwards, Mr Henderson was escorted from the OPCW building. This happened after he declined to take part in what he called a ‘witch-hunt’ against his colleagues. He has always said that he did not leak the material.
The second leak
Fact: Further evidence of wrongdoing emerged late last autumn, when another senior inspector at the OPCW identified himself to a panel of experts as ‘Alex’.
His testimony, reported by the website ‘Counterpunch, stated that the suppression of key information had gone much further. As confirmed by documents later published by Wikileaks, evidence which cast even more doubt on the chlorine gas verdict was filleted out of the reports eventually published by the OPCW.
Three mysterious Americans
‘Alex’ also recounted how astonishingly, a group of Americans had been introduced to the investigation team, and had more or less told them that chlorine had been used. Ian Henderson later confirmed that this wholly improper meeting had in fact taken place.
‘Make it sound like we found something’
At one point Mr Henderson had been told by a colleague: ‘we have been told by the first floor [the seat of power at the OPCW] that we have to make it sound like we found something’.
There had been serious internal rows in the OPCW about this censorship, fiercely over-ridden by senior officials. Inspectors had complained about being sidelined and having their work excluded from published reports. But they could get nowhere —as the OPCW has no agreed system in which would-be whistleblowers can access formal procedures. There was little the dissenters could do. But quite large numbers of OPCW staff must by then have been aware of the dissent.
In a statement which Ian Henderson addressed to the Security Council last January he makes claims that are quite astonishing. It describes his attempts to communicate his unease to the OPCW management.
“You will never get to the Director-General, and if you try and go around me to get to him, there will be consequences”
‘In the weeks following the incident, I attempted to redress the situation internally in a way that would not damage the credibility of the TS. This included the following: • I held discussions and meetings with the Chief of Cabinet, the (newly-joined) Director of Inspectorate, Head of Operations, Head of the Office of Confidentiality and Security, Director of the Office of Strategy and Policy, and the Acting Director of the Office of Internal Oversight. • I requested a meeting with the Director-General, as I thought the situation was serious enough to warrant him being made aware of it. The request for [a] meeting was denied and I was informed by a senior manager that “you will never get to the Director-General, and if you try and go around me to get to him, there will be consequences”. I shall identify the senior manager verbally, in his presence, should this be required. • I drafted a memorandum to the Director-General, through the Director of Inspectorate’.
Henderson compiled a complete dossier of everything that was wrong with the Douma investigation. It was reviewed by the Chief of Cabinet but was not delivered to the DG. Henderson says, ‘I deposited a dossier with the Acting Director of the Office of Internal Oversight, together with a memorandum requesting an investigation by OIO into the situation of the FFM report. Months later I was informed that nothing would be done, as this was now seen as outside the scope of the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight.’
By November 24th it was clear that the scandal was now out in the open.
Tucker Carlson, of Fox News, had interviewed Jonathan Steele about the revelations of ‘Alex’. The London Mail on Sunday carried the story prominently on Sunday 24th November, as did La Repubblica of Rome. Robert Fisk of ‘the Independent’ took up the case. Spectator America also covered it. The major news agencies made small references to it, one of which confirmed the authenticity of a crucial leaked e-mail.
The Sound of Silence
But most major media maintained an almost total silence about them. Meanwhile, on social media, sources sympathetic to the OPCW spread doubts about the validity of the leaks.
For weeks, the OPCW made no official response to these revelations.
Then, on 6th February the OPCW held a briefing for member states, in which it presented the outcome of its inquiry into the actions of two inspectors and an alleged breach of confidentiality. This was reported in a series of documents https://www.opcw.org/media-centre/news/2020/02/opcw-independent-investigation-possible-breaches-confidentiality-report
Who Shall Guard the Guardians?
One UK newspaper, ‘the Guardian’, reported this development thus:
The OPCW documents took the form of a show trial of both these individuals, conducted in their absence. Inspector A had said he would only participate in the investigation if the OPCW’s chief, Fernando Arias, was given a copy of his original complaint against what he saw as misuse of information. This was refused. Inspector B wished to bring his own lawyer. This also was refused. Both dissenters had tried repeatedly to take their concerns to Mr Arias, but they were blocked by senior management where the NATO powers which have been keen to intervene in Syria are well-represented.
The attack was almost entirely ad hominem, claiming, totally inaccurately, that they played a minor role, that they did not know the full story, that they had behaved in an underhand fashion. It did not in fact challenge the veracity of any of the leaks (for the simple reason that they are all true), but instead sought to belittle the two dissenters, who it referred to as ‘Inspector A’ and ‘Inspector B’.
These names make the whole thing sound like a mixture of Franz Kafka, Harold Pinter, J.B.Priestley and Inspector Morse. And Kafka, as so often, has provided the atmosphere of injustice, menace and obscurity.
But the claims made by the OPCW were shocking to those who actually know about the case. I am in a privileged position, I have spoken at length to Ian Henderson, who has been ‘outed’ beyond recall and who is obviously ‘Inspector A’. The identity of ‘Inspector B’ remains unrevealed.
I have since been in contact with both of them, receiving their detailed rebuttals to the charges made against them. It is my plan to publish these rebuttals in full at some point.
Telling the Security Council
But for the moment I will mainly refer readers to the written statement made by Ian Henderson to the UN Security Council. His ultimate employers, at a recent special session which discussed the case. He also made a briefer filmed statement. You may read the written document in full here:
Oh yes, he was: Inspector A was a member of the FFM
But first let us hear Inspector A’s response to the repeated claim that he was not a member of the OPCW FFM (Fact Finding Mission) which went to Douma in April 2018. Here is his own answer: The OPCW have claimed ‘Inspector A was not a member of the FFM, and his name is not included in the mandates issued for FFM deployments.
‘A: Wrong, and misleading. When the first team was assembled, Inspector A was on a mission in Nepal. Therefore, obviously, he couldn’t be on the mandate for the team first deploying. When he returned to HQ, it was agreed at the operational level that there was a need to add critical experience and expertise to the FFM. He was then notified to the Syrian Arab Republic as an addition to the FFM team and he joined them. Documents support this.’
This Doesn’t Quite Add Up
I might add to this that the Final Report of the FFM (Annex 6, para 11) says:
‘On 4 June, FFM team members tagged and sealed the cylinders from Locations 2 and 4, and documented the procedure.’
Now, there is no doubt that ‘Inspector A’ is Ian Henderson, whose name was on the leak which was investigated.
In his recent report to the UN Security Council he says :
‘I was the sub-team leader for the visit to “Site 8”, to further inspect and photograph the cylinders removed from Locations 2 and 4, and to apply tags/seals to them.’
This would seem to be a conflict. The OPCW’s own report says that FFM members tagged and sealed the cylinders. Mr Henderson was among those who did so and indeed led the team. In that case, surely, he must have been a member of the FFM.
This pretence that A and B are unimportant marginal figures is very odd. Both had in fact been considered outstanding professionals for the OPCW throughout their careers, and have many written notes commending the quality of their work. They were rehired – something the OPCW very rarely does – because the OPCW needed their experience.
The OPCW says they were rehired on a lower grade from the one they had previously held. It does not say that this was because the old higher grade had been abolished, and so it was no reflection on the two men’s skills and competence.
Underhand or Not?
THE OPCW also accuses Inspector A of underhand behaviour:
‘In July 2018, Inspector A, without proper authorisation, contacted companies about conducting an engineering
study on the cylinders found at two locations in Douma. When this became known to the team leader of the
FFM, Inspector A was instructed to refrain from making contact with any external third parties. The
investigation found that Inspector A did not accept this and decided that he was going to complete his study
alone—without informing the FFM team leader.’
Inspector A maintains that he behaved entirely properly and provided a detailed explanation of events in his statement to the UN Security Council (link above) beginning at paragraph 21.
Among many other attacks on the two inspectors is one which suggests that much of the investigation into the Douma incident was carried on after they had left or were no longer involved.
Only one visit to Douma
In fact there was only one OPCW visit to Douma and both A and B were deeply involved in it. Later work was done by an almost entirely different team, in what the OPCW calls ‘Country X’ which is almost certainly Turkey. No new information about chemical or ballistic or engineering matters was obtained on those deployments. And it was the suppression of important parts of the initial research, at Douma in April 2018, that caused the inspectors to dissent.
During this visit, Inspector A was in Douma, while Inspector B was in Damascus overseeing the technical and scientific operation. Inspector B *would* have been in Douma if his requests for the necessary security training (essential for such a risky deployment and very hard to complete at short notice) had not been turned down by the OPCW some time before. He was in close touch with the inspectors in Douma and was able to pass on his experience to them through secure communication. Inspector B is in fact one of only 4 inspectors (out of 10) who was present in Damascus for the entire duration of the investigation (14 April to 3 May). The team leader himself, who wrote the final report, left after 3 days, before the investigation ever began, which by an extension of the logic implied, invalidates the team leader’s contribution to the final report.
Inspector B was the planner and coordinator of all the scientific and technical activities on site. He was part of the sub-team involved in the negotiations with the Syrian authorities, participated in the interview process, wrote the on-site progress reports for the previous Director General, was the chief drafter of the original interim report, and with Inspector A, the most experienced inspector in the team. In fact, his 17 years’ experience as an inspector far outnumbers the average for the team.
Inspector B was the only organic chemist in the team and the recognised specialist in the OPCW when it came to chemical weapons production. As testimony to this, in his annual performance appraisals, it is cited by his supervisors that “he demonstrates a knowledge and skill in chemistry which is not possessed by others in the TS” (PMAS 2010), “I can say without fear of being unfair to others that you have been the professional in the TS that has contributed the most to the knowledge and understanding of CW chemistry applied to inspections. You produced a lot of knowledge and unselfishly shared every bit of what you know with others, enthusiastically” (PMAS 2017)’
There is more
I include these facts (a small sample of a 20,000 word dossier I have compiled on this matter) to indicate in just how many ways the OPCW’s attack on these two men is unfair and undeserved.
Perhaps even more important, the OPCW response does not in fact challenge their original concerns, which remain, about the investigation process and the report on Douma. These are that chemical, ballistics and engineering evidence from Douma itself, as well as evidence from external expert toxicologists, were known to the OPCW before the final report but suppressed by it because it would undermined its conclusion that said:
‘Regarding the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon on 7 April 2018 in Douma, the Syrian Arab Republic, the evaluation and analysis of all the information gathered by the FFM—witnesses’ testimonies, environmental and biomedical samples analysis results, toxicological and ballistic analyses from experts, additional digital information from witnesses—provide 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.
A weak conclusion
Careful readers will note the weakness of the conclusion. ‘Reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical took place’ is a very weak verdict. It is doubts that are usually reasonable. Grounds need to be demonstrable, as the burden of proof must lie with those who make the allegation, in any serious inquiry. As for ‘the toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine’ this is also a remarkably weak and diffident statement, especially if it is being used to justify a large multinational military intervention (as it is).
It seems to me that the facts and expert opinions which the OPCW had suppressed in its published documents were, even so, unintentionally expressed in the weakness and vagueness of this conclusion.
MORE INFORMATION FROM PETER HITCHENS
The shameful liars are STILL in business
When I learned many years ago that the truth about a man-made famine in Stalin’s USSR had been suppressed with the help of Western media, I could not understand how such a thing could have happened. Now I do.
An interesting new film, Mr Jones, dramatises this extraordinary event.
The brave and independent Gareth Jones, and the equally courageous Malcolm Muggeridge (later to be a major figure in British broadcasting), both ventured into Ukraine and the Russian North Caucasus, and found starving men, women and children.
When a Soviet official denied that there was starvation, Jones flung a crust of his own bread into a brimming spittoon, and immediately a haggard figure grabbed it and ate it.
But the British-born Moscow correspondent of the New York Times, a one-legged libertine called Walter Duranty, first wrote a disgusting article under the headline ‘Russians hungry but not starving’, in which he described the brave and enterprising reports of Muggeridge and Jones as a ‘scare story’. He knew that they were, in fact, true.
A few weeks later he lied again, writing ‘any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda’.
At the time he did so, people in the famine regions were going mad and eating their own children.
It now seems that the truth about the famine was seen as an obstacle to the USA’s desire to open diplomatic relations with Stalin.
So the mass-murder had to be ignored and denied. How low we sometimes sink.
I don’t in any way compare myself to great men such as Jones (who was later killed in strange circumstances) or Muggeridge, but I have been having a similar experience in the past few weeks.
I have reported on the bravery of two scientists at the poison gas watchdog OPCW who have raised serious concerns about the accuracy of important reports put out by that body, reports which led to major military action.
The two are hugely experienced non-political experts who sought for months to raise their concerns in private, and were ignored and worse.
They have nothing to gain by their actions. They serve no cause except scientific truth.
But the response of their employers has been to belittle them, to suggest wrongly that they were minor low-level figures barely involved in the issue.
And many in the media have either ignored their bravery, or – still more shamefully – joined in the chorus of smears.
One of these smears is that Ian Henderson, a chemical engineer who was sent by the OPCW into the Syrian war zone, was never in fact a member of the Fact Finding Mission (FFM) that went there.
Well, I can tell the OPCW, and others, that there exists in the OPCW’s own archives a document (of its own) in which Mr Henderson is listed as a member of the FFM.
So it should just stop saying this. There is much more about this here
“Two heroes they cannot silence”
Nasty slurs were levelled this week at two of the bravest and most principled people I know.
These are the courageous arms inspectors who, for absolutely no gain or self-interest, told the truth about the flawed investigation into the alleged use of poison gas in Syria in 2018.
If Hollywood made a film about them, everyone would be cheering for them.
But at the moment their official and media enemies (such creeps and toadies) think they can scare them – and me – into silence. Not a chance.
I shall soon be providing a full and detailed defence against the attacks made on them by their former employers, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
“Sexed Up to Make War – an astonishing leak from the Poison Gas Watchdog the OPCW”
A story they don’t want you to read
Here’s a curious story, that for some reason the BBC and the major international news agencies have not covered, though they definitely know about it.
Did Britain, France and the USA have right on their side when we bombed Syria in April 2018 – supposedly in response to a poison gas attack by the Damascus regime? Or was the action rash and lawless?
In fact, we and the other countries did not actually wait for any investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – the recognised international watchdog.
So imagine how awkward it would have been if the OPCW (which receives much support from Paris, London and Washington) had reported that claims of a poison gas attack were untrue, or at least unproven. Our bombing would then have been illegal.
Did Britain, France and the USA have right on their side when we bombed Syria in April 2018 – supposedly in response to a poison gas attack by the Damascus regime? Or was the action rash and lawless? The impact of a regime airstrike is pictured above
And imagine the relief in those capitals when the OPCW duly reported that it was reasonable to conclude that chlorine gas had been used. It was a pretty weak conclusion (and the original, more serious claim, that sarin had been used, was dismissed).
And imagine the rage and upset in those same capitals when a whistleblower at the OPCW leaked information suggesting that this conclusion may have been wrong, and that gas cylinders supposedly dropped by helicopter could in fact have been placed at the scene by hand.
Since the only people in the conflict who have helicopters are the Syrian state, this detail is pretty crucial.
He said this rather important information had been mysteriously left out of the official report.
Last week, a former boss of the OPCW, Jose Bustani, backed the whistleblower, and publicly accused the organisation of ‘irregular behaviour’ during its investigation.
Mr Bustani said he had long held doubts about the alleged attack in Douma, on the outskirts of Damascus, saying: ‘I could make no sense of what I was reading in the international press. Even official reports of investigations seemed incoherent at best.’
We have had quite enough wars on false pretences. It costs lives, including those of our soldiers. This stuff is important.
“Top scientist slams OPCW leadership for repressing dissenting report on Syria gas attack” – The Grayzone