The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media has published a response to the recent attack on the group by Sir Alan Duncan.
This page is open for comments on that response. (A copy of the response follows.)
The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media has published a response to the recent attack on the group by Sir Alan Duncan.
This page is open for comments on that response. (A copy of the response follows.)
This post provides links to discussions of the Institute for Statecraft’s “Integrity Initiative”. As of April 2019 the links number 185. Continue reading
Caring about the truth is what universities – through their members – do. But what about the truth of alleged facts that are appealed to as grounds for governments to go to war or to engage in military interventions? Such claims are not typically the fruits of academic research. So the question is whether universities have any particular business truth-checking them. The answer is not obvious.
In my latest article, published in MR Online, I argue that since universities are already getting drawn into the world of fact-checking controversies, some strategic reflection on how best to do so would be in order.
The article considers two starkly contrasting methods of finding truth ‘in a post truth world’ – Bellingcat’s and that of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. It comes to a very clear recommendation about why and how universities should care about checking the truth of the claims that are leveraging their reputations.
“If he’s right, the United States went to the brink of war on the basis of fraudulent information.” So says President Trump’s adviser Tucker Carlson speaking on his Fox News show about Ian Henderson – he’s the OPCW engineering expert whose assessment of the alleged 2018 Douma chemical attack was recently leaked to the public. Carlson is credited with since having stayed the president’s hand in response to recent calls for retaliation against Iran. The vindication of Carlson’s earlier scepticism about the Douma allegations would not have been lost on the Commander in Chief. So even if the battle for his ear is not over, as the New York Times cautions, this is still encouraging news for those who – like the OPCW whistleblower who leaked the Henderson document – want to do the right thing and speak out with the truth even in the face of corruption and intimidation.
In May this year, it was revealed that the OPCW’s final report on the alleged 2018 chemical attack in Douma had misrepresented its own investigation’s findings. The leaked engineers’ assessment – excluded from the final report published in March 2019 – effectively exculpates the Syrian government. It shows the munitions were more likely placed by hand than dropped from a government helicopter.
This finding would have been politically difficult to publish for those in control at OPCW (who are not the investigators). For the American, French and British, having peremptorily blamed the Assad government for the Douma attack, had already launched over 100 missiles at Syria in retaliation. The engineers’ assessment suggests that these Western allies had no legal, moral or factual grounds to justify their action.
Western mainstream media have been almost entirely silent about this major new revelation. One notable exception in America, however, has been Tucker Carlson. Already a lone sceptical voice at the time of the attack last year, he covered the leaked assessment in his show on Fox News. He highlights the significance of the assessment signed by the experienced OPCW engineering sub-team leader Ian Henderson:
“If he’s right, the United States went to the brink of war on the basis of fraudulent information”
To talk about this, Carlson welcomes as guest Tulsi Gabbard. An Iraq war veteran and current presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, Gabbard’s conspicuous valor has included speaking out openly about the US’s propensity to engage in wars on false pretexts. Inured to the smears of being an “Assadist”, she is a consistent critic of the interests vested in the war machine. She agrees that the OPCW revelation “is a significant and very important development that we’ve got to take seriously.” She emphasises the importance of “doing our due diligence and checking very carefully the evidence”.
Gabbard turns then to a still more pressing case where a responsible approach to foreign policy decisions is urgently needed:
“We’re at the brink of a war with Iran. The American people don’t seem to be prepared for how devastating and costly such a war would be…”
She emphasises how such a war would bring total chaos, could not be contained within Iran and would extend across the region. Many would die, many more would be displaced, and vast amounts of money would be diverted from where it is really needed. Moreover, everyone has also to ask – as she, a former soldier speaking for her comrades does,
“What are we fighting for? What would a victory be?”
That interview was shown on Fox News on 25 May. In June, we were to learn that the conversation had been picked up in circles beyond the anti-war movement. As the Daily Beast reported:
In the upper echelons of the Trump administration, hawkish voices on Iran predominate—most notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton. But as tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated over the last few weeks, there’s been another, far different voice in the president’s ear: that of Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Carlson had ‘privately advised Trump against taking military action against Iran’, also heavily criticising ‘the more “hawkish members” of his administration’. While they were calling for military retaliation against Iran in response to recent tanker attacks, the president was to adopt a view much closer to Carlson’s.
So, thanks in some measure to the OPCW whistleblower, it was evidently present to Trump’s mind that a president can sometimes be too readily persuaded to take precipitate action.
As for the OPCW, we have still to see what may be done to address the politicisation that non-aligned states have long complained of. But it is an encouraging sign that John Bolton, the man who most egregiously sought to undermine OPCW’s processes back in 2002, reportedly to the point of threatening harm to its Director General’s children, appears to have been sidelined by the president over Iran.
Whatever one may think of Trump and Fox News stances on other matters, this story has to be a cause for some cautious optimism. Certainly, the chances of victory over the forces of war will be improved if everybody who can see lies used to justify a war does speak out against them.
It was recently revealed that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had suppressed evidence about an alleged chemical attack in 2018. This scandal was downplayed in the mainstream media, but its implications are serious. The OPCW had already been losing the confidence of a number of states, including those of the Non-Aligned Movement as well as China and Russia. The organisation’s credibility has now been called into question in the eyes of all impartial observers.
The suppression of the Engineering Assessment of the Douma incident was not an isolated aberration, according to the latest Briefing Note produced by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason and Piers Robinson of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) – the organisation entrusted with the original leak of the suppressed assessment.
That trust is based on mutual respect between professional researchers. McKeigue and colleagues ‘are well aware that most staff in the OPCW continue to work professionally for the organisation’s mission of upholding the Chemical Weapons Convention.’
It is also grounded in a sense of shared purpose as human beings on this planet. The reason virtually every nation on Earth has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) – whose provisions the OPCW is supposed to implement – is to prevent that particular source of atrocious crime from being used anywhere.
Quite simply, the very future of the OPCW is put in jeopardy by the political manipulations that have been undermining its credibility as an honest or impartial watchdog.
The latest WGSPM Briefing Note concerns real crimes – up to and including mass murder – that are not being properly investigated. It shows that investigations into them appear may have been hampered by the very organisation we have all entrusted to carry them out.
So the authors are clear what this means:
The credibility of the OPCW cannot be restored simply by finding some way to reverse what were purported to be the findings of the FFM on the Douma incident, but only by an independent re-examination of all its previous investigations of alleged chemical attacks in Syria, and a radical reform of its governance and procedures.
Read the Briefing Note: ‘How the OPCW’s investigation of the Douma incident was nobbled’, by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason, Piers Robinson Members of Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, 26 June 2019
On 13 May 2019 the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) published a document received from an anonymous whistleblower at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The document’s findings run counter to the conclusion of OPCW’s official final report (1 March 2019) on the 2018 chemical incident in Douma – the one cited as pretext for French, US and UK forces to fire 103 missiles into Syria.
The significance of the new disclosure can hardly be overstated. But while recognized by some prominent independently-minded commentators, it has been studiously ignored by the mainstream media. As for OPCW itself, an official response has been very slow in coming.
Meanwhile “informed sources” have been floating various suggestions about why the implications of the leaked document may be somehow less significant than appears.
The latest briefing note from WGSPM analyses the response so far:
Comments on official response to the release of the Engineering Assessment of the Douma cylinders, by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason, Piers Robinson
The OPCW’s “final report” on the 2018 chemical incident in Douma, Syria, has been revealed to have suppressed a crucial engineers’ study that points to a conclusion opposed to the official one. Given the vital role of the OPCW in implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention on behalf of virtually every country in the world, this is a matter that calls for thorough and stringent investigation. Yet undertakings to do this have not been immediately forthcoming.
Furthermore, a large number of people lost their lives under unexplained circumstances in connection with the incident, so there is suspicion of a crime of mass murder. Thus concerns are that a proper criminal investigation may have been hampered. This also needs to be thoroughly investigated.
Below follows some brief commentary and selected links (most recent first) on how public understanding has developed in relation to the event and the informational contestation surrounding it.
Mainstream media have continued to avoid the issue, but across alternative and social media, public pressure for answers has been maintained. The spokespersons for OPCW seem to have made matters worse for themselves each time they have said something, as the Working Group (WGSPM) pointed out in a study of official OPCW responses. The WGSPM authors show that the responses are mutually self-contradictory. Initial attempts by OPCW management to deny the authenticity or downplay the significance of the leaked engineers’ report were followed by tacit admissions of its genuineness. The reason then given for its exclusion from the OPCW’s final report was that it contained an implication about who was responsible for the incident – yet in fact it did so no more than the approved report had done. It just pointed in the opposite direction.
In the meantime, a question in UK Parliament received a blithe and unsatisfactory reply, while some incisively probing questions formulated by Peter Hitchens received none from OPCW. Indeed, the Director General of the OPCW appeared to make matters worse with some perplexing remarks at a conference on 11 June.
The silence of mainstream media and disarray apparent within the upper levels of contrasts with the dedication of OPCW’s professional investigators, independent journalists, and concerned citizens to get the truth out.
Sadly, it does have also to be noted that there are a few journalists of another kind who have continued to try to suppress critical questioning. The notorious ‘narrative corrector’ Idrees Ahmad, for instance, who as well as being a journalist is a lecturer at Stirling University in Scotland, attempted to intimidate The Nation & Izzy Awards into spurning the highly-respected independent journalist Aaron Maté for covering the leaked report. Meanwhile, Professor Scott Lucas of Birmingham University, who edits EA (Enduring America) Online, appears to have been channelling information – albeit of questionable quality – from “informed sources” within OPCW. (Ahmad and Lucas, incidentally, were called on to provide statements for the smear articles on WGSPM members in The Times last April – occasioned by our raising of questions about the reliability of claims about chemical weapons attacks.)
Mainstream media has been slow – to put it mildly – in picking up the story. Exceptions to the general silence are Robert Fisk, Peter Hitchens, and Tucker Carlson with Tulsi Gabbard. (Hitchens has also pursued the story of a new alleged chemical attack of 19 May this year which appeared simply to be dropped by the media in the light of revelations now circulating concerning the previous one.)
Meanwhile, more numerous independent journalists and commentators have emphasised the significance of the leaked report. Videos feature Jimmy Dore and Aaron Mate interviewing Theodore Postol. Authors of articles include Caitlin Johnstone, Craig Murray, Jonathan Cook, Tony Cartalucci, Martin Jay, Kit Knightly, John McEvoy, Philip Roddis, Citizens Electoral Council (Australia), Martin Odoni, James O’Neill, Eric Zuesse, Fabio Giuseppe Carlo Carisio (in Italian), MediaLens, Tobias Riegel (in German), and Paul Bond.
From the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM), Piers Robinson is interviewed live on RT, and David Miller gives an extended interview on Syriana Analysis.
The leaked OPCW engineers’ assessment was first published with a commentary by: Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson (13 May 2019) Assessment by the engineering sub-team of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission investigating the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018, Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.
Engineers’ Assessment of Two Cylinders Observed at the Douma Incident (circulated internally 27 February 2019; published via WGSPM 13 May 2019) Unclassified OPCW.
Russian Federation (26 April 2019) Commentaries on the conclusion of the report of the fact-finding mission on the use of chemical weapons in Syria regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma on 7 April 2018, OPCW Executive Council.
Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson (12 April 2019) The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW): critical questions, Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.
In this period it emerged that public debate was being influenced by an organisation called the Institute for Statecraft and its “Integrity Initiative”. I have posted a separate listing on this of 185 links to items between November 2018 and April 2019.
CGTN (14 February 2019) BBC producer drops bombshell by saying footage of 2018 Douma chemical attack was ‘staged’, Youtube
Regarding the event of 7 April 2018, relevant links were provided in this commentary that I posted on 8 April 2018 and last updated 28 April 2018.
In April last year Syrian opposition groups claimed that the Syrian government had launched a chemical attack in the last opposition stronghold near Damascus. The US, France and Britain responded with a shower of cruise missiles against Syria. Now a leaked report by engineers from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons who investigated the incident says that the alleged chemical attack was staged: the “only plausible explanation” for the gas cylinders found in two apartment buildings was that they were placed there, not dropped from helicopters.
On 8 April last year the world woke up to horrifying images of the bodies of more than 30 dead civilians lying in an apartment building in the Damascus suburb of Douma. The opposition had held out against the Syrian Army till then, but agreed to be evacuated the next day. A week later, the US, France and Britain attacked Syria with more than 100 cruise missiles in retaliation. Theresa May told the House of Commons that:
A significant body of information, including intelligence, indicates that the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack. … No other group could have carried out this attack. The opposition do not operate helicopters or use barrel bombs.
A team of investigators from OPCW arrived in Damascus on a Fact-Finding Mission the day after the US-led missile attack, and began inspecting the sites of the alleged attack. In March this year, the Final Report of the Fact-Finding Mission was published. This reported that outside experts in ballistics, structural engineering and metallurgy had been asked to give opinions on “the trajectory and damage to the cylinders”, and concluded that there were “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place.“
There was no mention in the Final Report that the Fact-Finding Mission had conducted its own engineering study, led by one of OPCW’s most senior inspectors, Ian Henderson. Now a copy of the suppressed Engineering Assessment has been leaked from inside OPCW – and OPCW has reluctantly confirmed that the document is genuine. Although OPCW has refused to comment further, several UK commentators have reported that their contacts in OPCW briefed them off the record that this was “a minority opinion”, that the author was “on the sidelines”, or a “disgruntled employee”.
The Engineering Assessment says that the cylinder found lying over a hole in the roof (at what they designate location 2) would have punched straight through the roof if it had been dropped from 500M – much lower than a helicopter would actually fly – and could not have been stopped by the steel reinforcing bars without leaving marks on the cylinder. The cylinder with fins found lying on a bed (at location 4) could not have fitted through the hole in the roof if it had been dropped from the sky.
In each case the alternative hypothesis [that the cylinders were placed in position rather than dropped from the air] produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.
Piers Robinson, convenor of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media  that published the leaked document, says:
“It’s hard to see how the opinions of outside experts who had not been to the sites could override the opinions of OPCW’s own engineering team who had made their own inspection on site. The best way for OPCW to clear this up would be to make all the documents that were used to prepare the Final Report of the Fact-Finding Mission, including the full reports provided by outside experts, publicly available for review.”
David Miller, a member of the working group, stated that:
“this leak shows that there is significant dissent inside the OPCW. We hope that others will come forward with further elements of the story on how the OPCW has performed its role in this and other alleged chemical attacks. It is essential to note that any such disclosures can be done in confidence.”
Dr Piers Robinson: +44 7764763350, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Miller, Professor of Political Sociology, University of Bristol, +44 7786 927551, email@example.com
A military expert who has read the report (but is not associated with the Working Group):
Jonathan Shaw (former head of UK Special Forces)
The Public Affairs Office is unlikely to respond (see below). The Chief of Cabinet (equivalent to CEO) is a French diplomat named Sébastien Braha:
 In response to enquiries about this story from journalists, the OPCW Public Affairs office issued a statement on 16 May. The final paragraph was:
Pursuant to its established policies and practices, the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question. At this time, there is no further public information on this matter and the OPCW is unable to accommodate requests for interviews
 Dr Piers Robinson is convenor of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, and co-author of the group’s previously published briefing notes on the Douma incident and other alleged chemical attacks in Syria. The group was attacked by The Times in April 2018 as ‘Assad apologists” for questioning the evidence on these alleged chemical attacks and the role of the White Helmets. The Working Group has never expressed any opinion in favour of or against the Syrian government.
 Professor Miller is a member of the working group and co-author of the group’s previously published briefing notes on the Douma incident and other alleged chemical attacks in Syria.
“A huge international news story broke last week,” writes Peter Hitchens, in the Mail on Sunday today, “but I doubt you will hear about it anywhere else.”
In fact, while the story resounds around sections of the alternative media and Twitter, attracting also the concern of some well known people including Susan Sarandon and Roger Waters, mainstream journalists have ignored it.
This silence is a chilling testimony to the state of news reporting – and thus of democracy itself – today. For the significance of the story is hard to overstate. As Hitchens continues:
“It seems very likely that the decision we, France and the USA made in April 2018 to bomb Syria was based on a mistake as big as the fictional weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body which examines alleged incidents of the use of poison gas, has just confirmed to me that a devastating leaked document from its Dutch HQ is genuine.
The document, written by one of the OPCW’s most experienced investigators, shows that it is highly unlikely that gas canisters found at the scene of an alleged poison gas attack in Douma, Syria, were actually dropped from helicopters – as has been widely believed and claimed. The claim is crucial to the case for bombing Syria.”
As Hitchens continues, the OPCW is “a valuable organisation, containing many fine people, with a noble purpose”, but he, like Working Group members, is troubled by the question whether it has been “placed under pressure, or even hijacked, by political forces which seek a justification for military intervention in Syria?”
“Given that a decision between war or peace, affecting the whole planet, could one day hang on its judgments, I think the world is entitled to an inquiry into what is happening behind its closed doors.”