US Withdrawal from Syria: Postponing the Inevitable, By Peter Ford

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Bahrain (1999–2003) and Syria (2003–2006), offers the following assessment.

US Withdrawal from Syria: Postponing the Inevitable

Peter Ford

At the start of the year the horizon seems to be dominated by the issue of the possible withdrawal of US troops. In reality however the more important action is elsewhere.

US withdrawal: on or not?

Every day that passes seems to bring fresh evidence that Trump’s decision is being walked back. But appearances can be misleading.

Trump’s ultra-hawkish National Security Adviser, John Bolton, is touring the Middle East apparently setting new conditions for the withdrawal with every stop he makes. We are currently told that the troops will not leave until the remnants of ISIS are mopped up, until there is certainty they cannot remerge, until Erdogan promises not to slaughter the Kurds, and until Israel’s security is absolutely assured.

It is certainly true that crushing those ISIS remnants could take some time, and as for ensuring that ISIS can never re-form that is a recipe for a never-ending US presence. The US allies, the Kurdish-dominated SDF, are currently retreating from parts of Eastern Deir Ez Zor because they are meeting hostility from Arab villagers, who resent the abduction of their young men and even children into the ranks of the SDF. While the departure of the sprinkling of 2000 US troops will hardly leave a vacuum as far as the fight against ISIS is concerned the departure of the SDF from certain areas certainly will. Only the government’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA) could enter these Arab areas, and that is precisely what some clan leaders are calling for (calls ignored of course by our media).

Extracting assurances from Erdogan is also likely to prove difficult, especially if (like Bolton, no doubt) you will perhaps not strain every sinew to extract them. Erdogan however has already said that he will have no need to invade if the Syrian Army interposes itself in a 40 mile deep buffer zone. To guard against this possibility of receiving yes for an answer Ambassador James Jeffrey, presidential envoy for Syria, is being despatched to talk to the Kurds and deter them from pacting with Assad and the Russians.

The irony here is that it is the very presence of the US (and UK) forces which prevents the US conditions for withdrawal being met. While the US refuses to cooperate with the Syrian Army and Russia in fighting ISIS the holy warriors will always have somewhere to hide. And while the US keeps promising protection to the Kurds, and the Kurds believe them, then the YPG will go on infuriating the Turks and the Turkish threat will not go away.

But will the Kurds believe Jeffrey? Will they put their entire existence at the mercy of Trump’s whims and a frayed US tripwire? It seems not, at least to judge by reports that Kurdish negotiations with Damascus and the Russians are well advanced.

In this game for the prize of Kurdish affections Damascus holds most of the cards. To begin with the Kurds have never fought or wanted to fight the SAA and never wanted independence. They do want a measure of autonomy which they would like to see guaranteed in a new federal constitution. Damascus will have difficulty swallowing that, not least because other restive areas like the South might also want autonomy. Assad will probably reckon that he can clinch a deal with a few concessions rather than a federal constitution: use of Kurdish language in schools, incorporation of the peshmerga into the SAA. He can afford to sit on his hands indefinitely: the small US presence in the remote Syrian Far East is no existential strategic threat to him, while the endless lingering will be a constant embarrassment to Trump. Most crucially of all, the Kurds know now, if they hadn’t realised it before, that one day the US tripwire will indeed be removed and they will get no deal at all from Damascus if they do not strike one now.

We can expect to see bluster, smoke screens, reversals and and posturing on all sides in the coming days but ultimately it must be considered likely that at some point the Kurds, when they judge that no more concessions can be extracted from Assad, could ask the US to leave. Ah! That would upend everything. Actually they won’t even need to ask. All they have to do is conclude a deal. Then it will be game, set and match to Assad and the Russians. The real issue may soon become how to save American face and here we can expect to see some adroit Russian diplomacy. There is already talk of drafting UAE and Egyptian forces into Manbij, the key town under Turkish threat.

Before we reach that point however we must address two loose ends. Firstly Trump’s statement, when he was under fire and needed an excuse, that the Turks were going to deal with ISIS. This idea is a total nonsense but Bolton on the Turkey leg of his tour must go through the motions of exploring it with Erdogan. He will be told that for Turkish troops to cross over a hundred miles of hostile Kurdish territory to deal with ISIS in Deir Ez Zor Turkey would need the support of more US resources than are in the area already. Turkish generals are horrified at the idea. It will be quietly dropped. Anyway the preferred plan is for the US forces with the SDF to use all this new time at their disposal to do the necessary (except that, as mentioned, the SDF is something of a broken reed).

Secondly, and this is even more absurd, Bolton says the US is not going to withdraw its ‘a couple hundred’ troops from the ‘key’ Al Tanf enclave which straddles the Syrian/Jordanian/Iraqi borders, because of its strategic position blocking completion of the fabled ‘land bridge’ which we are told links Iran with Syria and Lebanon. It is quite simply grotesque that anyone with pretentions to being a strategist can appear seriously to believe this and that the media dutifully regurgitate the US talking points on it without question. While it is true that Al Tanf has been an important crossing point, all we are talking about here is bit of inconvenience. There are other crossing points a few miles to the North East. Anyway Iran airlifts most of its supplies to Damascus and Beirut and wouldn’t dream of ferrying sensitive equipment through Iraqi territory, pullulating with US troops and agents. Don’t they have maps in the Pentagon? It can perhaps be most charitably assumed that the Al Tanf gambit is part of the face-saving which has to be done, this time to be able to claim that the US has ensured that Iran will not become more ‘entrenched’ (what does this much bandied about word mean? They never tell us) and Israel’s concerns are not being overlooked.

Assad will not care less if the US wants to stay on in Al Tanf. The only settlement is the Ar Rukban encampment housing about 60,000 displaced persons, many of them ISIS and their families who fled from Raqqa. The US troops do not dare enter this encampment. Assad will be perfectly happy for the US to keep holding this tar baby and can lambast the US for blatant breach of international law, because after ISIS is gone the last vestige of any legal excuse for the US presence will also be gone. (Bolton tells us that the US constitution is basis enough, so now we know.)

Syria comes in from the cold

Meanwhile Syria’s rapprochement with much of the Arab world has proceeded apace. The President of Sudan visited. The UAE reopened its embassy. Bahrain says it will follow. Flights to Tunisia have resumed. It seems likely that Assad will be invited to the Arab Summit in March in Beirut and Syria will be readmitted to the Arab League. Italy is said to be close to reopening its embassy. The British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has sourly accepted that Assad is going to remain President ‘for a while’. Although reports that the British Embassy are being refurbished may turn out to be a false dawn, the day can surely not be far off when the UK informs Damascus that it proposes to reopen. However the issue will not be what concessions Syria must make to receive this favour but rather what concessions the UK must make if it is not be even more totally excluded from the diplomacy around the Syrian question than it is already. The Syrians would be remiss not to require a lifting of sanctions as a minimum.

The economic war

The most important aspect of these rapprochements is the economic one. Syria’s immense battle ahead is economic recovery. The gains on the battlefield may be eroded if the government fails to get the country on its feet again. The problems seem never ending. One small example: 84,000 children are fatherless, the offspring resulting from rapes and forced temporary marriages by jihadis.

The Western media gleefully reckons that Syria needs $400 billion for reconstruction. The Western powers currently set their faces against contributing anything to this and indeed seek to push Syria deeper into the mire with punitive sanctions. A surer way of creating the conditions for a resurgence of ISIS could hardly be imagined.

Hence the importance of rapprochement with the Gulf countries. While Trump’s claim that Saudi would pay for recovery was probably another of Trump’s mis-statements, it is not fanciful to imagine the big Gulf development funds – the Saudi, Kuwaiti and Arab Development Funds, and some of the UAE funds – providing enough to make a good start. Syria in any case could not absorb huge amounts to begin with. Not least it would generate massive inflation.

Idlib

The Idlib issue, presently on hold, gets worse rather than better. Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham (HTS), the group everyone (except Qatar) considers terrorists, have fought and displaced other armed groups from a string of towns, some in the buffer zone which the Turks were supposed to have cleansed of the most radical groups. The groups in Idlib mount regular forays or artillery attacks into government-controlled areas, attracting air raids in retaliation.

Lest we forget

Within two days of each other John Bolton and Jeremy Hunt publicly reminded Syria that it must not run away with the idea that it could get away with more chemical attacks now that it seems to be in the ascendant. This seems to be the last lingering hope of all those who can never have too much Western military intervention in Syria, that an incident can be manufactured to justify heavy bombing. Unfortunately for them, the Syrians and Russians appear to be a step ahead: only the Russians seem to be doing any bombing. While a compliant media would dutifully echo possible Pentagon claims that any planes or helicopters were Syrian rather than Russian, or that black is white, this tactic does make that a tad more difficult.

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Posted in guest blog, Russia, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war | 23 Comments

Briefing Note on the Integrity Initiative: comments and discussion

This page is for public comments and discussion relating to the Briefing Note on the Integrity Initiative, by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason, Piers Robinson, for the Working Group on Syria Propaganda and Media.

The Briefing Note is work in progress, and the Working Group can be contacted at piers.robinson@sheffield.ac.uk.  For further information about the Working Group visit http://syriapropagandamedia.org/

Read the full Briefing Note.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Integrity: Grasping The Initiative

[Scroll down for links to discussions: latest update 16 January 2019]

This is my first personal blogpost since April. At that time I referred to a ‘coordinated smear campaign’ against anti-war journalists, tweeters and academics, whose number included myself and other members of the SPM Working Group. The portrayal of us as “useful idiots” for some or other official enemy, I suggested, was evidently a strategic communication.

We now know a lot more about the coordination of that communications strategy, thanks to the recently accessed documents exposing the Institute for Statecraft’s so-called Integrity Initiative (here, here and here).

Numerous points of interest and concern emerge, one of which regards the high profile attack launched at our Working Group on the front page of The Times. Two of its authors, we learn, are named in the newly available documents. They – Deborah Haynes and Dominic Kennedy – have not so far responded to invitations to clarify their association with the “Initiative”.

What we do know from the documents is that a coordinated network was very closely following all public comments on such critical events as the Skripals poisoning in Salisbury, on which SPM produced its first Briefing Note, and the chemical attack in Douma this year, which was the focus of SPM’s second Briefing Note.

The working group’s third Briefing Note will be released soon [update, 21 Dec 2018, it is now published here]. Meanwhile, for anyone wishing to catch up with others’ comments on the “Integrity Initiative”, links to discussions of the issue will be maintained here below.

[Update 22 Dec 2018: currently the full set of II documents is available at https://fdik.org/Integrity_Initiative/]

[Update 4 January 2019, 4th set of II documents released and available, separately and in a single folder, at https://www.cyberguerrilla.org/blog/operation-integrity-initiative-british-informational-war-against-all-part-4/ Also worth noting now is that while there are more than 60 articles on the matter linked below, still practically nothing has been heard from mainstream Western media outlets.]

 

Discussions of Institute for Statecraft’s “Integrity Initiative” [114 links as of 16 January 2019]

RT Deutsch (16 January 2019) Integrity Initiative in Norwegen: Öffentlichkeit zu “weich” gegenüber Russland, [in German]

Elizabeth Vos (15 January 2019) Integrity Initiative And Affiliates Behind Multiple Attacks On Disobedient Media, Disobedient Media.

Armin Siebert (14 January 2019) Politologe zu “Integrity Initiative”: “Skandal mit politischer Dimension”, Sputnik [in German]

Binoy Kampmark (14 January 2019) Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the “Integrity Initiative”, Global Research

Russia Today (14 January 2019) Bellingcat activist fails to ban blogger who exposed his ties to UK propaganda outfit on Twitter, RT

Russia Today (14 January 2019) Integrity Initiative faces setback in Norway: Public ‘skepticism’ of US hinders anti-Russia infowar, RT

Russia Today (14 January 2019) Bellingcat activist fails to ban blogger who exposed his ties to UK propaganda outfit on Twitter, RT

Jasmin Kosubek (13 January 2019) Integrity Initiative: Manipulation auf Regierungsebene, Der Fehlende Part

John Ferguson (13 January 2019) American ‘weapons of mass destruction’ spook’s linked to Fife-based infowars unit, Sunday Mail @Daily Record

John Helmer (13 January 2019) Operation Integrity Initiative — British Intelligence Celebrates A Century Of Russia Lies And Self-Deception

Simon Rite (13 January 2019) Integrity Initiative: By all means smear & attack, but at least be honest about it, RT

Tord Björk (12 January 2019) How Integrity Initiative and Atlantic Council is exposed in Norway, steigan.no

MoVimento 5 Stelle Europa (12 January 2019) Vogliamo la verità: Giornalisti italiani pagati per creare fake news?, Il Blog Delle Stelle [in Italian]

Ben Swann (11 January 2019) UK’s “Integrity Initiative” and How It is Actually a Propaganda Machine, RT

Jens Berger (11 January 2019) Streitfall: Militärische Forschung an deutschen Unis, NachDenkSeiten [in German]

Russia Today (10 January 2019) Wissenschaftler: “Integrity Initiative” Teil britischer Geheimoperationen im In- und Ausland, RT Deutsch [in German

Russia Insight (10 January 2019) BREAKING! The Integrity Initiative, UK Govt Funded Anti-Russia PsyOp, Was Behind The Skripals Case?

Anders Romelsjö (10 January 2019) Swedish responses to Integrity Initiative and Atlantic Council, Global Politics

Jens Berger (9 January 2019) Integrity Initiative – NATO-Propaganda auch in Deutschland, NachDenkSeiten http://in%20German

James Ball (9 January 2019) When free societies copy Russian media tactics, there’s only one winner, The Guardian [this rare mainstream piece is by a journalist named in Integrity Initiative documents]

Armin Siebert (9 January 2019) “Integrity Initiative“ – Kopf der deutsche Zelle meldet sich zu Wort, Sputnik [in German]

RT America (9 January 2019) BOMBSHELL: British meddling, “smearing crap” out of Americans, RT

Kit Klarenberg (9 January 2019) How Integrity Initiative’s German Cluster Aims to End Berlin’s Ties with Moscow, Sputnik International

Chris Williamson MP (9 January 2019) On New Integrity Initiative Revelations, RT

Moon of Alabama (9 January 2019) Stuff To Read: Integrity Initiative, Skripal, Kaspersky …

Russia Today (9 January 2019) ‘America must rebuild understanding of Russia’: How Integrity Initiative drafted US for new Cold War, RT

Max Blumenthal and Mark Ames (8 January 2019) New Documents Reveal a Covert British Military-Intelligence Smear Machine Meddling In American Politics, Grayzone

Russia Today (8 January 2019) ‘They made a mess & are fighting fires’: UK academic says Integrity Initiative fatally hurt by leaks, RT

David Miller (8 January 2019) Interviewed on Skripal Case: Released Docs Pointing at Direction We Need to Investigate, Sputnik International

Robert Stevens (7 January 2019) UK Integrity Initiative heavily involved in Skripal affair, World Socialist Web Site

NachDenkSeiten (7 January 2019) Der Zweck und die Absicht von Integrity Initiative ist eine Propagandaoperation, NachDenkSeiten [in German]

Kit Klarenberg (7 January 2019) Damaging Ties: Why Germany is the Integrity Initiative’s ‘Most Important Target’, Sputnik International

Kit Klarenberg (7 January 2019) The Integrity Initiative: The Spread of Propaganda & A Look Back at the #Skripal Saga, Stranahan, Sputnik Radio

Armin Siebert (7 January 2019) “Integrity Initiative“: Antirussische Beeinflussungskampagne in ganz Europa geplant, Sputnik [in German[

Russia Today (7 January 2019) Use Hollywood films to counter China & Russia: Integrity Initiative psyop plan exposed in new leaks, RT

Jan Wiklund (6 January 2019) Integrity Initiative links from 36 countries and some Atlantic Council links

21Wire (5 January 2019) How the Integrity Initiative Spun the West’s Improbable Skripal Narrative, 21st Century Wire

Moon of Alabama (4 January 2019) ‘Integrity Initiative’ – New Documents From Shady NGO Released [This is a brief piece on the new release, but it has encouraged readers’ comments, a number of which make for interesting reading]

Kit Klarenberg (4 January 2019) Shock Files: What Role Did Integrity Initiative Play in Sergei Skripal Affair?, Sputnik International

Russia Today (4 January 2019) ‘Operation Iris’ & more: New documents tie Integrity Initiative to spin of Skripal affair, RT 

Anonymous (4 January 2019) Documents of the “Integrity Initiative” Part 4 

Kit Klarenberg (3 January 2019) Integrity Initiative: How Media Promote Military Intelligence Propagandist Nimmo, Sputnik International

Jimmy Dore (2 January 2019) British Spy Found Inside Bernie Sanders Campaign, The Jimmy Dore Show

Chris Williamson MP (2 January 2019) The chilling manipulations of the Institute for Statecraft are straight out of the cold war playbook, Morning Star Online

Piers Robinson (2 January 2019) Speaking about Integrity Initiative, Fault Lines

Alex Christoforou and Alexander Mercouris (31 December 2018) UK gov. funded ‘think tanks’ to smear Jeremy Corbyn and spread anti-Russian propaganda, The Duran [Video]

Mohamed Elmaazi (30 December 2018) Temple of Covert Propaganda (Part 1), Around the Empire

Alexandra Bader (30 December 2018) Integrity Initiative: Mit allen Mitteln gegen Russland, CeiberWeiber [in German]

Beastrabban blog (30 December 2018) Private Eye on the Integrity Initiative and Its Links to American Intelligence

Aaron Maté (28 December 2018) New Studies Show Pundits Are Wrong About Russian Social-Media Involvement in US Politics, The Nation

Mark Curtis (28 December 2018) Twitter and the smearing of Corbyn and Assange: A research note on the “Integrity Initiative”, Mark Curtis: British foreign policy declassified

Free West Media Staff (28 December 2018) UK info war against Russia targets young children, Free West Media

Derek Royden (28 December 2018) The new Agitprop? The Integrity Initiative exposed, Nation of Change

Mark Hodgetts (27 December 2018) Disturbing Questions About the Independence of Mainstream Media

David Miller, with Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton (26 December 2018) Inside the Integrity Initiative, the UK gov’s information war on the public, Moderate Rebels

Constanze Kurz (25 December 2018) Der hausgemachte Desinformationsskandal, Frankfurter Allgemeine [in German]

Russia Today (24 December 2018) Why is paid Integrity Initiative hitman Ben Nimmo still used as ‘independent’ expert by MSM? RT Question More

Johanna Ross and Kit Klarenberg (24 December 2018) UK academics unveil report on Integrity Initiative as Sunday Times attacks Sputnik journalists, Radio Sputnik

Chris Donnelly (Director of Institute for Statecraft and its “Integrity Initiative”) On Disinformation, Youtube video

The Bulgarian Times (23 December 2018) The British Integrity Initiative as an attempt to enforce global censorship, The Bulgarian Times [in Bulgarian]

John Pilger (22 December 2018) A Look Back at 2018, Look Forward to 2019, Going Underground, RT

Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason, Piers Robinson (21 December 2018) Briefing note on the Integrity Initiative, Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media [readers’ comments on the Briefing Note are posted here]

Jens Berger (20 December 2018) Die Infokrieger im Dienste ihrer Majestät, NachDenkSeiten [in German]

Alan MacLeod (19 December 2018) The Integrity Initiative in Context, Conversation with Slava Zilber

Russia Today (19 December 2018) ‘Striking images to help public relate’: UK Integrity Initiative’s post-Skripal psyop leaked, RT

Mark Galleotti (19 December 2018) The Integrity Initiative and Me (and Jeremy Corbyn), In Moscow’s Shadows

David Jamieson (19 December 2018) State-backed Integrity Initiative confirms meeting with Herald journalist for Scotland briefing, CommonSpace

Margaret Kimberley (19 December 2018) Freedom Rider: UK and US PSYOP Collusion, Black Agenda Report

Piers Robinson (19 December 2018) Interview: There’s desire to ramp up public perception of Russia being a threat in the international system, Radio Sputnik 

South Front (19 December 2018) British Foreign Secretary Confirms Integrity Initiative Documents, Blames Russia For Everything, South Front

RT (19 December 2018) Do it CIA style: UK-funded ‘Integrity Initiative’ planned to infiltrate European media, leaks reveal, RT News

Piers Robinson (18 December 2018) On the emerging Integrity Initiative scandal, Fault Lines

Kit Klarenberg (18 December 2018) Integrity Initiative: The Times Meets Ukrainian Kidnappers, Propaganda Follows, Sputnik

South Front (17 December 2018) Hackers Uncover More Documents Throwing Light On British Propaganda Campaign Against Russia, South Front

Johanna Ross with Kit Klarenberg (17 December 2018) Anonymous leaks 3rd batch of Integrity Initiative documents, Radio Sputnik

Mohamed Elmaazi and Max Blumenthal (17 December 2018) Inside the Temple of Covert Propaganda: The Integrity Initiative and the UK’s Scandalous Information War, Grayzone

Edward Lucas (17 December 2018) Don’t swallow Labour’s claims of ‘black ops’, The Times [making a case in favour of the II, behind a paywall]

Ian Shilling (17 December 2018) The #Russiagate Hoax and the “Integrity Initiative” to Gaslight the public with more “Russia Threat” lies, Investment Watch

David Scott (16 December 2018) Half a League Onwards: A glimpse of the policy protocols of the Integrity Initiative, UK Column

Mail Opinion (16 December 2018) Minister’s flimsy defence of infowars attack on Jeremy Corbyn as embarrassing as Tory leadership farce, Daily Record

John Ferguson (16 December 2018) Tory minister ‘misled Parliament’ over Government-funded infowars attack on Jeremy Corbyn, Daily Record

David Scott (15 December 2018) Integrity Initiative: Ministry of Defence Parliamentary answer now in doubt, UK Column

Moon of Alabama (15 December 2018) The ‘Integrity Initiative’ – A Military Intelligence Operation, Disguised As Charity, To Create The “Russian Threat”

Ally Tibbitt (15 December 2015) Scottish charity at centre of ‘propaganda’ row probed by regulator, The Ferret

David Miller (14 December 2018) interviewed by George Galloway, Mother of All Talk Shows, Talk Radio [item from 23 minutes; interview from 27 minutes.]

Kit Klarenberg (14 December 2018) Integrity Initiative: Spanish Cluster Misled UK Parliament Over Assange, Russia, Sputnik

Anonymous (14 December 2018) The documents of ‘Integrity Initiative’, Part 3 

Moon of Alabama (14 December 2018) Newly Released ‘Integrity Intitiative’ Papers Include Proposal For Large Disinformation Campaigns

Craig Murray (13 December 2018) British Security Service Infiltration, the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft

Kit Klarenberg (13 December 2018) Integrity Initiative: Foreign Office Funded, Staffed by Spies, Housed by MI5? Sputnik

Emily Thornberry (12 December 2018) Letter to Alan Duncan, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

David Miller (12 December 2018) (Interview:) Integrity Initiative Operations Are ‘Outrageous in Democratic System’, Sputnik News

George Galloway (12 December 2018) A very British coup: The spies who went out to the cold – by George Galloway, RT [Yes, Russia Today. Where is the Western media coverage?]

UK Parliament (12 December 2018) Institute for Statecraft: Integrity Initiative, Hansard

Stephen Daisley (11 December 2018) The deep state needs to step up its campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, Spectator Blog [defending II]

South Front (10 December 2018) British Anti-Russian Propaganda Network Is Now Used To Target Jeremy Corbyn And Labour Party, South Front

David Scott (10 December 2018) Integrity Initiative: Just how well connected are the “Gateside Three”? UK Column

Aaron Bastani (10 December 2018) Undermining Democracy, Not Defending It: The ‘Integrity Initiative’ is Everything That’s Wrong With British Foreign Policy, Novara Media

James Landale (10 December 2018) Russia hack ‘bid to discredit’ UK anti-disinformation campaign – Foreign Office, BBC [Note the perspective adopted in this piece. See also how the report was edited to shift the perspective (courtesy News Sniffer)]

Emily Thornberry (9 December 2018) Response to reported government funded attacks on the Labour Party, Labour Party

John Ferguson (9 December 2018) Secret Scottish-based office led infowars attack on Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, The Daily Record

Conrad Landin (9 December 2018) Researcher at government-funded think tank behind fake news story that Kremlin aided Corbyn’s rise, Morning Star

Ben Gelblum (9 December 2018) Labour demand government explains £2m taxpayers’ cash funding infowars unit which smeared Corbyn and Labour, The London Economic

Alejandro López (6 December 2018) Hackers reveal British government’s interference in Spanish politics, World Socialist Web Site

David Scott (5 December 2018) Integrity Initiative: Follow the money, UK Column

Mike Robinson (2 December 2018) Integrity Initiative: A Look Into the Deep State? UK Column

John Ferguson (2 December 2018) Derelict Scottish mill is shadowy hub in UK’s fight against Putin’s propaganda machine, Daily Record

Anonymous (29 November 2018) Documents of “Integrity Initiative” Part 2, live link at SPM site

Chris Williamson MP (28 November 2018) UK Government ‘Black Propaganda’ and Scrapping Universal Credit, Going Underground, RT (video)

David Miller (26 November 2018) The Integrity Initiative is a British state-funded propaganda operation, Radio Sputnik podcast

Integrity Initiative (26 November 2018) Statement on Russian media publication of hacked II documents 

Moon of Alabama (24 November 2018) British Government Runs Secret Anti-Russian Smear Campaigns

South Front (23 November 2018) Documents Confirm: UK Is Engaged In Large-Scale Secret Propaganda War Against Russia, South Front

Anonymous (5 November 2018) Documents of ‘Integrity Initiative’, Part 1

 

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Posted in conspiracy theory, constitutional politics, disinformation, inter-media, journalism, media, propaganda, Russia, UK Government, Uncategorized, war | 27 Comments

Chemical Weapons In Syria? BBC Panorama Relies On Questionable Research

This is a press release issued by the Global Network for Syria (Corresponding author Baroness Cox <carolinecox1@outlook.com>)

A joint investigation by BBC Panorama and BBC Arabic claimed to show how chemical weapons have been used by the Syrian Government as part of a deliberate military strategy. Yet there are serious concerns over the investigation’s reliance on ‘broadly impartial’ sources — who are not named — and consequently the reliability of the report’s findings.

The Panorama programme is called ‘Syria’s Chemical War’ and was first broadcast on Monday 15 October on BBC One at 20:30.

Members of the Global Network for Syria have issued the following response:

“Yesterday’s BBC Panorama programme was notable for its omissions. It was not clear, for example, whether evidence backing the claims of 106 uses of chemical weapons came from Syrian rebel sources. Given that sources are not named, the BBC may be relying on evidence from groups that are widely regarded as favourable to the opposition, such as the White Helmets, the Syrian American Medical Society, or the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations.

“The investigation ignored the interim findings of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the Douma incident, which contradict the BBC’s conclusions. The OPCW found no evidence of the use of prohibited weapons in Douma and did not rule out that chlorine cylinders found at the site may have been planted.

“The programme showed former OPCW staff saying that not all of Asad’s stocks destroyed under OPCW supervision were necessarily accounted for. It neglected to point out, however, that the OPCW reported in 2014 that it had been unable to visit two sites where chemical weapons were stored and that both these sites were in rebel-held territory deemed unsafe for inspectors to visit.

“The programme also claimed to detect a pattern of Asad using chemical weapons in the final stages of sieges. But the report did not address questions raised by numerous military experts who ask why Syrian Government Forces, which were already winning the war, would deploy chemical weapons of limited usefulness, risking severe reprisals by the US-led Coalition.

“There are further concerns regarding the lack of reference to Islamist fighters, who have used chlorine canisters as part of their “resistance”, and who have butchered not just Christians and Alawites but also hundreds of the civilians living under their control, as documented by the UN.

“The war in Syria is complex, with many different layers to the conflict. It is crucial that any future investigation includes historical and geopolitical context, objective analysis, transparency about sources, and, at the very least, an acknowledgement that there are different points of view.”

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria
Dr Tim Anderson, University of Sydney
Lord Carey of Clifton
Baroness Cox
Lord Gordon of Strathblane
Dr Michael Langrish, former Bishop of Exeter
Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Contact: carolinecox1@outlook.com

GNS

Posted in BBC, chemical weapons, disinformation, guest blog, journalism, media, OPCW, Syria, Syrian opposition, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 10 Comments

Idlib: Lull before the hurricane – by Peter Ford

 

This article is posted on behalf of Peter Ford, former UK ambassador to Syria.

It appears that the Russians have pressed the pause button on their plans for an offensive alongside the Syrian government to retake Idlib. By the time they return to play mode the martial music may have changed.

New US policies for Syria

Without fanfare the US has just reformulated its position to create the conditions for it to launch devastating strikes on Syria no longer just on the pretext of alleged use of chemical weapons but on any ‘humanitarian’ pretext the US sees fit. In an interview with the Washington Post on 6 September, James Jeffrey, the hawkish new Special Envoy for Syria fresh from the neocon incubator of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, did not mince words:

“We’ve started using new language,” Jeffrey said, referring to previous warnings against the use of chemical weapons. Now, he said, the United States will not tolerate “an attack. Period.”

“Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation” he said. “You add to that, if you use chemical weapons, or create refu¬gee flows or attack innocent civilians.”

Jeffrey’s remarks were little noticed because he was that day announcing something else more immediately striking: a ‘new’ policy on Syria involving cancellation of Trump’s announced departure of US troops before the end of 2018 and instatement of a plan to stay on indefinitely until achievement of the twin goals of removing all trace of the Iranian presence in Syria and installation of a Syrian government which would meet US conditions – conditions which President Asad would by Jeffrey’s own admission not be likely to meet.

The headlines naturally focussed on this latest Washington folly – do they think Iran will up sticks as long as there is a single US soldier on Syrian soil, or that there is Syrian Mandela waiting in the wings? – and the importance of the remarks about Idlib was missed. Yet those words may be about to bring the world to the brink of global war.

New doctrine for US intervention

What Jeffreys was saying was quite clear. That with or without alleged use of chemical weapons, a sudden exodus of frightened civilians from a part of Idlib, use of the fabled ‘barrel bombs’, or launch of a major offensive will be taken by the US as a trigger for drastic and probably sustained bombing aimed at bringing the government of Syria to its knees.

Until now successive US administrations have been careful to draw the red line for intervention in Syria at use of chemical weapons, presumably on the grounds that there is universal agreement and international law to the effect that use of prohibited weapons is taboo. WMD after all were the casus belli for Iraq, even if it turned out to be false. Now suddenly we have a new, broader and consequently more dangerous doctrine.

The State Department has not yet favoured the American public, Congress or anyone else with an explanation or justification for the change, but we can speculate. Can it be, for example, that US policy makers realise that when the next alleged use of chemical weapons occurs in Syria, as surely it will, it will be more difficult to sell intervention to the public than the first two times because the game has now been rumbled? Not only has the idea that the White Helmets might not be all they seem entered the bloodstream of media discourse, but the OPCW inspectors, able for once after Douma actually to visit a crime site, failed to find any proof of use of prohibited weapons. Add to that those pesky Russians unhelpfully telling the world exactly how and where the White Helmets were going to stage their next Oscar-winning performances. So why bother with all that rigmarole over chemical weapons when Western opinion is already sufficiently primed to accept any intervention whatever as long as it is somehow ‘humanitarian’ and doing down the evil Russians?

Responsibility to Protect

Step up ‘Responsibility to Protect’, the innocuous-sounding UN-approved doctrine beloved of interventionists of both Left and Right. Never mind that most legal scholars utterly reject the notion that this doctrine legalises armed aggression other than with Security Council approval or in self-defence. Was it not effectively invoked in the British government’s legal position statement provided at the time of the post-Douma strikes? (The US administration, knowing their audience, never bothered to provide any legal justification whatever.)

Slight snag: although the British government have preemptively sought with their legal statement to give themselves cover to commit acts of war on a whim, and without recourse to Parliament, as long as it can be dressed up as humanitarian, nevertheless there might be considerable disquiet in Parliament and possibly even among service chiefs were the government to appear to be about to launch strikes alongside the US had there not been even the appearance of a chemical weapons incident. For this reason it is likely that the British government will attempt to persuade the US not to give up just yet on chlorine.

Is it this new amplified threat – of strikes whether or not Asad obliges or appears to oblige with suicidal use of chlorine – which has given the Russians reasons to call off the dogs, pro tem at least? Probably not, because the Russians were taking it as read that fake chemical attacks were coming anyway. They will take note however that the US has just effectively lowered the bar on its own next heavy intervention in Syria and will not be deterred by any blowing of the gaff.

For those who naively but sincerely believed that if Asad laid off the chlorine he would not get bombed the world has suddenly become a lot more dangerous. For realists however the new doctrine merely removes a hypocrisy, or rather introduces an inflexion into the hypocrisy, whereby the itch felt by those salivating at the prospect of striking Syria, Russia and Iran can be masked as a humanitarian concern which goes beyond abhorrence of chemical weapons.

 

john-ford-two

 

Posted in chemical weapons, guest blog, Russia, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war | 8 Comments

Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria

The following is the text of a statement issued 30 August 2018 by The Global Network for Syria. It is posted here on the Network’s behalf. The signatories and contact details follow the statement. 

We, members of the Global Network for Syria, are deeply alarmed by recent statements by Western governments and officials threatening the government of Syria with military intervention, and by media reports of actions taken by parties in Syria and by Western agencies in advance of such intervention. In a joint statement issued on 21 August the governments of the US, the UK and France said that ‘we reaffirm our shared resolve to preventing [sic] the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and for [sic] holding them accountable for any such use… As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime’. The three governments justify this threat with reference to ‘reports of a military offensive by the Syrian regime against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Idlib’. On 22 August, Mr John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, was reported by Bloomberg to have said that the US was prepared to respond with greater force than it has used in Syria before. These threats need to be seen in the context of the following reports and considerations. Reports have appeared of activity by the White Helmets group, or militants posing as White Helmets, consistent with an intention to stage a ‘false flag’ chemical incident in order to provoke Western intervention. These activities have reportedly included the transfer of eight canisters of chlorine to a village near Jisr Al Shughur, an area under the control of Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham, an affiliate of the terrorist group Al Nusra. Some reports refer to the involvement of British individuals and the Olive security company. Other reports indicate a build-up of US naval forces in the Gulf and of land forces in areas of Iraq adjoining the Syrian border. We therefore urge the US, UK and French governments to consider the following points before embarking on any military intervention:

 In the cases of three of the previous incidents cited in the 21 August statement (Ltamenah, Khan Sheykhoun, Saraqib) OPCW inspectors were not able to secure from the militants who controlled these areas security guarantees to enable them to visit the sites, yet still based their findings on evidence provided by militants.

 In the case of Douma, also cited, the interim report of OPCW inspectors dated 6 July based on a visit to the site concluded that no evidence was found of the use of chemical weapons and that evidence for the use of chlorine as a weapon was inconclusive.

 Western governments themselves acknowledge that Idlib is controlled by radical Islamist extremists. The British government in its statement on 20 August justified its curtailment of aid programmes in Idlib on the grounds that conditions had become too difficult.

 Any action by the Syrian government would not be directed at harming civilians, but at removing these radical elements.

 Any military intervention without a mandate from the United Nations would be illegal.

 Any military intervention would risk confrontation with a nuclear armed co- member of the Security Council, as well as with the Islamic Republic of Iran, with consequent ramifications for regional as well as global security.

 There is no plan in place to contain chaos in the event of sudden government collapse in Syria, such as might occur in the contingency of command and control centres being targeted. Heavy military intervention could result in the recrudescence of terrorist groups, genocide against the Alawite, Christian, Druze, Ismaili, Shiite and Armenian communities, and a tsunami of refugees into neighbouring countries and Europe.

In the event of an incident involving the use of prohibited weapons – prior to taking any decision on military intervention – we urge the US, UK and French governments:

 To provide detailed and substantive evidence to prove that any apparent incident could not have been staged by a party wishing to bring Western powers into the conflict on their side.

 To conduct emergency consultations with their respective legislative institutions to request an urgent mission by the OPCW to the site of any apparent incident and give time for this mission to be carried out.

 To call on the government of Turkey, which has military observation posts in Idlib, to facilitate, in the event of an incident, an urgent mission by the OPCW to the jihadi-controlled area, along with observers from Russia to ensure impartiality.

We further call on the tripartite powers to join Turkish and Russian efforts to head off confrontation between the Syrian government forces and the militants opposing them by separating the most radical organisations such as Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham and Hurras Ad Deen from the rest, eliminating them, and facilitating negotiations between the Syrian government and elements willing to negotiate.

Dr Tim Anderson, University of Sydney

Lord Carey of Clifton, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and former Archbishop of Canterbury

The Baroness Cox, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords

Peter Ford, British Ambassador to Syria 2003-06

Dr Michael Langrish, former Bishop of Exeter Lord Stoddart of Swindon, Independent Labour Member of the House of Lords 30 August 2018

 

For inquiries contact Peter Ford

07910727317; peterford14@yahoo.com

GNS

Posted in chemical weapons, guest blog, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | Leave a comment

Alleged Chlorine Attacks in Syria 2014-18

1 Summary

  • Early statements by the US and French governments that a nerve agent had been used in the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018 were rebutted by the OPCW Fact-Finding mission which reported that neither environmental samples obtained on-site nor blood samples from purported victims contained any trace of nerve agent. This indicates that the US and French governments were poorly informed at the time of the US-led missile attack on Syria on 14 April.
  • The Prime Minister misled the House of Commons by stating on 16 April that the OPCW team had been prevented from visiting the Douma attack site by the Syrian authorities and the Russian military, and may also have misled the House by stating that the US-led missile attack was “specifically targeted at three sites” allegedly associated with chemical weapons (rather than targeted on Syrian military infrastructure as reported elsewhere).
  • The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission did not reach any conclusion as to whether a chemical attack had taken place. The detection of chlorinated organic compounds in environmental samples is consistent with release of chlorine from a gas cylinder at the two alleged attack sites, but this does not distinguish between a chemical attack and a staged incident.
  • Experts agreed that the images showing bodies of victims lying close together in an apartment building were not compatible with exposure only to chlorine, from which the victims would have been able to escape by moving to the windows or leaving the building. This is supported by experience of industrial accidents with chlorine in which those exposed are usually able to escape.
  • As no nerve agent degradation products were detected and the positions of the victims’ bodies are not compatible with death from chlorine exposure on the spot, the only remaining explanation is that the victims were killed by other means.
  • Other observations favour a managed massacre rather than a chemical attack as the explanation for the Douma incident:-
    • the positioning of the gas cylinders is more consistent with staging than with an air-dropped munition
    • at the site where most victims were shown, a fire was lit in the room underneath the gas cylinder.
  • For chlorine to be useful as a weapon, it would have to be released on an industrial scale as in 1915 rather than as a single cylinder or barrel dropped from the air.
  • Assessments by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission that chlorine had been used as a weapon in Syria between 2014 and 2017 were based on secondary sources without on-site inspections. This violates a precept that OPCW had set for itself in 2013.
  • The conclusions of the Fact-Finding Mission that use of chlorine in alleged attacks in Syria between 2014 and 2018 was “likely” or supported “with a high degree of confidence” relied on witnesses and samples provided by purported non-governmental organizations with access to opposition-held areas of Syria. These organizations included:
    • a “CBRN Task Force” set up by an agent of the intelligence service of a state committed to one side in the Syrian conflict
    • Same Justice / CVDCS, a Brussels-based organization whose operations are not transparent
    • the White Helmets, who would themselves be implicated if these incidents were staged
  • In relation to one of the incidents from which the CBRN Task Force collected materials — the alleged chlorine barrel bomb attack in Talmenes on 21 April 2014 — the UN/OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism found clear evidence of staging at one of the two alleged locations.
  • In a widely-publicized incident in Sarmin on 16 March 2015, the deaths of a family of six were allegedly caused by a chlorine barrel bomb. For this incident the alleged munition is implausible, the alleged mode of delivery is improbable, and the images of the child victims in hospital are consistent with drug overdose rather than chlorine exposure as the cause of death. Despite evidence that the incident had been staged, the Leadership Panel of the UN/OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism — Gamba, Meritani and Schanze — relied on information obtained from unspecified “other sources” to conclude that a Syrian air force helicopter had dropped a chemical weapon.

2 Introduction

The alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018 led to a missile attack on Syria by the US, France and UK. This briefing note summarizes the results of further investigations of the Douma incident and explains relevant scientific issues. This note also examines the processes by which OPCW Fact-Finding Missions and the UN/OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism reached their conclusions that chlorine had been used as a weapon in earlier alleged chemical attacks in Syria.

The primary sources for the alleged chemical attack were images from three locations:

  1. a hospital scene in which children purported to be victims have water thrown over them (FFM Location 1)
  2. a four-storey apartment building where images showed bodies of 35 victims and a gas cylinder lying over a hole in the roof (FFM Location 2).
  3. a room in an apartment that has a hole in the roof and a gas cylinder on a bed (FFM Location 4)

3 Suggestions that a nerve agent had been used in Douma

The speech of the French representative (Francois DeLattre) at the UN Security Council on 9 April 2018 was reported by the UN press office:

Noting that thousands of videos and photos had surfaced in the hours following the attacks — showing victims foaming at the mouth and convulsing, all symptoms of a potent nerve agent combined with chlorine gas — he said there was no doubt as to the perpetrators, as the Syrian Government and its allies alone had the capability of developing such substances.

On 13 April US officials briefed CNN:

Biological samples from the area of the alleged chemical attack in Syria have tested positive for chlorine and a sarin-like nerve agent, according to a US official familiar with the US analysis of the test results. A western official told CNN that it is not conclusive but officials suspect the substance used in the attack was a mixture of chlorine, sarin and possibly other chemicals.

An official press release mentioned symptoms that “suggest that the regime also used sarin” but did not mention tests on biological samples. By the following day, US officials briefing the media were more confident that nerve agents had been used:

“While the available information is much greater on the chlorine use, we do have significant information that also points to sarin use,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters, citing reports from media, nongovernmental organizations and other open sources. “They do point to miosis — constricted pupils — convulsions and disruptions to central nervous systems. Those symptoms don’t come from chlorine. They come from nerve agents.”

On 11 April the former British Army officer Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, widely quoted as a chemical weapons expert, briefed the FT:

“There’s no doubt this was a major chemical weapons attack,” he said. “The big question is whether it was chlorine or sarin. I am favouring a mix of the two.”

and on 16 April briefed the Daily Mail

‘What they’re describing is chlorine and what we suspect is a nerve agent mixed with chlorine.’

A similar opinion was expressed on 16 April by Raphael Pitti, a former French Army officer who, like de Bretton-Gordon, has had a role in collecting samples from alleged chemical attacks in Syria since 2013:

The UOSSM also concluded that the symptoms of the casualties were consistent with exposure to a nerve agent, possibly one mixed with chlorine. Dr Raphael Pitti of UOSSM France said he thought “chlorine was used to conceal the use of Sarin”, a nerve agent

Other experts noted that the images showing victims’ bodies close together in the middle of the apartment building, having made no attempt to escape the gas by leaving the building or moving to the window, were more consistent with exposure to a nerve agent than with exposure to chlorine. Alastair Hay, a member of the OPCW Advisory Board on Education and Outreach noted that: “people have pretty much died where they were when they inhaled the agent. They’ve just dropped dead” and added that “Chlorine victims usually manage to get out to somewhere they can get treatment”. The Washington Post reported “outside experts” as commenting that “the speed with which the victims died suggested that a nerve agent was used. Chlorine usually takes longer to work.”

4 The Prime Minister’s statement on 16 April 2018

The Prime Minister made a statement on the Douma incident in the Commons on 16 April 2018, two days after a missile attack had been launched without parliamentary approval. She alleged that Syria and Russia were delaying the FFM’s access to the alleged attack sites:

Even if the OPCW team is able to visit Douma to gather information to make that assessment — and it is currently being prevented from doing so by the regime and the Russians — it cannot attribute responsibility.

This is contradicted by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission Interim Report which explains that although preparations were made to deploy an advance team on 12 April, this was delayed by safety considerations and that the risk assessment was shared by the representative of the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS).

Given the recent military activities and the volatile situation in Douma at the time of the FFM deployment, security and safety considerations were of paramount importance. Considerable time and effort were invested in discussions and planning to mitigate the inherent security risks to the FFM team and others deploying into Douma. According to Syrian Arab Republic and Russian Military Police representatives, there were a number of unacceptable risks to the team, including mines and explosives that still needed to be cleared, a risk of explosions, and sleeper cells still suspected of being active in Douma. This assessment was shared by the representative of the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS).

Under the evacuation agreement reached on 8 April, Russian military police were to patrol Douma during a transitional period before handing control to the Syrian authorities. The FFM report explains that at the outset

the formal position of the FFM team, as instructed by the Director-General, was that security of the mission should be the responsibility of the Syrian Arab Republic. During the initial meetings in Damascus, the FFM team was informed by Syrian and Russian representatives that the Syrian Arab Republic could guarantee the safety of the FFM team only if the security was provided jointly with the Russian Military Police.

On 16 April 2018, following consultations with OPCW Headquarters, it was agreed that security within Douma could be provided by the Russian Military Police. A letter dated 18 April from the OPCW Director-General described what happened next:

The United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) has made the necessary arrangements with the Syrian authorities to escort the team to a certain point and then for the escort to be taken over by the Russian Military Police. However, the UNDSS preferred to first conduct a reconnaissance visit to the sites, which took place yesterday. FFM team members did not participate in this visit. On arrival at Site 1, a large crowd gathered and the advice provided by the UNDSS was that the reconnaissance team should withdraw. At Site 2, the team came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated. The reconnaissance team returned to Damascus.

This incident on 17 April led to a reassessment of the security situation, and the implementation of additional measures to mitigate the risks before the FFM site visits began on 21 April:

Once the security reassessment had been concluded and the proposed additional mitigation measures implemented, the FFM team deployed to the sites of investigation in accordance with the updated priorities and proposed schedule.

The Prime Minister repeated the Pentagon’s version of the targeting, stating that missiles were “specifically targeted at three sites” [Barzeh in northern Damascus, and two sites at Him Shinsar near Homs] allegedly associated with development or storage of chemical weapons, and that 88 missiles had hit these targets. The Russian Ministry of Defence however gave a different version of the targeting, stating that “The real targets of the attacks of the US, Britain and France on April 14 were not only Barzah and Jaramani research facilities, but also Syrian military infrastructure, including airfields,” and that of the 73 missiles fired against these six heavily-defended airfields all but eight were brought down by Syrian air defences.

Without access to the flight tracks of the missiles, we have no way of establishing which of these two versions of the targeting is correct. In the version given by the Pentagon and the Prime Minister, 76 missiles were used against the research centre at Barzeh: a surprisingly large number for a strike on a single unprotected target. We note that if the US and its allies had been concerned that these sites were being used for development or storage of chemical weapons, they could have requested that OPCW inspect them. After their most recent inspection of Barzeh in November 2017, OPCW had reported that

The analysis of samples taken during the inspections did not indicate the presence of scheduled chemicals in the samples, and the inspection team did not observe any activities inconsistent with obligations under the Convention during the second round of inspections at the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities.

5 Interim report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission on the alleged chemical attack in Douma

The interim report of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) did not find any trace of a nerve agent in samples taken from the site and from alleged casualties

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

The FFM did not reach a conclusion on whether a chemical attack had taken place, stating only that

The FFM team needs to continue its work to draw final conclusions regarding the alleged incident

The inability to detect sarin degradation products in environmental samples from the two alleged attack sites cannot be explained by delay in sampling as the main breakdown product of sarin — isopropylmethylphosphonic acid — is stable and persisted for more than 30 years in contaminated groundwaters at a sarin production site in Colorado.

Blood samples from witnesses allegedly exposed to toxic chemicals in this incident were obtained under FFM oversight in “Country X” (presumably Turkey), or received by the FFM.

The tests on these blood samples included tests for peptide adducts that are not affected by aging of the adduct. These tests should remain positive for several half-lives of the target protein in vivo: this half-life is about 12 days for butyrlcholinesterase and about 20 days for albumin. As the blood samples were obtained no more than 14 days after the alleged incident, delay in sampling cannot explain the negative results.

The environmental samples were reported to contain chlorinated organic molecules such as trichloroacetic acid and chloral hydrate. Such organic molecules in which one or more of the hydrogen atoms have been replaced by chlorine atoms are environmental markers of chlorine exposure, typically found in chlorinated drinking water and used to monitor water quality. As in previous OPCW reports, no quantitative results were given so we do not know whether these compounds were present in trace amounts, such as might be found in drinking water, or in high concentration as would be expected if chlorine had been released in the buildings.

6 Possible explanations for the Douma incident, and relevant evidence

As explained elsewhere, the formal logic of inference requires that alternative hypotheses are stated before evaluating the evidence, and that the weight of evidence favouring any of these hypothesis over the others is evaluated by comparing, for each relevant observation, how well each hypothesis would have predicted that observation. Evaluating the evidence favouring one hypothesis over another does not depend upon prior beliefs about which hypothesis is true.

The possible explanations for the Douma incident can be reduced to two alternative hypotheses:

  1. A chemical attack using gas cylinders dropped from the air.
  2. a managed massacre of captives, with a chemical attack staged by placing gas cylinders at the site and possibly opening them to release chlorine.

Other hypotheses are possible — for instance accidental asphyxiation of victims while sheltering elsewhere, followed by opportunistic staging of a chemical attack — but unless such hypotheses are proposed we shall consider only the two alternatives stated above.

Several witnesses to the hospital scene at FFM Location 1, including an 11-year old boy seen in the video having water thrown over him, have testified that this scene was staged. Staging of the hospital scene does not exclude a chemical attack, though it it is more probable under the managed massacre hypothesis than under the chemical attack hypothesis.

Laboratory evidence that chlorine was released is not evidence favouring one of these hypotheses over the other, as it is equally compatible with use of chlorine as a weapon as with use of chlorine to lay a forensic trail.

The most direct evidence favouring a managed massacre is the positions of victims’ bodies at FFM Location 2: of the 35 bodies seen, 18 were in a first-floor apartment and 10 in a second-floor apartment. As noted in Section 3, in the first few weeks after the Douma incident several experts commented that people exposed to chlorine would have attempted to escape. With exposure to a nerve agent subsequently ruled out by negative results on environmental and physiological samples, exposure to chlorine from a gas cylinder on the roof does not explain why the victims made no attempt to escape by moving to the windows. Under the managed massacre hypothesis, we would expect to find the bodies in positions that would be convenient for those who were carrying the bodies up the stairs.

Other lines of evidence that favour a managed massacre over a chemical attack include:

  • the position of the gas cylinder at FFM Location 2, on a balcony at with its valve end lying over a hole in the roof is improbable under the chemical attack hypothesis (the balcony is only about one-twentieth of the roof area), but highly probable under the managed massacre hypothesis (the balcony is the only part of the roof that is easily accessible from inside the building).
  • the visual evidence that a fire was lit in the room underneath the cylinder at FFM Location 2) on top of the rubble from the hole in the roof above (confirmed by the FFM’s inspectors who took wipes from the burnt wall) is inexplicable under a chemical attack hypothesis, but explicable on the managed massacre hypothesis as a method of releasing the contents of the cylinder.

Other evidence on the Douma incident has been reviewed by Larson

7 Alleged use of chlorine as a weapon in the Syrian conflict

Since 2014 it has been alleged that the Syrian armed forces were using chlorine bombs dropped from helicopters. For chlorine to be effective as a weapon, it has to be released on an industrial scale as at Ypres in April 1915 when the German army released 168 tons of chlorine from 5730 cylinders installed along their front line and at Bolimov in May 1915 when 12000 cylinders were used along a 12-kilometre front. This resort to chemical warfare was an act of desperation at a time when Germany was running out of imported nitrate for explosives as a result of the British blockade and had not yet managed to scale up the Haber-Bosch process to synthesize nitrate. Although there has been no experience with use of chlorine by a state as a weapon since 1915, there is ample experience with industrial accidents, in which fatalities have been rare unless the quantity of chlorine released exceeds one ton (creating a cloud too big to run out of) or the victims are in a confined space. This experience indicates that:

  • for the same weight of payload delivered, explosives would be more lethal than chlorine.
  • in a real chlorine incident, the number of casualties that were not immediately fatal would be much greater than the number of immediate fatalities. Some of these casualties would develop pulmonary oedema several hours after exposure, obvious on chest X-rays and requiring intensive medical care.

As noted by Hitchens, OPCW stated in April 2013 that they would provide a formal assessment of whether chemical weapons had been used only if their inspectors were able to visit the sites of alleged attacks:

Weapons inspectors will only determine whether banned chemical agents were used in the two-year-old conflict if they are able to access sites and take soil, blood, urine or tissue samples and examine them in certified laboratories, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works with the United Nations on inspections. That type of evidence, needed to show definitively if banned chemicals were found, has not been presented by governments and intelligence agencies accusing Syria of using chemical weapons against insurgents. “That is the only basis on which the OPCW would provide a formal assessment of whether chemical weapons have been used,” said Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Hague-based OPCW.

Luhan was quoted further as saying that even if samples were provided, OPCW would never get involved in testing something that its own inspectors did not “gather in the field” because of the need to “maintain a chain of custody of samples from the field to the lab to ensure their integrity”.

Following an incident on 27 May 2014 in which despite having reached an agreement with the opposition the FFM convoy came under fire while travelling behind opposition lines to Kafr Zita and members of the team were “detained for some time” by gunmen, further visits to opposition-held areas were ruled out. The decision to continue the Fact-Finding Mission, implying that OPCW would now disregard its own precepts that they would not test samples provided by others or make a formal assessment of an alleged chemical attack without being able to visit the site, was made by the Director-General and subsequently endorsed by the Executive Council of the OPCW. The FFM’s conclusions that chlorine was used as a weapon in incidents from 2014 onwards were based on interviews, images, documents and samples provided by witnesses and NGOs and conveyed to the FFM outside Syria.

The work of the FFM was criticized by the Russian Permanent Representative to the OPCW who complained on 14 April 2017 that

Under the mandate defined for [the Fact-Finding Mission], its membership should be approved by the Syrian government, and it should be balanced. For some time, these provisions were observed somewhat, but then the mission was split into two groups. One [Team Bravo], led by Steven Wallis from Britain, works in contact with the Syrian government, while the other one [Team Alpha], headed by his fellow countryman Leonard Phillips, deals with the claims filed by the Syrian armed opposition. This latter group is working completely non-transparently. Its membership is classified, and no one knows where it goes or how it operates. They are allegedly using the same methodology as Steven Wallis’ group, but they are clearly working mostly remotely, relying on the internet and the fabrications provided by Syrian opposition NGOs, and never go to Syria. At least, we are not aware of a single such trip.

The FFM also used open-source material as evidence. The 2018 reports mention that media monitoring to identify this material was undertaken by the OPCW Information Cell. This unit is headed by the Senior Communication and Information Officer Lt-Col Leo Buzzerio whose curriculum vitae includes three years as Deputy Division Chief in the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The FFM’s reports do not describe their methods for retrieval and analysis of open source material, although methodology for conducting interviews and collecting physical evidence is described in detail. Links are listed in the appendix to each report, but there is no indication that any systematic analysis of this material was undertaken. Serious analysis of open source material entails tracing reports and images back to primary sources, geolocation and timing of images, ordering them in temporal sequence, and matching the identities of individuals in different videos or still images. When this is done carefully, clues may emerge. A model for this type of investigation is the analysis of the Douma videos described by McIntyre, which reveals many troubling details: for instance that during the night some victims’ bodies were rearranged and gold jewellery was removed.

Without on-site inspections, the credibility of the FFM’s reports into alleged chlorine attacks depends critically on the organizations that identified purported witnesses and collected physical evidence. If OPCW inspectors as neutral observers could not safely travel in opposition-held areas, this calls into question the neutrality of those who could travel in such areas. Because this is critical to the credibility of the FFM’s reports, this briefing note examines in more detail the organizations on which FFM Team Alpha relied to collect evidence.

Based on the devices alleged to have been dropped, the alleged chlorine attacks can be grouped into three phases:-

7.1 April to May 2014: chlorine barrel bombs

Following Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013, no further alleged chemical attacks in Syria were reported in mainstream media until 2014. The Third Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding mission by Malik Ellahi dated 18 December 2014 covered alleged attacks using chlorine barrels during April and May 2014 in Talmenes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zita. The data and material collected by the FFM included interviews, images and documents. The FFM concluded:

The Mission has presented its conclusions with a high degree of confidence that chlorine has been used as a weapon.

The Third Report of the FFM did not give any information on how the witnesses were identified, who arranged for them to travel outside Syria, or who provided the images and documents. In an earlier interim report on the same incidents, the FFM had stated:

Independently of the individuals from the three villages who were interviewed, the FFM interviewed and received information from members of the “CBRN Task Force”, who had performed a systematic collection of data in the field following reported attacks in Talmenes and Kafr Zita.

A biographical note on Hamish de Bretton-Gordon (HdBG) states that he helped set up this CBRN [Chemical/Biological/Radiological/Nuclear(/Explosive)] Task Force.

Since the Syrian conflict started, Hamish has been deployed to the conflict area a number of times, where on behalf of OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) he has helped set up a CBRNE task force.

In a presentation to the Innovate UK Small Business Research Initiative dated September 2014, HdBG (representing the now-liquidated company Secure Bio that he set up in 2011) indicated that this CBRN task force had been trained in Gaziantep in October 2013 and was based in Aleppo. He confirmed that it had provided evidence from alleged attacks in Talmenes and Kafr Zita to the FFM and also for a story in the Daily Telegraph published on 29 April 2014. He described his role further in a talk to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Friends of Syria in September 2016:

I have covertly been in Syria collecting evidence of chemical weapons attacks and have been giving it to the OPCW and the UN. They cannot get to the places the chemical weapons attacks have happened because they’re in rebel held areas. When I present evidence with our teams from UOSSM, we are not an international body etcetera etcetera. We provided the evidence of the chemical weapons attack in a town called Talmenes in April 2014, on the 29th of April 2014, three weeks after the attack; two weeks ago, two years later, the UN Security Council announced to the world that they had conclusive evidence that the regime had attacked Talmenes in April 2014 with chemical weapons.

More information on the CBRN Task Force and its role in collecting evidence from alleged chemical attacks in Talmenes and Kafr Zita was given in an article by Houssam Alnahhas, described as the Local Coordinator of the CBRN Task Force of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM). The affiliation of the CBRN Task Force to UOSSM was not described before 2016. The coverage of UOSSM’s press releases appears to have changed abruptly in April 2016 from humanitarian work to allegations of airstrikes on hospitals and chemical attacks.

HdBG has described to the All-Party Parliamentary Group and elsewhere his covert role in collecting samples from alleged chemical attacks in Syria, and has stated that this role dates back to March 2013. Press reports at this time described the collection of samples from these alleged chemical attacks as a “covert operation involving MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service” and as an operation in which “MI6 played the leading role”. If these reports are correct, then it is reasonable to infer that unless there were two independent UK-led covert operations at the same time to collect environmental samples from the same incidents for analysis at Porton Down, HdBG’s covert activity and the MI6 operation were one and the same. However admirable HdBG’s activities (no doubt undertaken at considerable personal risk) may have been, neutral observers might consider it inappropriate for the FFM to have relied on evidence gathered by a network set up by an agent of the intelligence service of a state committed to one side in the Syrian conflict. For clarity, we emphasize that the term “agent” is used here to denote someone who undertakes covert activities on behalf of an intelligence service but is not a member of that service.

7.1.1 Alleged attack in Talmenes on 21 April 2014

By comparing information from the three reports — the interim report of the FFM, the Third Report of the FFM, and the Third Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (Gamba, Neritani and Schanze) — it is possible to reconstruct the role of the CBRN Task Force in providing evidence from this incident.

Annex 2 paragraph 3.5 of the Third Report of the FFM states that “The first interviewee provided his testimony and data to the Mission on 22 August 2014”. The first of three groups of interviewees from Talmenes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zita reached the OPCW interview site on 25 August, so this first interviewee was evidently not a member of one of these groups. Table A in the Third Report of the FFM shows that the materials handed over by this interviewee on 22 August 2014 included sampling forms showing collection of materials including soil (from unspecified sites) on 12, 18, 21, 22 and 23 April 2014 and also “various videos [42 in number] taken by interviewee from the incident of 21 April 2014”. The Joint Investigative Mechanism reported that soil samples had been taken from this incident on 23 April 2014 and that the results had been published in a newspaper on 29 April 2014. From the quote given in the Mechanism’s report, this newspaper article can be identified as Ruth Sherlock’s story in the Daily Telegraph which described HdBG’s analysis of soil samples collected by the CBRN Task Force. From this we can infer that the person interviewed by the FFM on 22 August 2014, who provided the 42 videos from the incident in Talmenes together with documentation that soil and other samples had been collected, was representing the CBRN Task Force.

Although the environmental samples provided by the CBRN Task Force were not used by the FFM or the Joint Investigative Mechanism, the videos of the alleged impact sites in Talmenes were a key source of evidence for the reports. More details were given in the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s report. Two impact locations 75 metres apart near the main mosque in Talmenes were reported by witnesses to have been struck with chemical barrel bombs at around 10:30 to 10:45 h.

  • The videos of Location 1 (numbered v02 to v05) showed a crater in a courtyard with dead animals and remnants of a barrel bomb. Analysis of these videos showed what the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s report referred to as “inconsistencies”, leading the Mechanism to disregard Location 1 for further investigation:
    • A forensic examination of videos v02 and v03 concluded that the crater had probably been made by a small explosive charge (5-10 kg TNT-equivalent) buried in the ground. “A barrel bomb without a large explosive charge would not penetrate the hard soil to the extent seen.” Use of a barrel bomb with explosives could be excluded as there was no shrapnel damage to surrounding walls.
    • The Mechanism noted that “the bodies of the dead animals seen in v04 look clean and intact, making it highly unlikely that they were in the backyard or at close vicinity when the device causing the crater detonated.”
    • Metadata of video v04 included timestamps showing the creation date as 20 April 2014, one day before the alleged attack.
  • Videos v02 and v03 showed Location 2 also, with structural damage to a house and remnants of a barrel bomb. Gamba, Meritani and Schanze decided that “there is sufficient information for the Leadership Panel to conclude that the incident at impact location #2 was caused by a SAAF helicopter dropping a device causing damage to the structure of a concrete block building house and was followed by the release of a toxic substance which affected the population.”

As the Mechanism had identified evidence of staging at Location 1, we might have expected Gamba, Meritani and Schanze to be more suspicious of the story of a chemical barrel bomb strike at Location 2, especially since there was overlap of witnesses and videos from both alleged impact sites. As the “inconsistencies” identified by the Mechanism included the timestamp of video v04, this implicates whoever recorded these videos in the staging. As shown above, the source of these videos appears to have been the CBRN Task Force.

7.2 March to May 2015: permanganate barrel bombs

A new series of incidents allegedly involving chlorine began on 16 March 2015, ten days after the UN Security Council had adopted Resolution 2209 condemning “in the strongest terms any use of a toxic chemical, such as chlorine, as a weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic” and resolving “in the event of future non-compliance with resolution 2118 to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter”.

Images from the sites of these alleged attacks showed refrigerant canisters and half-litre plastic bottles containing a purple substance that stained the surroundings pink. This substance was identified as potassium permanganate by the FFM, which suggested that it might have been used to produce chlorine by reaction with a “chlorine-containing compound”. The Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria regarding alleged incidents in the Idlib Governorate of the Syrian Arab Republic between 16 March and 20 May 2015 by Leonard Phillips dated 29 October 2015 covered six alleged attacks, concluding that

several incidents that occurred in the Idlib Governorate of the Syrian Arab Republic between 16 March 2015 and 20 May 2015 likely involved the use of one or more toxic chemicals — probably containing the element chlorine — as a weapon.

In relation to the alleged attack on 16 March 2015 in Sarmin, the Leadership Panel of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (Gamba, Neritani and Schanze) concluded that

There is sufficient information for the Leadership Panel to conclude that the incident at impact location #2 was caused by an SAAF helicopter dropping a device which hit the house and was followed by the release of a toxic substance, which match the characteristics of chlorine, that was fatal to all six occupants.

The Sarmin incident is examined in more detail in the Appendix.

The FFM used open-source material from the internet as “supporting information”, but the methods for selection and analysis of this material were not described. Witnesses were identified and transported to “Country X” (presumably Turkey) by an NGO named the “Chemical Violations Documentation Center of Syria” (CVDCS). The FFM also received environmental samples and fragments of alleged munitions “collected by witnesses and/or representatives of the fCVDCS”. Some of those interviewed by the FFM team were White Helmets. The CVDCS met OPCW in The Hague and in Brussels. The FFM explains why CVDCS was chosen as the provider of witnesses:-

While there were several different NGOs with access to potential interviewees, only one, the Chemical Violations Documentation Center of Syria, appeared to have access to the means of arranging their transport from the Idlib Governorate and their accommodation in Country X.

The CVDCS is described on its website as “an office within Same Justice” which was founded as a not-for-profit association in Brussels on 7 April 2015. No accounts for this organization are available on the Belgian business register. The domain names cvdcs.com and samejustice.com were registered (on 11 March 2015 and 8 August 2015 respectively) by Hasan Addaher (sometimes transliterated as Hassan Aldaher), one of the founders of Same Justice who is also the co-ordinator of a pro-opposition organization. As the FFM reports from 2015 onwards relied critically on Same Justice / CVDCS to provide interviewees and samples, we might have expected them to scrutinise this organization: how did it spring into existence in 2015, with an office in Brussels and a network on the ground in opposition-held Idlib able to collect samples, identify witnesses, and arrange for their transport and accommodation in Turkey?

7.3 March 2017 to February 2018: chlorine cylinders

Two later Fact-Finding Mission reports investigated alleged chlorine attacks in 2017 and 2018 in which the alleged munitions were ordinary gas cylinders, sometimes in a metal sleeve with fins. Environmental samples provided from both incidents showed chlorinated organic compounds and sarin degradation products. Possible explanations for these findings are discussed in the Appendix.

For these investigations witnesses were identified through NGOs including CVDCS and the White Helmets. Samples were provided by the White Helmets, for whom the FFM uses the name “Syria Civil Defense” though Syria has a civil defence directorate responsible for firefighting and rescue. The reliance on the White Helmets for provision of evidence raises additional concerns. In many of the alleged chemical attacks from 2015 onwards, images showed that people dressed as White Helmets were present at the alleged attack sites or were filming the victims. To decide between the alternative hypotheses of a chemical attack or a staged incident, the FFM was relying on evidence provided by those who would be implicated if the hypothesis of a staged incident was true.

The FFM determined that chlorine, released from cylinders through mechanical impact, was likely used as a chemical weapon on 4 February 2018 in the Al Talil neighbourhood of Saraqib

  • Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria regarding alleged incidents in Ltamenah on 24 and 25 March 2017 dated 13 June 2018. The FFM attributed the sarin degradation products to secondary contamination from a previously unreported sarin attack the day before in which two munitions had allegedly fallen on agricultural land outside the town. The FFM concluded that “sarin was very likely used as a chemical weapon in the south of Ltamenah on 24 March 2017” and that “chlorine was very likely used as a chemical weapon at Ltamenah Hospital and the surrounding area on 25 March 2017”.

Witnesses of the alleged incident on 25 March 2017 reported that a gas cylinder dropped from the air had pierced the roof of the Ltamenah cave hospital, causing the death of a doctor. One of the witnesses interviewed by the FFM was described as a physician working at a nearby hospital that had treated victims of this attack. This individual is not identified, but the list of links included in the FFM’s report includes direct and indirect links to a tweet uploaded on 25 March by the struck-off former doctor Shajul Islam from a hospital that is purportedly treating patients from this attack, stating that “we think it’s sarin” and “our doctor Ali Darwish has been killed from treating the patients from this gas attack”. There is no indication that the FFM undertook any background checks on witnesses.

8 Appendix

8.1 The alleged attack in Sarmin on 16 March 2015

The alleged attack in Sarmin is the most widely-publicized of the alleged chlorine attacks. Excerpts from a video recorded in the emergency room of the Sarmin hospital were shown to a closed meeting of the UN Security Council on 17 April 2015, addressed by the doctor in charge of the hospital.

8.1.1 Alleged munition: a permanganate barrel bomb

From the alleged site of this and other attacks, plastic drink bottles containing potassium permanganate and ruptured gas canisters labelled R22 (a non-toxic hydrochlorofluorocarbon refrigerant) were allegedly recovered. Potassium permanganate reacts with hydrogen chloride to produce chlorine. The FFM report obliquely suggested that this reaction (commonly used as a convenient way to prepare small quantities of chlorine in a laboratory) could have been used in a munition.

The samples and their analysis indicate the presence of potassium permanganate and a chlorine/chloride-containing chemical The vapour pressure of R22 is similar enough to that of certain other industrial chemicals, inter alia chlorine, anhydrous hydrogen chloride, and anhydrous ammonia, such that the refilling of R22 containers with other chemicals for use in an improvised bomb would be feasible Given the oxidising nature of potassium permanganate, it is conceivable that it might be used to oxidise a chlorine containing compound, resulting in the production of Cl2.

permanganatebomb

The FFM’s reconstruction of the alleged permanganate barrel bomb: Figure 23, Annex 2 page 83 in the report

 

Though the leader of FFM Team Alpha is a chemical engineer, the FFM did not comment on the feasibility of such a device being used as a weapon. The plausibility of this device is open to question:-

  • If for some reason it was intended to use chlorine as a weapon delivered by air, it would be simpler to drop cylinders of chlorine than to construct a device to produce chlorine by a chemical reaction at the point of impact.
  • There is no mechanism for the potassium permanganate and hydrogen chloride to mix before the device is detonated. Binary chemical munitions are designed to mix the precursors in flight or before launch.
  • Although the FFM had suggested that refilling of R22 canisters with other chemicals for use in an improvised bomb would be feasible, the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s report noted that these canisters are disposable and that “their repurposing or refilling would require technical modification of the valve”. No such valve modifications were reported by the FFM, which had been provided with canisters allegedly used in these munitions.

8.1.2 Alleged delivery

The device, reported to have an “approximate diameter of 1 metre to 1.5 metres”, was alleged to have been dropped from a helicopter at about 11 pm and to have fallen down a ventilation shaft 1.5 metres wide from the roof of an apartment building to the basement apartment where the victims lived. A satellite image shows the ventilation shaft occupying less than 2% of the roof area of the building. Gamba, Neritani and Schanze accepted this story, adding “improbable as it may sound”. The head of the Russian delegation to the UN General Assembly was more sceptical:

Allegedly, in 2015, in the area of Sarmin town the Syrian government air force helicopter flying at a high altitude at night dropped a barrel with chlorine, which fell exactly into the ventilation shaft of an apartment building, almost of the same diameter. The [JIM] report recognizes that it “sounds improbable” and nevertheless the responsibility has been put on the government of Syria in spite of any common sense and the laws of ballistics.

Although western and Russian officials have stated that the Syrian air force does not have the capability to conduct air strikes at night, and the Syrian government had informed the Joint Investigative Mechanism that there had been no Syrian air force flights over Sarmin on 16 March 2015, Gamba, Neritani and Schanze stated that

the Mechanism obtained information from other sources, which corroborate witness statements of SAAF helicopter flights on the date and time of the incident.

Although the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s report devotes more than 2500 words to “Methodological considerations” and “Methods of work”, no information about these “other sources” is given.

8.1.3 Hospital images

Two videos were recorded in a hospital emergency room over a time span of about five minutes: one bearing the logo of the the White Helmets and the other a logo that includes the flag of the Nusra Front (the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda). These showed one adult and two children apparently already dead, and one boy about one year old who stopped breathing when he was laid on a trolley. No respiratory support was provided to this child. Others have commented on the inappropriate medical treatment of this child.

The children seen in the videos have no signs of chlorine exposure: no red eyes and no signs of having coughed mucus or blood. The one-year old boy seen in the emergency room and in a previous video can be assessed on the limited evidence of these videos to have a reduced level of consciousness (does not open eyes, does not vocalize, and motor response to handling is minimal). This is consistent with an overdose of a drug such as an opiate causing respiratory depression, rather than chlorine exposure, as the cause of death. The doctor who addressed the UN Security Council described having personally attempted to save these children, but is not seen in these videos.

8.2 Suggestions that chlorine and sarin might be used as a mixture

As noted above, several government and non-government sources had suggested that chlorine and sarin might have been used in combination in Douma.

An unexplained finding in the Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission regarding an alleged incident in Saraqib on 4 February 2018 was that the environmental samples contained not only chlorinated organic molecules, as would be expected if chlorine had been released, but also unchlorinated diisopropyl methylphosphonate (an impurity in sarin) and isopropyl methylphosphonate (the main breakdown product of sarin). The FFM’s only comment on these findings was this paragraph:-

The FFM also noted the presence of chemicals that can neither be explained as occurring naturally in the environment nor as being related to chlorine. Furthermore, some of the medical signs and symptoms reported were different to those that would be expected from exposure to pure chlorine. There was insufficient information and evidence to enable the FFM to draw any further conclusions on these chemicals at this stage.

Chlorinated organic molecules and sarin degradation products had been found also in samples from the alleged chemical attack on the Ltamenah cave hospital on 25 March 2017. The FFM attributed this to cross-contamination of the hospital by casualties from an alleged attack the day before in which two sarin-containing munitions were allegedly dropped on agricultural land outside the town. Environmental samples from the alleged incident on 24 March 2017 were not received by the FFM team until eleven months later, after the White Helmets had been prompted to provide them:

Based on information supplied during interviews, the FFM identified munition parts that were of potential interest in relation to the alleged incident of 24 March 2017 and arranged for their collection by an NGO. As a result, further environmental samples and remnants of alleged munition parts were received by the FFM team on 19 February 2018.

Surprisingly, despite the delay in obtaining these samples, they were found to contain intact sarin as well as sarin degradation products. The FFM does not comment on this. As no reports or images of the incident on 24 March appeared at the time, sceptics might doubt that it happened. A possible motive for fabricating the story of a sarin attack on 24 March 2017 could have been to provide an explanation for the anomalous finding of sarin degradation products in the samples provided in April 2017 from the alleged chlorine attack on 25 March.

In interviews on the BBC and RT. the journalist Seymour Hersh indicated that he had seen a US intelligence report that expressed scepticism about the alleged use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria and noted that a mixture of chlorine and sarin would not work because the sarin would be chlorinated

All I can tell you is that the American intelligence community report – I wish I could flash it here – but the American intelligence community has been very clear that there’s no evidence that the Russians, that the Syrians, the regime used a chlorine weapon because there is no such thing … They [the US Army Chemical Corps] tested, in the Fifties, they tested chlorine with nerve agent to see how – whether the chlorine would soup it up. In fact what the chlorine did is it grabbed all the hydrogen molecules and diminished it. There’s just no way you can use sarin and chlorine, as was written about all the time.

This report by Martin Chulov indicates that his source was aware that sarin cannot be mixed with chlorine.

“We’re looking at the possibility that there were separate canisters inside the cylinder,” said one regional official. “[The contents] cannot be mixed, because that would be volatile and unstable, but they can be combined. That’s a working theory – that they were in the same cylinder but kept separately. The point of detonation dispersed them together.”

No such cylinders with separate canisters have been reported from any of the alleged chemical attacks. We can find no published studies of the effect of dry chlorine on organophosphate nerve agents. If the conditions for chlorination (which include exposure to light or presence of impurities that could act as catalysts) were sufficiently favourable for other organic molecules to undergo chlorination, we might expect that sarin or its breakdown products would undergo chlorination. If the sources quoted above are correct, the finding of chlorinated organic molecules and unchlorinated sarin breakdown products in the same samples suggests that the sarin breakdown products may have been added later. This casts further doubt on the integrity of the process by which these samples were provided to the Fact-Finding Mission.

19int-syria-1-superjumbo

 

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