(For full links to sources scroll down past update notices)
Update 30 November 2020 This month saw the BBC break its silence on the matter. Its podcast series Mayday, about the late James Le Mesurier, devoted an extra episode entirely to the question of the OPCW Douma whistleblowers. (The ten prior episodes of the series were somewhat predictable, and provided little impetus for any revision of my preview.) The BBC’s treatment of the OPCW whistleblowers was severely criticised by those journalists who have followed the matter closely, notably Peter Hitchens and Aaron Maté. Hitchens wrote that the BBC’s handling of ‘the biggest story I have handled in more than 40 years of journalism’ manifest a ‘failure of standards’. Maté highlights serious questions the BBC needs to answer.
Update 6 November 2020 Since the last update in July there have been several significant developments. The most recent coverage – from Brazil and Germany as well as Anglophone outlets (see links in list below) – has centred on the scandal within a scandal that was Bellingcat’s publication of a spurious document, originating from someone within OPCW, with the claim it was the draft of a letter to a whistleblower by OPCW’s Director General. A copy of the actual letter sent was entered in evidence via Aaron Maté of GrayzoneNews to reveal it was nothing like the document leaked. This desperate deception by Bellingcat followed the recent reading of testimony from the founding Director General of the OPCW, Jose Bustani, into the record of a meeting of the UN Security Council. (It had to be read into the record because the US, UK and French representatives to the UN – in other words, on behalf of the nations that had bombed Syria on the strength of claims about the Douma event – had taken the extraordinary step of blocking the invited distinguished speaker’s delivery of his testimony in person. He can be heard reading it here, however, thanks, again, to Aaron Maté and Grayzone. Maté had meanwhile also achieved a further publication success by getting the story into The Nation.
Update 10 July 2020 As OPCW’s Executive Council voted this week on whether to take action on the first IIT report, Frank Myers publishes a useful overview reminding the public of the ‘Western media’s Syrian shame’ concerning ‘chemical weapons and cover-ups’. OPCW’s management itself appears to be ashamed too, as on Twitter it hides replies to its tweeted announcement when these mention the whistleblowers and their testimony.
Update 28 April 2020 Following publication of the first report of OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), a withering critique of it from OPCW insiders is posted by The Grayzone. In light of such unequivocal implications of fraudulence, a glaring question that journalists ought to be asking is whether there is *any* serious scientist with a reputation to match the OPCW whistleblowers who would put their name to an endorsement of the organisation’s scientific and technical work as published.
Update 13 March 2020 This week a fourth whistleblower came forward to testify of a toxic climate of fear within OPCW, while at the 93rd session of its Executive Council, Western states parties doubled down on their position regarding Syria. By contrast, China stressed the requirement of OPCW to work in an objective, impartial and professional manner, and India emphasised the need for a consensual approach to reporting and for the integrity and credibility of the OPCW and its mechanisms to be preserved. The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media issued a briefing note with an ‘Update on the OPCW’s investigation of the Douma incident‘.
Update 1 March 2020 This week Presidential Candidate and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard confirmed that she has sent several letters to OPCW about the whistleblowers’ allegations and will continue to follow up on the questions, having had no satisfactory response thus far. Meanwhile, Peter Hitchens published a detailed account (c15,000 words) of the OPCW whistleblowers’ point-by-point responses to the Director General’s recent statement about them.
Update 21 February 2020 Criticism of OPCW’s handling of whistleblowers continues to be heard from various quarters, including in articles from US, UK, Australia, Denmark, and Germany – (scroll down for links) – with Caitlin Johnstone’s critique of Huffington Post’s extended smear campaign against the Working Group being republished in Brazil. Also this week, OPCW’s Twitter account was found to be hiding critical replies to its tweets, compounding public perceptions of the organisation’s lack of candour. The wider Western campaign of perception management about Syria was further revealed with more disclosures from Ian Cobain and Alice Ross on The British government’s covert propaganda campaign in Syria.
Update 11 February 2020 The full text of Ian Henderson’s report to UN Security Council was published via Aaron Maté at Grayzone News, with their exposé including also a redacted email from a ‘Senior OPCW Official’ speaking of a climate of fear at the organisation.
Update 7 February 2020 This week saw the release of OPCW Director General’s response to the leaks. Unlike the leaks themselves, his message was instantly transmitted in the mainstream media, including via The Guardian and New York Times – which covered it twice in a day. Meanwhile, The National Interest published an article by Ted Galen Carpenter arguing that ‘The Media’s Coverage of the Syria April 2018 Chemical Weapons Attack is a Disgrace‘. This latter view is prevalent in independent media, such as OffGuardian. Also this week The Grayzone wrote a stinging response to HuffPost UK for its complicity in government censorship.
Update 31 January 2020 This week saw mainstream media apparently attempt to squash the story: following an earlier such item in The Times, Huffington Post published what Caitlin Johnstone counts as Chris York’s twelfth smear piece on dissident voices. The Daily Mail reproduces part of that piece but also includes salient information lower down the page. Meanwhile, The Canary follows other independent progressive outlets like The Grayzone in emphasising the story’s significance.
Update 27 January 2020 Former SAS chief John Holmes recounts his meeting with OPCW whistleblower on RT, while Peter Hitchens offers detailed response to Bellingcat’s attempt to discredit OPCW engineering/ballistics expert Ian Henderson.
Update 23 January 2020 UN briefing by Henderson was followed by House of Commons briefing by Major General John Holmes, journalist Jonathan Steele, and members of Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. Peter Hitchens writes about the UN meeting in the Mail Online.
Update 20 January 2020 OPCW’s Douma investigator Ian Henderson addresses United Nations Security Council via videolink.
Update 8 January 2020 Tulsi Gabbard draws connection between OPCW report interference and Iraq WMD disinformation, thereby also counselling caution now regarding US intelligence claims relating to Iran. Meanwhile, pointed questions about integrity of OPCW report have been put in Dutch parliament.
Update 1 January 2020 Robert Fisk writing in The Independent mentions that NATO knew “OPCW are not going to admit all they know”. Meanwhile Tulsi Gabbard indicates she has been pressing OPCW to respond on the matter.
Update 27 December 2019 Wikileaks’ fourth release of leaked documents reveals more evidence of OPCW cover-up of its inspectors’ real findings.
Update 15 December 2019. Wikileaks’ third release of documents details malpractice in OPCW Douma reporting.
Update 10 December 2019. The most recent coverage has been rather indirect: first there was the tweeted announcement by Newsweek journalist, Tareq Haddad, of his resigning because his report on the scandal was spiked (a story in itself covered by Fox News and Consortium News). Then there was the mention of it in Monica Maggioni’s interview with the Syrian president for the Italian state broadcaster RAI that then did not get shown in Italy and was broadcast on Syrian TV instead (and these facts were reported by Associated Press and Al Jazeera).
Update 1 December 2019, OPCW Conference closes with consensus on other issues but with Syria reporting regarded as unfinished business by Non-Aligned States along with Russia and China. Meanwhile, Peter Hitchens meets whistleblower and intimates that there is much more is to come.
Update 26 November 2019. On the eve of the OPCW’s 24th Conference of States Parties, Wikileaks released an email revealing claims of what Peter Hitchens, writing in the Mail on Sunday, called a ‘sexed up dossier’. On the first day of the conference, the whistleblower revelations were referred to by the OPCW director general only to downplay their significance, a line uncritically followed by Reuters, AFP, CBS News, The Guardian, etc. In the evening, however, the story received prominent coverage from American TV on Tucker Carlson Tonight. [The new leak reinforced the message of the earlier whistleblower revelations that this post began by noting, below.]
Original post: On 23 October 2019, the Courage Foundation and Wikileaks released a statement arising from a panel meeting with the OPCW whistleblower on irregular practices in the OPCW’s investigation of alleged chemical attack in Douma, on 7 April 2018. This was signed by seven figures of international standing, including the OPCW’s first director general, José Bustani.
Within hours of its release, this statement was reported in La Repubblica (Italy) and NachDenkSeiten (Germany), but no mainstream outlet in English-speaking countries mentioned it on the day. Meanwhile, though, alternative and non-Western outlets have been alive with discussion of the statement and its implications, as have social media.
This post will keep a note of significant media comment on the revelations and the issues they give rise to, being updated as and when items appear.
Links to coverage (most recent first)
Aaron Maté (7 December 2020) OPCW executives praised whistleblower and criticized Syria cover-up, leaks reveal, Grayzone
Aaron Maté (30 November 2020) Questions for BBC on new White Helmets podcast series attacking OPOCW whistleblowers, Grayzone
Peter Hitchens (28 November 2020) A Failure of Standards at the BBC, Mail On Sunday [scroll down his column for this item]
Chloe Hadjimatheou (20 November 2020) Extra Episode: The Canister on the Bed, BBC radio podcast
Alan Macleod (6 November 2020) Media Silence Marks Ongoing OPCW Cover-Up of Syria Chemical Weapons Scandal, Mintpress News
Harald Neuber (6 November 2020) Bellingcat blamiert sich mit Fake-Leak über OPCW, Telepolis
Bernardo Jurema (4 November 2020) O apagão da cobertura do escândalo da Opaq [The blackout of the coverage of the Opaq scandal], Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil
Aaron Maté (28 October 2020) Draft debacle: Bellingcat smears OPCW whistleblower, journalists with false letter, farcical claims, Grayzone
Bellingcat (26 October 2020) Unpublished OPCW Douma Correspondence Raises Doubts about Transparency of “OPCW Leaks” Promoters, Bellingcat website, via Wayback Machine
Noam Chomsky (20 October) Chomsky calls out OPCW cover-up, interview for Grayzone (video and transcript)
Aaron Maté (18 October 2020) Ex-OPCW chief defends Syria whistleblowers and reveals he was spied on before Iraq war, Grayzone
Katie Halper (15 October 2020) The REAL Trump Coverup-Scandal That the Media’s Ignoring As You Read This With Aaron Maté, Katie Halper Show (video)
Piers Robinson (13 October 2020) Syria – The war on truth, dissent and free speech, The Hague Times
Jimmy Dore (10 October 2020) CHAOS at the U.N. Security Council! US/UK Silence Whistle-Blowers!, The Jimmy Dore Show (video)
Harald Neuber (8 October 2020) Die OPCW hat noch die Möglichkeit, sich selbst zu korrigieren, Telepolis
Aaron Maté (7 October 2020) OPCW Syria whistleblower and ex-OPCW chief attacked by US, UK, France at UN, Pushback with Aaron Maté, Grayzone (video)
DemocracyNow (6 October 2020) Survivors of Chemical Attacks in Syria File Complaint as U.N. Blocks Testimony of Former Head of OPCW, DemocracyNow
Ceyda Karan (27 July 2020) OPCW, White Helmets and Syria’s ‘scams’, Birgun [in Turkish]
Aaron Maté (24 July 2020) Did Trump bomb Syria on false grounds? The Nation
Fraser Myers (10 July 2020) Chemical weapons and cover-ups: the Western media’s Syrian shame, Spiked
MJ (8 May 2020) Are the OPCW’s reports on Syria reliable?, Tehran Times
Aaron Maté (6 May 2020) OPCW chief made false claims to denigrate Douma whistleblower, documents reveal, The Grayzone
OPCW Insiders (28 April 2020) OPCW Insiders slam ‘compromised’ new Syria chemical weapons probe, The Grayzone
Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson (12 March 2020) Update on the OPCW’s investigation of the Douma incident, Working Group on Syrian, Propaganda and Media
Aaron Maté (12 March 2020) Exclusive: New OPCW whistleblower slams ‘abhorrent mistreatment’ of Douma investigators, The Grayzone
Piers Robinson (8 March 2020) “Journalists are humiliating themselves” over Douma, interviewed by Gordon Dimmack, Youtube
Marc Thörner (3 March 2020) Berichte über Giftgasangriff in Syrien: “Es gibt immer nur Freund und Feind in dieser Berichterstattung”, in conversation with Bettina Schmieding, DeutschlandFunk (text summary and audio of full interview, in German)
Piers Robinson (3 March 2020) OPCW & Peter Hitchens’ Influence, Stranahan (podcast)
Kurt Rohmert (2 March 2020) Was geschah wirlich in Syrien: Der undurchsichtige Krieg, StadtSpiegel
Peter Hitchens (1 March 2020) Today, I’m publishing the document that could save us from war, Mail On Sunday
Peter Hitchens (29 February 2020) Time to Hear Both Sides. A and B respond to the OPCW’s attacks on them – the Full Rebuttal, Mail Online
Dave DeCamp (26 February 2020) On the OPCW’s Efforts to Discredit Douma Whistleblowers, Scott Horton Show
Karin Leukefeld (25 February 2020) Syrien und Giftgas: Verleumdung statt Aufklärung, NachDenkSeiten
Dan Mygind (20 February 2020) Were chemical weapons actually used in Syria in 2018? Whistleblowers question OPCW report, RÆSON
Harald Neuber (20 February 2020) Poison gas in Syria: Why the OPCW continues to make itself unbelievable, Telepolis
Piers Robinson (20 February 2020) The Truth on the Lies in the OPCW Story, Stranahan (podcast)
Tulsi Gabbard (18 February 2020) Will continue to seek answers from OPCW, speaking at Town Hall, Fairfax VA, Youtube
Caitlin Johnstone (18 February 2020) Scandal-Ridden OPCW Now Using Twitter’s “Hide Replies” Function, Medium
Jim W. Dean (19 February 2020) Should OPCW be criminally investigated for Douma fake gassing coverup? Veterans Today
Karin Leukefeld (18 February 2020) There is silence: Chemical Weapons Organization (OPCW) responds to whistleblower reports on Duma investigation, Junge Welt
Peter Hitchens (15 February 2020) Kafka comes to The Hague: The Show Trial of A and B – Why you should be worried, Mail on Sunday
Slava Zilber (14 February 2020) A journalist resigned from an establishment outlet, and we all need to hear his reasons for doing so, The Canary
Aaron Maté (11 February 2020) Exclusive: new leaks shatter OPCW’s attacks on Douma whistleblowers, The Grayzone, featuring also two previously unpublished documents:
Ian Henderson (written 18 Jan 2020; leaked 11 February 2020) Statement to a Meeting during the OPCW Conference of States Parties or to an Arriaformula Meeting of the UNSC
‘Senior OPCW Official’ (written 28 June 2019; leaked 11 Feburary 2020) Redacted email speaking of climate of fear at OPCW
Piers Robinson and Tareq Haddad (11 February 2020) When The Truth Bombs, Renegade Inc (video interview)
Peter Hitchens (9 February 2020) Two heroes they cannot silence, in his weekly column for Mail on Sunday [scroll down]
Florian Rötzer (9 February 2020) Der OPCW-Abschlussbericht und der angebliche Giftgasangriff in Duma, Telepolis
Steve Sweeney (7 February 2020) Chemical-weapons watchdog denies ‘sexing up’ dossier, Morning Star Online
Nebojsa Malic (7 February 2020) OPCW attack on whistleblowers only proves its own credibility is shot, RT
Patrick Wintour and Bethan McKernan (7 February 2020) Inquiry strikes blow to Russian denials of Syria chemical attack: UN watchdog’s investigation rebuts claims it manipulated evidence of Douma incident, The Guardian
Karin Leukefeld (6 February 2020) Wahrheit unterdrückt, Junge Welt
Anthony Deutsch (6 February 2020) Chemical weapons agency employees leaked information, inquiry finds, Reuters
Associated Press (6 February 2020) Chemical Weapons Watchdog Report Criticizes Leaks, New York Times
Reuters (6 February 2020) Chemical Weapons Agency Employees Leaked Information, New York Times
Ted Galen Carpenter (6 February 2020) ‘The Media’s Coverage of the Syria April 2018 Chemical Weapons Attack is a Disgrace‘, The National Interest
OPCW Director-General (6 February 2020) Independent Investigation into Possible Breaches of Confidentiality Report Released
Middle East Monitor (28 January 2020) Chemical weapons expert at the UN: Douma attack didn’t happen, Middle East Monitor
John Holmes (27 January 2020) Interview: Ex-British Special Forces director: OPCW could lose all credibility over Douma leaks! RT with video
Peter Hitchens (24 January 2020) A Response to Bellingcat from Sources Close to the veteran OPCW Chemical Weapons Inspector Ian Henderson, Mail Online
Peter Hitchens (23 January 2020) What governments learned from the Iraq War – to prevent independent media from questioning the pretexts for war, Mail Online
Ian Henderson (20 January 2020) Address to United Nations Security Council concerning OPCW report on Douma, Youtube
Tulsi Gabbard (8 January 2020) On the Wikileaks/OPCW release, Youtube
Dutch Parliament (3 January 2020) Written questions about Wikileaks’ OPCW Douma Docs, Tweede Kamer NL
Robert Fisk (1 January 2020) The Syrian conflict is awash with propaganda – chemical warfare bodies should not be caught up in it, The Independent
Wikileaks (27 December 2019) OPCW-DOUMA – Release Part 4, Wikileaks.
Tulsi Gabbard (20 December 2019) speaking about Syria and Afghanistan wars, on Jimmy Dore Show.
Wikileaks (15 December 2019) Wikileaks’ third release of documents details malpractice in OPCW Douma reporting, Wikileaks.
Peter Hitchens (15 December 2019) Fresh evidence that UN watchdog suppressed report casting doubt on Assad gas attack, Mail on Sunday
Tareq Haddad (14 December 2019) Lies, Newsweek and control of the media narrative first-hand account
Peter Hitchens (13 December 2019) In Praise of Telling The Truth, First Things
Sam Dorman (7 December 2019) Newsweek reporter quits, claiming outlet ‘suppressed’ story on global chemical weapons watchdog, Fox News
Peter Hitchens (1 December 2019) My secret meeting with mole at the heart of The Great Poison Gas Scandal, Mail on Sunday
Xinhua (30 November 2019) Dispute mars conclusion of OPCW conference, XinhuaNet
Peter Hitchens (29 November 2019) In Defense of Journalism, Spectator USA
Peter Hitchens (28 November 2019) Bellingcat or Guard Dog for the Establishment?, Mail on Sunday
Peter Hitchens (26 November 2019) Trump’s Syria missile strike was a scandal. But almost nobody dares say so, Spectator USA
Karin Leukefeld (25 November 2019) The OPCW board is accused of manipulating the investigative report on an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, NachDenkSeiten (in German)
Tucker Carlson with Jonathan Steele (25 November 2019) Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox News (video)
Greg Norman (25 November 2019) Syria watchdog accused of making misleading edits in report on chemical weapons attack, Fox News (video & text report)
Peter Hitchens (24 November 2019) Sexed Up to Make War – an astonishing leak from the Poison Gas Watchdog the OPCW, Mail on Sunday
Stefania Maurizi (24 November 2019) Wikileaks: nuove rivelazioni sull’attacco chimico a Douma, in Siria, La Repubblica
Richard Falk (1 November 2019) Independent Panel Challenges OPCW Findings on 2018 Attack in Douma, Syria, Foreign Policy Journal
Jonathan Steele (27 October 2019) speaking on Weekend, BBC World Service
Peter Hitchens (27 October 2019) Mail on Sunday column
(scroll further down for more)
Karin Leukefeld (24 October 2019) Giftgas in Duma: über mutmaßlich manipulierten OPCW Bericht (RT video, 14 minutes, German)
La Repubblica (23 October 2019) Whistleblower denuncia che l’OPAC, l’Organizzazione per la proibizione delle armi chimiche, ha manipolato le indagini sull’attacco chimico a Douma, in Siria, By Stefania Maurizi
Nachdenkseiten 23 October 2019) Whistleblower – der OPCW-Bericht zum angeblichen Giftgasangriff in Duma entspricht nicht der Wahrheit, by Karin Leukefeld
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) (23 October 2019) OPCW-Inspektoren widersprechen offiziellem Abschlussbericht
Wikileaks (23 October 2019) OPCW Whistleblower Panel on the Douma attack of April 2018
Courage Foundation (23 October 2019) Panel Criticizes ‘Unacceptable Practices’ in the OPCW’s investigation of the Alleged Chemical Attack in Douma, Syria on April 7th 2018