Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Piers Robinson
Members of Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media
- 1 Summary
- 2 Irregularities in the published reports of the Fact-Finding Mechanism
- 2.1 No comparison with epidemiology or toxicology of chlorine release incidents
- 2.2 Withholding of quantitative results of chemical analyses
- 2.3 Delay in initiating engineering / ballistics studies, inadequate reporting
- 2.4 Ignoring evidence of staging in images uploaded by opposition-linked media
- 2.5 Blending of witness interviews and exclusion of testimony that the hospital scene had been staged
- 2.6 Conduct of the investigation
- 3 What we now know about misconduct in the Douma investigation
- 3.1 Attempt to substitute a modified report for the original interim report
- 3.2 Suppression of quantitative lab results
- 3.3 Suppression of inconsistencies in the eyewitness testimony
- 3.4 Suppression of the consultation with medical experts in June 2018
- 3.5 Concealing the date and rationale for the decision not to proceed with exhumations
- 3.6 Attempt by US officials to influence the inspectors
- 3.7 Unreviewed report prepared by unknown authors presented as “the Report of the Fact-Finding Mechanism”
- 3.8 Suppression of the engineering assessment
- 3.9 The three external engineering/ballistics consultancies supposedly obtained by the FFM
- 4 The OPCW’s investigation into “Possible Breaches of Confidentiality”
- 5 The Investigation and Identification Team (IIT)
- As we noted in April 2019, there were defects in the published interim and final Reports of the Fact-Finding Mechanism on the Douma incident that indicated that evidence had been withheld or distorted.
- From comparing the original Interim Report drafted in June 2018, the modified report that was intended to be substituted for it, and the published Final Report, it is clear that this was not simply a divergence of opinions between experts. The misrepresentation of evidence in the published Final Report can reasonably be described as fraudulent. Specifically, the following points can be identified:
- Quantitative results on the levels of chlorinated organic compounds were suppressed. A false assertion about “high levels” of these compounds had been added to the modified report.
- An assessment based on the epidemiology of chlorine release incidents was omitted from the modified report and the Final Report.
- On-site assessments that the observations were incompatible with aerial delivery of the cylinders were omitted from the modified report and the Final Report.
- The testimony of opposition-linked witnesses interviewed in Turkey was rewritten in the Final Report so as to obscure inconsistencies about the distribution of bodies at Location 2 that would have cast doubt on the reliability of their testimony.
- The result of the consultation with medical experts in June 2018, indicating that the victims had not been killed by chlorine, was suppressed and omitted from the timeline of the investigation published in the Final Report.
- The internal engineering assessment was excluded from the published Final Report.
- In violation of Article VIII of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Chief of Cabinet allowed US officials to attempt to influence the inspectors in July 2018.
- The evidence of fraud in the published report of the Douma investigation means that all other published reports from FFM Team Alpha, including the FFM reports on the alleged chlorine attacks in 2015 and the alleged sarin attack in Khan Sheikhoun in 2017, must also be disregarded as unreliable and possibly fraudulent.
- The OPCW’s report on 6 February 2020 of what was purported to be an investigation into the leak of the engineering assessment to the Working Group was used instead to smear two of the organization’s most experienced and highly-rated inspectors with false and misleading statements.
- It is now clear that the Director-General’s statements on 28 May and 6 June 2019 that the FFM had “examined, weighed and deliberated”, “considered” and “analysed” the engineering assessment were unequivocally false: the Team Leader and Head of the FFM had refused to accept the document in February 2019.
- The Douma investigation has been passed to the Identification and Inspection Team (IIT). A brief examination of the careers of the investigators and analysts appointed to the IIT shows that all four of them have serious conflicts of interest. This calls into question their ability to resist pressure to come up with the answers that the influential delegations of the US, UK and France want.
2 Irregularities in the published reports of the Fact-Finding Mechanism
In a briefing note posted on 11 April 2019, we drew attention to defects in the published FFM reports that indicated, to anyone who examined these reports closely, that evidence had been withheld or distorted. We review this material briefly before examining what new information has been provided by documents and briefings released from May 2019 onwards.
2.1 No comparison with epidemiology or toxicology of chlorine release incidents
The reports did not assess whether the alleged chemical attack was consistent with the epidemiology of chlorine release incidents, which typically have low case fatality rate.
The analysis of the images of victims stated that “this type of rapid collapse is indicative of an agent capable of quickly killing or immobilising” but did not explain how this opinion was compatible with release of chlorine from an intact gas cylinder on the balcony, or with the presence of foamy pulmonary edema that would take time to develop.
2.2 Withholding of quantitative results of chemical analyses
Quantitative results of lab analyses were withheld. The lack of concordance between labs suggested that chlorinated organic compounds were present only at trace levels, close to the lower limit of detection.
The reports did not make clear that trace levels of these compounds are ubiquitous in environments where industrial or household products are present.
The Final Report emphasized correctly that testing for exposure to chlorine depends on comparison with control samples, but inexplicably did not report results for the control samples that were taken.
Although molecular chlorine is not naturally present in the environment, chloride ions and many chlorinated organic derivatives exist in the natural background. For that reason it was important to gather control samples, wherever feasible, at locations not expected to have been exposed to chlorine gas.
In Table A9.3 two specimens are described as control samples:
- Control sample: debris 20 meters west of the building entry (level 0): 2018.04.21_1909_04
- Concrete dust scraping at pillar 51: 2018.05.01_1779_05
From the Evidence Reference Numbers listed in Table A5.1 we can deduce that these two control samples relate to Location 2 (numbers prefixed 2018.04.21_1909) and the hospital (numbers prefixed 2018.05.01 1779).
Results for these samples are not given.
This should have raised questions about the conduct of the investigation. If rigorous procedures had been followed, with control samples included in the same batches as putatively exposed samples and laboratory staff blinded to exposure status, the omission of control samples from analysis or reporting could only have been deliberate.
We emphasize that the issue here is not whether chlorine was released, but that the withholding of quantitative results and failure to report results on control samples is strong evidence of scientific misconduct.
2.3 Delay in initiating engineering / ballistics studies, inadequate reporting
Three engineering/ballistics consultations are mentioned in the final report: but the figures show screenshots from what appears to be only a single study using a software package for finite-element analysis, These are barely legible screenshots, not of the professional standard one would expect from experts preparing a report for an international agency. Figures 10 and A7.6 show a simulation of the impact at Location 4 with a cylinder without harness or valve, though the cylinder found on the bed had a harness and an intact valve. The barely legible graphs based on the simulation assume improbably low drop heights for a helicopter flying over defended territory. Figure 12 shows the cylinder at Location 4 bouncing off the floor at 2 m/s, which would not have allowed it to reach the bed more than 3 metres away.
There was no explanation for why, if the FFM had considered it necessary to obtain expert opinions on the possible trajectories of the cylinders found at Locations 2 and 4, they did not request on-site examinations while the FFM was deployed in Damascus in April/May, rather than six months later when inspection of the sites and cylinders was no longer possible.
2.4 Ignoring evidence of staging in images uploaded by opposition-linked media
An analysis of images uploaded on the night of 7 April showed that bodies had been rearranged between photo sessions: infants first shown separated from adults were subsequently placed on the bodies of adult women. The opposition cameramen attempted for the first few days to represent the cylinder at Location 4 as the cause of the deaths at Location 2.
2.5 Blending of witness interviews and exclusion of testimony that the hospital scene had been staged
Information obtained from interviews was summarized in the Final Report without any distinction between information obtained from witnesses in Damascus and those interviewed in Turkey (who would have been opposition supporters who had relocated to Idlib under the evacuation agreement), and without any effort to establish whether the presence of each witness at the scene was corroborated by other evidence. The report was written to make it appear as if the witnesses who reported that the hospital dousing scene had been staged were never formally interviewed by the FFM, downgrading their testimony to “other open-source video material”.
2.6 Conduct of the investigation
The Team Leader had left Damascus for unexplained “information gathering activities” in Turkey three days after arriving, before on-site inspections had begun. All evidence other than the lab results was withheld from the Interim Report released in July 2018, even though most of the evidence – witness interviews, one-site assessment of the cylinder and craters, analysis of uploaded images of victims – had already been collected. There was an unexplained delay in the investigation between June and September 2018. Both the interim and final reports were unsigned, though previous FFM reports had been signed by the Team Leader.
In summary, it was possible by April 2019 for anyone with a scientific grounding who read the published reports closely to infer, as we did, that something was wrong with the published reports of the FFM on the Douma incident. We listed most of the points above in our briefing note posted in April 2018, but missed one of the most interesting clues: that results on control samples were not reported even though these samples had been collected. From [reports] that a Russian proposal for all members of the FFM team to give a briefing on the Final Report had been voted down by the OPCW Executive Council on 14 March 2019, it was evident that there was dissent among members of the FFM team.
3 What we now know about misconduct in the Douma investigation
During 2019 more information about the Douma investigation reached the public domain. This began with the release of the engineering assessment in May 2019, continued with the briefing of a panel convened by the Courage Foundation in October 2019 and the release of more internal documents including the original draft of the interim report in December 2019, and finally the release of a written statement provided to the UN Security Council.
3.1 Attempt to substitute a modified report for the original interim report
We now know that the published Interim Report, which reported only lab results, was the result of a stand-off between the Team Leader Sami Barrek and the other inspectors. In June 2019 a secretly-prepared modified report had been substituted for the original interim report.
This original interim report had stated that “Although the cylinders might have been the sources of the suspected chemical release, there is insufficient evidence to affirm this”. The modified report asserted instead that there was “sufficient evidence at this time to determine that chlorine, or another reactive chlorine-containing chemical, was likely released from cylinders.” The section on the epidemiology of chlorine release incidents in the original interim report, which had noted that in such incidents most of those exposed manage to escape, was omitted from the modified report.
The original interim report had noted that preliminary observations on the cylinders and the impact sites raised doubts about the story that the cylinders had been dropped from the air:
The FFM team is unable to provide satisfactory explanations for the relatively moderate damage to the cylinders allegedly dropped from an unknown height, compared to the destruction caused to the rebar-reinforced concrete roofs. In the case of Location 4, how the cylinder ended up on the bed, given the point at which it allegedly penetrated the room, remains unclear. The team considers that further studies by specialists in metallurgy and structural engineering or mechanics are required to provide an authoritative assessment of the team’s observations.
In the modified report this passage was removed, and the question of “how the cylinder ended up on the bed” at Location 4 was replaced by assessing “the trajectory of the cylinder”, implicitly excluding the possibility of manual placement.
The team considers that further analysis would need to be conducted by suitable experts, possibly in metallurgy and structural or mechanical engineering, to provide an assessment of the trajectory of the cylinder, in addition to the damage caused to the bed, the roof and the cylinder itself.
3.2 Suppression of quantitative lab results
The modified report asserted that “high levels of various chlorinated organic derivatives” were present in organic samples. These chlorinated organic compounds were present mostly at levels of only a few parts per billion, not above the background levels that would be expected in an environment where industrial products were present. The quantitative results were withheld from the inspectors who had deployed to Damascus. The inspectors protested about the withholding of quantitative results, and were assured that they would be included in the interim report, only to find that they were withheld from the published version.
3.3 Suppression of inconsistencies in the eyewitness testimony
The original interim report clearly separated the eyewitness accounts obtained in Damascus from those obtained in Turkey (referred to as “Country X”). It also noted inconsistencies between the statements of witnesses that raised questions about their credibility:
There were variations (see table and footnotes below) in the numbers of bodies and their distribution throughout Location 2 as observed in video footage and photos, compared to the numbers provided by various witnesses who were interviewed. According to statements from witnesses, “many people they presumed dead, were lying on the floor of the basement”. The FFM did not obtain any video footage or photos of dead casualties lying in the basement of Location 2 or being removed from there.
The table showed that of seven witnesses who reported the distribution of bodies at Location 2, two reported bodies in basement only, one reported bodies at ground level and above only, and four reported bodies both in basement and above ground level. The videos had not shown any bodies in the basement.
3.4 Suppression of the consultation with medical experts in June 2018
It is now clear that the vague and contradictory account of expert opinions about the cause of death of the victims in the Final Report is explained by suppression of the consultation with medical experts that took place on 6 June 2018 at the Bundeswehr Research Institute for Protective Technologies and NBC Protection (WIS) in Munster. The “chief expert” can be identified as Colonel Dr Franz Worek, the leading medical expert on chemical defence in the Bundeswehr.
His argument, reconstructed from the original interim report written in June 2018 and the minutes written two months later, was as follows:
- Pulmonary edema is a delayed effect of “choking agents” such as chlorine which cause acute inhalation injury. If the victims of exposure to such an agent had had lived long enough for their airways to be filled with foamy edema fluid, they would have been able to escape and would not have collapsed “gathered in piles” on the spot.
- Massive exposure to chlorine can cause laryngospasm leading to immediate asphyxiation, but in this situation there would not be time for foamy pulmonary edema to develop
- Cholinesterase inhibitors (nerve agents) [or opiates, we would add] could have caused instant collapse and also rapid onset of pulmonary edema, but known agents were ruled out by the negative lab tests.
The OPCW participants agreed that the conclusions were clear: whatever killed the victims, it was not chlorine. This consultation does not appear in the timeline of the final Report of the Fact-Finding Mission: the first toxicology consultations are dated to September 2018.
3.5 Concealing the date and rationale for the decision not to proceed with exhumations
The original interim report recorded that plans for exhumations were halted when the first lab results were received on 22 May 2018:
When the analytical results of the first round of environmental and biological samples were received and no nerve agents or their degradation products were identified in either environmental or biological samples, the plans for exhumations were halted as the risk of not finding substantive evidence of the alleged attack was now considered high and proceeding with the exhumations presented a risk to benefit ratio that was no longer acceptable.
The Interim Report released on 6 July 2018 stated that the intention to exhume bodies from mass graves was “communicated to the Syrian Arab Republic in Note Verbale NV/ODG/214827/18” without indicating that plans for exhumation had been halted two months earlier. The Final Report omits the date and the rationale for the decision not to proceed with exhumations, and insinuates that the Syrian Arab Republic was responsible for delaying exhumations until they would no longer be informative:
The Syrian Arab Republic replied in Note Verbale No. 45 on 4 May 2018 and enumerated the conditions to be met in order to conduct the exhumation. With due consideration of the time elapsed since the alleged incident, the possibility was eventually not explored any further.
3.6 Attempt by US officials to influence the inspectors
In the first week of July 2018 all FFM team members were summoned by the Chief of Cabinet, Robert Fairweather, to a meeting with three US officials who asserted that their findings proved that there had been a chlorine attack. This attempt to influence the inspectors violated Article VIII Part D of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which stipulates that:
In the performance of their duties, the Director-General, the inspectors and the other members of the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any Government or from any other source external to the Organization. They shall refrain from any action that might reflect on their positions as international officers responsible only to the Conference and the Executive Council.
Each State Party shall respect the exclusively international character of the responsibilities of the Director-General, the inspectors and the other members of the staff and not seek to influence them in the discharge of their responsibilities.
3.7 Unreviewed report prepared by unknown authors presented as “the Report of the Fact-Finding Mechanism”
FFM team members who had deployed to Douma were excluded from preparation of the final report, and were not even kept informed of its status or expected date of publication. No technical peer review of the final report was conducted. In particular the only organic chemist and the only chemical engineer on the team were excluded from drafting and reviewing the report. A briefing to States Parties was given on 5 March 2019 by Boban Cekovic, a former inspector who could not have contributed to the investigation before December 2018 when he rejoined the OPCW.
3.8 Suppression of the engineering assessment
It is now clear that the absence of an on-site engineering opinion in the Final Report is explained by deliberate suppression. Ian Henderson had been tasked with the Location and Munition (cylinder) study in the work plan issued by the Team Leader on 26 June 2018. He was excluded from external consultations held later that year. The Team Leader and the FFM Leader refused to accept Henderson’s engineering report on 26 February 2019. The Chief of Cabinet, Sebastien Braha, attempted to have all copies of the Engineering Assessment destroyed and also ordered that the log of the Document Registration Archive be altered to erase “all traces, if any, of [the document’s] delivery/storage/whatever in DRA”.
We have noted previously that the OPCW has come up with three contradictory explanations of why Ian Henderson’s Engineering Assessment was excluded from the Final Report of the FFM:
- 1E1: the document was “not part of any of the material produced by the FFM”.
- 2E2: the document was “analysed, it was part of the investigation” but rebutted by the reports of “three external experts commissioned by the FFM”.
- 3E3: the document “pointed at possible attribution which is outside of the mandate of the FFM” and Henderson was therefore advised to submit his assessment to the IIT.
Arias has on two occasions asserted that the Engineering Assessment was considered by the FFM. In a briefing on 28 May 2019 he stated that:
The document produced by this staff member pointed at possible attribution, which is outside of the mandate of the FFM with regard to the formulation of its findings. Therefore, I instructed that, beyond the copy that would exclusively be kept by the FFM, the staff member be advised to submit his assessment to the IIT, which he did, so that this document could later be used by the IIT. As is the case with all FFM investigations, the Secretariat encourages serious and professional debates within, so all views, analysis, information and opinions are considered. This is what the FFM did with the information included in the publicly disclosed document [the Engineering Assessment]; all available information was examined, weighed and deliberated.
In a panel discussion on 6 June 2019 Arias stated that
This information [the Engineering Assessment] was considered and it was analysed, it was part of the investigation and this information has already been given to the Investigation and Identification Team in charge of attributing responsibilities because this information you referred to is more focussing, is more targeted to to establish responsibility than to focus to the facts.
These statements by Arias are unequivocally false. Henderson’s statement to the UN Security Council makes clear that his Engineering Assessment was never considered by the FFM: the Team Leader and the head of the FFM had refused to accept it.
In Arias’s latest briefing, his widely ridiculed explanation 3E3 that the Engineering Assessment had been excluded from the FFM report because it “pointed at possible attribution” which was “outside the mandate of the FFM” was abandoned. Instead he reverted to explanation 1E1:
Inspector A’s assessment purports to be an official OPCW FFM report on the Douma incident. Instead it is a personal document created with incomplete information and without authorisation.
He conceded that “In the interest of transparency and completeness, Inspector A’s assessment has been transmitted to the IIT and will be examined by it in due course.”
3.9 The three external engineering/ballistics consultancies supposedly obtained by the FFM
The Final Report, without mentioning that an internal engineering assessment had been excluded, stated that engineering/ballistics assessments had been obtained from three external experts, and described the results of the assessments of the cylinder at Location 4 as follows:
The results of these assessments indicated that the shape of the aperture produced in the modulation matched the shape and damage observed by the team. The assessments further indicated that, after passing through the ceiling and impacting the floor at lower speed, the cylinder continued altered trajectory, until reaching the position in which it was found.
In the light of other irregularities in the Final Report, we may reasonably be suspicious of the Final Report’s assertion that reports from three independent experts supported the explanation that the cylinders at Locations 2 and 4 reached their positions as a result of being dropped from the air.
If these three assessments exist, and their conclusions were as described in the Final Report, it should have been straightforward to document this. We have been informed that one report was obtained from a European institute with expertise in impact engineering, and that this group assessed that it was “very unlikely” that the cylinder at Location 4 had reached its position as a result of being dropped from the sky.
At a press conference in The Hague on 12 July 2019, Alexander Shulgin, the Russian envoy to the OPCW, stated that:
We would like to review the reports of the three independent experts that made a conclusion that these canisters were dropped from high altitude. You are free not to name them. We already know the name of one of the experts and we highly doubt that they are indeed unbiased.
In an interview in November 2019, Shulgin expressed doubts about the existence of three reports: “The refusal of the Technical Secretariat to unveil the reports of these anonymous outside experts makes us question whether these reports ever existed.” He added that the expert whose name he knows “has a rather dubious reputation in terms of his impartiality, and he is anything but a specialist in ballistics”.
4 The OPCW’s investigation into “Possible Breaches of Confidentiality”
This investigation was originally set up to investigate the leak of the Engineering Assessment to the Working Group in May 2019. However the report of the investigation, the briefing from the Director-General, Fernando Arias, and the accompanying press release were used instead to smear two of the organization’s most experienced and highly-rated inspectors.
The smears include unequivocally false statements – for instance that Inspector A “was not a member of the FFM” – and misleading statements whose only purpose is to denigrate: for instance that Inspectors A and B were “rehired at a lower grade” without explaining that the P-5 grade had been merged with the P-4 grade.
One notably false assertion is that “The majority of the FFM’s work occurred after Inspector B’s separation, and during the last seven months of the FFM’s investigation (August 2018 through February 2019).”
The timeline in the published report shows that the additional information gathered during this period consisted only of interviews with an additional five witnesses in Turkey (October 2018), toxicology consultations (September-October 2018), engineering/ballistics reports purportedly obtained from three external experts (October-December 2018), and lab analyses of a second batch of samples (received February 2019).
Comparison of the original interim report with the Final Report shows that most of the text and figures in the Final Report had already been prepared by June 2018. The only substantive new material that appears in the Final Report consists of figures generated from one of these engineering consultations.
The delay from June 2018 to September 2018 in resuming the investigation is explicable by the necessity to wait until Inspector B had left the organization at the end of his contract.
The OPCW management’s denunciation of Inspectors A and B for “unauthorised disclosure of highly protected information to individuals who did not have a need to know such information.” is unintentionally revealing.
This makes clear that the preparation of the report of the FFM was organized like a covert operation, with information shared on the basis of “need to know”, rather than as a scientific investigation in which material is shared for internal review before submission for external peer review.
There was no basis for the engineering analysis of the Douma cylinders to be classified as “highly protected information”: it did not contain personal data, nor did it include confidential information provided by a State Party.
Syrian officials had told the inspectors who deployed to investigate the Douma incident that the information they gathered was not confidential as far as the Syrian Arab Republic was concerned.
The Verification Annex Part II of the Chemical Weapons Convention specifies in the section on reports that “Differing observations made by inspectors may be attached to the report” and that “The provisions of this Part shall apply to all inspections conducted pursuant to this Convention”. In accordance with this provision, the template for reporting “Other Chemical Production Facility” inspections includes a section for “Differing observations made by inspectors”, implying that the report is not complete unless this section is filled in.
This clause can thus be read as guaranteeing a right to attach “differing observations” that has been denied to inspectors in the Fact-Finding Mission.
5 The Investigation and Identification Team (IIT)
The remit “to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic”, adopted by the Conference of the States Parties on 27 June 2018 was assigned to an Investigation and Identification Team (IIT). On 28 June 2019 the IIT published a list of nine incidents, including the Douma incident, on which it would focus its investigative work:
- Three alleged chlorine attacks in 2014: Al-Tamanah 12 April, Kafr-Zita 18 April, Al-Tamanah 18 April examined in the Third Report of the FFM then led by Malik Ellahi.
- An alleged attack in Marea on 1 September 2015, examined in an FFM report that confirmed that victims had been exposed to sulfur mustard. This incident has been widely attributed to ISIS .
- Two alleged chemical attacks in Ltamenah on 24 and 25 March 2017, examined in the Report on Alleged incidents in Ltamenah, released 13 June 2018. This unsigned report concluded that sarin on 24 March and chlorine on 25 March were “very likely used”.
- An alleged chemical attack in Ltamenah on 30 March 2017, examined in a separate report
- An alleged chemcial attack in Saraqib on 4 February 2018. An unsigned report concluded chlorine was “likely used”, but was unable to explain the presence of sarin breakdown products in the environment and in wipes from the chlorine cylinder.
- The Douma incident of 7 April 2018.
In the light of the evidence of fraud in FFM Team Alpha’s report on the Douma incident, all earlier reports from this team, including their reports on the incidents above, should now be considered unreliable. In an earlier briefing note we noted irregularities in the Fact-Finding Mission’s investigations of these earlier incidents.
5.1 Alleged chlorine attacks in 2014
We noted that information for the FFM’s investigation of the alleged chlorine attacks in April to May 2014 was provided by the CBRN Task Force set up by Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, who revealed also that during 2013 he had been undertaking covert activities for an agency that can only have been MI6.
Videos of an alleged impact site in Talmenes, provided by de Bretton-Gordon to the FFM, were later examined for the Joint Investigative Mechanism by a forensic expert, who identified “inconsistencies” that were unmistakable evidence of staging. This calls into question all other evidence from the CBRN Task Force.
5.2 Alleged chemical attacks in Ltamenah in 2017 and Saraqib in 2018
We discussed the anomalous findings of the FFM report on the alleged incident in Ltamenah on 24 March 2017, from which there were no contemporaneous reports but samples purportedly recovered from the alleged impact site after a long delay were reported to contain intact sarin.
Another commentator has noted anomalies in the published report of the FFM on the alleged incident in Ltamenah on 30 March 2017: no explanation was given for the detection of sarin in samples of gravel provided by the White Helmets that were purportedly recovered from a “crater” containing no munition fragments some 200 metres south of the alleged impact point.
In the report on the alleged incident in Saraqib on 4 February 2018, where the alleged munition was a chlorine cylinder and the FFM determined that “chlorine, released from cylinders through mechanical impact, was likely used as a chemical weapon”, no explanation was given for the positive tests for sarin breakdown products in environmental samples from this cylinder.
5.3 Management and staffing of the IIT
As we have noted previously, the director, Santiago Oñate, is employed as a consultant and cannot be a line manager. This implies that the staff of the IIT report to the Chief of Cabinet.
For reports of investigations to be credible, a requirement in science and in legal proceedings is that the names of the investigators are disclosed so that possible conflicts of interest can be examined and so that these investigators have to put their reputations on the line as guarantors of the report that bears their names.
The names of the two investigators and two analysts hired for the IIT have not been publicly disclosed. A brief examination of their careers shows that all four of them have serious conflicts of interest.
Of the two investigators, one is an employee of the Canadian security service and foreign ministry, and the other is an employee of the Netherlands Ministry of Justice. Of the two analysts, one is a former NATO intelligence officer and the other is the spouse of a consultant to the Netherlands Ministry of the Interior.
In noting these conflicts of interest we are not casting doubt on the personal integrity of these individuals, but we are calling into question whether the IIT can produce an impartial report if – as is to be expected – its team is under pressure to come up with a result that will vindicate the governments of France, UK and the US.
It has been reported to us that other individuals, whose independence is even more doubtful, have been brought in to help prepare the report.
OPCW staff members who have information about misconduct or fraud in investigations of alleged chemical attacks are welcome to contact us. For those who are under pressure to collude with or cover up such misconduct, we can arrange expert legal advice. As always, we guarantee to protect the identities of our sources. Emails from a ProtonMail address to
firstname.lastname@example.org are secure.