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The Sinking Credibility of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

By Rob Slane | The Blog Mire | May 18, 2019

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is supposed to be a neutral international body, without political or national affiliation. It is meant to go where the facts lead it, regardless of any pressures from powerful people and countries to produce reports that might favour their cause and exonerate their actions.

I have long suspected that it has ceased to be such an organisation. There has been an increasingly obvious pattern to alleged chemical weapons attacks, whereby an incident occurs, the Western powers — chiefly the United States, United Kingdom and France — respond, and then the OPCW later produces a report that essentially backs up their claims, but in very dubious ways.

For example, on 4th April 2017, an alleged chemical incident took plane in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria. The White House released a four page intelligence report just one week later, which stated the following:

“The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017. According to observers at the scene, the attack resulted in at least 50 and up to 100 fatalities (including many children), with hundreds of additional injuries.

We have confidence in our assessment because we have signals intelligence and geospatial intelligence, laboratory analysis of physiological samples collected from multiple victims, as well as a significant body of credible open source reporting, that tells a clear and consistent story.”

What they didn’t state is that they had no direct intelligence on the ground, but relied on hearsay, much of it from that “open source” reporting (i.e. internet speculation). And of course there’s a very good reason why they did not have intelligence on the ground, namely that the area was (and still is) controlled by jihadist organisations. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the case against the Assad Government was at that time entirely dependent on information coming from Islamist terrorist organisations, it was apparently enough for the United States to bomb the country, which it did on 7th April 2017, just three days after the incident. Thankfully, there were few casualties as most of the 59 Tomahawk missiles fired didn’t make it to their intended targets, either being shot down or — very probably — taken off course by advanced Russian military electronic jamming equipment.

So the order of things was incident, accusations, bombing, and then release of “intelligence” based on the internet and information released by jihadists. All that was then needed to justify these actions retrospectively was the OPCW report, and this was subsequently released on 29th June 2017.

Peter Hitchens has dealt very thoroughly with that report (here), and the most crucial point about it is that it essentially broke the OPCW’s own rules by failing to establish chain of custody. Instead, the alleged evidence, rather than being gathered from the scene of the incident by the OPCW, was passed to them 2nd or perhaps even 3rd hand. And of course the reason for this is that its investigators were not able to enter the area where the incident was said to have taken place, because it was occupied by al-Qaeda affiliated organisations — the same people who presumably passed on the evidence which ended up in the OPCW’s hands.

Interestingly enough, the OPCW’s inspectors were invited by the Syrian Government to the al Shayrat airbase where the planes, which allegedly dropped chemical munitions, had taken off. But they didn’t take them up on that offer. Make of that what you will.

It is vital to the OPCW’s whole remit and credibility that they visit the sites of alleged attacks in order to secure evidence under full chain of custody. Where they are unable to do this, they should simply say so and refuse to pronounce confidently on what happened. Yet despite not having visited either Khan Sheikhoun, or the al Sharyat airbase, and despite not having full chain of custody, a subsequent report released in October 2017 did indeed pronounce confidently:

“Based on the foregoing, the Leadership Panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017.”

Ignoring its own guidelines to produce such a confident conclusion is enough by itself to call into question the organisation’s impartiality and credibility. But whatever credibility the organisation still possessed after this has now been torn to shreds by the recent leak of a Fact Finding Mission (FFM) Engineering Assessment in the case of another alleged chemical attack, this time in Douma last year.

As you will hopefully recall, the town of Douma was about to be retaken by the Syrian Government from the jihadists who controlled it. Shortly before it was retaken, an alleged chemical incident occurred, in which some 35 civilians were said to have died. The Western powers immediately jumped on it, accusing the Syrian Government of responsibility, and photographs of two canisters allegedly containing a toxic substance, which it was said were dropped from Syrian aircraft, were shown around the world as if supporting the claim.

We can now be confident that the claim is false. What is more, it appears that the OPCW has known full well that the claim is false, but has said nothing publicly about it. According to the FFM Engineering Assessment dated February 2019, the scenario of the canisters being dropped by aircraft is implausible:

“At this stage the FFM engineering sub-team cannot be certain that the cylinders at either location arrived there as a result of being dropped from an aircraft. The dimensions, characteristics and appearances of the cylinders and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder having been delivered from an aircraft. In each case the alternative hypothesis produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.

In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft [my emphasis].”

You can read more about this by going to the site of the group to whom this report was leaked (here) and also to Peter Hitchens’s blog, where he reports on his interactions with the OPCW, which unwittingly confirm the authenticity of the FFM report (here).

The OPCW’s final report on the Douma incident makes no reference to this FFM Engineering report. Why not? The only reasonable conclusion is that it was omitted because its inclusion would have totally undermined the narrative tirelessly propagated by the Governments of the United States, United Kingdom and France, as well as the entirety of the Western mainstream media (Global Pravda), and so would have shown the actions of those countries to be utterly immoral, illegal and reckless.

And so one cannot help but think that:

A) The OPCW has been utterly compromised and/or pressurised by those same Governments and

B) A certain individual or individuals in the organisation has been disturbed enough by this to take the risk of leaking information to expose the truth.

It is a solemn and sobering fact that the reaction to the Douma incident could very well have led to a conflict between the United States and Russia. In the aftermath, when the Unites States, the United Kingdom and France were all releasing statements of their intentions, the Russian military warned in no uncertain terms that if the missiles were targeted towards their servicemen, they would not only destroy the missiles but the carriers from which they were fired. They were deadly serious. I have heard unconfirmed rumours that they had MiG-31s loaded with the new hypersonic Kinzhal missiles in the area, ready to sink the vessels firing the missiles should they feel that their military personnel were under threat.

Thankfully there are still some minds left in the Pentagon that are not intoxicated by power, and — so I hear — General James “Mad Dog” Mattis in particular, the then Secretary of Defense, was instrumental in turning what looked like it would be a massive bombardment, possibly targeting areas where Russian servicemen were located, to a much smaller 100-odd missiles, mostly token shots into non-strategic sites, the majority of which were shot down. In other words, Mattis and co may well have averted World War III, but did so in a way that allowed the warmongering leadership of the three nations to save face in their illegal action.

The OPCW’s credibility as an impartial international organisation now lies in tatters. Both the Khan Sheikhoun report with its conclusions without chain of custody, and now even more so the Douma report, which failed to include expert evidence that contradicted its public conclusions, now stand as testimony against the trustworthiness of the organisation. It hardly needs to be said that this is a great shame, not just for international relations in general, but also for those many people who work for it who are undoubtedly still committed to scientific enquiry and impartial judgement.

I cannot leave this piece without asking questions about the other major cases of late involving the OPCW, namely the Salisbury and Amesbury poisonings. In both incidents, the OPCW did not release final reports to the public, but a summary of their findings, which you can find here and here. I must say I have never been particularly convinced by these documents. In both cases, the language always struck me as being somewhat evasive.

For instance, neither Summary actually names the substance involved. In fact, in neither case does it confirm the use of a nerve agent. Point one in the summary of the Salisbury case states the following:

“The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland requested technical assistance from the OPCW Technical Secretariat (hereinafter “the Secretariat”) under subparagraph 38(e) of Article VIII of the Chemical Weapons Convention in relation to an incident in Salisbury on 4 March 2018 involving a toxic chemical — allegedly a nerve agent — and the poisoning and hospitalisation of three individuals. The Director-General decided to dispatch a team to the United Kingdom for a technical assistance visit (TAV).”

Allegedly a nerve agent? Which one? Do we find out? Not a bit of it. Point number 10 states the following:

“The results of analysis by the OPCW designated laboratories of environmental and biomedical samples collected by the OPCW team confirm the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury and severely injured three people.”

Confirm the findings of the United Kingdom? Which United Kingdom? The Government of the United Kingdom? The intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom? The scientists at Porton Down in the United Kingdom? This is important. The fact is that none of these entities has ever stated what that substance actually is. Instead, they have continued to use the slippery word “Novichok”, but since this is simply a word meaning “newcomer”, and since it doesn’t refer to a substance but rather a group of substances, and since the group of substances falling under the “Novichok” umbrella has never been properly defined and is elastic enough to include pretty much anything and everything the accusing authorities want it to mean, it is, to all intents and purposes, meaningless.

Which is almost certainly why the OPCW not only avoids referring to it in its Summary as “Novichok”, and also why they also fail to confirm it was actually a nerve agent, referring to it throughout as a “toxic chemical”. And whilst they say that it was the same “toxic chemical” identified by the United Kingdom, because the United Kingdom has never publicly identified the substance, this is essentially circular argumentation. Indeed, it reads more like obfuscation than scientific precision.

In the summary of the Amesbury case, things get even more suspect. Again, the phrase “toxic chemical” is used throughout, and again there is no mention of “Novichok” much less the precise type. Like Salisbury, there is only one mention of the word “nerve agent”, but this time it is very odd:

“The toxic chemical compound, which displays the toxic properties of a nerve agent, is the same toxic chemical that was found in the biomedical and environmental samples relating to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Mr Nicholas Bailey on 4 March 2018 in Salisbury (S/1612/2018, dated 12 April 2018) [my emphasis].”

Which displays the toxic properties of a nerve agent? What is that supposed to mean? Isn’t this a mighty strange way of referring to an apparently identified nerve agent?

Think about it. If you tested a substance in a laboratory and found it to be sulphuric acid, and if you were then writing a report about it, would you say that “it is an acid” or that it “displays the properties of an acid?” If you were to write that the substance you had found “displays the properties of acid,” and you never actually gave it a name, my reaction would be to assume that it was something a bit like acid, but not actually acid itself.

It might be argued that since the substance was not on the OPCW database, they simply refer to it as “displaying the properties of a nerve agent.” But this won’t do. The United Kingdom assured the world that it was a nerve agent, and despite inferring that only one country possessed it, they somehow managed to identify it within a day of the initial incident in Salisbury. So why does the OPCW appear to hedge its bets and only say that it “displays the properties of a nerve agent?”, rather than “it is a nerve agent”? I may be wrong, but it seems to me that this statement is more likely the result of compromise between factions in the OPCW, than it is a statement of scientific certainty.

Another very suspect issue in the Summary of the Salisbury report is the fact that it does not mention where the OPCW team conducted its sampling. It is extremely vague, simply stating:

“The team was able to conduct on-site sampling of environmental samples under full chain of custody at sites identified as possible hot-spots of residual contamination. Samples were returned to the OPCW Laboratory for subsequent analysis by OPCW designated laboratories.”

Sites identified as possible hotspots? Such as? We aren’t told, which is very odd, because you might assume that a vital part of the mission would include establishing where the poison was located, and where it was initially placed. But for this we have to turn to the letter sent to the Secretary General of NATO by the UK’s head of national security, Sir Mark Sedwill. Here’s what he said:

“DSTL [Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down] scientific analysis found that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned using a specific Novichok nerve agent. OPCW’s analysis confirmed the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical. This was found in environmental samples taken at the scene and in biomedical samples from both Skripals and police sergeant Nick Bailey, the first responder.

DSTL established that the highest concentrations were found on the handle of Mr Skripal’s front door. These are matters of fact. But, of course, the DSTL analysis does not identify the country or laboratory of origin of the agent used in this attack.”

According to Mr Sedwill, the highest concentrations of the toxic chemical were found on the handle of Mr Skripal’s front door. But crucially he states that this was established by DSTL, and he does not mention that this was confirmed by the OPCW. So did the OPCW visit the house and swab the door? If not, why not? Surely if the DSTL had already established the door handle as the place with the highest concentration of the substance, then you’d expect the OPCW to have visited the house, and that they would have included a mention of the door handle as being the place with the highest concentrations of the “toxic chemical” in their Summary. But they do not, talking instead about “possible hotspots”. On the other hand, if they did visit it, is it credible that they would have asked no serious questions about why the house had not been sealed off in the aftermath of the incident, and whether anyone had been in and out of the house after the alleged poisoning?

Had they asked that question, the honest answer would have been of course be yes, people did go in and out, and they did so unprotected. Here’s what Karen Gardner, a reporter for BBC Radio Wiltshire, said in her broadcast from outside Mr Skripal’s house on 6th March 2018 (two days after the incident):

“It’s a well-kept house, it’s got a horse shoe on the front door, beautifully presented bay trees in pots in the side of the windows. At the moment there’s quite a lot of activity. When I arrived, there were six or seven police officers and PCSOs coming out of the door. Some of those have left, a couple more have arrived. There is a visible presence outside the house, and severe frowning when I walk too close. A lot of the windows are open and I did see coffee flasks and provisions and empty boxes and things brought out, so it looks like there was a lot of activity late last night overnight [my emphasis].”

In a follow up report to mark the one year anniversary of the case, she had this to say:

“When I was here a year ago, I watched Wiltshire police officers with no or minimal protective clothing going in and out that front door. They were carrying coffee flasks. They appeared to have had refreshments in the house overnight. That was two days after the Skripals had collapsed, at the point the Met had taken over the investigation, shouldn’t those officers have been better protected?

That last question is the wrong one. It is not “shouldn’t they have been better protected”, but rather “given that they weren’t protected, how on earth did they not become contaminated by the substance which was apparently on the door handle and which, according to the OPCW, was high purity, persistent and resistant to weather?”

Let’s not beat about the bush here. Unless the laws of science were suspended in Salisbury during the month of March 2018, the idea that a toxic chemical was placed on the door handle on 4th March, that police officers entered the house after that time, and then weeks later the substance was found at the door in high purity, persistent and weather resistant form, as the OPCW claimed, is fairyland. Perhaps this is why the OPCW report fails to mention where the samples were taken, much less that the highest quantities of the substance were apparently on the door handle and door. But it seems to me that as an organisation with a remit to investigate such incidents, it has failed to ask even the most basic questions about the aftermath, and it has failed to use precise language about the substance and the locations where it was found. One can’t help but ask why this is.

As an aside, the BBC has announced that it is to make a drama about the case fairly soon. Quite apart from anything, this is plain wrong, since the investigation into the case is still ongoing. But I must say I look forward to that bit where the unprotected officers with their coffees and takeaway pizzas manage to get into the house via the door, but without using the door handle, which as you will be aware is normally a necessary part of getting in and out of houses.

In summary, suspicions that the OPCW has now been fatally compromised, utterly politicised and cannot be relied upon to be impartial, which surfaced during the Khan Sheikhoun incident, have now been shown to be absolutely true by the Douma case. Given that this is so, and given the wishy-washy, round the houses language used in their reports into Salisbury and Amesbury, why should anyone believe that this organisation has been impartial and thorough in these cases, or that they will be so in any future cases?

May 18, 2019 - Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | ,

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