PAUL MALONE.- Doubts continue about the alleged Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack in 2018

Some 20 months after the alleged Syrian government toxic chemical weapons attack on Douma in April 2018 the evidence to back the claims of a gas attack has been blown apart.

The supposed attack prompted the United States, British and French governments to mount airstrikes on Syria on 14 April 2018.

When the US launched its airstrikes the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the US had “excellent intelligence” that sarin and chlorine gas had been used in attacks that killed between 40 to 45 people.

The US Defence Secretary James Mattis also claimed sarin or chlorine had been used.

The sarin claim was unequivocally rejected by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) Fact Finding Mission (FFM).

Sarin is an organophosophorous nerve agent. The Fact Finding Mission said bluntly that no organophosophorous nerve agents, or their degradation products, were detected.

But media, keen to find a chemical culprit to justify the airstrikes and damn the Assad regime, quickly seized on another FFM finding that “reactive chlorine” had been found at the site. Now a series of leaks from inside the OPCW have revealed the doctoring and spinning processes that took place to produce public reports to create this impression.

 The publicly released fact finding mission final report said:Based on the levels of chlorinated organic derivatives, detected in several environmental samples gathered at the sites of alleged use of toxic chemicals (Locations 2 and 4), which are not naturally present in the environment, the FFM concludes that the objects from which the samples were taken at both locations had been in contact with one or more substances containing reactive chlorine.”

Outlets such as The Guardian then reported: “The world’s chemical weapons watchdog has said that chlorine was used against the rebel-held Syrian town of Douma in 2018.”

But as a culprit, chlorine was always a second-best suspect. Chlorine is not a banned chemical weapon; it has every-day uses and can be found everywhere.

There were many sceptics who raised doubts about the claims of a gas attack. Foremost US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh challenged the chlorine claim saying that a chlorine bomb would be of little effect because chlorine spreads in the air too quickly.

The highly experienced British journalist Robert Fisk, who visited the Douma site shortly after the attack, concluded that there had not been a gas attack.

So what justified turning the fact finding mission’s statement that it had found “chlorinated organic derivatives” into evidence that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons?

What were the actual chlorine readings?

Initial news stories made no mention of the readings and for very good reason. They are nowhere to be found in the reports.

Now the leaks from within the OPCW — including the leak of the first report produced by the fact finding team that actually visited Douma — shed further light on the matter.

Two cylinders found at the site were said to provide the hard evidence of a chlorine attack.

But a leak in June this year of OPCW expert, Ian Henderson’s Engineering assessment of two cylinders found in the Douma incident, dated 27 February 2019 cast serious doubt on that claim. (See http://syriapropagandamedia.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Engineering-assessment-of-two-cylinders-observed-at-the-Douma-incident-27-February-2019-1.pdf )

South African ballistics expert Henderson considered two hypotheses: one that the cylinders had been dropped from aircraft; and the other that they had been manually placed at their locations.

He concluded: “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.”

His assessment was not included in the published OPCW reports. Even worse, Henderson who had worked for the OPCW for twelve years, was escorted out of his office.

His findings were however backed up by US ballistic missiles expert Theodore A. Postol, Emeritus Professor of Science and Technology at MIT, who examined the published data and concluded that the cylinder evidence was staged.

While ordering an investigation into the Henderson leak, the OPCW’s Spanish Director General, Fernando Arias, said the OPCW stood by its published findings.

Then last month (Nov 2019) another leak of an email called into question the way the OPCW presented the chlorine evidence.

The email https://wikileaks.org/opcw-douma/document/Internal-OPCW-E-Mail/ from OPCW member, Aamir Shouket to his OPCW superior Robert Fairweather, sent on 22 June 2018, took issue with changes made to the initial FFM’s report by the Office of the Director General.

Shouket had 25 years-experience in Pakistan’s diplomatic service, working on security policies, arms control and disarmament, before joining the OPCW.

Fairweather, a British representative, was Chief of Cabinet in the OPCW.

At the time the Director General was Ahmet Üzümcü, a Turkish career diplomat, who previously was Turkish consul in Aleppo, Syria and Ambassador to Israel. As a Turkish diplomat, he would have maintained Turkey’s hostile attitude to the Syrian government. But at the OPCW he would have been expected to be a neutral.

As a member of the FFM team Shouket expressed grave concern at changes to the team’s report that he believed had been made at the behest of the Office of the Director General. After reading the modified report he said he was “struck by how much it misrepresents the facts.”

“Many of the facts and observations outlined in the full version are inextricably interconnected and by selectively omitting certain ones, an unintended bias has been introduced into the report, undermining its credibility.”

The statement in the report that the team had sufficient evidence that chlorine, or another reactive chlorine-containing chemical was likely released from cylinders was “highly misleading and not supported by the facts.”

The only evidence was that some samples collected were in contact with a reactive chlorine but this could come from a number of sources including household chlorine-based bleaches.

He said the report’s statement that “high levels of various chlorinated organic derivatives” had been detected overstated the extent of the levels.

“They were, in most cases, present only in parts per billion range, as low as 1-2 ppb, which is essentially trace quantities.”

Since the leak of Shouket’s email all sorts of allegations and counter claims have bounced around the social media on the Douma incident.

A correspondent on the website Bellingcat https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2019/12/12/chlorines-unique-fingerprints-the-april-7-2018-douma-incident-through-a-chemistry-lens/ said the “misrepresentations” Shouket raised related to a redacted version of the FFM report that preceded the final FFM report by nine months. The language in the final report on the Douma did not contain such misrepresentations.

But the latest leaks reveal that a number of OPCW inspectors were concerned about the contents of the final report, dated 1 March 2019.

Two weeks later a memo to director general, Fernando Arias from a writer whose name has been redacted, but who had been on the Douma mission, stated that 20 inspectors were concerned about the situation.

The writer (probably Henderson) said that at the conclusion of the in-country activities in Syria the consensus within the Fact Finding Mission team was that there were serious inconsistencies in the findings. This conclusion “appears to have turned completely in the opposite direction [in the final published report]. The FFM team members find this confusing and are concerned to know how this occurred.”

In his email Shouket said the original draft discussed the inconsistency between the victims’ symptoms, as reported by witnesses, and the videos released by organisations such as the Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets.

Omitting this section — which included the epidemiology and called into question the identity of any choking agent — detracted from the quality of the report.

The leaked copy of this report (https://wikileaks.org/opcw-douma/document/FirstdraftInterimReport/FirstdraftInterimReport.pdf ) states: “The inconsistency between the presence of a putative chlorine-containing toxic choking or blood agent on the one hand and the testimonies of alleged witnesses and symptoms observed from video footage and photographs, on the other, cannot be rationalised.”

The 40 to 45 bodies seen in videos strewn on the floor of apartments within a few metres of an escape to un-poisoned or less toxic air “is at odds with intoxication by chlorine-based choking or blood agents, even at high concentrations.”

The fact finding team considered two possible explanations for the incongruity: A. The victims were exposed to another highly toxic chemical agent that gave rise to the symptoms observed and has so far gone undetected;

or B. The fatalities resulted from a non-chemical-related incident.

They stated “The team has insufficient evidence at this time to be able to formulate an authoritative conclusion in either regard.

If chlorine had been used as alleged, a required piece of evidence would be the detected chlorine measurements.

One internal email from another unknown sender to the OPCW inspector, Sami Barrek, a Tunisian analytical chemist, sent on 5 July 2018 made the point that referring to chlorine/chloride, while leaving out concentrations, would lead readers to arrive at a “simplistic conclusion” that there had been an attack.

Reading the final publicly released OPCW reports, I could not find any actual measurements. Perhaps I’d missed them, or maybe they are up on some website.

I followed conventional journalistic practice and contacted OPCW public affairs directly.

I asked:

Are the readings of chlorine found by your investigative team public?

If so, where are they to be found?

What specifically are the readings?

How much do they diverge from background readings?

After a few days I received a reply, but with no direct answer to my questions. Instead I got two links to OPCW statements. Neither of these show any chlorine measurements.

So it seems there is no publicly available data to back the claim that chlorine was found in concentrations that would confirm a chlorine gas attack.

There’s another oddity that struck me as I read the OPCW publicly released reports and looked at the photos. How were the two cylinders that were supposedly the “chlorine bombs” meant to work?

Both cylinders were found intact – dented but not shattered.

One was found by a “witness” at midnight on the day of the attack on a bed in a residential building “leaking” gas. The witness said the odour was said to be so strong that s/he could not stay in the room.

Could not stay in the room? Surely something more than that? These cylinders are said to be the source of a gas attack that killed many people.

And if the object was meant to gas people, would it not have been designed to burst or shatter on impact to release the toxic agent?

It now emerges that I was not alone in wondering about the cylinders. The members of the fact finding mission who actually visited Douma noted the “moderate damage to the cylinders allegedly dropped from an unknown height.”

They documented their doubts in their draft report. But these doubts were cut from the published reports.

Paul Malone is a journalist with over 30 years of experience having worked
for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial  Review and
the Canberra Times, where he was Political Correspondent for five years and
wrote a weekly column until late 2017.

print

Paul Malone is a journalist and author with over 30 years of experience having worked for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial  Review and the Canberra Times, where he was Political Correspondent for five years and wrote a weekly column until late 2017. His latest book Kill the Major – The true story of the most successful Allied guerrilla war in Borneo will be released in July

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11 Responses to PAUL MALONE.- Doubts continue about the alleged Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack in 2018

  1. Avatar Jerry Roberts says:

    I did not believe the Douma story from the outset because it would have been such a self-destructive move by the Syrian Government. Trump did not believe it either and tried to make his response as harmless as possible. This is indeed the era of fake news.

  2. Avatar David Macilwain says:

    As an online “journalist” who has visited Douma – just a month after it was liberated from Jaish al Islam and their White Helmeted helpers – and who has been struggling to get this false flag operation exposed by Australian media, both mainstream and independent, I am greatly encouraged by the author’s stubborn independence of thought and rigorous investigations. While he may have failed to sufficiently criticise the credentials of those who organised the hoax – the White Helmets and Bellingcat, the links supplied make it clear those credentials are well understood.
    I would just make a couple of extra points on what is involved here IMO. Although the US/CIA/Mossad are deeply involved in the war on Syria, it was the Brits who drove what happened in Douma – Le Mesurier and Eliot Higgins are MI6 operatives and the White Helmets were created by them and continue to be supported by the UK and its media – the BBC and Guardian.
    But Australia’s involvement is surely far greater than appears, something brought to the fore by the ‘contre-temps’ in the Gulf ‘maritime security’ war playing out right now. Just as the revealing truth about the OPCW fabrications has been ignored or suppressed (which?) by our state media, so they seem to have massaged away the fact that Japan is making a new relationship with Iran, China and Russia, sending naval assets to the Sea of Oman to protect Iranian oil shipments to Japan. Who exactly they will have to protect it from depends on what Australia does next.
    There was one minor point also missed by Paul Malone, which was that the Wikileaks information about the email to Bob Fairweather noted that Fairweather made the decision on what to put in the final report on the instruction of three US agents in his office. The significance of this deception is of course all the greater for the light it sheds on the equally fraudulent claims about the “Novichok poisoning” that were practically coincident with events in Douma – and closely connected.
    I hope that the author may be persuaded to submit a similar article to the mainstream media, and that they may come under some pressure to finally publish it, as well as asking appropriate questions of the government. It cannot be ruled out that the UK/US/France will try this same worn out trick yet again as they create another “humanitarian crisis” in Idlib, and the pretext for another last ditch attack on Syria.
    Apologies for submitting this comment so late in the year, but looking forward to yet more adventurous and serious journalism in the coming year.

    • Avatar Rhys Stanley says:

      Yes. We would all like Paul to have such an article published in the mainstream media. Sadly, there is little chance of finding any of our small number of media owners who would print it, given today’s climate.
      It would seen the Murdoch and his rightwing US and Israeli cronies are noticeably expanding their influence by avoiding anything that reflects badly on any subject involving US and Australian military involvements, one and the same since WWII.
      As for our other publishers, they also are changing and conforming to the dictates of governments. An example would be The Guardian and their disgraceful treatment of Julian Assange, through straight out lies and innuendo. Yes, they gave tried to change their reporting on this UK / US disgrace but the damage they did was unforgivable, the last nail in their coffin. in my book.

      So good luck. We would all like to see the matter given some clean air. As has been stated, another false flag.

      Thanks.

  3. Ramesh Thakur Ramesh Thakur says:

    Coincidentally, this from The Print, one of India’s leading online news portals, today:
    https://theprint.in/opinion/rajeev-dhavan-to-malala-to-jnu-v-c-the-15-biggest-intellectual-disappointments-of-2019/342399/

    Eliot Higgins & Bellingcat: Nobody has done more to bring open-source intelligence (OSINT) into the limelight than British blogger and citizen journalist Eliot Higgins and his organisation Bellingcat – be it precise geolocation of tanks and armour during the Russian intervention in Ukraine, or the chemical attacks in Ghouta during the Syrian Civil War in 2013. By 2014, of course, the entire Bellingcat narrative of a watertight case against Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons came undone. Eliot, who has no formal training on any of the subjects he writes on, was called out on several scores by MIT professors Theodore Postol and Richard Lloyd. But his celebrity went unabated, with several publications quoting him and Bellingcat without question, despite their lack of formal training. However, 2019 is when things gathered steam over the OPCW report on the 2018 chemical attacks in Douma, Syria. Turns out, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons relied on Bellingcat over its own investigators and with Bellingcat unable to substantiate its views, the OPCW resorted to fudging evidence.

  4. Avatar Andrew Glikson says:

    False flags have become the norm, rather than an exception, in a modern world dominated by an indiscriminate or hired media.

  5. Avatar Andrew Glikson says:

    False flags have become the norm, rather than an exception, in a modern world doinated by an indiscriminate or hired media.

  6. Avatar James O'Neill says:

    This episode is disgraceful on a number of levels. After the Douma attack, the US, UK and France bombed Syrian sites before there had been any proper investigations, let alone definitive results. The OPCW inspectors carried out an analysis which demonstrated that the attack could not have occurred in the manner described. Their report was suppressed by the OPCW which has now discredited that organisation as an independent source.
    The Australian media have been happy to repeat the allegations of the “Bellingcat” organisation that is no more than a propaganda outlet for MI6. They have never reported the real findings of the OPCW investigation team, for the fact that when their data was leaked they still refused to report the facts.
    The investigative Australian writer Caitlin Johnstone has done sterling work in exposing the truth above this episode. Her investigation revealed that no mainstream western media outlet has published the real details about the OPCW investigator’s findings. Instead, they continue to repeat the manifestly false version of events promoted by Bellingcat et al.
    This episode is a perfect example of why the western msm can no longer be trusted. It provides an insight into the true motives of the western attack on Syria, in which Australia continues to play its disgraceful role as America’s lackey,.

    • Avatar Simon Warriner says:

      And the unspoken collary to all this mainstream media lying is that our military personnel who put their bodies in harms way on our behalf are doing so as a result of LIES. LIES our politicians are either complicit in or too frigging stupid to recognise.

      Looking forward to a conversation with my ex military local member.

      The standard of car for our veterans needs to radically improve, or our politicians need to be replaced with sentient beings

  7. Avatar Rex Williams says:

    Lots of good information here, Paul.

    It is factual to say that the chemical attack was just another false flag by the false flag experts, the USA. How anyone can ever give credence to anything that the USA touched in the past or will touch in the future is beyond reason.

    * We have had the Gulf of Tonkin incident, disclosed as a false flag in the Pentagon Papers…..and a US war followed.
    These were the days of President Johnson, made famous by his acceptance of the USS Liberty incident, still a lingering sore for US military personel, when Johnson, firstly a friend and captive of Israel and secondly, the President of the USA, allowed a US ship to be torpedoed and strafed by Israel, without any retaliation for the deaths of so many US sailors, Israel knowing without any doubt that it was a US vessel. As Ariel Sharon stated in 2001, “don’t worry about American pressure on Israel, we, the Jewish people control America, and the Americans know it”, has been the accepted understanding since then. And that was in 2001.

    * WMD (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq …..and another US war followed. US chemical attacks in Fallujah, a special feature.

    * 9/11 and the great destruction that those well-trained amateur pilots caused and then, ……another US war followed and to this day, is actually still in progress, 18 years later. Why?
    Cynics and conspiracy theorists cannot point a bone at the USA there, surely, even though they now control the heroine trade…totally…(through the CIA’s total ownership and involvement) and have military bases there that are convenient to encircle Russia and China, and just for good measure, perhaps the world’s largest untouched reserves of precious metals like Lithium and the like.

    And just maybe, oil.

    Off the track a little. Did I forget the basis of this article? Syria. Oil, oil and more oil now under US / Israeli control, just like Libya, soon Yemen and hopefully with the help of an Israeli nuclear bomb, Iran. Syria of course is an important part of the grand plan, known as “Eretz Israel”, the long term plan for Israeli ownership of parts of Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, all of Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and a little piece of Turkey. Let’s not forget the oil reserves and the pipeline project running through Afghanistan from Turkmenistan to India, Pakistan, running alongside Iran, a large oil producer and Israel’s ‘bête noire’ in that part of the world and target #1 for the first of Israel’s 400 nuclear weapons.

    Is the picture a little clearer? The Grand Plan. The Israeli preoccupation for Middle East control, backed by the USA and of course, Australia through our lapdog foreign policy arrangements with the USA. Trump and Morrison. What a pairing.

    So anything that will enable the USA and its military to be able to do as Israel demands, will be done. Chemical gas attack? Easy. The USA has the runs on the board to prove it, so many times.

    Follow the money. Sorry, oil.

  8. Avatar Tony Kevin says:

    Welcome article. Perhaps in order to achieve publication in Australia, there were important omissions as to context:

    That the initial photographic etc evidence of improbable alleged aerial CW attack by Syrian forces on the people of Douma, a town about to be re-taken by government forces after a long rebel occupation, was provided to world media by the White Helmets, a now discredited ‘ humanitarian relief organisation’ working with the rebel forces and led by British mercenary and former intelligence officer James Le Mesurier, who has now apparently suicided)

    That the photographic etc evidence was accompanied by a fake news video narrative of the emergency treatment of children allegedly attacked by the poison gas : a story subsequently discredited by 12 year old Hassan Diab , who delivered in The Hague a quite different narrative to that presented by the White Helmets and accepted at the time by mainstream Western media.

    These facts reinforce Paul Malone’s scepticism about the official account, which OPCW executive and mainstream Western media still cling to , despite mounting facts to the contrary.,

    I would not call Paul Malone’s essay ‘ balanced’ – it is simply truthful.

  9. Avatar David Higginbottom says:

    Good balanced article.
    Why is this not being reported by any mainstream media?
    I am trying not to reach the conclusion that the media do not wish to raise questions about their previous stories – or maybe they don’t want to question a narrative held as “true”.

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