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OPCW insiders slam ‘compromised’ new Syria chemical weapons probe

Current and former staff members of the OPCW have denounced the organization’s IIT report alleging Syrian government sarin use at Ltamenah, criticizing its reliance on rumor, hearsay, “scientifically flawed” claims and the influence of unqualified, secret “experts” aligned with the Western-backed opposition.

by OPCW Insiders

On April 8, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons released a report by its newly formed Investigation and Identification Team, a unit ostensibly established to identify alleged perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The IIT investigation examined three alleged incidents in the Syrian town of Ltamenah in March 2017. It concluded “that there are reasonable grounds to believe” that the Syrian army committed a sarin attack in two of the incidents, and a chlorine attack in the third.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the IIT probe, calling it “the latest in a large and growing body of evidence that the Assad regime uses chemical weapons attacks in Syria as part of a deliberate campaign of violence against the Syrian people. The United States shares the OPCW’s conclusions.

But missing from Pompeo’s remarks and the ensuing U.S. media coverage across the spectrum is the crisis of credibility consuming the OPCW and its senior leadership. The IIT report’s tenuous conclusion “that there are reasonable grounds to believe” the official version of events closely resembles the conclusion of an earlier OPCW report that is now the subject of major controversy and derision. A series of leaks show that OPCW leaders suppressed the findings of inspectors who probed another much more consequential alleged Syrian chemical attack, in the city of Douma in April 2018, which triggered US airstrikes.

The evidence collected in Douma undermined allegations of Syrian government guilt and strongly suggested a staged event by the armed opposition. Leaked internal OPCW emails and documents show that the Douma investigators protested the censorship of their findings, setting off an unfolding cover-up scandal that has called the OPCW’s impartiality into question.

The Grayzone has published a series of leaks from the OPCW’s Douma scandal, and plans to reveal new material that further undermines the official story. The article below reveals how the dissension within the OPCW ranks extends well beyond the Douma investigation.

Here, OPCW insiders offer a withering critique of the IIT report, blasting it as another hyper-politicized piece of bunk. The Grayzone can verify that the authors represent the view of, at minimum, a small group of current and former OPCW officials who took part in its drafting and review.

Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté, The Grayzone

Part 5 - Behind-the-scenes “experts” and the staging argument

We have noted that the IIT has lent some credence to the question of “staging” in their first report. Or so they appear to have done, with some convincing-sounding arguments about how and why they consider it unlikely that the alleged chemical attacks had been staged. Upon closer examination, however, it is clear that the IIT report raises the topic of staging with the express purpose of dismissing it, again relying upon their battery of behind-the-scenes “experts”. This represents another one of the more flawed scientific arguments in the IIT report.

Not much can be said about considerations of staging in the witness accounts and reports of medical treatment at hospitals, as these are essentially story-lines that cannot be properly corroborated anyway, seeing as medical records were not available. The main focus of the staging discussion, particularly in the cases of alleged use of sarin, thus relates to the items brought by opposition forces to hand over to the FFM in Turkey. These are the soil and gravel samples and metal fragments that were used, with advice from the IIT’s selected “experts”, to confirm their belief that the Syrian Arab Air Force had dropped M4000 aerial bombs containing sarin. 

Never mind that taking seriously the handing over to the FFM of “evidence” by opposition forces – with some items delivered almost a year after the alleged incident – is somewhat dubious. Let’s consider the staging possibilities.

Firstly, in evaluating the results of analysis on soil samples and metal fragments, the IIT reported the “sarin in question is consistent with the sarin of the stockpile and the production processes of the Syrian Arab Republic. In particular, the IIT concluded that the chemical profile (i.e., a collection of chemicals) of the sarin used in Ltamenah on March 24 and 30, 2017 strongly correlates to the chemical profile expected for sarin produced through a binary reaction in which the key binary component (DF) is manufactured via routes, as well as by using precursors and raw materials, pursued by the Syrian Arab Republic in its sarin programme.

This, if intended to support the assertion that Syrian sarin was implicated, or that staging by the use of “spiking” chemicals was unlikely, is bordering on ludicrous. What possible reason could there be for the staging organizers, supporters (or advisors) to provide anything other than chemical samples carefully prepared by using the same precursors and sarin synthesis pathway as the well-known Syrian method? That chemistry has for many years been no secret; it is universally known and (apart from the use of hexamine as the acid scavenger) one of the “standard” ways of making sarin. That immediately defeats the “chemical marker” argument presented by the IIT. It is quite staggering that this argument has been taken seriously by any qualified or competent scientists.

Similarly, in the provision of metal fragments, there may well have been some work involved in sourcing the right bits and pieces to create a convincing scene. There are chopped-up M4000 aerial bomb graveyards in a few locations in Syria, as a result of their destruction of unfilled chemical munitions, part of the procedures required after they acceded to the Convention in late 2013. There is also the possibility of some bits and pieces of “leftovers,” perhaps also from exploded or non-functioning “repurposed” M4000 bombs. (The Syrians had explained that some empty M4000 bombs, normally designed for chemical use, had prior to accession been taken away from the chemical arsenal, to be filled with high explosive for use as conventional munitions).

An inconvenience that would have precluded the placement of larger parts, is that (assuming no intact  and undeclared bombs were still around) the bomb bodies had each been cut into three segments and the stirrers were cut up as part of the destruction of chemical weapons verified during the UN-OPCW Joint Mission. This may be the explanation why in all three cases (Ltamenah 24 and 30 March 2017, and Khan Sheikhoun 4 April 2017) the only metal fragments in question were small scattered odds and ends. 

So what happened to the main remaining parts of the bombs in such cases? In other words, were the scattered bits and pieces, representing a tiny part of the whole M4000 aerial bomb, all that were available for strategic placement by the opposition forces (because that was all that was given to them) – and thus all that was recovered despite their apparent diligence in scouting the area? 

It is well known that the relatively small burster charge on this type of munition does not shatter or vaporise the entire object (as appears to be suggested by the IIT experts), and would not be expected to leave just a few isolated smallish fragments that are assessed as “could have come from a M4000 aerial bomb”. That certainly smacks of staging; seemingly effective but limited by the materials at hand.

One could argue that the IIT’s entire logic of staging is somewhat self-defeating, particularly it’s reasoning around the effort required and the lack of propaganda “publicity” for the opposition forces (again, a line of argument raised by the IIT in their report). If the staging was done by or on behalf of the opposition forces, supported (as has been alleged) by Western agents, in order to provide a justification and perhaps prompt Western intervention, one would expect that the outcome that has been achieved with the IIT report has therefore been successful for both parties. To recognize this, one only has to consider some of the renewed calls in the media for military intervention in Syria in the wake of the IIT report.

And if, as alleged – and, it seems, proven – Western NGOs and intelligence personnel were operating in Syria, surely they would have provided the appropriate level of technical expertise to ensure the staging was successful? For example, looking at some other questionable “compelling evidence”, selecting or describing the type of crater required, and providing a fuse that had the appearance of having functioned “normally,” as of course this would all be reflected in the guidance, briefings and coordination provided to the opposition forces to give to the FFM.

One could even argue that the staging had elements of a self-contained loop, with the same (or similar) Western/NATO experts being involved in setting up the scenario as those providing later assessments for the IIT. Is that not a worthwhile endeavor in furthering the foreign policy agenda? It appears to have worked.

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