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OPCW Douma Docs

All Releases

OPCW-DOUMA - Release Part 4

27 December, 2019

Today WikiLeaks releases more internal documents from the OPCW regarding the investigation into the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018.

One of the documents is an e-mail exchange dated 27 and 28 February between members of the fact finding mission (FFM) deployed to Douma and the senior officials of the OPCW. It includes an e-mail from Sebastien Braha, Chief of Cabinet at the OPCW, where he instructs that an engineering report from Ian Henderson should be removed from the secure registry of the organisation:

“Please get this document out of DRA [Documents Registry Archive]... And please remove all traces, if any, of its delivery/storage/whatever in DRA”.

The main finding of Henderson, who inspected the sites in Douma and two cylinders that were found on the site of the alleged attack, was that they were more likely manually placed there than dropped from a plane or helicopter from considerable heights. His findings were omitted from the official final OPCW report on the Douma incident.

Another document released today is minutes from a meeting on 6 June 2018 where four staff members of the OPCW had discussions with “three Toxicologists/Clinical pharmacologists, one bioanalytical and toxicological chemist” (all specialists in chemical weapons, according to the minutes).

The purpose of this meeting was two-fold. The first objective was

“To solicit expert advice on the value of exhuming suspected victims of the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018”. According to the minutes, the OPCW team was advised by the experts that there would be little use in conducting exhumations. The second point was “To elicit expert opinions from the forensic toxicologists regarding the observed and reported symptoms of the alleged victims.”

More specifically,

“...whether the symptoms observed in victims were consistent with exposure to chlorine or other reactive chlorine gas.”

According to the minutes leaked today: “With respect to the consistency of the observed and reported symptoms of the alleged victims with possible exposure to chlorine gas or similar, the experts were conclusive in their statements that there was no correlation between symptoms and chlorine exposure”.

The OPCW team members wrote that the key “take-away message” from the meeting was

“that the symptoms observed were inconsistent with exposure to chlorine and no other obvious candidate chemical causing the symptoms could be identified”.

The third document is a copy of OPCW e-mail exchanges from 20 to 28 August 2018 discussing the meeting with the toxicologists.

The fourth document is an e-mail exchange from the end of July 2018 where it is stated that the eight OPCW inspectors deployed to Douma during the fact finding mission (except one, a paramedic) should be excluded from discussions on the project.

Joseph A. Farell contributed to this Article.

OPCW-DOUMA - Release Part 3

14 December, 2019

Today WikiLeaks releases more documents showing internal disagreement within the OPCW about how facts were misrepresented in a redacted version of a report on an alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria in April 2018.

Amongst these is a memorandum written in protest by one of the scientists sent on a fact finding mission (FFM) to investigate the attack. It is dated 14 March 2019 and is addressed to Fernando Arias, Director General of the organisation. This was exactly two weeks after the organisation published its final report on the Douma investigation.

WikiLeaks is also releasing the original preliminary report for the first time along with the redacted version (that was released by the OPCW) for comparison. Additionally, we are publishing a detailed comparison of the original interim report with the redacted interim report and the final report along with relevant comments from a member of the original fact finding mission. These documents should help clarify the series of changes that the report went through, which skewed the facts and introduced bias according to statements made by the members of the FFM.

The aforementioned memo states that around 20 inspectors have expressed concerns over the final FFM report, which they feel “did not reflect the views of the team members that deployed to Douma”. Only one member of the fact finding team that went to Douma, a paramedic, is said to have contributed to the final version of the report. Apart from that one person, an entirely new team was gathered to assemble the final report, referred to as the “FFM core team”.

This new team was staffed with people who “had only operated in country X”, according to the memorandum. It is not clear what country that refers to, except that it is presumably not Syria. It is possible, though only speculation, that country X refers to Turkey, as OPCW has sent teams into refugee camps there to interview survivors from Douma.

The author of the memorandum states that he was the one originally tasked with analysis and assessment of the two cylinders found on the scene of the alleged chemical attack. This was a task he undertook “in the understanding [he] was clearly the most qualified team member, having been to the location in Douma and because of [his] expertise in metallurgy, chemical engineering (including pressure vessel design), artillery and Defence R&D”. He continues: “In subsequent weeks I found that I was being excluded from the work, for reasons not made clear”.

The author explains that he had frequently asked to be updated on the progress of the final report and to be allowed to review the draft, but was turned down on both counts. “The response was utmost secrecy”.

Once the final report was released on the 1st of March 2019, it became clear that the conclusions of the report had changed significantly in the hands of the new “core” team that assembled it into its final form: “At the conclusion of the in-country activities in the Syrian Arab Republic, the consensus within the FFM team was that there were indications of serious inconsistencies in findings. After the exclusion of all team members other than a small cadre of members who had deployed (and deployed again in October 2018) to Country X, the conclusion seems to have turned completely in the opposite direction. The FFM team members find this confusing, and are concerned to know how this occurred.”

Towards the end of the memo he writes:

“In conclusion, I must stress that I hold no opinion, interest or strong views on the technical part of the matter, nor any interest in the political outcomes. My interest is in sound technical rigour; the science, engineering and facts will speak for themselves.”

WikiLeaks is releasing supporting documents that back up these claims in great technical detail, including the original interim report and appraisal of the changes each iteration went through.

Joseph A. Farell contributed to this Article.

Internal OPCW E-Mail

23 November, 2019

OPCW management accused of doctoring Syrian chemical weapons report

Wikileaks today publishes an e-mail, sent by a member of an OPCW fact-finding mission to Syria to his superiors, in which he expresses his gravest concern over intentional bias introduced to a redacted version of the report he co-authored.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons sent a team of experts to investigate allegations that a chemical attack took place in the Syrian city of Douma on the 7th of April 2018. The author of the e-mail was a member of that team and claims the redacted preliminary version of the report, misrepresents the facts he and his colleagues discovered on the ground. The e-mail is dated 22nd of June. It is addressed to Robert Fairweather, Chief of Cabinet, and forwarded to his deputy Aamir Shouket and members of the fact-finding mission to Douma.

He says this misrepresentation was achieved by selective omission, introducing a bias which undermines the credibility of the report. Further it is claimed that crucial facts, that have remained in the redacted version:

“...have morphed into something quite different to what was originally drafted.”

This is said to have been done at the behest of the Office of the Director General (a post that was held by Turkish diplomat Ahmet Üzümcü at the time, he has since been replaced by Spaniard Fernando Arias).

The attack in question was widely attributed to the Syrian Army, based on reports by rebel forces that were present in Douma at the time, and this assertion was backed up by the United States, British and French governments. These three countries carried out air strikes against Syrian government targets in response, on the 14th of April 2018. This was before the fact-finding team had gained access to the site in Douma, the mission there was delayed for nearly two weeks by entrenched rebel fighters and subsequent clashes between the rebels and government forces that moved into the area.

Upon arrival the team found much of the physical evidence, including the bodies of the deceased, was no longer available. It was alleged that 49 had died and up to 650 had been seriously affected by a weaponized chemical gas released in a specific area of rebel-held Douma on that day in April. Rebels claimed the gas came from cylinders dropped from aircraft, clearly implicating Syrian government forces who had complete air superiority.

The redacted report seemed to support these conclusions but the author of the released e-mail outlines some specific aspects of it which he considers: “particularly worrisome.”

Firstly, there is a statement in the redacted report. It states that there is sufficient evidence to determine the presence of “chlorine, or another reactive chlorine-containing chemical.”

The e-mail points out that this was:

“likely one or more chemicals that contain a reactive chlorine atom. Such chemicals could include… the major ingredient of household chlorine-based bleach. Purposely singling out chlorine gas as one of the possibilities is disingenuous.”

The redacted report also removed context from a claim in the original draft, which concerned the likelihood of the gas having emanated from cylinders found at the scene in Douma. The original text is said to have purposely emphasised that there was insufficient evidence to affirm this being the case. This is “a major deviation from the original report” according to the author.

He also cites problems with paragraph in the redacted version, which states:

”based on the high levels of various chlorinated organic derivatives detected in environmental samples”.

This is said to overstate the case. According to the e-mail:

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

One piece of evidence, which was shown on news networks across the world, was a video said to show victims being treated in a hospital in the aftermath of the attack in Douma. The symptoms shown were, however, not consistent with what witnesses reported seeing that day. A detailed discussion of this was apparently omitted from the redacted version of the OPCW report.

The e-mail states:

“Omitting this section of the report (including the Epidemiology which has been removed in its entirety) has a serious negative impact on the report as this section is inextricably linked to the chemical agent identified… In this case, the confidence in the identity of chlorine or any other choking agent is drawn into question precisely because of the inconsistency with the reported and observed symptoms. The inconsistency was not only noted by the fact-finding mission team, but strongly supported by three toxicologists with expertise in exposure to chemical warfare agents.”

Yet another point of contention is the placement and condition of the cylinders reported to have contained the chemical agent. It has been alleged that their condition may not be consistent with having been dropped from the air, compared to damaged in the immediate surrounding area. This was discussed in an unreleased engineering report from OPCW that was leaked and Wikileaks published in October 2019 and indicates it is unlikely the cylinders were air-dropped (see previous release: OPCW Whistleblower Panel on the Douma attack of April 2018)

Sections discussing this are largely absent from the redacted report. “This information was important in assessing the likelihood of the ‘presence’ of toxic chemicals versus the ‘use’ of toxic chemicals,” states the e-mail.

The author ends his letter with an appeal to the management to allow him to attach his differing observations to the document.

The annual conference of the states parties of the OPCW that is composed of representatives of all member states of the convention starts Monday November 25th in The Hague.

Media partnership and coordination: La Repubblica (Italy), Stundin (Iceland), Der Spiegel (Germany), Mail on Sunday (U.K.)

Joseph A. Farell contributed to this Article.

Leaked Documents

OPCW Whistleblower Panel on the Douma attack of April 2018

23 October, 2019

Today WikiLeaks publishes a statement made by a panel that listened to testimony and reviewed evidence from a whistleblower from the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) last week. To accompany this statement, Wikileaks is also publishing a previously leaked engineering assessment of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria on April 7th last year. This assessment was omitted in the final report by the OPCW, which does not support its findings.

WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson took part in the panel to review the testimony and documents from the OPCW whistleblower. He says: “The panel was presented with evidence that casts doubt on the integrity of the OPCW. Although the whistleblower was not ready to step forward and/or present documents to the public, WikiLeaks believes it is now of utmost interest for the public to see everything that was collected by the Fact Finding Mission on Douma and all scientific reports written in relation to the investigation.

We call out to people within the OPCW to leak these documents securely to us via wikileaks.org/#submit” One of the panel members was Dr José Bustani, the first Director-General of the OPCW, who concluded that: “The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had. I could make no sense of what I was reading in the international press. Even official reports of investigations seemed incoherent at best. The picture is certainly clearer now, although very disturbing”

In support of the OPCW’s original objectives, the panel called upon the organisation to re-establish its credibility and legitimacy by allowing ‘all inspectors who took part in the Douma investigation to come forward and report their differing observations in an appropriate forum of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention’

Joseph A. Farell contributed to this Article.