Tag Archives: Syria

Blatant misreporting of latest OPCW report on chemical weapons in Syria

BBC caught out promoting fake news about OPCW report

The Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reports no evidence of banned chemical weapons use by the Syrian government in Douma last April. This conflicts with the strong claims of NATO states and most of the mainstream media at the time. It also shows that the illegal missile attacks by France, UK and USA (FUKUS) on Syria at the time (see The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?) were completely unjustified.

While the NATO governments involved have yet to respond to the OPCW report (let alone make apologies for their actions) many mainstream media outlets seem determined to continue promoting fake news when it comes to Syria. Some major news outlets have completely misrepresented the OPCW findings.

OPCW has problems but got this one right

I have commented on some earlier OPCW reports on Syria and have found them unconvincing, biased or relying only on terrorist sources (see Another shonky OPCW chemical incident report on Syria and Chemical weapons use in Syria UN report flawed by political bias).

However, this one is a bit different. It is an interim report on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, last April. This incident got a lot of publicity with France, UK and USA declaring they had evidence which proved there had been an attack using sarin. This alliance (FUKUS) was sufficiently confident with their “intelligence” to order an illegal missile attack on several sites in Syria. (see The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?)

This interim report is also different because the area of alleged attack was soon liberated by Syria and Syria, together with Russian Military Police and the UN Office for Project Services, was able to stabilise the area and enable inspectors from the OPCW to take samples and interview people in the buildings which had allegedly been attacked. A big difference to earlier reports which had relied only on “open sources,” and the testimony and samples provided by the White Helmets – a group affiliated with the jihadists and which actively campaigns against the Syrian states and has a history of false reporting.

While this is only an interim report some conclusions are clear (paragraph 2.5 in Summary):

“No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties.”

Media coverage

I have yet to see any response from NATO governments, particularly those comprising the FUKUS attack group. A sharp contrast to their vociferous accusations at the time of the alleged incident.

However, it appears that much of the mainstream media, and some of the sources it relies on, will draw unwarranted conclusions from this interim report to support their narrative.  For example, Al Jazeera claims Interim OPCW report finds proof of chlorine used in Syria’s Douma.

That is an outright lie. It did not give any such proof or even make that claim.

There is also this from the BBC:

Again an outright lie – the report found nothing of the sort.

Reuters are going with Chemical weapons agency finds ‘chlorinated’ chemicals in Syria’s Douma. Mind you this headline is a “correction” – “(Corrects to “various chlorinated organic chemicals” instead of chlorine).” Technically correct but misleading.

Sky news is claiming Chemical attack confirmed in deadly Douma strikes, but OPCW finds no evidence of sarin. Again wrong. No evidence of sarin but also no evidence presented of any chemical attack at all.

ABC also misrepresented the OPCW report claiming Chlorine used in Syria’s Douma, no trace of nerve agent, Interim OPCW report finds.

The NZ Herald was more neutral in their report Watchdog reports on alleged Syria attack behind airstrikes.

On the other hand the Xinhua Chinese news agency correctly reported Various chlorinated organic chemicals found in samples from Douma attack sites: OPCW, and RT correctly reported Nerve agents not found in samples from Syria’s Douma – interim OPCW report saying (in its second sentence ““Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples” from two locations in the Damascus suburb of Douma.”

And I get the impression most of the “alternative” media sources I see on social media are reporting the OPCW findings correctly. So what was that about “Fake News” and the strong recommendations we get to wear blinkers so that we do not see alternative news sources?

Bellingcat also misrepresents findings

Eliot Higgins, who runs the Bellingcat organisation which provides “open source” information often used by western governments and media, also misrepresents the OPCW report. His organisation is responsible for initiating the story that the MH17 flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine by a Russian BUK unit especially imported for the occasion (and exported immediately afterwards).  Bellingcat is also responsible for many of the claims of chemical weapons used by the Syrian government.

Higgins tweeted:

What is the basis for misleading reports of chlorine use

The OPCW report mentions chlorine only twice – in this paragraph describing the original open source and media reporting of the alleged incident (paragraph 3.1 in Background):

So, no evidence of chlorine use found by the OPCW team. Those making this claim will point, in justification, to the fact that “chlorinated organic chemicals” were found at a few of the examined sites (paragraph 2.5 in Summary):

“Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from Locations 2 and 4, along with residues of explosive.”

Many of the commenters I have seen on social media who resort to this to prove their claims of chlorine use seem not to understand the chemical differences involved or to argue that traces of any chlorinated organic chemicals must mean chlorine had been present.

Surprisingly, the OPCW did not draw any conclusions from the presence of these chemicals and are still attempting to establish their significance. I would have thought their job was to show if the trace levels found were at all unusual for environmental samples.

As a chemist I do not find the OPCW detection of traces of these chemicals at all surprising. For example, the report mentions the presence of “dichloroacetic acid, trichloroacetic acid” in samples of concrete debris, wood fragments, a water tank wood support, and some clothing.  But these chemicals are common in drinking water and even groundwater (see the Background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality, Dichloroacetic Acid in Drinking-water ). Some of the chemicals found are common chlorinated compounds in treated wood (e.g. bornyl chloride and 2,4,6-trichlorophenol as mentioned in a footnote to Annex 3 of the OPCW interim report).

So, in fact, the identified chlorinated organic chemicals are what one may expect from such samples or especially samples taken from areas where explosives have been used.

This OPCW report is still of dubious scientific quality

I find a lot wrong with this OPCW report – but first the positive.

It followed (mostly) the OPCW guidelines for on-site inspection and sampling. This is a sharp contrast with the earlier OPCW reports on Syria where investigators relied on samples and testimony from jihadi affiliated groups like the White Helmets and their associates. This was possible because Douma had just been liberated and the Syrian Government and Russian Armed Forces made an immediate request for the OPCW to send their own observers to check media claims. (Although, given their willingness to trust jihadi-linked groups based in a terrorist-controlled area it does seem strange that the OPCW was unwilling to send their investigators to those areas and rely on terrorist guarantees for security in past investigations. Although, I am being sarcastic. Even in the case of Douma the OPCW team, was concerned about attacks from suicide bombers which seem to operate freely in the terrorist-held areas).

But have they learned?

In paragraph 5.1 describing their activities and timeline the OPCW say:

“Following reports in the media of the alleged incident on 7 April 2018, the Information Cell of the Secretariat immediately informed the FFM team and initiated a search of open-source information to assess the credibility of the allegation. The major sources comprised news media, blogs, and the websites of various non-governmental organisations. The assessment by the Information Cell was that the credibility of the allegation was high. Based on this information, the Director-General initiated an on-site investigation.”

Will the OPCW learn from this specific incident. In  previous reports they stopped at “The assessment by the Information Cell was that the credibility of the allegation was high” – and they would have this time of the Syrian, Russian and UN military had not provided them the security they required for onsite inspections.

The OPCW assessment was that the credibility of the jihadi-connected groups was “high.” Their own inspections showed they were mistaken. Will they be more careful with such claims in the future?

This question is important as NATO countries at the UN Security Council earlier this year effectively prevented adoption of mandatory on site inspections for UN-related chemical weapons investigations. At the OPCW the NATO countries have also pushed through a policy enabling the OPCW to go beyond its investigatory role and carry out a political role of apportioning blame.

The science is shonky

I find it incredible that the report should simply list identification of traces of chlorinated organic chemicals without either providing some sort of indication of the concentrations involved or comparing levels with measurements from  control samples – taken from areas outside the alleged attack area. This is a basic scientific mistake.

Those who wish to claim that the presence of chlorinated organics “proves” chlorine was used in this area could well be right. But only if the concentrations of these chemicals was much higher than normal for environmental samples.

I really can’t help thinking that this shoddy reporting of the science is a political trick enabling the report to be misrepresented. The OPCW is, after all, an international body and subject to the same sort of political manoeuvring we have come to expect from all such international bodies.

Interviews in country X!

The report states (paragraph 8.17:

“The FFM team interviewed a total of 34 individuals; 13 of these interviews were
conducted in Damascus and the remainder in Country X. Analysis of the testimonies is ongoing.”

Two issues for me here:

1: 13 interviews in Damascus – where most witness could have been found and 21 interviews in “Country x?” What this means is that more people from the defeated jihadi groups and their families were interviewed than those remaining in Douma who may have been less motivated to lie.

2: Country X! really? This is meant to be an intelligent report – not a spy thriller. There is absolutely no reason to be so coy about the location of the people interviewed. This is just childish.

I should note that the defeated “rebels”/terrorists and their families were given the opportunity to be transported to Idlib (still in terrorist hands). This has been a common feature of settlement agreements as areas are liberated. Of course, many choose to stay – even those who had been actively fighting with the militants. There is usually a provision for fighters to formalise their citizenship and even join the Syrian Army.

Many of the “rebel” fighters and members of affiliated organisations travel from Idlib into neighbouring Turkey – and further on. Why is the OPCW afraid to reveal the location of their interviewees in Turkey or other countries? Are they concerned this might reflect on the reliability of their testimony?

The warehouse and chemical production facility.

The Syrian government also asked the OPCW to investigate a chemical production facility and warehouse they had found deign liberation of East Ghouta and Douma. They believe these had been sued by terrorists to manufacture chemical contain weapons. (Similar facilities had been found in East Aleppo where terorists appeared to be adding chemicals to projectiles used in their “hell cannons.”

Only one paragraph was devoted to this inspection – paragraph 8.16: Warehouse and facility suspected of producing chemical weapons:

“At the warehouse and the facility suspected by the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic of producing chemical weapons in Douma, information was gathered to assess whether these facilities were associated with the production of chemical weapons or toxic chemicals that could be used as weapons. From the information gathered during the two on-site visits to these locations, there was no indication of either facility being involved in the production of chemical warfare agents or toxic chemicals for use as weapons.”

That is all – no details. No inventory of chemicals held at the sites. No sign of what the warehouse and production facility was actually used for.

Now, I can accost the Syrians may have been completely wrong in their suspicions about these sites – after all that assessment was made by military officers on the ground in the heat of battle, not chemical weapons experts. But I find the lack of information frustrating, even suspicious.

Were any cylinders of chlorine present at these sites. After all, if politically motivated commenters and media wish to misinterpret the presence of normal traces of chlorinated organic chemicals in collected samples why should they not also be forced to consider stocks of chlorine held in terrorist controlled areas -even if their declared use was innocent.

Conclusions

At last, and OPCW report on Syria actually based on factual evidence, the samples and interviews collected by the OPCW on site. A great advance over earlier reports based on “evidence” from terrorist-connected sources and social media or “open sources.”

But I wish the OPCW was more serious in reporting their scientific findings. Reporting traces of chlorinated organic chemicals without any indication of concentrations and comparison with normal environmental samples is shoddy work laying their information wide open for misrepresentation and distortion. Given the current geopolitical struggles and the way international organisations can be manipulated, I can’t help feeling this shoddy reporting was possibly intentional.

Despite these weaknesses, I think this report shows what is possible. It does show that the military action taken by FUKUS last April was not only illegal it was either based on poor intelligence and, more likely, based on claims these governments knew to be false. It is always good to see such blatant political and military hypocrisy exposed.

However, the weaknesses in the report show that more must be done to improve the scientific quality of OPCW work and reduce political influence on that work. This aspect is important because the recent changes giving OPCW a role in apportioning blame for alleged attacks open up that organisation to being so politicised it will lose all credibility.

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Another shonky OPCW chemical incident report on Syria

Collection of samples from the site of an alleged chemical attack in Saraqib, Syria, by a White Helmets “sample collection team” affiliated with “rebels”/terrorists in the area.  OPCW Report on Saraqib incident.

Last week the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) published a new report on a chemical incident in Syria (see OPCW Fact-Finding Mission Confirms Likely Use of Chlorine in Saraqib, Syria). It claims “that chlorine was likely used as a chemical weapon on 4 February 2018 in Saraqib, Idlib Governorate, Syrian Arab Republic.”

Yet again this very political word “likely.” Unfortunately, the report displays the same sloppiness and lack of adherence to the OPCW’s own procedures which caused earlier reports to be discredited (see for example Chemical weapons use in Syria UN report flawed by political bias). In particular, no on-site inspections, no authentication of interviews or samples, and reliance on “rebel”/terrorist affiliated groups for their information and samples.

No, this is not the report we are waiting on – one dealing with the highly publicised alleged “chemical incident” in Duoma more recently. I certainly hope that one will be better – and the chances are it will because the OPCW was forced to handle this situation in a more honest way.

Whereas the Syrian government and the Russian armed forces asked the OPCW to send a team to Duoma to make its own investigations, the OPCW investigation of the Saraqib incident did not involve any on site inspection or sampling. The Saraqib report bases its conclusions simply on “open source” material and on samples and testimony provided by the jihadi-affiliated “White Helmets” (which unethically calls itself “Syrian Civil Defence”). For example –  see this table extracted from the OPCW report.

Readers can download the OPCW report here – Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria Regarding an Alleged Incident in Saraqib, Syrian Arab Republic on 4 February 2018.

According to the Saraqib report (paragraph 4.3):

“The FFM (Fact-finding Mission) noted that during an investigation, complete, direct, and immediate access to the site of an allegation provides the greatest opportunity to collect information.”

Of course, this is the only way for such a FFM to produce a credible conclusion. This is particularly relevant to this specific case because instead of following its own recommended procedures for examination and establishing lines of custody the FFM relied on:

“examination of existing reports; assessment and corroboration of background information; conduct of interviews with relevant medical care providers, alleged casualties, and other individuals linked to the reported incident; review of documentation and records provided by interviewees; analysis of the signs and symptoms of victims as reported by interviewees; and receipt of environmental samples, for subsequent analysis.”

In practice the FFM report is simply based on testimony and samples provided by the “White Helmets/”Syrian Civil Defence” – a controversial organisation closely linked to the jihadis with a political policy of calling for NATO intervention in Syria and a record of falsifying video reports (see my previous articles on the “White Helmets”).

Paragraph 4.6 illustrates the complete reliance on such suspect sources:

“Through liaison with representatives of several NGOs, including Same Justice/Chemical Violations Documentation Center of Syria (CVDCS), the Syrian Civil Defence – also known as White Helmets – (SCD) and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), the FFM contacted witnesses and confirmed their willingness to provide testimony and potential evidence. Furthermore, the FFM coordinated with the NGOs to organise movement of the witnesses. “

Why can’t  (or won’t) Syrian opposition provide security guarantees for OPCW?

Of course, they justified this by claiming “various constraints, mainly related to security, have not enabled immediate access to sites by the FFM.” But there is no sign that the OPCW attempted to get security guarantees or even contacted the military units in the area. Nor is there any sign that the NGOs they relied on (the White Helmets and associated groups who are linked with the military groups in the area) made any attempt on their behalf to arrange for a site visit.

Duoma was also in a military active area. Syrian and Russian armed forces, together with a UN security team, provided security guarantees for the OPCW investigation team. A similar situation could have been organised in Saraqib – after all the area was under the military control of the jihadi militants.

In Duoma, Russian chemical weapons specialists carried out their own investigation and sampling – but, correctly, considered that an OPCW investigation would be far more acceptable to world opinion. The same procedure was used in the OPCW investigation of the Salisbury alleged chemical incident. Although they took subsamples of material collected by the UK authorities the OPCW team also took their own samples. This means that their report, if we ever get to see it (see OPCW on Salisbury poisoning – one step forward, two back?) can be more authoritative than one relying simply on UK samples.

Why should the OPCW consider the jihadi affiliated groups in Saraqib any more respectable or acceptable than the Russian (or UK) experts? If they had produced a report on Duoma using only Russian-supplied samples and testimony they would have been laughed at. Why do they expect us to accept an even less reliable or objective report for Saraqib?

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Mainstream media-political alliance gets vindictive

Hala Jaber, highly Respected Middle East correspondent and author of  The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman’s Fight to Save Two Orphans.” Image Credit: Goodreads.

Several things have come together in the last few months – centred around news about the war in Syria, chemical weapons, the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury and the ongoing geopolitical information war:

  • Government propaganda and claims have become more aggressive – particularly from the UK and USA;
  • Syria and chemical weapons have become central to the Russophobic arguments of these governments;
  • The mainstream media has enthusiastically and unquestioningly promoted these claims;
  • Alternative media, journalists and critics of this propaganda and government policies are being singled out for personal attack, and
  • Readers and viewers are aggressively being directed away from alternative news sources.

OK,  readers here will have picked up on the tone of some of my recent posts so will not be surprised that I think this way. But, let’s be clear, it is not only me.

Journalists also concerned

The highly respected Middle East correspondent, Hala Jaber, who used to work for the London Times wrote in a series of Tweets last week (see @HalaJaber – 18:36 UTC – 19 Apr 2018):

“In my entire career, spanning more than three decades of professional journalism, I have never seen MSM resolve to such ugly smear campaigns & hit pieces against those questioning mainstream narratives, with a different view point, as I have seen on Syria, recently.

This is a dangerous manoeuvre a witch hunt in fact, aimed not only at character assassination, but at attempting to silence those who think differently or even sway from mainstream & state narrative.

It would have been more productive, to actually question the reason why more & more people are indeed turning to alternative voices for information & news, than to dish out ad hominem smears aimed at intimidating by labelling alternative voices as conspirators or apologists.

The journalists, activists, professors & citizens under attack are presenting an alternative view point. Surely, people are entitled to hear those and are intelligent enough to make their own judgments. 

Or is there an assumption, (patronizing, if so), that the tens of thousands of people collectively following these alternative voices are too dumb & unintelligent to reach their own conclusions by sifting through the mass information being dished at them daily from all sides? 

Like it or hate it, agree or disagree with them, the bottom line is that the people under attack do present an alternative view pointLeast we forget, no one has a monopoly on truth. Are all those currently launching this witch hunt suggesting they do?”

Moon of Alabama provides an excellent summary of recent events – far better than what I tried to do with the same material. So I will just quote from their article – The Media War On Truthful Reporting And Legitimate Opinions – A Documentary.

The media smears begin

Remember PropOrNot?

“In fall 2016 a smear campaign was launched against 200 websites which did not conform to NATO propaganda.”

They even provided a browser add-on which would warn you that you were reading material from a website they classified as a “Russian propaganda outlet.” Despite being promoted by some of the mainstream media it was considered a bit of a joke –  independent writers and sources who missed out on the classification were somewhat pissed off.

It still exists as a promoter of extreme Russophobic views on Twitter ().

Government propaganda gets childish and journalists become stenographers

Then came the infamous “dashboard’ which the UK and US governments appear to be using as a source of claims for increased activity of “Russian bots.”

“The neoconservative Alliance For Securing Democracy declared that any doubt of the veracity of U.S. propaganda stories discussed on Twitter was part of a “Russian influence campaign”. Their ‘dashboard‘ shows the most prominent hashtags and themes tweeted and retweeted by some 600 hand-selected but undisclosed accounts. (I have reason to believe that @MoonofA is among them.) The dashboard gave rise to an endless line of main-stream stories faking concern over alleged “Russian influence”. The New York Times published several such stories including this recent one:”

This is from that NYT article  (Trump Declines to Add Sanctions Against Russians, Contradicting Haley) discussing the recent illegal FUKUS missile attack on Syria:

“Russia did not respond militarily to the Friday strike, but American officials noted a sharp spike in Russian online activity around the time it was launched.

A snapshot on Friday night recorded a 2,000 percent increase in citing the hashtag #isupportsyria on Russian troll networks, according to a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security who was not authorized to discuss the issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. Additionally, the official said, the known Russian hashtag #SyriaStrikes had a 4,443 percent increase in activity while another, #Damsucs, saw a 2,800 percent jump.”

The use of such “dashboard” data is, of course, disingenuous. The Times attributed the “bot” claims to Tyler Q. Holton. the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security:

“One suspects that Holton used the bizzare statistic of the infamous ‘Dashboard‘ created by the neoconservative, anti-Russian lobby. The dashboard creators asserted that the use of certain hashtags is a sign of ‘Russian bots’. On December 25 the dashboard showed that Russian trolls and bots made extensive use of the hashtag #MerryChristmas to undermine America’s moral.


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One of the creators of the dashboard, Clint Watts, has since confessed that it is mere bullshit:

“I’m not convinced on this bot thing,” said Watts, the cofounder of a project that is widely cited as the main, if not only, source of information on Russian bots. He also called the narrative “overdone.”

But, worse still – not only do we get governments making such stupid statements, we are now getting journalist reporting them without any questions:

As government spokesperson Holton is supposed to spout propaganda that supports the government’s policies. But propaganda is ineffective when it does not adhere to basic realities. Holton is bad at his job. Baker, the NYT author, did even worse. He repeated the government’s propaganda bullshit without pointing out and explaining that it obviously did not make any sense. He  used it to further his own opinionated, false narrative. It took a day for the Times to issue a partial correction of the fact free tale.”

This as a concern – these days the media is simply repeating government propaganda without any of the questioning we should expect from journalists. Some media critics are now describing these “journalists” as “stenographers.”

Personal attacks

“Last December the Guardian commissioned a hatchet job against Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. Beeley and Bartlett extensively reported (vid) from the ground in Syria on the British propaganda racket “White Helmets”. The Guardian piece defended the ‘heros’ of the White Helmets and insinuated that both journalists were Russian paid stooges.”

Both these independent reporters have provided important eye-witness reports from Syria and done much to expose how our mainstream media misrepresents the situation. I referred to Vanessa Beeley’s reports in my articles Anti-Syrian propaganda and the White HelmetsWhite Helmets dupes New Zealand government? and The first casualty . .

“In March the self proclaimed whistle-blower and blowhard Sibel Edmonds of Newsbud launched a lunatic broadside smear attack(vid) against Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. The Corbett Report debunked (vid) the nonsense. (The debunking received 59,000 views. Edmonds public wanking was seen by less than 23,000 people.)”

Recently government and media apologists have used the “fact-checking” site Polygraph.info. (a project of the CIA propaganda outlets Voice of America and Radio Free Europe):

“On April 4 the Polygraph wrote a smear piece about the Twitter account Ian56 (@Ian56789). Its headline: Disinfo News: Doing the Kremlin’s Work: A Fake Twitter Troll Pushes Many Opinions:
“Ben Nimmo, the Senior Fellow for Information Defense at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, studies the exploits of “Ian56” and similar accounts on Twitter. His recent article in the online publication Medium profiles such fake pro-Kremlin accounts and demonstrates how they operate.”

…Nimmo, and several other dimwits quoted in the piece, came to the conclusion that Ian56 is a Kremlin paid troll, not a real person. Next to Ian56 Nimmo ‘identified’ other ‘Russian troll’ accounts:

“Ben Nimmo @benimmo – 10:50 UTC – 24 Mar 2018 One particularly influential retweeter (judging by the number of accounts which then retweeted it) was @ValLisitsa, which posts in English and Russian. Last year, this account joined the troll-factory #StopMorganLie campaign.”

Nimmo’s employer, the Atlantic Council, is a lobby of companies who profit from war.”

The crude level of these claims is indicated by the fact that @ValLisitsa is the twitter account of  Valentina Lisitsa, a famous American-Ukrainian pianist.

“Yes, she sometimes tweets in Russian language to her many fans in Russia and the Ukraine. Is that now a crime? The videos of her performances on Youtube have more than 170 million views. It is absurd to claim that she is a ‘Russian troll’ and to insinuate that she is taking Kremlin money to push ‘Russian troll’ opinions.”

Polygraph.info wrote:

““Ian56,” it seems, is not a real person. He (or she) does seem to be the creation of a flesh and blood Russian, experts say, not a “bot” but a “troll.””

But  is, in fact, the Twitter account of a very real British Pensioner, Ian Shilling. He was interviewed by Sky News:

I should point out this definition of a bot:

“A Twitter bot is a type of bot software that controls a Twitter account via the Twitter API. The bot software may autonomously perform actions such as tweeting, retweeting, liking, following, unfollowing, or direct messaging other accounts.”

Yet these interviewers ask a flesh and blood person if he is a bot! Also, they had the hypocrisy to suggest he may not be carefully checking out the veracity of the stories he retweets – a question they never put to the government spokespersons and media journalists who make these unverified and stupid claims all the time.

Academics in the frame

“On April 14 Murdoch’s London Times took personal aim at the members of a group of British academics who assembled to scientifically investigate dubious claims against Syria. Their first investigation report though, was about the Skripal incident in Salisbury. The London Times also targeted Bartlett and Beeley. The piece was leading on page one with the headline: “Apologists for Assad working in universities”. A page two splash and an editorial complemented the full fledged attack on the livelihood of the scientists.


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Tim Hayward, who initiated the academic group, published a (too) mild response.”

The Guardian channels UK government propaganda

A Guardian article, Russia spread fake news via Twitter bots after Salisbury poisoning – analysis, uncritically repeated UK government claims and in the process smeared Ian Shilling (see video above) and Maram Susil, a Syrian-born Australian scientist, as “Russian bots” claiming:

“Russia used trolls and bots to unleash disinformation on to social media in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning, according to fresh Whitehall analysis. Government sources said experts had uncovered an increase of up to 4,000% in the spread of propaganda from Russia-based accounts since the attack,– many of which were identifiable as automated bots.

But civil servants identified a sharp increase in the flow of fake news after the Salisbury poisoning, which continued in the runup to the airstrikes on Syria.

One bot, @Ian56789, was sending 100 posts a day during a 12-day period from 7 April, and reached 23 million users, before the account was suspended. It focused on claims that the chemical weapons attack on Douma had been falsified, using the hashtag #falseflag. Another, @Partisangirl, reached 61 million users with 2,300 posts over the same 12-day period.”

The Guardian journalist who authored this story responded to criticism of her article with the tweet:

“As I make very clear in the story, that’s the analysis of British government cyber experts – with whom you are quite welcome to disagree.”

I think that sums up the complete abandonment of their job by many mainstream media and why the term “stenographer” to describe them is so justified.

The Sky News interview of one of these “Russian Bots” Ian Shilling is shown above. He also published a written response:

“I have been campaigning against the Neocons and the Neocon Wars since January 2002, when I first realised Dick Cheney and the PNAC crowd were going to use 9/11 as the pretext to launch a disastrous invasion of Iraq. This has nothing to do with Russia. It has EVERYTHING to do with the massive lies constantly told by the UK & US governments about their illegal Wars of Aggression. “

The other “Russian bot” in the Guardian story, Maram Susli (@Partisangirl) posted her own video debunking the Guardian:

Partisangirl also showed that the government analysts and the Guardian couldn’t even get their figures right – again illustrating how journalists simply do not do any checking:

Ian Shilling (@Ian56789) posted a similar tweet illustrating how the figures given for his tweets were also highly inflated.

The take-home message

The Moon of Alabama article started with this quote about the Spanish civil war from George Orwell:

“Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.
George Orwell, Looking back on the Spanish War, Chapter 4″

So it is fitting that Moon of Alabama finished this excellent article with the comments:

“The governments and media would like to handle the war on Syria like they handled the war in Spain. They want reports without “any relation to the facts”. The media want to “retail the lies” and eager propagandists want to “build emotional superstructures over events that never happened.”

The new communication networks allow everyone to follow the war on Syria as diligently as George Orwell followed the war in Spain in which he took part. We no longer have to travel to see the differences of what really happens and what gets reported in the main stream press. We can debunk false government claims with freely available knowledge.

The governments, media and their stenographers would love to go back to the old times when they were not plagued by reports and tweets from Eva, Vanessa, Ian, Maram and Sarah or by blogposts like this one. The vicious campaign against any dissenting report or opinion is a sorry attempt to go back in time and to again gain the monopoly on ‘truth’.

It is on us to not let them succeed.”

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The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?

There were no chemical weapons in Damascus. The French, UK and US (FUKUS) surely knew that. So, their missile attack in the weekend had nothing to chemical weapons.

We all know the first casualty of war is the truth. However, it seems that the time truth really gets a flogging is after a highly publicised military operation. All the levels of patriotism, nationalism and bravado are used. No faults can be admitted. And the “enemy” always suffers a horrible defeat.

Then, of course, dissident voices get suppressed or vilified. That is until everyone calms down and the truth starts to sink in.

It has happened before, (remember Iraq). It will happen again. And, although it may be too early to completely burst the bubble of self-declared victory, it happened again in the weekend with the missile attack on Syria by the French, UK and US (the FUKUS team).

The Barzah Scientific Research Centre, Damascus, before the weekend attack

But the truth is already coming out. The whole attack was based on a lie. The constant reference to proof from classified evidence is complete nonsense. We can see this clearly in the case of the main target – the Barzah Scientific Research Centre.

This centre was completely destroyed. Most of the missiles launched (76 out of about 105) targeted this centre. But why?

Pentagon Spokesperson U.S. Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie declared “We believe that by hitting Barzah, in particular, we’ve attacked the heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program.”

A Syrian soldier films the damage at the site of the Barzah Scientific Research Center in Damascus on Saturday morning after it was annihilated by 76 missiles. Image source: Daily Mail: Pentagon celebrates airstrikes which ‘crippled’ Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal 

So there you have it. This is maybe the key “fact” that the FUKUS military action centred on. The claim that the  Barzah Scientific Research Centre was the “heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program.” That’s where most of the destruction occurred, where most of the missiles were targeted. And US spokespersons claim they have successfully destroyed the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

What does the OPCW say about this centre?

While the FUKUS team has not supplied a single verifiable fact to support their action the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has supplied plenty of evidence to show the attack was based on a lie. And that evidence was surely known by the intelligence communities in France, UK and USA.

That OPCW evidence is in official reports from their investigators who regularly monitor possible chemical weapons sites in Syria (and other countries). The OPCW regularly monitor the  Barzah Scientific Research Centre. Here is an extract from one of the latest OPCW reports (23 March 2018) which refers specifically to the Barezeh Scientific Research Centre (see OPCW Document EC-88/DG.1 “PROGRESS IN THE ELIMINATION OF THE SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS PROGRAMME”).

France, the UK and the USA are, together with Syria, signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). They have access to all these documents. In fact, they have members on the OPCW Executive Council who actively peruse these documents. The permanent representatives are Mr Philippe Lalliot for France, Mr Peter Wilson for the UK and Mr Kenneth D. Ward for the USA. FUKUS must have known that regular inspections did not show the presence of any chemical weapons or relevant chemicals at the Barezh Scientific Research Centre.

OK – they may well argue that these weapons had arrived since the last inspection (last November) or are hidden from the inspectors. If they honestly believed that then they should have used the “‘challenge inspection’ provisions” of the Convention:

“A unique feature of the CWC is its incorporation of the ‘challenge inspection’, whereby any State Party in doubt about another State Party’s compliance can request the Director-General to send an inspection team. Under the CWC’s ‘challenge inspection’ procedure, States Parties have committed themselves to the principle of ‘any time, anywhere’ inspections with no right of refusal.”

Comments from a worker at the centre

The morning after the attack, France 24 interviewed Said Said, an engineer who is head of the centre’s paint and plastics department (see At destroyed Syria lab, workers deny producing toxic weapons):

“The building had three storeys: a basement, ground floor, and second floor. It had labs and departments that were unfortunately completely destroyed, with all their equipment and furniture. Thank God, no one was here. As we work in civilian pharmaceutical and chemical research, we did not expect that we would be hit.”

According to Said Said only non-lethal research and development occurred at the centre. It had been producing antidotes to scorpion and snake venom while running tests on chemical products used in making food, medicine and children’s toys.

“If there were chemical weapons, we would not be able to stand here. I’ve been here since 5:30 am in full health — I’m not coughing.”

The OPCW had visited the site in Barzah in recent years and had declared it free of any toxic weapons.

“The OPCW used to stay in the two upper rooms, and use the labs, and we would cooperate with them completely. The OPCW has proven in two reports that this building and the centre as a whole are empty and do not produce any chemical weapons.”

Update

Here is a video of the interview referred to by France24:

To summarise

The FUKUS group clearly knew there were no chemical weapons at the Barzah Scientific Research Centre.  They had access to all the OPCW information on that centre. They claim to have relied on classified intelligence to make a different assessment. But that is clearly a lie – not only because “classified’ is the oldest trick in the book to hide the fact there is no evidence. But because any such evidence should have triggered a request by them for a “challenge inspection” – a request which could not have been refused by Syria.

Of course, we are still in the in the propaganda phase of this operation. Patriotism and jingoism are still driving the narrative of officials and politicians. The mainstream media suffers from this too and most real informaiton is coming from alternative media.

But these warmongers have an answer for that. According to Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White:

“The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000% increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours therefore we will keep you all abreast of the facts moving forward.”

I expect to be labelled one of “Putin’s useful idiots” (again) or – and this is a new one – one of “Assad’s useful idiots,” any day now for daring to look at the real facts behind this missile attack.

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OPCW on Salisbury poisoning – one step forward, two back?

Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons headquarters in The Hague. Image credit: Prensa Latina Ready Syria to Cooperate with Organization Against Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons are a current hot topic. We are bombarded daily with media reports mentioning them. They seem to be driving an increase in international tensions. And all sorts of conspiracy theories are circulating.

In the midst of the fast-moving narratives and claims, sensible people are asking for evidence. That is where the international watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) should come in. So I welcome two bits of news which may help in the search for evidence;

  1. The completion of the OPCW work requested by the UK to provide independent confirmation of the UK findings on the toxic chemical behind the poisoning of three people (Sergei and Yulia Skripal, a father and daughter, and a local police officer Nicholas Bailey) in Salisbury, UK, and
  2. The beginning of the work of an OPCW investigation team, in the Syrian city of Douma where there are claims of a chemical weapons attack.

I will only discuss the OPCW report resulting from the UK request on the Salisbury poisonings – and then only the summary of the report. The UK agreed to declassify the summary but not the full report. We will have to wait until another member state releases the full report – if they ever do. I understand it is “voluminous.”

The summary can be downloaded from the OPCW –  SUMMARY OF THE REPORT ON ACTIVITIES CARRIED OUT IN SUPPORT OF A REQUEST FOR TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE BY THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND (TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE VISIT TAV/02/18)  These bureaucrats love long titles, don’t they?

It’s only two pages long and really only contains two important paragraphs worth discussing.

Confirmation of UK findings on “identity of the toxic chemical”

This was all the UK requested of the OPCW – that they provide an independent confirmation of the UK findings on the toxic chemical used. Unfortunately the OPCW was not given the mandate to make a full investigation of the incident (as they are now doing in Douma, Syria).

So their findings are (apparently) summarised in paragraph 10:

“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. “

I have two comments on this paragraph.

1: It has been widely misreported. Ideologically driven news media have widely extended the “confirmation” to the UK narrative – the claim that a specific “novichock-type” chemical was used, that it originated in Russia – or even to claim that the OPCW is confirming the whole UK political story. The politicians have, of course, encouraged these misinterpretations. Boris Johnson, UK Foreign Secretary, has claimed a confirmation that the chemical “was a military grade nerve agent – a Novichok,”  (wrong) and that “there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible – only Russia has the means, motive and record “(see Salisbury incident: Foreign Secretary statement on OPCW report).

Oh well, you know how to detect when politicians are lying, don’t you? Well, we should add “when they give a press release” to “their lips moving.”

An example of media misrepresentation is this from the Wall Stree Journal –  The report puts beyond doubt that it was highly likely Russia carried out the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, using a nerve agent “of high purity”

This is just another example of fake news – especially considering that the UK simply asked for confirmation of their findings on the identity of the chemical used.

2: This paragraph does not actually identify the toxic chemical. It simply confirms the UK findings, without saying what these were. And it goes on to say in paragraph 12:

“The name and structure of the identified toxic chemical are contained in the full classified report of the Secretariat, available to States Parties.”

That is not much use, is it? Apparently they do have specific information about the toxic chemical but they are going to keep it secret. or more specifically the UK is because they could have allowed declassification of the whole report – in the “interests of the transparency” that Boris Johnson claims to support.

Well, let’s look further into this summary to see if we can get an idea of what exactly the OPCW is confirming.

The toxic chemical “identified by the UK”

The most informative section of the summary for this is paragraph 7:

“The team was briefed on the identity of the toxic chemical identified by the United Kingdom and was able to review analytical results and data from chemical analysis of biomedical samples collected by the British authorities from the affected individuals, as well as from environmental samples collected on site.”

Seriously! We are told that the OPCW investigation confirmed the UK expert findings – but we are not told what those findings are – unless we have a security clearance!

I agree – we can vaguely infer what those findings are from the statements of politicians like Theresa May and Boris Johnson. But, as a chemist and not a politician, I would actually like to know what the expert findings of the scientists at Porton Down are.

Findings like these get massaged when they are transferred to politicians and then issued to the media.  Scientists are often put in the position of having their findings misrepresented, exaggerated or downplayed for political interests – and as the misrepresentation is carried out by their political masters they have no comeback. They are effectively silenced.

So, I would love to see the technical findings from the Porton Down scientists, and the technical findings of the OPCW team. Currently, I have no way of reading these unless at some stage another member state (not the UK which classified the report) releases the full document.* I sincerely hope this happens. In this respect, Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, has commented:

“We are currently engaged in a detailed study of this report, there are very interesting moments that arise from reading this document.We will in the very near future try to make them public when experts, both ours and the relevant departments, will deal with this rather voluminous document.”

At the moment all I have is a summary which is strangely very uninformative about the facts. I find its presentation circular – confirmation of the “findings” but the only revelation of the findings is to refer back to the unpublished UK “findings.” Mind you, such circular arguments are commonly used by bureaucrats involved in issues which have political consequences.

So, one step forward. The OPCW has independently confirmed the chemical and structural nature of the toxic chemical used in Salisbury. Good.

But, no specific or scientific information on the very subject the OPCW was asked to confirm – the nature of the toxic chemical used in the Salisbury poisonings.

That, in my view, is two steps back.

*Note: There is already alternative “confidential” information circulating in the media that the Swiss laboratory involved in the “confirmation” of the toxic chemical in the UK samples produced results not mentioned in the OPCW report. These sort of rumours will inevitably continue while the full report remains secret.

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The first casualty . .

Independent reporter Vanessa Beeley raises questions about the White Helmets and their propaganda videos.

It’s an old truism – the first casualty in war is the truth. But this has become even truer over the years as psychological propaganda has become more sophisticated. And the mainstream news media is playing a more active role in hiding the truth and promoting lies to support wars.

Just look at the current political and media propaganda around the war in Syria, and particularly around the battle in east Ghouta. You would think the UN politicians and the people who run our media would have a bit more of a conscience. Yet, no. They are repeating the same stories and lies they fed to us during the battle in east Aleppo just over a year ago.

Remember all those hospitals and schools that were allegedly bombed by the Syrians and Russians. Talk of “barrel bombs,” chemical weapons and Assad’s war against his people. Claims that civilians would not leave the battle area because they were scared of reprisals from government forces and, anyway, it was a form of ethnic cleansing – transferring people away from their homes into areas they did not know.

Yet the reality was that when the terrorist groups were on the verge of defeat over 90,000 civilians did leave and came under government protection and aid. Today several hundred thousand former residents of Aleppo are returning to their homes as reconstruction proceeds.

Yes, as part of their surrender the “rebel”/terrorist armed groups and their families were relocated to Idlib province. That is simply a sane way of protecting civilians who had formerly been used as human shields by the terrorists – and shot by terrorist snipers when they intended to leave.

I can only hope that one day these “rebels”/terrorist will get their just deserts as Idlib is liberated. But sadly, some of these terrorists will have made their way to Afghanistan or Libya – or to Europe where they will wait for the opportunity to renew their battle, even by carrying out terrorist acts in their new countries.

Now it is Ghouta’s turn

Every night I watch Al Jazeera as it presents its substantial coverage of the battle for Ghouta. But all their news sources used are local (in Ghouta) “activists” and “independent” reporters. These sources are simply fighters and propagandists in the “rebel”/terrorist forces.

One of their propaganda arms is the “White Helmets.” They are a well-funded (by countries like the UK, Holland, and USA) civil defense and propaganda group for Al Qaeda. Yet they fool a lot of people.

Nevertheless, their video propaganda has a sameness about it which sticks out as propaganda – or at least professionally-managed reporting and sometimes as fake acting. See the video above for some analysis of this propaganda.

Reporters on Al Jazeera have been telling me that civilians refuse to use the humanitarian corridors to exit the area because the Syrian Army has snipers on the exits to kill any refugees. And, anyway, the people in Ghuota do not want to be forced to leave their homes. But, from other sources, I hear that the snipers are from the “rebel”/terrorist groups. These groups enforce a curfew during the hours the humanitarian corridor is open and civilians have been banned from leaving.  A humanitarian aid convoy that did manage to get into the area recently had to turn back because it was shelled by “rebel”/terrorist activists.

Two children have escaped

Yet there has been an escape – two young children who managed to get out, although the fate of their parents who were with them is not known. And the children reported that there were hundreds who were attempting the escape but were unsuccessful

But I didn’t learn this from Al Jazeera – and there is no excuse for that because videos of the escape and interviews with the children were available and screened by alternative media sources.

RT also screened these videos and provided some background to what is happening in Ghuota.

But people keep telling me I should never watch RT – it is just propaganda for the Kremlin. These people seem to keep insisting I wear blinkers or blinders to protect me from the truth. And that I should accept only media reports from “official” media like Al Jazeera.

Yes, the first casualty of war is the truth – we all accept that. Yet most of seem to fall victim the sophisticated propaganda being used to serve up these lies.

And worse, some people seem to be unthinkingly accepting demands from the establishment to cover our eyes and block our ears when it comes to information from war scenes. Even worse, these people attempt to demonise and attack anyone who refuses to go along with such self-imposed censorship.

I have been called one of “Putin’s useful idiots” for daring to mention RT. But perhaps the more relevant term when it comes to the Syrian war and the comments of politicians and mainstream media reporters is one of “Al Qaeda’s useful idiots.”

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Fake news from the White Helmets returns

The so-called White Helmets” pretends to be a non-political aid organisation but in fact is a political construct.

In its on-the-ground activity, it acts as a disaster and relief civil defense organisation for Al Quaeda fighters in Syria. Its links with these terrorist groups were shown by their operations and bases connected with Al Nusra buildings in east Aleppo – and also by the fact it transferred out of Aleppo and into Idlib province together with the terrorist fighters when that city was liberated.

A genuine, neutral, civil defense organisation would have stayed in place.

But the White Helmets also plays an important role internationally in the propaganda campaign against Syria. It campaigned for a “no-flight” zone in Syria and continually promotes an anti-government message. It is often centrally involved in anti-Syria stories about the use of chemical weapons, the bombing of hospitals, etc. The videos they disseminate are often suspect – there have been several cases where they have been exposed at manufacturing false events.

I have written about the White Helmets previously – see these articles:

The above video is timely. With the current attempts by the Syrian Arab Army and its allies to liberate Idlib province and Gouta (near Damascus), the anti-Syria propaganda has again swung into action – and the White Helmets have again become more active in this propaganda.

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Chemical weapons use in Syria UN report flawed by political bias

A local reporter at the site of the alleged chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun (Source: YouTube)

I fully accept almost all news reports we see are politically biased. It is up to the reader to recognise this and to critically analyse reports from all media. But I am still annoyed to find political bias in considered, and often scientifically and evidence-based, official reports from authoritative bodies.

The official reports on the  MH-17  commercial airliner tragedy in eastern Ukraine are an example of such political bias and I  discussed these in the past (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intactMH17 tragedy: 1 year on,  Flight MH17 in Ukraine – what do intelligence services know? and But will it stand up in court?).

Unfortunately, I now draw the same conclusion of political bias in the recent report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-United Nations Joint investigative Mechanism (JIM). Mind you, I have seen similar bias in earlier reports from the OPCW in the past. In particular, I am shocked by the fact these reports never relied on evidence collected on-site by inspection teams – they were simply desk-top studies. While reports of chemical weapons use by terrorist groups were usually found “not confirmed” because of lack of supporting evidence the reported of use by Syrian armed forces were often accepted as reliable – without supporting evidence. Indeed, a reason for accepting these unconfirmed reports often given by the OPCW was that the Syrian Air Force had not answered the requests for flight logs!

So why do I think the current JIM report is politically biased?

I won’t go into a detailed analysis here but will simply take a few issues which I think stand out. I am using the leaked copy of the report Seventh report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism and readers can download this by clicking the link

No on-site inspection

This, together with the lack of proper identification and control of samples, is a huge problem with this report. I really think this approach of “desk studies” from a distance, and reliance on politically motivated non-state and militia reports underlies how unprofessional the chemical weapons investigation bodies have become.

At the time of the alleged attack in Khan Shaykhun last April, there were strong calls (including from the Syrian government) for the investigation groups to send teams to both Khan Shaykhun (where the chemical attack occurred) and the Al-Shaayrat airbase (which the US attacked within days claiming the chemical weapons had come from there). No team was ever sent to Khan Shaykhun but a JIM team did eventually visit the Al-Shaayrat airbase in October – months after the incident on April 4!

At the airbase, the JIM only collected information on flights from the base on the day of the attack and interviewed pilots but specifically excluded any sample collection. Their excuse:

“Collecting samples at the airbase was not an objective of the visit. The Mechanism had assessed that doing so would not advance the investigation. If a single chemical munition was flown from that base, the Mechanism considered that there was little chance of finding any trace of sarin or its degradation products in an airbase of that size without specific information as to where to sample.”

Why assume a “single chemical munition” – at an airbase where munitions are regularly stored? And why not make an effort to find out where such munition would have likely been stored on the base?

As for visiting the site of the explosion:

“While the Leadership Panel considered that a visit to these sites would have been of value, such value would diminish over time. Further, the Panel was
required to weigh the security risks against the possible benefits to the investigation.”

That seems very tame to me. As the Syrian government had offered what guarantees they could I am forced to ask what effort was made to get security guarantees from the “rebel”/”terrorist” groups in the area? After all, the media seemed to have no problem linking up with “activists” and others in that area at the time and the investigating agents had no trouble linking up with representatives of the militias when they collected samples from them in other countries.

I have since seen a report that the:

“Director of the UN Department for Safety and Security informed the Security Council on October 4, 2017 that in reality safety guarantees were duly received from the local field commanders but the OPCW Mission declined to use that opportunity and chose to conduct investigation remotely. “

In situations like this where investigating bodies are collecting evidence and where blame may be attributed I would have thought that it imperative for investigation teams to collect samples themselves and ensure the integrity of the samples during transport to a certified laboratory. But in this case, the investigators relied on samples collected by the “rebel”/”terrorist” groups and handed over on the territory of a neighbouring country!

The crater in Khan Shaykhun

Here are a couple of  very early photos (I think within a day) of the crater formed by the alleged chemical weapon in Khan Shaykhun

Credit: Aleppo Media Centre – a “rebel”/”terrorist” news agency in Syria

Credit: Syria Chemical Weapon Attack:  Truth Comes At A Cost

Now that does not look like the result of a bomb or missile launched by a warplane. It looks more like the explosion of a placed device – and that was the early conclusion of some independent investigators. For example, Dr. Theodore Postol concluded the sarin tube was placed on the ground and not dropped from an aeroplane. He presents this image of a likely mechanism in his own analytical report.

Yet the JIM did not properly consider that specific configuration. It did list an “improvised explosive device (IED)” as one possible explanation but discounted it because “No witnesses reported any activities related to the placing of an explosive charge on the ground at the location of the incident.”  That is hardly a good forensic approach – offenders placing such a device are not going to do this in full view of passers-by, are they? The JIM did have a witness statement “consistent with this scenario:”

“In an interview with the Mechanism, the witness reported waking up at around 0700 hours on 4 April 2017 to the sound of explosions. The witness stated that there had been no aircraft over Khan Shaykhun at the time and that aircraft had only started launching attacks at around 1100 hours.”

It also relied on interpretations from unnamed “experts” and “institutes.” (The lack of identification seems very unprofessional – we are asked to trust unnamed people!). But it all seems like straw-clutching to me. I have since read a report on the analysis of the JIT claims by Russian experts from the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Industry and Trade. This can be found in Additional Assessment of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism Seventh Reportwhich was made available to the Security Council by the Russian UN mission. This expert analysis relies on mathematical analysis and research describing the behaviour of stationary and air-launched explosive devices. Their conclusion that the evidence indicated the explosion of a stationary device, and not an aerial launched (from several km high!) missile or bomb seems pretty convincing to me.

Chemical fingerprint of “sarin-like” material

The JIM report describes the expert analysis of the chemical residues found at or near the Khan Shaykhun crater and samples from the stockpiles of precursors for chemical weapons previously held by the Syrian government.  While the Russian analysis questions some of the conclusions (eg. whether the sarin could be produced by “artisan” teams or required factory manufacture) I think the JIM conclusion that the chemical evidence supported their claim that the Syrian government was the guilty party is well off beam.

When chemical weapons and precursor stockpiles were removed from Syria in 2013 the final conclusion was that while all government held material had been removed nothing could have been done about stockpiles which had previously been captured by jihadists – “rebels” or “terrorists.” Jihadist seizure of chemical weapons and precursors is hardly unknown. For example, Foreign Policy reports on an example of the capture of chemical weapons stockpiles by opponents of the government (Al Nusra) in the article How the Islamic State Seized a Chemical Weapons Stockpile.

Jihadists looting the weapons stockpiles in the Syrian army base known as Regiment 111, shown here in a still shot taken from a video posted online. Source: Foreign Policy

Yet the JIM report does not even mention this possibility. I would have thought the chemical fingerprint of the sarin samples they had indicated the guilty party was more likely one of the jihadist groups than government forces.

An objective consideration may have considered the possibility that the government had secretly manufactured chemical weapons since 2013 but surely it would have also considered the far more likely possibility that the sarin used came from stocks in the hands of one or other of the armed militia fighting the government. (And fighting each other in the area as there are credible reports of chemical weapons use in those conflicts).

The refusal to even consider this possibility is one sign to me of the very poor professional standards of the JIM team and the unnamed experts it relied on.

Conclusion

The reports of the investigations of this use of chemical weapons could be analysed in far more detail. I only discussed what I think are the most obvious aspects here but I can only conclude that this report to the UN was politically biased. It was certainly of very low scientific standards and did not give proper identification of the “experts” and “institutes” it used for analysis and opinion.

While it did give some qualifications underlining that they could not draw  definite conclusions about who used the chemical weapons (despite its chemical fingerprint) and could not identify any Syrian plane sufficiently close to the area which could have carried out the attack it still, nevertheless, finishes by stating:

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

An update: The mandate for this joint investigation mechanism was not renewed by the UN Security Council. The   US, the Russian Federation/Brazil and Japan submitted resolutions on its renewal but all were defeated. The stumbling blocks appeared to be:

  • The US wanted to declare the findings of guilt on the part of the Syrian government be accepted and opposed improvement of JIM’s procedures.
  • The Russian/Brazilian resolution insisted that the investigation team’s standards be improved and that, in particular, physical inspection of sites by the investigating teams themselves be obligatory.

Frankly, I think the Russian/Brazilian resolution identified a key problem and the US resolution was motivated by geopolitical interests and did not have proper evidence-based support.

As I said initially – we have come to expect political bias in news media reports but it is very disappointing to find such obvious bias in reports from bodies which are meant to carry out their investigations objectively.

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Here we go again

Just when we seem to be making progress over Syria this has to happen. The US was starting to accept that the current elected president in Syria no long “has to go.” Peace talks are underway in Geneva.

And then President Bashar al-Assad had to torpedo all this progress by launching a chemical attack on little children in Idlib. What a fool.Well, if you believe that I guess you might believe anything.

Well, if you believe that I guess you might believe anything.

In the video above, the former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, presents a far more sensible analysis. He is imminently reasonable in his analysis – but unfortunately the same cannot be said for our mainstream media, leading European politicians and the representatives of NATO countries in the UN Security Council.

Lessons from Aleppo reporting

I think it disgusting for our media and these politicians to unquestioningly take at face value reports from Al Qaeda – the umbrella organisation for the “rebel”/”terrorist’ groups in Idlib, and their propaganda arms – the White Helmets and the Idlib Media Center. Hell, we saw all this before. The propaganda from the Jihadists in east Aleppo, propagated by the White Helmets and the Aleppo Media Center. Reports of chemical attacks, massacres, bombing the “last” schools and hospitals.

In the end, the Aleppo Media Center and the White Helmets left with the jihadist fighters under the surrender agreement and have now set up in Idlib.

Now independent reporters have access to the parts of Aleppo formerly held by the jihadis what do we find? Schools used as arms factories, remaining evidence of the chemicals they used to manufacture chemical weapons.

And the jihadis have used, and still use, chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq. Yet, strangely, those events, while they sometimes are reported in our mainstream media, never get the NATO Ambassadors running to call UN Security Council Meetings.

Of course, I do not know what really happened in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib. We really don’t yet have the facts – as UN officials have pointed out. It seems to me unreasonable to assume that the Syrian air force used chemical weapons in their attack on jihadis there. After all, the Syrian government gave up all their weapons, under US supervision, in 2013. And what could they possibly have to gain? They are doling so well, militarily, at the moment. They don’t need this sort of bad publicity.

Dogs returning to their own vomit

No, the Syrian government is not gaining from this event – but the “rebels”/”terrorists” are. And so are those who wish to torpedo the peace conference – or worse, organise a NATO military attack on Syrian armed forces and aerodromes.

But haven’t we seen all this before. isn’t this what was attempted in 2013 with the blaming oaf a similar chemical attack on the Syrian government. Isn’t this, as Peter Ford says, just like “dogs returning to their own vomit.”

Hopefully, other politicians have a memory – and a conscience. They will not be fooled by yet another attempt to justify intervention. To justify “regime change.”

Hopefully, they will, at least, have more sense than the current gung-ho politicians from NATO. Hopefully, they will refuse to pass judgement until they have some facts. Hopefully, they will not be so silly that they trust the word of Al Qaeda and its propaganda arms.

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An Oscar for Al Qaeda?

al-qaeda

It was bound to happen. The White Helmets were seriously promoted for a Nobel Peace prize. This failed, so I guess the Oscar counts as a sort of consolation prize.

The Oscar was awarded in the short documentary category but anyone who follows the White Helmets may appreciate the irony – they are well-known for their acting ability. There are strong suggestions that many of their ‘rescues’ are staged. And, at least, they always seem to make sure that they have expert cinematographers in attendance when they go into action.

I have written about the White Helmets before – see Manufacturing news, and opinion, about SyriaAnti-Syrian propaganda and the White HelmetsWhite Helmets dupes New Zealand government? and White Helmets confirm authenticity of acted “rescue” video.

In short, although presenting themselves as an independent, non-aligned NGO with only humanitarian interests they are known to have strong links with “rebel”/”terrorist” groups, some of their members seem to “moonlight” as active armed fighters, and they are heavily involved in propaganda – propaganda against the Syrian government and in favour of the “rebels”/”terrorists” they are embedded with.

The White Helmets is one of the groups our mainstream media seems to rely on for news reports from Syria -especially from areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists.” They were very active in east Aleppo during that battle – but left with the fighters and their families when the surrender was arranged. Now they are most active in Idlib province.

An Official Information Act request

After the White Helmets managed to dupe $100,000 out of New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs (see White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?) I made an official information request. I specifically asked for information on:

  1. Any contact with the International Civil Defence Association or the Syrian Civil Defence Forces during the Ministry’s vetting of the White Helmets?
  2. Any checking of White Helmet’s operations and the messages promoted in their propaganda material?
  3. Correspondence with US authorities regarding the denial of entry to the US White Helmets leader Raed Saleh to the US.
  4. The contact the ministry had with independent reporters who have been investigating the activity of the White Helmets?

The Ministry could not give any information for queries 1, 3 or 4 – which is interesting. I interpret this to mean the Ministry has not checked with the International Civil Defence Association or the recognised Syrian Civil Defence body. If nothing else, this illustrates a bias – a willingness to ally with a “civil defence” group embedded with the “rebels”/”terrorists” and not provide unbiased and balanced help. After all, civilians in government-held area also need rescuing and perhaps we should provide support to the legitimate Syrian Defence body that does this.

Due diligence

But I did get copies of emails involved in internal (within the NZ Ministries and diplomats) checking out of the White Helmets. In fact, back in January 2016 a formal message about possible engagement of NZ with the White Helmets identified as a “key question” the “further due diligence on the Syrian Civil Defence and on Mayday rescue to ensure New Zealand comfort with supporting these organisations.”

[Point of clarification – the White Helmets have unilaterally co-opted the name (and much of the equipment) of the real Syrian Civil Defence force which is recognised by the International Civil Defence Association. Mayday Rescue is an organisation set up by a former mercenary which organised and helps fund the White Helmets].

And in January 2016 reports from the embassy in Ankara suggested:  “given the security and political activities around Syria, it will be vital that we can demonstrate due diligence in this regard.”

But I cannot find any evidence of due diligence in the material I was given. There were personal declarations in the diplomatic community of admiration for the White Helmets work – based entirely on claims made by the White Helmets. There was an acknowledgment that the White helmets operated only in “rebel”/”terrorist” – held areas. That they did not work in government or Daesh-held areas. And complete silence about the fact that it operated in areas where Al Qaeda groups like Al Nusra (recognised by the UN as a terrorist group) are active. In fact, testimony from citizens of east Aleppo after that area was liberated indicated that many saw the White Helmets as embedded with, and operating as a civil defence force for, the Al Qaeda-led groups.

Now I do not call that “due diligence.”

Last minute “due diligence”

The final recommendations to the Ministers on the issue of support for the White Helmets summarised the description of the organisation as a ” volunteer organisation working in opposition-controlled Syria to save lives through urban search and rescue (USAR), firefighting, medical evacuation, and other civil defence activities.” This was after last-minute checking with the Ankara embassy because of damaging critical reports about the organisation.

Those reports had surfaced in Al Jazeera – and the Ankara embassy dismissed them simply by referring to the Al Jazeera report – which simply noted the White Helmets’ rejection of critical reports by the investigate journalist Max Blumenthal. Al Jazeera made no effort to investigate or report on the criticisms – no did the Ankara embassy.

[You can read Max Blumenthal’s reports at Inside the Shadowy PR Firm That’s Lobbying for Regime Change in Syria and How the White Helmets Became International Heroes While Pushing U.S. Military Intervention and Regime Change in Syria]

Below is the request from NZ for comments on those reports and response from the Embassy in Ankara on October 6, 2016

october-exchange

This exchange indicates an unwillingness to check out reports (beyond Al Jazzera’s rejection of them). I also find the redacted sections interesting

It refers to “the pro-Assad ??” What is the redacted part? Is this a derogatory phrase? Is it describing the Max Blumenthal in a derogatory way?

Who are these funders in “the West” that have been redacted? The CIA, British intelligence, etc.?

The White Helmets were certainly “shining a light” on alleged atrocities (and their claims were very questionable) but what were the specific “atrocities resulting from airstrikes in recent weeks ???” Were they the embarrassing attacks on the “last hospitals in Aleppo” which were reported by our media more than 27 times during 2016?

I really cannot see why these sections were redacted using the excuse “to protect the free and frank expression of opinions by departments.” Surely the issue is more important than that.

White Helmets is a propaganda group

The Ankara embassy was certainly sensitive to any possibility of the credibility of the White Helmets being questioned because it would “undermine the accounts they produce of war crimes being committed in Aleppo and elsewhere ??” What was redacted? Did someone raise a question about the credibility of those accounts? Or about the war crimes committed by the head choppers in east Aleppo? And if we are concerned about the credibility of the White Helmets as  an anti-government propaganda source then we should not be pretending that we are considering them as just a civil defence group.

And the final sentences:

“Not to say, of course, that every member of the SCD is beyond all scrutiny. Some may have pasts (they are after all drafted from all areas of Syrian society). But as far as we are aware it is a non-political and neutral organisation directed at civil defence and USAR activities. So our comfort levels are in line with yours.”

This email underlines that White Helmets is much more than a civil defence organisation. It is also involved in dissemination of news and information – propaganda. the embassy acknowledged that and declared its appreciation of it.

 

So we have New Zealand diplomats unwilling to give proper due diligence, to check out the detailed reports of Max Blumenthal (or similar critical reporting about the White Helmets) and to be satisfied with an Al Jazeera report rejecting that research out of hand.

These diplomats also reveal an interest in the anti-government, pro-rebel propaganda of the White Helmets – despite continuing with the fiction that it is solely an independent rescue group.

The whole attitude towards the stinging criticism of the White Helmets is to protect the group’s credibility and value as a propaganda organisation,

So much for due diligence and the fiction that the White Helmets is a rescue organisation

And so much for Hollywood which is participating in a propaganda war by glorifying this propaganda group.

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