OPCW leadership tried to discredit two veteran officials who challenged a cover-up of its chemical weapons investigation in Douma, Syria. They respond in new letters obtained exclusively by The Grayzone.
By Aaron Mate
Two whistleblowing inspectors at the center of an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) cover-up scandal are demanding that their suppressed findings get a fair, transparent, and scientific hearing. In formal letters to the OPCW Director-General, the two veteran officials also refuted the OPCW’s leadership’s efforts to impugn their credibility.
“Why would a pair of the top Inspection Team Leaders, both with impeccable records… suddenly ‘go rogue’?” wrote one whistleblower in his letter.
“Why would we risk so much?” asked the other, answering, “Something had gone wrong inside the OPCW.”
Both inspectors were part of the team that deployed to Syria to investigate allegations of a chemical weapons attack in the eastern Damascus suburb of Douma in April 2018. The US government accused the Syrian government of a chemical attack, justifying missile strikes on the country by Washington and European allies.
But the inspectors in Douma found evidence that raised serious doubts that a chemical attack ever occurred, and which pointed instead to the staging of the incident by anti-Assad extremists. Their findings were suppressed by OPCW leaders who re-wrote their initial report, then excluded the investigators from the ensuing process.
The letters by the two whistleblowers are a response to a recent OPCW inquiry that dismissed them as rogue actors “who could not accept that their views were not backed by evidence,” and which baselessly accused them of “deliberate and premeditated breaches of confidentiality.”
The pair of veteran inspectors are described by the OPCW as “Inspector A” and “Inspector B.” The letters formally addressed to OPCW Director-General General Fernando Arias were obtained by The Grayzone and are accessible below:
- The letter by Ian Henderson aka “Inspector A” to OPCW Director-General Arias (PDF)
- The letter by “Inspector B” to OPCW Director-General Arias (PDF)
Inspector A is Ian Henderson, a South African engineer and veteran OPCW official. Henderson authored a detailed engineering assessment of two gas cylinders found at the scene of the alleged attacks in Douma.
The OPCW’s final March 2019 report concluded that the cylinders were likely dropped from the air, however, Henderson found that there was “a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed” – presumably by opposition militants in Douma. The OPCW’s final report omitted this conclusion.
Henderson’s findings came to light after they were leaked to a group of dissident British academics, the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, which published his report in May 2019. Both Henderson and Inspector B deny leaking the study, and the OPCW inquiry does not claim that they did.
Inspector B is another veteran OPCW official and chemical weapons expert who has sought to remain anonymous. “B” played a senior role in the OPCW’s Douma probe as the chief author of the Douma team’s initial report. Later on, higher-level officials took control of the process and excluded his most essential conclusions.
Together, Henderson and “B” were the most experienced inspectors on the Douma mission. The pair recently provided British journalist Peter Hitchens with an annotated response to the OPCW’s inquiry.
‘Why would we risk so much?… Something had gone wrong inside the OPCW’
The two new letters published by The Grayzone provide fresh insight into the whistleblowers’ efforts to challenge the OPCW’s cover-up and get a fair hearing for their findings.
“We are long-serving and dedicated OPCW supporters,” Henderson wrote. “We both have reams of documents such as performance appraisals, emails, letters of commendation and others, that reflect a history of service at the highest level in terms of qualifications, skills, expertise, leadership, integrity and professionalism throughout our time at the OPCW.”
“Does this not place the efforts by some to smear our reputations, on questionable ground?” he continued. “As a manager, as the highest official in the Organisation, does this not lead to the question: Why would a pair of the top Inspection Team Leaders, both with impeccable records… suddenly ‘go rogue’?”
“Our sole duty is to be true to the facts and the science, and once that has been achieved, we will gladly accept the proven and agreed scientific outcomes,” he emphasized.
Henderson also added a previously undisclosed detail that further calls into question the likelihood of a chlorine attack at Location 2. A cylinder was found on the building’s balcony; according to opposition activists, chlorine discharged from this cylinder, then made its way downward and killed several dozen people in its staircases. But Henderson explained why this scenario is highly questionable, if not impossible: “the upper parts of the building and the basement were not connected (i.e. the gas had to exit the building onto the street and re-enter the basement door).”
Inspector B’s letter echoes Henderson’s call for the public to see the suppressed evidence and scientific conclusions.
“You have our utmost reassurance sir, that neither of us has ever tried to cause harm to your, or should I say, our Organisation,” B wrote. “We were there when it was created. We grew as it grew. We saw three Director Generals come and go, and we, as now, fervently believed in its mission — a shared goal that you are charged with carrying forward and to which we have contributed so much.”
“You need only look at our impeccable records and support to the TS over a combined tenure of almost 30 years,” B continued. “That we would suddenly ‘go rogue’ at the autumn of our careers, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, defies all logic. Why would we risk so much? To push a personal ‘view’? Hardly.”
B added, “Something had gone wrong inside the OPCW sir. And we wanted you to know. It’s that simple.”
Read Aaron Mate’s previous exclusive report on the first set of leaks that undercut the OPCW leadership’s inquiry attacking the whistleblowers.
Aaron Maté is a journalist and producer. He hosts Pushback with Aaron Maté on The Grayzone. He is also is contributor to The Nation magazine and former host/producer for The Real News and Democracy Now!. Aaron has also presented and produced for Vice, AJ+, and Al Jazeera.