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The OPCW Douma Leaks Part 1: We Need To Talk About “Alex”

January 15, 2020

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Executive Summary

  1. Some reporting of this situation has ignored the context of multiple chemical attacks perpetrated by the Syrian Government.
  2. Alex’s complaints are not properly placed in context.
  3. Alex’s claims about chemistry are flawed and hugely overstated.
  4. The stated conclusion of a meeting with toxicologists, which appears to support Alex’s claims, is inconsistent with known effects of chlorine inhalation.
  5. Alex has made misleading claims about this situation and the conclusions of subsequently leaked documents.

Over the past year the OPCW has dealt with multiple information leaks, all related to its investigation into the chemical attack on Douma, Syria in April 2018. Two employees have been associated with these leaks: Ian Henderson, who questioned the mechanics of the two cylinders falling from height, and an employee who has so far remained anonymous, who goes by the pseudonym “Alex”. In this article, we will examine Alex’s claims and the related documents leaked by WikiLeaks. In later articles, we will examine Henderson’s engineering report and other aspects of the case.

It should be noted that the events around the OPCW cannot be understood without the context of the pressure it has faced, primarily from the Russian Federation. In November 2017, the Russian Federation vetoed the extension of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), a joint UN-OPCW organisation which had a mandate to assign blame for chemical attacks. The JIM had carried out multiple investigations which found the Syrian government had used both chlorine and Sarin as chemical weapons, including the attack on Khan Sheikhoun, which killed scores of civilians. It also identified that ISIS had used sulfur mustard agent. 

Several days after the attack in Douma, the Russian Federation deployed a GRU team to the Hague, which then attempted to hack into the WiFi network of the OPCW. It is possible there have been further attacks that we are not aware of. This of course raises the prospect that “Alex” is not in fact a real person, and these leaks are simply the Russian government using WikiLeaks to dump documents that they’ve hacked, in a similar fashion to the DNC leaks. However, multiple people claim to have met and talked to “Alex,” and such a scenario therefore seems very unlikely. In either case, the documents presented by WikiLeaks do appear to be genuine.

Chemical Weapons In Syria

These documents have been used by some actors to question the conclusions of the OPCW. Indeed, if one was to read the Mail on Sunday article, one would believe that this is a similar situation to the build up of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, with a “sexed-up dossier” used as evidence to justify said invasion. 

To be clear, it is not. Chemical weapons have been used throughout the Syrian conflict, primarily by the Syrian government. Multiple independent and reputable investigations by various organisations, including the OPCW, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many others have been carried out. They all agree that the primary user of chlorine and the only user of Sarin has been the Syrian government. This government has used both these agents repeatedly over this conflict. Despite allegations against other parties to the conflict, the only other positively identified user of chemical weapons has been the Islamic State.  

Chemical weapon attacks identified by the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

In the case of chlorine, attacks became so common in some areas that the munition remnants were simply collected in piles of munitions outside of town. The GPPi has collated information on credible reports of chlorine attacks here. They run into hundreds of examples. 

Documents And Chronology

Many of the accusations against the OPCW have relied on readers not fully understanding the context of chemical weapons use in Syria. These accusations also fail to properly clarify what part of the investigation “Alex” was actually complaining about. The implication of the Mail on Sunday coverage is that Alex’s complaints reflect upon the final FFM Douma report. The Mail on Sunday only mentions a “fourth report” in passing. 

This “fourth report”, which the Mail on Sunday mentioned once in its entire piece, is in fact the final and authoritative report. Alex’s complaints, and the leaked documents which have been used to support them, were not primarily about this final report. Alex’s original leaked email, is actually about various drafts of the interim report. These drafts were never intended to be the final report, because there was still so much left to investigate. Although Alex complained about the final report in a later interview, no internal FFM emails have been released in support of that statement. 

The Mail on Sunday also caused confusion by referring to these reports as the “third” or “fourth” report. This is misleading. There are only two OPCW reports: the interim and final reports. The other two were draft documents. In the same way we would not ask our readers to judge this Bellingcat article on the basis of its drafts, judging the OPCW on the basis of its draft documents is at best shortsighted, at worst intentionally misleading. 

In an attempt to remedy this we have provided a list of leaked documents in chronological order, including when they were drafted or published, if they were published at all. We have also included the officially published interim and final reports.

  1. Alex’s initial email of complaint
  2. PPB email chain
  3. First draft report
  4. Second draft report
  5. Interim OPCW report
  6. Information security reminder
  7. Toxicology minutes
  8. Emails regarding toxicology minutes
  9. Email chain regarding Henderson’s report
  10. Henderson’s engineering report
  11. Final report
  12. Henderson’s memo
  13. Alex’s second email of complaint email

What Is The Basis Of Alex’s Complaint?

The key point to bear in mind when examining Alex’s initial claims is that they are primarily focused on a set of two draft reports and an interim report that were drafted or published in late June and early July 2018 (entries 5, 6, and 7 in the above table).

The first draft report, also referred to as the “inspector’s report”, is implied to have been drafted primarily by Alex, while the second draft was a “management” re-draft, also referred to as the “redacted report”. Ultimately the head of the FFM wrote a further redraft which was published as the interim report. This interim report made no firm conclusion about the use of chlorine gas as a weapon in Douma. 

This interim report was never meant to be the definitive report, and both the draft reports and the interim report explicitly note that further investigations are required. The final OPCW Douma report was completed 8 months and many other investigations later. Indeed the final report appears to have addressed, by either accepting or providing further information, many or all of Alex’s points.

It should also be borne in mind that at the time of writing, WikiLeaks had not yet released any internal FFM emails (as opposed to general OPCW emails) from after August 30, 2018. This leaves a 6 month gap where a huge amount of investigation, including a further deployment by the FFM, was conducted. It seems either WikiLeaks does not have emails from this period of time, calling into question how long Alex actually spent in the FFM, or the emails during this period do not support Alex’s view. 

There is also, of course, the possibility that WikiLeaks will release these emails at a later date, however they remain an intensely opaque organisation and do not seem to be open about what material they have actually obtained. This makes it difficult to establish the truth of the matter, as WikiLeaks appears to be selectively releasing documents. Needless to say, we do not believe this furthers the cause of transparency or accountability.

Timeline of work from the final report. Note the work completed (in orange) that happened after the publication of the latest FFM email published by Wikileaks.

The Chemistry

Not only are Alex’s claims missing a huge amount of context, but some of them, including his technical analysis, are not as strong as presented by WikiLeaks and others. Our article, Chlorine’s Unique Fingerprints, goes through these arguments in detail, but we will examine some of the essential points below.

Much has been made of Alex stating that there were only “trace” quantities of chlorinated organic derivatives discovered, that could have come from a variety of other sources. The FFM accounted for this and deliberately gathered control samples in order to control for this. Indeed, “trace” quantities are in fact consistent with the amounts that would be expected from this kind of event. 

Extract from final FFM report referring to molecular chlorine (Cl2)

One narrative that has taken on particular prominence is the idea that all of the identified chemicals can be found in household cleaning products. As far as we’re aware, this narrative was first explicitly mentioned by the Moon of Alabama, a conspiracy blog that has not previously demonstrated any kind of chemistry expertise. Previous posts by “b” on Moon of Alabama about the subject of Sarin are extremely simplistic. 

This narrative is obviously flawed. Alex implied that some of the compounds discovered can be found in “household chlorine-based bleach”. However, these were found in samples taken at both Location 2 and 4, on multiple levels and on the adjacent street. Although it is possible that the inhabitants of Location 2 and 4 were in the habit of cleaning virtually everything in their buildings with bleach, including the walls and rubble in the street, it seems unlikely. 

There is also the fact that the highest concentration of chlorinated organic compounds were found in a slat of wood underneath the cylinder on the bed at Location 4. This is the same kind of cylinder, with the same kind of unique modifications, which multiple independent investigations, including by the OPCW, have identified as being used on a regular basis in chlorine attacks. This is entirely unsurprising if the cylinder was indeed the source of chlorine gas. 

Extract from final FFM report

Another indicator that Alex doesn’t even try to grapple with is the corrosion seen throughout both Location 2 and 4. When metal comes into contact with chlorine gas, it will start to corrode rapidly. Accounts from the First World War describe belt buckles turning black within minutes of chlorine attacks.

Extensive corrosion was seen and noted by the FFM.

Extract from final FFM report

Although the FFM noted that they could not be sure that this corrosion was not related to natural factors, we strongly believe it is related to the contents of the cylinders. Immediately after the attacks, the metal frame around the munition at Location 4 was relatively clean and did not show any clear corrosion (the metal frame at Location 2 was removed by the time the OPCW inspectors arrived). However, by the time the inspectors visited 18 days after the attack, the frame  at Location 4 had become heavily corroded. It is clear that these munitions were exposed to something which caused rapid corrosion between the time of the attack and the visit of the FFM.

1: Still from video by Forensic Architecture, 2: Still from video by Forensic Architecture, 3: Image taken on 8th or 9th April, 4: image from Russian news report aired on 26th April, 5: image of cylinder in FFM final report, 6: image of cylinder in Final FFM report after tagging, indicating it was taken on the 3rd June 2018.

Note the progression of corrosion of the framework around the cylinder in the images above. Although dust in the earlier photos obscures some details, it is clear this framework underwent significant corrosion between the initial and final images.

Finally, it should also be noted that there is no single chemical or reaction that indicates the presence of chlorine gas. It is a combination of chemicals and effects, such as rapid corrosion, seen throughout both locations that undermines the notion that any other substance, in isolation, was responsible for their presence at Douma. A person throwing bleach around would not have achieved all these findings and effects. A far more detailed examination of this subject can be read here

Toxicology: Symptoms

One of the documents that WikiLeaks has released is the minutes of a meeting with toxicologists from a State Party to the OPCW. The stated conclusion of this meeting was that the symptoms observed were inconsistent with chlorine, primarily due to the onset of frothing in a time period of 3-4 hours. 

It should be noted that pulmonary edema, which can cause frothing, is a recorded symptom of chlorine gas inhalation. Events similar to Douma are extremely rare, but this graphic image from an industrial chlorine accident in China clearly shows similar “frothing” symptoms. Compare it with these graphic images of the victims at Douma. 

What these toxicologists appear to believe is that the onset of that frothing was too rapid (3-4 hours) to be consistent with chlorine. The toxicologists also considered if there was the possibility that a different agent could have been used, but could not clearly identify alternative agents.

Although it is important to emphasise we are not toxicologists, we found it strange that it’s possible to find multiple accounts of chlorine gas causing relatively rapid frothing — primarily from the First World War. Although these accounts are old, they do describe situations where multiple people were subjected to extremely high concentrations of chlorine.

One medical journal we found from the First World War examines a gas attack in detail and notes the onset of frothing within about 90 minutes. The author of this book, the Colonel-Commandant of the Royal Army Medical Corps, in fact uses this frothing as an indicator the gas they were attacked by was primarily made up of chlorine rather than phosgene. The implication is, of course, that relatively rapid frothing is a known symptom of chlorine gas.

Extract from medical account of gas attack (p. 282)

Indeed, we also found recent academic references to Chlorine causing the rapid onset of pulmonary edema. This 2019 article on Chlorine Gas Toxicity stated “Pulmonary edema appears to be the most common cause of morbidity for moderate-to-severe exposures. This usually occurs within 2 to 4 hours of exposure to moderate chlorine concentration (25 to 50 ppm) or 30 to 60 minutes of severe exposure (greater than 50 ppm).” We have previously demonstrated that the concentration of chlorine within this building was likely to be well over 50 ppm. 

We asked Professor Paul Blanc, who has extensive expertise regarding the adverse effects of chlorine gas on the human respiratory system, about the inconsistency between the conclusion of the toxicologists and the established manifestations of chlorine gas inhalation. 

Professor Blanc was incredulous at the stated conclusions of the toxicologists as cited in these minutes. He noted that the onset of pulmonary edema can be quick, and can easily occur within 2-4 hours. In very heavy exposure to chlorine gas, defined by toxicologists as “immediately dangerous to life or health,” abrupt onset of respiratory distress would not be surprising, indeed, it would be expected.  Although there are war gases with more delayed onset of symptoms (phosgene is classic), the hallmark of chlorine is its rapidity of action.  

The first draft report also contained an error related to the symptoms seen in open source material. It noted that usually froth, when produced by choking  agents, is usually pinkish in colour, but that the froth produced by the victims was “white or cream-coloured”. 

Extract from first draft report

Not only have we shown that white froth does appears to have been a symptom in previous chlorine events, there are also images which clearly show victims with pinkish or brownish secretions. This is a detail which was noted by the FFM team and included in the final report.

Images of the victims depicting brownish or dark secretions. Extremely graphic sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6   

Toxicology: Actions Of The Victims

There is of course the possibility the toxicologists were not fully aware of the situation of Location 2 in Douma. For example, the experts opinion that it was:

highly unlikely that victims would have gathered in piles at the center of the respective apartments at such a short distance from an escape from any toxic chlorine gas to cleaner air”. 

This assumption is indicative of a lack of understanding of the context at Location 2 and of the Syrian conflict in general. Chemical attacks in Syria are so commonplace that people already know what to do in the event of one: head upstairs or to higher ground. Interviews conducted by the FFM demonstrate this very clearly:

Extract of Final FFM report.

Heading upstairs or to higher ground in an attempt to avoid chemical attacks has been recorded in FFM reports from incidents as early as 2014.

Extract from FFM report examining alleged chemical attack in 2014.

You can even see people being told to move upstairs and close the doors in this video depicting a chlorine attack in Aleppo. 

It should be noted that an inverse form of survivorship bias is displayed here. In the final report, it was noted that:

Extract of Final FFM report.

Some people did move away from the source of the chemical, and survived as a result. Others did not. This is not inconsistent: considering the chaos of that night, with extremely heavy shelling and multiple reports of chemical attacks, staying put would not necessarily have been an irrational choice. It would have been far from clear to the victims where the source of the chlorine gas actually was. 

None of the victims could have known a chlorine cylinder had actually landed on the building above them and was discharging its contents into the building they were in. Indeed, those casualties found on higher levels likely made the most rational choice in the circumstances, however, it was one that led them to their deaths.  This appears to be confirmed by an interview with a witness. The witness claims to have been in the building and to have lost relatives to this attack. It should be noted that although he blames the rebels, he doesn’t elucidate how they carried out the attack, only noting the building was “hit”. As the journalist who interviewed him notes, blaming the Syrian government for a chemical attack whilst in government held territory would probably not be a wise decision. His statement deserves to be read in full:

“I sat in the basement when it happened; the house was hit around seven in the evening. We ran out, and women and children ran into the house. They didn’t know the house had been hit from above and was filled with gas. The one who ran into the house died immediately. I ran out, feeling dizzy”.

For these reasons, questions about why victims did not immediately move to cleaner air display a lack of understanding of chemical weapons use in Syria and the context of the attack in Douma that night. This lack of context may not be the fault of the toxicologists nor those members of the OPCW who spoke to them. The email chain discussing these toxicology minutes notes that the toxicologist’s insight “was (and had to remain) limited”. Considering the sensitivity of some of the information the FFM were dealing with, this is entirely understandable. 

It should be noted that this single, one hour, meeting with toxicologists from a State Party should not be used as the basis for understanding the attack in Douma. As is noted in other leaks, these toxicologists had “limited” insight. There were multiple further toxicology consultations in both September and October, after the date of this specific meeting. Indeed, whoever drafted and sent the minutes for this meeting only did so on the 20th August 2018, two-and-a-half months after the meeting itself. Once again, Alex has asked us to draw conclusions with a very limited contextual picture.

Alex’s Misleading Statements

Finally, there is the question of Alex’s trustworthiness. So far all his communications have been through third parties, such as interviews. His true identity is not currently public knowledge. Brian Whitaker examined Alex’s statements and noticed that he has made misleading claims about the contents of the leaked material. 

For example, Alex claimed that the First Draft report  said that there had been “a non chemical-related event”. This is not true. As Whitaker notes, the First Draft did not say this: it stated that “a non chemical-related incident” in Douma was one of the possibilities considered, but that there was “insufficient evidence at this time to be able to formulate an authoritative conclusion”.

Alex also claimed that the report stated that “the signs and symptoms of victims were not consistent with poisoning from chlorine”, however the report only stated that some of the signs and symptoms were not consistent. 

Alex also makes a great deal of Ian Henderson having been a member of the FFM. In his email on the 20th May 2019, Alex said “a member of the FFM team has been suspended from his post and escorted from the OPCW building”.

However, WikiLeaks also leaked an email chain regarding Henderson’s report showing in no uncertain terms that the OPCW did not regard Henderson as being part of the FFM. Bear in mind that at the time this email was written, Sebastien Braha, the Chief of Cabinet to the Director General of the OPCW, had no reason to believe this email would ever be public, and so no incentive to obfuscate Henderson’s status. We will examine Henderson’s status in more detail in our next article.

Conclusion

Ultimately, every time WikiLeaks has released documents, they have provided material which undermines Alex’s claims. Close examination of the contents of these documents show that Alex’s statement cannot be taken at face value and must be thoroughly checked. He has clearly misled people over the contents of the documents, the status of Henderson, and the strength of the evidence supporting his conclusions. Questions raised about the chemistry, toxicology and actions of victims in this attack have been thoroughly answered.  

It is important to note that the selective releases from WikiLeaks so far do not cover the 6 months period during which a large amount of further investigation was carried out, including further consultations with toxicologists. Breathless headlines from the Mail on Sunday, the opinion section of The Independent, and from WikiLeaks themselves deliberately obscure this. 

It is no wonder WikiLeaks seem reticent to leak the whole batch of documents at once: it appears likely that further information will continue to undermine their narrative.

 

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64 Comments

  1. Harald K

    A good article on the facts, but “we need to talk”, really? Are you trying to sound like a HR department or a middle school teacher?

    Worth mentioning that WikiLeaks’ editor is a journalist jailed for his work, and hasn’t been able to oversee the day to day operations of WikiLeaks for a long time. If you want a better WikiLeaks, you should probably want him to be free.

    Reply
    • Milo duncan

      You’re entire article is saying the leaks are true but you need this this and this to verify 100% because of Alex’s wording. Read the report. Listen to the man at the opcw that your chief debated. Believe the most trustworthy journalists in operation wiki leaks. They are never wrong.

      Reply
  2. dick

    Just a little quibble about chlorine use
    Your point disputing the ubiquity of chlorine residues in Douma
    As water treatment in Syria is by way of chlorination , any residues are more likely to be where water has been used, for cleaning, washing, cooking, whatever
    Swab the floors and there’ll be some record of chlorination
    A bit disingenuous to talk of bleaching clothes for goodness sake

    Reply
    • Tariq

      That isn’t a reasonable quibble, and simple order of magnitude/Fermi calculations can show you why.

      There are, at most, low ppm levels of COC’s in chlorinated water. Those will never accumulate to detectable levels so ubiquitously.

      Reply
      • dick

        Take it up with the test laboratories and the WHO
        “By then the inspector had learnt that the results of the quantitative analysis of the samples from the allegedly attacked buildings had been delivered to management from the test laboratories but not passed on to the inspectors. He got sight of the results which indicated that the levels of COCs were much lower than what would be expected in environmental samples. They were comparable to and even lower than those given in the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on recommended permitted levels of trichlorophenol and other COCs in drinking water. The redacted version of the report made no mention of the findings.

        Alex described this omission as “deliberate and irregular”. “Had they been included, the public would have seen that the levels of COCs found were no higher than you would expect in any household environment”, he said.””

        Reply
        • Servus

          Great quote ´dick’ !
          Even ´alex’ says that COC levels on samples were below recommended drinking water levels, so hypothetical residues of this drinking water would have been even much lower.
          Good you figured out yourself that the ´drinking water’ hypothesis was without substance.
          Keep learning!

          Reply
        • Tariq

          This again shows the sophomoric nature of Alex’s criticisms. Discussions of WHO water quality standards are meaningless in a forensic discussion about a chlorine gas attack.

          Trace concentrations of COC’s (ppm level) are expected, and are indeed seen even in cases of deliberate exposure of organic materials to Cl2 in Kraft pulp bleaching, water treatment, etc. Thus it’s illogical to expect super high concentrations of COC’s after a chlorine gas release, and even moreso 2 weeks after (many of the most easily measured ones are volatile/non-persistent).

          Inorganic chloride is better quantitative tool. And 1000 – 17,000 ppm inorganic chloride is *far* higher than natural background (except for sea water, the Dead Sea, Salt Lake, salt flats, or contaminated soils near paper mills.

          Reply
    • Servus

      … loud reading….
      « This narrative is obviously flawed. Alex implied that some of the compounds discovered can be found in “household chlorine-based bleach”. However, these were found in samples taken at both Location 2 and 4, on multiple levels and on the adjacent street. Although it is possible that the inhabitants of Location 2 and 4 were in the habit of cleaning virtually everything in their buildings with bleach, including the walls and rubble in the street, it seems unlikel« 

      Residues of Chlorine in drinking water are below the traces found in Dumas environmental samples, the residues of chlorine drinking water residues are certainly orders of magnitude smaller and thus can be ignored.

      Nobody discussed impact of drinking water’s chlorine residues residues because its so obviously negligeable.,
      Try harder ´dick’,

      Reply
    • Jeroen

      Just a small remark about chlorine use.
      It is a total difference, either using chlorine as an add on to make drinking water more safe and dropping chlorine cylinders on residential area’s in order to kill people or convince them to leave their homes to become refugees.

      Reply
  3. Paul

    Such crap journalism. Temperature/ humidity/airflow have a huge affect on the speed of corrosion. None of those pictures show proof of a chlorine.
    Spend less time at your keyboard and more time working with steel before you become and expert on corrosion.

    Reply
    • Bill Walden

      My thoughts exactly. Showing rust on steel containers over the course of two months while suggesting that the containers corroded from momentary contact to an agent that would certainly have dissipated within hours or less of the attack suggests only that the containers had been exposed to the weather or some other cause. If painted steel exposed to chlorine and then to the weather for two months corrodes much faster than a control sample of the same material not exposed to chlorine and then exposed to the same weather, then you have evidence to support your claim. Making such claims without demonstrating scientific proof – while ignoring common sense – suggests bias in my opinion.

      Reply
      • Tariq

        So I’ve worked in labs in the balmy mid-atlantic in the summer (35 C, 70% + humidity, sudden thunderstorms, etc). We stored our painted gas cylinders outside, largely (under a canopy, but otherwise exposed to the elements). Some were there for weeks or months at a time.

        I’ve never, ever seen a gas cylinder corrode this thoroughly due to temperature/humidity/airflow alone. This is doubly absurd if you’re going to talk about a cylinder that was *indoors* for the entire time period.

        Reply
        • Paul

          Worked with steel in boat building for 30 years.
          You have to prep the steel and paint the same day.
          While the steel may look unpainted it nearly always has an unknown amount of oil/grease and dirt on it’s surface that inhibits corrosion.
          If the corrosion was uneven, like say when your battery leaks in your car, then you would see a vast difference in the amount of corrosion around the end caps of the container.
          There isn’t any vast differences in the amount of corrosion on these containers suggesting it was something in the atmosphere that corroded them and not something that leaked out of them. While this could be chlorine there is no way to tell from the pictures whether this was the case.
          This article is unscientific speculation at best

          Reply
          • Tariq

            That’s why we need to take a global view and not focus solely on cylinder corrosion. But I’ll chime in with my speculation: scratches on the cylinder from breaching concrete would be the points most vulnerable to corrosion.

            Corrosion to chandeliers and metal fixtures was also noted in the buildings. Environmental samples show evidence of COC’s and high levels of Inorganic chloride. We have dozens of decedents. There are industrial gas cylinders in houses. We know that one of them leaked a liquified gas with a bp < 0 C.

            All these observations are not a series of complex, unrelated mysteries. They're independent, overlapping lines of evidence (some independently stronger than others) that altogether create an unambiguous picture: chlorine gas was used as a weapon.

    • Servus

      Congatulations Peta!

      You are following IRA guidelines to the point. Only generalities, mocking remarks and pretentious advice suggesting deep knowledge rather then resounding echo between the ears.
      Your supposedly corrosive remarks are a much needed comic relief

      Reply
  4. Adam Larson

    “judging the OPCW on the basis of its draft documents is at best shortsighted, at worst intentionally misleading.”
    Well judging by the draft, they’re capable of a far more balanced approach than what they finally released. I’ve been over what was removed or changed between the draft and the final report:
    https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2019/12/opcw-interim-report-on-douma-what-they.html
    and it happens they decided to remove, for example:
    – all useful toxicology details: the draft report includes 10 mentions of “choking or blood agents” or “respiratory irritant”, all noting their failure to explain the Douma incident, and several mentions that a nerve agent (not found) might explain it.
    The final report includes NO mentions of nerve agent in that context, and zero mentions of choking OR blood agents; the closest they get is one use of “irritant or toxic.” Every chance to describe the responsible chemical, the final report fails
    to specify even a general class of agents, finding that “a chemical substance”
    or “toxic exposure” to “a wide scope of chemicals” could explain the symptoms and deaths. Is chlorine any better or worse at explaining it than anything else?
    They just don’t say. But it happens to be much worse.
    – The very June meeting where the FFM learned what a bad fit chlorine was and got all those details that needed scrubbed – scrubbed. The final report claims the first and meeting with any toxicologists happened only in September. (see timeline in your own article)
    https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2019/12/douma-toxicology-erasing-and-replacing.html

    Other things that needed to be fixed up to clarify our understanding:
    – the huge area needing filled by the one cylinder’s gas, including out in the street, making deadly concentrations roughly impossible – scrubbed.
    – the real reason they didn’t exhume bodies (the time elapsed, and the “risk” of what they’d find) – scrubbed. And added; words that make it sound like Syria barred them from it.
    – a table full of witness contradictions about the numbers + locations of the dead.
    – Draft: “the possibility that the casualties observed in video footage and photos may not have died in situ or are the victims of a non-chemical event cannot be discounted.” but that gets no mention in the final report.
    – the doubts about how the cylinders arrived was cut from the interim report, but eventually “resolved,” not simply removed. The resolution involves dubious computer modeling, and notes untrue things like the absence of primary fragmentation marks at Location 2, to keep overruling Henderson’s perfectly valid findings.
    – etc.

    Other points, next comment. Thanks for allowing.

    Reply
    • Tariq

      “Is chlorine any better or worse at explaining it than anything else?
      They just don’t say. But it happens to be much worse.”

      This simply isn’t true, and the above article makes this abundantly clear. This appears to be an actual shortcoming of the FFM report.

      Environmental evidence provides a strong case for Chlorine gas. It’s also difficult to argue with the frost-coated gas cylinder seen at the site with multiple decedents.

      “the huge area needing filled by the one cylinder’s gas, including out in the street, making deadly concentrations roughly impossible – scrubbed.”

      I’m sorry, but this is nonsense. One cylinder will provide far more than enough Cl2 to fill that area with a lethal concentration of Cl2. Throughout your arguments, you consistently–in contradiction to all available literature and precedent–downplay chlorine’s toxicity. This is the hill you’ve chosen to die on, and it’s just an embarrassingly stupid one.

      Your scrubbed quotes are incomplete. This isn’t twitter. There is space to copy/paste the full paragraphs. And reading them, it seems as though the FFM team considered alternative scenarios to be a waste of their time. Didn’t even give them half a page.

      First draft interim report:

      “7.89 Secondly, the possibility that the casualties observed in video footage and photos may not have died in situ or are the victims of a non-chemical event cannot be discounted, although the FFM team does not have sufficient evidence to reach an authoritative conclusion on this possibility.”

      “7.90 Firstly, the team considered the possibility that some unknown highly toxic chemical, which so far has eluded detection, might have been co-present or released simultaneously with the putative chlorine-containing agent. The team had no evidence however that this is the case and to date the prospect is merely speculative.”

      “7.91 Secondly, the possibility that the casualties observed in video footage and photos may not have died in situ or are the victims of a non-chemical event cannot be discounted, although the FFM team does not have sufficient evidence to reach an authoritative conclusion on this possibility.”

      Reply
      • Adam Larson

        “This simply isn’t true, and the above article makes this abundantly clear.”

        Sorry, what part of the article explains this adequately? Did you find chlorine to be deadlier than sarin, about equal, or just not “much” less deadly in your view?

        “One cylinder will provide far more than enough Cl2 to fill that area with a lethal concentration of Cl2. Throughout your arguments, you consistently–in contradiction to all available literature and precedent–downplay chlorine’s toxicity. This is the hill you’ve chosen to die on, and it’s just an embarrassingly stupid one.”

        Colorful metaphor, but no more substance than usual. You really think if you crunched the numbers you could find a plausible concentration to imbue this chlorine with properties it never had before? It makes people stop moving how? I’ve never denied it will kill eventually. My point has been that rarely happens because it cannot make people just sit there and keep breathing it ’til they die.

        Or your phrase “lethal concentration of Cl2” has no meaning in itself. Almost ANY (elevated) LEVEL can be fatal if a person breathes it in continuously. But why in the hell would they do that? You need to consider fatal exposure, which is a function of concentration, duration of exposure, and other factors. But you won’t want to do that – if you do it right it won’t help your case

        “Your scrubbed quotes are incomplete. This isn’t twitter. There is space to copy/paste the full paragraphs.”

        Well I didn’t take it all, and those summaries were accurate with the bonus of being quickly readable.

        “And reading them, it seems as though the FFM team considered alternative scenarios to be a waste of their time. Didn’t even give them half a page.”

        Well, that inference must prove something, huh? But they didn’t elaborate on it in the final. Instead they just scrubbed the hint and the whole notion. Did they ever explain HOW they decided there was no value in looking at non-attack options? Or did the team leader just not like where that was bound to lead?

        Reply
  5. Adam Larson

    However, for my part, I can’t disagree on the issue of chlorine levels. I still suspect “Alex” and whoever else is wrong about that, or it doesn’t matter; an attack or staged release on this scale somehow produces levels that are both “trace” and quite high, maybe dangerous (but still not likely to be deadly or to
    explain the observed symptoms – there’s no level that could).

    And the experts did, IMO, overstate the foam issue(s) (presence, speed, pinkness). I found the China photo to make that case before Tariq (I presume) saw it. But they’re still right on the basic picture that people would not just drop dead or immobilized from chlorine. They would escape to fresh air – all of them, not just a couple. The woman in China had walked an unclear distance (carrying a baby who also died?) through a huge, outdoor plume before she fell. She wasn’t found five feet from the start point tipped over with 30 others, with fresh air just outside the door.

    Braha calling Henderson “not part of the FFM – that’s still the best evidence he wasn’t? Braha replaced Fairwather at the job fairly late. He could be ignorant of Henderson’s prior membership, or be repeating a lie that ‘until it becomes true.’

    If Henderson, a qualified engineer, was not involved, then the FFM just didn’t bother with any engineering study until the fall? It seems to me he was involved, wrote THE engineering assessment, had it rejected, got kicked off the team, had his work scrubbed and then replaced. This seems to be what happened with the first try with toxicology experts – the FFM leadership didn’t like what they heard, scrubbed it, and replaced it with all that vagueness after talking with some other and pretty useless-seeming experts.

    “the events around the OPCW cannot be understood without the context of the pressure it has faced, primarily from the Russian Federation.” Primarily or only! One of their guys threatened the director’s children, and they’ve been Russian tools ever since. Right? Good call, guys.

    No, you’ve got an alleged hacking effort, with zero visible effect on their work. Right? So who distorted their work in a way to line up with Western geopolitical aims?

    “independent and reputable investigations” have been biased in their approach and distorted the record. They are sponsored by/beholden to certain states, who support the non-ISIS “moderate”(ly WHAT?) militants who get this clean bill of health. Sorry, it’s not just on the “bad guy” side. No one is reliable and bias-free. All should be double-checked, but you prefer the faith-based approach.

    The repeated findings that only “Assad” and “ISIS” use chemical weapons is a case in point. Aside from the strong anti-motive Syria has, regularly sharpened by bad timing (recall when Gouta was launched). You guys really believe the Syrian government gassed their own with sarin on several occasions?
    (19-3-13, 24-8-13, 25-8-13, 15-2-15 at least have verified sarin, the latter 3 properly OPCW-verified. And SAA troops were the targets. 24-8-13 had militants launching sarin just meters from where the Ghouta rockets had been fired 3 days earlier – it was NOT government-held.)

    Reply
    • Tariq

      ” an attack or staged release on this scale somehow produces levels that are both “trace” and quite high, maybe dangerous (but still not likely to be deadly or to
      explain the observed symptoms – there’s no level that could).”

      Even in industrial uses of chlorine gas, only “trace” levels of COC’s result. So yes: there can be a space with a lethal atmosphere of chlorine, but only trace COC residues. This is especially true two weeks after a point release. This shouldn’t bother you.

      Reply
    • Louis Proyect

      Larson, so the rebels had sarin gas but used it only 6 years ago and then only once after that. For bloodthirsty jihadists, that seems rather Gandhian. Or maybe they read the Sermon on the Mount?

      Unlike Bellingcat that is capable of exposing Saudi crimes in Yemen, your only purpose in life seems to be absolving Assad of every crime he has ever committed.

      I suppose that explains your Alexa rating of 3,854,669 worldwide and why nobody has the slightest inkling that you exist unless you troll this website.

      Reply
      • Adam Larson

        Proyect, you know I never made that claim you find so funny. I said those cases at least have verified sarin. Other cases before and since probably involved it too, but it wasn’t verified. Also, if they did stop using sarin on soldiers, it could b a tactical decision, not a moral one. So no, my thinking isn’t scrambled here, just your reading. And you really have a knack for that kind of thing.

        Exposing Saudi crimes in Yemen – good work, but AFAIK it means geolocating videos of bleeding obvious Saudi crimes. Glad someone’s doing it, but it doesn’t in my mind offset the other things these guys do.

        Thanks for checking my Alexa rating. That must prove I’m wrong and you’re honest, huh? Short on other methods are we?

        Reply
  6. Adam Larson

    I hear “Alex” complain the COC levels weren’t in the redacted or final reports. But I’ve been over the first draft too, and didn’t see it mentioned there either, except like this: “”Based on the levels of chlorinated organic derivatives … the FFM concludes that the materials … had been in contact with … reactive chlorine.” Sounds like unusually high levels, same as the final. Anyone know where the low levels ever WERE included? Some draft even earlier than “first” that’s been released w/o my knowledge? I’d like to see the context to see if it helps resolve the confusion.

    Reply
  7. Adam Larson

    Ok now that whoever check comments with links is back on shift can my first and main comment be approved?

    Reply
  8. Adam Larson

    getting approve, thanks, and sorry to swamp, but I’ll be asleep soon. On edema and chlorine – it’s exactly what kills people, after a while. Nothing in it makes them sit there and develop it in place. It makes people move.

    The China example and the WWI examples fail to apply – they all involve huge plumes people couldn’t escape. Tonages released in the open were in the tens of tons, in a sudden and uncontrolled release. They tried to escape it, but it meant walking though it too long and they finally collapse, unable to breathe. A jet pack could solve the problem, and/or a gas mask. Upper floors if available.

    Now in Douma, no reason to expect open-air area coverage (it is claimed, but the claims make no sense). All accepted release in the Loc. 2 area is ~170L of CL2 through a small nozzle, with release beginning ~7:30PM and still not complete around 10PM (frosted underside, minor portion). The first part would release quicker, so let’s say it’s pretty darn strong. Acidic conditions. It’ll burn. (and again, that’s all it does) It has to fill much of floor 3, sink down the stairs, splitting some at floor 2 and 1 before emptying into the street, re-collecting some + drifting down to the basement before people could smell it and react … by fleeing up to the street, then inside to denser gas, then NOT back out. They sit there and die. Makes no sense. Science-wise.

    The toxicologists were right about that, and right to suspect and propose, as summarized, the chief toxicologist suggesting without solicitation “the possibility of the event being a propaganda exercise.” He even “elaborated on the possibilities,” but the details of that aren’t included in the leaked minutes (pity).

    Then, I propose, they were a bit wrong to overstate some points – maybe driven by the shadiness of the whole thing/the nature of that poss. propaganda operation, and/or a sense of the FFM’s willingness to run a mile with any inch they gave – to adopt more of an activist stance than was ideal, and give a few less inches than was warranted. People who die from choking on foam MIGHT in fact exude some of it, it might form earlier than usual, depending, it not be pink, etc. But they didn’t give those inches.

    On reflection, I suppose that was right too. Reasonable anyway. Did they suffer some lack of faith in OPCW procedures … having met the people responsible face-to-face? It sounds like an awkward meeting. And that meeting got erased. Huh.

    Reply
    • Tariq

      “Now in Douma, no reason to expect open-air area coverage (it is claimed, but the claims make no sense). All accepted release in the Loc. 2 area is ~170L of CL2 through a small nozzle, with release beginning ~7:30PM and still not complete around 10PM (frosted underside, minor portion).”

      I suspect the exact flow of chlorine can only be addressed through computer modeling. Based off conversations I’ve had with some engineers, this is a research-level problem. It needs to do a time-dependent simulation of a mixed (and interchanging) vapor/aerosol flow of a non-ideal gas through a building. Moreover, this gas is reactive and its flow is attenuated by contact with surfaces. Other toxic gases (importantly, HCl) with different physical properties result. But even if we assume “only” a quarter of 170 kg’s of Cl2 was released (which would be indicative of a pure vapor release rather than the combined liquid/vapor release that actually happened at Douma), that’s a more than enough to turn the entire building into a lethal gas chamber.

      “It has to fill much of floor 3, sink down the stairs, splitting some at floor 2 and 1 before emptying into the street, re-collecting some + drifting down to the basement before people could smell it and react … by fleeing up to the street, then inside to denser gas, then NOT back out. ”

      This is exactly how a mixed vapor/aerosol plume that’s denser than air would behave. Why are you pretending this is irrational, unprecedented, or otherwise contrary to expectation?

      Early detection by odor may not be possible before a concentration > IDHL is attained.

      Reply
      • Adam Larson

        Of course it would expand and roll downward, as possible. And let’s even say lethal concentrations were attained. Almost any degree is lethal if someone sits in it long enough. And these people allegedly just sat there and died. But chlorine doesn’t cause that except maybe in fluke cases, not with nearly everyone present. Pretend otherwise or change the subject all you want – this remains as true as it ever was. You’re prior speculation about people “clearly” being rendered unconscious or incapacitated as a regular feature were shown wrong. Do you still not acknowledge that?

        Reply
        • Tariq

          Suggesting they “sat there and died” is language that blames the victims for being murdered in a deliberate chemical attack. Is a little humanity too much to ask from you?

          Maybe we differ on what we define as a “regular feature” of chlorine exposure, but I have no trouble finding multiple instances of loss of consciousness in the literature. It’s not exactly a rare, mythical, or unverified symptom.

          In June 1944, an accidental release of Cl2 occurred in the Brooklyn subway when a truck transporting a leaking cylinder parked over top an air intake. A clinical report was made describing 133 patients. Of these, 8 experienced loss of consciousness with one being unconscious for 30 minutes. In the author’s words, “The immediate symptoms consisted of choking, nausea, vomiting, anxiety and syncope and extreme weakness, amounting in some cases to prostration.”

          Chasis, H. ; Zapp, J. A. ; Bannon, J. H. ; Whittenberger, J. L. ; Helm, J. ; Doheny, J. J. ; Macleod, C. M. “Chlorine accident in Brooklyn.” Occupational Medicine 1947 Vol.4 No.2 pp.152-76

          On Jan. 31, 1961, a train derailment released 6000 gallons of Cl2 (think concentration, not quantity). Roughly 100 people were affected. Of these, three children and one adult were unconscious when they arrived at the hospital. They experienced severe dyspnea, coughing, vomiting, and retching. Their cough was, “productive of frothy, white, thin sputum.”

          Joyner et. al. “Accidental Liquid Chlorine Spill in Rural Community.”
          Journal of Occupational Medicine: March 1962 – Volume 4 – Issue 3 – ppg 152-154
          https://journals.lww.com/joem/citation/1962/03000/accidental_liquid_chlorine_spill_in_a_rural.7.aspx

          In November 1981 in Zaragoza, Spain, there was a leak of 300 L of chlorine gas, exposing a playground to toxic gas. 76 children were affected. Of these, 2 experienced loss of consciousness.

          FLETA, J., CALVO, C.. ZUNIGA, J., CASTELLANO. M., and BUENO, M. (1986). “Intoxication of 76 children by chlorine gas.” Human Toxicol. 5: 99-100.
          https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/096032718600500205

          On June 5, 2019, a “freak chlorine accident” at a swimming pool sickened 50 people with reports of some children going in and out of consciousness.
          https://abc13.com/health/chlorine-sickens-dozens-in-freak-accident-at-pool/5332263/

          In the Graniteville, S.C. derailment, 8 people died on the scene. I think it’s safe to say they were incapacitated. (Reminder: concentration is what matters, not quantity).
          https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735675708000260?via%3Dihub

          Data such as these have formed numerous guides on chlorine toxicity. One from the University of Kansas Health System bluntly states, “High concentrations can lead to syncope and almost immediate death.”
          https://www.kansashealthsystem.com/-/media/Files/PDF/Poisons/chlorine.pdf

          This is not something I’m speculating about. I’m repeating well-established facts and I’m certainly not wrong. Sorry/not sorry if they don’t align with your worldview.

          Reply
          • Adam Larson

            OK I’m checking what you claim covered that.
            “Maybe we differ on what we define as a “regular feature” of chlorine exposure, but I have no trouble finding multiple instances of loss of consciousness in the literature. It’s not exactly a rare, mythical, or unverified symptom.”

            Let me define regular then, as I use it here: a symptom that occurs frequently enough that some 35+ out of about 50 people would display it. Unconsciousness is not regular in that sense, though iIt’s not “mythical” either. And I never claimed that – just not common enough to appear in anything like 70% of the exposed.

            In fact you provide examples! Thanks! Mostly these events are new to me, but surprise – they don’t surprise me. Seems to be best case to worst, starting with 8 people passed out, among 133 affected. This suggests around 6% of people might pass out, when we need about 70%. Other cases were 4% blacked out, 2.6%, and “some” – probably in the range of 2-5%. That’s interesting to learn about this range.

            I looked into Graniteville, and it’s no safer to presumee any number of these passed out than it was to assume that about Ypres. Your own precedent suggests maybe no pass-outs expected (with 9 killed, just one case of unconsciousness would be a higher rate than usual). One died sleeping in his truck cab, another sleeping at home, two walked into the woods and died, one died on his way to a telephone inside, a train engineer was wounded in the crash and didn’t escape the gas. The other cases were unclear.

            “Suggesting they “sat there and died” is language that blames the victims for being murdered in a deliberate chemical attack. Is a little humanity too much to ask from you?”

            Wow that’s heavy-handed and stupid. They were poisoned there, and found dead there. Did they leave and come back? No. Allegedly everyone (except a few fighting-age male miracle survivors telling contradictory stories) sat there and died, because of the chlorine. Actually the original allegation was because of the sarin, but we’ve been correcting this for them.

            I’m blaming the people who murdered them – as I see it with good reason – for the murder AND that stupid claim so many people insist on believing, despite all evidence and precedent. Call that inhuman all you want, I don’t care.

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