Chemical arms watchdog says Syria probe leakers ‘not whistleblowers’

The world's chemical watchdog on Thursday slammed two former inspectors for leaking confidential papers questioning the body's findings into a 2018 chlorine attack in the Syrian town of Douma, saying they "are not whistleblowers".

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The world’s chemical watchdog on Thursday slammed two former inspectors for leaking confidential papers questioning the body’s findings into a 2018 chlorine attack in the Syrian town of Douma, saying they “are not whistleblowers”.

“Inspectors A and B are not whistleblowers. They are individuals who could not accept that their views are not backed by evidence,” the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) head Fernando Arias said.

Arias announced an internal probe in late May 2019 to look into the leak of an internal paper that queried the body’s findings into the Douma attack in April 2018, in which around 40 people died.

In November last year Arias again defended the report after another leak in which WikiLeaks published an email from a member of the team that probed the incident.

That email accused the Hague-based OPCW of altering the original findings of investigators to make the evidence of a chemical attack seem more conclusive.

Arias, in a scathing conclusion slapped down two former inspectors’ actions saying “when their views could not gain traction, they took matters into their own hands and breached the obligations to the organisation.”

Read more: The U.S-Russia blame game over chemical weapons in Syria

“Their behaviour is even more egregious as they had manifestly incomplete information about the Douma investigation,” he said.

‘Minor role’ 

The OPCW only named the former officials as “Inspector A and Inspector B” and did not identify them by name.

The two officials also “refused to cooperate with the investigation,” the OPCW said.

It said “Inspector A was not a member of the watchdog’s Fact-Finding Mission… and played a minor supporting role in the investigation of the Douma incident.”

The OPCW report said Inspector A afterwards tricked university professors into believing they were assisting the OPCW in an official engineering study on chlorine cylinders found in Douma.

He travelled outside the Netherlands twice to meet the professors and give them a USB stick which the OPCW said contained “highly protected” confidential information.

He then used the professors’ report in a draft of his own assessment of what happened in Douma.

A version of the draft later appeared on the website of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media which regularly questions Western narratives on Syria.

Inspector B travelled to Syria in April 2018 after being selected to the FFM for the first time.

“He never left the command post in Damascus because he had not completed the necessary training required to deploy on-site to Douma,” the OPCW said.

Read more: OPCW- Can identify culprits of chemical weapons abuse; Implications for Syrian conflict

After leaving the OPCW in August 2018, Inspector B, who was involved in drafting an interim report on the Douma incident, “displayed a desire to have continued access to and influence the Douma investigation,” it said.

This was despite the FFM undertaking the bulk of its work only after the official had left the organisation, the OPCW said.

Stand by report

Released in March last year, the final OPCW report said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe toxic chemicals containing “reactive chlorine” had been used in the attack.

It said two cylinders likely containing the chemical had smashed into a housing block in Douma, which was held by rebels at the time.

The report cited ballistics reports implying that the two gas cylinders found at the scene were likely dropped from the air.

“I stand by the conclusions of the Douma report,” Arias said, after earlier Thursday briefing the OPCW member states on the matter.

Western powers led by the United States blamed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, unleashing air strikes on regime military installations in response.

Read more: Syrian Air Defence Intercepts Israeli Missiles Attack

Both Syria and Russia, however, rejected the OPCW report and seized on the leaks to back their insistence that the Douma attack was staged as a pretext for Western military action.

Damascus and Moscow have previously argued that the cylinders were likely placed at the scene in a staged attack by rebels, rather than from Syrian regime planes.

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