Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Ghouta rocket 7 geolocation effort

Februay 27, 2020

Here I previously collected notes on six geolocated impacts: 

Updates to add include locating a place said to have a rocket, if not the actual rocket, and showing a UN mission visit that's not mentioned in their list of thee visited sites (maybe because the rocket wasn't there, had been moved?). That's LCC#2 on this map I'll add soon. 
That spot was pre-located by Bellingcat, and I agree it's placed right. But they had it as the outside of the rooftop impact (note it crashes through the coffee table - that's the rooftop scene). The area around that carefully-placed scene is much different. This is another spot wrongly wrapped around that impact.

But the following also involves trying to corelate inner and outer views, so at the start, it's possible the interior scenes are at that LCC#2 and the external views relate to some other site visit. 

This post look at another location that's not pinned on the map (in green) just yet. This is impact #7 in my system. It's the OPCW's site 5, visited the afternoon of 29 August following sites 3 and 4 (rooftop, field  1, my lower left green dots). They're seen inside an empty room (vacant home, pres.) where what seems to be the north wall is heavily damaged after a volcano rocket crashed into a narrow balcony. I think the rebar bends in and a bit to the right, so the angle of impact is a bit from the west of straight into the wall, so we could draw a broad range of angles from it, if we knew where it was.

A few videos show inspectors outside this building on two different sides, so it took some correlating (and deduction) to be clear it's one spot. "Sasa Wawa" looked at the scene here, comparing a given visit time of 1:35 PM, finding the side impacted is north, suggesting a northern origin. 
But the shaded nature of that side suggests north anyway, and it's not total: the sunlight fits best with a slight rotation shared by many buildings in the area so that wall faces a bit NNW. And while Sasa thought the impact looked straight on, I think it's got a notable western angle, even relative to a wall facing NNW.

Scenery in some of these videos:
1:35 by Unified Information Office, the city of Arbeen
thank you for coming, ok? rep. several time. smiles. Does someone say "call me"? Team seems eager to leave.
Al Aan snippets

An older list I forgot to check:
Interior, photos:
same https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwGoWoA9q4o&index=8&list=PLO_vQ_Y4lJ5AEko1PAuDDRt2-m4_1Y82u
same https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AcdS4FmRyQ&index=12&list=PLO_vQ_Y4lJ5AEko1PAuDDRt2-m4_1Y82u
driving from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcA_dnjCzWo

Majles Rif videos - all may be at one site, aside from four videos at a clinic, where they get blood samples and interview mostly young males lined up.
site 5 interior

An old image I made from (I think) the same video that's now private. This, I found, shows both sides. From top to bottom it's south facing west, south facing east, then north facing east. The ghost person in white is a separate mystery. 

A bunch of views and details put onto a sort of rushed scene model - the door they come out has the triangular arch over it:

My first try at using this focused on a spot LCC numbered 4 - the buildings just west of that offer all the surroundings clues, but not the actual varied buildings they actually go into. 
This can't be it, but helps visualize the model - I'm looking for a spot much like this - long generic façade to the west, visible from north and south, walled green area then buildings to the north, a badly damaged building to the west, and the blocks in question have mainly 4-5 story buildings, but they're separate and vary as seen. A best view of the area facing west:

facing east:
more as needed...

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Mapping Sarin-Related Activity in Jobar, 21-24 August, 2013

February 22, 2020
last edits Feb. 25

Likely launch site for 21 August's "volcano" rockets
Who was in control?
Initially, the August 2013 Ghouta chemical massacre was blamed on the Syrian government partly from the "fact" that the rockets though to deliver sarin nerve agent were fired from a military base fully under government control. That basis was destroyed (in January, 2014) by the work of MIT scientists Richard Lloyd and Ted Postol's finding the rockets could not have flown nearly the required distance (nearly 10 kilometers); all activity in the easten area would be within 2km, or about the area HRW happened to fill with the compass to prove their fake point. So things were left hanging and remain that way. The big question that emerged and never clearly answered: if the blamed rockets could only fly about 2km, then from whose side of what font-line were they fired?

The real question is who fired them, but … (the "volcano" rocket seems to be a government weapon despite DIY appearance - but copies could be seized, or fabricated in a different DIY process - these options have never been ruled out. In government hands its main use had been as an incendiary, fuel-air, or conventional explosives, mainly or totally in the Damascus area - except the handily red-numbered ones that tend to appear in connection with alleged sarin attacks, before and including 21 Augusr.)

... the area alone might be able to prove that, as the original claims tried to do. I always stayed uncertain; loosely following the work of others at the time (including "Sasa Wawa", Eliot Higgins, Charles Wood, others), it seemed like the firing spot would be roughly font-line either way, and lines can be penetrated. The review I just made only clarifies this point for me, but also narrows down the straight map reading. The security scene remains somewhat uncertain, but this below is pretty well-agreed by everyone for this small area, on 23/24 August.
Probably all this area had been opposition-held until offensives over the summer, with the bus station only cleared during August (Bellingcat has some apparently good review). So the green area would likely be a bit smaller and less established three days earlier, except at Thome checkpoint, which should have been active to some time on the 21st (probably after the chemical attack called in around 2 AM, but possibly taken out earlier, as in to allow the rocket launchers to pass west undetected). For all these reasons - and because it can hardly change the status of the firing spot - I'm not going to try and guess-draw what the situation was in the first few hours of that day.

Setting the firing area (so far)
I see people around leaping to erred conclusion, hopping back off them or staying out of pride, and sometimes I do that (only the former, I hope). This seems like a good subject to practice the opposite approach and crawl to the conclusion. This still isn't gospel, but my try at placing the best results yet, when I decided to re-visit the issue in 2017, and was lucky to have Michael Kobs and others step in (partial coverage here). One person involved was Chris Kabusk, who had worked with Lloyd and Postol, and had some handy tips like prior mappings, computer models, rare images. Kobs kicked my ass, and was able to get usable ranges for 5 impacts, in a graphic I show below (dubbed: roof, embedded, garage door, sheeps, wall).

Note embedded (also "impact #4" to the UN-OPCW) and garage door ae both lines, not ranges, and the same basic line. That almost seems too lucky, and I didn't verify garage door (placement or direction), but I'd guess that was good work like the rest and that red line is pretty exact at 314º, serving as the best guide. (as I recall roof was easy to get a broad reading for, sheeps and wall were a bit tricky with deflection involved, and the other field impact was so tricky we couldn't agree if it fit at all or showed a second firing direction more like 344º. )

The river/creek dividing red and green, in Kobs' graphic, runs across the widest pat of the yellow diamond shape, with just the tip in government turf. That also roughly marks the volcano's outer range. The best fit should be quite close to that line, on whichever side.

My old version to summarize was never meant to be exact, but was more inadequate than I realized, to be replaced with the area indicated above (and again at right) unless/until that's improved further. Considering the established maximum range of the "volcano" rocket of ~2 to 2.25km and where the paths best intersect, there's a fairly long but narrow area centered on a clear NW direction of approximately 315º bearing from impact #4. I let the other clues pull Kobs' line one degree clockwise, and add some wiggle-room (2-3 degrees on each side) for good measure. The bigger variable is distance out, and that's hard to set by visuals alone. Considering open areas needed (white-shaded), and rooftops being only so likely a place, across the river in government turf is no fit for distance and a lack of such areas, unless it was on the bus station's roof. But logically, using close to maximum range makes sense, as it puts them launch closer to, arguably in, the green area. Allowing a wider and longer box (gray), the bus station's lot is a possible fit at the farthest range. There are some streaks with arcs that appear, and seem worth some review (I don't know they would have an innocent explanation). In a pinch perhaps that adjacent field would fit?

But again whichever side of the river it might be pinned to eventually, this spot is not so good for proving blame; there's a crossing right there (yellow) into the bus station grounds or, for the other side, from there straight into that black boxed area.

What possibly happened there: Liwa al-Islam alleged launch video - strange case, a number of details and theories … it's not certain they even show the actual launches, so it's not clear if the area needs to share the seen details, and which details: the truck with rocket is in a field, apparently oriented near-parallel with its furrows, but it's not fired in that scene. One firing is seen (detached, with (same?) truck parked aside), apparently next to a row of trees, maybe with a pole (composite view I just made at right). And why did they light this up to be seen, just so disputed 3rd parties could stumble on and leak the video? Etc. People have been over this, probably best at the old Who Attacked Ghouta blog (first explained here, enhanced views and further discussion here - but the "geolocation" here is based on picking open areas along a firing line that didn't pan out in general - some commenters thought it was filmed clear across the country by regime stagers, and that's possible, AFAIK.)

24 August alleged sarin attack  
This is now covered in a page at A Closer Look On Syria. As related in a Dec. UN-OPCW report "on 24 August 2013, a group of soldiers were tasked to clear some buildings near the river in Jobar under the control of opposition forces," or so they were told. Around 11AM they seemed to be winning a clash when "approximately 10 meters away from some soldiers, an improvised explosive device (IED) reportedly detonated with a low noise, releasing a badly smelling gas." It's not clear from what direction it was supposedly launched. The bad/foul smell is the same in all other credibly described sarin cases. 10 soldiers were effected badly enough to evacuate to a field medical point "with breathing difficulties, blurred vision and with strange symptoms not further specified." Four of them were barely conscious.  The report continues to describe symptoms and treatments consistent with sarin exposure, blood tests said to show it, later OPCW work to verify those samples and confirm sarin still in one soldiers' blood a month after. They were too cautious to say how the sarin got there, not confirming the militant attack story, just passing it on. (See also SW report analysis)

So allegedly, terrorists were launching sarin 3 days after the Ghouta sarin attack, and the sharp tip of that point is the location. The report's Figure 7.2:

This maps out as shown above, something like 300-400 meters east of the apparent launch spot for the Ghouta massacre's alleged sarin rockets. (note a dated image was used here - the one I've used became available later, and shows the actual scene one day earlier)

Opposition CW Facility
"The United Nations Mission was also presented with two metal canisters discovered by Government soldiers during the offensive operations in Jobar on 25 August 2013 in the immediate aftermath of the incident and in close vicinity of the site of the alleged incident. These presented similar characteristics with the IEDs claimed to have been used to disperse the chemical agent in the Jobar incident on 25 August 2013"
But the incident was on the 24th, so it's not clear if these were found on the 25th or on the same day that's just given wrongly in this paragraph.

Jean Pascal Zanders:
"They had an internal fill capacity of up to approximately 4 litres (see figure below). The two metal canisters are the ACW Syria declared to the OPCW."
(ACW = abandoned chemical weapons, referred to by UN chief Ban Ki Moon here: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-chemicalweapons/two-abandoned-cylinders-seized-in-syria-contained-sarin-u-n-idUSKBN0FC1U420140707)

The UN-OPCW report gives several reasons to disregard the findings - e.g. sarin traces at the lab were useless because there had been mine-clearing operations, they couldn't verify custody of the evidence, what was in the lab vs. planted there, etc. Zanders would hear from people involved the sarin in the two ACWs proved the government had made it, must have planted it, and attacked its own soldiers with it, if anyone attacked them at all. (January 2016 - https://www.the-trench.org/syrian-soldiers-exposed-to-sarin )

I wanted to map this, but nothing I've seen gives or easily allows a geolocation. Some videos and a photo of OPCW inspectors give some clue, but not enough for me. "Close vicinity" is ok for now.

Tohme Checkpoint
Bellingcat early article in 2014:
"To the south of the underpass checkpoint, between Zamalka and Jobar, is Tohme checkpoint. The checkpoint is mentioned in a number of videos posted before and after the August 21st Sarin attack, and on August 22nd the checkpoint was reportedly destroyed by the opposition, … This video, published on September 6th by Orient News, mentions Tohme as a staging point for tanks used directly after the August 21st Sarin attacks
"On the eve of the chemical attack on Zamalka, rebels observed the presence of more than 15 armoured vehicles at Tohme checkpoint. Immediately after the chemical attack these vehicles made a breakthrough and reached a strategic point near Zamalka Bridge, exploiting the rebels’ busyness with helping the victims of the chemical attack.
The regime’s capture of the Southern Bypass would have enabled them to completely separated Jobar from East Ghouta."

I pondered the imagery and clashing locations - one map Bellingcat cited (right) has Tohme indicated as regime-held, along with the highway in between. On the night of 20/21 August, probably so (my map is for 3 days later). But it's placed far south, once scaled - at the (pedestrian bridge?) near the bottom edge of my new map, beneath "technologies." You can see how different that is from the better placement I have.

Bellingcat gives a different spot where local roads pass under the highway. Somehow I thought it should be on the highway, where only the purple-marked vehicles stay parked to check the few vehicles breaking the apparent rule of no civilian traffic here. At the underpass makes sense. There seems to be an object blocking the road previously, and there were apparently soldiers based in those buildings, which were reportedly bombed sometime ON 21 August, and the buildings do seem different + damaged when seen on the 23rd.

Tohme buildings were stormed in Zamalka in response to the massacre and killed the shabiha

"With the help of God Almighty" Tohme checkpoint was destroyed on August 21, 2013 in a joint attack by Al-Bara Brigade and the Al-Nusra Front - "blown up by Al-Bara Brigade through a tunnel, and then another explosion was detonated by BMB, booby-trapped by the Al-Nusra Front, on August 21, 2013, and on August 24 2013, the Al-Bara Brigade stormed the buildings. Surrounding the bombing, killing the remaining regime forces and combing the buildings, seizing some weapons and ammunition, and thank God. In response to the chemical massacre of about 2AM on 21 August, completed on 21 August suggests some quick tunneling, or a pre-planned "response."
Survivors held out for thee days until al-Bara mopped them up and seized some weapons on the 24th. Four dead soldiers are seen, mostly missing their shirts, seeming variously executed and then deliberately burned. One appears shot in the chest and also has his head missing (appears more torn off than cut off?), then all the skin burned off his upper body.

Tohme Attackers
We know a bit about Jabhat al-Nusra.
Liwa al-Bara - "enmity brigade" - formed in early 2012 by Abd al-Nasr Shmeir, a captain who defected from the Syrian Army - it was allied with al-Nusa Front, would later form a coalition called Faylaq al-Rahman - Qatari-backed, "moderate" (not global-jihadist OR seeking an Islamic state in Syria), but remained allied with Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusa Front though its name changes. Faylaq al-Rahman would become the dominant force in inner East Ghouta (Jobar, Zamalka, to Kafr Batna sometimes ally but frequent enemy of Saudi-backed Liwa/Jaysh al-Islam, especially in 2016, following the death of JaI founder Zahran Alloush.

Aaron Lund: "In August 2012, [Shmeir] headed an armed group known as the al-Bara Battalion, which made headlines by kidnapping forty-eight Iranians on pilgrimage to the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine; Shmeir claimed that they were Iranian intelligence officers. The Iranians were released in October that year in a murky deal that involved a prisoner exchange and reportedly also a large ransom payment.53 These funds seem to have helped Shmeir remain independent of Alloush and develop the al-Bara Battalion into the much-larger Failaq al-Rahman network, which was created in late 2013."

2016 contention and clashes:

"The group controls much of central and western parts of east Ghouta – Jobar, Zamalka, Ayn Tarma, Madirah, Kafr Batna, and Marj al-Sultan. The group’s leader is Abd al-Nasr Shmeir, a captain who defected from the Syrian Army in early 2012.
Faylaq al-Rahman is allied with Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is mostly made up of members of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate (also known as Jabhat al-Nusra). The current bout of rebel infighting largely originates from the hostility between the HTS and Jaish al-Islam."

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Rebutting Muhammad Hussein on WGSPM

Adam Larson (aka Caustic Logic)
February 20, 2020
(edits Feb. 22)

A bit late, I decide I should take the time to consider how "One chemical weapons report should not whitewash a decade of Assad’s crimes" as Muhammad Hussein argued in a February 7 article of that name at Middle East Monitor. This recaps the OPCW findings of a chemical attack in Douma with two chlorine cylinders that somehow caused 43 civilian deaths and hundreds affected all across town. "The international community considered the matter to be closed," writes Mr. Hussein, ignoring that attribution of responsibility and measures towards accountability remain. So it's an open case in that regard, which is just why it stings so much when the last year's leaks have allowed us to see how that sausage was made.

That does risk re-opening the findings themselves and up-ending plans at accountability until it could be properly directed. So these peeks at the process undermine the case against the Syrian government, Hussein writes, "to the delight of the Assad regime and its Russian allies." Among those:
The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media has now been established. According to its website, the group is “entirely independent, open to academics and independent researchers and is not aligned to any state or non-state actor.” There has since been a plethora of reports and accusations that it is actually funded by Russia to promote pro-Assad propaganda, and that it was created to cover up war crimes by Syrian and Russian troops. 
I've seen some suggestions of this, perhaps direct accusations, I forget. A "plethora?" Perhaps. All wrong, as far as I know; the Working Group was created by the academics involved to filter and consider the alternative claims, apply knowledge and expertise as possible, raise questions and potential answers that are stronger than before. They question official narratives partly because so few others do (and do it well). They do smart things like invite me on board, not for the PhD I lack, but because I know my shit.

As far as I know the WGSPM is not funded AT ALL. All work seem to be voluntary, any expenses paid from pocket by members. There's no donate link, no donors, no partners, financiers, no income, close to zero expenditures, no staff, office space, anything - just research and ideas some people would rather ignore by imagining we're paid liars so we must only lie.

2) the Working Group has no funding of any sort – the total expenditure of about £500 up to June 2019 on website and publicity has been covered by founder members out of their own pockets.
Regardless of who is funding the Working Group, the fact remains that it includes Assad apologists ...

3) the Working Group does not take any position for or against the Syrian government.

(I personally support the Syrian government, but I just contribute research. I don't apologize for any crimes - I flat deny the ones I do, have always considered the rest unclear, but seeming more and more dubious as the precedent for falsehood grew. One could lazily assume that bias (and not the opposite) distorts my research. But one could not demonstrate this.)

And does Mr. Hussein lodge any protest when Western and allied government fund blatant propaganda regarding Syria, even "apologizing" for their sponsored militants by quite possibly blaming their crimes on the government, on a routine basis?
… who are, as one European diplomat put it “unwittingly and naively acting as agents of propaganda for the Russians, or actively support[ing] Russian disinformation.”
There's one anonymous coward diplomat who can lick my balls, to borrow a phrase and speaking for myself only. He or she baselessly accuse the WGSPM of serving someone else's political agenda, maybe knowingly, maybe paid, and so we should be discounted at best. He or she IS paid by a state to push a political line that includes this sort of attack. He or she IS NOT PAID to offer a balanced assessment of what we do. Their politicized words should, of course, be discounted as a meaningless reflex.
Though the regime and Russia may have won the propaganda war against the opposition and its supporters for now, the “independent” group of academics and other Assad apologists want to legitimise the crimes of the Syrian regime by sweeping them under the carpet.
What a strange statement. He agrees the truth as we see it "may have won" against the propaganda, in contrast to OPCW leadership and most other anti-Syria activists who stand by the US-UK propaganda. We and the rest have made a carpet here, if one of lies, things can be swept under. That's not the kind of confidence they're encouraging.
Nevertheless, if there is some doubt about the identity of the Douma culprits, ...

Officially, NO. Why does he ignore the memos? It's not even good to hypothesize like that, with things as fragile as they are.
… there is no doubt whatsoever about who is responsible for numerous other crimes against the people of Syria since 2011 and even earlier. 
Incorrect. I know there are doubts, holding some of them myself. I've explained many of them quite well. I'd be happy to show my work on whichever specific subject M. Hussein asked after. I give a brief answer below to the points raised in Hussein's article. First, his closing:
Why is this fact being ignored by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media if its members are truly “independent”? One chemical weapons report should not whitewash a decade of Assad’s crimes against his own citizens.

One episode of black paint being partially washed off ("whitewashing") is adequate reason to wonder if pervious instances were the same. Having already found prior reports to be dubious also helps. Just sticking with the CW record for now, the one undeniable feature here is a difference between the Douma story that has dramatically fallen apart vs. years of other allegations that are still accepted by official bodies as Syrian government crimes. Hundreds of allegations spanning years were never (yet) questioned to such a thorough degree, with no leaks or whistleblowers previously (that I recall). We hear over and over that 98% of the more than 300 CW attacks in Syria are by the state (the other 2% by ISIS). (That was tallied by GPPI in Germany; problems with their methodology were briefly considered in this post.) I'm working on an article to explain why Douma was so different, but first, back to the specifics in Huseein's article:
Although the group also claims that it “is committed to the upholding of international law and human rights norms,” it has proven otherwise by neglecting to recognise the previous chemical attacks which contain firmer evidence of Assad’s involvement. 

Mr. Hussein here doesn't even know what we have and haven't considered, collectively or individually. I've looked into chemical weapons allegations as much as anyone, starting in late 2012. That's a 12 at the end, not a 13, 14, 15, 16, or 17. I was even watching for these allegations before I knew of any; on the third of December I first noticed our brilliant president Barrack Obama issuing (for a second time, but the first I noticed) his "red line" threat and/or offer - if he should get the impression Assad has used CWs, he might give the rebels military help. My first thought was there would be such reports any day. I watched and instantly noted the first two to make news on 6 and 8 December, 2012. Check for "alleged chemical attack," at A Closer Look on Syria, or at my blog Monitor on Massacre Marketing to see how little consideration was paid by this independent researcher with the WGSPM.

With others at ACLOS, I followed further cases into 2013, writing this article just weeks after Khan al-Assal - note positive review by Eliot Higgins back in the day ("when I say this piece is a good round up of reports of chemical weapon use in Syria, it's not something I say lightly") but read the 2016 updated version if anything. That last notes the intense irony of the massive Ghouta incident that year, which I've considered in some detail, some of that here and more below. I was honored to work on that with the late Denis O'Brien, PhD in neuropharmacology, author of this amazing report.

I with various others followed the long pause after Assad failed to get himself overthrown even then - through the years of low-key chlorine allegations with all kinds of strange, implausible details, up to the re-emergence of sarin reports in late 2016, just ahead of my now-dated March 2017 overview of "138 alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria and 159 Question Marks over Government blame." Than Khan Sheikhoun happened, Douma, a few other incidents between and since, also considered.

Just formally at the WGSPM site, in briefing notes and working papers, there is ... actually not that much dedicated to prior attacks, now that I check. Out of not that may papers published, there might be some points included in other articles there, besides several specifically on Douma, there's just this one soverview of Douma and other attacks back to 2014:   * http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/briefing-note-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-on-7-april-2018-and-other-alleged-chlorine-attacks-in-syria-since-2014 * related points in this report on official investigations
* and while we're here, "epistemic" is a word I didn't even know to use until recently. It's a good one, especially in context. More people (including myself) should have a closer look at this paper by WGSPM colleague professor Tim Hayward

But back to Muhammad Hussein's ignorance on the subject - he continues:
The 2013 Ghouta attack, for example, was a prime example, with Human Rights Watch reporting that the sarin gas used made the regime the most likely culprit, ...
The WGSPM hasn't formally revisited this subject, but some of its members have. HRW at the time published this graphic to support their findings, based on two firing directions they learned of, both pointing to a regime missile base 10km away. That should elicit a nod of agreement by the athor, and it would seem solid, but ...

What it's based on is the same inexplicable double-error by which the UN-OPCW investigation falsely fingered Syria for the Ghouta attack. For the East Ghouta attack, with some 12 "volcano" rockets blamed for some 95% of the reported fatalities, this conclusion is highly untenable. To maintain this finding now would require:

1) accepting this rocket tube (below) is no more than 8 degrees from parallel with that wall, when it's clearly at more like a 45 degree angle or even closer to perpendicular. In no view is the rocket tube/red line close to parallel with the green line. This means the UN-OPCW report was at least 30 degrees off in claiming the un-bent tube "pointed precisely in a bearing of 285 degrees that, again, represent a reverse azimuth to the trajectory followed by the rocket during its flight."  30 Degrees off is NOT "precise," but that's the line HRW cited to pin this blame. What a lucky and egregious error! (explanations at the above link)
2) One has to accept this impact just LOOKS 30 degrees different than it should AFTER it flew on that line for about 10KM, or some five times its established maximum range. All efforts to model it agree it's aerodynamically impossible to fly more than 2 to maybe 2.5 km in a stretch (see Lloyd and Postol, confirmed by Eliot Higgins+cohorts, Sasa Wawa, others on both sides).
3) The same rocket with the same max range had several copies (reportedly 12, at least 7 or 8 seen) all landed in this basic area, with widely varying angles that, best we can read the clearest ones, seem to converge about 2 km out. It boggles the mind to imagine that many rockets 5x maxing out their ranges to land at askew angles that happen to create that other impression.

HRW - they may not watch closely, or double-check or review their errors, but the do hit and run, score political points, get paid, get trusted. And here all they had to was fail to check a politicized (error?) handed in pre-packaged by someone who should be even more trustworthy than HRW, not less so (either the OPCW's investigators, or management, or someone on the UN end of the project, or in the report editing).

* partial firing directions explanation: http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/08/ghouta-firing-directions-masterlist.html
* the best readings converge about 200M out, in a certain area
* about 250-500M to the east of that spot is where an interesting event happened just 3 days later:
** https://whoghouta.blogspot.com/2014/01/analysis-of-second-un-report.html
** https://unoda-web.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/report.pdf
* More to come on this …
** 22 Feb: Mapping sarin-related activity in Jobar, 21-24 August, 2013

Okay, maybe there are some doubts about Ghouta - and the Khan al-Assal attack said to use the same exact kind of sarin (same perps). And Douma. But that can't just erase the entire 'well-documented' record, as Mr. Huseein continues his argument:
"... as was the UN’s conclusion about the 2017 Khan Sheikhun attack."
I didn't ignore that report. I called it meaningless and explained. It's based on terribly-sourced information, the best of which was the OPCW findings full of absurd decisions and fudging to let the claims stick. They laundered some lies, plain and simple. the closest jet to Khan Sheikhoun at the time was 5 km distant, almost surely too far to have dropped a bomb at the sarin crater, impossible to have dropped that plus the 3 conv. bombs allegedly dropped by TWO jets directly above the town. The wind would disperse any sarin the opposite way from what was elaborately claimed (based on careful analysis of all video views for a single direction that explains all movements of smoke plumes AND FOG FIELDS. No one has adequately challenged the findings - check for or add to challenges here). There ae also disturbing questions about the fatalities of this attack, as there usually are.

The Assad regime’s countless other crimes against humanity and against the Syrian people have also been dismissed by the group: the torture, detention, forced disappearances, displacement of huge numbers of civilians, and the ongoing bombardment and destruction of areas which have not yet submitted to the regime.

I did take careful note of an example hospital bombing; Al-Quds, Alleppo, after it was reported reduced to rubble. I've heard torture claims, but words don't campae to visual proof like the  Caesar torture photos are touted as - I've collected and examined all but a few of the nearly 7,000 images, included much analysis here - See Fail Caesar masterlist. Needless to say questions were raised. Nabil Sharbaji seemed like a telling case among the few who've been identified. The vast bulk who never have been may NOT fit the general story given.

And let's not forget how it all started - the suppression of Peaceful protests, as revealed in the Assad Files. I took an extra-detailed look at that - see 21st Century Wire article. And who can forgive the in-home massacres of civilians so prolific in 2012, like the infamous Houla Massacre of 25 May? See the conspiracy theory debunk here where I asked for it. 16 Douma youths slaughtered with knives in August? Is it any wonder they finally turned to Muslim Brothehood, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic State?

Thursday, February 13, 2020

On OPCW-Bellingcat "Collaboration"

Adam Larson (aka Caustic Logic)
February 13-16, 2020

Feb. 16 note: This needed split-up into parts in order to get even part of it up ASAP - I've been super-tired lately and sleeping a lot (getting better now). But the pieces seem too small for three blog posts, so I assembled them here over a few days. I suppose this needs to be it, aside from typos, etc. and any possible updates.
19 February: a similar line of inquiry can be seen here by Philip Watson, involving an allegedly informed source who claims Bellingcat's Eliot Higgins was commissioned - if indirectly via former team leader Len Phillips - to inform the FFM Alpha team in Turkey X (that is, perhaps, to submit findings like that grid pattern, rather than just letting them take it from public airings as I had presumed). I'm very skeptical of Watson's works at large and we do not get along. I'm skeptical but undecided about his source and claims. But it's worth considering, and the article raises good points I miss here, like apparent leaks of an acceptable kind to Brian Whitaker (definitely to publicize one of the OPCW's conflicting reasons to dismiss the Henderson/EST engineering report, and possibly even to reveal the name of their former inspectors suspected of involvement in the leaks they don't like)

Part 1: A Simple Error?
It was recently noticed the Bellingcat research collective's "policy plan" document for 2019-2020 bragged (or blagged?) of past or ongoing "collaboration" with the OPCW, which in the last year has been embroiled in ongoing controversy over its handling of the 2018 Douma incident in Syria. Several influential bodies (mostly private but promoted, like Human Rights Watch and "Mayday Rescue in support of the White Helmets") are listed as collaborators of Bellingcat. But this highly partisan group of error-prone pseudo-experts also claimed such work with two important international bodies; the list of specified entities ends with "International Criminal Court, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and many more." The paragraph in question, screen-grab:
A search I did about two days ago shows the document had said this:

I was looking into it after noticing a discussion between Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins and Norwegian researcher Eirik Rømcke @Vaalandspibaa on February 7- 9. Rømcke had to ask repeatedly to no answer. On the 7th he asked "You have asserted a collaboration with the OPCW on page 7 in your "policy plan" (link for pdf-download below) Wouldn't that be in breach of their independence? Please clarify" Higgins asked "specifically what assertions are you referring to?" He was reminded, but didn't reply. Rather, he deleted that question before I could see it. (screen grab showing what it had said and note he refers to another tweet deletion before that).

By the time I caught the discussion on the 12th and checked to file in question (Bellingcat policy plan 2019-2021), the collaboration list no longer included the OPCW, stopping at "International Criminal Court, and many more."

Such "collaboration" may have a specific legal definition that has to apply here, or not. I don't know.  The collaboration with ICC is still proudly listed, apparently presenting no problems even after the recent review. Their work for the OPCW could be fairly innocent, but apparently it looked bad in a way ICC did not, so it's been changed.

As I saw that: "NOT that there's anything to hide about #Bellingcat's "collaboration" with #OPCW, but they did just hide it." https://twitter.com/CL4Syr/status/1227560932366114816

But Higgins soon offered an explanation: that wasn't an admission hidden, just an error he corrected; OPCW was never meant to be there: "That was on there in error, copy and pasted the list of names from another document and didn't mean to leave it in, then didn't read it since it was uploaded, so I've fixed that now. We've not collaborated with the OPCW, apologies for the confusion, totally my fault."

Implicitly, he only noticed it in the course of the discussion cited above, during the pause there. He never did acknowledge the tip with a thanks, or with any reply - aside from deleting yet another line from that discussion. Implicitly, Higgins had edited that document himself, so he could personally vouch for the copy-paste error as soon as he saw it. That seems unlikely, but is possible. And what was the error? Maybe he copied that from a list he had whipped up of groups they've collaborated with or would like to?

More likely they - as a group - were actually bragging about some kind of collaboration with the OPCW - real or invented, exaggerated or maybe just described carelessly That would be back before the leaks and controversy began, not anticipating such deep questions would be raised about the organization's process. I was thinking he/they would argue what "collaborate" means, but the removal suggests that was (or would be) kind of cooperation they aren't supposed to do. (Or perhaps it was alright, and Higgins was just worried that he shouldn't have mentioned it?).

Possibly related: the Bellingcat foundation was in the same days "currently going through a detailed audit" for financial transparency, as Higgins mentioned, as pat of their achieving charity status in the Netherlands. And an update: 15 Feb. he says "We even got charity status in the Netherlands, which involves lengthy external audits with the results published at the end of the process, so I'm obviously very terrible at cover ups." So this is a registered "charity" we're examining.

What kind of collaboration might exist, despite this denial? There are two broad classes where their activities play in, or have at least been suspected. The following two parts explore their possible role in shaping the findings of OPCW investigations, and their curious efforts to promote some aspects of the body's work while launching deceptive attacks on other aspects.

Part 2: Shaping OPCW Findings?
First I'll re-consider a few possible or suspected cases of the Bellingcat network having an undue hand in shaping investigations by the OPCW. Nothing I've found makes for a ground-breaking proof of such, but there are cases to be made. We'll stat with the Douma probe and this recent Higgins tweet: "I just want to nip this silly claim the chemical weapon truthers are spreading in the bud, Bellingcat had nothing to do with the OPCW FFM report on Douma, and we certainly weren't one of the ballistic experts cited in the report. Stop making up stories to impress your followers."

Nobody claimed the Bellingcat TEAM was one of the three individual cited experts. There's been speculation one or more of them might be PART OF Bellingcat, but Higgins will be denying that as well. That still appears sadly possible from my end, but I suspect the FFM would have called on other, more "grown-up" people, probably with formal qualifications.

There was a FFM engineering sub-team whose findings were never called on (whether it was even requested is a matter of dispute). And there was an early-June consultation with toxicologists that was simply ignored. And there was the formula change to core team only in July, excluding all but one of those who'd been to Douma (one of whom was Ian Henderson with his EST report they didn't want). So from July-August 2018 and forward, they'd be pursuing a plan B in both toxicology and engineering-ballistics, and probably keen to avoid the need for any plan C; they'd want extra-sure cooperation. The replacement experts would have some expertise but it needn't impress outsiders, who'd never know such details. Mainly they would need the right combination of political views and suggestibility, and just enough tools to produce a few plausible-seeming supports. I wouldn't be surprised if it was someone we've heard of who works with Bellingcat, like Dan Kaszeta for toxicology and Hamish de Breton-Gordon for engineering (for example). But it would be more logical to use someone we've never heard of, who was suggested by such contacts as someone who could deliver the right answers.

And even aside from the possibility of such direct involvement, it's quite possible Bellingcat had something to do with the FFM report, now that their greasy fingerprints are over so many things. The relevance of that would be hard to say without a bit of review, to which we now turn.

Douma cylinder grid pattern 
The question I've raised recently is whether one of their findings in particular wound up in the FFM's final report when it doesn't belong, being a preposterous notion clearly not based in science. It's hard to imagine - but still possible - that one of their engineering experts proposed this idea on his or her own, but more logically, they took it one way or another from the Bellingcat network. Most logically, it was copied from a widely-seen New York Times video report, citing wok by Forensic Architecture, who credited Bellingcat - and it was a member of their network who first publicly proposed the idea, just one month after the event, inverting an idea first offered by Michael Kobs as vey unlikely.

This fascinating point was worth its own detailed post to explain in full (see The Illogical Douma Airdrop Clue that Might Show How it Was Faked). What follows is a short summary taking advantage of that prior work and skipping the "how it was faked" part to save space.

At right is the sequence required for this observation to mean what's claimed. I've asked everyone involved if they can model or animate the sequence (no one having done so already), or even explain it any better than my illustration does. Higgins seems to have me on universal ignore since about 2014, so it's no surprise he never answered. But Bellingcat at large, Mr. Vandenberg, Forensic Architecture, its founder Eyal Weizman, and NYT's Malachy Browne all ignored the question (queries listed with the above article). Apparently none of them is confident enough to revisit this issue. They're just glad it snuck to the top like that without anyone who matters calling it out. That was the hit, and what follows is the run.

Douma cylinder movements
Much attention has been paid recently to initial cylinder movements at the same site (location 2, the one with 35 fatalities). Higgins was had an exclusive video sent by White Helmets contacts the day after, with a screen-grab he briefly showed and then deleted. In its place he got a likely custom-made video showing the surroundings (allowing a geolocation), the date and time, and no people (just the screen of someone's personal phone). But since the other video, the cylinder has also been rotated some 180 degrees and moved a bit.

Higgins swore then and swears now the first video was removed only for showing a man with his face covered by a paper mask, by which he could be identified and killed. That is possible (he was identified based on what's seen, and on review Bellingcat does tend to exclude people from photos showing weapon remnants). Still it seems unconvincing in context.

On the other hand, I don't see much reason to rotate it; that does leave the side that's mildly  dented lining up against some intact rebar (right, from Swedish TV4). But that didn't convince anyone, and the soot-coated area and runoff pattern down the sides would prove its being rolled even without a prior image. Significance to FFM findings: "the cylinder was moved a number of times prior to the FFM visit," with this being one time.

Higgins offers a guess as to why it was moved: "there's a good chance it was covered by the various metal debris and it was likely cleared out the way to get a good look at the cylinder." I added "You could also narrow down the chances with reference to an image of the pre-movement scene. "

I've considered this point overrated, so I reflexively didn't consider it 'til the last minute. It does belong here, not so much for influencing any OPCW findings as for showing Bellingcat's involvement at the other end, where the evidence and actors on the ground meet; they might work with the evidence managers allied with the perpetrators AND with the official agency that winds up effectively laundering their claims.

As for the significance of this one; I didn't review the one question I'll pose to readers/myself for a possible follow-up - did Higgins possibly have both views in front of him before the deletion of the one? If so, he would seem to be covering for evidence manipulation - though not very well, and not a very significant alteration, as I just explained. But if the next-day video postdates the deleted image, the reason he gave would be as plausible as anything.

Before Douma
Even if the FFM's engineering experts and their submitted findings had nothing to do with Bellingcat or that silly gid notion, that could easily be inserted by, say, FFM team leader Sami Barreck at his own discretion. Other possible reflections could come in the same way, might be in there in finer points or ones I'd noted somewhere, but these two could suffice to illustrate possible shaping of the Douma findings.

"Collaboration" could also go further back to Bellingcat's founding in 2014, and the work of its members might have played in even earlier, like Higgins' 2013 work on the "volcano" rockets linked to the 2013 Ghouta incident. They did a lot of video collation and considering different kinds of chlorine bombs allegedly dropped from helicopters over the years. That's likely to include some incorrect calls that made it into  repots of the FFM and JIM reports. But without more review, there's just one prominent case that comes to mind.

2017 Bomb ID: HRW
Then there was the suspected role of Bellingcat in identifying a certain Soviet-designed sarin bomb as used in the Khan Sheikhoun incident of 4 April, 2017. This idea first appeared (widely) less than a month afterwards, in a 1 May report by Human Rights Watch. As their CEO Ken Roth tweeted May 1: "Remnants of Syria's Apr 4 chemical attack match Soviet-era air-dropped bomb designed to deliver sarin" Of course the Soviet Union was likely to have provided weapons to Syria in the past, perhaps including the weapon they just identified, that might implicate Syria and enable accountability, in the interest of Human Rights.

The report cites how it seemed to be "a factory-made sarin bomb," taking some faint greenish coloration as a painted stripe like on the KhAB-250 (it isn't), and decides "the circular object in these photos appears similar to the cap for the filler hole on the body of a KhAB-250 bomb," if one looks at it inside-out like they did, and takes "similar" as close enough to "match" in this specific a sense.

A source is cited, and it's not Bellingcat by name. "The similarities between the remnants in the crater and the KhAB-250 bomb were first identified by the twitter accounts @elemcee69 and @Mortis_Banned. See e.g., tweet from @elemcee69 on April 14, 2017, https://twitter.com/elemcee69/status/852809433570615296."

But I can't, because "Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules" and this was one of them.  However, Mortis_Banned is alive and not banned - aka "​Children of Soros #NotOurTsar" Researcher at@citeam_en, seems obsessed with demonizing Putin + Assad, eagerly pushed this discovery. April 9, 2017, a Ricardo Peldito seems to be the first with photos of the bomb in a museum. Some possible different models or translations are bounced around in the following days; M-B added "According to that CW disarmament specialist, ОБАС-250-235П is one and only Sov/Rus aviation bomb to spread Sarin. That looks like filler cap" (museum pieces, b/w photo). "I do agree that currently OBAS-250 is a hypothesis at best" he said, in response to Bellingcat's Dan Kaszeta (whose tweet is invisible on my end), in a discussion also including founder Higgins, the named elemcee69, and others including professor Jeffrey Lewis and Military-specializing Dutch journalist Hans de Vreij, who warned "In the absence (so far) of ÁNY evidence of the alleged chemical ordnance used, I'm not going to speculate about 'a 250 kg bomb'"

HRW ran with an ID at least inspired by that discussion, aired in their report at the start of May. It was quickly supported by Mortis_banned and others. The Bellingcat team's Timi Allen snapped out a 3-D model on the 3rd, but that was quickly refuted by Michael Kobs, showing clearly how HRW had taken it inside-out.

The Russian MoD had already alerted us the KhAb-250 was never exported and all active copies were destroyed decades ago, aside from museum pieces like the one used for these false claim. Mortis-banned resisted: 9 May: "If @mod_russia were so kind as to declassify docs on the OBAS-250-235P, we'd know if this looks like an internal part of the bomb."

Bellingcat role in this find: they're directly cited in the HRW report with 4 things: geolocation for sarin crater, and of a video view from the north (both fine), for Dan Kaszeta's article on sarin they published, for another weapon ID (Iranian rockets blamed in chlorine attacks in Ghouta). But they're not cited by name with the KhAB-250 identification. Higgins or someone at Bellincat worked with HRW, while the cited sources probably did not. - they were in that discussion, likely brought it up, but if so maybe asked to not be credited directly, fearing it was the bad lead it was. Soon they were in agreement with that track's undeniable failure and on the lookout for a different bomb, eventually deciding (with decent if questionable basis) it was the little-known Syrian M4000 that had some scraps appear at the site.

2017 bomb ID: UN and OPCW
Regardless, the same point would be included by the UN Human Right's Council's Commission of Inquiry in a September 2017 report; they would note "what appears to have been a Soviet-era chemical bomb" - not any specific model they could name, including KhAB250 but "the parts are consistent with sarin bombs produced by the former Soviet Union in the 250kg-class of bombs." The source for this isn't entirely clear, but it sounds like HRW's findings adjusted for being proven wrong (presuming they were only wrong on the exact model of 250kg Soviet sarin bomb?)

And the 7th and final report of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism, released in late October/November, would include a different version of the same idea aimed at blaming Damascus: "According to information obtained by the Mechanism, the filler cap, with two closure plugs, is uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs. ... Information was also received that additional metal fragments collected from the crater might correspond to parts of Syrian aerial chemical munitions."

From whom this information was "obtained by the Mechanism" is not specified. The two-hole closure is quite generic - all we've learned is it's not that one Soviet bomb, so it's unclear what further deduction was involved to make it "uniquely" Syrian. And there's clearly no way the other featureless scrap could be linked to some nation's sarin bomb - that was one scrape too many across the bottom of the barrel.

But in between these weak points was an "assessment" they were given that the sarin's manufacture involved hexamine and "very high heat" - clearly to suggest the Syrian state made the stuff, not any jihadists. Those points are dubious, source unclear. The general view I tend to accept is it's the same basic material recovered after Khan al-Assal 19/3/13, Saraqeb 29/4/13, Ghouta 21/8/13, Jobar 24/8/13 (in soldiers' blood, a mortar shell, a weapons workshop, all at about the firing spot for the rockets blamed for 21/8), Daraya 25/8/13, Daraya 15/2/15, etc. Sometimes 40% impure, kitchen-grade sarin with lesser potency, a yellow color, caustic properties, foul and strange odor. If that's what they head, I wouldn't dispute it.

Chances are close to 100% the prior track advocated by Bellingcat and allies at least shaped this unexplained turn. There's a lower possibility the collective's members directly informed the commission on these findings. Again, there is a world of dubious experts out there to help dubious investigations like this fill in their dubious blanks with politicized disinformation to fit the pre-ordained conclusions.

Was this finding of the UN-OPCW JIM based on the eventual M4000 ID in an early phase? Not by what we know. The report was "leaked" in late October, formally released soon after. The Russian MoD first shows an M4000 diagram only in response to that, on the 2nd of November, and was noted prior to this Bellingcat article on the 13th. And no one has given a reason other than seeing that slide to know about the M4000's design. So this earlier decision is mysterious and strangely predictive.

It's as if HRW's claim had driven everyone halfway across a desert towards the oasis of "blaming Syria with a specific bomb ID." That road quickly came to a stop, but they wouldn't turn back. The CoI and the JIM in turn seem to be bumping across the fields 'til they find two road-like flat patches that run a bit further toward the oasis (unknown but uniquely Soviet, unknown but uniquely Syrian). Then quickly outrunning that, the whole convoy was bumping for just a few days before they hit the clear, paved M-4000 highway running straight to that oasis. Damascus admitted it had that bomb, had converted them to hold explosives, and dropped them all over for people to find pieces of. Was that highway paved by impostors unauthorized by reality, who planted some old M4000 scraps at the site? They don't care.

Bellingcat got to take the lead driving here, with ally Greg Koblentz in the cab with Eliot Higgins. And this is where the OPCW's Investigation and Identification Team will pick it up...

But back in 2017, that unexplained finding appearing in a JIM report gave it a stamp of authority, allowing for later comments like this from Higgins: "The March 30th 2017 Al Lataminah Sarin attack is significant because filling caps with the same design and green paint as the one recovered from Khan Sheikhoun was recovered, one the OPCW described as being unique consistent with a Syrian Chemical bomb." As far as we know, he or a close ally is the one who first told them that, based on absolutely nothing.

Part 3: Attack Dogs
or promotion and backup information security
So it seems like the broader Bellingcat network does enjoy an undue role in shaping the OPCW and FFM's findings. But so far that role seems mostly indirect or unproven, and their main uses are on the output end.

Their promotion of findings over the years has been helpful, re-explaining the overt and covert findings in the FFM's reports (eg. filling in the blanks on how falling = helicopters = Assad). They'll gloss over egregious omissions to pose the official science as clear, and sideline any doubts (attacking the reader's skepticism, you could say). They emphasize doubts emanating from Russian-linked sources, and any similarity of those to anyone else's doubts, and use that to dismiss them (both adding to and drawing from that ongoing information war).

In recent months they've taken up what could be called backup information security - they sideline doubts from within the OPCW itself - and leaks that bear them out - by attacking its inspectors who claim to be blowing the whistle on unethical practices. It seems the OPCW's scientific aspect is in partial revolt against its political aspect. Damage to trust has been caused (and/or deepened) by a good hard look, over the last ten months, at the organization's corrupt state of operations. The Bellingcat team comes down squarely with management, using their open-source sleuthing skills with exceptional ineptitude here, trying hard to invent and then combat all kinds of flaws in the leaked information and/or the people leaking it. It works about as well as a pencil eraser on ink - it cannot make it go away, but maybe it can make things vey muddled and a bit more faint.

I'm not claiming Bellingcat as a whole or any members take orders directly from the OPCW, as if they were employees or even formal consultants. It seems possible - if not likely by track record - that they simply follow the truth into their constant agreement with the FFM's findings. They're tasked with this I suppose in a general implied sense by the same people who...
a) provide some of their funds (UN taxpayer-funded NED at least)
b) lead all brute-force financial and military efforts to impose "accountability" for the crimes Bellingcat helps expose in Syria (except those pinned on ISIS - others do more in that area)
c) steer the actions of the OPCW, by threats and oustings if needed (2002) or by more subtle means and working with more allies towards more consensual ends, including illegal wars and aggression against Ba'ath party governments in the Middle East
d) by general dint of running the world, as it were, they also shape what's seen as a wise investment, and what kind of people get wealthy enough off of the current reality to re-subsidize it with a donation to Bellingcat, for example.

I suppose it's similar to how we have a "free" media because it's not state-run, but corporate-run instead. But then of couse it winds up agreeing with the corporate-run state, making it more like a sibling relationship than a parent-child one. It might be similar here, with the OPCW as the adult sibling with a good necktie job and reputation, and Bellingcat a semi-acceptable little sister with punker friends who can get "other" jobs done. With Mom and Dad fully in the loop - actually running the loop - big brother doesn't even need to talk directly to little sis or her friends. Things could just happen fortuitously without you ever seeing her in the room. But then you might see one of her distinctive artifacts left behind from time to time, as we may have in part 2.

Different kinds of leaks: promoting the political ones...
On 26 October, 2017, there was a "leak" at the OPCW and it caused no alarms. The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in effect at the time had wrapped up its investigation of the April incident in Khan Sheikhoun and its final report on the incident. An advance draft was released days early (no ID number assigned yet, etc.), uploaded here on Google Drive by Nabil Abi Saab, an Alaraby TV correspondent based at UN headquarters in New York. This allowed some public buzz and commentary to precede and amplify the effect of its formal release as S/2017/904 on 7 November.

So the file was not shared directly with Higgins or Bellingcat, as some of us had wondered. They did eagerly share the "leaked" report, saying it "shows that, despite Russian and Syrian protests, there’s now clear evidence that Syria was responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun Sarin attack, and alternative versions of events presented by Russia and Syria are fabrications." (Of course it did so based partly on dubious points like the "uniquely" Syrian bomb yet to be identified, and partly on the unfortunate fact that the specific theories posited by Syria and Russia were just bad guesses.)

That was clearly an authorized release intended to maximize the political implications of what would the final report of the JIM (it worked so well the Russians refused to extend the mandate of the weaponized mechanism). In fact it was only called a "leak" by Bellingcat and their ilk, perhaps to make it sound edgy and relevant, besides politically useful.

In contrast, the unauthorized releases of 2019 reveal a very fragile process that cannot bear scrutiny by the public. Uninitiated into the special magic involved in getting to that Assad-blame, we might get "confused." And we widely did; to the outsider, it looked as if the OPCW's FFM was suppressing valid findings to protect the politically desired ones. It took some special explaining by Bellingcat and allies like Brian Whitaker to set some people "straight." This awkward episode serves to remind us all why unauthorized release is strictly disallowed, as the OPCW's Director-General Fernando Arias has recently reminded us, and those who break the rules they had agreed to and knew full well should be held to account.

… and neutralizing the legitimate ones.
An example by punishment could deter future instances, but it won't be able to recall the exposed information of past ones. Unstopped leaks that threaten confidence in the organization would need to be neutralized as possible, re-branded in the public mind. And as things turn out, Bellingcat and allied signal amplifiers like Whitaker (who only seems to me outside that network due to his seniority and fading past of journalistic credibility) labor to cast the leaked evidence as something wrong, irrelevant, and helpful to the Russian cause, leaving no legitimate reason to accept or spread it.

A typical comment in recent days is this by Higgins: "the leaked claims aren't credible because they made assumptions which turned out to be wrong, made errors in their work, and lets not forget they're making claims based on the work of the OPCW before months more of investigation by the OPCW." The supposed errors have been discussed elsewhere, but in brief: working with Forensic Architecture again, Bellingcat did make a show of addressing the evidence and they raised a few minor points, but wrongly alleged measuring errors and missed the point(s) about presumed drop altitudes, just for the leading two among a very few points they considered unevenly, yielding results that don't hold up under scrutiny (see for example my review comment at the article claiming to show Hendeson wrong). As for that "many months" of improvements they missed after "Alex" quite the OPCW and Henderson was excluded from active work - this is where the special magic happened, after all but one of the investigators who was in Douma had been excluded, the previous toxicology findings and various other complications were removed, and illogical proposals were weaseled in, one of them at least likely copied from Bellingcat. as part 2 explained. Being kept out of that process sounds like a recommendation to me.

On this faulty basis, Higgins has declared the engineering report's "content is actually inaccurate, so [Henderson]'s a liar who got things wrong, then a bunch of people promoted that to attack the OPCW." Other tweets just from Higgins expand on this: "Alex lied about Ian Henderson's status at the OPCW" and Henderson is "someone who lied repeatedly, so not exactly the most trustworthy source of opinions on the final report." ... "both leakers were involved with deceit, and violated the protocols of the OPCW which they would have both been fully aware of." ... "violating multiple internal protocols, deceiving staff and external organisations and individuals" ... And finally (Henderson's report) "ends up getting leaked to the Syria Propaganda Superfriends and he's pleased about it, despite the multiple violations of his obligations to the OPCW."

The motive behind his disputed actions couldn't be certain, but it's easy to pick a direction and paint some arrows that way. Bellingcat's part 2 article notes "the Russian Federation appears to have had access to [Hendeson's report] well before" its leaking to the WGSPM last May. Basis: "On April 26, 2019, the permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the OPCW sent a critique of the final FFM report to the OPCW, sections of which were remarkably similar to Henderson’s report." Brian Whitaker tried to help them spin this issue with an article at Al-Bab, which can be seen to fail after its best efforts. There is the kind of similar wording you'd expect from people reaching the same conclusions and using proper technical terminology. In one case the original words would be in Russian, and based on their own on-site investigation, with no need to copy anyone. It also fails to note non-copied points like the Russian report (PDF) but not the Henderson one noting primary fragmentation marks to support their decision a mortar shell or similar, not an impacting gas cylinder, caused the associated damage.

Now, if one were intent on seeing Henderson and his report as wrong, its agreement with the presumed Russian lies would seem extremely suspicious. In that light, the Bellingcat side almost seems to underplay this issue as just one among several lines of attack. It's not teased out in deeper detail, perhaps because they can already see the other side of the problem; if Russia's accepted engineers and the OPCW's sidelined ones independently reached such similar conclusions … isn't possible they're both talking truth?

the FFM's disagreement on the fragmentation marks, for example, is to simply deny they exist, or perhaps to link them illogically to the cylinder impact. See at right: they want you to note the damage in the red circle, never try to explain the bullet-like marks radiating out from that spot, unless it was with this: "It can be seen that there was a large impact on the roof and walls above the balcony," causing the cylinder to slow down and fail to punch through fully. But no one has or can propose another plausible explanation but the marks of explosive primary fragments. A Bellingcat-allied weapons expert tried, in a less-than-lucid moment, suggesting "prior or subsequent battle damage" instead of what I proposed. But it clearly couldn't be very "subsequent" so that's basically what I had proposed. Professor Scott Lucas likewise suggested "months of bombardment" had caused the marks, also confusingly posed as disagreement. Neither could say how this would cause such marks other than by explosive fragmentation, both having tried but come up with the same thing. (the best try would be bullets, but that requires a bizarre scenario of someone on the balcony shooting the walls in a circle, and some other strange damage and scorching coincidences on the east and west walls, besides the strange cylinder impact to follow.)

If you have to flatly deny the visual record like this without any explanation, in order to make your point, your point might be wrong. Right?

But Bellingcat's open-source analysis came to the rescue to support the FFM's rejection of this clue. How? They cite the open-source FFM report itself on this point, adding nothing futher. Douma leaks part 2: "The final FFM report directly disagrees with these findings. They also considered the possibility that the crater was a result of an explosive device, but concluded that it was “unlikely given the absence of primary and secondary fragmentation characteristic of an explosion.” They did so with NO BASIS - thee is no such "absence." "We also know that the scorching under the crater was likely not from an explosion," Bellingcat adds, citing the FFM. Linking that to the blast was an error on Henderson's part (a hot fire was intentionally lit atop the rubble, reason unclear/disputed. The smoke from this coated the ceiling, the cylinder's underside at the crater, and apparently vented through the damaged vent on the balcony so that smoke is also unrelated).

BUT we also know that there are three more crucial details Henderson and/or the FFM's "engineering sub-team" had cited (the app. SECONDARY fragmentation marks, extreme rebar bend, and widespread spalling visible inside the room below impact). These still support the blast version, and do not have plausible work-arounds. And that's besides the clear primary fragmentation marks he somehow missed (but the Russians duly noted), and other things like the strange variance in rebar damage, and scorching with no other explanation on the upper balcony edge (middle of the west wall), closer to where the detonation fireball would be - just above the balcony, leaving little to no sign.

But on the plus side: management said there was no explosion here, and people trust the management. Bellingcat loves to add to the OPCW's credibility account, but on this point they could only make a withdrawal.

Talking and yet not talking about Putin collusion ...
But they had more besides the supposed errors and their similarity to Russian lies. Higgins infamously mused "appearing on behalf of the Russians seems to tell us something" about Henderson. I'd say it tells us how no other great power - aside from the Chinese, who actually invited him - would invite him to address the UN Security Council about the problems at OPCW. The US would probably block his visa to prevent his appearance, as it seems they did. That too might tell us something, eh?

It's disputed just what Higgins meant here, but he firmly denied the obvious reading when Max Blumenthal called him out: "Suggesting Ian Henderson is a Russian asset is indeed a vicious attack, and is in keeping with the tendency of Bellingcat and its troll farm." Higgins replied: "I didn't suggest he was a Russian asset, you're just so blinkered in your worldview and your perception of me that you projected that onto my words and drew a faulty conclusion, as usual. Maybe pull your head out of your arse and look around for once." But of course he didn't explain what his true meaning, because that was clearly it. It's deniable, but the denial rings flat.

(this follow-up tweet might clarify? Speaking at that session "demonstrates a lack of judgement if he's attempting to establish his credibility. Although, seeing who his report was originally leaked to, that's no surprise." We learned that the veteran inspector with OPCW from the start, re-hired to be a repeated team leader and innovator of Challenge Inspection techniques, and seemingly the most qualified person in the Douma FFM team (core or shed portions) to make the calls he made ... is not very good at "establishing his credibility" and this "tells us something" real? No, he meant the other thing.)

Bellingcat also titled their first three parts on "the Douma leaks" series "We need to talk about [x]" where the [x] was: whistleblower "Alex" (part 1), whistleblower Ian Henderson (part 2), and a false flag theory (the best and most dangerous answer to the raised question of what DID happen - part 3). This was almost certainly done in reference to Russia expert Mark Galeotti's recent book "We Need to Talk About Putin," the Russian dictator hacking our reality. The suggestion is that same crucial discussion should extend to dissenting views within and without the OPCW, as possible extensions of Russia's global disinformation campaign.

(Credit to "Malinka" for noticing this)

… and not about what matters here.
But when it comes time to consider the OPCW's shameful witch-hunt against its own investigators, it's just "The OPCW Douma Leaks Part 4: The OPCW Investigation." When it's other powers that might be pulling the strings, we don't NEED to talk ABOUT the OPCW reaction; little sis just repeats big brother's factually deranged damage control, linking to her own prior "analysis" to show how grounded it is. In fact "it is fitting" to let Director-General Arias have the last word, as they did, about the OPCW's former “Inspectors A and B" suspiciously insisting on views "not backed by evidence," yet still trying to "gain traction" in areas where they had no business. These two meddlers breached their obligations in an "egregious" manner, worsened by their exclusion from the latter investigation where the special magic was applied, the apparent Bellingcat findings worked in, etc. and so "their conclusions are erroneous, uninformed, and wrong.”

Again and again, DG Arias has answered the serious questions with vague platitudes and shows of confidence. He still stands by the FFM's Douma findings as all those before, even if they're careening and bound to collapse on him and the once-lauded OPCW he will have helped destroy. He's probably no villain by nature, just under pressure. It might be worse than the threats to his children and forcing from office suffered in 2002 by the first DG of the OPCW, José Bustani, when he insisted doing his job, even if it frustrated an illegal war on Iraq. Bustani has already called the suppression of findings and investigators in the Douma probe "unacceptable behavior" for the OPCW and its leadership. How much worse now to see his own successor playing the part of John Bolton against his own in defense of that corrupt situation?

Bellingcat describes itself as "independent" - which is debatable and deserves clarification - but wisely doesn't even claim political neutrality. In fact it brags of being "particularly significant for advancing narratives of conflict, crime, and human rights abuses," and generally the same narratives pushed by the US and UK governments in Syria and beyond (if not exclusively). We note their role in shaping the UK's investigation of the Skripal poisoning - the who if not the how. Despite a weak show of "openly" addressing the evidence of the Douma incident in particular, Bellingcat's argument relies mainly on blind (or vision-impaired) faith in findings that are sometimes pure nonsense; appeal to authority is far easier when it's someone else's you appeal to, and that someone else is the still-trusted OPCW.

This is the same stance taken by US and UK governments and their allied states at a UNSC aria-formula meeting of 20 January, 2020 (my analysis). The ambassadors of the US, UK, France, and several allied states pointed to the fact that the OPCW is widely trusted, or extremely trusted by them, is reason enough for everyone to maintain that. Along the way they ignored the words of Mr. Henderson, eyewitness and visual evidence that was presented, the views of the host state - the People's Republic of China - and concurring states including at least the Russian Federation, Iran and Egypt, besides softer doubts aired from Niger, South Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam, and other states. Their criticism of the OPCW's current process was grounded, and mainly no harsher than that of its first Director-General, but it was all implicitly dismissed as "Russian disinformation."

The Western powers will find the OPCW in its current state very useful; it can be relied upon to churn out politicized findings to "justify" various forms of "accountability" against enemy states, regardless of the physical reality. If this were ever changed, they'd lose a weapon on the world stage. So they insist on keeping the faith - the consensus the OPCW rely on - attached to its current form, not its ideal one. But now that the dishonesty of their investigative process has been exposed - long after being suspected in some quarters - it's lead to a serious loss of faith by everyone else. One camp's favorite features are the same that would destroy the needed consensus.

So depending how one looks at it, the OPCW - and the Chemical Weapons Convention it's the enforcer of - faces either:
- an undeserved crisis to resist and ride out, or
- an opportunity to solve an existing crisis that's been sharpened to the point of undeniability.

Awareness of the problem allows for a solution, which denial would just forestall. The western powers benefiting from the current slant would deny it for as long as possible. Current OPCW leadership follows that lead. And "independently," Bellingcat is there to help squander this rare chance at a more honest world. After all, their proven talents make them "truth" leaders only in what supporters call a "post-truth world."

Looking to the Future
So to their former employers at a politicized OPCW and to these (self-appointed?) attack dogs, veteran CW inspector Ian Henderson and this "Alex" - and any others who have voiced or might voice agreement - are knowing liars who used fake science to try and get Bashar Assad off the hook for a hideous war crime. There can be no legitimate reason for this. Henderson was glad to see his bogus report leaked, in this view, knowing it would be used to attack the OPCW's honest work; clearly a villain. Higgins especially grows ever more specific on this, recently stating the core problem was always "a couple of disgruntled OPCW employees personal crusades to attack the work of an organisation investigating horrific war crimes." They were the enemy within. How could such reckless or compromised people get past the screening to ever be hired? And what if there are more?

As I've read in several places, the OPCW is openly not a "career agency," observing a general 7-year maximum tenure. This is why even Ian Henderson had to be hired back after a break in order to have that impressive 12 years experience. (and according to Peter Hitchens, "Alex" managed to get 17 years in before he quit in disgust amid the Douma investigation - is that 2x hired back?) I don't know the official and real reasons for the 7-year rule, but high turnover might help prevent nesting, the confidence of tenure, and willingness to oppose management. The Henderson and Alex cases could be seen as showing how long service and broad knowledge just makes for problematic employees likely to meddle where they don't belong.

One partial solution they might propose is shorter tenures. But if the manipulation piles up too quickly, people could catch on and rebel within weeks. Maybe it's more a question of who's involved than for how long.

Next up in the short future of the OPCW, I wouldn't be surprised to read about what they might dub "Veri-Science" for example. Bellingcat could partner with a well-funded European outfit linked to universities in a joint venture to improve the scientific input at the OPCW, among other trusted institutions like the ICC. They could either provide their scientific analysis directly or, more likely run a database of screened and green-tick "VS-checked" scientists better suited for "today's hostile information environment." Increasingly the Russians and other villains will seem to have bought off reality itself. "The old science is not enough," they could explain. "Its practitioners - good folks though most of them are - are bound to fail you. There are dictators violating the laws of physics to kill babies. There are nerve agents with bizarre, mutable properties being spritzed around European cities. And it's likely to get even weirder. This is why you need to stay VS-checked!"