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Friday, December 20, 2019

OPCW Interim Report on Douma: What they Cut Out...

… and Added or Changed, and What That Tells Us
December 20, 2019
rough, incomplete
last changes Jan. 8, 2020


and see pre-release thoughts by Peter Hitchens

A full review would take me too long when I feel a need to get any kind of post up on this topic. I'm not trying for complete coverage of every change, just ones that stand out (and ARE changes - I'm having to cross-check the published interim and final reports).  I'll plug in a few easy points from early sections, and then dig into the main interesting material from 7.16 and going forward. Here's a sort of table if contents and overview I'll perhaps fill in with summaries of all changes, or whatever makes sense.

1-4 summary, background, aims + scope, pre-deployment (changes?)
5. Security and access to the sites of the  alleged incidents (changes)
6. Mission Activities
Activities (changes)
Alleged Sites 7.1-7.2
Sampling 7.3-5
Discussion of Analysis Results 7.6-7.14
Physical Data Collection 7.15
Location 2 (¨cylinder on the roof¨) 7.16-18
Discussion 1: Analysis of the possible route of dispersion of the alleged toxic chemical or chemicals in Location 2 7.19-22, fig. 3-5, 7.23-7.26
Discussion 2: Analysis of the ballistic effects of the cylinder found on the roofterrace in Location 2
Location 4 (¨cylinder on the bed¨)
7.30-7.34,  fig 6-9
Location 1 (hospital) 7.35-7.37
Production Facility and Warehouse Suspected of Producing Chemical Weapons 7.38-39
interviews 7.40-41
Narrative from group interviewed in Damascus regarding events on 7 April 2018 7.42-52
Narrative from group interviewed in Country X regarding events on 7 April 2018 7.53-7.67
Analysis of media evidence 7.68-69
Epidemiology 7.70-71
Plausibility: 7.72-7.85
Temporal Relationship: 7.86-88
Possible alternative explanations: 7.89-91
8. CONCLUSIONS 8.1-8.10
Annex 1: Reference Documentation vs. Annex 1: Reference Documentation
(changes - noted here)
Annex 2: Open Sources vs. Annex 2: Open Sources - left blank "To be provided in the final report." A filled-in table of links is in the final report. (changes?)
Annex 3: Mission Timelines vs. not included (pub. int.), included in final (changes?)
Annex 4: Methodology Details vs.  not included (pub. int.), included in final (changes?)
Annex 5: Results of Analysis vs. Annex 3: Analysis Results pub. int) vs. Annex 5
RESULTS OF ANALYSIS (final) (changes: some results include ppm readings for "chlorate" + others)
Annex 6: Visit to Location 2 (“cylinder on the roof”) vs. not included, worked into final report
Annex 7: Visit to Location 4 (“cylinder on the bed”) vs. not included, worked into final report
Annex 8: Visit to the Warehouse and Production Facility vs. not included, worked into final report
Annex 9: Evidence Obtained by the FFM vs. Annex 4: Samples Obtained by the Fact-Finding Mission
Annex 10: Documents received from the State Party vs. Annex 5: Documents Received From the State Party
Annex 11: Metadata vs. not included

Noted Changes

See also: Michael Kobs' line-by-line condensed comparison https://www.docdroid.net/mBQBVDX/interim-bkeane-changes.pdf

Sec. 1-4 


5. Security and access to the sites of the  alleged incidents
5.9 "...The FFM was allowed to re-visit Location 4 on 1 May 2018 to conduct additional physical measurements and take photographs."

Annex 3: "01 May FFM team visits Location 1 (hospital) and revisits Location 4 (takes photos and physical measurements)…." This was their last full day of activity, with the FFM team leaving Syria the next day.
Annex 4: "As with sampling, pre-deployment plans were developed to identify key measurements and photos to be taken during the visits to the various locations. In particular, a series of key photos and measurements were planned for Location 4 where the weaponised cylinder allegedly penetrated the building through a roof terrace and settled on a bed inside the room beneath the point of impact."

The interim report makes no mention of this visit or the reason in the text, and the timeline annex is not included. Only the hospital visit is noted for this date. The final report includes the timeline annex, and this loc. 4 visit is noted for 1 May. But the reference in the body text remains missing (it is still noted "6.9 The FFM visited Location 4 (see Figure 2) on two occasions." but they stopped saying why and never resumed. This was probably the Engineering Sub-Team, getting better measurements to support their suppressed conclusion that the bomb couldn't fit. Once again, that carefully set-up analysis from probably May or June, 2018, compared to a pre-leak modeling by Michael Kobs.

6. Mission activities
6.8 The possibility of exhuming bodies from mass graves to collect biomedical samples
and examine cadavers possibly exposed to toxic chemicals from the alleged attack on
7 April was considered by the TS. The intention to do so was communicated to the
SAR through Note Verbale (NV/ODG/214827/18) and preliminary preparations were
undertaken by the TS for this eventuality.

(highlighted in the leaked version)
6.9 When the analytical results of the first round of environmental and biological samples were received and no nerve agents or their degradation products were identified in either environmental or biological samples, the plans for exhumations were halted as the risk of not finding substantive evidence of the alleged attack was now considered high and proceeding with the exhumations presented a risk to benefit ration that was no longer acceptable.

This doesn't appear in either public report, maybe for sounding kind of bad. But to consider are details like sarin residues can be found and identified some time after death, whereas chlorine never appears directly in tests, as far I've read. Diagnostics include chest exams and x-ray to identify damage it (or whatever else) might have caused. There is a difference in exhumation value when it looks like a CL incident vs. sarin. But basing such decisions on how things seem of course risks dragging one further down a blind alley of their own making.

And then, there's the risk of discovering a jarring contradiction like bodies saturated with sarin - or anything else that was not found and never released in the building where they were found. That would all but prove they died somewhere else and their staging at location 2 would be part of the coverup suggesting guilt, perhaps, for a mass-murder. Anyway, it seemed risky.

Here's what the above two paragraphs compressed to in the final report:

7.8 The possibility of exhuming bodies from mass graves to collect biomedical samples and examining bodies reportedly exposed to toxic chemicals from the alleged attack on 7 April 2018 was considered by the Secretariat. The intention to do so was communicated to the Syrian Arab Republic in Note Verbale NV/ODG/214827/18, and preliminary preparations were undertaken by the Secretariat for this eventuality. The Syrian Arab Republic replied in Note Verbale No. 45 on 4 May 2018 and enumerated the conditions to be met in order to conduct the exhumation. With due consideration of the time elapsed since the alleged incident, the possibility was eventually not explored any further.

This made it sound to some like Syria issued some unreasonable demands that were a primary reason to drop the exhumation plans, though time elapse also played in. I believe there was even a flap over that and a public correction that they didn't really mean that. But they never did admit they decided against it themselves due to the type of chemical incident it seemed to be or the "risk" of discovering or not discovering something.

Final, summary, 2.10: "...the team did not have direct access to examine dead bodies, as it could not enter Douma until two weeks after the incident (see paragraph 2.2), by which time the bodies had been buried." Aaaand it was decided for some reason not to dig up a single one.

Alleged Sites 7.1-7.2
Sampling 7.3-5
Discussion of Analysis Results 7.6-7.14
Physical Data Collection 7.15

Location 2 (¨cylinder on the roof¨) 
Paragraph 7.16 just says they went there, gives coordinates. Nothing changed.

7.17 The FFM team was unable to gain full access to all the apartments at Location 2. In particular, the FFM team requested entry to the apartment it had seen in open-source videos, (ground floor apartment on the east side) where several decedents, showing apparent effects of chemical poisoning, were strewn on the floor of the apartment. In the same videos, the front door of this apartment was seen to be unhinged, potentially providing the FFM team with a means of easily identifying and gaining access to it. During the visit however, it was noted that a front door had been re-hung and was now locked. There was no response to the calls by the FFM team at any of the locked apartments and the position of the SAR representatives was that they could not force entry. This situation was relayed to the TS headquarters during the post-mission debrief that same evening.

6.9 … During the visit to Location 2, Syrian Arab Republic representatives did not provide the access requested by the FFM team to some apartments within the building, which were closed at the time. The Syrian Arab Republic representatives stated that they did not have the authority to force entry into the locked apartments.

Public interim report: 8.10 repeats the second version only, adding "This situation was relayed to OPCW Headquarters during the post-deployment debrief that same evening."

Final report: 6.9 … Syrian Arab Republic representatives did not provide the access requested by the FFM team to some apartments of interest within the building, which were closed at the time. The Syrian Arab Republic representatives stated that they did not have the authority to force entry into the locked apartments.
8.22 (same plus) This situation was reported to OPCW Headquarters during the post-deployment debriefing that same evening.

At right: the unhinged door set aside in the hall, detail on hinges with screws in place showing it was carefully unscrewed. From the layout of the rooms, it seems taking the door off would help, and might be necessary, to move all those bodies into the washroom. It always seemed like a shady detail the FFM had ignored. But it seems collectively they noted it, then chose to ignore it. Note the older woman was either scooting on the floor feet-first or was being dragged by the feet before she stopped moving there. There's no dust on the bottoms of her dark socks, so none of her getting here involved walking.

7.18 Notes the other accessed areas, with the same wording as in the public reports, but with this phrase removed: "No readings were recorded on the team detection equipment at Location 2." A lack of readings for airborne toxins is mentioned elsewhere in the text, however. It's not a point of much controversy.

Location 2 (¨cylinder on the roof¨)

Discussion 1: 
Analysis of the possible route of dispersion of the alleged toxic chemical or chemicals in Location 2 
This set-out discussion sits out the interim report and changes for the final report as "Discussion 1: Description of Location 2 as observed by the team."  7.19, 7.20 seem unchanged, describing the layout of the multi-story building.

7.21 The cylinder alleged to be the source of the toxic chemical lay on the floor of the roof-terrace on the third floor (which also corresponds to the ceiling of a room in the apartment on the east side of the building on the second floor) with its nozzle poised over a circular opening in the concrete, allegedly caused by the impact of the cylinder.

final:  8.26 The cylinder was located on the floor of the roof terrace, on the third floor, on the east side of the building, with its nozzle poised over a circular opening in the concrete. The roof terrace where the cylinder was observed corresponds to the ceiling of a room in an apartment on the second floor.

7.22 is unchanged as 8.27 in the final report, announcing their useful model (figure 3) and closing that short discussion that does seem, in retrospect, kind of pointless; all the further use made of that model in the draft report (fig. 4 and 5), however, got cut, along with most of the previous discussion, except this dispersal-related note that's left in 7.20 "Inside the basement there was, what seems to be, a narrow ventilation pipe, though it was not clear to where this tube vented." The lack of enclosed dispersal via the stairway isn't discussed or dwelled on like it was, so this shaft can stand out to readers as the possible answer to that unstated question.

I don't miss the snipped graphics - the point is great, but to my eyes, they don't help much. Here's figure 5: Is that accurate? Did M.C. Escher design this? Are my eyes just tired? There is some explanation provided:
7.23 In figure 5.a the arrows correspond to the floor beneath (2nd floor), where the spatial layout varies slightly from that on the third floor shown in figure 5.a. Figure 5.b corresponds to the floor directly below (2nd floor) the point of impact where the cylinder is located.

Graphics aside, the point is important and was considered - out of public view. 7.23 and the remaining two points below were entirely omitted from the later discussion that skipped out on a detailed consideration of the spread and dispersion of the gas:

7.24 It can be seen from the three-dimensional diagrams that there is a possible conduit for a downward dispersion of a toxic gas or vapour that is denser than air, from the room (in the 2nd floor) below the point of impact, through the stairwell, and into the various apartments. For this to happen, the hall door from the right east-side apartment on the second floor to the stairwell would have to have been open to facilitate a swift diffusion of the toxic chemical into the central stairwell. From video recordings taken by witnesses who arrived shortly after the alleged event, this seems to have been the case. Moreover, the hall doors from the stairway to the apartments where the victims succumbed to the toxic vapours or gas would also presumably need to have been open for lethal concentrations of chlorine to rapidly accumulate. According to one witness who claimed to have arrived at the scene shortly after the alleged attack, all the apartments were open.

The gist: various doors would have to be open - as seen, they were. Fair point, Dispersion is possible.

7.25 It should be noted that in addition to a purely downward dispersion of any toxic chemical, the various apertures in the building, primarily the shattered-glass windows in the stairwell and the broken window in the room where the initial alleged chemical release took place (2nd floor)e, [sic] all provide routes for horizontal dissipation of the toxic gas towards the exterior. It would also appear that for chlorine to reach lethal concentration in the basement, the gas dispersion would almost certainly need to have come from the exterior, given the absence of a clear dispersion path from within the building.

Non-confined space: broken and open windows could allow escape of some gas, and any gas that got to the basement had to escape first or at least be right at the open entryway and subject to any breeze ("would almost certainly need to have come from the exterior"). The wind prediction they cited was from the southeast, and might work to push it back and limit this aspect, but that needs review to be ore sure ... the higher end of concentrations plausible for such a scenario could perhaps be achieved, but the point remains: the situation was far from ideal for that. Any possibility based on extreme concentrations is inherently weak.Here's my also imperfect graphic, based on Forensic Architecture modeling for the New York Times (using US floor numbering, so 4 equates with 3 in the OPCW reports, 3 with 2, 2 with 1, 1 with ground).

Then this closing paragraph:

7.26 Two casualties did state that another cylinder had landed and released chlorine gas in front of their house approximately 50-60 meters from the basement at Location 2. Although this might offer an additional source of toxic gas, the FFM team could not corroborate this statement and found no evidence that this was the case.

… is included in another section of the final report (interviews), with a third person claiming this unverified locale, with that note removed and a supporting smell in the area added.
 "8.68 Three casualties stated that another device had landed and released chlorine gas in front of their house approximately 50 to 60 meters from the basement at Location 2. Additionally, several witnesses stated that they perceived the odour of a chemical at different locations within 250 meters southwest of Point One."

By deduction, the spot referred to is the highlighted building marked D in the detail below, on the blue arc app. 55m SW of loc. 2 (OPCW image from final report with my added labels). That puts it about 100-110m SW of Point One, and thus likely a source for smells further out in the same direction, winds depending. Or perhaps it was a source of extra toxins at location 2, winds depending. (The wind needs some review to the extent it matters). Location 4 is further out, 400+ meters from loc. 2, unlikely to play in at all.

Discussion 2: 
Analysis of the ballistic effects of the cylinder found on the roof-terrace in Location 2
This short set-out discussion sits out the interim report and changes for the final report; there it has the same name but is longer, and more definitive in its dubious conclusion, after the terse announcement of no conclusion that replaced all this in the interim report.

7.27 The FFM team took numerous photos of the cylinder on the roof-terrace, the aperture ostensibly created by the cylinder, the terrace and its surroundings, and the room directly beneath the point of impact. The team noted the dimensions of the aperture in the rebar-reinforced concrete roof as well as the damage to the cylinder itself.

7.28 The team had insufficient information to draw clear conclusions as to the provenance of the cylinder on the roof and to be able to provide a rationale for the relatively minor damage caused to the cylinder with respect to the more extensive structural damage to the rebar-reinforced concrete terrace. The FFM team considers that experts in structural engineering and metallurgy would be required to provide a competent assessment of the relative damages.

They were able to draw clear and totally logical conclusions about this - their engineering sub-team already had; the cylinder probably arrived by people manually placing it next to pre-existing damage caused by conventional weapons (below: several things the cylinder wouldn't do but allegedly did - inside the room w/motes from Henderson/EST, then seen from above: obvious primary fragmentation marks missed by the FFM down the line, even in the EST report).

But there was a decision to un-find all of that, to become incapable, and to seek another analysis. That would explain their strange inability to say anything of substance, months into the investigation. Above the info they "had" was insufficient, sounding like they had tried (when? through whom if not the EST?) and by this point had given up. Discouraged by the not-so-"competent" answers we later got to see? Experts "would" be required, if they were to try again.

But in the published interim report, that grim assessment had the doubt words scrubbed and a more active tone struck - they're getting the answers, and it "will" require experts.
8.12 Work is in progress regarding the location of the cylinder, its provenance, and the damage to both the reinforced concrete balcony and the cylinder. A comprehensive analysis by experts in the relevant fields will be required to provide a competent assessment of the relative damage.

The final report was excited to relate the ballistic study results, which were finally competent enough to cite as a factual basis and help tie everything together. The general findings for both impacts are related in the introductory summary in points 2.13-2.15.

"2.14 The analyses indicated that the structural damage to the rebar-reinforced concrete terrace at Location 2 was caused by an impacting object with a geometrically symmetric shape and sufficient kinetic energy to cause the observed damage. The analyses indicate that the damage observed on the cylinder found on the roof-top terrace, the aperture, the balcony, the surrounding rooms, the rooms underneath and the structure above, is consistent with the creation of the aperture observed in the terrace by the cylinder found in that location."

This had lacked before but was crucial in allowing the FFM to declare (2.17) "reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place." Because someone setting a gas cylinder down next to some existing damage is not an "attack" at all. Someone could be blamed, but … it's not the right people. The aerial attack aspect clarified this. It's gone into in great detail we've already considered in a few places and I don't need to copy over here, but in review:
Discussion 2 is still quite short (8.28 - 8.31) and includes no images in the body as there are for location 4. 8.29 explains the big difference: "The team analysed the available material and consulted independent experts in mechanical engineering, ballistics and metallurgy who utilised specialised computer modelling techniques to provide a qualified competent assessment of the trajectory and damage to the cylinders found at Location 2." (emphasis mine) 8.30 and 8.31 give some details and refer to Annex 12: "Experts Analyses on Industrial Type Cylinders." But this just introduces the anonymous experts and their qualifications. It's Annex 6: Visit to Location 2 that's greatly expanded from three pages in the draft to six (pp. 53-58) with pictures showing the fancy modeling used, and the vague provided explanations we've already considered. Of course we found they answered the original questions poorly and/or falsely. 

Location 4 (¨cylinder on the bed¨)
7.30-7.34,  fig 6-9 does pretty much the same for the other location - problems with the impact details, implied trajectory and deflections to land on the bed - initially softened and then supposedly solved by the "competent" team. In general maybe we can avoid a full repeat, and for now even any special details they made changes over, which I'll try and come back to.

Location 1 (hospital)
- skip for now

Production Facility and Warehouse Suspected of Producing Chemical Weapons 
- skip for now

After hearing details from whistleblower "Alex", Karin Leukefeld wrote (as translated from German): "In May 2018, 39 eyewitnesses were interviewed, 13 in Damascus, 26 in a country "X"" It was probably the exact 13 in Damascus who all "declared that there had been no attack with chemical weapons," while "the other 26 claimed the opposite." Obviously, such geography-related variance is "truth" is a matter of concern. One entire set almost has to be engaged in a coordinated lie with no truth to it.

Also, the numbers changed:
7.40 Interviews were held with a total of 34 witnesses, 13 of which were conducted in Damascus and the remainder in Country X. A breakdown of the profiles of the interviewees is given in Table 2. Two broad and distinct narratives were derived from the discussions with the interviewees, one corresponding to the group interviewed in Country X and the other to the group interviewed in Damascus. Both narratives are given below."
Final: "Interviews were held with a total of 39 witnesses, 13 of which were conducted in Damascus. A breakdown of the profiles of the interviewees is given in Table 2." So 5 were added, and all on the side blaming the Syrian government from Turkey - they had 21 witnesses, then 26. As no further local witnesses in Douma were sought out, they wound up outweighed 2:1. Comparing tables, they added one female witness (there were only 2) and four males. The number of "Primary casualty" witnesses changes, from 6 in the draft report to 9 in the final (see table 2 in each report), so the 5 new witnesses included at least three who said they were affected directly by the gas and just nobody realized that before. And this five must include the third witness for the third device 50-60m from Location 2; the point seemingly favored by Team Leader Sami Barrek had another supporter they found. And the other new person that appears in the last column - we'll come back to that.

The main difference in witness treatment is how the draft gives the two clashing narratives - first one and then another - while the final report drops the note of differing narratives (they still differ, it's just not as clearly noted), and also mixes all points into a single narrative relating unattributed conflicting details side-by-side (some said x while others said y). So it's a little trickier to tease out all the differences. But here's a small cluster at least that I noticed:

Draft 7.56-57: "At around 19:00 on the same day, a witness reported seeing a device falling from a helicopter. The device landed on the terrace of the top floor a three storey building located approximately 50 metres from the west entrance of the tunnel leading to Point One. The mentioned device did not explode. Between 19:30 and 20:00, a strong smell was perceived within at least a 500 meter radius of the impact location. The smell was described as being similar to cleaning products containing chlorine and local commercial brands such as “Clor” and “Flash” were mentioned. They added that the odour was significantly stronger, more pungent and acidic than the cleaning products." vs.
Final 8.58-59: "The witnesses located in multiple basements used as shelters within a 350 meter distance southwest of Point One stated that at approximately 19:00, while there was still ambient light, the sound of what was described as barrels falling and the sound of barrels, rockets or projectile impacts were heard. Two of them reportedly did not explode (or the sound of the explosion was mild in comparison to a conventional explosion); and, shortly after, the smell of chlorine was perceived in several basements located within the above-mentioned area. The smell was described as being similar to cleaning products containing chlorine and local commercial brands, such as “Clor” and “Flash”, were mentioned. They added that the odour was significantly stronger, more pungent and acidic than the cleaning products. Other witnesses described a strong unpleasant smell that was not similar to chlorine and caused shortness of breath, fatigue and blurred vision. The smell of chlorine was also mentioned to be present at Point One around the same time."

In the final they mention both devices here, and these changes: they drop the drop being seen, even after ambient light was added to support it (the light just helped them hear the sound?). Both relate how the device(s) didn't explode, and then that stronger-than-chlor-flash smell spreads within an area that's changed from "at least 500 meters radius" around impact to half that size and more selective. 350m southwest of Point 1 = ~240-250m sw of the impact at Location 2, for a radius of at least 240-250m, to a radius of 500+ (or did they mean diameter there?), and only partly filled, to the southwest, presumably because the wind was blowing that way (their prediction taken as fact, however, was to the northwest). Neither of these 250 or 500m radius stories is likely true, but the second version seems to improve on the claims.

And the final reports adds two details not in the draft: the reported chlorine smell at Point One is problematic - no release there is alleged, and it's to the northeast - the opposite direction from where the smell was mainly reported. Whatever the actual wind direction, it can't blow two ways at once from Location 2. So in sharpening this point … do they mean to add weight to the thin evidence for other release points no one knows much about? And might those other imagined bomb drops have released other toxins?

And interestingly, the final report, if not their new sources, adds a set of sarin-suggesting claims; symptoms like blurred vision and fatigue are part of its package, and the kind used in Syria has an unpleasant smell ("foul" and "strange" are the two most most-often used, usually together - see here). Not everyone knows this, but anyone could, so the detail helps it seem possible - if unlikely - that there was a limited release of sarin in the open, planned to match with sarin traces at Location 2 which apparently never were arranged.

And a related point from the interviews section: 8.42 in the final report states "One person purportedly suffered secondary exposure from the bodies of the decedents." A table 2 right above gives "1" Secondary Casualty. This also happens with sarin and not with chlorine. But in the draft report: table 2 gives 0 for # of "secondary casualties" and 7.75 specifies "There were no reports of secondary contamination." There's another of their five new witnesses. So this is another thing that pops up more when you dig deeper for details in the opposition camp. If the FFM had kept asking and kept digging, they may have found all kinds of freshly invented clues trying to bolster those claims of a regime attack with chlorine and sarin.

Analysis of media evidence 
7.68-69 relates the videos and images they'll consider, checking metadata, upload times, etc. and comparing the contents with other sources for consistency. They relate three general observations:
* From an examination of the metadata, the FFM team was confident that the videos and photos provided by witnesses in relation to Locations 2 and 4 were created posterior to the alleged incident and were generally consistent with the alleged timings of events (See Annex 11 for the results of metadata analysis).
* From the various videos showing the deceased victims throughout the interior of Location 2, it is apparent that some of the victims have been moved and repositioned between video recordings.
* There were variations (see table and footnotes below) in the numbers of bodies and their distribution throughout Location 2 as observed in video footage and photos, compared to the numbers provided by various witnesses who were interviewed. According to statements from witnesses, “many people they presumed dead, were lying on the floor of the basement”. The FFM did not obtain any video footage or photos of dead casualties lying in the basement of Location 2 or being removed from there. There were also no photos or video footage available to the FFM team of the other two basements or of decedents, where three witnesses interviewed claimed to have been exposed to chlorine.

Final: the three points become 2 - the first point is reworded (shorter, improved), the second just drops "repositioned" but makes the same valid point, and the third entry with its conflict note (bolded) is missing, along with the table and notes that go with it. This is the table, an image rendered from a text table and inserted in the body of the report with small-font notes below. This has enough interesting information I may finish a dedicated blog post on it, or just move the info to some related posts. To save space, I'll skip further analysis or commentary here.

1Location 2 only. This was the number counted in the house prior to the bodies being removed. About 33 were counted being removed from the apartments on the following day. None were seen been removed from the basement
2This was not at Location 2. Two witness statements place it approximately 50-60 meters from Location 2. According to one of the witnesses, who was an alleged casualty at this location, there were six fatalities  resulting from toxic exposure at this location. According to the second witness, who was also a casualty, there was one fatal casualty at this location.
3Inside the apartment. Exact room not specified
4Number quoted as being brought to hospital by first responders
5Subject stated to have assisted in burial of more than 300 persons stated to be related to the alleged chemical incident.
6The number of patients from the alleged chemical attack treated by the witness
7Number of chemical casualties admitted to the intensive-care unit at hospital according to the witness
8At the medical point subject describes seeing up to 150 casualties both alive and dead and estimates 150 in total dead secondary to chemical exposure
9Witness stated that in total, there were around 180-185 causalities that night (unclear if referring to chemical casualties). 42 as result of alleged chemical attack were brought to the hospital by first responders. Two died at the emergency care unit¨.
10The witness said he saw people (approximately 15) on the street foaming from the mouths, shaking, screaming, shivering…

(end notes)

Paragraphs 7.70 and 7.71 lay out how the FFM tried to establish "a causal association between the alleged use of chemical weapons ... and numerous injuries on the same date" using "the Hill Criteria [6], which includes factors of plausibility, temporality, and possible alternative explanations." The final report (8.70) doesn't name it but seems to use the same approach, listing the criteria:
* there must be a biologically plausible link between exposure and outcome;
* there must be a temporal relationship between exposure and outcome; and
* there must not be any likely alternative explanation for the symptoms.

From here the two reports organize the section quite differently, the draft using those three headings for three sections, and the final using "Medical Personnel - Description of casualties in digital sources - Analysis of digital information and its relation to toxic chemical exposure - Onset in relation to the allegation." It doesn't seem to try and include the chemical analysis as the draft did; instead it just tries to explain the visual symptoms and signs as being consistent with the reported chlorine attack, with some consideration of the varied and clashing symptoms and how they don't tend to suggest a nerve agent, but also don't explain the scale and nature of fatalities very well.

7.72 and 7.73 explain the scope: "the results of chemical analysis of prioritised samples, the symptoms presented by victims of the alleged chemical attack, as described by witnesses and observed in photos and video footage, and an analysis of the inter-relationship of both" and the importance of finding if chemical were released.

7.74 Chemical analysis results: The conclusions from the results of samples analysed by designated laboratories were that some samples collected at Locations 2 and 4 had been in contact with one or more chemicals containing reactive chlorine. Examples of such chemicals include, molecular chlorine, phosgene, cyanogen chloride, hydrochloric acid, hypochlorous acid and sodium hypochlorite. From the analytical results the actual chemical could not be confirmed. ...

<this is an important point raised by the whistleblowers as being removed ... just what was or wasn't released never was clarified that certainly to specify the chlorine usually contained in such cylinders or any chemical at all>

As re-worded in the final report:
2.6 Based on the levels of chlorinated organic derivatives, detected in several environmental samples gathered at the sites of alleged use of toxic chemicals (Locations 2 and 4), which are not naturally present in the environment, the FFM concludes that the objects from which the samples were taken at both locations had been in contact with one or more substances containing reactive chlorine.4
2.17 ... reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place. This toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine. The toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.

The same phrase is used and no specific chemical is fingered with certainty. But the lack of a specific identification isn't spelled out as it was, alternatives are no longer partially listed, and they leadingly specify that straight-up molecular chlorine was "likely." They do give some reasons at various points to have made that call, but the validity of these should be carefully considered.

7.74 continued … "No organophosphates or their degradation products were identified by either of the designated laboratories." This was worth pointing out specifically in the plausibility section, here in the draft report. In the final report, it's put in the same summary (2.7) and again under "Discussion of analysis results" (para. 8.6).

7.75 and 7.6 relate lack of secondary contamination reports as expected w/sarin, and the second-hand nature of most of the evidence they were left to consider, aside from their own chemical readings.

7.77 The range of symptoms reported varies substantially depending on where and from whom the information was gathered. Witnesses interviewed in Damascus present a narrative whereby, on 7 April around the time of the alleged chemical attacks, casualties arrived at Location 1 displaying symptoms commensurate with asphyxiation from dust and fumes as a result of bombing. The symptoms included dyspnoea, cough and asthmatic exacerbation secondary to exposure to smoke and dust. Witnesses and victims interviewed in Country X describe symptoms that included shortness of breath, a burning sensation in the chest, oral hypersecretion, ocular irritation, visual disturbances, lacrimation, dysphonia, nausea, vomiting, pruritus, and in the case of some surviving victims, constricted pupils.
(emphasis mine)

This variation is not mentioned specifically in the final report.

<Perhaps best considered not as clashing stories about one set of people (everyone in Douma) it describes 3 classes of people showing 3 different conditions:
* innocent unrelated smoke inhalation as seen at the hospital
* likely fabricated claims heard in Turkey or X-istan, possibly boosted w/limited chemical fakery like token-dose sarin exposure (but app. not by lacing the scene, though they had presumably planned to.)
* the people who were killed w/uncertain toxins, likely in 'gas chambers' under unusual conditions evidenced by bizarre and unprecedented clinical features.>

7.78 Open source videos and photographs as well as recorded media given to the FFM team by interviewees, were analysed for external presentations of toxic chemical exposure. In one video showing decedents from the alleged chemical attack, several of the subjects display corneal opacity and some degree of thoracic or cervical extension. ...

Final: "One female victim displays corneal opacity. Due to the quality of the videos and the angles of recording, no further ocular signs are noted."  "where the faces can be clearly seen, all display corneal opacity and varying degrees of periorbital discoloration." "The corneal opacity seen in many of the victims is similar to ocular injuries seen with acid or alkali burns but also resembles post-mortem changes."

Opacity of the eyes just means death - opaque w/no redness seems to be how chemical burns appear much later after healing, not how they would on a corpse just after exposure. "no further ocular signs are noted" = no redness noted to go with the reports of just that.

Thoracic or cervical extension - I hadn't noted this. It's not clear to me what they meant to suggest with it. (But checking later I see "8.99 The thoracic and cervical extension seen in many of the victims is similar to that seen in those experiencing preterminal full body seizure activity or opisthotonus. Again, this can be seen in deaths resulting from toxic exposure." Seizures might come from sarin and a variety of other toxins, but not from chlorine. So this doesn't support their outward case. It does support the shadow case it seems they assembled under the surface.

"...Many present various amounts of either white or clear oral secretions, similar in appearance to fulminate pulmonary edema. The secretions either lie in pools near the victims´ mouths on the floor or extruding 'froth like' from the mouth. The skin of some of the victims is brown stained, which may be vomitus or old blood. …"

Final: doesn't mention skin staining, perhaps to avoid it being linked to the "periorbital discoloration." It keeps the blood-sputum note, but shifts it to the brownish fluids instead, for a valid point missing from the draft (it's in the fluid AND the skin). "The secretions are near their mouths, noses and on the floor. Some of the secretions also have an additional light brown colour, which is similar in appearance to gastric contents or blood tinged sputum."

<My own analysis says: the fluid is yellow-brown in color in all cases where the color can be told (when the bubbles collapse), but looks white as foam (that's an optical issue). Blood may be involved, but the color seems to be different, more golden-brown than reddish. It's more similar to what happens to their skin; where it lingers for very long, this fluid itself causes a reaction involving irritation, a shift to a yellow color, and over time widening a bit and deepening in color to sometimes dark brown (it can be seen darkening between views, on several victims). This is a strange, unexplained effect I've seen in no other chemical incidents in Syria, but some good leads are being worked on. Whatever the exact cause, these effects appear most heavily across the mid and upper cheeks, below and somewhat around the eyes - but never in the eyes - and sporadically across the brow and forehead. That suggests this is where the largest amount of coughed-up material has flowed at the lowest speeds. The best explanation for that yet is they were bound in a somewhat upside-down position so the fluids rolled "up" their faces with gravity, all around something the shape of swimming goggles that protects their eyes and caused a slowing of the fluid's flow and therefore a deepened effect under/above the extruded lenses. See Douma's Mask of Death>

... None of froth or secretions displays hues of pink that would have originated from the presence of blood. ...

Final: no mention of this detail found with "blood" or "pink." The point was dropped - possible reason given below: "The white or light-cream colour of the froth presented by victims is not in keeping with exposure to choking agents, where secretions are characteristically pinkish in colour when frothing does occur. " In its place, this somewhat contradictory point was added (it doesn't seem to be in the draft): "an adult male’s face that is covered in what appears to be grey dust or dirt and copious, foam-like airway secretions and blood on his face."

<My analysis: B1 displays some pink foam among mostly white foam. Others including M4 (the dusty one described above) display blood or apparent blood-containing mix that may have been pink foam before it collapsed. But generally they do not show this. I'm not sure how universally pink it should be, but willing to defer to this handy assessment that the foam seems wrong - at least for severe, bloody exposure to strongly concentrated choking agents. This looks more mild and prolonged - a lot of mostly non-bloody edema fluid, that didn't kill quickly at all, leaves a lot of time to try breathing, working bubbles into the fluid, creating larger amounts of foam over the unclear time this took. >

7.78 continued: ... According to witness statements, the onset of frothing was quite rapid, and this is consistent with the images seen in the video footage and the time of their recording. Several victims show degrees of periorbital discoloration and early signs of livor mortis, and in one case an adolescent male displays obvious signs of rigor mortis....

Final: The "rapid onset" of symptoms generally (foam not specified) plus other clues "indicate exposure to an inhalational irritant or toxic substance." But this is somewhat backwards (see 7.82 below). Here the discoloration around the eyes is lumped with livor and rigor mortis as if it's a postmortem change or sign of decay (it's not.) Also some livor mortis they saw might be misread skin irritation, an issue they never did seem to notice. It seems to be present, although it is trick to differentiate from lividity.

... Most of the subjects appear to have wet hair. <end 7.78 finally>

No guess is provided here as to why. The final report would add add "in what seems to be an otherwise dry environment" and offer this poor try at an explanation (8.102): "The presentation of wet hair in an otherwise dry environment is difficult to assess and is possibly due to profound diaphoresis shortly before death." This means sweating, which would have no specific cause from the chlorine, but maybe the place they were had gotten very hot. But only the hair is wet, not enough of their clothing to suggest this. Also it's seen 2-3 hours after the incident and later, while  the appearance of most hair suggests it was wetted just minutes before the earliest images were taken.

And this clashes with a story told to the media, if not to the FFM, that the victims had washed their own faces and hair shortly before death, instead of escaping, and it's still that wet 2-3 hours later. Did the FFM reject that, or just not hear it? They tried another guess and it did no better at explaining the issue. What does work better is someone else washing the victim's faces and hair well after death and just before the first images. The reason would probably be to see it that horrible yellow-brown mask stain and perhaps some residue up in their hair could be washed off. Not entirely, as we can see. See the mysterious washing of faces and hair.

7.79 In another video, widely circulated on social media immediately after the alleged chemical event, decontamination procedures are being carried out on a number of adults and children in a medical facility (Location 1). In the video at least 3 infants seem to display signs of respiratory distress, with rapid breathing and cyanosis/pallor. Children are seen being treated with an unknown medication via metered dose inhalers or small volume nebulizers. Other children are shown being either washed with water or treated with an oxygen mask. None appear ill.

7.80 The adults seen being treated in the video show apparent signs of mild or moderate respiratory distress and cough. There are no visible signs of external trauma or frothing from the mouth.

Symptom suffered by non-fatal casualties at large included "Oral hypersecretion" (7.77) aka "excess salivation or foaming from the mouth" (7.60) It didn't appear in that video record (or any noted). That was mentioned, but then the mention was removed.

Final: 8.95 expands on "a video taken at the medical treatment facility," where
"… There are three young children of approximately 12 to 18 months of age (one male, one female and one of unidentified gender), each of whom is displaying objective signs of respiratory distress manifesting as laboured breathing and accessory muscle use. None appear to be cyanotic. One (male) child is intubated and seen to be receiving manual ventilation and later mechanical ventilation. The other (unidentified gender) child is seated partially upright with an adult and is being treated with a simple oxygen mask. The third (female) child is unresponsive with accessory muscle use, sluggish pupils and miosis estimated to be approximately three millimetres in diameter. She displays no objective signs of hypoxia. …"

A call in favor of cyanosis/pallor sounded vague, and wound up scrapped. That's probably no issue, but here's a significant change - sarin-consistent miosis is added. In itself it proves nothing, but its got no particular reason in a chlorine attack, whereas it's a classic and overrated sign taken to mean sarin. That should be seen in the video, not made up, so perhaps it just wasn't noted at the time of the draft report. I haven't studied the clinic footage much at all, including this scene, but now I feel like I should review it and weigh in. It's entirely possible some people were poisoned separately, likely with different agents, and shown off to partly illustrate the sick people there should be. Mainly they relied on bewildered people, shouting, quick filming to avoid context, and lots of water to get their clinic video. But there could be other and darker aspects to this staging.

7.81 Analysis: A highly debilitating agent, in the opinion of the FFM team, would have to have been released in order to cause the rapid onset of symptoms described by witnesses and observed in the videos where large numbers of decedents are concentrated in different apartments at Location 2. The rapid onset of heavy salivation and frothing from the mouth would be more consistent with exposure to a highly toxic nerve agent than a chocking [sic] agent such as chlorine or phosgene. However, analytical results shown no indication of organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products present in samples collected at the scene of the alleged attack or in biomedical samples from victims.

The final report makes no use of the word debilitating, but notes the apparent "rapid collapse" of fatalities "is indicative of an agent capable of quickly killing or immobilising." (8.96)"That does sound better than indicative of their being dragged into place well after death, and it might b in a tie for just not mentioning that issue at all. The final also omits any such mention of choking (or chocking) agents, phosgene in that context, the blood content issue, or even the relevance of foam to one kind of chemical over another. The closest reached in the final report on the subject of foam / secretions is this:

8.98 The airway secretions seen in many cases are similar to those seen with exposure to some chemical weapons, toxic industrial chemicals and toxic doses of pharmaceutical agents but are more profound and seem to have a consistency more like viscous foam than secretions typically originating from the upper or lower airways. Notably, there are casualties both with and without secretions that are in very close proximity to one another. In general, the presence and context of the airway secretions indicate exposure to a chemical substance.

The noted oddities might support the thesis of fake foam added, in some cases. In other cases, or perhaps all of them, I feel the foam seems legitimate if unusual, and speaks to the strange and terrible manner of their killing.

7.82 Pulmonary edema and excessive frothing from the mouth have been reported in cases of exposure to lethal doses of chlorine gas or other toxic chlorine-based agents such as phosgene or cyanogen chloride [7] [8] [9]. However, indications are that pulmonary edema, particularly in the case of phosgene, is a late pathological effect of exposure and in cases of high exposure levels death can result before pulmonary edema develops [8] [9]. The white or light-cream colour of the froth presented by victims is not in keeping with exposure to choking agents, where secretions are characteristically pinkish in colour when frothing does occur. The rapid, and in some reported cases, immediate onset of frothing described by victims is not considered consistent with exposure to chlorine-based choking or blood agents. The opinion of a number of toxicologists, specialists in chemical-weapons-related intoxication supported this assessment.

This is another re-packaging of points removed in the final report - the foam should be pink in more cases, and if it appeared as quickly as implied, it wasn't a simple choking agent. Likely it did not happen that quickly, and developed at normal speed during the course of their gassing in captivity The final report in fact contradicts this to some degree, claiming the "rapid onset" of symptoms generally (foam not specified) plus other clues "indicate exposure to an inhalational irritant or toxic substance." To some degree... but to a higher degree, as noted, they contra-indicate at least the given story about chlorine release.

7.83 In order to produce such rapid incapacitation that victims would be unable to escape the toxic gas from the location of the alleged chemical attack (see 3D layout of the building and description), a respiratory irritant such as chlorine or phosgene would almost certainly need to have rapidly accumulated to very high concentrations. It is considered unlikely, given the location of the suspected source of the toxic chemical as well as the configuration and condition of the building, that such concentrations would not have been attained, particularly in the basement. Moreover, if such high concentrations had developed, as mentioned above, reports suggest that asphyxiation would have been the likely cause of death before pulmonary edema and frothing could develop [10].

The final report has no mention of "concentration" in this context at all. The kind of "very high concentrations" that can lead to "rapid incapacitation" are not specified, seem very unlikely.  The final report skipped another chance to get specific to show how this might have happened, maybe because it was impossible. As noted, the space involved argues against high levels achieved, and they point out the foam itself argues against this.

7.84 Witness statements recount that victims ran from the basement towards the upper floors of the building, and therefore counter to the direction of dissemination of the toxic gas, which reportedly came from the roof-top downwards. It should be expected that on encountering the irritant gas, victims would instinctively have retreated and exited the building, which was within a few metres away. An assessment report on a major chlorine-release disaster illustrated that in a mass-casualty situation, people will escape however possible and present to emergency departments of their own choosing [10].

Final report: notes "The victims do not appear to have been in the midst of attempting self-extrication or respiratory protection when they collapsed, indicating a very rapid or instant onset. This type of rapid collapse is indicative of an agent capable of quickly killing or immobilising." This illogical lack of escape and/or sudden incapacitation is NOT presented as a problem - the reader could presume the quickly-killing agent was the same chlorine the FFM found, despite all these specified problems with that idea, which they simply erased.

7.85 Based on the above observations, expert opinions of toxicologists specialised in chemical weapons exposure, and published scientific knowledge in this area, the FFM team considers that chlorine gas or other reactive chlorine-containing toxic agents such as phosgene or cyanogen chloride would not have resulted in the severe and rapid frothing symptoms reported by witnesses and observed in video footage and photos. 

The chlorine they found would not cause the kind of foam seen - nor the immobilization/sudden death, nor several other key details. Somehow, the FFM team had collectively decided thus at one point. But then someone in charge decided the public should never see that, so they cut it out.

December 29 and now there's more on what was removed in summary, compared to the later-leaked minutes record of the meeting with these experts (it was 6 June), how people in the OPCW's FFM reacted to the experts' views, whose the team B was and what they added, and related issues to illustrate two second-try investigations - one on ballistics-engineering and one on toxicology - running through the fall after BOTH had failed to make the opposition's claims line up on these two central aspects, etc. … which can be read here. (and it can be - it's much better summarized and readable than this sprawling overview, with run-on sentences like that one, and also like this one - alas)

Temporal Relationship
7.86-7.87 relate the obvious point that poisoned people must come after the poisoning, not before, and how they checked video metadata as possible to be clear on that point. It seemed that in general or totally "the videos and photos of victims and munitions related to the alleged chemical attack were created after the date and time of the alleged events." So there were no obvious-by-time recycled videos or images among those submitted to them. Some video were dated 2015, but that seemed to be a camera setting issue, as the content clearly matched all the other images that emerged only after 7 April. I've seen nothing to suggest otherwise - all these people were killed, apparently, at the right basic time, anyway. But to note, annex 11 in the final report relates how only about 55% of files had usable metadata.

No changes noted in later reports on these points. The final reports adds an interesting and consistent timeline of imagery showing casualties, decedents, and cylinders over 7-8 April and past. As the image below shows with a modified chart from the report, videos of the fatalities that could be timed (21) were mainly clustered in three 20-minute spans around 10:15-10:35 PM (3 videos), around 12:45-1:05 PM on the 8th as the bodies were removed (5) and again, probably being the Point 1 morgue scenes, around 5:30-5:50 PM (7). Just four timed videos/files had other times in between these.

7.88 Although many of the bodies in Location 2 present signs of rigor mortis, it is difficult to determine from the video the time of death. To establish this and the origin of certain features identifiable on many of the bodies, the team considers that an expert in forensic pathology would be required to provide an authoritative assessment.

Final: "time of death" not used - related issues only covered in 8.90 and 8.91 (seen in the morning, the bodies "display advanced or complete rigor mortis and have more advanced signs of livor mortis.") and 8.97 "...The interval between death and the time the video/photos were taken is quite broad." (meaning long, or varied?)

The case of evolving tache noir might pin it down: B5 eventually develops "tache noir de sclerotique" - a post-mortem sign that appears with "a few" or as little as 1-2 hours after death. He has not formed these spots in the first images. Using the FFM's video timing, that should be 10:20-10:35 PM. So he at least was killed no more than 4 hours before, and perhaps as little as 1 hour before the first images. So broadly, he was killed as early as 6:20, probably well after 7, and as late as about 9:30 PM. Alleged cylinder impact: ~7:30.

This goes a bit towards suggesting a death too late for reports, but not very far, and I don't suppose this clue cold ever be pinned down exactly enough to do so. But then even if the timeline is correct, the related claims don't have to be; they could have gassed all these people intentionally, and just put out the word only then (at the right time) that some people had just been hit by Assad's murky sarin-chlorine bomb.

Possible alternative explanations
7.89 One criterion used in forensic epidemiology to assess causation considers the possibility of an alternative explanation or, more specifically, the lack of one [6]. The team considered alternative injury events, but stresses they are founded on few or no substantiated supportive facts.
Final: "there must not be any likely alternative explanation for the symptoms."

The following sections don't adhere to those criteria as headers, like the draft did. It links the foam and other symptoms to some chemical, noting the lack of external trauma, considering other things like periorbital discoloration and wet hair as having no clear cause, and closes with "Onset in relation to the allegation" (the second point on "temporal relationship") with alternative explanations not explicitly addressed, and the word "alternative" never appearing again. But it seems like they've concluded there is no other explanation than something chemical. I agree. And of course, the air attack with chlorine they were told of was something chemical, and their B team experts helped it seem to make sense, so... the math should be simple, right?

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.

These views are clearly limited by locale; to kill these people, the agent had to be released where they were found. But there were no chemical findings there to illustrate any such toxin, which argues against the possibility.  But passive intrusion from a release somewhere else, able to kill without leaving a trace, was a favored point of - apparently - FFM team leader Sami Barrek, who told the (German?) experts in June how (as the minutes summarize it) "a second canister, not witnessed by the FFM team, had landed in front of the building which could have contained some other highly toxic chemical." The draft report soon after mentioned "Two casualties did state that another cylinder had landed and released chlorine gas in front of their house approximately 50-60 meters from the basement at Location 2. Although this might offer an additional source of toxic gas, the FFM team could not corroborate this statement and found no evidence that this was the case." And it would be more of the same gas that already fails to explain the scene. In the final, three people claim this story, the possible link to location 2  removed (the note of it being speculative along with it), it's still chlorine, and a supporting smell in the area is added (southwest of location 2, out to 250m - and a map suggests the spot in question is 50-60m southwest of loc. 2). It's not set-out as an alternate explanation and it's not, but it is left floating there for people to latch onto.

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.

Nothing remotely like this note appears in the final report. The FFM stopped spelling it out, but nothing proves those people died in that building (in situ, where seen). They could have died a mile away and then had their bodies moved to location 2 (via the handy tunnels that open a block away) and arranged there, just like the chlorine cylinder was. The FFM can't erase that option, but they seem to hope the reader doesn't think of it.

And besides non-chemical event, there are chemical events other than the reported one to consider. If - as the FFM and I agree - there is no other explanation than something chemical (and/or suffocating), why rule out all possibilities but the one with so many problems? They could have suffocated on smoke or been deliberately murdered in a gas chamber, depending on the details, before they were arranged as props.


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