Today we release more documents showing internal disagreement within the OPCW about how facts were misrepresented in a redacted version of a report on an alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria in April 2018.
Amongst these is a memorandum written in protest by one of the scientists sent on a fact finding mission (FFM) to investigate the attack. It is dated 14 March 2019 and is addressed to Fernando Arias, Director General of the organisation. This was exactly two weeks after the organisation published its final report on the Douma investigation.
We are also releasing the original preliminary report for the first time along with the redacted version (that was released by the OPCW) for comparison. Additionally, we are publishing a detailed comparison of the original interim report with the redacted interim report and the final report along with relevant comments from a member of the original fact finding mission. These documents should help clarify the series of changes that the report went through, which skewed the facts and introduced bias according to statements made by the members of the FFM.
The aforementioned memo states that around 20 inspectors have expressed concerns over the final FFM report, which they feel “did not reflect the views of the team members that deployed to Douma”. Only one member of the fact finding team that went to Douma, a paramedic, is said to have contributed to the final version of the report. Apart from that one person, an entirely new team was gathered to assemble the final report, referred to as the “FFM core team”.
This new team was staffed with people who “had only operated in country X”, according to the memorandum. It is not clear what country that refers to, except that it is presumably not Syria. It is possible, though only speculation, that country X refers to Turkey, as OPCW has sent teams into refugee camps there to interview survivors from Douma.
The author of the memorandum states that he was the one originally tasked with analysis and assessment of the two cylinders found on the scene of the alleged chemical attack. This was a task he undertook “in the understanding [he] was clearly the most qualified team member, having been to the location in Douma and because of [his] expertise in metallurgy, chemical engineering (including pressure vessel design), artillery and Defence R&D”. He continues: “In subsequent weeks I found that I was being excluded from the work, for reasons not made clear”.
The author explains that he had frequently asked to be updated on the progress of the final report and to be allowed to review the draft, but was turned down on both counts. “The response was utmost secrecy”.
Once the final report was released on the 1st of March 2019, it became clear that the conclusions of the report had changed significantly in the hands of the new “core” team that assembled it into its final form: “At the conclusion of the in-country activities in the Syrian Arab Republic, the consensus within the FFM team was that there were indications of serious inconsistencies in findings. After the exclusion of all team members other than a small cadre of members who had deployed (and deployed again in October 2018) to Country X, the conclusion seems to have turned completely in the opposite direction. The FFM team members find this confusing, and are concerned to know how this occurred.”
Towards the end of the memo he writes:
“In conclusion, I must stress that I hold no opinion, interest or strong views on the technical part of the matter, nor any interest in the political outcomes. My interest is in sound technical rigour; the science, engineering and facts will speak for themselves.”
We are releasing supporting documents that back up these claims in great technical detail, including the original interim report and appraisal of the changes each iteration went through.