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Monday, June 3, 2019

More on the silent Ian Henderson and his "leaked" OPCW paper

If you've been following this story you know that many questions have been raised about this 15-page note, and its author, Ian Henderson, because he signed the note without title or affiliation. If you are unfamiliar with this story, I refer you to my two previous blog posts on this subject for background: Lies, damned lies, and engineering sub-team reports, and Where in the world is Ian Henderson?

While the paper is only signed by one person, Ian Henderson, it is titled Engineering Assessment of two cylinders observed at the Douma incident, and it is written as though it is the report of an engineering sub-team, written by the team leader, and while the signer claims no position with the OPCW, a Google search can quickly establish a two decade long association with the OPCW from 1998 to at least March 2018, and since in 2018 he is listed as an OPCW Team Leader, many people have jumped to the conclusion that he is writing as a Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) Team Leader, speaking for one of the FFM engineering sub-teams that investigated the incident in Douma, Syria on 7 April 2018.

The point of this brief blog post is to explain why that conclusion is almost certainly wrong.

As note by others, Ian Henderson first shows up in 1998 in The CBW Convention Bulletin as one of the first OPCW P-5 level inspection team leaders. He is not associated with any special expertise in this early document, but the first paper in the bulletin is Routine and Challenge: Two Pillars of Verification, and on the whole this Bulletin seems focused on Challenge Inspections. This is based on my quick scan, and this phrase count: "routine inspections" 2; "challenge inspections" 12; "challenge investigations" 6. Challenge Inspections and Challenge Investigations appear to be synonyms.  These different types of Inspections are important to understand and key to my argument.

You see, the OPCW does basically three types of inspections Routine Inspections, Challenge Inspections, and Investigations of Alleged Use of CW. As the title of the paper above implies, the first two are the pillars of the verification of compliance by state actors. Of those two, Routine Inspections has been the bread and butter of OPCW's inspection work. Challenge Inspections are also directed at the verification of compliance by state actors. A Challenge Inspection would happen when a State Party "request(s) the Secretariat to conduct an on-site challenge inspection" because they suspect non-compliance. Its not clear to me that a Challenge Inspection has ever been done. As we shall see Challenge Inspections are where Ian Henderson's specialty lies.

There hadn't been much use for "Investigations of Alleged Use of CW" for a decade by the time Ian Henderson was hooking up with the OPCW. He shows up again in 2002 as "Ian Henderson, OPCW Inspectorate" a participant in an "Expert Workshop on The Conduct of Challenge Inspections."

A 2007 academic forum lists him as a panelist for “Workshop II – Chemical Weapons Nonproliferation,” saying Ian Henderson “Has ten years of performing routine inspections helped prepare the OPCW Technical Secretariat for the event of a challenge inspection?”

Finally, a March 2018 meeting of the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board summary lists him as: Mr Ian Henderson (OPCW Inspection Team Leader) but a read of the paper makes it clear he was an OPCW Challenge Inspection Leader:

RRAM is a rescue mission, not an inspection mission. From this little we know, it's clear that Ian Henderson has had a long association with OPCW as a Team Leader and expert in Challenge Inspections, which is a different expertise, and probably a different department from the, up until recently largely inactive, Investigation of the Alleged Use, department. However, in 2013 the OPCW started getting called upon to investigate the alleged use of CW in Syria, and in 2014 it formally set up the Fact-Finding Mission in Syria to deal with the growing allegations of CW use. It has produced 22 reports, and 5 updates since then, including the disputed report on the Douma incident. All that while, it would appear from that March 2018 sighting, that Ian Henderson was still working on the Challenge Inspection side of the house. A month later the FFM would be starting its investigation into the Douma incident.

Another fact (those stubborn things) that has gotten lost in the current debate about Henderson's connection to the FFM is that the OPCW isn't just running one mission in Syria. It is running five missions in Syria: OPCW-UN Joint Mission, Declaration Assessment Team (DAT), OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), and of course OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM). So the OPCW footprint in Syria in considerably wider than just the FFM, and few would know that from the current discussions.

So, did Ian Henderson suddenly abandon as much as 20 years of specialization in Challenge Inspections, and move over to Investigations? That paper on the March 2018 OPCW Scientific Advisory Board summary mentions FFM 18 times, and in connection with many people, but not Ian Henderson, he is mentioned only in connection to Challenge Inspections, and as you can see above, he has long been considered an OPCW leader and expert in that field.

So, is there a way to square the claims by the OPCW that Ian Henderson was not a part of the FFM, and neither was the engineering sub-team, with Henderson's apparent claim to be writing as the team leader of the engineer sub-team behind the "Engineering Assessment of Two Cylinders Observed at the Douma Incident - Executive Summary"? I believe there is. Is it possible that Ian Henderson is a OPCW Challenge Inspection Team Leader, and he is talking about his CI engineering sub-team? Since they are part of the OPCW, they'd likely had ready access to the data. They, or he, could work up this independent report, and the way it is written, it doesn't say anything about itself or Henderson that wouldn't be satisfied by this construction. Although this may call into question any assumed expertise in investigations on the part of Henderson, it doesn't, in and of itself, call into question the findings in his paper. I have done that elsewhere.

Let me add as an after thought that it is one of the great tragedies resulting from the world's response to the Syrian conflict that the FFM had to be setup at all, but the greatest tragedy may yet prove to be that FFMs in many countries will become a growing part of OPCW's future budgets because the world looked the other way (or blamed the victims!) when the use of CW, long suppressed, started to resurface in Syria.

Clay Claiborne, Linux Systems Administrator L2

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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  1. Please keep this up as more continues to emerge about Henderson. Your output on this is the most impressive I've seen so far.

    Though I would like to point out one caveat: whilst Henderson's association to the OPCW may reach back 20 years this does not mean he has been actively associated with them throughout this time. As Brian Whittaker has pointed out, the OPCW discourages career-sitting among its staff and Henderson is very unlikely to have had '20 years of specialization in Challenge Inspections'. Most are employed on fixed-term contracts and Henderson has most likely dipped in and out as a consultant during the two decades.

  2. Sorry, this is nonsense.

    Firstly, why have the OPCW confirmed that the document is genuine, if you think its authenticity is questionable (just because it's 'a note' - oh, you think that appending the label 'note' to it invalidates it, do you?), and why have the OPCW stated that they are looking for the source of the leak, if you try to cast doubt on it being a real leak by putting the word in inverted commas all the time?

    As for your quibbles over which particular mission Henderson is on, that is just procedural fussing. Whether Henderson is an official member of the FFM or not makes no difference to the validity of his findings. Whatever precise mission he is on in Syria, it doesn't change the nature of the evidence he was looking at in any way.

    This whole post of yours is just making a pedantic fuss over demarcation matters, while not bothering to look at the important details at all i.e. its assessment of the evidence at the site of the supposed chemical attack, or the confirmation the OPCW have given of its veracity.

    By your own reasoning, it would be just as easy to dismiss your input as completely useless, on the grounds that you are just a computer systems administrator.

    1. Henderson called it a note:


      1. This note relates to the incident of alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon in Douma on 7 April 2018 in the Syrian Arab Republic.

      So I'm just calling it what he called it, a note. What he didn't call it was a OPCW document, and neither did the OPCW. In response to media inquiries generated by the posting of Henderson note, The OPCW issued this statement:

      Pursuant to its established policies and practices, the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question.

      That is not the OPCW taking ownership of the document, they haven't even confirmed that Henderson had access to the FFM data. That is OPCW saying they didn't have anything to do with releasing it. It's true that a lot of stuff can be inferred by what Henderson writes in the doc about his position, and that of his team, but he doesn't even make the claim that he is currently working for the OPCW, and they have stated clearly that “the individual mentioned in the document has never been a member of the FFM” and the “engineering sub-team was not part of the FFM’s investigation.” Nothing in the document contradicts those statements, and his name on it, with no position or affiliation is very strange and unprofessional. Until we hear from Henderson, there is no way to authenticate it. No court would even accept it as evidence of anything if he wasn't available to vouch for it.

      I've noticed a few leaps the supporters of this document seem to be willing to make to draw conclusions not supported by the evidence, using your comment as example:
      "the document is genuine" this mantra is meaningless. Genuine what? Maybe a genuine Henderson note, until he says otherwise. It doesn't use a genuine OPCW confidentiality classification, from that alone we can conclude that its not a genuine OPCW document, but then it doesn't claim to be, does it? You disagree? Find me another OPCW doc with the confidentiality classification "UNCLASSIFIED - OPCW Sensitive, Do not circulate." Find just one, and you will have won a great victory for your side. It shouldn't be that hard, there are a lot of OPCW docs to be found on the web, especially the unclassified ones. And when you can't find even one, will you agree this is not a genuine OPCW doc?

      "being a real leak" How do you leak an UNCLASSIFIED doc? Secrets are leaked. My dictionary defines un·clas·si·fied as "(of information or documents) not designated as secret." It was posted on a website and publicized by people who support Assad, but it wasn't classified (secret) at any level so it wasn't leaked. Its supporter are trying to give it undue gravitas by calling it a "leaked" document.

      "the validity of his findings" Have you seen anything but this Executive Summary? Even the claims in that don't stand up to close scrutiny, and without access to the report being summarized, and the data and studies behind that, all those that proclaim "the validity of his findings," are doing so because the already agree with them for political reasons.

      There have been something like 300 chemical attacks in Syria since 2012, and there can be no doubt that the overwhelming majority of them have been carried out by the same forces that have been dropping barrel-bombs, cluster bombs, napalm, and plain old HE, on Syrian civilians for 8 years. I think this whole campaign to get them off the hook for one of those chemical attacks, while discrediting the agency charged with policing chemical weapons, is part of a move to normalize CW use in our world again, and you are one of its anonymous agents.

    2. The OPCW have discredited themselves - as anyone with a good investigative scientific background will attest after reading their reports. Reliance on biased 3rd parties for data collection and many breaks in the chain of custody are facts that cannot be swept under the carpet. Opaque funding issues and the obvious bias present in the management of the OPCW, mean that it is now a tool of anti-Russian Governments with no accountability or oversight. In short - the OPCW has ZERO CREDIBILITY.