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Thursday, June 6, 2019

OPCW Word Games - Exposing the Politics of the Henderson "leak"

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has not yet published a response to Ian Henderson's 15-page note titled, “Engineering Assessment of Two Cylinders Observed at the Douma Incident- Executive Summary,” but his arguments are a virtual carbon-copy {Now there's a phrase that is quickly losing context in the digital age.} of the allegations made by the Russian Federation, and we do have OPCW's 21 May 2019 response to those.

In that response, they talk about the procedures they use:
As mentioned in previous FFM reports, all activities of the FFM are undertaken in accordance with the relevant procedures of the Secretariat, setting out guidelines for the conduct of inspections in contingency operations, including investigations of alleged use of chemical weapons. The FFM applied the Secretariat’s standard methodology in its investigation of incidents in the Syrian Arab Republic. This methodology is illustrated in the FFM reports.
The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission(FFM) Report on the incident of alleged use of toxic chemicals in Douma, Syria on 7 April 2018 is well documented, with a lot of notes and references. The response notes that:
In Annex 1 to the report, the FFM listed all reference documentation and procedures followed during the mission.
This can't be said of Henderson's 15-page “Executive Summary,” which requires us to take much on faith.

The OPCW response to the Syrian and Russian objections also references the unique limitations of the mandate and methods imposed on it by the United Nation, where State Parties with veto power are demanding that fact finding missions don't become fault finding missions:
The analyses of the FFM are based on the facts and data collected and corroborated by the team and not on assumptions. In this context, the FFM report on the Douma incident does not contain assumptions or statements about the use of a helicopter (or any other craft) and the height of flight. The report does not provide information outside of the mandate and methodology of the FFM.
The bold around not on assumptions” was added by the OPCW, not me. It is one of the very few places they emphasis a phrase in the 19-page response, so apparently that is something they feel strongly about. They make this point a second time in this 19-page response:
The FFM does not base its modelling or calculations on assumptions about the height from which the cylinder could have been dropped or the height of an aircraft. Therefore, in accordance with its mandate, the FFM did not comment on the possible altitudes of aircraft in any assumed operation modality.
And, just so there can be no misunderstanding, they repeat themselves a third time in the response:
As previously stated in Answer 8.1, the FFM report on the Douma incident does not contain assumptions or statements about the use of an aircraft or the height of flight. The report does not elaborate information outside of the FFM's mandate and methodology.
Henderson's 15-page “Executive Summary,” on the other hand, is rife with assumptions, and goes far beyond the limitations of the FFM's mandate and methodology. Consider these excerpts:
The cylinder, full or partly full of liquefied chlorine, was dropped from an aircraft (most likely a helicopter) from an unknown altitude,...
The cylinder, full 'or' partly full of liquefied chlorine, or empty, was in the possession of persons who placed it on the terrace next to a pre-existing crater.
And again, a second time, these documents tend to be repetitive:
The cylinder, mostly full of liquefied chlorine, was dropped from an aircraft (most likely a helicopter) from an unknown altitude,...
Unlike the FFM, Henderson feels free to make assumptions:
[T]he simulations were also intended to address the question as to whether a vessel, dropped from an assumed height (a range of heights was tested, resulting in calculated impact velocities), gave rise to...
Here he not only names helicopters as the source, he infers they were Syrian Air Force helicopters:
The results predicted from the simulation were more consistent with images of deformed cylinders from earlier incidents of cylinders allegedly delivered from helicopters in the Syrian Arab Republic.
He makes various assumptions about height, something OPCW called “information outside of the FFM's mandate and methodology," time:
a vessel dropped from a height assumed between 500m and 2000m
And time:
The simulation results thus indicated that the assumed drop heights, even the lowest one of 500m, were too high to be able to reproduce the observed impact event.
The potential “cushioning” effect was found to be negligible when compared with the energy of a cylinder falling from the lowest estimated height.
The word “helicopter(s)” doesn't appear once in the 106-page OPCW report on Douma, but it appears 3 times in Henderson's 15-page note.

There are also important word and phrase choice differences that point to very different methodologies:

The speculative phrase “most likely” is another one wholly absent from the 106-page OPCW report on Douma, but it shows up three times in Henderson's 15-page note:
“was dropped from an aircraft (most likely a helicopter)”

and a second time:

“was dropped from an aircraft (most likely a helicopter)”


“would most likely not have degraded to such an extent”
The speculative word “may” is used only once in the 106-page OPCW report on Douma, where it is used to knock down speculation that the crater was caused by an explosive device:
The FFM analysed the damage on the rooftop terrace and below the crater in order to determine if it had been created by an explosive device. However, this hypothesis is unlikely given the absence of primary and secondary fragmentation characteristic of an explosion that may have created the crater and the damage surrounding it.
Henderson's 15-page note, on the other hand, could also be called the May Report, not only because it was publicized ("leaked") in May, but because it uses the word “may” in the speculative sense five times:
“observations may have had influences”

“the cylinder may have been fitted with”

“the terrace may have been covered”

“it may be best to acknowledge it as a possibility”

“Whilst it may be speculative to consider it”
“Speculative” is another word that doesn't appear in the 106-page OPCW report on Douma, because, unlike our man Henderson, the analyses of the FFM are based on the facts and data collected and corroborated by the team and not on speculation and assumptions. Rather than honor the FFM's methodology in his note, Henderson chose language that favors political conclusions, and worst, conspiracy theories. Ian Henderson must have known that his paper went far beyond the mandate and methodology of the FFM, unless he's not the team leader he claims to be. Why would he do that if he wanted his note to be taken seriously within the OPCW, and taken as important input into their final report on Douma?

Even if it had been submitted in a timely fashion, Henderson should have known it risked rejection, and imho should have been rejected, on these grounds alone. When you couple this with its 27 February date, its phony confidentiality classification, and the fact that we don't know if OPCW even saw it before their 1 March report came out, this raises a very troubling question: If it wasn't written to affect the March report, why was it written?

Assuming, Ian Henderson wrote it, only he can answer that question, but as noted in an earlier blog post, he hasn't turned up still. So, we can't answer that yet. But we can make some observations about how it is being used, and the short answer there is that it is being used in a campaign led by supporters of war criminals to undermine and discredit the chemical weapons police.

This is a very dangerous game. Almost a hundred years ago, a worldwide ban against chemical weapons was established, and with a few notable exceptions, it has held. Now it is on something of a comeback, starting with Syria where more than 300 such attacks have been reported.

One of the reasons CW was allowed to be banned in the first place was that it was found not all that effective on the battlefield, where winds and positions can change rapidly, and the opposing forces are likely to be in good health and well prepared. Use against unprepared civilians, such as fixed neighborhoods filled with children and old people, is another matter entirely. Add to that the fact that when fighting uprisings and insurgencies in one's own country, a weapon that kills people without destroying property can be a very attractive option. For these reasons, this movement to normalize the use of chemical weapons in the twenty-first century must be nipped in the bud. This campaign to discredit the OPCW based on allegations that it “suppressed” or “redacted,” and “deliberately concealed” the “dissenting opinions” in the “leaked” engineering sub-team report, should be seen in that context. That is why I have awoken, as if from a slumber, to take on this “leaked” engineering sub-team report with the intensity I have. I have no idea what is driving those attempting to exonerate war criminals of specifically chemical murders.

Finally, to explain why I insist on putting “leaked” in quotes when referring to Henderson's 15-page note, I must turn to Google's handy dictionary function for some assistance with a few word definitions. We know that his note is UNCLASSIFIED, so:
un·clas·si·fied adjective (of information or documents) not designated as secret.
If unclassified documents are no longer secret, I have a hard time understanding how this word can honestly be applied to their publication and distribution:
leak noun 2. an intentional disclosure of secret information.
Maybe this is the word I am looking for:
hype noun 1. extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion.
One can definitely call it the hyped Henderson note, no quotes needed!

Brian Whitaker, please make sure Chris Williamson MP sees this. I don't like to see a member of the House of Commons making a fool of himself, and our English is common enough that even he should get it.

Clay Claiborne, Linux Systems Administrator L2

On the “leaked” Henderson report, see also:
Lies, damned lies, and engineering sub-team reports
Where in the world is Ian Henderson?
More on the silent Ian Henderson and his "leaked" OPCW paper

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