Syria’s Alleged Sarin-Gas Attack: Questioning a Flawed Investigation
In October 2013, only weeks into its mission to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, received the news that it was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. In making the announcement, the chairman of the Nobel committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, emphasized that the OPCW had received the prize not only in recognition of its ongoing work in Syria, conducted under extremely difficult conditions, but also as a tribute to its 16-year mission of ridding the world of chemical weapons.
The director-general of the OPCW, Ahmet Üzümcü, a veteran Turkish diplomat whose geopolitical and disarmament credentials included assignments to NATO and the United Nations, delivered the Nobel Prize lecture in December 2013 upon receiving the award on behalf of the men and women of the organization he led. Not surprisingly, the situation in Syria featured prominently in his speech.
“The [Chemical Weapon] Convention’s achievements make the recent chemical attacks in Syria, which shocked us all, even more tragic,” Üzümcü stated, “for they highlight the manifest security advantages that states adhering to the Convention enjoy — in the sixteen years that the Convention has been in force, no Member State has experienced an attack with chemical weapons.”
On April 4 of this year, events in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun proved Üzümcü wrong, with the release of what was believed to be sarin nerve agent killing dozens of Syrian civilians. The Turkish diplomat’s observation during his Nobel lecture, “Syria has tested us,” proved prescient.
There is little debate that something horrible happened in and around Khan Sheikhun the morning of April 4. There is, however, active debate over precisely what happened and who was responsible. One narrative, embraced by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, holds that the Syrian air force dropped a bomb filled with sarin on the center of Khan Sheikhun, releasing deadly gas that killed and injured hundreds while they slept. Another, put forward by the Syrian and Russian governments, has the Syrian air force dropping conventional high explosive bombs on rebel targets inside Khan Sheikhun, one of which struck a building housing a weapons cache that included chemical weapons, inadvertently creating a cloud of poison that killed nearby civilians.
Eyewitness accounts of the physiological effects of this event, whatever its origins, on the citizens of Khan Sheikhun are themselves ambiguous. Some interpret them as supporting the narrative that sarin gas was the culprit, while others (myself included) believe the victim statements and symptoms are more indicative of a chlorine-type agent of the sort known to have been used by anti-regime rebels in the past. The OPCW has emerged as the final arbiter, with the preliminary results of its investigation into the April 4 events proposing that “sarin or a sarin-like substance” was responsible for the deaths and injuries in Khan Sheikhun.
While the OPCW is assiduous in not apportioning blame or responsibility for any incident it investigates, those who point an accusatory finger at the Syrian government, in particular the U.S., the U.K. and France, have cited the OPCW findings as representing de facto evidence of guilt. It should therefore have come as no surprise when the Russian government responded by questioning the impartiality of the OPCW, singling out the team leaders of the OPCW’s fact-finding mission (FFM) in Syria, both of whom happen to be U.K. citizens, as evidence of bias.
The Russians also noted that the OPCW findings were done without any actual on-site inspection of either Khan Sheikhun or the Syrian air base at Shayrat where the alleged chemical weapons were supposedly sourced, relying instead on laboratory analysis of biomedical samples taken from victims who had fled to neighboring Turkey (and raising the possibility of collusion between the Turkish government, which has taken a very strong pro-rebel position, and the Turkish director-general of the OPCW). Russia called for the reorganization of the FFM to include the appointment of “neutral” team leaders and members and a refocusing of its mission to include on-site inspections of Khan Sheikhun and Shayrat air base. On April 20, the OPCW executive committee, led by the delegations of the U.S., U.K. and France, overwhelmingly rejected this proposal, reinforcing the Russian perception of anti-regime bias on the part of the OPCW.
As a former chief weapons inspector with the United Nations in Iraq, I was filled with a sense of déjà vu by the Russian protests against the OPCW. In January 1998, I was heading up an inspection team tasked with conducting very intrusive inspections of sites we believed to hold clues to the fate of Iraq’s unaccounted-for weapons of mass destruction but which were also deemed to be politically sensitive to the regime of Saddam Hussein. At the conclusion of the first day of inspections, the Iraqi government announced that it would no longer cooperate with my team.
Of particular concern for the Iraqis was the large number of American and British citizens on the team, in particular the leader (me). Russia took up the Iraqi complaint in the United Nations Security Council, leading to the imposition of new restrictions on the conduct of certain sensitive inspections involving presidential palaces. The issue of team composition, however, was not acted on; and I was able to continue my work, despite pressure from on high, including from Secretary General Kofi Annan himself, to restrict my involvement. The same held true for my American and British colleagues. What saved our jobs was our professionalism and integrity as inspectors and our strict adherence to our mandate, qualities even the Iraqi government, in the end, was forced to concede. The U.N. inspection process in Iraq ultimately collapsed because of the interference in our work by the U.S. and U.K. governments; our disarmament mission was corrupted from without by linking it to regime change in Baghdad — not by any unprofessional conduct on the part of the inspectors.
In the more recent case in Syria, I felt a good degree of sympathy and empathy for the two British OPCW inspectors, Steven Wallis and Leonard Phillips, who had been called out by the Russian government. By all accounts, both men are experienced inspectors who came by their appointments not through any affiliation with the circles of foreign policy intrigue emanating from London, but rather through their respective expert qualifications. Phillips came from the commercial sector, starting his career as a research scientist with ICI Chemicals and Polymers after graduating from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, in 1997 with a degree in chemical engineering. He moved on to Associated Octel, where he worked as a process engineer before joining the OPCW as an inspector in January 2008. Phillips was promoted to inspection team leader in 2011, and he participated in the disarming of Syria’s chemical weapons programs before being appointed a fact finding mission team leader in March 2015.
Wallis served as a warrant officer in the British Army’s Parachute Regiment for four years before leaving the military in 2004 to become a paramedic with the National Health Service. In 2008 he was seconded to a multi-agency training team at the National Police Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Training Center, where he became involved in hazardous materials medical response. In 2010 he joined the OPCW as a health and safety specialist and subsequently served in a number of roles, including mission leader. In March 2015, Wallis was appointed a team leader with the fact-finding mission.
The record of both men in Syria shows the kind of creativity and professionalism one would want in an inspection team leader operating under difficult conditions. Both Phillips and Wallis were involved in the dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapons program and had significant experience operating inside Syria, where conditions were harsh and dangerous. The disarmament inspections they participated in, however, were relatively straightforward affairs, involving verification of declared materials, equipment and facilities, and overseeing their respective disposition and destruction in accordance with a plan of action worked out in cooperation with the Syrian government. These operations were very much in keeping with the procedures and methodologies already in place within the OPCW for inspections of declared chemical weapon storage facilities and chemical weapon destruction facilities.
The disarmament of Syria’s declared chemical weapons inventory was completed in June 2014. The OPCW then took on the task of monitoring Syrian compliance with the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, setting up two distinct teams. One, the declaration assessment team, or DAT, was tasked with clarifying any issues or discrepancies that might emerge concerning Syria’s declarations of its chemical weapons holdings. The other, the fact-finding mission, or FFM, was given the unenviable job of determining if chemical weapons continued to be used in the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Both the DAT and FFM have experienced considerable challenges in conducting their respective missions. The DAT process is an informal one, in which Syrian cooperation is sought through a series of meetings and site visits. While the OPCW does not attribute responsibility for a chemical weapons attack, the joint investigative mechanism (JIM), set up using resources from both the OPCW and United Nations, does; and in 2016 the JIM issued a report that implicated the Syrian government in several chemical weapons attacks, something the Syrian government strenuously denies. Based upon the findings of the JIM, several new locations were identified as being of inspection interest, and the DAT has taken the lead in obtaining access to these sites by OPCW inspectors, with mixed results.
Since its formation in 2014, the FFM has conducted some 20-odd investigations into possible chemical weapons use in Syria, the most recent of which is its ongoing investigation of the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhun. Inspections are the bread and butter of the OPCW’s work. Within the range of inspection activities undertaken by the OPCW, perhaps none is more demanding that what is termed investigation of alleged use, or IAU, inspections. The FFM’s mission in Syria consists exclusively of IAU-type inspections.
Before Syria, OPCW-run IAU inspection was a theoretical possibility, not a practical reality. The United Nations had conducted several investigations into the possible use of chemical weapons over the years, most notably during the Iran-Iraq War, in Mozambique in 1992 and in Azerbaijan that same year. Inspections conducted by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in Iraq included IAU-type investigations, as well as forensic inspections that served as the foundational work for the sampling and analysis (S&A) work that would serve as the heart of the OPCW inspection process.
The gold standard for the conduct of IAU-type inspection was set by the Joint UN-OPCW-World Health Organization (WHO) investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, Syria, a suburb of Damascus. This team, led by a veteran Swedish chemical weapons inspector named Ake Sellstrom, produced a report that was virtually unassailable in terms of its scientific and technical findings. One of the reasons for the robust nature of the Sellstrom report was the short time that elapsed between the events in question and the S&A work and related interviews conducted by the team. (Sellstrom benefited from already being deployed in Syria in support of a separate investigation into possible chemical weapons use.)
The primary reason, however, that the Sellstrom report had such credibility was the scientifically sound investigatory techniques used by the inspectors, combined with the unimpeachable methodology used in collecting and managing all evidence associated with the report. The Sellstrom team adhered to the most stringent protocols available, including standard operating procedures developed by the OPCW for S&A operations during inspections. One of the most important concepts underpinning these protocols was the notion of “traceability,” wherein all processes and procedures involved in the inspection were recorded and continuity was maintained for transparency and to withstand future scrutiny. Chain of custody procedures involving sampling were governed by the principle of traceability, under which the retrieval of the samples was recorded and witnessed, the samples sealed, detailed documentation prepared and the samples escorted to the laboratory under inspection team escort.The Sellstrom standard, however, proved to be difficult to replicate. The FFM confronted this reality during one of its first missions in 2014, investigating a site where the use of chlorine gas was alleged. The team came under armed attack and had to withdraw. “Under these conditions,” OPCW Director-General Üzümcü noted during an address made on the 20th anniversary of the group’s founding, “the choice before the international community is between no investigations at all or investigations that will apply procedures and methods suited to the difficult conditions that we are dealing with in conflict zones.” In short, Üzümcü stated, when it comes to Syria, the Sellstrom standard no longer applied.
This was an odd comment for the director-general to make, given that he is ultimately responsible for establishing a “stringent regime” for collection of samples during the course of any inspection conducted under the auspices of the OPCW. In accordance with its own standard operating procedures and guidelines, OPCW inspectors must be able to demonstrate to all states’ parties that all analysis results have been obtained based upon independent and verifiable bases. The procedures do allow for some flexibility, however, allowing that inspectors must remain open to the realities of specific site conditions and requirements.
The IAU inspection has one and only one goal: to determine the absence of any undeclared scheduled (i.e., proscribed) chemicals at a given site. At the end of the day, for an analysis for absence of undeclared scheduled chemicals to be credible for verification purposes, it must be conducted in accordance with OPCW procedures, fulfilling OPCW quality control/quality assurance criteria, and using the OPCW Central Analytic Database (OCAD) as a reference. Fundamental to this point is the absolute requirement for all sample preparation and analysis conducted as part of inspection to be performed by the inspection team using its own equipment approved for this purpose, in accordance with OPCW standard operating procedures. In the case of an IAU investigation, the inspection team will make use of an “alleged use sample collection kit” that contains the necessary equipment to conduct bulk solid, soil, water, liquid and wipe samples. Of note is the requirement for all items intended to come in contact with the sample to be packed individually for one-time use to prevent potential cross-contamination of samples.
Under the leadership of Steven Wallis and Leonard Phillips, the FFM became the living manifestation of the concept of “flexibility to site conditions and mission requirements.” Samples collected by persons not affiliated with the FFM were accepted by the team, violating the precept of “traceability” that gave the Sellstrom report so much credibility; one example of this breach was the receipt of a weapon that had been recovered by a Russian military unit that subsequent tests revealed to contain sulfur mustard. Phillips, at the head of mission FFM-Alpha, was tasked with investigating the use of chlorine agent in locations in northern Syria that were inaccessible to his team; he developed procedures that permitted a nongovernmental organization, the White Helmets (a volunteer civil defense unit funded and trained by the U.S. and U.K. governments that openly opposes the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad), to locate persons to be interviewed by the FFM, to check the authenticity of any samples and bio-samples provided by the White Helmets, and to make sure the persons interviewed were actually at the site in question.
While these actions were very much in keeping with the guidance of the director-general to develop new procedures suited to the reality of the situation in Syria, they violated every quality control/quality assurance standard set forth under existing OPCW S&A procedures, thereby opening up the findings of the FFM to scrutiny and questioning in a way the Sellstrom report never experienced.
The operations and planning branch of the OPCW’s inspectorate division maintains a 24-hour operations center that includes what is known as the “information cell.” This cell is responsible for collecting all source material regarding worldwide allegations of the use of chemicals as weapons, as well as for assessing the credibility of any source material collected and making judgments regarding the deployment of inspectors in response to this information.
On the morning of April 4, the information cell began monitoring social media and news media reports coming out of Syria regarding an alleged chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun. Given that the news media reports were largely recirculating the information being put out on social media, the information cell was basically monitoring a single source of information: videos and images published by the White Helmets ostensibly documenting their response to the events in and around Khan Sheikhun.
The graphic nature of these images, combined with the fact that they were being disseminated by an NGO (the White Helmets) with a proven record of cooperating with the OPCW inside Syria, collectively lent the reports enough credence to the information cell for it to recommend that the director-general dispatch the fact finding mission to investigate. The FFM was split into two sub-components; one, headed by Steven Wallis, was deployed to Damascus to coordinate with the Syrian government. The other, headed by Leonard Phillips, was deployed to Turkey, where it reached out to the White Helmets for the purpose of initiating the collection of information and evidence that could be used in any subsequent investigation.
Through information provided by the White Helmets, the FFM element inside Turkey was able to obtain the names of victims from Khan Sheikhun who had been evacuated to Turkey. After coordinating with Turkish officials, the FFM discovered that three of these victims had died and were scheduled for autopsies. Two members of the FFM were able to attend the autopsies and witness the extraction of biomedical samples taken from the victims’ blood, hair, brain, liver and lungs.
It was at this juncture that the haphazard nature of the investigation began to fall apart for the FFM. One of the core tenets of the OPCW is confidentiality — especially with regard to any findings associated with the work of an inspection team. In general, such findings would be made public only at the time the team leader reported to the director-general, and then only after the information had been scrutinized to ensure conformity with confidentiality requirements and OPCW standards of quality control and quality assurance. However, the day after the autopsies took place, Turkish Minister of Health Recep Akdag delivered a public statement that,“based on the test results [of samples taken from the autopsies], evidence was detected in patients which leads one to think they were exposed to a chemical substance [sarin].” The Turkish statement, which noted that the autopsies were “completed with the efforts of … OPCW representatives,” set off a wave of international condemnation of the Syrian government, which cited the Turkish findings as proof that Damascus was to blame for the events in and around Khan Sheikhun. The Turkish government further stated that samples drawn from the autopsies would be dispatched to the OPCW laboratory in Rijswijk, Netherlands, reinforcing the notion of collusion between Ankara and the OPCW.The Turkish government had set up a decontamination checkpoint in Hatay province, at the border crossing with Syria. Some 34 people claiming to be victims from Khan Sheikhun were processed at this checkpoint before being sent to hospitals in Antakya, Reyhanli and Iskenderun, all in Turkey. Three of these victims subsequently succumbed to their injuries. Of the remaining 31, 10 were identified by the FMM, working together with the White Helmets, as being of investigatory interest. On April 8, the FMM interviewed these survivors and witnessed blood and urine samples being taken. These samples, together with the biomedical samples extracted during the autopsies witnessed by the FFM, were dispatched to Rijswijk later that same day, arriving April 9.
The samples were subsequently divided and dispatched April 10 to two designated laboratories, one in the U.K. and one in France, certified to conduct forensic investigations of inspection samples collected by the OPCW. On April 11, the Turkish Health Ministry again preempted the OPCW by announcing that Turkish labs, in their analysis of the blood samples taken from survivors, confirmed that sarin nerve agent was used in the Khan Sheikhun attacks. The next day, April 12, U.K. Ambassador to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft announced that U.K. specialists had found “sarin or sarin-like” substance in victims’ blood samples. This announcement, when combined with the statement from Turkey the day before, preempted any announcement of the findings by the OPCW of the U.K. designated laboratory, which had reached its preliminary conclusion earlier that day, and significantly undermined any notion of independence on the part of the OPCW in the conduct of its investigation into the Khan Sheikhun incident. (On April 16 the French government released its own assessment of the samples, evaluated at the National Center for Scientific Research, which mirrored that of the British.)
Things only got trickier for the FFM team in Turkey. On April 12 and 13, the team received additional biological-environmental samples, in the form of two dead birds and the hair from a dead goat that the team was told were from the site of the attack; internal organs were taken from the dead birds by the team and forwarded to the OPCW laboratory. Additional environmental samples, in the form of soil and water samples, were turned over to the team by a representative of the White Helmets, who provided the team with photographs and video of the sampling to back up his claim. These samples were sent to Rijswijk on April 21 for processing and subsequent dispatch to designated laboratories for evaluation April 25.
On May 19, the OPCW released a preliminary report on the work of the FFM, including an annotation detailing the findings of the designated laboratories regarding the evaluation of the samples sent by the team. In almost every instance, the laboratory findings showed evidence of “sarin or a sarin-like substance.” Unlike the Sellstrom report on Ghouta in 2013, however, the findings of the FFM were not universally embraced, with Russia in particular questioning the provenance and veracity of the test results, and therefore the credibility of the OPCW itself.
One of the major issues confronting the OPCW in releasing the findings of the FFM is the fact that the inspected states party (ISP), in this case Syria, was removed from the entire process, in violation of the most basic fundamental requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which holds that the ISP is an integral part of the veracity of any inspection; here, the Syrian government was not involved. The CWC specifically notes that the ISP has a right to retain portions of all samples taken; indeed, of the eight portions of each sample created, one is required to be turned over to the ISP, and one kept on site under joint OPCW/ISP seal. This was not done.
Moreover, sampling and analysis operations are the sole purview of trained OPCW inspectors, using “necessary equipment” exclusively drawn from OPCW stores for that purpose. This includes sample vials and bottles, scoops, syringes, wipes and other sampling materials. Each sample taken is supposed to be accompanied by an OPCW sampling and analysis booklet, maintained by the OPCW inspectors, which documents the handling of the sample from collection to final disposition — the very essence of “traceability” that governs the credibility of any findings derived from an assessment of the sample in question.
None of the samples received by the FFM in Turkey, and forwarded to the OPCW for subsequent evaluation in designated laboratories, meets the requirements set forth by the OPCW’s own operating procedures regarding S&A methodology. Even if the FFM accepted at face value the images and videos provided by the White Helmets ostensibly documenting the collection of these samples, the fact that the samples were collected April 4 and only turned over to the FFM on April 12 and 13 creates a week-plus time frame when the location and status of the samples cannot be meaningfully ascertained; the FFM had no way of determining if the samples shown being collected on the White Helmet-provided images and videos were the same material turned over to the FFM.
Moreover, the samples themselves fail to meet any quality control or quality assurance standard set by the OPCW regarding its S&A activities. A cursory examination of the White Helmet videos would show that the collection activity was more theater than real; the individuals conducting the sampling were wearing chemical protective suits suitable for training only (the green suits are clearly labeled “Training”), which means the suits provide no protection from chemical agents. Moreover, there is no scene control, with personnel in full protective ensembles freely mixing with persons having no protection at all. One individual carries a Draeger multi-gas meter, useless in the detection of chemical agents. Samples are thrown haphazardly into a carrying case, and the samples are collected using a single scoop, meaning that there is cross-contamination throughout the process. Cars and motorcycles drive freely through the sampling area, contributing to potential cross-contamination. In short, the videos meant to show the viability of the samples in fact negate their potential utility — these samples should never have been accepted by the FFM, let alone forwarded to the OPCW laboratory for subsequent evaluation at designated laboratories.
As a hazardous materials technician who has trained extensively to operate in a chemical weapons environment (including live agent training at Fort McClellan in Alabama, where I participated in sampling and detection exercises using actual sarin and VX nerve agent), I was appalled by the cavalier approach taken by the White Helmets in conducting their supposed sample collection of sarin-infused material. There was no effort to set up a hot zone (i.e., area of known or suspected contamination), no indication of any meaningful monitoring and detection activity, and no evidence of any effort to decontaminate personnel, equipment or samples. As a former U.N. chief weapons inspector who has led sampling missions involving great political sensitivity, I was aghast at the collection and handling of what the White Helmets purported to be samples from the chemical attack scene. The samples were virtually unusable as collected — the cross-contamination issues alone should preclude their being used. The lack of any discernable documentation, the lack of any tamper-proof seals, and the lack of viable sampling containers, techniques and methodology likewise meant that anything collected by the White Helmets in the manner indicated on film had absolutely zero inspection utility.
These observations are obvious and self-evident to anyone possessing a modicum of professional training and experience, as certainly the members of the OPCW FFM in Turkey could claim — especially the team leader, Leonard Phillips. When the shock of the nonexistent health and safety standards used by the White Helmets wore off, it became clear to me that this wasn’t simply a scene neutrally depicting the actions of innocents trying to do a good deed. Rather, the videotape of the sampling activities was, like the videos and images of the White Helmets rescuing stricken survivors on April 4, which energized the OPCW information cell into recommending the dispatch of the FFM to begin with, a deliberate effort to deceive. The OPCW fell victim to this deception twice: first in sending the FFM to Turkey, and second in receiving and processing evidence, whether in the form of victims or environmental samples.
But even if one gives the OPCW the benefit of the doubt and forgives its absolute lack of discerning cynicism regarding the work of the White Helmets, the failure on the part of the FFM to adhere to even a modicum of professionalism when considering the samples turned over by the White Helmets is unforgivable. The Russians have singled out the British team leaders of the FFM, in particular Phillips, as being complicit. On the surface, the Russians seem to have a case; it was Phillips, after all, who initiated contact with the White Helmets in 2015, legitimizing their presence in the OPCW inspection process. This embrace of the White Helmets by the OPCW seems to have contributed to its willingness to accept at face value whatever the White Helmets turned over for its use, including videos, samples and victim identification.
Phillips, however, is not the final authority on the work of the FFM in Turkey. This is the purview of the director-general of the OPCW, Ahmet Üzümcü. Before Phillips and his team deployed to Turkey, they were issued an “inspection mandate” by the director-general that detailed the scope of their mission, up to and including the type of equipment to accompany the team. Normally the inspection mandate is an ironclad document derived from the specific authorities enjoyed by an inspection team in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Treaty. But Üzümcü has spoken of the specific need for flexibility in approaching the unique circumstances faced by the FFM. One wonders which specific instructions the inspection mandate for Phillips included — what, for instance, was the nature of the FFM’s relationship with Turkey (not an inspected states party); what was the specific authority given in terms of establishing a working relationship with the White Helmets; and what waivers of procedures and guidelines were granted in terms of sampling and assessment activity?
I have no doubt that Phillips, like his fellow FFM team leader Steven Wallis, is a consummate professional. The notion of an OPCW team leader of his stature deviating from standard operating procedure is virtually unthinkable. At the end of the day, the onus for explaining the conduct of the FFM in Turkey falls on the shoulders of Ahmet Üzümcü. If he indeed provided an inspection mandate with such blatant deviations from the kind of strict procedure-based protocols that give the OPCW its legitimacy, upon whose authority did he do so?
The hand-in-glove relationship between Üzümcü and the governments of Turkey, the United States, the United Kingdom and France that emerges from this process can only lead to the conclusion that, in the desire for regime change in Damascus, the narrow-minded self interests of a few governments, facilitated by an international civil servant lacking the courage to stand up and challenge an abuse of authority by these nations, has led to the discrediting of yet another international disarmament organization.
I witnessed this process firsthand as a weapons inspector with UNSCOM in 1997-1998, when the United States and its British allies exploited the personal failings of the UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler to undermine and ultimately destroy the U.N. disarmament effort on Iraq, all in the name of removing Saddam Hussein from power. Sadly, the same process is being used today regarding the work of the OPCW.
The cooperation of Ahmet Üzümcü in allowing the White Helmets to infiltrate the very inspection processes that gave the OPCW its credibility, and likewise to permit the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Turkey to use this very OPCW investigation process to attack the government of Syria as part of their collective efforts for regime change in Damascus, is a case study in history repeating itself. Ambassador Üzümcü’s cavalier approach toward inspection integrity in the name of “flexibility” has tarnished the once stellar work record of the OPCW and undermined the principles of international peace and security that were inherent in the decision by the Nobel committee to award the organization the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.
Russia would do well to stop picking on the two British inspectors, Wallis and Phillips, and instead single out the true culprit in the debacle that has become of the OPCW experience in Syria — Ahmet Üzümcü. His resignation as director-general of the OPCW would be the start of a healing process that would hopefully return the OPCW to the status it once enjoyed as one of the world’s pre-eminent disarmament organizations.