Statement by Ian Henderson

On 20 January 2020, Ian Henderson, a central figure in the OPCW/Douma affair made his first public statement. He was speaking by video link to a meeting convened by Russia under the auspices of the UN Security Council. This is a transcript of his statement ...

My name is Ian Henderson. I’m a former OPCW inspection team leader, having served for about 12 years. I heard about this meeting and I was invited by the minister-counsellor of the Chinese mission to the UN. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances around my ESTA visa waiver status, I was not able to travel. I thus submitted a written statement, to which I will now add a short introduction.

I need to point out at the outset that I’m not a whistleblower; I don’t like that term. I’m a former OPCW specialist who has concerns in an area, and I consider this a legitimate and appropriate forum to explain again these concerns.

Secondly, I must point out that I hold the OPCW in the highest regard, as well as the professionalism of the staff members who work there. The organisation is not broken; I must stress that. However the concern I have does relate to some specific management practices in certain sensitive missions.

The concern of course relates to the FFM investigation into the alleged chemical attack on 7 April in Douma, in Syria. My concern, which was shared by a number of other inspectors, relates to the subsequent management lockdown and the practices in the later analysis and compilation of a final report.

There were two teams deployed; one team, which I joined shortly after the start of field deployments, was to Douma in Syria; the other team deployed to country X.

The main concern relates to the announcement in July 2018 of a new concept, the so-called FFM core team, which essentially resulted in the dismissal of all of the inspectors who had been on the team deployed to locations in Douma and had been following up with their findings and analysis.

The findings in the final FFM report were contradictory, were a complete turnaround with what the team had understood collectively during and after the Douma deployments. And by the time of release of the interim report in July 2018, our understanding was that we had serious misgivings that a chemical attack had occurred.

What the final FFM report does not make clear, and thus does not reflect the views of the team members who deployed to Douma (in which case I really can only speak for myself at this stage) the report did not make clear what new findings, facts, information, data, or analysis in the fields of witness testimony, toxicology studies, chemical analysis, and engineering, and/or ballistic studies had resulted in the complete turn-around in the situation from what was understood by the majority of the team, and the entire Douma team, in July 2018.

In my case, I had followed up with a further six months of engineering and ballistic studies into these cylinders, the result of which had provided further support for the view that there had not been a chemical attack.

This needs to be properly resolved, we believe through the rigors of science and engineering. In my situation, it’s not a political debate. I’m very aware that there is a political debate surrounding this.

Perhaps a closing comment from my side is that I was also the inspection team leader who developed and launched the inspections, the highly intrusive inspections, of the Barzah SSRC facility, just outside Damascus. And I did the inspections and wrote the reports for the two inspections prior to, and the inspection after the chemical facility, or the laboratory complex at Barzah SSRC, had been destroyed by the missile strike.

That, however, is another story altogether, and I shall now close. Thank you.