Below the headlines: CBW matters (11)

(A weekly digest from the internet on chemical and biological warfare issues. Emphasis is on incidents and perspectives, but inclusion of an item does not equal endorsement or agreement with the contents. This issue covers items collected between 24 – 30 April 2017.)

Chemical warfare in Syria

The chemical strike against Khan Sheikhoun

  • Perpetrator of second largest chemical attack in Syria identified (Orient Net, 5 April 2017): Observatories operating in the provinces of Hama and Idlib revealed the identity of the commander of the aircraft that carried out the massacre on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib countryside, which marked the second largest chemical attack in Syria after the August 2013 attacks on both eastern and western Ghoutas in Damascus.
  • Evidence Contradicts Russia’s Account of the Syria Chemical Attack (Jeffrey Marcus, 5 April 2017): The Russian government has sharply contested accounts by international leaders and witnesses that a deadly chemical attack in northern Syria last week was carried out by Syrian government forces. Here’s what the available evidence, including a declassified four-page American intelligence report, tells us about the reliability of the Russian account.
  • Syria’s government helped create a rebel bastion — then attacked it with poison gas, the U.S. says (Nabih Bulos, 18 April 2017): When the Syrian government dropped what the U.S. says were chemical munitions this month in the northwestern province of Idlib, it was targeting a rebel bastion that it helped create.
  • Rationality and Sarin Gas: What Social Science Tells Us About Assad’s Chemical Weapons Attack (Matthew Cancian and Sara Plana, 21 April 2017): As pundits debate the wisdom of the United States’ retaliatory airstrikes, who the audience of the strike was, and what the next steps of the administration can or should be, a critical question is often overlooked: why did the Syrian regime use chemical weapons now? Political science debates two mutually exclusive characteristics of human behavior: either an actor is rational—in that he or she minimizes material costs and maximizes material benefits—or irrational—his or her motivations lay far more with immaterial or emotional factors than straightforward material considerations. In order to assess whether the United States’ punitive strikes will achieve their intended aim of deterring Assad from future chemical weapons attacks, we must first understand whether Assad’s use of chemical weapons was rational or irrational.
  • French report on the Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack (26 April 2017):
  • Attaque en Syrie au gaz sarin : le rapport de la France qui accuse Damas (Marc Semo, 26 avril 2017): Les enquêteurs de l’Organisation pour l’interdiction des armes chimiques (OIAC) avaient déjà conclu, dans un rapport, à l’emploi « irréfutable » de gaz sarin, ou d’une substance similaire, lors de l’attaque menée le 4 avril par un Soukhoï 22 du régime syrien contre la localité contrôlée par la rébellion de Khan Cheikhoun (Nord-Ouest), qui avait fait 87 morts. De nouveaux éléments recueillis par les services de renseignement français montrent que le gaz neurotoxique utilisé provient bien des stocks du régime de Damas, censés avoir été détruits après l’accord d’octobre 2013 parrainé par Moscou et Washington.
  • France says analysis shows Syria regime behind sarin attack (Thomas Adamson and Nataliya Vasilyeva, (26 April 2017): France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that the chemical analysis of samples taken from a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria earlier this month “bears the signature” of President Bashar Assad’s government and shows it was responsible for the deadly assault.
  • France: Blood samples prove Assad used sarin gas in Syria (Shira Rubin, 26 April 2017): An analysis of blood and urine samples taken from a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria earlier this month “bears the signature” of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and indicates he was responsible for the attack, France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.
  • Top diplomat claims France has evidence proving use of sarin gas in Idlib (Tass, 26 April 2017): France claims to have information proving that the Syrian air force delivered six airstrikes in the Idlib Governorate on April 4 — the day when the chemical attack took place there.
  • Syrian Scientists Made Sarin Used in Chemical Attacks, France Claims (Colum Lynch, 26 April 2017):  The new evidence, contained in a six-page National Evaluation prepared by French intelligence, represents the most detailed public account of Syria’s alleged use of the deadly nerve agent sarin in the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
  • France ‘has proof’ Assad regime was behind Syria chemical weapon attack (Laura Smith-Spark, 26 April 2017): The French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that samples taken from the attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun matched those from a previous incident. French laboratories had stored samples taken from other chemical attacks in Syria and so were able to compare them, he said.
  • Sincerely yours, Theodore A. Postol (Clay Claiborne, 26 April 26, 2017): “Sincerely yours?” Really? Who signs a scientific paper about a chemical weapons attack “Sincerely yours?” The answer is Theodore A. Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, when he is trying to use the mantles of science and position to pull the wool over our eyes. That is his final argument {“trust me”} in a long list we will shortly unraven from his Addendum to Dr. Theodore Postol’s Assessment of the White House Report on Syria Chemical Attack, and two other pieces of his repetitive Khan Sheikhoun trilogy.
  • How investigators figure out what chemical weapons are used — and who used them (Amanda Erickson, 27 April 2017): This week, the French government released a scathing report on the deadly sarin attack in Syria. The assault bears “the signature” of President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program, researchers found.
  • Moscow slams French report on Syria chemical attack as inferior substitute to stalled OPCW probe (RT, 28 April 2017): Russia has questioned the integrity of a French intelligence report, which blames the Syrian government for the Idlib chemical attack, emphasizing that no amount of national probes will ever make up for the absence of an impartial international investigation.
  • French Report on Alleged Syria Chemical Attack Looks Like a Political Put-up Job (Sputnik, 28 April 2017): On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry questioned the findings of a French report into the alleged chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province. Radio Sputnik discussed the issue with Russian political scientist Alexei Gusev, who said that the report looks very much like a political “put-up job.”
  • A Sarin Attack Was ‘Not in Assad’s Interest’, Why is France Pointing the Finger? (Sputnik, 28 April 2017): In an interview with Sputnik France, a number of French experts cast doubt on their country’s probe into the alleged chemical attack in the Syrian province of Idlib earlier this month; the document alleges that the attack bore the “signature” of Damascus.
  • Professor Theodore A. Postol of MIT vs. The Concept of Time (Eliot Higgins, 28 April 2017): Since the April 4th 2017 chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun a number of individuals and organisations have attempted to promote narratives that promote the idea that the attack was a false flag. One prominent voice stands out among these individuals and organisations, that of Professor Theodore A. Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His status at MIT has made him particularly popular with conspiracy theorists who cite his work and credentials when promoting their false flag theories around the attack. With the latest attack in Khan Sheikhoun Professor Postol has returned to the fray, publishing a series of reports claiming to show the version of events as described by the White House is false.
  • Debunking the French Report on Syrian Chemical Weapons (WashingtonsBlog, 28 April 2017): The French government released a report blaming the Syrian government for this month’s chemical weapons incident. The report states that the  sarin  present  in  the munitions used on 4 April was  produced using the same manufacturing process as that used during the sarin attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Saraqib. Moreover, the presence of  hexamine  indicates  that  this  manufacturing  process  is  that  developed  by  the  Scientific Studies and Research Centre for the Syrian regime. Sounds convincing, right? But the report falls apart upon closer scrutiny …

OPCW investigation

  • Remarks by HR/VP Mogherini at the joint press conference with Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov (EU Council, 24 April 2017): When it gets to the use of chemical weapons, of chemical components, during the war, then we are at a different stage. We are at a different stage of atrocities and we are at the level of what amounts to a war crime if that is proven to be the case. This is why the European position on that is that a full transparent investigation has to be done by the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] and full accountability has to be guaranteed within the UN appropriate system.
  • EU ‘open to anti-terrorism collaboration with Russia’ (ANSAMed, 24 April 2017): In a prior interview with the Interfax agency, Mogherini had noted that the EU fully supports the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) investigation into alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun and that it is waiting for the results of it. The EU foreign policy chief called the attack a war crime for which it was necessary to identify the perpetrators.
  • OPCW Decision Not to Send Chemical Weapons Experts to Syria ‘Strange’ – Lavrov (Sputnik, 24 April 2017): The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) decision not to send an investigative mission to the reported April 4 use of chemical weapons in Syria is strange, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday.
  • Draft OPCW decision on Syria chemical incident that Russia proposed and UK opposed (Russian Embassy, London, 25 April 2017): THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN AND THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, DRAFT DECISION ADDRESSING THE SITUATION AROUND THE ALLEGED USE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN THE KHAN SHAYKHUN AREA OF SOUTHERN IDLIB IN THE SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC.
  • Russian and western dispute over Syria chemical attack further muddies truth (Patrick Wintour, 25 April 2017): Russian officials accuse Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons of siding with the west after rejecting plan to reinvestigate evidence of sarin gas. An increasingly bitter dispute between Russia and the west over an inquiry into the recent chemical weapons attack that killed about 80 people in Syria has revealed the extent to which the two sides are unable to agree on basic facts – or even agree a process to ascertain the truth.
  • Only OPCW investigation can bring up truth on Khan Sheykhun chemical attack — Moscow (Tass, 27 April 2017): “The only realistic way to establish truth would be to dispatch a mission to Khan Sheykhun and to the Shayrat airbase where the Sarin utilize in Khan Sheykhun was allegedly stored,” the ministry said. “This mission would use all the techniques envisioned by the Chemicals Weapons Convention and substantiated in its mandate.”
  • Chemical weapons allegedly used 45 times in Syria: OPCW chief (Agence France Presse, 28 April 2017): Experts from the world’s watchdog tasked with destroying chemical weapons are probing reports that toxic arms have been used 45 times in Syria since late last year, the body’s chief said Friday. Director general Ahmet Uzumcu said there was “a huge list of allegations” of the use of toxic arms reported to the operations hub of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
  • Russia Insists on Sending OPCW Mission to Idlib Chemical Incident Site ASAP (Sputnik, 28 April 2017): Moscow hopes the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) will dispatch its “balanced” expert team to the site of a recent chemical incident in Syria as soon possible.
  • OPCW ready to send its experts to Syria’s Khan Sheikhoun (SANA, 28 April 2017): The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is ready to send its experts to Khan Sheikhoun in Idleb countryside. “This area is controlled by different armed opposition groups, so we need to strike some deals with them, we need to assure a temporary ceasefire,” Üzümcü said, pointing out that the Syrian government has voiced its support for sending a team of experts.
  • Chemical weapons team ready to visit Syria if safety assured (Mike Corder, 28 April 2017): The chief of the international chemical weapons watchdog said on Friday that he has a team of experts ready and willing to travel to the site of this month’s deadly nerve gas incident in Syria if their safety can be assured.
  • OPCW to investigate alleged Syria chemical weapons attack in two months (Xinhua, 29 April 2017): Investigators of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will complete a final report of the inquiry into an alleged chemical weapons attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria in two months, OPCW Director-General Ahmeet Uzumcu said on Friday.
  • Is The OPCW Playing Politics In The Idlib Gas Attack Investigation? (Whitney Webb, 28 April 2017): The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons claims to have “incontrovertible” proof that sarin was used in a gas attack that occurred in Syria earlier this month. However, the organization’s lack of transparency and ties to Western nations have cast doubt on its findings.

International response

  • Syria chemical attack unsettles Iran’s chemical weapons survivors (Narges Bajoghli, 21 April 2017): When the news of the chemical attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun came in on April 4, Ali texted his close friend Taghi to come over after work. They had served together during the long and brutal 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, in which Iraq began dropping chemical bombs as early as 1981. Having had personal experience with chemical bombs, he and his friends knew that they couldn’t stand behind Assad if it turned out that his regime had carried out the attack.
  • Canada announces new sanctions against Syrian leadership with links to chemical weapons (Global Affairs Canada, 21 April 2017): Canada is deeply committed to supporting the Syrian people and working with the international community to find solutions to end the war in Syria. Following last Thursday’s sanctions, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today announced that Canada’s Special Economic Measures (Syria) Regulations have been further amended to list additional individuals and entities subject to an asset freeze and dealings prohibition.
  • United States Sanctions Hundreds For Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack (Emily Tamkin, 24 April 2017): On Monday, the U.S. Treasury announced one of the largest sanctions actions in history, designating 271 employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) as responsible for “developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the means to deliver them.” The sanctions will block any property the Syrians might have in the United States, and bars U.S. persons from any dealings with them.
  • U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Syrian Government Workers After Sarin Attack (Julie Hirschfeld Davis, 24 April 2017): The sanctions on members of President Bashar al-Assad’s Scientific Studies and Research Center more than doubles the number of Syrian individuals and entities whose property has been blocked by the United States and who are barred from financial transactions with American people or companies.
  • Trump administration imposes sanctions on 271 employees of Syrian research center (Karen, 24 April 2017): The sanctions, imposed by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, freeze all money the employees may have in U.S. financial institutions and discourage other international banks from dealing with them.
  • Syria Crisis: US Official Doubts Syria’s Chemical Weapon Production Capability (Madeline Patrick, 24 April 2017): In an interview published on April 16 in The Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Johnson also warned that the United States could attack again after the April 7 cruise-missile strike made in retaliation for Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons on his own people. “They still have time to be on the right side of the argument”.
  • Russian Foreign Ministry: Terrorists in Syria may get chemical weapons from Libya, Iraq (Tass, 24 April 2017): Terrorists in Syria do have the capabilities to produce the chemical warfare agent sarin, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s non-proliferation and arms control department, Mikhail Ulyanov, told a news conference on Monday.
  • Where do terrorists in Syria get sarin (Vestnik Kavkaza, 25 April 2017): The United States announced sanctions against 271 employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), which they believe is responsible for developing chemical weapons. Meanwhile, according to the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, Mikhail Ulyanov, terrorists in Syria do have chemical weapons, particularly mustard gas. “But we are being told, though, that they have no sarin and cannot have any. It is much better to refrain from such unequivocal statements.,” Ulyanov said, listing three versions of where the terrorists might get sarin.
  • Syrian Foreign Ministry Accuses France of Involvement in Idlib Chemical Incident (Sputnik, 27 April 2017): “The Syrian Arab Republic condemns the frantic campaign of misleading and lies and the fabricated allegations launched by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault regarding the crime of Khan Sheikhoun which shows without any doubt the involvement of France in preparing this crime in the framework of its full partnership in the aggression on Syria,” the ministry said, as quoted by the Syrian Satellite Channel.
  • Intelligence Veterans Pen Open Letter Casting Doubts On Syrian Conflict (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity – VIPS, 28 April 2017): Two dozen former U.S. intelligence professionals are urging the American people to demand clear evidence that the Syrian government was behind the April 4 chemical incident before President Trump dives deeper into another war.

US retaliatory strikes

  • The United States Strike in Syria: Local Damage, Global Message (Amos Yadlin and Assaf Orion, 13 April 2017): On the night of April 6-7, 2017, the United States launched dozens of cruise missiles from destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea and struck the Syrian air force base in Dardaghan-Shuayrat. Only 70 hours earlier, the Assad regime had launched bombers from this airfield to execute a chemical weapons attack against civilians. The significance of this focused and isolated attack by the United States lies not in its physical impact, which was deliberately limited in scope, but rather in its serving as a platform to carry the strategic messages of President Donald Trump and his administration to the United States’ rivals and friends throughout the world.
  • How Weapons of Mass Destruction Became ‘Red Lines’ for America (Jonathan Hunt, 15 April 2017): The country has walked to the brink of war or beyond with Iran, North Korea, Iraq, and Syria to prevent or stop them. The American foreign-policy establishment is fond of punishing those who threaten to use weapons of mass destruction against innocents.
  • Normalizing Illegal Action May Be the Only Lasting Effect of Trump’s Syria Strike (Garrett Epps, 27 April 2017): A president has broad leeway to send American forces into harm’s way, but Trump has blown past the few constraints that remain.

Status of CW disarmament in Syria

  • Secretary-General Appoints Edmond Mulet of Guatemala Head of Security Council Joint Investigative Mechanism on Chemical Weapon Use in Syria (UN Press, 27 April 2017): United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today announced the appointment of Edmond Mulet of Guatemala as the Head of the independent three-member panel to lead the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism established by Security Council resolution 2235 (2015) on the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria.  By resolution 2319 (2016), the Security Council renewed the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism for a further period of one year on 17 November 2016.
  • Mulet appointed as head of OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (KUNA, 27 April 2017): UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed Thursday Edmond Mulet to lead the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM). Mulet will be the head of the independent three-member panel that was established by Security Council Resolution 2235 to identify those behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Chemical warfare in Iraq

  • General: 2nd gas attack on Iraq troops in as many days (Qassim Abdul-Zahra, 16 April 2017): The spokesman for the Joint Operation Command in Iraq says the Islamic State group has attacked government troops with some type of gas in western Mosul — the second such attack in as many days.
  • Chemical attacks and narrow streets complicate fight for Mosul’s Old City (Shelly Kittleson, 23 April 2017): On arriving at a federal police front line against the IS on April 15, gas masks were being unpacked, plastic wrappings torn off and the masks set atop wooden ammunition boxes for easy access. After receiving elusive answers about why and seeing the same readying of masks at the nearby, heavily damaged Ninevah hospital, Al-Monitor found out later that day that an area under the control of the Iraqi special forces had been hit by IS mortars containing a chemical agent.
  • U.S. Military Identifies ‘Mustard Agent’ As Chemical Used by ISIS Against Iraqi Troops (Susan Jones, 27 April 2017): Last week, a U.S. military spokesman said ISIS “used chemicals in the vicinity of Mosul” in an attack on Iraqi Security Forces. U.S. and Australian advisers were nearby and uninjured. At a news conference on Wednesday, U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, the coalition spokesman, identified the chemical used in the attack.
  • Moscow Urges US to Share Data on Alleged Chemical Weapons Use in Iraqi Kurdistan (Sputnik, 29 April 2017): Russia calls on the US to share the alleged chemical weapons’ usage by terrorist organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a Saturday statement.

Other allegations of CBW use

  • Pot And Kettle: Israel Points Fingers At Assad While Stockpiling Its Own Chemical Weapons (Whitney Webb, 25 April 2017): While Israel has been quick to condemn Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, the apartheid country has consistently refused to ratify the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, despite having the largest stockpile of WMDs in the Middle East. Israel has also been caught using banned chemical weapons on several occasions, such as in Gaza and Lebanon.

Other CBW-related incidents

CBW disarmament

  • Compliance With the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction Condition 10(C) Report (US Department of State, March 2017): This Report is submitted consistent with Condition (10)(C) of the Resolution of Advice and Consent to Ratification of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC). The Convention was ratified by the United States on April 25, 1997, and entered into force on April 29, 1997. (PDF)
  • Brazil is the largest debtor of the UN disarmament convention (Defesanet, 20 April 2017): Brazil is the largest debtor of the UN Convention for Biological and Toxin Weapons, which prohibits the use of these weapons and tries to dissuade governments to resort to chemical or biological attacks. Data obtained by the State reveal that Brazil owed $ 298,400 to the agency. The Brazilian government is also the largest debtor to all UN disarmament initiatives, with a debt of $ 550,000.
  • State Department Report Sheds More Light on Syria’s Chemical Weapons (Jeryl Bier, 26 April 2017): This week, the State Department released an annual report on compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The most notable findings in the report, which covers Russia, Iran, and Syria, not surprisingly relate to Syria. The report states unequivocally that the “United States assesses that Syria did not declare all the elements of its CW program … and that Syria may retain CWs as defined by the CWC” just as the 2016 report stated, and despite the repeated assertions of the Obama administration to the contrary.

CWC 20th anniversary

  • All speeches delivered at the Commemorative Event in The Hague (26 April 2017) are available from The Trench Blog.
  • Cuba Welcomes Two Decades of Chemical Weapons Convention (Prensa Latina, 25 April 2017): Cuba will mark the two decades of the Chemical Weapons Convention with a Day for the Protection against these devices, and a commemorative event for the 20th anniversary of that international agreement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today. These activities will include meetings and seminars to be held during this year.
  • Swedish Crown Princess attends OPCW’s 20th anniversary commemoration in The Hague (Sweden Abroad, 25 April 2017): On Wednesday 26 April, Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden will attend a commemorative ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the founding of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), at the Hall of Knights in The Hague.
  • OPCW Marks its 20th Anniversary with Solemn Commemorative Ceremony (OPCW, 26 April 2017): In the presence of His Majesty the King of the Netherlands, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) today marked the 20th Anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the founding of the OPCW during a solemn ceremony held at the Ridderzaal (Hall of the Knights) in The Hague.
  • Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) (Foreign Ministry, Denmark, 26 April 2017): In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Denmark warmly congratulates the OPCW on its 20th anniversary.
  • Foreign Minister Gabriel on the anniversary of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (Foreign Ministry, Germany, 26 April 2017): I warmly congratulate the OPCW on its 20th anniversary. As the guardian of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which almost all nations have joined, it has made the world a safer place through its activities during the last 20 years. The vast majority of chemical weapons in the world have already been destroyed under OPCW supervision. That is a great success, and the organisation has rightfully been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this accomplishment.
  • ‘Progress under threat,’ warns UN chief on twentieth anniversary of chemical weapons convention (UN, 26 April 2017) United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today warned that progress made in eliminating the world’s declared stockpiles of chemical weapons is threatened by belligerents in the Middle East.
  • UN chief warns of ‘Progress under threat’ in Chemical Weapons Convention (Xinhua, 27 April 2017): The commemorative ceremony was attended by 450 permanent representatives and other delegates from the OPCW member states, chemical weapon victims, leaders of international organisations, chemical industry and civil society; and dignitaries from the Netherlands.
  • 20th Anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention (Press Statement, State Department, 28 April 2017): To date, the CWC—with 192 States Parties— has verified the destruction of approximately 95 percent of all declared chemical weapons stockpiles and has made a significant contribution to making our world a safer place. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the CWC’s governing body, has facilitated the destruction of chemical weapons in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Russia, Albania, China, and the United States – among others.
  • Two decades of OPCW (Ajey Lele, 29 April 2017): On April 29,1997, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the first ever multilateral disarmament agreement entered into force along with the birth of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an international chemical weapons disarmament regime, after years of negotiations under the auspices of United Nation’s Conference on Disarmament.
  • Anniversary of UN Chemical Weapons Convention (Sputnik, 29 April 2017): Saturday, April 29, marks the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction’s (the Chemical Weapons Convention or CWC) entry into force. On January 13, 1993, in Paris, then-UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali opened for signature the Convention that came into effect in 1997.

Chemical warfare victims

  • One Soldier’s Lasting Memories Of Exposure To Sarin Gas (Wynne Davis and John White, 28 April 2017): After seeing the projectile, Yandell says he picked it up, put it in the truck and started driving, with his team leader beside him. “We both had these crushing headaches, and you know, we’re feeling disoriented, feeling confused even,” Yandell says. “When we get back to the camp, I remember I was looking in this mirror and couldn’t see the pupils in my eyes — the calling card of a nerve agent exposure — and they told us to go to the clinic immediately.”
  • Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare 2017 observed (Shilpika Srivastava, 29 April 2017): The Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare 2017 was observed on 29 April 2017 by the United Nations (UN). This commemoration will provide an opportunity to pay tribute to the victims of chemical warfare, as well as to reaffirm the commitment of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to the elimination of the threat of chemical weapons.
  • The world must make clear that use of chemical weapons is unacceptable (William Gelling, 29 April 2017): Every year the global community pauses on April 29 to remember victims of chemical warfare. The UN promotes international awareness and action against these horrific weapons that strike insidiously and indiscriminately, causing agonising death and injury to people who have no way to protect themselves. This year will be all the more poignant as the images of the shocking chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria still resonate. Sadly we have been here before and these attacks only highlight the suffering the people of Syria have had to endure for far too long.
  • Victims of chemical warfare (Stuart Gill, 29 April 2017): Every year, the global community pauses on April 29 to remember victims of chemical warfare. The United Nations promotes international awareness and action against these horrific weapons that strike insidiously and indiscriminately, causing agonising death and injury to people who have no way to protect themselves. This year will be all the more poignant as the images of the shocking chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria still resonate.

CBW threats

  • What are North Korea’s chemical-weapon capabilities? (Cindy Vestergaard, 24 April 2017): Unlike its missile and nuclear programs, which North Korean leaders proudly parade and test, Pyongyang denies it possesses chemical weapons. North Korea is not a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which bans the production, possession and use of chemical weapons. It therefore has never had to declare its facilities, nor had inspectors on the ground. Consequently, what little public information there is available on potential North Korean capabilities and stocks is predominantly reliant on testimonials from North Korean defectors, reports by intelligence agencies and the occasional sound bite from government officials.
  • Japan fear Kim Jong-un’s North Korea will launch deadly sarin gas attacks after Trump’s threats (Christopher Bucktin, 26 April 2017): Japan is one of just a handful of countries to have experienced an attack with the nerve agent. Fanatics killed 13 and left over 6,000 suffering sarin’s toxic effects after releasing it in the capital’s subway. Now Mr Nakamura and his fellow countrymen live in fear of another attack, this time from increasingly unstable neighbour North Korea.
  • OPCW warns of “chemical attacks” by IS fighters returning from Syria (Xinhua, 29 April 2017): The Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters returning from Syria to their countries of origin could carry out chemical weapons attacks after learning how to use the toxic substance in the battle zones, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmeet Uzumcu warned on Friday. “The threat of chemical terrorism is a major concern especially after what happened in Syria and Iraq where ISIS has been identified as one of the perpetrators of sulphur mustard gas attacks, while there have also been some more recent allegations attributed to ISIS,” said Uzumcu at a round-table with foreign press at the headquarters of the OPCW. “We fear that foreign fighters may get back to their countries of origin with the know-how of production and use of such weapons,” he said.
  • Government: sarin missile could be neutralized (Yomiuri Shimbun,  29 April 2017): The government adopted a statement at a Cabinet meeting on Friday, saying that a ballistic missile loaded with a chemical weapon, such as sarin nerve gas, would likely lose its capability if intercepted.

History

  • 80-year-old ‘viable’ anthrax strain debunked using advanced genomic sequencing (PhysOrg, 25 April 2017): A team of international researchers has found that a strain of anthrax-causing bacterium thought to have been viable 80 years after a thwarted World War I espionage attack, was, in reality, a much younger standard laboratory strain. The team speculates that the mix-up was due to commonplace laboratory contamination.
  • Viewpoints: Lethal nerve agents leave world on edge (Frank J. Dinan, 28 April 2017): In the mid-1930s, IG Farben, then the world’s leading chemical conglomerate, sought to develop phosphorus-based insecticides that would be lethal to insects but harmless to humans. What this research program led to was a long way from that intention – it resulted in the development of the most lethal chemicals then known, nerve agents. Tabun, the first nerve agent, was discovered accidently in 1936 by IG Farben chemists. On a fateful day, a single drop of tabun fell unnoticed on a laboratory floor. It nearly killed Gerhard Schrader, its creator, and his laboratory assistant, hospitalizing them both for several weeks.
  • ‘Extirpate this execrable race’: The dark history of Jeffery Amherst (CBC, 29 April 2017): As an initiative to change the name of Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst National Historic Site on P.E.I. is being debated, a researcher weighs in on the history of Jeffery Amherst. Mi’kmaq elders and the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. have raised questions about the honouring of Amherst, by naming sites after him — arguing he was not only an enemy of Indigenous people, but worse.

CBW defence, protection and preparedness

  • Biodefense Science Engagement in Uzbekistan (Global Biodefense, 14 April 2017): The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has announced intentions award a sole source contract to Technology Management Company (TMC) to implement science engagements in Uzbekistan to promote biological safety and security of especially dangerous pathogens (EDPs).
  • U.S. Army Seeks Continuation of Forum on Microbial Threats (Global Biodefense, 14 April 2017): The US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) is seeking participation in a committee composed of the nation’s top scientists, engineers and other experts, in order to discuss key stakeholder issues surrounding antimicrobial resistance.
  • HHS Secretary Price Authorizes Emergency Use of Nerve Agent Antidotes (Global Biodefense, 17 April 2017): Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price last week issued a “Determination and Declaration Regarding Emergency Use of Injectable Treatments for Nerve Agent or Certain Insecticide (Organophosphorus and/or Carbamate) Poisoning,” authorizing emergency use of injectable treatments for nerve agent or certain weaponized insecticides. Price determined that there is a significant potential for a public health emergency affecting national security or the health and security of U.S. citizens living abroad, and that involves nerve agents or certain insecticides (organophosphorus and/or carbamate).
  • On-the-Record Briefing on Biosecurity (State Department, 18 April 2017): Via Teleconference. MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and thanks to all those who’ve joined us this afternoon for our on-the-record conference call on biosecurity.
  • Field stripping CWA (CBRNe World staff, 18 April 2017): Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) helped develop and recently completed initial testing of a field-deployable treatment system that destroys chemical warfare agents (CWAs) using locally available resources. The modular unit, designed to fit into a large shipping container for easy transport, includes two pollution abatement configurations – one wet and one dry process – that can be deployed depending on the available resources of the location.
  • OPCW, University of Wuppertal hold educational courses for worldwide chemical safety (HPN News Desk, 25 April 2017): The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in collaboration with the University of Wuppertal in Germany, recently held two courses that focused on loss prevention and safety promotion in the chemical industry, giving students important information on modern technical safety practices and sustainable chemical safety management.
  • Biodefense advocates take on U.S. preparedness funding fight (Kim Riley, 25 April 2017): With the nation’s signature preparedness law due for reauthorization in 2018, leaders now are readying public health stakeholders across local, state and federal levels for battle on Capitol Hill. Not only should those in the public health sector be battle-ready to support renewal of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act next year, but to also wage war against looming budget cuts proposed by President Donald Trump in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to federal agencies that support national preparedness, officials said Tuesday.
  • International anthrax conference will explore latest scientific research findings (HSN, 26 April 2017): Scientists and researchers from all over the world who work on Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, and B. cereus and B. thuringiensis, two closely related bacillus species, will be heading to Victoria, British Columbia, in October for the international conference known as “Bacillus ACT.” The bi-annual conference, set for 1-5 October, will allow members of the scientific community to present their work and meet more than 200 global peers.
  • Small-pox vaccine by ‘Jet-Guns’ (The Hindu, 28 April 2017): Small-pox vaccine is to be administered in India on a massive scale by modern jet-gun injectors, instead of through the traditional prick of the needle method for the first time. Ten million doses of vaccine to meet the small-pox emergency in parts of India, being flown from America, are arriving in New Delhi on Sunday morning [April 30].

Industry matters

  • SIGA Technologies completes enrollment of Phase 1 clinical study for new smallpox treatment (HPN News Desk, 25 April 2017): SIGA Technologies, Inc. recently completed its enrollment and dosing of healthy individuals in a Phase 1 clinical study of TPOXX, an intravenous formulation intended for the treatment of smallpox and related orthopoxvirus infections.
  • Bertin’s Second Sight MS Standoff Gas-Detection Camera Chosen by the Australian Army (Business Wire, 27 April 2017): Bertin Technologies, a subsidiary of CNIM, has announced that its Second Sight® MS standoff detector of chemical threats has just been chosen by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to equip its troops.
  • Bertin sell chemical stand off to Australian army (Gwyn Winfield, 27 April 2017): “The Second Sight is composed of different modules, providing it with unrivalled flexibility of use and versatility as well as compactness, deployability and operability” comments Romain Verollet, Manager in charge of the Defence & Security product range. “Another key advantage of our equipment is its ability to detect unexpected chemical threats in an asymmetric warfare scenario, no matter which is the type of gas used or the location of its dispersal” he adds.
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About JP Zanders

Jean Pascal Zanders (Belgium) has worked on questions of chemical and biological weapon (CBW) armament and disarmament since 1986. He was CBW Project Leader at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Director of the BioWeapons Prevention Project and Senior Research Fellow responsible for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation questions at the European Union Institute for Security Studies. He now owns and runs The Trench.