Below the headlines: CBW matters (20)

(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 26 June – 2 July 2017.)

CBW disarmament

  • Russia has destroyed 99% of its chemical weapons – supervising general (RT, 26 June 2017): Russia only has only one percent of its chemical weapons stockpile left. The rest has been destroyed, according to the head of the country’s Federal Administration for the Safe Storage and Destruction of Chemical Weapons, Major General Valery Kapashin. Some “99 percent of the chemical weapons stored in Russia have been destroyed,” the high-ranking official said.

CBW threats

  • Open Debate on Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction What’s in Blue, 27 June 2017): At the initiative of Bolivia, the Security Council will hold an open debate tomorrow (28 June) on “the global effort to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by non-state actors.” It will focus on the implementation of resolution 1540 and the work of the 1540 Committee, which is chaired by Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz of Bolivia. Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and Joseph Ballard, Senior Officer from the Office of Strategy and Policy of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, are expected to brief the Council. Bolivia will also brief in its capacity as chair of the 1540 Committee. At press time, it appeared that some 60 member states, including Council members, are expected to participate in the meeting.
  • International cooperation key to keeping WMDs away from terrorists, Security Council told (UN News, 28 June 2017) The United Nations disarmament chief today called for stronger international cooperation to prevent terrorists from accessing and using weapons of mass destruction, warning that technological advances – such as unmanned aerial vehicles, 3-D printers and the Dark Web – make it easier for terrorist groups to effectively use such weapons.
  • UN: Terrorists Using ‘Dark Web’ in Pursuit of WMDs (Margaret Besheer, 28 June 2017): The U.N.’s disarmament chief warned Wednesday that terrorists and non-state actors are using the so-called dark web to seek the tools to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction. “The global reach and anonymity of the dark web provides non-state actors with new marketplaces to acquire dual-use equipment and materials,” U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council. The dark web is a part of the internet that requires special software to access and allows users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable, making it appealing to criminals, terrorists and pedophiles. Nakamitsu said that dual-use items are complicating their efforts to address the risks posed by WMD.
  • India voices concern at UN over terrorists’ access to weapons (Yoshita Singh, 29 June 2017): India voiced deep concern over the possibility of collusion that leads to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist networks and non- state actors, calling for an early conclusion of negotiations on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism to deal with the menace of mass destruction.

Syria

  • Syria Will ‘Pay a Heavy Price’ for Another Chemical Attack, White House Says (Michael D. Shear, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, 26 June 2017): The White House said late Monday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria appeared to be preparing another chemical weapons attack, and warned that he would “pay a heavy price” if one took place. Several military officials were caught off guard by the statement from President Trump’s press secretary, but it was unclear how closely held the intelligence regarding a potential chemical attack was.
  • White House Suspects Syria Is Preparing For Another Chemical Attack (Barbara Campbell, 27 June 2017): The White House announced Monday night that it sees signs that the Syrian government is preparing to launch another chemical weapons attack in its war against insurgents.
  • White House Says Syria May Be Preparing Another Chemical Attack, Warns Assad Will “Pay A Heavy Price” (Claudia Koerner and Nancy A. Youssef, 27 June 2017): Syria appears to be preparing a new chemical weapons attack against its citizens, the White House said Monday, warning that if the weapons are again used, the US will make the Syrian government “pay a heavy price.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced the news in a statement late Monday. Five US defense officials said they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from and were unaware the White House was planning a statement.
  • Warning on Syria’s chemical weapons is test of Trump’s credibility, and of intelligence community he attacks (Brian Bennett and Noah Bierman, 27 June 2017): The Trump administration has sent the kind of dire warning — that Syria is planning another chemical weapons attack and would pay “a heavy price” if it followed through — that requires a credible messenger to have a receptive national and foreign audience. Yet the initial bafflement among U.S. defense officials after the warning came late Monday, coupled with the simultaneous distraction of President Trump’s unrelated tweets, by Tuesday seemed to undercut the seriousness of the charge. More broadly, the episode is a test of the damage Trump has done to his and his administration’s trustworthiness by his assaults on the U.S. intelligence community and other perceived enemies.
  • White House Threatened Syria While Trump Yawned, Insiders Say (Asawin Suebsaeng and Spencer Ackerman, 27 June 2017): Tillerson secretly warned the Russians, and Kushner and Bannon were consulted before the White House rattled its saber. All this occurred this week as President Donald Trump displayed what two White House officials characterized as relative indifference and passivity towards the subject, instead opting to focus his public and private energies towards fuming at his domestic enemies in the Democratic Party and the “fake news.”
  • Tight circle of security officials crafted Trump’s Syria warning (Annie Karni and Nahal Toosi, 27 June 2017): National security officials worked on the language in between meetings in a ‘fast-moving’ effort to send Syria a message. President Donald Trump’s blunt, public warning to the Syrian regime late Monday night was cobbled together in a series of hurried discussions, squeezed in between meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — and kept among a small, tight circle of top officials.
  • Pentagon: ‘active preparations’ by Syria for chemical attack (Robert Burns, 27 June 2017): The Pentagon on Tuesday said it detected “active preparations” by Syria for a chemical weapons attack, giving weight to a White House statement hours earlier that the Syrian government would “pay a heavy price” if it carried out such an attack. Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, and it appeared the underlying intelligence information was known only to a small group of senior officials. Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals.
  • Unpacking the WH warning on Syria’s chemical weapons (Shannon Vavra, 27 June 2017): The WH narrative on chemical weapons and what to do about them continues to unfold, and some of the statements seem to contradict one another. Why it matters: The apparent lack of coordination in setting the scene for another potential U.S. military strike in such a turbulent region could have dire consequences, especially since Trump showed in April his willingness to attack when it comes to chemical weapons use in Syria.
  • The Chemical Exception (Frederic C. Hof, 27 June 2017): Given the particularly horrific nature of chemical warfare, the administration’s warning to the Assad regime is entirely proper. It is entirely serious as well. But sadly, a regime steeped in cynicism and criminal opportunism may seek to exploit to its advantage the elephantine loophole explicit in the White House statement. Instead of using chemicals, the designated target may well be plastered with barrel bombs, gravity bombs, and anything else the regime can bring to bear.
  • Trump administration warns of Syrian chemical attack, but with damaged credibility (Noah Bierman and Brian Bennett, 27 June 2017): The Trump administration Monday night sent the kind of dire warning — of the Syrian regime’s apparent preparation for another chemical weapons attack, and a threat of U.S. retaliation — that requires credibility to have a receptive national and foreign audience. Yet the initial bafflement about the warning among U.S. defense officials, and the simultaneous distraction of President Trump’s unrelated tweets, seemed to undercut the seriousness of the moment. More broadly, the episode is testing the damage Trump has done to his and his administration’s trustworthiness by his assaults on the intelligence community as well as other perceived enemies.
  • Chemical weapons activity monitored at Syrian air base, U.S. officials say (Louisa Loveluck, Dan Lamothe and Ellen Nakashima, 27 June 2017):The United States said Tuesday that it has observed Syrian chemical warfare personnel visiting known production facilities, suggesting that President Bashar al-Assad’s government is preparing fresh strikes on the rebel-held north of the country.
  • Russia blasts U.S. “threat” over possible Syria chemical attack (CBS News, 27 June 2017): A senior Russian lawmaker on Tuesday dismissed the United States’ warning about a potential chemical weapons attack by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s regime as an “unprecedented provocation,” and the Kremlin called the accusations against “unacceptable.” Even U.S. officials seemed surprised by the strongly-worded White House warning, and they told CBS News that while U.S. intelligence had registered new “activity” at a Syrian base where chemical weapons are stored, it was not yet clear whether the Syrian regime might be planning any new attack.
  • Macron, Trump vow ‘joint response’ if Syria carries out chemical attack (AFP 27 June 2017): US President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron agreed during a telephone call Tuesday on the need for a “joint response” in the event of another chemical attack in Syria, the French presidency said. Their call came a day after Washington said that Syrian President Bashar Assad may be preparing another chemical weapons attack and warned that his regime would pay a “heavy price” if it went ahead with such an assault.
  • Chemical Weapons in Syria: What We Know After White House Statement (Alastair Jamieson, Mansur Mirovalev and Robert Windrem, 27 June 2017): The unexpected White House warning about a potential chemical attack raises the specter of more American military strikes on Syria. No details were given Monday about the purported preparations or how they had been detected except that they were “similar” to those that preceded an April 4 attack on a rebel-held area of Idlib that killed at least 100 people, including 25 children. If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price,” the White House warned. So what is the evidence that Syria has use of deadly agents, how has the U.S. responded to such incidents in the past, and how have Syrian allies reacted to the White House’s recent announcement?
  • US issues warning to Syria after finding ‘potential preparations’ for sarin attack (Julian Borger, 28 June 2017): The US said on Tuesday that it had observed preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at a Syrian air base allegedly involved in a sarin attack in April following a warning from the White House that the Syrian regime would “pay a heavy price” for further use of the weapons. Reporters traveling in Germany with the US defence secretary, James Mattis, were told that the Pentagon was prepared to take action after activity was seen at the Shayrat base similar to the pattern that preceded the April gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, which killed at least 80 people. That incident prompted a US missile strike on the base, although the strike did not seriously impair its operations.
  • Trump’s warning to Syria on chemical weapons worked, Jim Mattis says (Jamie McIntyre, 28 June 2017): Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that the U.S. warning to Syria not to conduct a chemical attack on its own people appears to have been taken seriously by the Bashar Assad regime. “They didn’t do it,” Mattis told reporters on his plane as they flew from Germany to Belgium. “It appears they took the warning seriously.”
  • Mattis claims Syria heeded U.S. warnings over chemical strike: ‘They didn’t do it’ (Thomas Gibbons-Neff, 28 June 2017): Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis claimed Wednesday that the Syrian government backed down after the White House said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were preparing for another possible chemical attack. Speaking to reporters aboard a flight to Brussels, the retired four star general gave few details to support the assertion that the Syrian military stepped back from plans for a possible chemical strike.
  • Haley: Trump saved ‘many innocent’ lives with Syria statement (Kelsey Tamborrino, 28 June 2017): U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Wednesday directly attributed the saving of “many innocent men, women and children” to President Donald Trump’s warning to Syrian not to launch chemical attacks.
  • Trump’s ‘Language May Be Different,’ Condoleezza Rice Says, but He Still ‘Stands for Our Values’ (Janice Williams, 28 June 2017): Say what you will about President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, but the man still stands for American values just like all the others who served as president before him—at least, that’s what Condoleezza Rice says she believes. “I believe every president of the United States stands for our values,” Rice said during a Wednesday appearance on Squawk Box. “You heard President Trump say, for instance, after the Syrian chemical attack, we can’t let that stand. What he was saying was the president of the United States can’t let that stand.”
  • Assad said to visit Iranian-run chemical weapons center (Sue Surkes, 28 June 2017): A Syrian opposition news site reported Wednesday that the country’s embattled president, Bashar Assad, recently visited a missile and chemical weapons research station run by Iran on Syrian soil. The report followed an announcement by the Pentagon on Tuesday that it had detected “active preparations” by Syria for a chemical weapons attack, and a White House statement that the Syrian government would “pay a heavy price” if it carried out such an assault.
  • US playing with fire in Syria, warns senior Iranian official (PressTV, 28 June 2017): A senior Iranian official has rejected US claims that Syria may be preparing for a chemical attack, warning that Washington is playing with fire in the Arab country. “Undoubtedly, the US’ unwise and adventurous behaviors in Syria are clear examples of playing with fire,” Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said on Wednesday.
    He described the US claims about Syria’s potential chemical attack as “delusional,” saying such allegations are fabricated to undermine the Syrian army’s gains against terrorists.
  • Iran Warns US against Playing with Fire in Syria (IFP News, 28 June 2017): In reaction to Washington’s waning to Syria over alleged preparations for a chemical attack, an Iranian high-ranking official has strongly warned the US government against any adventurism in the Arab country. Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), Ali Shamkhani, called the latest US claim about Syrian government’s preparation for a chemical attack a clear example of adventurism and warned Washington against playing with fire. He went on saying that repeating baseless claims against the Syrian government is part of the US scenario to cover up its failures in several fronts against terrorism and to hamper Assad government’s advances in its fight against terrorists.
  • Moscow warns US against irresponsible steps in Syria (Tass, 28 June 2017): Russia warns Washington against reckless steps in Syria, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday in comments to the US accusations that Damascus is allegedly preparing a chemical attack. “As for Washington’s bellicose rhetoric, we believe it is necessary to warn our US colleagues against further irresponsible steps in violation of the United Nations Charter and the generally recognized norms of the international law as was the case during the April 7 missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat airbase,” the ministry said. If Washington claims that the goal of US military presence in Syria is the war on terror, then “steps taken by them should fully meet anti-terrorist tasks of the international community to fight against the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia) and groups affiliated with it,” it said.
  • OPCW Fact-Finding Mission Confirms Use of Chemical Weapons in Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017 (OPCW, 29 June 2017): In a report released by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) confirmed that people were exposed to sarin, a chemical weapon, on 4 April 2017 in the Khan Shaykhun area, Idlib Province in the Syrian Arab Republic. The FFM’s mandate is to determine whether chemical weapons or toxic chemicals as weapons have been used in Syria; it does not include identifying who is responsible for alleged attacks. An advance team for the FFM was deployed within 24 hours of being alerted to the incident. For security reasons, the FFM was unable to visit Khan Shaykhun. The rapid deployment to a neighbouring country, however, enabled the team to attend autopsies, collect bio-medical samples from casualties and fatalities, interview witnesses and receive environmental samples.
  • Diplomats: Watchdog concludes sarin was used in Syria attack (Mike Corder, 29 June 2017): An investigation by the international chemical weapons watchdog has concluded that sarin or a sarin-like substance was used as a chemical weapon in an April 4 attack on a Syrian town that left more than 90 people dead, diplomats said Thursday. The report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into the Khan Sheikhoun attack was not publicly released, but two diplomats who saw its contents confirmed the key finding that sarin was used. One of the diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the report had not been made public.
  • Report Confirms That Chemical Arms Were Used on Syrian Villagers (Rick Gladstone, 29 June 2017): Sarin nerve agent or a similar poison was used in an April 4 aerial attack in northern Syria that killed nearly 100 villagers, including children, the monitoring group that polices the chemical arms ban treaty concluded Thursday in a report shared with United Nations diplomats. The report by the group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the conclusions were based on evidence that included analysis of victims, environmental samples and witness interviews. It did not answer the question of who was responsible for the attack in the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun, regarded as one of the worst atrocities of the six-year-old Syria conflict, where chemical arms have been used multiple times.
  • In Syria, Trump’s Red Line May Be Holding (Joseph Klein, 29 June 2017): As Russia raises the stakes, the U.S. must be clearer than ever as to its strategic objectives in Syria, which it is willing to back up with military force even in the face of Russian threats. We must do all we can to prevent getting sucked into Syria’s civil war, including by undertaking any military efforts at regime change. That said, we must repel any military action by the Syrian regime or its allies that would prevent us from prosecuting the war against ISIS, which remains our number one objective until the ISIS sanctuaries, infrastructure and leadership are for all intents and purposes destroyed.  However, we also cannot ignore the threat that Assad’s chemical weapons program continues to pose. The Obama administration had thought that it had largely eliminated the threat “diplomatically,” when it reached a phony deal with Russia to oversee the removal and destruction of the Syrian regime’s declared chemical weapons. The opportunity for cheating was all too plain to see, except by Obama and his clueless Secretary of State John Kerry. We are now seeing the consequences. According to Secretary of Defense Mattis, Syria’s chemical program remains intact.
  • Ex-Weapons Inspector: Trump’s Sarin Claims Built on ‘Lie’ (Scott Ritter, 29 June 2017): The White House statement comes on the heels of the publication of an article by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in a German publication, Die Welt, which questions, among many things, the validity of the intelligence underpinning the allegations leveled at Syria regarding the events of April 4 in and around Khan Sheikhun. (In the interests of full disclosure, I had assisted Mr. Hersh in fact-checking certain aspects of his article; I was not a source of any information used in his piece.) Not surprisingly, Mr. Hersh’s article has come under attack from many circles, the most vociferous of these being a UK-based citizen activist named Eliot Higgins who, through his Bellingcat blog, has been widely cited by media outlets in the U.S. and UK as a source of information implicating the Syrian government in that alleged April chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun. Neither Hersh nor Higgins possesses definitive proof to bolster their respective positions; the latter draws upon assertions made by supposed eyewitnesses backed up with forensic testing of materials alleged to be sourced to the scene of the attack that indicate the presence of Sarin, a deadly nerve agent, while the former relies upon anonymous sources within the U.S. military and intelligence establishments who provide a counter narrative to the official U.S. government position. What is clear, however, is that both cannot be right—either the Syrian government conducted a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun, or it didn’t. There is no middle ground.
  • Fresh evidence on alleged Syrian gas attacks concealed from Australian public (James O’Neill, 29 June 2017): A new exposé by acclaimed U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh throws into more doubt U.S. claims that Syria’s Assad regime gassed its own people.
  • Syria, Russia accuse US of plotting ‘provocation’ (Albert Aji and Vladimir Isachenkov, 29 June 2017): Syria’s government and its ally Russia accused Washington on Thursday of concocting a “provocation” in Syria, which would then be blamed on President Bashar Assad’s government as alleged use of chemical weapons to justify an attack. In a statement carried by the official news agency, Syria’s Foreign Ministry said it rejects U.S. allegations that Syria was preparing for a chemical weapons attack, describing such accusations as “misleading” and “completely baseless.”
  • Assad Taking US Threats ‘Seriously’ as Moscow Vows ‘Appropriate Response’ to Washington (Taha Abdul Wahed and Asharq Al Awsat, 29 June 2017): Russian Foreign Sergei Lavrov announced on Wednesday that his country will respond with “dignity and in proportion” if the United States took preemptive measures against the Syrian regime forces should they launch a new chemical attack.
  • US’ provocative claims about chemical attack in Syria directed against Russia (AhlulBayt News Agency / Sputnik, 29 June 2017): The provocative claims made by the US about an alleged chemical attack in Syria are directed not only against Damascus but Moscow as well, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during her weekly press briefing.
  • US chemical attack claim aims at justifying new aggression on Syria: Foreign Ministry (SANA, 29 June 2017): The misleading campaign launched by the United States over the past few days alleging that Syria intends to launch a chemical attack on citizens is unsubstantiated and unsupported by any facts or justifications, an official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates stressed on Thursday. The source said that Syria affirms that the objective of these allegations is “to justify a new act of aggression against Syria under false pretenses, similar to the US aggression on a-Shayrat airport.”
  • The wider war in Syria (Editorial, 29 June 2017):With growing civilian casualties and 9 million refugees, Syria’s civil war has taken a turn for worse. Civil wars are prone to do that. Direct participation of both the United States and Israel now appears to have become all but inevitable. This adds a new dimension to what is often seen as a parallel to the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39. That war, with Mussolini and Hitler aiding the Nationalist/Fascist side with weapons and advisers and what would become the Allied powers remaining neutral, was a prelude to World War II.
  • UN watchdog says sarin used in Khan Sheikhoun attack (Al Jazeera, 30 June 2017): A fact-finding mission by the UN’s chemical watchdog, the OPCW, has concluded that sarin or a sarin-like substance was used as a chemical weapon in the April 4 attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. The confidential report released on Thursday by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will now be taken up by a joint UN-OPCW panel to determine whether Syrian government forces were behind the attack. “Based on its work, the FFM (fact-finding mission) is able to conclude that a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance,” said the report, parts of which were obtained by AFP news agency.
  • Sarin used in April Syria attack, chemical weapons watchdog confirms (Martin Chulov, 30 June 2017): The nerve agent sarin was used in an attack in April on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun and was likely to have spread from a crater in a road where a projectile had hit, the global chemical weapons watchdog has confirmed. A report by the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also found that hexamine – a known component of the Syrian regime’s stockpiles – was contained in samples taken from the scene and from the blood and urine of victims.
  • The Latest: Syrian MP disputes chemical attack probe results (Associated Press, 30 June 2017): A Syrian lawmaker has questioned the results of the international chemical watchdog probe that confirmed sarin nerve gas was used in a deadly attack in Syria, describing it as part of a campaign of “political exploitation” against his country. Mohammad Kheir Akkam, a member of Syria’s parliament, tells The Associated Press Friday the investigators did not visit the site and did not take samples from the area, raising questions about their probe.
  • Global watchdog confirms nerve agent used in April attack on Syrian civilians (Louisa Loveluck, 30 June 2017): A chemical attack, which killed at least 86 Syrian civilians and left scores more foaming at the mouth, used the nerve agent sarin, a global watchdog said Friday, days after the White House accused President Bashar al-Assad’s government of planning another deadly assault. In a statement released ahead of a fuller fact-finding report, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) described the daybreak assault on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun as an “atrocity.”
  • Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs following the OPCW report on the chemical weapon attack in Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017 (Swedish Foreign Ministry, 30 June 2017): I welcome the thorough and professional work of the OPCW and look forward to the investigation and identification of those responsible that will now be carried out by the OPCW-UN joint investigative mechanism (JIM). The use of chemical weapons in Syria is unacceptable, and violates international law. Those responsible must be brought to justice. Impunity is not an option.
  • Canada to allocate $1.9 million to investigate Khan Shaykhun chemical incident (Tass, 30 June 2017): The government of Canada will allocate 2.5 million Canadian dollars ($1.9 million) to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to support its investigation into the reported use of toxic agents in Syria’s Khan Shaykhun, the country’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.
  • Chemical weapons watchdog says sarin used in April attack in Syria (Anthony Deutsch, 30 June 2017): The world’s chemical weapons watchdog said the banned nerve agent sarin was used in an attack in northern Syria in April that killed dozens of people, a report from a fact-finding team seen by Reuters on Thursday showed. The report was circulated to members of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, but was not made public.
  • UNSC Unlikely to Condemn US Syria Strikes Under China’s Presidency – Ambassador (Sputnik, 30 June 2017): China’s presidency in the UN Security Council will unlikely lead to condemnation of US airstrikes in Syria, Syria’s Ambassador to China and former Ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha told Sputnik on Friday. “Unfortunately I have little hope that China will succeed in obtaining a SC resolution condemning the ongoing US aggression on Syria, its continued infringement on Syrian sovereignty, and its sustained support of terrorist armed groups in Syria, both directly and indirectly,” Moustapha said.
  • OPCW Report on Syria Chemical Weapon Incident Lacks Clarification (Sputnik, 30 June 2017): The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) recently released report on the results of the probe into the suspected chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib province does not provide answers to several important issues, Russian envoy to the OPCW Alexander Shulgin said Friday. Earlier in the day, the OPCW said that its fact-finding mission had established the use of sarin, a gas used as a chemical weapon, in the April 4 Idlib incident. “We are sure that the report leaves a lot of important questions without answers … We saw the photos [from the site of the incident] were the medics could be seen. They were working without any protective gear. We asked how could it happen that the doctors were working in such conditions without protective equipment and somehow were not infected. But there is no answer in the released report. There is no explanation,” Shulgin told the RT broadcaster.
  • Syria says chemical attack probe work of ‘sick mind’ (Sarah El Deeb, 1 July 2017): Syria’s government accused Saturday the international chemical weapons watchdog of relying on the testimonies of “terrorists” in its probe that concluded sarin gas was used in a deadly attack in Syria two months ago. The Syrian Foreign Ministry in a statement also lashed out at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, saying its investigation has been subjected to political extortion, costing the agency its credibility and impartiality. The ministry called its findings “the creation of a sick mind.”
  • France says watchdog’s report on Syria proves sarin gas used in April (Reuters, 1 July 2017): PARIS – France said on Friday that a report by the world’s chemical weapons watchdog that nerve agent sarin was used in an April attack in Syria was “unequivocal” and that the organisation’s members should act firmly on its findings. After interviewing witnesses and examining samples, a fact- finding mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that “a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance. “The conclusions of this report are indisputable,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
  • Syria dismisses OPCW report on chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun (Tass, 2 July 2017): The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Saturday rejected the report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the April 4 chemical weapons incident in Khan Shaykhun as based on a fabricated version. The Syrian Foreign Ministry statement, quoted by the SANA news agency said the “conclusions, based on falsifications by illegal armed formations and western intelligence sources, are false.”
  • Syrian regime blamed for chlorine gas attack on rebels (TRT World, 2 July 2017): A Syrian rebel group accused the Syrian regime of using chlorine gas against its fighters on Saturday in battles east of Damascus – an allegation the regime forces swiftly denied as fabrication. The Failaq al-Rahman group said that more than 30 people suffered suffocation as a result of the attack in Ain Tarma in the eastern Ghouta region, which the regime forces have been battling to take back from insurgents. “The gas attack has been conducted by artillery fire,” Waiel Olwan, spokesman of the group, told Anadolu Agency.
  • Syrian army denies using chlorine gas in attack near Damascus (Xinhua, 2 July 2017): The Syrian army denied using chlorine gas during battles in eastern Damascus on Saturday. The army said reports circulated about an attack with chlorine gas on the rebels in the Ayn Tarma neighborhood in the eastern countryside of Damascus are mere lies. This comes as activists reported that 30 people suffered suffocation after a Syrian army chlorine gas attack in Ayn Tarma.

Human experiments

  • New book says amount of mustard gas exposure in World War II may be higher than acknowledged by government (Chuck Raasch, 27 June 2017): Mustard was not used on the battlefields of World War II, but Allied armies, gearing for its possible use or other chemical warfare, conducted mustard gas experiments on their own soldiers during that war. And, possibly, to a degree much larger than already disclosed, according to a new book, “Toxic Exposures,” by Susan L. Smith, a history professor at Canada’s University of Alberta in Edmonton. Quoting recent public estimates of experiments conducted on more than 2,500 Canadians, 2,500 Australians, 7,000 Britons and 60,000 Americans, Smith writes: “These are all likely low estimates due to incomplete records and government restrictions on still-classified military records.”

Other CBW-related incidents

  • Arsonist sentenced for fake anthrax sent from jail to AJC, others (Becca J. G. Godwin, 27 June 2017): A man was sentenced Friday to two years for mailing fake anthrax threats from jail to the State Bar of Georgia, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Manhunt after acid attack left Manchester student and her cousin with ‘life changing’ injuries (Helen Johnson, 29 June 2017): Police are searching for a man after a Manchester student suffered excruciating burns in a horrifying acid attack. Manchester University business student Resham Khan, 21, and her cousin Jameel Muhktar, 37, were left with ‘life changing’ injuries after they were attacked in London. The pair had been celebrating Resham’s birthday on a visit to the capital when they were sprayed with sulphuric acid as their car waited in traffic.

Non-proliferation and counter-terrorism

  • Book review: Barriers to Bioweapons (Georgia [Blogger], 1 July 2017): All I can say if any disgruntled lone wolves trying to start bioterrorism programs in their basements were also between the third PDF from 1970 about freezing cells with a minimal setup and losing their fourth batch of cells because they gently tapped the container until it was cloudy but not cloudy enough, it’d be completely predictable if they gave up their evil plans right there and started volunteering in soup kitchens instead. This is the memory I kept coming back to when reading Barriers to Bioweapons: The Challenges of Expertise and Organization for Weapons Development, by Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley. I originally found her work on the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ website, which was a compelling selling point even before I read anything. She had written a book that contradicted one of my long-held impressions about bioweapons – that they’re comparatively cheap and easy to develop. It was obscure enough that it wasn’t at the library, but at the low cost of ending up on every watchlist ever, I got it from Amazon and can ultimately recommend it. I think it’s a well-researched and interesting contrary opinion to common intuitions about biological weapons, which changed my mind about some of those.

History

  • Veterans who never saw war, claim American soil made them sick (KTVU, 29 June 2017:  They are military veterans, who never saw war, but claim their service on American soil made them sick. There is a growing organization of so-called “Atomic Veterans” fighting for medical help after they say they were exposed to toxic chemicals and atomic radiation while serving in the armed forces.  In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) closed Fort McClellan, Alabama and named it a SuperFund site. Fort McClellan tested Agent Orange and Mustard Gas on the base in the 1960s. PCBs at a nearby Monsanto Plant also posed a health risk, but a minimal one according to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs website.
  • OPCW Head to visit Iran on Sardasht chemical attack anniversary (IRNA, 28 June 2017): Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will visit Iran on the 30th anniversary of Sardasht tragedy of chemical attack. Ahmet Uzumcu in a message on marking the 30th anniversary of Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein against Iranian civilians in Sardasht, West Azarbaijan Province, said: ‘Thirty years ago, on June 28, 1987, peaceful citizens of the Iranian township of Sardasht became the victims of an atrocious chemical weapons attack.’
  • Kurds mark 30th anniversary of Sardasht chemical attack (Ava Homa, 29 June 2017): Kurds at home and diaspora mark the anniversary of Sardasht chemical attack. On June 28 and 29, 1987, Saddam Hussein’s warplanes unleashed chemical weapons on civilians in the Kurdish city of Sardasht in the province of West Azerbaijan, northwest of Iran, killing over 113 civilians and injuring thousands.

CBW security and safety

  • Report: Same Army lab in anthrax scare might have also lost small amount of sarin (Tara Copp, 22 June 2017): The same Army laboratory that mishandled anthrax in 2015 leading to a nationwide scare might also have lost a small amount of the chemical sarin, the Pentagon’s inspector general has found. In a report released this month, the inspector general for the Department of Defense found officials at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and a contractor that facility was using to care for chemicals did not properly inventory its sarin, a nerve agent that can be fatal to humans if they come in contact with it. Dugway stored its sarin in a two-container system. The sarin was stored in a primary container, which is then stored inside a secondary container. But officials only checked the secondary containers when doing inventory, and did not check inside the primary container, so they did not know if all the sarin was still in the containers, the inspector general found.

CBW defence, protection and preparedness

  • Uruguayan Army Reinforces Latin American Security Against Chemical Weapons (Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo, 26 June 2017): The Uruguayan Army’s Engineers Training Center, in collaboration with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPAQ, per its Spanish acronym), has trained personnel from the 16 nations of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), a United Nations group that brings together all the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, on chemical agents. Uruguay hosted the initial and basic module of the training’s three modules. The advanced module was taught a few days later in Argentina, while the final “Specialist” module will be taught in Brazil in August.
  • Rutgers toxicology chief understands urgency to develop chemical warfare antidotes (Kim Riley, 30 June 2017):Currently, Dr. Jeffrey Laskin, director of the Rutgers University CounterACT Research Center of Excellence, leads a team conducting research on the exposure and health effects of chemical warfare agents used by terrorists. The researchers are determined to develop medical countermeasures.Specifically, Laskin, a distinguished professor and chief of the toxicology division at the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, said their research focuses on countermeasures that would help people who have come in contact with sulfur mustard, also known as mustard gas.

Industry matters

  • ECBC researchers receive patent for chemical warfare agent destruction system (HPN News Desk, 29 June 2017): Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) researchers recently received a patent for their field deployable hydrolysis system (FDHS), which was used to destroy approximately 600 tons of Syrian chemical warfare material aboard a maritime vessel in international waters back in 2014. According to Tom Rosso, Program Management Chief for the Chemical Biological Applications and Risk Reduction (CBARR) unit, the system was developed in response to concerns over the ability to provide a transportable destruction technology for neutralizing toxic chemical materials. In total, seven FDHS units were produced, with the last one being manufactured in May 2014.
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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.