PETER HITCHENS: My secret meeting with mole at the heart of The Great Poison Gas Scandal


by Peter Hitchens, Mail On Sunday:

I stood outside the safe house, in a road I cannot name, in a major European city I cannot identify, not sure what I might find inside. I had no way of being sure.

I had travelled a long distance by train to an address I had been given over an encrypted email.

I was nervous that the meeting might be some sort of trap. Leaks from inside arms verification organisations are very sensitive matters. Powerful people mind about them.

I wasn’t sure whether to be afraid of being followed, or to be worried about who might be waiting behind the anonymous door on a dark afternoon, far from home. I took all the amateurish precautions that I could think of.

As it happened, it was not a trap. Now, on carefully selected neutral ground, I was to meet a person who would confirm suspicions that had been growing in my mind over several years – that there is something rotten in the way that chemical weapons inspections are being conducted and reported. And that the world could be hurried into war on the basis of such inspections.

Inside the safe house, I was greeted by a serious, patient expert, a non-political scientist whose priority had until now always been to do the hard, gritty work of verification – travelling to the scenes of alleged horrors, sifting and searching for hard evidence of what had really happened. But this entirely honourable occupation had slowly turned sour.

The whiff of political interference had begun as a faint unpleasant smell in the air and grown until it was an intolerable stench. Formerly easy-going superiors had turned into tricky bureaucrats.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had become so important that it could no longer be allowed to do its job properly.

Too many of the big powers that sponsor and finance it were breathing down its neck, wanting certain results, whether the facts justified them or not.

My source calmly showed me various pieces of evidence that they were who they said they were, and knew what they claimed to know, making it clear that they worked for the OPCW and knew its inner workings. They then revealed a document to me.

This was the email of protest, sent to senior OPCW officials, saying that a report on the alleged Syrian poison gas attack in Douma, in April 2018, had been savagely censored so as to alter its meaning.

In decades of journalism I have received quite a few leaks: leaks over luxurious, expensive lunches with Cabinet Ministers, anonymous leaks that just turned up in envelopes, leaks from union officials and employers, diplomats and academics.

But I’ve never seen one like this. It scared me. If it was true, then something hugely dishonest and dangerous was going on, in a place where absolute integrity was vital.

If bodies such as the OPCW cannot be trusted, then World War Three could one day be started by a falsehood.

Last week I reported on the first episode in this story. Within days the OPCW had confirmed that the email I leaked was authentic.

Nobody followed me home or threatened me. A few silly people on social media told blatant lies about me, insinuating that I was somehow a Russian patsy or a defender of the disgusting Syrian regime that I have been attacking in print for nearly 20 years. That was what I had expected.

But there is much more to come. And, as it grows harder for everyone to ignore this enormous, dangerous story, I suspect I shall be looking over my shoulder rather more than usual.

ANOTHER missed chance to end the killing

Last January, after the man we now know to be Mahdi Mohamud went wild with a knife on the streets of Manchester, I asked: ‘Will it ever sink in? The authorities are still trying their best to claim that the knife incident was part of some sort of terrorist grand plan.

‘All that spending on “security” has to be justified somehow. But the suspect has, in fact, been detained under the Mental Health Act.

Anyone with his wits about him knows that there are far more crazy people about than there used to be, many of them with knives, and it isn’t much of a stretch to connect this with the fact that the police and the courts have given up enforcing laws against marijuana, which some idiots still say is a “peaceful drug”.’

And what do you know? Although the court was told (as so many courts are, these days, all the time) that Mohamud had ‘paranoid schizophrenia that may have been triggered by smoking cannabis’, the silly judge, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith, dutifully proclaimed that this obviously unhinged loner had taken part in what he said was ‘beyond question’ a terrorist attack.

It’s not ‘beyond question’ at all. Crazy people often latch on to political or religious movements to make themselves feel more important and less lonely.

It does not mean they understand or truly follow them, or that they are taking orders from a bearded supremo in an Afghan cave.

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