Monday, 28 January 2013

The Curious Case of the Britam E-mail

"They were nicknamed
memory holes..."
For conservatives who appreciate their philosophical roots in Edmund Burke's writings on the French Revolution, the present government's enthusiastic embrace of liberal interventionism in foreign policy has been a cause for some concern  particularly given the country's straitened financial situation and the diminishing condition of the armed forces.

With political killings in Tunisia, violent persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and the desecration of British war graves amid escalating tribal warfare in Libya, such concern can no longer be dismissed as heartless isolationism  North Africa's Arab Spring has indeed given way to a Winter of Discontent.
For this reader, at least, the provocative headline U.S. 'backed plan to launch chemical weapon attack on Syria and blame it on Assad's regime' was therefore the most disturbing to appear on yesterday's Mail Online.

The story reported on a leaked e-mail exchange between executives at the British "private security company" Britam Defence.  Seemingly, the e-mails reveal a Qatari plot to stage a chemical weapons attack in Syria and blame it on Bashar al-Assad's government.  The Obama administration, which has been recently conspicuous in warning that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government will not be tolerated, was alleged to support the scheme.

Could it really be possible that Western governments were actively seeking to fabricate a pretext for direct military intervention in Syria?  Such accusations are generally considered the preserve of the tinfoil hat brigade, but we've seen it before.

New Labour's most dangerous foreign policy adventure was the ill-starred, largely forgotten NATO intervention it masterminded in Yugoslavia at the close of the 20th century, supported by a Clinton administration eager to find a distraction from its president's ongoing impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice.  
Remains of an F-117 Nighthawk shot down over Serbia,
 used in the development of stealth technology
by China's communist regime

An ultimately ineffectual bombing campaign which proved, with both embarrassing and tragic consequences, to be a remarkably blunt instrument, few people now remember just how close Operation Allied Force brought Europe to the brink of a general war.

In fact, one of the great forgotten turning points in history may have come when America's Wesley Clark, the prickly political general acting as Supreme Allied Commander Europe, ordered Britain's General Sir Mike Jackson to confront Russian forces occupying Priština Airport.  General Jackson's resolute answer, thankfully, was "Sir, I'm not going to start World War Three for you."

Support for this most potentially disastrous of conflicts was, as with Syria, drummed up with reference to the most unspeakable atrocities.  The American Defense Secretary feared 100,000 ethnic Albanians dead; our more circumspect Foreign and Commonwealth Office advertised a butcher's bill of 10,000  though ministers warned the "true figure" could be far higher.  (This disparity should probably have given more people pause for thought at the time.)

The most gruesome tales centred on the enormous Trepča mining complex, "now dubbed Death Valley", where the Serbs were said to have immolated the bodies of some 1,500 victims.

"In the dead of night," reported a credulous Mirror,  "lorries poured through the rusting gates of the Trepca mine - believed to be owned by Slobodan Milosevic himself behind a web of companies - to get rid of the evidence of mass slaughter."

"TREPCA - the name will live alongside those of Belsen, Auschwitz and Treblinka.  It will be etched in the memories of those whose loved ones met a bestial end in true Nazi Final Solution fashion."

With the spectre of the National Socialists' infamous crematoria thus raised, the word on the lips of the interventionists was "genocide".

After the dust settled, however, it became readily apparent that reports of an orchestrated campaign of ethnic cleansing had been grossly exaggerated.  It was true that some terrible crimes had been committed, by both sides, but on nothing like the scale reported.  The Trepča mines  later seized from their Serbian workers in a whirlwind of tear gas and plastic bullets  — proved to contain no human remains whatsoever.

(Lurid and seemingly unlikely reports of our allies in the Kosovo Liberation Army murdering dozens of Serbs and harvesting their organs for sale on the black market, on the other hand, have proved shockingly accurate, with the Council of Europe recently unveiling Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi as the kingpin of an international mafia network dealing in arms, drugs and human body parts to a storm of outrage shrug of indifference in the press.)

"I'm confident that when the Iraq Survey Group
has done its work we will find what's happened 

to those weapons, because he had them."
Understandably reluctant to expose just how easily it had been gulled, the media made little effort to take Labour to task over Kosovo.  One might have thought, however, that it would have been less eager to be used as a foreign policy tool a second time when introduced to the elusive Weapons of Mass Destruction starring in Anthony "I'd do it all over again" Blair's notorious dodgy dossier — "fool me once, shame on you," after all, but "fool me twice, shame on me."

Did the Britam e-mails now expose Western governments encouraging yet another ill-advised rush to judgement, this time in an area of the world which makes the internecine bloodshed in the Balkans look like a schoolyard brawl?  I shared the article with a few select fellow-travellers, hoping to hear their thoughts, but too late — the page was gone.

Conspiracy seems highly unlikely, but the fact that the story disappeared so swiftly does suggest that someone was leaned on.  (Granted, the person doing the leaning was likely a junior editor at the Mail rather than a grim-jawed agent of the New World Order.)  

Fortuitously, the internet is chock-full of conspiracy buffs who were on the story faster than white on rice, and finding a copy to reproduce in full for readers' appraisal has thus been a fairly simple matter.  (As mixed martial arts colour commentator Joe Rogan once put it, "You can't stop the internet, baby!")

U.S. 'backed plan to launch chemical weapon attack on Syria and blame it on Assad's regime'

Leaked emails from defense contractor refers to chemical weapons saying 'the idea is approved by Washington'

Obama issued warning to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad last month that use of chemical warfare was 'totally unacceptable'

By Louise Boyle

PUBLISHED: 14:16 EST, 29 January 2013 | UPDATED: 14:16 EST, 29 January 2013

Leaked emails have allegedly proved that the White House gave the green light to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that could be blamed on Assad's regime and in turn, spur international military action in the devastated country.

A report released on Monday contains an email exchange between two senior officials at British-based contractor Britam Defence where a scheme 'approved by Washington' is outlined explaining that Qatar would fund rebel forces in Syria to use chemical weapons.

Barack Obama made it clear to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad last month that the U.S. would not tolerate Syria using chemical weapons against its own people.

According to, the December 25 email was sent from Britam's Business Development Director David Goulding to company founder Philip Doughty.

It reads: 'Phil... We’ve got a new offer. It’s about Syria again. Qataris propose an attractive deal and swear that the idea is approved by Washington.

'We’ll have to deliver a CW to Homs, a Soviet origin g-shell from Libya similar to those that Assad should have.

'They want us to deploy our Ukrainian personnel that should speak Russian and make a video record.

'Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea but the sums proposed are enormous. Your opinion?

'Kind regards, David.'

Britam Defence had not yet returned a request for comment to MailOnline.

The emails were released by a Malaysian hacker who also obtained senior executives resumés and copies of passports via an unprotected company server, according to Cyber War News.

Dave Goulding's Linkedin profile lists him as Business Development Director at Britam Defence Ltd in Security and Investigations. A business networking profile for Phil Doughty lists him as Chief Operationg Officer for Britam, United Arab Emirates, Security and Investigations.

The U.S. State Department had not returned a request for comment on the alleged emails to MailOnline today at time of publication.

However the use of chemical warfare was raised at a press briefing in D.C. on January 28.

A spokesman said that the U.S. joined the international community in 'setting common redlines about the consequences of using chemical weapons'.

A leaked U.S. government cable revealed that the Syrian army more than likely had used chemical weapons during an attack in the city of Homs in December.

The document, revealed in The Cable, revealed the findings of an investigation by Scott Frederic Kilner, the U.S. consul general in Istanbul, into accusations that the Syrian army used chemical weapons in the December 23 attack.

An Obama administration official who had access to the document was reported as saying: 'We can't definitely say 100 per cent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23.'

Mr Kilner's investigation included interviews with civilians, doctors, and rebels present during the attack, as well as the former general and head of the Syrian WMD program, Mustafa al-Sheikh.

Dr. Nashwan Abu Abdo, a neurologist in Homs, is certain chemical weapons were used. He told The Cable: 'It was a chemical weapon, we are sure of that, because tear gas can't cause the death of people.'

Eye witness accounts from the investigation revealed that a tank launched chemical weapons and caused people exposed to them to suffer nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, delirium, seizures, and respiratory distress.

The symptoms suggest that the weaponized compound Agent-15 was responsible. Syria denied using chemical weapons and said it would never use them against citizens.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters at the time, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said his biggest concern was how the U.S. and allies would secure the chemical and biological weapons sites scattered across Syria and ensure the components don't end up in the wrong hands if the regime falls, particularly under violent conditions.

Government forces and rebels in Syria have both been accused by human rights groups of carrying out brutal warfare in the 22-month-old conflict, which has claimed more than 60,000 lives.

Read more:

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The evidence presented is not definitive, by any stretch, but one fragment of the original article the Mail has forgotten to scrub from its servers is this disturbing video, released by uniformed Syrian rebels, showing footage of chemical agents being tested on live rabbits:

It would appear, then, that the alleged scheme is at any rate possible.

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