Written by Whitney Webb and Vanessa Beeley; Originally appeared at Mint Press
Over the past few days, notable journalists and other figures in mainstream media have acknowledged that the alleged chemical weapons attack that occurred last April in the Damascus suburb of Douma, Syria was likely “staged” by “activist” groups such as the White Helmets. Their comments and investigations have largely vindicated the many journalists and academics who cast aspersions on the precipitous Western media campaign to blame that alleged attack on the Syrian government. Many of the dissenting voices were derided as “conspiracy theorists” or ignored entirely by mainstream sources.
Yet, now that these revelations are being voiced by acceptable figures in mainstream media, those who have built their careers on promoting the White Helmets and regime change in Syria are working to discredit these new dissenting voices. Among those on the counter-attack are individuals connected to the oligarch-funded “humanitarian” regime-change network that was the subject of a recent MintPress exposé.
The alleged Douma attack — notably used as the justification for a military attack launched against Syria by the U.S., the U.K. and France — returned to the news cycle earlier this month following a report from James Harkin, a journalist who has written for The Guardian, Harper’s and the Financial Times, and is currently the director of the Center for Investigative Journalism. Harkin’s report, which was published in The Intercept, cast doubt on the prevailing mainstream narrative surrounding the events that occurred in Douma last April.
Harkin, in visiting Douma and the surrounding area, confirmed past reporting by other independent journalists that no sarin gas had been used — which was also confirmed by the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) interim report — and claimed that the scenes filmed at the Medical Point in Douma, which were widely circulated by the mainstream media as evidence that a chemical weapons attack had occurred, had likely been staged. Harkin lamented the staging of the hospital scenes as a casualty of “Syria’s propaganda war.”
Elements of Harkin’s rather rambling report were rapidly corroborated by BBC producer Riam Dalati, who revealed on Twitter that he had proof, after a six-month investigation, that those same hospital scenes had been staged.
Dalati had previously been the cause of some consternation among the pro-regime-change pundits when he had tweeted, immediately after the alleged Douma chemical attack, that he was “sick and tired of activists and rebels using the corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption.” Dalati was referring to the image of two children wrapped in a “last hug” that went viral on social media, eliciting sympathy for the “chemical attack” narrative.
Dalati pointed out that the two children had been photographed on separate floors in the building before being artfully arranged into the “last hug” position by the producers of this scene, which was picked up by the majority of corporate media and used to give the impression that the Syrian Arab Army had used chemical weapons against their own civilians as they were concluding final amnesty negotiations with Jaish Al Islam, the extremist group then occupying Douma.
Shortly after deleting the aforementioned tweet, Dalati protected his Twitter account before reiterating his observations in a less inflammatory tweet, while explaining that his first tweet had been “correctly deemed in breach of [BBC] editorial policy thru [sic] use of ‘sick/tired’ and by not providing context…”
Dalati had notably been a member of the production team of the notorious September 2013 BBC Panorama documentary “Saving Syria’s Children” — a report that was forensically investigated by independent researcher Robert Stuart, who concluded that “sequences filmed by BBC personnel and others at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013 purporting to show the aftermath of an incendiary bomb attack on a nearby school are largely, if not entirely, staged.”
Dalati was researcher on BBC's Saving Syria's Children, which contained fabricated sequences and during the filming of which the @BBCPanorama team embedded with then ISIS partners Ahrar Al-Sham and directly co-operated with ISIS https://t.co/bNhruFRzCh https://t.co/KLa7YmxRym pic.twitter.com/fYR2adtgSG
— Robert Stuart (@cerumol) February 14, 2019
So, Dalati, no stranger to controversy, appears to have once more broken with the ranks of mainstream media by admitting that the White Helmet “chemical attack” scenes in Douma Medical Point were “without a doubt” staged. One might ask why it took Dalati six months of investigation to arrive at the same conclusion as acclaimed journalist Robert Fisk and other on-the-ground journalists did just days after the attack occurred. At the time, those journalists had been labeled by Dalati and others as “conspiracy theorists.”
Here is an example of how BBC's Riam Dalati, along with so many in US UK media, saw it as their role to smear those who raised legitimate questions suggesting for example that #Syria chemical attack scenes eg Douma may have been staged. Now, Dalati (see above) admits it was true pic.twitter.com/OIV2HFgoCs
— Charles Shoebridge (@ShoebridgeC) February 13, 2019
However, the recent statements made by Dalati and Harkin’s recent report have hardly created a consensus regarding the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma within the mainstream media. Instead, much the opposite has happened, with journalists and “experts” who have linked their professional reputations to the credibility of groups like the US/UK incubated and financed White Helmets now going on the offensive in an effort to trivialize the recent revelations regarding the events of April 7, 2018.
Following the renewed interest in the Douma incident as a result of Harkin’s report and Dalati’s subsequent tweets, Tobias Schneider — a research fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI) — accused people like Harkin and Dalati of “squabbling over the intricacies” of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, later calling these independent investigations and statements “madness.”
We must presume that Schneider’s Twitter accusation would also be directed at genuinely independent journalists and academics who presented evidence to counter the dominant Douma narratives produced by the usual suspects in corporate media and groups like the White Helmets affiliated to Jaish Al Islam, the brutal armed group in control of Douma. Among those are journalists who actually visited Douma immediately after the attack — Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett, Robert Fisk of the Independent, Uli Gack from ZDF, Germany and Pearson Sharp of OAN (One America News Network). Also, potentially in Schneider’s crosshairs are the members of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda Media (WGSPM) established by Professor Piers Robinson who produced an extensive briefing scrutinizing the media anomalies in the Douma attack.
Almost a year later, people are still squabbling over the intricacies of the 7 April 2018 Douma chemical attacks. Madness. We know of hundreds of similar incidents over more than five years. The interesting thing to do is look for consistencies among them and tease out patterns.
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) February 13, 2019
Unwilling to stop there, Schneider also announced that the GPPI would be publishing the first analytical study “on the logic underpinning the Syrian regime’s systematic use of improvised chlorine bombs in particular” that would use “the broadest dataset compilable and break down tactical, operational, strategic patterns” in order to claim that, despite a lack of evidence for chemical weapons use in Douma last year, other separate incidents form a pattern that would incriminate the Syrian government in the events alleged to have taken place last April. The report has now been published and has been picked up by the usual purveyors and promoters of the “chemical attack” narratives that are designed to criminalize the Syrian government.
A look into Schneider’s background and the organization that employs him hardly paints a picture of an objective observer of the evidence surrounding this hot-button issue. Quite the contrary, Schneider and the GPPI are directly connected to the “humanitarian” regime-change network that was exposed in a recent MintPress series for its efforts to exploit the death of the late MP Jo Cox in order to manufacture consent for regime change in Syria and whitewash both the U.K.-government connections to the White Helmets and the White Helmets’ own troubling track record in facilitating and even directly committing war crimes.
Who is Tobias Schneider?
According to his bio at the GPPI website, Tobias Schneider is a research fellow at GPPI who focuses on “insurgency and counterinsurgency in the contemporary Middle East,” among other related issues. Prior to working with GPPI, Schneider worked as a consultant on Syria and Yemen for the World Bank, an influential financial institution that a WikiLeaks document recently confirmed; is used as a “financial weapon” by the United States military.
He has also worked at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), a pro-NATO think tank located in Washington. CEPA’s stated mission is “to promote an economically vibrant, strategically secure, and politically free Europe with close and enduring ties to the United States.” Its international advisory boardincludes former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who once stated that the death of half a million Iraqi children from U.S. sanctions was “worth it;” and Brian Hook, current Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department and Senior Policy Advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Zbigniew Brzeziński — former National Security Adviser in the Carter administration who is best known for his role in arming and creating the terror group Al Qaeda — was also a board member up until his death in 2017.
Currently, however, Schneider — in addition to serving as a GPPI research fellow — is an expert for the Atlantic Council’s “Rebuilding Syria” initiative. The Atlantic Council is a Washington-based think tank with strong ties to the U.S. military and NATO, and receives significant amounts of funding from American arms manufacturers, U.S. intelligence agencies, and foreign governments. This think tank, and its “Rebuilding Syria” initiative in particular have been particularly zealous in promoting regime change in Syria and in marketing hybrid groups like the White Helmets. This is hardly surprising given that the U.S. and U.K. governments have given millions of dollars to both groups and were instrumental in the creation of the White Helmets as a refined “propaganda construct”, their description by journalist, John Pilger.
Schneider also has made appearances at events hosted by “Friends of Syria”APPG (All Party Parliamentary Groups) the U.K. group that includes several MPs — including Jo Cox prior to her death — and has extensively promoted U.K. military intervention in Syria, with a particular emphasis on emotional appealslargely based on White Helmet testimony and footage. Chair of Schneider’s panel was Andrew Mitchell, Conservative MP, former UK secretary of state for international development 2010-2012 and alongside Jo Cox, a fervent supporter of regime change in Syria and an unquestioning White Helmet acolyte.
Global Public Policy Institute’s place in regime-change network
Beyond Schneider’s conflicts of interests by virtue of his work history and current associations, the organization that employs him — the Global Public Policy Institute — is directly connected to an oligarch-directed and oligarch-funded regime-change network that specializes in manufacturing “humanitarian” justifications for Western military adventurism abroad. The main oligarchs who drive this network, as detailed in a recent articles series at MintPress, include Jeffrey Skoll, George Soros, Pierre Omidyar, and Ted Turner — philanthrocapitalists aligned with the neoliberal, globalist agendas of the U.S/U.K alliance.
In addition to its stated mission of “improving global governance,” in line with globalist designs, the GPPI is funded by the German and U.K. governments as well as the Open Society Foundations of controversial Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, whose many organizations have been intimately involved in promoting the White Helmets and related narratives that push for increased Western military intervention in Syria. Soros’ influence in the GPPI is demonstrated by the position his son, Alexander Soros, holds on the GPPI’s advisory board.
Another notable member of the GPPI advisory board is Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of the New America Foundation, which is funded by the Omidyar Network, the Skoll Global Threats Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and the U.S. State Department, among others.
However, the most damning connection between the GPPI and the “humanitarian” regime-change network used by Western governments and oligarchs is the GPPI’s director, Thorsten Benner. Benner. According to Benner’s GPPI bio, he previously worked with the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, the UN Development Programme in New York, and the Global Public Policy Project in Washington, before co-founding GPPI.
Most notably, however, Benner is a director at More in Common, the international initiative founded, after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, by members of the Jo Cox Four — exposed by the authors of this present article to be at the center of the aforementioned “humanitarian” regime-change network — to exploit Cox’s death to push for Western military intervention in Syria.
Other directors of More in Common include Sally Osberg, former president of the Skoll Foundation; Will Somerville, former member of the U.K. Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit under Tony Blair and current U.K. program director of Unbound Philanthropy. Somerville is also a Senior Fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, which is funded by the Open Society Foundations, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, the World Bank, Walmart, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.K. government.
In addition, two other directors of More In Common, who also co-founded the group, are Tim Dixon and Gemma Mortensen. Both Mortensen and Dixon have been directly connected to regime-change efforts in Syria and elsewhere. Interested readers can find much more information about Dixon, Mortensen, More in Common and the “humanitarian” regime-change network to which they are connected here, here and here.
Our narrative and we’re sticking with it
As the Syria conflict appears to be winding down with the regime-change effort having failed in its effort to overturn Syria’s current government, perhaps more critical attention by those in mainstream and independent media has come to focus on the manufactured narratives used by powerful interests and governments to make a case for military intervention to the public.
With these efforts having failed, we have perhaps begun to see several mainstream journalists break from the pack, perhaps as these individual journalists have little personal investment in backing the push for regime change in Syria. However, those journalists and “experts” who have staked their professional reputations on these narratives — such as the ubiquitous chemical weapon attacks blamed on the Syrian government — and who systematically protect the White Helmets as serial “do-gooders” — are scrambling to keep those narratives together lest they be revealed for the hollow manipulation of cherry-picked facts, images and videos that they are.
Schneider’s report is unlikely to impress the far more independent and qualified experts and journalists who have consistently questioned the Syria “chemical weapons” narrative — which has taken on the mantle of “weapons of mass destruction,” a previously debunked government and media canard that took us to war in Iraq. Schneider’s GPPI initiative, however, may just be a stitch in time to suture the leaks that are now emanating from the mainstream media and in particular from the BBC, a traditional bastion of protection for U.K. government foreign policy directives on Syria.
1/2 Important to note that Dalati #Douma revelation likely isn’t some mea culpa, but the start of a damage limitation process by preempting perhaps imminent @OPCW report, the likely inconvenient findings of which BBC & UK govt by now almost certainly awarehttps://t.co/EDSL8VYPgj
— Charles Shoebridge (@ShoebridgeC) February 15, 2019
Dalati may genuinely be a rogue maverick, sickened by what he has seen. He may also be working at the behest of the BBC directors — to limit the damage to the BBC’s reputation were the OPCW to release its final report any time soon. Imagine that the OPCW final report errs toward a conclusion that no chemical attack took place in Douma: where would that leave the BBC and colonial media establishment? The trust gap would widen exponentially. Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, Schneider’s report is indicative of the distress signals being emitted by the “humanitarian” regime-change network floundering on the rocks of its own failed campaign to destabilize Syria and overthrow the majority-elected Syrian government.
When Professor Piers Robinson of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) heard of Schneider’s intention to produce the report, he told MintPress News:
It is extraordinary that, on the one hand, careful analysis of evidence in the case of Douma is being trivialized as ‘madness,’ while on the other, Schneider is suggesting that his think tank is about to publish careful and rigorous analysis regarding alleged chemical weapon attacks. He seems to be saying, in effect, that careful and detailed analysis and discussion regarding individual attacks is irrelevant to knowledge and understanding. This reflects very poorly both on him as a researcher and on the think tank that he works for.”
In his tweets, Schneider did indeed appear to trivialize serious research into the alleged Douma chemical attacks. This is extraordinary when one considers that the rush to judgment of corporate media, NATO-aligned think tanks and FUKUS government spokespersons led to the unlawful bombing of Syria only one week after the staged hospital scenes had appeared. Russia was accused of producing an “obscene masquerade” by bringing actual Syrian civilians to the OPCW headquarters in the Hague — to testify that no chemical weapons attack had taken place. The “obscene masquerade” had already taken place in Douma and had been marketed as truth by the media outlets invested in their governments’ destructive Syria campaign.
Schneider is very probably just another in a long line of willing instruments of the billionaire industrial complex, deployed to extinguish the failing “chemical weapons” narrative fire that threatens to consume their credibility for years to come. Douma and the exposure of all those who built and financed the edifice of lies surrounding this event may just be what brings the entire war machine grinding to a halt in Syria and beyond.
As much as Schneider and his backers continue to protect the propaganda producers — the White Helmets — the evidence building against this multi-million funded construct is overwhelming. The White Helmet concept will surely go down in history as one of the most elaborate propaganda heists that failed, thanks to the concerted efforts of very few to expose the true agenda of the group — an agenda which is driven by the same government agencies and predatory capitalists that have sponsored Schneider’s report.
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and has contributed to several other independent, alternative outlets. Her work has appeared on sites such as Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire among others. She also makes guest appearances to discuss politics on radio and television. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.
Vanessa Beeley is an independent journalist, peace activist, photographer and associate editor at 21st Century Wire. Vanessa was a finalist for one of the most prestigious journalism awards – the 2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism – whose winners have included the likes of Robert Parry in 2017, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Nick Davies and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism team. You can support Vanessa’s journalism through her Patreon Page.