Overview of the OPCW Technical Secretariat and FFM team which investigated Douma

This article will provide some insight into the organizational structure of OPCW Technical Secretariat. It will list names and their roles of people involved into the investigation into the events in Douma in April 2018.

The diagram below shows the structure of the OPCW Technical Secretariat (TS). It was taken from this document. The Technical Secretariat is made up of about 500 staff members recruited from over 80 OPCW Member States. One of the many functions of the TS is to conduct on-site inspections.

It is important to understand the management positions (Director General, his deputy, Chief of Cabinet and his deputy) are all diplomats. They often worked previously for the United Nations or are currently also working as ambassador for their country to the Netherlands.


Fernando Arias (Spain), Director-General. Succeeded Ahmet Üzümcü of Turkey
Odette Melono (Cameroon) , Deputy Director-General who succeeded Hamid Ali Rao in January 2019.

Sebastien Braha (France) , Chief of Cabinet at the OPCW. Was nicknamed was some as Voldemort. Succeeded in July 2018 Robert (Bob) Fairweather (UK)
Karim Hammoud (Finland) , deputy Chief of Cabinet / Adviser to DG OPCW.  Succeeded in August 2018 Aamir Shouket

The Inspectorate Division is in this case the most interesting division of OPCW.

Evandro De Souza Nogueira is the current Director of Inspectorate Division

OPCW Command Post in Damascus 

The  OPCW has a command post in Damascus. The Command Post team leader (the so-called “liaison” function) prior to the alleged chemical attack in Douma was Ian Henderson. According a statement by Henderson he joined the FFM team in April. OPCW states Henderson was a team leader team leader at the command post in Damascus but not a member of the FFM team.  At 6 May 2018 Henderson, according his statement,  took over the Command Post team leader role from extremely likely Bredan Whelan.

Henderson is a Chemical Engineer who studied at the universities of Witwatersrand and Durban and has considerable experience in ballistics thanks to military service as an artilleryman. He now lives in Australia. (source)

An OPCW Technical Secretariat official is assigned to the command post in six-week rotations. This single official supports OPCW activities in the Syrian Arab Republic, including communications and movements. This support is essential and composed of United Nations Office for Project Services personnel, interpreters, and drivers.

Henderson left Damascus for the Hague in early June 2018. (source Henderson ) (source OPCW)

Fact Finding Mission (FFM) Alpha team 

FFM Alpha Team did the investigation in Douma. The team which went to Douma had about 9 inspectors. The names of most team members are unknown. When this team was assembled by OPCW management, Ian Henderson was on a mission to Nepal. When he returned to the OPCW HQ in the Hague, he was added to the FFM Alpha team (source)

In January 2018 Sami Barrek (from Tunesia) became head of the FFM. He succeeded Leonard (Len) Phillips which was head from 2015 to end of 2017. Initally Barrek was the team lead for the FFM Alpha team which was sent to Damascus. He left after three days to Turkey to do interviews.

Sami Barrek did interviews in Turkey with eyewitness who had fled from Douma. In January 2019 Boban Cekovic (Inspector, Teamlead Chemical weapons/ munitions specialist) was hired to become the Head of the Fact-Finding Mission.

One of the FFM team members was Ilija Radivojsa (Team leader / chemical weapons munition expert). His name is mentioned in one of the emails published by WikiLeaks.

Ian Henderson, who became a whistleblower,  was not a formal FFM member   of the core team (according OPCW) but did visit some locations in Douma to assist the FFM. He also produced an assessment on ballistics and wrote two Annexes.

However using some logic it is very likely Henderson was actually a FFM Alpha team member. The final report of OPCW states “‘On 4 June, FFM team members tagged and sealed the cylinders from Locations 2 and 4, and documented the procedure.’ (source Annex 6 page 58).

In a statement for United Nations, Henderson wrote ‘I was the sub-team leader for the visit to “Site 8”, to further inspect and photograph the cylinders removed from Locations 2 and 4, and to apply tags/seals to them.’

When both statements are combined, and if true, Henderson was a member of FFM Alpha team.

Another teammember of FFM was a man called Alex (alias). Alex his real name is very likey Brendan Whelan. According Scott Lucas, OPCW and Mail on Sunday journalist Peter Hitchens ‘Alex’ remained in Damascus indentifying the locations to visit by the FFM core team. Alex did not visit Douma.

The OPCW stated in its investigation about two inspectors that ‘Inspector B’ which is very like Alex/Bredan Whelan travelled to the Syrian Arab Republic in April 2018. However, he never left the command post in Damascus because he had not completed the training required to deploy to the field. (source). Inspector B/ Alex/ Brendan Whelan was involved in the drafting of the interim report on the Douma incident.

Peter Hitches wrote:

Inspector B (Bredan Whelan ) was the planner and coordinator of all the scientific and technical activities on site. He was part of the sub-team involved in the negotiations with the Syrian authorities, participated in the interview process, wrote the on-site progress reports for the previous Director General, was the chief drafter of the original interim report, and with Inspector A (Henderson), the most experienced inspector in the team. In fact, his 17 years’ experience as an inspector far outnumbers the average for the team.

The knowledge of Whelan was appreciated by OPCW (source):

he demonstrates a knowledge and skill in chemistry which is not possessed by others in the TS” (PMAS 2010)“I can say without fear of being unfair to others that you have been the professional in the TS that has contributed the most to the knowledge and understanding of CW chemistry applied to inspections. You produced a lot of knowledge and unselfishly shared every bit of what you know with others, enthusiastically” (PMAS 2017)

Upon the expiration of his employment with the Organisation, he departed OPCW at the end of August 2018

The initial FFM Alpha team which were sent to Syria  was later replaced by other OPCW employees for unknown reasons according a document written by whistleblower Henderson. Only one of the original core-team members, a paramedic/HSS inspector , remained member.

Four OPCW staff members met with  toxicologists for a session which lasted one hour. The goal was to find out if it was possible to exhume the bodies of alleged victims. The staff members were Sami Barrek (leader of the Douma investigation team), Soumik Paul (OPCW head of Health & Safety) Marc-Michael Blum (head of the OPCW laboratory) and very likely Dr Brendan Whelan.

Brendan Whelan was an Inspection Team Leader  working for the Safety & Chemistry Cell at OPCW. In October 2017 he gave a presentation at OPCW. He was a Chemical weapons/ munitions specialist. (CWMS) at OPCW.  Whelan was part of the FFM core team. He worked on a Special Service agreement (SSA) Individual Contractor contract for the OPCW. He first worked for the OPCW from July 1998 to December 2011, eventually being promoted to Team Leader. He was rehired at a lower level in September 2015 and worked at the OPCW until August 2018.

Whelan, who did not visit Douma as he did not finish a security training, was in close touch with the inspectors in Douma and was able to pass on his experience to them through secure communication. Whelan is in fact one of only 4 inspectors (out of 10) who was present in Damascus for the entire duration of the investigation (14 April to 3 May). (source Peter Hitchens)

Both Henderson and Whelan were assigned to the “munition” study. The two were the only engineers working on the study of the cylinders. The other team members were analytical chemists and paramedics (Health & Safety Specialists). Mind Henderson did some parallel study outside of the FFM core team.

The name of Whelan is removed from documents leaked at OPCW and published at WikiLeaks. Suggesting Whelan was involved in the leak.

Other employees of the Technical Secretariat which names are known are:
  • Soumik Paul , Head of  Health and Safety Branch
  • Luciano de Almeida Passos, Head of Industry Inspections Cell
  • Marc-Machael Blum, at that time  head of the OPCW Laboratory
  • Veronika Stromsíková the OPCW’s Director of Strategy and Policy
  • Gareth Rhys Williams Head of Safety and Analytical Chemistry Cell (SACC)
Investigation and Identification Team (IIT)
Santiago Onáte (Mexico) is the head of IIT.  The Principal Investigator of the IIT is Elise Coté, a Canadian diplomat.
Some abbreviations used by OPCW: 
HOPB = Head of Operations and Planning Branch
DOI = Director of Inspectorate (DOI)
ODG = Office of the Director General
Chef de Cabinet = head of the ODG
COCOON= Contingency Operations Coordination Operational Network (COCOON)
COCG = Contingency Operations Coordination Group
SAB = Scientific Advisory Board
OCS = Office of Confidentiality and Security
COC = Committee on Contracts
LAO = Office of the Legal Advisor
HOP = Head of Branches
ISB = Information Services Branch
BFB = Budget and Finance Branch
PMAS = Performance Management and Appraisal System
CWMS = Chemical weapons/ munitions specialist.
SAR = Syrian Arab Republic
WEOG = Western European and Other States being Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America

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