Assad’s sarin gas: the British connection 240

Sarin is made by combining the fluorine in sodium fluoride with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and phosphorous. It is considered one of the world’s most dangerous chemical warfare agents. It disrupts the nervous system, over-stimulating muscles and vital organs. It is more than 500 times as toxic as cyanide. It can be inhaled as a gas or absorbed through the skin. In high doses, sarin suffocates its victims by paralyzing the muscles around their lungs, and one drop can kill in minutes.

The sodium fluoride was supplied to Syria by British firms, according to The Mail on Sunday:

British companies sold chemicals to Syria that could have been used to produce the deadly nerve agent that killed 1,400 people …

Between July 2004 and May 2010 the Government issued five export licences to two companies, allowing them to sell Syria sodium fluoride, which is used to make sarin.

The Government last night admitted for the first time that the chemical was delivered to Syria – a clear breach of international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances that has been condemned as ‘grossly irresponsible’.

The sales were made at a time when President Bashar Assad was strongly suspected to be stockpiling the chemical weapons that have caused an international crisis.

The UK firms delivered sodium fluoride to a Syrian cosmetics company for what they claim were legitimate purposes. But intelligence experts believe President Assad’s regime uses such companies to divert chemicals into its weapons programme.

Thomas Docherty MP, a member of the Commons Arms Export Controls Committee, said: ‘These are very disturbing revelations uncovered by The Mail on Sunday regarding the provision of sodium fluoride to Syria. At no time should we have allowed President Assad’s regime to get its hands on this substance. Previously we thought that while export licences had been granted, no chemicals were actually delivered. Now we know that in the build-up to the Syrian civil war, UK companies – with the backing of our Government – were supplying this potentially lethal substance. While the last export licence was issued in May 2010, these licences are obtained prior to manufacture and the industry standard is for four to five months to pass before the chemicals are delivered. So we are looking at late 2010 for the British supplies of sodium fluoride reaching Syria. The Government has some very serious questions to answer.” …

Last night the BIS [Department for Business, Innovation and Skills] refused to answer questions regarding how much sodium fluoride was bought and sold – or which companies were involved.

Intelligence expert Richard Kemp … said last night: “President Assad would undoubtedly have diverted legitimately exported supplies of sodium fluoride in order to make chemical weapons. He would have absolutely no qualms about doing this, and his practice was well known to British diplomats and our intelligence agencies. In this light, it is grossly irresponsible of BIS to have approved these licences from 2004 to 2010.”

Scientists at the UK’s military research laboratory at Porton Down proved that sarin was used in the chemical attack on August 21 after testing items of clothing recovered from the scene.

The US says the attack, near Damascus, killed 1,429 people, including 426 children.

We don’t trust the figures, given out by Secretary of State John Kerry, but we do believe people in Syria were gassed with sarin.

And yesterday, EU officials meeting in Lithuania announced that they are convinced that the chemical attack was the work of President Assad’s forces rather than any opposition fighters.

We wouldn’t trust them either.

Last night a senior scientist condemned the sale, as Syria is one of just five countries to have refused to sign protocols against the use of chemical weapons. The other nations not to have signed up to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) accords are North Korea, South Sudan, Egypt and Angola.

Britain has done this before. According to the report it sold fluoride to Saddam Hussein, through intermediaries, and Saddam Hussein made the lethal gas out of it with which he massacred his people.

Last night a BIS spokesman said: ‘The five licences were granted to two UK exporters. We cannot publish their names for reasons of commercial confidentiality. The end users were two Syrian commercial companies. The quantities of sodium fluoride involved were commensurate with the stated end use in the production of cosmetics and there was no reason to link them with Syria’s chemical weapons programme. This remains the case.”

But remember – BIS is a British Government agency.

It is also worth noting, we think, that sarin gas is easy to manufacture.

Which means that if Assad hands over his stock of it into something vaguely described as “international safekeeping”, it will make the world not a jot safer.

Assad can make it again. British firms can find a way of getting sodium fluoride to him again (and we suspect they probably will).

Any nation intent on making it can make it.

And what is there to deter them? Barack Obama’s incoherent speeches?