This is Peter Hitchens’s Mail on Sunday column
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.
This ludicrous misunderstanding helps nobody. You could hire another 500,000 MI5 agents and subject us all to 24-hour surveillance, and it wouldn’t prevent attacks like these.
Because they are caused by the police and the courts ignoring the law of the land, and refusing to do anything about the spread of marijuana.
My friend Ross Grainger, who is as exasperated by this rubbish as I am, has spent several years cataloguing the terrifying number of cases in which violent criminals turn out to be unhinged by long-term use of this supposedly ‘soft’ drug.
He has now compiled them in a book called Attacker Smoked Cannabis, available through Amazon. Read it.
And if you know any judges, policemen or BBC journalists, buy them one for Christmas. They need it.
Dark question that haunts De Niro epic
Last week I managed to watch the much discussed and very long new film The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro as a cruel and conscience-less assassin.
A lot has been said about how advanced techniques were used to make the actors look younger in the earlier scenes. For me, it worked the other way.
The film’s immense three-and-a-half-hour length and gruelling subject matter left me looking and feeling considerably older than I had when I went into the cinema.
I now almost qualify for a free TV licence, though I can proudly boast that I managed to sit through the whole thing without once going to the gents.
This was a major achievement at the age I was when I went in, and even more of one at the age I was when I came out.
Despite all this, it is actually worth the time and effort. The recreation of the USA in the 1950s and 1960s is brilliant, intricate and rather moving.
But I caught myself wondering – as I watched one sordid event succeed the next – if the USA is deep down so unshakeably corrupt, ethnically divided and violent that it is destined to fail as a state.
I have always loved America and had never previously felt this.
I was also struck by the way in which Frank Sheeran, the real killer portrayed by De Niro, learned his ruthlessness in the Second World War, during which he cheerfully confesses he frequently murdered surrendered prisoners.