The suspicious death of the founder of the White Helmets in Syria is an appropriate time to re-examine the foundation and role of this intensely controversial organization.
James Le Mesurier died as he lived, in highly mysterious circumstances. The Independent is reporting he may have fallen from the balcony of his apartment in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, The Times is reporting that Le Mesurier is said to have fallen from the “roof or balcony” of his offices in the Karakoy district of Istanbul.
What is certain is that Le Mesurier did not die of natural causes: he was either murdered or he committed suicide.
Only four days ago Russia’s Foreign Ministry had asked the UK to provide transparency on the true role of Le Mesurier.
“This man [Le Mesurier] has been spotted in many conflicts worldwide, including the Balkans and the Middle East”, Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said on November 08.
“He [Le Mesurier] is a former UK intelligence officer, specifically of MI6”, Zakharova added.
What the Russian Foreign Ministry said four days ago was hardly breaking news. Indeed, it has been an open secret for five years (since the foundation of the White Helmets) that Le Mesurier is a former MI6 officer with live connections to British intelligence.
For its part, the UK has never denied Le Mesurier’s alleged links to MI6. Britain only admits that Le Mesurier was a former army intelligence officer.
The British establishment clearly held Le Mesurier in high regard; indeed the Queen awarded him an OBE in June 2016 for “services to Syria Civil Defence and the protection of civilians in Syria”.
Syria Civil Defence is the official name of the White Helmets. The Queen’s recognition of Le Mesurier’s work makes one wonder what British intelligence, specifically MI6, hoped to achieve through the White Helmets in Syria.
One obvious answer is that the UK sought to intensify the conflict in Syria by helping establish a multi-purpose organization, which could act as a bridge between terrorist groups, and ostensibly, civil society actors engaged in “rescue” work.
Whatever the UK’s motivation, no one can deny that the White Helmets was a resounding success for four years, at least in propaganda terms.
They dominated a lot of the news coverage on Syria as they theatrically dashed from one contrived bombing scene to another, ostensibly (and conveniently) rescuing children and the elderly in the process.
Many of the videos purporting to show the White Helmets in action were extremely well-produced; too good, some would argue, to have been filmed in the panic and chaos of real battle scenarios.
The propaganda was sufficiently effective for the White Helmets to be made the subject of a Netflix documentary, which won an Oscar in early 2017. There is widespread speculation that the UK had lobbied hard for the awarding of that Oscar.
By that point the White Helmets had been fully adopted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which had been funding them even before their official formation in 2014.
An FCO letter dated October 11, 2017, admitted that from June 2013 to March 2016, the UK had allocated £19.7 million to “Syria Civil Defence”. The letter was issued in response to a Freedom of Information Request.
The FCO funding is channelled through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, an arm of the British government’s official development assistance.
The White Helmets clearly commanded the attention of the men occupying the higher reaches of the FCO, as demonstrated by the visit of the leader of the White Helmets, Raed al-Saleh, to Britain in early November 2018.
During his visit, Al-Saleh was courted by then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the former FCO Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt.
“Few people have to make the kind of moral choices that faced White Helmet Raed Al Saleh, who I was privileged to meet today”, Hunt said effusively.
It is worth noting that this is the same Raed al-Saleh who was denied entry to the United States in April 2016, presumably, on national security grounds.
Britain is clearly determined to paint the White Helmets as whiter than white, even to their dying day. But there has been determined pushback against this self-serving British narrative.
As more and more neutral observers and experts pointed to the growing evidence of a connection between the White Helmets and local terrorist groups, the Western mainstream media had to take notice.
But instead of investigating the many valid allegations against the White Helmets, the mainstream media instead chose to demonise their critics.
The Guardian reported on December 18, 2017, that the White Helmets are “victims” of an “online propaganda machine” masterminded from Moscow.
But this thin line of defence collapsed in July 2018 after hundreds of White Helmets “volunteers” and their families were rescued by Israel from a war zone in south-western Syria.
The White Helmets personnel (and their families) were taken to Jordan, by the Israeli military, via the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Israel Defence Forces – the military arm of the Zionist regime – claimed they were acting on a “request” from the US and the UK.
Not surprisingly, the UK hailed the so-called rescue operation by the Zionist regime and pledged to help with the resettlement of the White Helmets “volunteers”.
The irony inherent in a fake rescue organisation having to be rescued for real by the Israeli army was not lost on anyone.
The Times newspaper captured the reality of the situation brilliantly with an exclusive report titled “the great escape of Syria’s White Helmets”, on July 29, 2018.
More broadly, the collapse of terrorist groups in Syria has inevitably led to the demise of the White Helmets. With the Syrian government now back in control of nearly all parts of Syria, the space for fake “rescue” work has dramatically diminished.
The mysterious death of alleged MI6 man, Le Mesurier, embodies the demise of the White Helmets. It is also a major setback for UK foreign policy.
Britain hoped to influence the outcome of the war in Syria, and by extension to establish a foothold in the country, through the White Helmets, but in the end it failed.
Rupert Cansell, Investigative Journalist