Vanessa Beeley
November 2, 2016


Jan Oberg
Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research

While thousands of humanitarian organisations around the world are struggling fiercely with diminishing support from governments and the public, one has achieved a surprising amount of support from Western governments in a surprisingly short period of time and gained a surprising attention from mainstream media and ditto political elites: The Syrian Civil Defence or White Helmets.

Their name of course makes you think of the UN’s Blue Helmet and white is the colour of those who should be protected in harm’s way – and the colour of innocence. However, for many years there has been an Argentinian relief organisation with the same name.

The SCD or White Helmets counts nearly 3.000 rescue workers who operate in very dangerous areas in rebel-held territories in Syria and claims that it has, in three years, rescued about 70.000 lives according to its Twitter account (or 65 per day).

Contrary to what you might think, it isn’t a Syrian organisation because Syria has its own organisation, incidentally also called Syria Civil Defence, which was established in 1953 and is registered with ICDO, the International Civil Defence Organisation, since 1972.

The White Helmets seems to have an annual budget of US$ 30 million and has raised a total support of well over US$ 100 million. And it seems that they operate exclusively in war zones in which the fighting against the Syrian government and the Syrian Arab Army takes place, i.e. in ‘liberated’ areas where hundreds of groups and some 80 countries, mainly NATO members, Gulf states and Saudi-Arabia, operate.

On the White Helmets’ briefing page it is stated that “funding for their humanitarian relief work is received from the aid budgets of Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.”

Here is how the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen explains the roughly US$ 9 million to the White helmets from Denmark, a country that bombs in both Iraq and Syria.

Other civil society and humanitarian organisations inside Syria have not been so fortunate. You’ve probably not heard that much about the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and its work? How much/little support have they received from Western humanitarian-concerned governments? And in general, civil society organisations in Syria – women, peace, human rights, culture, etc. – have received nothing like US$ 100 million in a few years and no one has such a flashy media appearance as the White Helmets.


The White Helmets was started in 2013 by James Le Mesurier who seems to have tried a little of everything everywhere, including the grey zones of special forces and intelligence in virtually all NATO wars, Yugoslavia in particular. He later set up a foundation in Holland to gather the funds. Here is a recent account by Scott Ritter, former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and weapons inspector in Iraq with tremendous knowledge of things Middle East:

“The organizational underpinnings of the White Helmets can be sourced to a March 2013 meeting in Istanbul between a retired British military officer, James Le Mesurier—who had experience in the murky world of private security companies and the shadowy confluence between national security and intelligence operations and international organizations—and representatives of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Qatari Red Crescent Society. Earlier that month, the SNC was given Syria’s seat in the Arab League at a meeting of the league held in Qatar.

At that meeting, the SNC assumed Syria’s seat, and the Arab League authorized member states to actively provide support, including arms and ammunition, to the Syrian rebels. The Qataris, working through the SNC, helped assemble for Le Mesurier $300,000 in seed money from Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom for a seven-day course designed to train and equip a 25-person rescue team, recruited by the SNC, for duty in so-called “liberated areas” of Syria. The SNC made available a pair of Syrian activists—Raed Saleh and Farouq Habib—to assist Le Mesurier in this work.”

The group is – as will be seen below – treated as uncontroversial in virtually all Western mainstream media. However, there is enough material with documentation to merit caution.

If you read media reports about the White Helmets and do not see the author mention that this group’s real identity is disputed and functions controversial you can be sure that you are wasting your time with somebody who is politically incredibly naive, or gullible; someone who has not done his or her research or is knowingly part of a deceptive effort serving a one-sided political agenda.

The White Helmets definitely is an controversial NGO – at the same time as it is (made) difficult to understand clearly what it really is.

And until the whole picture has been developed, anyone ought to be cautious with taking information about them at face value. So much must be clear given the links below.


That said, this author has not been on the ground but has studied both the pro- et contra links provided below.

Some observers draw the conclusion that the White Helmets – Syrian Civil Defence – are purely good guys rescuing lots of people, children in particular. The opposite advocacy claims that, all told, they are part of the terrorist groups, serve Western governments with intelligence and that their backers run political propaganda in their name and that they are simply executioners – murderers with a human face.

But does it have to be either/or?

An alternative hypothesis could be that the White Helmets is a dual-purposeorganisation. They claim to be ordinary Syrian volunteers who came together around the idea of saving lives and are truly altruistic “bakers, tailors, engineers, pharmacists, painters, carpenters, students and many more, the White Helmets are volunteers from all walks of life.” It could well be that some of them actually are, even a majority.

That doesn’t preclude that other elements – not the least those operating outside Syria such as foundations, PR and marketing firms, change organisations, NATO government and NGOs are in it with less noble, war-promoting purposes.


Find below a link collection – long but fascinating in its wealth of information. We bring it as a help to those seriously interested in Syria’s fate and in studying how opinions are being built by means of connected actors in a rather opaque networking structure, in how NGOs have increasingly become Near-governmental organisations and for those who do not want to sound foolish when they discuss these matters.

First some links to how the the White Helmets presents themselves. Second, some mainstream media articles in their favour of and praising it – including some that argue that the White Helmets ought to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (which happens to be nonsense, since they don’t even remotely qualify according to the criteria in Alfred Nobel’s very clear will and the prize is not a general do-good-prize. In addition, it must be doubted that the Nobel Committee will get more persuaded by the White Helmets’ – quite immodest – campaign in favour of their own candidacy).

Third some links to the comprehensive network of organisations, including governments, that the White Helmets seem to be part of – and it is quite a confusing lot with absolutely no transparency – but quite a few investigations have been carried out.

And fourth and final – the main links to investigative reports and other stuff that are sceptical in various degrees to the first three.

Continue reading:


Further reading: