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Pure: Ten Points I Just Can’t Believe About the Official Skripal Narrative 1237

A lie repeated often enough enters the public consciousness, so I am republishing this in the hope of stimulating the honest and the intellectually awake.

I still do not know what happened in the Skripal saga, which perhaps might more respectfully be termed the Sturgess saga. I cannot believe the Russian account of Boshirov and Petrov, because if those were their real identities, those identities would have been firmly established and displayed by now. But that does not mean they attempted to kill the Skripals, and there are many key elements to the official British account which are also simply incredible.

Governments play dark games, and a dark game was played out in Salisbury which involved at least the British state, Russian agents (possibly on behalf of the state), Orbis Intelligence and the BBC. Anybody who believes it is simple to identify the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in this situation is a fool. When it comes to state actors and the intelligence services, frequently there are no “good guys”, as I personally witnessed from the inside over torture, extraordinary rendition and the illegal invasion of Iraq. But in the face of a massive media campaign to validate the British government story about the Skripals, here are ten of the things I do not believe in the official account:

1) PURE

This was the point that led me to return to the subject of the Skripals, even though it has brought me more abuse than I had received in my 15 year career as a whistleblower.

A few months ago, I was in truth demoralised by the amount of abuse I was receiving about the collapse of the Russian identity story of Boshirov and Petrov. I had never claimed the poisoning, if any, was not carried out by Russians, only that there were many other possibilities. I understood the case against the Russian state is still far from established, whoever Boshirov and Petrov really are, and I did not (and do not) accept Bellingcat’s conjectures and dodgy evidence as conclusive identification. But I did not enjoy at all the constant online taunts, and therefore was not inclined to take the subject further.

It is in this mood that I received more information from my original FCO source, who had told me, correctly, that Porton Down could not and would not attest that the “novichok” sample was made in Russia, and explained that the formulation “of a type developed by Russia” was an agreed Whitehall line to cover this up.

She wanted to explain to me that the British government was pulling a similar trick over the use of the word “pure”. The OPCW report had concluded that the sample provided to them by the British government was “of high purity” with an “almost complete absence of impurities”. This had been spun by the British government as evidence that the novichok was “military grade” and could only be produced by a state.

But actually that is not what the OPCW technical experts were attempting to signal. The sample provided to the OPCW had allegedly been swabbed from the Skripals’ door handle. It had been on that door handle for several days before it was allegedly discovered there. In that time it had been contacted allegedly by the hands of the Skripals and of DC Bailey, and the gloves of numerous investigators. It had of course been exposed to whatever film of dirt or dust was on the door handle. It had been exposed to whatever pollution was in the rain and whatever dust and pollen was blowing around. In these circumstances, it is incredible that the sample provided “had an almost complete absence of impurities”.

A sample cannot have a complete absence of impurities after being on a used doorknob, outdoors, for several days. The sample provided was, on the contrary, straight out of a laboratory.

The government’s contention that “almost complete absence of impurities” meant “military grade” was complete nonsense. There is no such thing as “military grade” novichok. It has never been issued to any military, anywhere. The novichok programme was designed to produce an organo-phosphate poison which could quickly be knocked up from readily available commercial ingredients. It was not part of an actual defence industry manufacturing programme.

There is a final problem with the “of high purity” angle. First we had the Theresa May story that the “novichok” was extremely deadly, many times more deadly than VX, in minute traces. Then, when the Skripals did not die, it was explained to us that this was because it had degraded in the rain. This was famously put forward by Dan Kaszeta, formerly of US Intelligence and the White House and self-proclaimed chemical weapons expert – which expertise has been strenuously denied by real experts.

What we did not know then, but we do know now, is that Kaszeta was secretly being paid to produce this propaganda by the British government via the Integrity Initiative.

So the first thing I cannot believe is that the British government produced a sample with an “almost complete absence of impurities” from several days on the Skripals’ doorknob. Nor can I believe that if “extremely pure” the substance therefore was not fatal to the Skripals.

2) Raising the Roof

Three days ago Sky News had an outside broadcast from the front of the Skripals’ house in Salisbury, where they explained that the roof had been removed and replaced due to contamination with “novichok”.

I cannot believe that a gel, allegedly smeared or painted onto the doorknob, migrated upwards to get into the roof of a two storey house, in such a manner that the roof had to be destroyed, but the house inbetween did not. As the MSM never questions the official narrative, there has never been an official answer as to how the gel got from the doorknob to the roof. Remember that traces of the “novichok” were allegedly found in a hotel room in Poplar, which is still in use as a hotel room and did not have to be destroyed, and an entire bottle of it was allegedly found in Charlie Rowley’s house, which has not had to be destroyed. Novichok was found in Zizzi’s restaurant, which did not have to be destroyed.

So we are talking about novichok in threatening quantities – more than the traces allegedly found in the hotel in Poplar – being in the Skripals’ roof. How could this happen?

As I said in the onset, I do not know what happened, I only know what I do not believe. There are theories that Skripal and his daughter might themselves have been involved with novichok in some way. On the face of it, its presence in their roof might support that theory.

The second thing I do not believe is that the Skripals’ roof became contaminated by gel on their doorknob so that the roof had to be destroyed, whereas no other affected properties, nor the rest of the Skripals’ house, had to be destroyed.

3) Nursing Care

The very first person to discover the Skripals ill on a park bench in Salisbury just happened to be the Chief Nurse of the British Army, who chanced to be walking past them on her way back from a birthday party. How lucky was that? The odds are about the same as the chance of my vacuum cleaner breaking down just before James Dyson knocks at my door to ask for directions. There are very few people indeed in the UK trained to give nursing care to victims of chemical weapon attack, and of all the people who might have walked past, it just happened to be the most senior of them!

The government is always trying to get good publicity for its armed forces, and you would think that the heroic role of its off-duty personnel in saving random poisoned Russian double agents they just happened to chance across, would have been proclaimed as a triumph for the British military. Yet it was kept secret for ten months. We were not told about the involvement of Colonel Alison McCourt until January of this year, when it came out by accident. Swollen with maternal pride, Col. McCourt nominated her daughter for an award from the local radio station for her role in helping give first aid to the Skripals, and young Abigail revealed her mother’s identity on local radio – and the fact her mother was there “with her” administering first aid.

Even then, the compliant MSM played along, with the Guardian and Sky News both among those running stories emphasising entirely the Enid Blyton narrative of “plucky teenager saves the Skripals”, and scarcely mentioning the Army’s Chief Nurse who was looking after the Skripals “with little Abigail”.

I want to emphasise again that Col. Alison McCourt is not the chief nurse of a particular unit or hospital, she is the Chief Nurse of the entire British Army. Her presence was kept entirely quiet by the media for ten months, when all sorts of stories were run in the MSM about who the first responders were – various doctors and police officers being mentioned.

If you believe that it is coincidence that the Chief Nurse of the British Army was the first person to discover the Skripals ill, you are a credulous fool. And why was it kept quiet?

4) Remarkable Metabolisms

This has been noted many times, but no satisfactory answer has ever been given. The official story is that the Skripals were poisoned by their door handle, but then well enough to go out to a pub, feed some ducks, and have a big lunch in Zizzi’s, before being instantly stricken and disabled, both at precisely the same time.

The Skripals were of very different ages, genders and weights. That an agent which took hours to act but then kicks in with immediate disabling effect, so they could not call for help, would affect two such entirely different metabolisms at precisely the same time, has never been satisfactorily explained. Dosage would have an effect and of course the doorknob method would give an uncontrolled dosage.

But that the two different random dosages were such that they affected each of these two very different people at just the same moment, so that neither could call for help, is an extreme coincidence. It is almost as unlikely as the person who walks by next being the Chief Nurse of the British Army.

5) 11 Days

After the poisoning of Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, the Police cordoned off Charlie Rowley’s home and began a search for “Novichok”, in an attitude of extreme urgency because it was believed this poison was out amidst the public. They were specifically searching for a small phial of liquid. Yet it took 11 days of the search before they allegedly discovered the “novichok” in a perfume bottle sitting in plain sight on the kitchen counter – and only after they had discovered the clue of the perfume bottle package in the bin the day before, after ten days of search.

The bottle was out of its packaging and “novichok”, of which the tiniest amount is deadly, had been squirted out of its nozzle at least twice, by both Rowley and Sturgess, and possibly more often. The exterior of the bottle/nozzle was therefore contaminated. Yet the house, unlike the Skripals’ roof space, has not had to be destroyed.

I do not believe it took the Police eleven days to find the very thing they were looking for, in plain sight as exactly the small bottle of liquid sought, on a kitchen bench. What else was happening?

6) Mark Urban/Pablo Miller

The BBC’s “Diplomatic Editor” is a regular conduit for the security services. He fronted much of the BBC’s original coverage of the Skripal story. Yet he concealed from the viewers the fact that he had been in regular contact with Sergei Skripal for months before the alleged poisoning, and had held several meetings with Skripal.

This is extraordinary behaviour. It was the biggest news story in the world, and news organisations, including the BBC, were scrambling to fill in the Skripals’ back story. Yet the journalist who had the inside info on the world’s biggest news story, and was actually reporting on it, kept that knowledge to himself. Why? Urban was not only passing up a career defining opportunity, it was unethical of him to continually report on the story without revealing to the viewers his extensive contacts with Skripal.

The British government had two immediate reactions to the Skripal incident. Within the first 48 hours, it blamed Russia, and it slapped a D(SMA) notice banning all media mention of Skripal’s MI6 handler, Pablo Miller. By yet another one of those extraordinary coincidences, Miller and Urban know each other well, having both been officers together in the Royal Tank Regiment, of the same rank and joining the Regiment the same year.

I have sent the following questions to Mark Urban, repeatedly. There has been no response:

To: [email protected]

Dear Mark,

As you may know, I am a journalist working in alternative media, a member of the NUJ, as well as a former British Ambassador. I am researching the Skripal case.

I wish to ask you the following questions.

1) When the Skripals were first poisoned, it was the largest news story in the entire World and you were uniquely positioned having held several meetings with Sergei Skripal the previous year. Yet faced with what should have been a massive career break, you withheld that unique information on a major story from the public for four months. Why?
2) You were an officer in the Royal Tank Regiment together with Skripal’s MI6 handler, Pablo Miller, who also lived in Salisbury. Have you maintained friendship with Miller over the years and how often do you communicate?
3) When you met Skripal in Salisbury, was Miller present all or part of the time, or did you meet Miller separately?
4) Was the BBC aware of your meetings with Miller and/or Skripal at the time?
5) When, four months later, you told the world about your meetings with Skripal after the Rowley/Sturgess incident, you said you had met him to research a book. Yet the only forthcoming book by you advertised is on the Skripal attack. What was the subject of your discussions with Skripal?
6) Pablo Miller worked for Orbis Intelligence. Do you know if Miller contributed to the Christopher Steele dossier on Trump/Russia?
7) Did you discuss the Trump dossier with Skripal and/or Miller?
8) Do you know whether Skripal contributed to the Trump dossier?
9) In your Newsnight piece following the Rowley/Sturgess incident, you stated that security service sources had told you that Yulia Skripal’s telephone may have been bugged. Since January 2017, how many security service briefings or discussions have you had on any of the matter above.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Craig Murray

The lack of openness of Urban in refusing to answer these questions, and the role played by the BBC and the MSM in general in marching in unquestioning lockstep with the British government narrative, plus the “coincidence” of Urban’s relationship with Pablo Miller, give further reason for scepticism of the official narrative.

7 Four Months

The official narrative insists that Boshirov and Petrov brought “novichok” into the country; that minute quantities could kill; that they disposed of the novichok that did kill Dawn Sturgess. It must therefore have been of the highest priority to inform the public of the movements of the suspects and the possible locations where deadly traces of “novichok” must be lurking.

Yet there was at least a four month gap between the police searching the Poplar hotel where Boshirov and Petrov were staying, allegedly discovering traces of novichok in the hotel room, and the police informing the hotel management, let alone the public, of the discovery. That is four months in which a cleaner might have fatally stumbled across more novichok in the hotel. Four months in which another guest in the same hotel might have had something lurking in their bag which they had picked up. Four months in which there might have been a container of novichok sitting in a hedge near the hotel. Yet for four months the police did not think any of this was urgent enough to tell anybody.

The astonishing thing is that it was a full three months after the death of Dawn Sturgess before the hotel were informed, the public were informed, or the pictures of “Boshirov” and “Petrov” in Salisbury released. There could be no clearer indication that the authorities did not actually believe that any threat from residual novichok was connected to the movements of Boshirov and Petrov.

Similarly the metadata on the famous CCTV images of Boshirov and Petrov in Salisbury, published in September by the Met Police, showed that all the stills were prepared by the Met on the morning of 9 May – a full four months before they were released to the public. But this makes no sense at all. Why wait a full four months for people’s memories to fade before issuing an appeal to the public for information? This makes no sense at all from an investigation viewpoint. It makes even less sense from a public health viewpoint.

If the authorities were genuinely worried about the possible presence of deadly novichok, and wished to track it down, why one earth would you wait for four months before you published the images showing the faces and clothing and the whereabouts of the people you believe were distributing it?

The only possible conclusion from the amazing four month delays both in informing the hotel, and in revealing the Boshirov and Petrov CCTV footage to the public, is that the Metropolitan Police did not actually believe there was a public health danger that the two had left a trail of novichok. Were the official story true, this extraordinary failure to take timely action in a public health emergency may have contributed to the death of Dawn Sturgess.

The metadat shows Police processed all the Salisbury CCTV images of Boshirov and Petrov a month before Charlie Rowley picked up the perfume. The authorities claim the CCTV images show they could have been to the charity bin to dump the novichok. Which begs the question, if the Police really believed they had CCTV of the movements of the men with the novichok, why did they not subsequently exhaustively search everywhere the CCTV shows they could have been, including that charity bin?

The far more probable conclusion appears to be that the lack of urgency is explained by the fact that the link between Boshirov and Petrov and “novichok” is a narrative those involved in the investigation do not take seriously.

8 The Bungling Spies

There are elements of the accepted narrative of Boshirov and Petrov’s movements that do not make sense. As the excellent local Salisbury blog the Blogmire points out, the CCTV footage shows Boshirov and Petrov, after they had allegedly coated the door handle with novichok, returning towards the railway station but walking straight past it, into the centre of Salisbury (and missing their first getaway train in the process). They then wander around Salisbury apparently aimlessly, famously window shopping which is caught on CCTV, and according to the official narrative disposing of the used but inexplicably still cellophane-sealed perfume/novichok in a charity donation bin, having walked past numerous potential disposal sites en route including the railway embankment and the bins at the Shell garage.

But the really interesting thing, highlighted by the blogmire, is that the closest CCTV ever caught them to the Skripals’ house is fully 500 metres, at the Shell garage, walking along the opposite side of the road from the turning to the Skripals. There is a second CCTV camera at the garage which would have caught them crossing the road and turning down towards the Skripals’ house, but no such video or still image – potentially the most important of all the CCTV footage – has ever been released.

However the 500 metres is not the closest the CCTV places the agents to the Skripals. From 13.45 to 13.48, on their saunter into town, Boshirov and Petrov were caught on CCTV at Dawaulders coinshop a maximum of 200 metres away from the Skripals, who at the same time were at Avon Playground. The bin at Avon playground became, over two days in the immediate aftermath of the Skripal “attack”, the scene of extremely intensive investigation. Yet the Boshirov and Petrov excursion – during their getaway from attempted murder – into Salisbury town centre has been treated as entirely pointless and unimportant by the official story.

Finally, the behaviour of Boshirov and Petrov in the early hours before the attack makes no sense whatsoever. On the one hand we are told these are highly trained, experienced and senior GRU agents; on the other hand, we are told they were partying in their room all night, drawing attention to themselves with loud noise, smoking weed and entertaining a prostitute in the room in which they were storing, and perhaps creating, the “novichok”.

The idea that, before an extremely delicate murder operation involving handling a poison, a tiny accident with which would kill them, professionals would stay up all night and drink heavily and take drugs is a nonsense. Apart from the obvious effect on their own metabolisms, they were risking authorities being called because of the noise and a search being instituted because of the drugs.

That they did this while in possession of the novichok and hours before they made the attack, is something I simply do not believe.

9 The Skripals’ Movements

Until the narrative changed to Boshirov and Petrov arriving in Salisbury just before lunchtime and painting the doorknob, the official story had been that the Skripals left home around 9am and had not returned. They had both switched off their mobile phones, an interesting and still unexplained point. As you would expect in a city as covered in CCTV as Salisbury, their early morning journey was easily traced and the position of their car at various times was given by the police.

Yet no evidence of their return journey has ever been offered. There is now a tiny window between Boshirov and Petrov arriving, painting the doorknob apparently with the Skripals now inexplicably back inside their home, and the Skripals leaving again by car, so quickly after the doorknob painting that they catch up with Boshirov and Petrov – or certainly being no more than 200 metres from them in Salisbury City Centre. There is undoubtedly a huge amount of CCTV video of the Skripals’ movements which has never been released. For example, the parents of one of the boys who Sergei was chatting with while feeding the ducks, was shown “clear” footage by the Police of the Skripals at the pond, yet this has never been released. This however is the moment at which the evidence puts Boshirov and Petrov at the closest to them. What does the concealed CCTV of the Skripals with the ducks show?

Why has so little detail of the Skripals’ movements that day been released? What do all the withheld CCTV images of the Skripals in Salisbury show?

10 The Sealed Bottle

Only in the last couple of days have the police finally admitted there is a real problem with the fact that Charlie Rowley insists that the perfume bottle was fully sealed, and the cellophane difficult to remove, when he discovered it. Why the charity collection bin had not been emptied for three months has never been explained either. Rowley’s recollection is supported by the fact that the entire packaging was discovered by the police in his bin – why would Boshirov and Petrov have been carrying the cellophane around with them if they had opened the package? Why – and how – would they reseal it outdoors in Salisbury before dumping it?

Furthermore, there was a gap of three months between the police finding the perfume bottle, and the police releasing details of the brand and photos of it, despite the fact the police believed there could be more out there. Again the news management agenda totally belies the official narrative of the need to protect the public in a public health emergency.

This part of the narrative is plainly nonsense.

Bonus Point – The Integrity Initiative

The Integrity Initiative specifically paid Dan Kaszeta to publish articles on the Skripal case. In the weekly collections of social media postings the Integrity Initiative sent to the FCO to show its activity, over 80% were about the Skripals.

Governments do not institute secret campaigns to put out covert propaganda in order to tell the truth. The Integrity Initiative, with secret FCO and MOD sourced subsidies to MSM figures to put out the government narrative, is very plainly a disinformation exercise. More bluntly, if the Integrity Initiative is promoting it, you know it is not true.

Most sinister of all is the Skripal Group convened by the Integrity Initiative. This group includes Pablo Miller, Skripal’s MI6 handler, and senior representatives of Porton Down, the BBC, the CIA, the FCO and the MOD. Even if all the other ludicrously weak points in the government narrative did not exist, the Integrity Initiative activity in itself would lead me to understand the British government is concealing something important.

Conclusion

I do not know what happened in Salisbury. Plainly spy games were being played between Russia and the UK, quite likely linked to the Skripals and/or the NATO chemical weapons exercise then taking place on Salisbury Plain yet another one of those astonishing coincidences.

What I do know is that major planks of the UK government narrative simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

Plainly the Russian authorities have lied about the identity of Boshirov and Petrov. What is astonishing is the alacrity with which the MSM and the political elite have rallied around the childish logical fallacy that because the Russian Government has lied, therefore the British Government must be telling the truth. It is abundantly plain to me that both governments are lying, and the spy games being played out that day were very much more complicated than a pointless revenge attack on the Skripals.

I do not believe the British Government. I have given you the key points where the official narrative completely fails to stand up. These are by no means exhaustive, and I much look forward to reading your own views.

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The Official Skripal Story is a Dead Duck

One of the striking things about the official Skripal story is the way its more wildly improbable aspects have been released to the mainstream media over a long period, so as to manage their impact. So, for example, police acknowledgement that the perfume bottle Charlie Rowley found was sealed and could not have been the container used on the Skripals is comparatively recent, and it took nine months for us to learn that, by a truly wonderful coincidence, the first person to find the Skripals ill on the bench was the Chief Nurse of the British Army.

I covered these points in full in my article on the ten points I do not believe in the official story – an article which nobody has sought to refute, other than to yell “conspiracy theory”, as though that was an argument.

But today we learn from the Guardian (quoting the New York Times) that Donald Trump was only convinced to back the UK government line after being shown photos of dead ducks and hospitalised children by CIA director Gina Haspel.

The problem is that, there were no hospitalised children. No children have been reported as becoming ill following their duck feeding with the Skripals. We have heard from one of the parents that they were shown by the police extremely clear CCTV footage of the duck feeding, which has never been made public. Surely if the child had been hospitalised, the parent would have been mentioned it?

Dr Stephen Davies of Salisbury Hospital’s letter of 16 March 2018 to the Times has been explained away as poorly written or edited, in relation to the cause of the Skripals’ illness. But be that as it may, one thing the doctor’s letter does without any shadow of a doubt, is rule out the possibility of hospitalised children.

There were no hospitalised children.

We also know that the duck feeding was the time that “Boshirov and Petrov” were physically closest to the Skripals. But this is the first time there has ever been any mention of any harm to the ducks. Dead ducks would have been noticed by the public.

Possibly the Guardian and New York Times are inventing utter drivel, as in the Manafort meeting Assange story. That would in itself be worrying. The other possibility is that the security services produced fake photographs of hospitalised children and slaughtered some ducks, in order to convince Donald Trump. If the latter explanation is true, then the entire Skripal saga looks more and more staged.

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British Government Covert Anti-Russian Propaganda and the Skripal Case

It is worth starting by noting that a high percentage of the Integrity Initiative archive has been authenticated. The scheme has been admitted by the FCO and defended as legitimate government activity. Individual items like the minutes of the meeting with David Leask are authenticated. Not one of the documents has so far been disproven, or even denied.

Which tends to obscure some of the difficulties with the material. There is no metadata showing when each document was created, as opposed to when Anonymous made it into a PDF. Anonymous have released it in tranches and made plain there is more to come. The reason for this methodology is left obscure.

Most frustratingly, Anonymous’ comments on the releases indicate that they have vital information which is not, so far, revealed. The most important document of all appears to be a simple contact list, of a particular group within the hundreds of contacts revealed in the papers overall. This is it in full:

Tantalisingly, Anonymous describe this as a list of people who attended a meeting with the White Helmets. But there is no evidence of that in the document itself, nor does any other document released so far refer to this meeting. There is very little in the documents released so far about the White Helmets at all. But there is a huge amount about the Skripal case. With the greatest of respect to Anonymous and pending any release of further evidence, I want you to consider whether this might be a document related to the Skripal incident.

The list is headed CND gen list 2. CND is Christopher Nigel Donnelly, Director of the Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative and a very senior career Military Intelligence Officer.

The first name on the list caught my eye. Duncan Allan was the young FCO Research Analyst who, as detailed in Murder in Samarkand, appears in my Ambassadorial office in Tashkent, telling me of the FCO staff who had been left in tears by the pressure put on them to sign up to Blair’s dodgy dossier on Iraqi WMD. During the process of clearing the manuscript with the FCO, I was told (though not by him) that he denied having ever said it. It was one of a very few instances where I refused to make the changes requested to the text, because I had no doubt whatsoever of what had been said.

If Duncan did lie about having told me, it did his career no harm as he is now Deputy Head of FCO Research Analysts and, most importantly, the FCO’s lead analyst on Russia and the Former Soviet Union.

Now let us tie that in with the notorious name further down the list; Pablo Miller, the long-term MI6 handler of Sergei Skripal, who lived in Salisbury with Skripal. Miller is the man who was, within 24 hours of the Skripal attack, protected by a D(SMA) notice banning the media from mentioning him. Here Pablo Miller is actively involved, alongside serving FCO and MOD staff, in a government funded organisation whose avowed intention is to spread disinformation about Russia. The story that Miller is in an inactive retirement is immediately and spectacularly exploded.

Now look at another name on this list. Howard Body. Assistant Head of Science Support at Porton Down chemical weapon research laboratory, just six miles away from Salisbury and the Skripal attack, a role he took up in December 2017. He combines this role with Assistant Head of Strategic Analysis at MOD London. “Science Support” at Porton Down is a euphemism for political direction to the scientists – Body has no scientific qualifications.

Another element brought into this group is the state broadcaster, through Helen Boaden, the former Head of BBC News and Current Affairs.

In all there are six serving MOD staff on the list, all either in Intelligence or in PR. Intriguingly one of them, Ian Cohen, has email addresses both at the MOD and at the notoriously corrupt HSBC bank. The other FCO name besides Duncan Allan, Adam Rutland, is also on the PR side.

Zachary Harkenrider is the Political Counsellor at the US Embassy in London. There are normally at least two Political Counsellors at an Embassy this size, one of whom will normally be the CIA Head of Station. I do not know if Harkenrider is CIA but it seems highly likely.

So what do we have here? We have a programme, the Integrity Initiative, whose entire purpose is to pump out covert disinformation against Russia, through social media and news stories secretly paid for by the British government. And we have the Skripals’ MI6 handler, the BBC, Porton Down, the FCO, the MOD and the US Embassy, working together in a group under the auspices of the Integrity Initiative. The Skripal Case happened to occur shortly after a massive increase in the Integrity Initiative’s budget and activity, which itself was a small part of a British Government decision to ramp up a major information war against Russia.

I find that very interesting indeed.

With a hat-tip to members of the Working Group on Syria, Media, and the Propaganda, who are preparing a major and important publication which is imminent. UPDATE Their extremely important briefing note on the Integrity Initiative is now online, prepared to the highest standards of academic discipline. I shall be drawing on and extrapolating from it further next week.

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Skripals – The Mystery Deepens

The time that “Boshirov and Petrov” were allegedly in Salisbury carrying out the attack is all entirely within the period the Skripals were universally reported to have left their home with their mobile phones switched off.

A key hole in the British government’s account of the Salisbury poisonings has been plugged – the lack of any actual suspects. And it has been plugged in a way that appears broadly convincing – these two men do appear to have traveled to Salisbury at the right time to have been involved.

But what has not been established is the men’s identity and that they are agents of the Russian state, or just what they did in Salisbury. If they are Russian agents, they are remarkably amateur assassins. Meanwhile the new evidence throws the previously reported timelines into confusion – and demolishes the theories put out by “experts” as to why the Novichok dose was not fatal.

This BBC report gives a very useful timeline summary of events.

At 09.15 on Sunday 4 March the Skripals’ car was seen on CCTV driving through three different locations in Salisbury. Both Skripals had switched off their mobile phones and they remained off for over four hours, which has baffled geo-location.

There is no CCTV footage that indicates the Skripals returning to their home. It has therefore always been assumed that they last touched the door handle around 9am.

But the Metropolitan Police state that Boshirov and Petrov did not arrive in Salisbury until 11.48 on the day of the poisoning. That means that they could not have applied a nerve agent to the Skripals’ doorknob before noon at the earliest. But there has never been any indication that the Skripals returned to their home after noon on Sunday 4 March. If they did so, they and/or their car somehow avoided all CCTV cameras. Remember they were caught by three CCTV cameras on leaving, and Borishov and Petrov were caught frequently on CCTV on arriving.

The Skripals were next seen on CCTV at 13.30, driving down Devizes road. After that their movements were clearly witnessed or recorded until their admission to hospital.

So even if the Skripals made an “invisible” trip home before being seen on Devizes Road, that means the very latest they could have touched the doorknob is 13.15. The longest possible gap between the novichok being placed on the doorknob and the Skripals touching it would have been one hour and 15 minutes. Do you recall all those “experts” leaping in to tell us that the “ten times deadlier than VX” nerve agent was not fatal because it had degraded overnight on the doorknob? Well that cannot be true. The time between application and contact was between a minute and (at most) just over an hour on this new timeline.

In general it is worth observing that the Skripals, and poor Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, all managed to achieve almost complete CCTV invisibility in their widespread movements around Salisbury at the key times, while in contrast “Petrov and Boshirov” managed to be frequently caught in high quality all the time during their brief visit.

This is especially remarkable in the case of the Skripals’ location around noon on 4 March. The government can only maintain that they returned home at this time, as they insist they got the nerve agent from the doorknob. But why was their car so frequently caught on CCTV leaving, but not at all returning? It appears very much more probable that they came into contact with the nerve agent somewhere else, while they were out.

“Boshirov and Petrov” plainly are of interest in this case. But only Theresa May stated they were Russian agents: the police did not, and stated that they expected those were not their real identities. We do not know who Boshirov and Petrov were. It appears very likely their appearance was to do with the Skripals on that day. But they may have been meeting them, outside the home. The evidence points to that, rather than doorknobs. Such a meeting might explain why the Skripals had turned off their mobile phones to attempt to avoid surveillance.

It is also telling the police have pressed no charges against them in the case of Dawn Sturgess, which would be manslaughter at least if the government version is true.

If “Boshirov and Petrov” are secret agents, their incompetence is astounding. They used public transport rather than a vehicle and left the clearest possible CCTV footprint. They failed in their assassination attempt. They left traces of novichok everywhere and could well have poisoned themselves, and left the “murder weapon” lying around to be found. Their timings in Salisbury were extremely tight – and British Sunday rail service dependent.

There are other possibilities of who “Boshirov and Petrov” really are, of which Ukrainian is the obvious one. One thing I discovered when British Ambassador to Uzbekistan was that there had been a large Ukrainian ethnic group of scientists working at the Soviet chemical weapon testing facility there at Nukus. There are many other possibilities.

Yesterday’s revelations certainly add to the amount we know about the Skripal event. But they raise as many new questions as they give answers.

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Skripals – When the BBC Hide the Truth

On 8 July 2018 a lady named Kirsty Eccles asked what, in its enormous ramifications, historians may one day see as the most important Freedom of Information request ever made. The rest of this post requires extremely close and careful reading, and some thought, for you to understand that claim.

Dear British Broadcasting Corporation,

1: Why did BBC Newsnight correspondent Mark Urban keep secret from the licence payers that he had been having meetings with Sergei Skripal only last summer.

2: When did the BBC know this?

3: Please provide me with copies of all correspondence between yourselves and Mark Urban on the subject of Sergei Skripal.

Yours faithfully,

Kirsty Eccles

The ramifications of this little request are enormous as they cut right to the heart of the ramping up of the new Cold War, of the BBC’s propaganda collusion with the security services to that end, and of the concoction of fraudulent evidence in the Steele “dirty dossier”. This also of course casts a strong light on more plausible motives for an attack on the Skripals.

Which is why the BBC point blank refused to answer Kirsty’s request, stating that it was subject to the Freedom of Information exemption for “Journalism”.

10th July 2018
Dear Ms Eccles
Freedom of Information request – RFI20181319
Thank you for your request to the BBC of 8th July 2018, seeking the following information under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000:
1: Why did BBC Newsnight correspondent Mark Urban keep secret from the licence payers that he
had been having meetings with Sergei Skripal only last summer.
2: When did the BBC know this?
3: Please provide me with copies of all correspondence between yourselves and Mark Urban on the
subject of Sergei Skripal.
The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of
‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you. Part VI
of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters
is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The
BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or
information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

The BBC is of course being entirely tendentious here – “journalism” does not include the deliberate suppression of vital information from the public, particularly in order to facilitate the propagation of fake news on behalf of the security services. That black propaganda is precisely what the BBC is knowingly engaged in, and here trying hard to hide.

I have today attempted to contact Mark Urban at Newsnight by phone, with no success, and sent him this email:

To: [email protected]

Dear Mark,

As you may know, I am a journalist working in alternative media, a member of the NUJ, as well as a former British Ambassador. I am researching the Skripal case.

I wish to ask you the following questions.

1) When the Skripals were first poisoned, it was the largest news story in the entire World and you were uniquely positioned having held several meetings with Sergei Skripal the previous year. Yet faced with what should have been a massive career break, you withheld that unique information on a major story from the public for four months. Why?
2) You were an officer in the Royal Tank Regiment together with Skripal’s MI6 handler, Pablo Miller, who also lived in Salisbury. Have you maintained friendship with Miller over the years and how often do you communicate?
3) When you met Skripal in Salisbury, was Miller present all or part of the time, or did you meet Miller separately?
4) Was the BBC aware of your meetings with Miller and/or Skripal at the time?
5) When, four months later, you told the world about your meetings with Skripal after the Rowley/Sturgess incident, you said you had met him to research a book. Yet the only forthcoming book by you advertised is on the Skripal attack. What was the subject of your discussions with Skripal?
6) Pablo Miller worked for Orbis Intelligence. Do you know if Miller contributed to the Christopher Steele dossier on Trump/Russia?
7) Did you discuss the Trump dossier with Skripal and/or Miller?
8) Do you know whether Skripal contributed to the Trump dossier?
9) In your Newsnight piece following the Rowley/Sturgess incident, you stated that security service sources had told you that Yulia Skripal’s telephone may have been bugged. Since January 2017, how many security service briefings or discussions have you had on any of the matter above.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Craig Murray

I should very much welcome others also sending emails to Mark Urban to emphasise the public demand for an answer from the BBC to these vital questions. If you have time, write your own email, or if not copy and paste from mine.

To quote that great Scot John Paul Jones, “We have not yet begun to fight”.

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The Holes in the Official Skripal Story

In my last post I set out the official Government account of the events in the Skripal Case. Here I examine the credibility of this story. Next week I shall look at alternative explanations.

Russia has a decade long secret programme of producing and stockpiling novichok nerve agents. It also has been training agents in secret assassination techniques, and British intelligence has a copy of the Russian training manual, which includes instruction on painting nerve agent on doorknobs.

The only backing for this statement by Boris Johnson is alleged “intelligence”, and unfortunately the “intelligence” about Russia’s secret novichok programme comes from exactly the same people who brought you the intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s WMD programme, proven liars. Furthermore, the question arises why Britain has been sitting on this intelligence for a decade and doing nothing about it, including not telling the OPCW inspectors who certified Russia’s chemical weapons stocks as dismantled.

If Russia really has a professional novichok assassin training programme, why was the assassination so badly botched? Surely in a decade of development they would have discovered that the alleged method of gel on doorknob did not work? And where is the training manual which Boris Johnson claimed to possess? Having told the world – including Russia -the UK has it, what is stopping the UK from producing it, with marks that could identify the specific copy erased?

The Russians chose to use this assassination programme to target Sergei Skripal, a double agent who had been released from jail in Russia some eight years previously.

It seems remarkable that the chosen target of an attempt that would blow the existence of a secret weapon and end the cover of a decade long programme, should be nobody more prominent than a middle ranking double agent who the Russians let out of jail years ago. If they wanted him dead they could have killed him then. Furthermore the attack on him would undermine all future possible spy swaps. Putin therefore, on this reading, was willing to sacrifice both the secrecy of the novichok programme and the spy swap card just to attack Sergei Skripal. That seems highly improbable.

Only the Russians can make novichok and only the Russians had a motive to attack the Skripals.

The nub of the British government’s approach has been the shocking willingness of the corporate and state media to parrot repeatedly the lie that the nerve agent was Russian made, even after Porton Down said they could not tell where it was made and the OPCW confirmed that finding. In fact, while the Soviet Union did develop the “novichok” class of nerve agents, the programme involved scientists from all over the Soviet Union, especially Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia, as I myself learnt when I visited the newly decommissioned Nukus testing facility in Uzbekistan in 2002.

Furthermore, it was the USA who decommissioned the facility and removed equipment back to the United States. At least two key scientists from the programme moved to the United States. Formulae for several novichok have been published for over a decade. The USA, UK and Iran have definitely synthesised a number of novichok formulae and almost certainly others have done so too. Dozens of states have the ability to produce novichok, as do many sophisticated non-state actors.

As for motive, the Russian motive might be revenge, but whether that really outweighs the international opprobrium incurred just ahead of the World Cup, in which so much prestige has been invested, is unclear.

What is certainly untrue is that only Russia has a motive. The obvious motive is to attempt to blame and discredit Russia. Those who might wish to do this include Ukraine and Georgia, with both of which Russia is in territorial dispute, and those states and jihadist groups with which Russia is in conflict in Syria. The NATO military industrial complex also obviously has a plain motive for fueling tension with Russia.

There is of course the possibility that Skripal was attacked by a private gangster interest with which he was in conflict, or that the attack was linked to Skripal’s MI6 handler Pablo Miller’s work on the Orbis/Steele Russiagate dossier on Donald Trump.

Plainly, the British governments statements that only Russia had the means and only Russia had the motive, are massive lies on both counts.

The Russians had been tapping the phone of Yulia Skripal. They decided to attack Sergei Skripal while his daughter was visiting from Moscow.

In an effort to shore up the government narrative, at the time of the Amesbury attack the security services put out through Pablo Miller’s long term friend, the BBC’s Mark Urban, that the Russians “may have been” tapping Yulia Skripal’s phone, and the claim that this was strong evidence that the Russians had indeed been behind the attack.

But think this through. If that were true, then the Russians deliberately attacked at a time when Yulia was in the UK rather than when Sergei was alone. Yet no motive has been adduced for an attack on Yulia or why they would attack while Yulia was visiting – they could have painted his doorknob with less fear of discovery anytime he was alone. Furthermore, it is pretty natural that Russian intelligence would tap the phone of Yulia, and of Sergei if they could. The family of double agents are normal targets. I have no doubt in the least, from decades of experience as a British diplomat, that GCHQ have been tapping Yulia’s phone. Indeed, if tapping of phones is seriously put forward as evidence of intent to murder, the British government must be very murderous indeed.

Their trained assassin(s) painted a novichok on the doorknob of the Skripal house in the suburbs of Salisbury. Either before or after the attack, they entered a public place in the centre of Salisbury and left a sealed container of the novichok there.

The incompetence of the assassination beggars belief when compared to British claims of a long term production and training programme. The Russians built the heart of the International Space Station. They can kill an old bloke in Salisbury. Why did the Russians not know that the dose from the door handle was not fatal? Why would trained assassins leave crucial evidence lying around in a public place in Salisbury? Why would they be conducting any part of the operation with the novichok in a public area in central Salisbury?

Why did nobody see them painting the doorknob? This must have involved wearing protective gear, which would look out of place in a Salisbury suburb. With Skripal being resettled by MI6, and a former intelligence officer himself, it beggars belief that MI6 did not fit, as standard, some basic security including a security camera on his house.

The Skripals both touched the doorknob and both functioned perfectly normally for at least five hours, even able to eat and drink heartily. Then they were simultaneously and instantaneously struck down by the nerve agent, at a spot in the city centre coincidentally close to where the assassins left a sealed container of the novichok lying around. Even though the nerve agent was eight times more deadly than Sarin or VX, it did not kill the Skripals because it had been on the doorknob and affected by rain.

Why did they both touch the outside doorknob in exiting and closing the door? Why did the novichok act so very slowly, with evidently no feeling of ill health for at least five hours, and then how did it strike both down absolutely simultaneously, so that neither can call for help, despite their being different sexes, weights, ages, metabolisms and receiving random completely uncontrolled doses. The odds of that happening are virtually nil. And why was the nerve agent ultimately ineffective?

Detective Sergeant Bailey attended the Skripal house and was also poisoned by the doorknob, but more lightly. None of the other police who attended the house were affected.

Why was the Detective Sergeant affected and nobody else who attended the house, or the scene where the Skripals were found? Why was Bailey only lightly affected by this extremely deadly substance, of which a tiny amount can kill?

Four months later, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were rooting about in public parks, possibly looking for cigarette butts, and accidentally came into contact with the sealed container of a novichok. They were poisoned and Dawn Sturgess subsequently died.

If the nerve agent had survived four months because it was in a sealed container, why has this sealed container now mysteriously disappeared again? If Rowley and Sturgess had direct contact straight from the container, why did they not both die quickly? Why had four months searching of Salisbury and a massive police, security service and military operation not found this container, if Rowley and Sturgess could?

I am, with a few simple questions, demolishing what is the most ludicrous conspiracy theory I have ever heard – the Salisbury conspiracy theory being put forward by the British government and its corporate lackies.

My next post will consider some more plausible explanations of this affair.

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Wheel Out the Skripal Story Again

Just as the World Cup had forced the British media to grudgingly acknowledge the obvious truth that Russia is an extremely interesting country inhabited, like everywhere else, by mostly pleasant and attractive people, we have a screaming reprise of the “Salisbury incident” dominating the British media. Two people have been taken ill in Amesbury from an unknown substance, which might yet be a contaminated recreational drug, but could conceivably be from contact with the substance allegedly used on the Skripals, presumably some of which was somewhere indoors all this time as we were told it could be washed away and neutralised by water.

Amesbury is not Salisbury – it is 10 miles away. Interestingly enough Porton Down is between Amesbury and Salisbury. Just three miles away from Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The news reports are not mentioning that much.


“I am all out of ideas Inspector. What can possibly be the source of these mysterious poisonings?”

Neither Porton Down nor the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has any idea where the substance to which the Skripals were allegedly exposed was made. Boris Johnson’s great “coup” of obtaining a majority vote at the OPCW to expand its powers to place blame for chemical attacks, has proven rather otiose as the OPCW has no evidence on which to base any blame for Salisbury. In fact, four months on, May and Johnson’s shrill blaming of Russia remains entirely, 100% evidence free.

I do however wish to congratulate the neo-con warmongers of the Guardian newspaper for verbal dexterity. They have come up with a new formulation to replace the hackneyed “Of a type developed by Russia”, to point the finger for a substance that could have been made by dozens of state or non state parties. The Guardian today came up with “Russian-created novichok”. This cleverly employs a word that can encompass “developed” while also appearing to say “made”. It also again makes out that novichok is a specific substance rather than a very broad class of substances. The Guardian’s Steven Morris, by this brilliant attempt deliberately to mislead his readers, runs away with this week’s award for lying neo-con media whore of the week. His achievement is particularly good as the rest of his report is largely a simple copy and paste from the Press Association.

I most certainly hope that the couple in Salisbury hospital recover from whatever is afflicting them. The media is, by making this the lead story on all broadcast news after last night’s football, inviting us to make the connection to the Skripals. In which case I assume the couple were perfectly well for five hours after contact, able to be very active and even to eat and drink heavily, before being mysteriously instantly disabled at the same time despite different ages, sexes, weights, and metabolisms and random uncontrolled dosages.

Replicating that would be quite a feat.

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Yulia Skripal and the Salisbury WUT

It was happy to see Yulia alive and looking reasonably well yesterday, if understandably stressed. Notably, and in sharp contrast to Litvinenko, she leveled no accusations at Russia or anybody else for her poisoning. In Russian she spoke quite naturally. Of the Russian Embassy she said very simply “I am not ready, I do not want their help”. Strangely this is again translated in the Reuters subtitles by the strangulated officialese of “I do not wish to avail myself of their services”, as originally stated in the unnatural Metropolitan Police statement issued on her behalf weeks ago.

“I do not wish to avail myself of their services” is simply not a translation of what she says in Russian and totally misses the “I am not ready” opening phrase of that sentence. My conclusion is that Yulia’s statement was written by a British official and then translated to Russian for her to speak, rather than the other way round. Also that rather than translate what she said in Russian themselves for the subtitles, Reuters have subtitled using a British government script they have been given.

It would of course have been much more convincing had Sergei also been present. Duress cannot be ruled out when he is held by the British authorities. I remain extremely suspicious that, at the very first chance she got in hospital, Yulia managed to get hold of a telephone (we don’t know how, it was not her own and she has not had access to one since) and phone her cousin Viktoria, yet since then the Skripals have made no attempt to contact their family in Russia. That includes no contact to Sergei’s aged mum, Yulia’s grandmother, who Viktoria cares for. Sergei normally calles his mother – who is 89 – regularly. This lack of contact is a worrying sign that the Skripals may be prevented from free communication to the outside world. Yulia’s controlled and scripted performance makes that more rather than less likely.

It is to me particularly concerning that Yulia does not seem to have social media access. The security services have the ability to give her internet risk free through impenetrable VPN. But they appear not to have done that.

We know a little more about the Salisbury attack now:

Nobody – not Porton Down, not the OPCW – has been able to state that the nerve agent found was of Russian manufacture, a fact which the MSM continues to disgracefully fudge with “developed in Russia” phrasing. As is now well known and was reported by Iran in scientific literature, Iran synthesised five novichoks recently. More importantly, the German spying agency BND obtained novichok in the 1990s and it was studied and synthesised in several NATO countries, almost certainly including the UK and USA.

In 1998, chemical formulae for novichok were introduced into the United States NIST National Institute of Standards and Technologies Mass Spectrometry Library database by U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical and Biological Defense Command, but the entry was later deleted. In 2009 Hillary Clinton instructed US diplomats to feign ignorance of novichoks, as revealed by the last paragraph of this Wikileaks released diplomatic cable.

Most telling was the Sky News interview with the head of Porton Down. Interviewer Paul Kelso repeatedly pressed Aitkenhead directly on whether the novichok could have come from Porton Down. Aitkenhead replies “There is no way, anything like that could…leave these four walls. We deal with a number of toxic substances in the work that we do, we’ve got the highest levels of security and controls”. Asked again twice, he each times says the security is so tight “the substance” could not have come from Porton Down. What Aitkenhead does NOT say is “of course it could not have come from here, we have never made it”. Indeed Aitkenhead’s repeated assertion that the security would never have let it out, is tantamount to an admission Porton Down does produce novichok.

If somebody asked you whether the lion that savaged somebody came from your garden, would you reply “Don’t be stupid, I don’t have a lion in my garden” or would you say, repeatedly, “Of course not, I have a very strong lion cage?”. Here you can see Mr Aitkenhead explain repeatedly he has a big lion cage, from 2’25” in.

So the question of where the nerve agent was made remains unresolved. The MSM has continually attempted to lie about this and affirm that all novichok is Russian made. The worst of corporate and state journalism in the UK was exposed when they took the OPCW’s report that it confirmed the findings of Porton Down and presented that as confirming the Johnson/May assertion that it was Russia, whereas the findings of Porton Down were actually – as the Aitkenhead interview stated categorically – that they could not say where it was made.

The other relatively new development is the knowledge that Skripal had not retired but was active for MI6 on gigs briefing overseas intelligence agencies about Russia. This did not increase his threat to Russia, as he told everything he knows a decade ago. But it could provide an element of annoyance that would indeed increase Russian official desire to punish him further.

But the fact he was still very much active has a far greater significance. The government slapped a D(SMA) notice on the identity of Pablo Miller, Skripal’s former MI6 handler who lives close by in Salisbury and who worked for Christopher Steele’s Orbis Intelligence at the time that Orbis produced the extremely unreliable dossier on Trump/Russia. The fact that Skripal had not retired but was still briefing on Russia, to me raises to a near certainty the likelihood that Skripal worked with Miller on the Trump dossier.

I have to say that, as a former Ambassador in the former Soviet Union trained in intelligence analysis and familiar with MI6 intelligence out of Moscow, I agree with every word of this professional dissection of the Orbis Trump dossier by Paul Roderick Gregory, irrespective of Gregory’s politics. In particular this paragraph, which Gregory wrote more than a year before the Salisbury attack, certainly applies to much of the dossier.

I have picked out just a few excerpts from the Orbis report. It was written, in my opinion, not by an ex British intelligence officer but by a Russian trained in the KGB tradition. It is full of names, dates, meetings, quarrels, and events that are hearsay (one an overheard conversation). It is a collection of “this important person” said this to “another important person.” There is no record; no informant is identified by name or by more than a generic title. The report appears to fail the veracity test in the one instance of a purported meeting in which names, dates, and location are provided. Some of the stories are so bizarre (the Rosneft bribe) that they fail the laugh test. Yet, there appears to be a desire on the part of some media and Trump opponents on both sides of the aisle to picture the Orbis report as genuine but unverifiable.

The Russian ex-intelligence officer who we know was in extremely close contact with Orbis at the time the report was written, was Sergei Skripal.

The Orbis report is mince. Skripal knew it was mince and how it was written. Skripal has a history of selling secrets to the highest bidder. The Trump camp has a lot of money. My opinion is that as the Mueller investigation stutters towards ignominious failure, Skripal became a loose end that Orbis/MI6/CIA/Clinton (take your pick) wanted tied off. That seems to me at least as likely as a Russian state assassination. To say Russia is the only possible suspect is nonsense.

The Incompetence Factor

The contradiction between the claim that the nerve agent was so pure it could only be manufactured by a state agent, and yet that it failed because it was administered in an amateur and incompetent fashion, does not bother the mainstream media. Boris Johnson claimed that the UK had evidence that Russia had a ten year programme of stockpiling secret novichok and he had a copy of a Russian assassination manual specifying administration by doorknob. Yet we are asked to believe that the Russians failed to notice that administration by doorknob does not actually work, especially in the rain. How two people both touched the doorknob in closing the door is also unexplained, as is how one policeman became poisoned by the doorknob but numerous others did not.

The explanations by establishment stooges of how this “ten times more powerful than VX” nerve agent only works very slowly, but then very quickly, if it touches the skin, and still does not actually kill you, have struck me as simply desperate. They make May’s ringing claims of a weapon of mass destruction being used on British soil appear somewhat unjustified. Weapon of Upset Tummy does not sound quite so exciting.

To paint a doorknob with something that if it touches you can kill you requires great care and much protective gear. That no strangely dressed individual has been identified by the investigation – which seems to be getting nowhere in identifying the culprit – is the key fact here. None of us know who did this. The finger-pointing at Russia by corporate and state interests seeking to stoke the Cold War is disgusting.

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Probable Western Responsibility for Skripal Poisoning

UPDATE: Stupidly I had forgotten this vital confirmation from Channel 4 News (serial rebel Alex Thomson) of the D Notice in place on mention of Pablo Miller.

Back then I did not realise what I now know, that the person being protected was Pablo Miller, colleague in both MI6 then Orbis Intelligence of Christopher Steele, author of the fabrications of the Trump/Russia golden shower dossier. That the government’s very first act on the poisoning was to ban all media mention of Pablo Miller makes it extremely probable that this whole incident is related to the Trump dossier and that Skripal had worked on it, as I immediately suspected. The most probable cause is that Skripal – who you should remember had traded the names of Russian agents to Britain for cash – had worked on the dossier with Miller but was threatening to expose its lies for cash.

ORIGINAL POST: This comment from Clive Ponting, doyen of British whistleblowers, appeared on my website and he has now given me permission to republish it under his full name:

I have been reading the blogs for some time but this is my first post. Like Craig I was a senior civil servant but in the ministry of defence not the fco. I had plenty of dealings with all three intelligence agencies. It seems to me that the reason none of the MSM are doing any investigating/reporting of the Salisbury affair, apart from official handouts, is that the government have slapped a D-Notice over the whole incident and it is not possible to report that a notice has been issued.
Here is another theory as to what happened. The Russians pardoned Skripal and allowed him to leave (spy agencies have an understanding that agents will always be swapped after an interval – it’s the only protection they have and helps recruitment). In the UK Skripal would have been thoroughly debriefed by MI6 and MI5 (his ex-handler lives near Salisbury). If at some point they discovered that Skripal was giving them false information, perhaps he was told to do so by the FSB as a condition of his release, lives may have been endangered/lost. If he also was also involved in the ‘golden showers’ dossier then elements in the US would have a reason to act as well. The whole incident was an inside job not to kill him, hence the use of BZ, but to give him a warning and a punishment. The whole thing is being treated as though the authorities know exactly what went on but have to cover it up.

Addendum

I meant to add that the policeman who ‘just happened’ to be around was almost certainly the special branch ‘minder’ who was keeping Yulia under surveillance. The media are not allowed to mention the existence of a D notice.

Those of us who have been in the belly of the beast and have worked closely with the intelligence services, really do know what they and the British government are capable of. They are not “white knights”.

I would add it has been very plain from day one that there is a D notice on Pablo Miller.

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A Hostile Environment for Yulia Skripal

An interesting facet of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policy, aka institutionalised racism, is that Yulia Skripal will have to pay for her NHS emergency treatment because she was admitted to hospital. When the government announced its clampdown on use of the NHS by foreigners, including migrants and overseas students, it ended the provision of free emergency treatment for non-citizens in the UK, at the point of hospital admission – which in a real emergency is often required.

I could see the argument for charging “aliens” for attending A & E with a broken thumb, but not charging them for a massive heart attack. But the Tories do it the other way round. It is worth noting that in Scotland the Scottish government, which controls the Scottish NHS, has not implemented this Tory policy.

This policy was instituted in April 2015 directly as a considered part of the “hostile environment” for migrants. Reciprocal public healthcare agreeements with Russia and 16 other countries were cancelled unilaterally by the Tory government in 2016.

Of course, I do not doubt Yulia Skripal – whose whereabouts and freedom of action are unknown and who patently did not write the police statements issued in her name – will not be charged for her treatment, unlike others admitted in life-threatening situations. But think for a moment of the dreadful cases of heartache to other individuals and families that must have been caused by this cruel policy, all in the name of “discouraging” migrants. As with the case of the Windrush generation, I do not doubt there are scores of unheard stories of the effects of Tory callousness waiting to come to light. I am glad the Skripal case gave me the chance to highlight the issue.

Meanwhile in Salisbury we are going to have a great propaganda theatre of destruction, as places which people were allowed to frequent for weeks after the attack are demolished, to eradicate a strange liquid that is ten times more deadly than VX but at the same time ineffective, and is liquid but cannot be diluted, except its dilution was why it did not kill anybody, and which cannot be washed away, except if you got it on your clothes you are perfectly safe if you wash them, and which made hundreds of people sick except there were only three of them.

All of those contradictory statements are from the official government narrative on Salisbury as delivered over the last couple of months through the state and corporate media. It is beyond me how they expect anyone to believe their utterly incoherent nonsense.

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Senior Civil Servants Still Deeply Sceptical of Russian Responsibility for Skripal Poisoning

Well-placed FCO sources tell me it remains the case that senior civil servants in both the FCO and Home Office remain very sceptical of Russian guilt in the Skripal case. It remains the case that Porton Down scientists have identified the chemical as a “novichok-style” nerve agent but still cannot tie its production to Russia – there are many other possibilities. The effort to identify the actual perpetrator is making no headway, with the police having eliminated by alibi the Russian air passenger on the same flight as Julia Skripal identified as suspicious by MI5 purely on grounds of the brevity of their stay.

That senior civil servants do not regard Russian responsibility as a fact is graphically revealed in this minute from head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, sent to officials following the attack on Syria. Note the very careful use of language:

Their work was instrumental in ensuring widespread international support for the Government’s position on Russian responsibility for the Salisbury attack

This is very deliberate use of language by Sir Jeremy. Exactly as I explained with the phrase “of a type developed by Russia” about the nerve agent, you have to parse extremely carefully what is written by the senior civil service. They do not write extra phrases for no reason.

Sir Jeremy could have simply written of Russian responsibility as a fact, but he did not. His reference to “the government’s position on Russian responsibility” is very deliberate and an acknowledgement that other positions are possible. He deliberately refrains from asserting Russian responsibility as a fact. This is no accident and is tailored to the known views of responsible civil servants in the relevant departments, to whom he is writing.

This in no way detracts from the fact that Sir Jeremy takes it as read that it is the duty of civil servants to follow “the Government’s position”. But it is an acknowledgement that they do not have privately to believe it.

Allied missile strikes on Syria – a message from the Head of the Civil Service

In the early hours of 14 April, the armed forces of the United Kingdom, the United States and France launched a series of co-ordinated strikes on sites in Syria linked with the production and storage of chemical weapons. This was in response to the use of prohibited chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against the civilian population of Douma, whose horrific consequences were widely reported.

I want to thank civil servants in a number of departments, but especially in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development, Department for Health and Social Care (and Public Health England), Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, and the Cabinet Office, for their work after the attack on Douma and throughout the allied operation. This response was designed to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and as a deterrent to their future use.

Coming after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury just over a month ago, I also want to take this opportunity to renew my gratitude to the hundreds of public servants – at home and abroad – involved in the response to that attack and the ongoing investigation. Their work was instrumental in ensuring widespread international support for the Government’s position on Russian responsibility for the Salisbury attack and the participation of many nations in the diplomatic sanctions that followed.

We could wish it was in different circumstances. However, the response to the Salisbury incident and the chemical attack on Douma showed the public service at its best: collaborative, professional and quick to act in the national interest, even under the greatest pressure.

Jeremy Heywood
Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service

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Yulia Skripal Is Plainly Under Duress

Only the Russians have allowed us to hear the actual voice of Yulia Skripal, in that recorded conversation with her cousin. So the one thing we know for certain is that, at the very first opportunity she had, she called back to her cousin in Russia to let her know what is going on. If you can recall, until the Russians released that phone call, the British authorities were still telling lies that Sergei was in a coma and Yulia herself in a serious condition.

We do not know how Yulia got to make the call. Having myself been admitted unconscious to hospital on several occasions, each time when I came to I found my mobile phone in my bedside cabinet. Yulia’s mobile phone plainly had been removed from her and not returned. Nor had she been given an official one – she specifically told her cousin that she could not call her back on that phone as she had it temporarily. The British government could have given her one to keep on which she could be called back, had they wished to help her.

The most probable explanation is that Yulia persuaded somebody else in the hospital to lend her a phone, without British officials realising. That would explain why the first instinct of the British state and its lackey media was to doubt the authenticity of the call. It would explain why she was able to contradict the official narrative on their health, and why she couldn’t get a return call. It would, more importantly, explain why her family has not been able to hear her voice since. Nor has anybody else.

It strikes me as inherently improbable that, when Yulia called her cousin as her first act the very moment she was able, she would now issue a formal statement through Scotland Yard forbidding her cousin to be in touch or visit. I simply do not believe this British Police statement:

“I was discharged from Salisbury District Hospital on the 9th April 2018. I was treated there with obvious clinical expertise and with such kindness, that I have found I missed the staff immediately.
“I have left my father in their care, and he is still seriously ill. I too am still suffering with the effects of the nerve agent used against us.
“I find myself in a totally different life than the ordinary one I left just over a month ago, and I am seeking to come to terms with my prospects, whilst also recovering from this attack on me.
“I have specially trained officers available to me, who are helping to take care of me and to explain the investigative processes that are being undertaken. I have access to friends and family, and I have been made aware of my specific contacts at the Russian Embassy who have kindly offered me their assistance in any way they can. At the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services, but, if I change my mind I know how to contact them.
“Most importantly, I am safe and feeling better as time goes by, but I am not yet strong enough to give a full interview to the media, as I one day hope to do. Until that time, I want to stress that no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves. I thank my cousin Viktoria for her concern for us, but ask that she does not visit me or try to contact me for the time being. Her opinions and assertions are not mine and they are not my father’s.
“For the moment I do not wish to speak to the press or the media, and ask for their understanding and patience whilst I try to come to terms with my current situation.”

There is also the very serious question of the language it is written in. Yulia Skripal lived part of her childhood in the UK and speaks good English. But the above statement is in a particular type of formal, official English of a high level which only comes from a certain kind of native speaker.

“At the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services” – wrote no native Russian speaker, ever.

Nor are the rhythms or idioms such as would in any way indicate a translation from Russian. Take “I thank my cousin Viktoria for her concern for us, but ask that she does not visit me or try to contact me for the time being. Her opinions and assertions are not mine and they are not my father’s.” Not only is this incredibly cold given her first impulse was to phone her cousin, the language is just wrong. It is not the English Yulia would write and it is awkward to translate into Russian, thus not a natural translation from it.

To put it plainly, as someone who has much experience of it, the English of the statement is precisely the English of an official in the UK security services and precisely not the English of somebody like Yulia Skripal or of a natural translation from Russian.

Yulia is, of course, in protective custody “for her own safety”. At the very best, she is being psychologically force-fed the story about the evil Russian government attempting to poison her with the doorknob, and she is being kept totally isolated from any influence that may reinforce any doubts she feels as to that story. There are much worse alternatives involving threat or the safety of her father. But even at the most benevolent reading of the British authorities’ actions, Yulia Skripal is being kept incommunicado, and under duress.

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Skripal is no Litvinenko

There is a major difference between Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal, which is not being reflected in the media. Litvinenko was a good man who attempted to expose abuses of power within Russia, in defence of the rights of Russians. Skripal is a traitor who sold the identities of Russian agents abroad to the UK, in exchange for hard cash. This may very well have caused the deaths of some of those Russian agents operating in conflict zones. If this is indeed a poisoning, there are a great many people who may want Mr Skripal dead – nor in this murky world should we overlook the fact that he must have known interesting things about his MI6 handlers. “Litvinenko II” is rather too pat and obvious, and could be a false flag set-up.

I certainly hope that Skripal, his companion, and anybody else affected, recover fully from whatever has attacked them. But I moved long ago past a world view where my country are the “goodies” and Russians are the “baddies”, and instead I reached an understanding that those in power oppress the people, universally. The idea that the elaborate spy games between world intelligence agencies are a battle between right and wrong, is for the story books. They are all wrong, all part of a system where power over people is controlled for the benefit of the wealthy, and battles are over hard resources, whichever “side” you are on.

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The Strange Convulsion in Scottish Politics

On 24 March, two of the SNP MP’s most closely aligned to Nicola Sturgeon, Stewart MacDonald and Alyn Smith, asked for a meeting with the British internal security service MI5 to discuss cooperation against Russia. MI5 is the agency charged with countering perceived internal threats to the UK state; Scottish nationalists, environmentalists and anti-nuclear campaigners are among MI5’s major targets. Until a few years ago, the vast majority of Scottish Independence supporters would have regarded MI5 as a particularly egregious manifestation of their traditional enemy, the British state. Yet here was the SNP officially – MacDonald and Smith are the party’s Westminster defence and foreign affairs spokesmen – calling for cooperation with MI5.

To add to this extraordinary volte-face, there is no doubt that what lay behind MacDonald and Smith’s move was a desire to activate MI5 more openly against Scottish Independence supporters. Not only are they referencing Alex Salmond’s programme on RT and Tommy Sheridan’s spot for Sputnik, both Smith and MacDonald have been heavily involved in the long-term campaign to vilify online Independence activists and bloggers as Russian agents.

This is from the author of the above article, David Leask’s briefing to the secret UK government funded propaganda programme, the Integrity Initiative (emphasis in original):

For me and a great many other Scottish nationalists, our opponent is the British state. Why Russia should be viewed as the enemy of an Independent Scotland, just because it is in foreign policy opposition to the state whose imperial rule we are trying to leave, is not plain to us. Indeed, a different and more pacific foreign policy is a key benefit many of us see from leaving the UK. MacDonald and Smith – and there is no doubt they are licensed by Sturgeon, who put them in these positions – have no wish to challenge the UK’s role as a reliable, neo-con foreign policy satrap of the USA. They even put out a defence paper espousing multilateralism rather than the traditional SNP policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, to remarkably little adverse reaction.

On the annual UN International Day of Solidarity With Palestine I noted on Twitter that, while many Labour and even Liberal MPs had tweeted to support, no SNP MP or MSP had. I was contacted by a well-known SNP MSP who informed me that they had been instructed not to speak out on Palestine – something which the SNP has in fact noticeably stopped doing. Stewart MacDonald’s own full time research assistant had the most rabidly pro-Israel Twitter history I have ever seen, with numerous tweets or retweets specifically praising the Israeli Defence Force but virtually none mentioning Scottish Independence. I have been struck recently by how many of the fierce online Twitter proponents of Nicola Sturgeon include Israeli symbols in their Twitter profile. Again this is a real break with the traditional pro-Palestinian stance of Scottish nationalists.

Sociological analysis of what has happened appears fairly simple. The SNP has been in power in Scotland for 14 years, and while the devolved administration is far from a genuine state, an annual Holyrood budget of £30 billion represents a very great deal of power and patronage. For those interested in exercising or benefiting from such power and patronage, the SNP has become the way to go. It has become the political Establishment in Scotland, and those with Establishment attitudes have flocked to it. All the political careerists who would previously have belonged to once-dominant Labour, have for over a decade flocked into the SNP. So have others with domestic agendas they wish to promote – often genuinely worthy, in devolved fields such as health and education – but who have at best a passing interest in Independence. The SNP has therefore entirely lost its radical edge.

For these new members, MI5 is a perfectly respectable part of the political Establishment. These people in no way see themselves as rebels, whereas the “old SNP”, even its grandees like my old friend Gordon Wilson, first and foremost viewed themselves as rebels.

Gordon Wilson was involved in the pirate “Radio Free Scotland” and the temporary liberation from Westminster Abbey of the stone of Scone. Can you imagine the condemnation from Sturgeon, Smith and MacDonald of such illegal actions today? They would be demanding meetings with MI5 on how to stop it.

Let me now turn to Nicola Sturgeon herself. As an entry point, I take Saturday’s interview where she stated she intended to serve a full five years as First Minister, and had not made up her mind about the 2026 election.

The extraordinary thing is that Nicola Sturgeon looks explicitly five years into her political future with no reference at all to the possibility that Scotland will be an independent state before then. The thought simply does not cross her mind.

Now there is no question you could ask me about what will happen in Scotland in five years, or what I personally will be doing in five years, to which I would not automatically start my answer with the observation that within five years I expect Scotland to be Independent, and the context will therefore be very different. And I am not First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon’s answer presumes she will continue to do her current job, and there will be an election under the current system, in five years.

She does not take into account the real possibility that following Independence it must be very likely there will be early elections to a new parliament. She does not take into account the real possibility that following Independence the SNP – which contains people of widely differing economic ideologies – might split. She does not take into account the real possibility that following Independence there will be a much broader realignment of political parties, as all but hardcore unionists accommodate to the new reality. She does not take into account the real possibility that an Independent Scotland may have a very different parliament, perhaps with two chambers and a different electoral system. She does not take into account that there might not be a First Minister in five years time – there may, for example, be an executive presidency.

No, when Nicola looks ahead she instinctively sees five more years of comfortable residency of Bute House as a benevolent and humane colonial administrator, who supports Independence in principle, but only if Westminster agrees, which she knows will not happen, and once Covid and its economic consequences, and all the other tough things that must be dealt with before she is ready, are out of the way.

And who knows when that will be? Not in the next five years certainly, in the mind of Nicola. Independence did not even occur to her as a factor that might affect her answer.

I have been sounding a warning that Nicola has no intention of achieving Scottish Independence, consistently since 2015. We have had SNP conferences with the word “Independence” not featuring even once in the entire agenda. We have had US Democratic Party Style slogans such as “Hope” and “Change” but never “Independence”. We had the 2016 Holyrood Election where Nicola declared she wanted unionists to feel “safe” voting for the SNP. We had the disastrous 2017 Westminster General Election campaign which Nicola fought entirely on the basis of “Don’t accuse me of pushing for Independence. It is not me that keeps banging on about Independence, it’s the Tories”.

With the large majority of Scots having voted in favour of remaining in the EU, and with the 2016 Holyrood manifesto having promised a new referendum in the event of “a material change in circumstances”, and with a solid SNP/Green majority in Holyrood, Brexit was obviously the ideal occasion for a Scottish Independence referendum. Instead we had Nicola devote two years to the campaign to keep the whole of the UK in the European Union.

I never agreed that the SNP should be striving to keep the entire UK in the EU, firstly because the effect of that would have been to help keep the UK together, which is the opposite of what the SNP is supposed to be trying to achieve; secondly because we Scots have no right to thwart the democratic will of the people of England and Wales who clearly voted leave.

To anybody who believes in Independence the answer was for Scotland to respect its democratic vote against Brexit by moving to Independence and staying in the EU, allowing Westminster to Wexit. Instead of seizing this opportunity, Sturgeon wasted two years campaigning, including in London, in what she evidently found the very congenial company of Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, on a whole UK basis.

In this period she never found time to attend any of the mass marches for Scottish Independence. Her explanation was that she has to represent the entire population – which apparently did not apply to pro-EU demonstrations.

In January 2020, as the transition period came to an end and the UK firmly left the EU, the crunch time had come in which it was now or never for implementing the SNP 2016 Holyrood manifesto commitment to a new Independence referendum if there were a “material change of circumstances” – which everybody had understood meant Brexit. The SNP had repeatedly stated that Scotland would not be dragged out of the EU against its will. Would they act, or was that just hot air?

On 31 January 2020, the very day transition ended, Sturgeon made a showcase speech – in which she announced that she accepted that, as Johnson had refused a S30 request, there was no legal path to Scottish Independence.

For me to pretend that there are shortcuts or clever wheezes that can magically overcome the obstacles we face might make my life easier in the short term – but it would do a long term disservice to the independence cause that I, like so many, have dedicated my life to.

My job is to lead us down a credible path that can deliver independence.

And that is what I am absolutely determined to do.

To achieve independence, a referendum, whenever it happens – whether it is this year as I want, or after the next Scottish election – must be legal and legitimate. That is a simple fact.

It must demonstrate that there is majority support for independence.

And its legality must be beyond doubt. Otherwise the outcome, even if successful, would not be recognised by other countries.

And the best way to achieve that, even though it may not be ideal, is to reach agreement on a transfer of power to the Scottish Parliament, just as we did for 2014.

It has been suggested, though, that in the absence of such an agreement, it might be legal for the Scottish Parliament to hold a consultative referendum – to establish the opinion of the Scottish people even though agreement would still be required to implement a pro independence outcome.

So let me address that.

The issue of whether the specific constitutional reservation in the Scotland Act puts any form of independence referendum outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or instead leaves open scope for a non-binding consultative vote – has never been tested in court.

That means it cannot be said definitively that it would not be legal, but equally it cannot be described as being beyond legal doubt.

If a proposal for a referendum on that basis was brought forward it would be challenged in court.

If a court ruled that it was legal, it wouldn’t be a “wildcat referendum” as our opponents like to brand it – it would be within the power of the Scottish Parliament.

Should the UK Government continue to deny Scotland’s right to choose, we may reach the point where this issue does have to be tested.

I am not ruling that out.

But I also have to be frank. The outcome would be uncertain. There would be no guarantees.

It could move us forward – but equally it could set us back.

So my judgment at this stage is that we should use our energies differently.

To placate the pro-Independence wing of the SNP, she adopted a suggestion which is genuinely my own. I had formulated it four years earlier in June 2016, written about it frequently since, and pushed the idea in pro-Independence meetings the length and breadth of Scotland, including to SNP branches. In her speech, Sturgeon said:

In the first instance we will invite Scotland’s elected representatives – MSPs, MPs, the MEPs elected last year and council leaders – to come together to endorse a modern Claim of Right for Scotland through a new Constitutional Convention.

To declare that it is for the Scottish Parliament to decide whether and when there should be an independence choice and build support for that principle amongst civic Scotland.

In June 2016 I had written:

To resolve this requires a supplementing of current constitutional arrangements. The First Minister should therefore convene a National Convention consisting of all Scotland’s elected national representatives – its MEPs, MPs and MSPs united in a single democratic body merged on a one member one vote basis.

This body should draw up recommendations for the independence referendum, including on the future constitution, economy including currency, and international alliances of an independent Scotland, and should oversee negotiations with the EU. The next referendum could therefore present voters with a more definite prospectus for what the new Scotland will look like.

The world has changed radically. We must not be afraid to think outside the UK prescribed box in defining Scottish solutions.

I can find no evidence anywhere of anybody writing or promoting this idea other than me. I was surprised at the time that Sturgeon had picked up one of my ideas, but I should not have been. She did not mean it, it was only a sop to Independence supporters, the National Convention never happened and has been quietly dropped. Something else quietly dropped at the time was the 2020 SNP Spring Conference, which was cancelled in order to avoid member blowback from the abandonment of the 2016 Indyref2 mandate. In the confusion of the last year, people forget that the SNP Spring Conference was cancelled before most people had heard the word Covid, and Covid was emphatically not the cause.

More significantly, Sturgeon’s government intervened against the legal attempt by Martin Keatings and Forward as One to establish that the Scottish parliament had a right to hold an Independence referendum. Sturgeon thus helped to prevent what she still pretends to be her ultimate objective.

The truth is that Sturgeon loves being the darling of the Guardian. Her policies are simply those of Hillary Clinton – a rigorous system of identity politics, largely based around gender, with a few populist but not targeted spending measures – free tuition, personal care etc – but no effort to develop a critique of the factors that drive the massive wealth inequalities in society. Indeed, her economics are rigorously neo-liberal as embodied in her infamous “Growth Commission”, and she has notoriously chosen Benny Higgins, investment banker Chairman of Buccleuch Estates, as an economic adviser (and appointed that other right wing investment banker, Ian Blackford, as party leader in Westminster).

Like Hillary, Nicola’s neo-liberal economics are bound up with extreme hawkish cheerleading for neo-imperialist foreign policy – hence her instant support for Boris Johnson over the ludicrous Skripal narrative, over the ludicrous Douma narrative, over Ukraine, and her sanctioning of Russians under the Beds activities with MI5. Ian Blackford even called directly in parliament for the UK to enact regime change in Syria.

The relentless pursuit of gender identity politics has led to the peculiar fracture in the Independence movement over trans rights, where both sides of the debate invent utterly unreasonable positions and attribute them to the other side. Sturgeon has done everything possible to hammer this wedge issue into a fracture among Independence supporters, largely with the intent of damaging Joanna Cherry and others she views as rivals (and as someone who unflinchingly supports trans rights myself, I should say that Joanna’s views are much misrepresented and far more nuanced than generally understood).

The attempt to have Alex Salmond convicted on false allegations by team Nicola was the ultimate shot at discrediting the part of the SNP that was focused primarily on Independence, and ensuring the triumph of a new SNP focused primarily on identity politics, supportive of the neo-imperialism of the British state, and not interested in risking power for Independence.

The fascinating thing in all this is that the mainstream media, overwhelmingly unionist (particularly the BBC), realises that Nicola Sturgeon is not an authentic danger to the union, and therefore swung its weight very solidly behind Sturgeon, particularly in its reporting of the conduct of the Holyrood and Hamilton Inquiries and their outcomes. The unionists understand full well it is Salmond who threatens the union, whereas Sturgeon is very comfortable atop the devolution structure.

Yet there are still very many ordinary SNP members who are firmly committed to Scottish Independence, who believe that Sturgeon also is committed to Scottish Independence, and despite the history of the last seven years expect that she will deliver a referendum sometime. They have been played along ruthlessly, with the SNP in Holyrood introducing a number of utterly meaningless enabling bills and draft bills for a referendum to keep the troops happy.

After winning numerous Westminster and Holyrood elections while Sturgeon does nothing on Independence, the SNP asks people to believe that this time, this time they are serious, and really will have an Indyref2. But a great many terms and conditions apply and Sturgeon has still not stated she will support the defiance of a purported Westminster veto. It remains the fact that at this Holyrood election, the only chance most voters have of demonstrating support for Independence in the constituency vote, is to vote SNP. But should Nicola get her wish of five peaceful and personally prosperous years in Bute House as First Minister, that will never be the case again.

This is why we have the paradox that it is the most devoted, longest serving members of the SNP who have left the party to join Alba. Take Kenny MacAskill, an SNP member for more than forty years. Kenny was a member of the party in the days when it was a definite career disadvantage to be so, who pounded the streets in wind and rain for decades clapping doors, facing jibes and jeers with no realistic hope of being elected. I have now seen him roundly abused on Twitter and described as a “unionist plant” by people who have only joined the SNP since it has been the easy route to personal power in Scotland, and who are primarily motivated by identity politics.

One strange result of this is that it is the backbone of the SNP, the committed members who go round delivering the leaflets, who are more likely to vote Alba on the list vote than the ordinary SNP voter. One friend who was recently distributing election leaflets to SNP members who had volunteered for delivery, told me he had asked what people thought about the list, and 12 out of 13 SNP leafleteers were not going to vote SNP with their list vote, on the ground it is wasted (he did not ask them precisely who would get their list vote between Alba and the Greens).

It is the more committed SNP members who realise that the bizarre mathematics of the D’Hondt electoral system render a SNP list vote utterly futile in three quarters of the country and very severely devalued in the rest.

Equally it is the most active of SNP members who realise the party is continually backsliding over Independence. They studied the text of Nicola’s speeches and note the constant caveat about a “legal” referendum. It was the most active of SNP members who followed closely the actual evidence of the Salmond affair, as opposed to the biased reporting, and realised what was really happening. This turbulence among the most committed members in the depth of the SNP is simply swept over by the vast current of mainstream media adulation of Nicola. We therefore have a remarkable situation of an enormously popular leader at odds with nobody but the most engaged members of her own party – unless you count as engaged the more recent accretion of her Praetorian Guard of identity politics warriors.

It was interesting to watch SNP followers on Twitter change over the course of three months from absolute denial that Team Sturgeon were involved in acting against Salmond, to a position that Team Sturgeon were quite right to act against Salmond because he is an appalling man. A similar transition is in progress, from denial that Team Sturgeon have failed to act on a referendum, to a position that Team Sturgeon were right not to have a referendum because we would have lost it.

We started the last referendum campaign at 28% to 32% and got to 45% on polling day. That is what a campaign can do. There has been zero Independence campaigning from the SNP since. The notion that a campaign that would have started at 48 to 58 per cent, depending on timing, would have failed is simply daft.

I have been delighted to hear Alex Salmond speak on behalf of Alba of alternatives to the S30 approach and even of the fact that there are routes to Independence that do not involve referenda. This is where the debate must lie. The majority of countries in the entire world became independent in the course of my own lifetime. In only a very small minority of cases did the process involve a referendum. The International Court of Justice has ruled that the legislation of the state being seceded from, is not the determining factor of whether a state can successfully become independent in international law. If you think about it carefully, that must be true, or Estonia would still be Soviet and Slovenia would be Yugoslav.

The real split in the Independence movement is between those who truly believe the Scots are a people with the right of self-determination as enshrined in the UN Charter, and those who believe we need London permission to be “legal” and therefore, by definition, do not have the right of self-determination.

To put it more bluntly, Whitehall will never willingly accept the loss of Scotland’s magnificent resources – including maritime, energy, water, food and drink, hydrocarbon and other mineral, education, and above all human resources. Unlike Nicola Sturgeon, many of us do not believe that Johnson can simply stop Scottish Independence by declaring it illegal. We are prepared to take the steps that will be required, in terms of non-violent political action and possibly including civil disobedience on a national scale, for Scotland to be able to become independent.

That is the cause of the different paths now being taken in the Independence movement. That is the difference between the SNP and Alba. Do you really want Independence, or is it just a genteel discussion point?

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Mote in Your Own Eye

This blog remains, as far as I am aware, blocked in Russia. (Am receiving messages it is not currently blocked, at least on several major ISPs, which is good news). It is, to the best of my knowledge, the only western political blog of wide readership which advocates stripping Russia of all the colonial possessions it obtained contemporaneously with, indeed in competition with, the growth of the British Empire. That a blog which champions Independence for, inter alia, Dagestan, Chechnya and Tatarstan, and which says Crimea should be given back to the Tatars, is condemned by the political Establishment as pro-Kremlin is, on the face of it, paradoxical.

The reason for it is, of course, that this blog also views Russia’s opposition to neo-con Western militarily enforced hegemony throughout the Middle East and developing world, as an essential though inadequate counter-balance. It also combats the rampant Russophobia of our media and political class, and the widespread, deliberate whipping up of hatred against a great culture and people, central to our European heritage. That involves exposing propaganda lies like Salisbury and Douma. The Establishment really do hate that. As neither Salisbury nor Douma, nor much else in the Western narrative, stands up to even a little intellectual scrutiny, the media and Establishment seek to demonise this blog as in some sense a Russian agency. The amusing thing is, of course, that neither this blog nor its author has ever received a penny from any Russian source, while the Establishment rolls around in oligarch cash.

There was an amusing new twist this week where the Times newspaper claimed that Russian trolls were behind the “attacks” on Nicola Sturgeon, otherwise known as telling the truth about Nicola Sturgeon’s actions. Why the Times, and most of the unionist media Establishment especially the BBC, has been so very keen to defend Nicola Sturgeon and under-report the evidence against her (and continue to make wild accusations against Alex Salmond) would be an interesting digression. Suffice it to say, that after five years with a pro-Independence majority at Holyrood, after Brexit, and with a clear mandate for a referendum on Independence, Nicola has not called one.

One of the Integrity Initiative’s on-call Russophobes, David Leask, wrote in the Times:

Mainstream Scottish nationalists have long suspected pro-Kremlin social media of targeting the first minister, particularly since her criticism of the Salisbury attacks in 2018.
However, analysts have rarely been able to draw a significant direct line between so-called troll factories and tweets aimed at Sturgeon and her party.
New data published by Twitter on hundreds of Kremlin or Iranian accounts removed for attempting to “manipulate the platform” show some activity with a Scottish flavour.
About two dozen accounts linked to the authoritarian governments tweeted or retweeted pro-independence or other Scottish messaging and have been banned.
Two accounts Twitter linked to the Iranians, each with many thousands of followers, have repeatedly retweeted Craig Murray, a blogger and former ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is one of Sturgeon’s most ferocious critics. There is no suggestion Murray, who has a substantial online presence, was aware of or sought such support.

So there we have it. It is the Russians targeting Nicola, because my 90,000 twitter followers included 2 “linked to” Iran, who retweeted some of my tweets.

Which twitter accounts were these? Which tweets did they retweet? We don’t know. One of Sturgeon’s acolytes tweeted the “evidence” for this, which was a link to a twitter statement on its website on the suspension of Russian-linked accounts. That gave a link to what it claimed as “evidence”, but that was simply a cache of 1.5 Gb worth of tweets, very many thousands of them, with no explanation as to why they were said to be Russian linked. How the “Iranian-linked” tweets involving me were pulled out of this enormous cache – and why – is a very interesting question. [I can’t actually rediscover the tweet or the report page on twitter with its unevidenced assertions. If anybody can, please post it in comments below]

The Times report is an entirely evidence-free zone, but its principal complaint appears to be that “Kremlin-linked” accounts have been tweeting material under the hashtag #dissolvetheunion. It then gives this quote:

Joanna Szostek, who teaches political communication at the University of Glasgow, described it as the latest move in a game of “whack-a-mole . . . It’s interesting that a few of these accounts are also pushing #dissolvetheunion tweets. Anything that weakens a major Nato member would presumably look good from Russia’s point of view.”

But the longest bit of the article, its substance, is the quote from the SNP’s own uber-Russophobe Stewart MacDonald who gives a disquisition on how terrible it is that the evil Russians should – advocate for Scottish Independence. MacDonald, who carries a British Army issued visitor ID in his wallet and has snaps of himself in combat fatigues observing British Army exercises, both of which he has been known to show hopefully to impressionable young people, is far better known for his enthusiasm for NATO, Israel and the corrupt government of Ukraine than he is for Scottish Independence. I suspect deep down he fantasises about going to war against the Russians with the British Army. Why he is in the SNP, nobody knows. Why anybody thinks that Russia advocating for Scotland’s Independence would make Russia Scotland’s enemy, is quite beyond me.

There is an extremely bad history of misidentification of Russian trolls by the right wing loons paid to undertake such work, particularly Leask’s old comrade-in-arms Ben Nimmo, who famously outed Ian the Russian Bot. This ought to be the most famous video of all time and be played weekly in schools to vaccinate children against government propaganda.

Unfortunately, very many governments do actively sponsor social media and mainstream media disinformation. The Integrity Initiative was one major such secret black propaganda operation, linked to the Salisbury event among other things, and it is hilarious in a dark sort of way that journalists like Leask, who took the Integrity Initiative’s shilling, get upset at alleged Russian initatives which are essentially the same thing.

Almost entirely unreported in the British media was last week’s revelation by The Grayzone of a new FCO covert propaganda operation involving (and funding) Bellingcat, the BBC and Reuters Thomson.

The UK FCO projects were carried out covertly, and in partnership with purportedly independent, high-profile online media outfits including Bellingcat, Meduza, and the Pussy Riot-founded Mediazona. Bellingcat’s participation apparently included a UK FCO intervention in North Macedonia’s 2019 elections on behalf of the pro-NATO candidate.

The intelligence contractors that oversaw that operation, the Zinc Network, boasted of establishing “a network of YouTubers in Russia and Central Asia” while “supporting participants [to] make and receive international payments without being registered as external sources of funding.” The firm also touted its ability to “activate a range of content” to support anti-government protests inside Russia.

The new documents provide critical background on the role of NATO member states like the UK in influencing the color revolution-style protests waged in Belarus in 2020, and raise unsettling questions about the intrigue and unrest surrounding jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Twitter not only suppressed dissemination of this information, it put a warning on those tweets it did allow into selected timelines, that information came from hacked material. It has never done that to the pro-Western outpourings of Bellingcat. But my profound congratulations to our friends at Anonymous for bringing more of this murk to light.

You might like to compare this document from an FCO-funded contractor, with Stewart MacDonald’s horror that Russia should allegedly sponsor a few tweets favouring Scottish Independence:

Or this from another FCO-funded contractor:

The FCO role in Belsat, the entirely NATO member funded “Belarussian” TV channel based in Poland, is also of great current interest,

Do read through the Grayzone article, which is excellent. Remember this: when it comes to every form of devious behaviour, it is the British state which wrote the book.

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Magic Novichok

The security services put an extraordinary amount of media priming effort into explaining why the alleged novichok attack on the Skripals had a delayed effect of several hours, and then failed to kill them. Excuses included that it was a cold day which slowed their metabolisms, that the chemical took a long time to penetrate their skins, that the gel containing the novichok inhibited its operation, that it was a deliberately non-fatal dose, that rain had diluted the novichok on the doorknob, that the Skripals were protected by gloves and possibly only came into contact in taking the gloves off, or that nerve agents are not very deadly and easily treated.

You can take your pick as to which of those convincingly explains why the Skripals apparently swanned round Salisbury for four hours after coming into contact with the novichok coated doorknob, well enough to both drink in a pub and eat a good Italian lunch, before both being instantaneously struck down and disabled at precisely the same time so neither could call for help, despite being different sexes, ages and weights. Just as the chief nurse of the British army happened to walk past.

So now let us fast forward to Alexei Navalny. Traces of “novichok” were allegedly found on a water bottle in his hotel room in Tomsk. That appears to eliminate the cold and the gloves. It also makes it possible he ingested some of the “novichok”. I can find no suggestion anywhere it was contained in a gel. So why was this deadly substance not deadly?

There seems no plain allegation of where Navalny came into contact with the “novichok”. Assuming he spent the night in his hotel room, then the very latest he can have come into contact with the deadly nerve agent would be shortly before he left the room, assuming he then subsequently touched the bottle before leaving. This is true whether the bottle was the source or he just touched it with novichok on his hands. After poisoning with this very deadly nerve agent – which Germany claims is “harder” than other examples, he then checked out of the hotel, went to the airport, checked in for his flight, had a cup of tea and boarded the flight, all before being taken ill. This after contact with a chemical weapon allegedly deadlier than this:

Which of course is aside from all the questions as to why the Russians would use again the poison that was ineffective against the Skripals, and why exactly the FSB would not have swept and cleaned up the hotel room after he had left. All that is even before we get to some of the questions I had already asked:

Further we are expected to believe that, the Russian state having poisoned Navalny, the Russian state then allowed the airplane he was traveling in, on a domestic flight, to divert to another airport, and make an emergency landing, so he could be rushed to hospital. If the Russian secret services had poisoned Navalny at the airport before takeoff as alleged, why would they not insist the plane stick to its original flight plan and let him die on the plane? They would have foreseen what would happen to the plane he was on.

Next, we are supposed to believe that the Russian state, having poisoned Navalny, was not able to contrive his death in the intensive care unit of a Russian state hospital. We are supposed to believe that the evil Russian state was able to falsify all his toxicology tests and prevent doctors telling the truth about his poisoning, but the evil Russian state lacked the power to switch off the ventilator for a few minutes or slip something into his drip. In a Russian state hospital.

Next we are supposed to believe that Putin, having poisoned Navalny with novichok, allowed him to be flown to Germany to be saved, making it certain the novichok would be discovered. And that Putin did this because he was worried Merkel was angry, not realising she might be still more angry when she discovered Putin had poisoned him with novichok

There are a whole stream of utterly unbelievable points there, every single one of which you have to believe to go along with the western narrative. Personally I do not buy a single one of them, but then I am a notorious Russophile traitor.

The eagerness of the Western political establishment to accept and amplify nonsensical Russophobia is very worrying. Fear is a powerful political tool, politicians need an enemy, and still more does the military-industrial complex that so successfully siphons off state money. Many fat livings depend on the notion that Russia poses a serious threat to us. The nonsense people are prepared to believe to maintain that fiction give a most unpleasant glimpse into the human psyche.

 
 
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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Novichok, Navalny, Nordstream, Nonsense

Once Navalny was in Berlin it was only a matter of time before it was declared that he was poisoned with Novichok. The Russophobes are delighted. This of course eliminates all vestiges of doubt about what happened to the Skripals, and proves that Russia must be isolated and sanctioned to death and we must spend untold billions on weapons and security services. We must also increase domestic surveillance, crack down on dissenting online opinion. It also proves that Donald Trump is a Russian puppet and Brexit is a Russian plot.

I am going to prove beyond all doubt that I am a Russian troll by asking the question Cui Bono?, brilliantly identified by the Integrity Initiative’s Ben Nimmo as a sure sign of Russian influence.

I should state that I have no difficulty at all with the notion that a powerful oligarch or an organ of the Russian state may have tried to assassinate Navalny. He is a minor irritant, rather more famous here than in Russia, but not being a major threat does not protect you against political assassination in Russia.

What I do have difficulty with is the notion that if Putin, or other very powerful Russian actors, wanted Navalny dead, and had attacked him while he was in Siberia, he would not be alive in Germany today. If Putin wanted him dead, he would be dead.

Let us first take the weapon of attack. One thing we know about a “Novichok” for sure is that it appears not to be very good at assassination. Poor Dawn Sturgess is the only person ever to have allegedly died from “Novichok”, accidentally according to the official narrative. “Novichok” did not kill the Skripals, the actual target. If Putin wanted Navalny dead, he would try something that works. Like a bullet to the head, or an actually deadly poison.

“Novichok” is not a specific chemical. It is a class of chemical weapon designed to be improvised in the field from common domestic or industrial precursors. It makes some sense to use on foreign soil as you are not carrying around the actual nerve agent, and may be able to buy the ingredients locally. But it makes no sense at all in your own country, where the FSB or GRU can swan around with any deadly weapon they wish, to be making homemade nerve agents in the sink. Why would you do that?

Further we are expected to believe that, the Russian state having poisoned Navalny, the Russian state then allowed the airplane he was traveling in, on a domestic flight, to divert to another airport, and make an emergency landing, so he could be rushed to hospital. If the Russian secret services had poisoned Navalny at the airport before takeoff as alleged, why would they not insist the plane stick to its original flight plan and let him die on the plane? They would have foreseen what would happen to the plane he was on.

Next, we are supposed to believe that the Russian state, having poisoned Navalny, was not able to contrive his death in the intensive care unit of a Russian state hospital. We are supposed to believe that the evil Russian state was able to falsify all his toxicology tests and prevent doctors telling the truth about his poisoning, but the evil Russian state lacked the power to switch off the ventilator for a few minutes or slip something into his drip. In a Russian state hospital.

Next we are supposed to believe that Putin, having poisoned Navalny with novichok, allowed him to be flown to Germany to be saved, making it certain the novichok would be discovered. And that Putin did this because he was worried Merkel was angry, not realising she might be still more angry when she discovered Putin had poisoned him with novichok

There are a whole stream of utterly unbelievable points there, every single one of which you have to believe to go along with the western narrative. Personally I do not buy a single one of them, but then I am a notorious Russophile traitor.

The United States is very keen indeed to stop Germany completing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will supply Russian gas to Germany on a massive scale, sufficient for about 40% of its electricity generation. Personally I am opposed to Nord Stream 2 myself, on both environmental and strategic grounds. I would much rather Germany put its formidable industrial might into renewables and self-sufficiency. But my reasons are very different from those of the USA, which is concerned about the market for liquefied gas to Europe for US produces and for the Gulf allies of the US. Key decisions on the completion of Nord Stream 2 are now in train in Germany.

The US and Saudi Arabia have every reason to instigate a split between Germany and Russia at this time. Navalny is certainly a victim of international politics. That he is a victim of Putin I tend to doubt.

The UK state is of course currently trying to silence one small bubble of dissent by imprisoning me, so you will not have access to another minor but informed view of world events for you to consider. Yesterday I launched a renewed appeal for funds for my legal defence in the Contempt of Court action against me for my reporting of the attempted fit-up of Alex Salmond. I should be extremely grateful if you can contribute to my defence fund, or subscribe to my blog.




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The Russian Interference Report, Without Laughing

Now the madding crowd has moved on, I take a mature look at the report by the Intelligence and Security Committee on Russia. It is so flawed it is tempting simply to mock it. But in fact, it is extremely dangerous.

It calls expressly and repeatedly for the security services to be actively involved in “policing the democratic space” and castigates the security services for their unwillingness to interfere in democratic process. It calls for tough government action against social media companies who refuse to censor and remove from the internet material it believes to be inspired by foreign states. It specifically accepts the Integrity Initiative’s Christopher Donnelly and Ben Nimmo as examples of good identifiers of the material which should be banned – even though Nimmo is the man who stated that use of the phrase “Cui bono” is indicative of a Russian troll, and who accused scores of ordinary Scottish Independence supporters of being Russian trolls.

In order for you to assess the threat of a report which specifically calls on the social media companies to ban those individuals the British government identifies as Russian trolls, and which calls on the security services to act against those people, remember Ian.

Ian was identified by the British government as a Russian troll, on the word of Nimmo and Donnelly – exactly the “experts” on which this report relies. This report proposes Ian, and people like him, be banned from social media and subject to security service surveillance.

Listen to Ian:

In short the report is a real threat to democracy. Its evidence base is appalling, and that is what I shall look at first.

The ISC took evidence from just five “experts” outside the intelligence services. They were Anne Applebaum, Bill Browder, Christopher Donnelly, Edward Lucas and Christopher Steele. I do not quite know how to get over to you the full significance of this. It would be impossible to assemble a group of five witnesses with any pretence whatsoever to respectability (and some of them have an extremely tenuous link to respectability) that would be more far out, right wing and Russophobic. They are the extreme fringe of anti-Russian thinking. They are nowhere near the consensus among the academic, diplomatic and other genuinely expert communities on Russia.

There is simply no attempt at balance whatsoever. The best I can try to get over the extent of this would be to compare it to a hypothetical parliamentary inquiry into Old Firm rivalry where the only witnesses are Scott Brown, Neil Lennon, John Hartson, the Green Brigade, and a Cardinal. There is not any attempt from the ISC to interview any witness who is even remotely balanced or can give the view from the other side. Some might feel that a report entitled simply “Russia” which called zero actual Russians as witnesses is somewhat flawed.

To go through those witnesses.

Anne Applebaum is the most respectable of them. I should state that I know both Anne (whom I know as Ania) and her husband, Radek Sikorski MEP, slightly from my time as First Secretary at the British Embassy in Poland (1994-8). Anne is a right wing journalist who has worked at both the Spectator and the American Enterprise Institute, a Randian think tank. She identifies as Polish and shares the understandable visceral distrust of Russia felt by the Polish right. Her husband Radek Sikorski is a long term friend of Boris Johnson, member of the Bullingdon Club, also worked at the American Enterprise Institute and is a former Defence Minister of Poland. Radek’s persona as a politician is very much based around his hawkish stance on Russia. Both Anne and Radek have consistently argued for the aggressive eastward expansion of NATO and forward stationing of US troops and missiles towards Russia.

Bill Browder is a billionaire who made his money out of the Russian people from the fallout of Russia’s chaotic privatisation process. He achieved fame by portraying his highly corrupt accountant, Sergei Magnitskiy, as a human rights campaigner murdered by the Russian authorities. Browder’s account of events was found to be fundamentally false by the European Court of Human Rights, in a judgement which received zero truthful reporting in Western media. Here is an extract from the judgement of the ECHR:

The applicants argued that Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest had not been based on a reasonable suspicion of a
crime and that the authorities had lacked impartiality as they had actually wanted to force him to
retract his allegations of corruption by State officials. The Government argued that there had been
ample evidence of tax evasion and that Mr Magnitskiy had been a flight risk.
The Court reiterated the general principles on arbitrary detention, which could arise if the
authorities had complied with the letter of the law but had acted with bad faith or deception. It
found no such elements in this case: the enquiry into alleged tax evasion which had led to
Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest had begun long before he had complained of fraud by officials. The decision
to arrest him had only been made after investigators had learned that he had previously applied for
a UK visa, had booked tickets to Kyiv, and had not been residing at his registered address.
Furthermore, the evidence against him, including witness testimony, had been enough to satisfy an
objective observer that he might have committed the offence in question. The list of reasons given
by the domestic court to justify his subsequent detention had been specific and sufficiently detailed.
The Court thus rejected the applicants’ complaint about Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest and subsequent
detention as being manifestly ill-founded.

The ECJ found that Magnitskiy indeed died as a result of the shortcomings of Russia’s brutal prison regime – very similar to that of the United States in this regard – but that he was properly in prison on viable criminal charges. The western media may ignore the fact that Browder’s activism is motivated entirely by a desire to hold on to his own vast ill-gotten wealth, and that the highest of courts has found his campaigning is based on a false narrative, but it is deeply, deeply shocking that the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who must know the truth, still give Browder credibility. There is no sense in which Browder is a respectable witness.

Christopher Donnelly was forced to step down as a person with significant control of fake charity “The Institute for Statecraft” after the Scottish Charity Regulator found that:

“There was no clear explanation as to why the salaries being paid to charity trustees were considered reasonable and necessary, and we had concern about the charity trustees’ decision-making process around these payments. We do not consider that this private benefit was incidental to the organisation’s activities that advanced its purposes”.

In other words, making money for its trustees, principally Christopher Donnelly, was a purpose of the Institute for Statecraft, not an incidental benefit. This is what the Charity Regulator also found about this fake charity:

The Charity Regulator also found that the Integrity Initiative, run by the Institute for Statecraft, was sending out party political tweets. All of this activity was of course carried out with taxpayers money, the Integrity Initiative being funded by the FCO, the MOD, and the security services.

The Integrity Initiative is a covert propaganda organisation designed to do precisely what the ISC report accuses Russia of doing – covertly influencing politics in both the UK and numerous other countries by state sponsored propaganda disguised as independent journalism or social media posts. Christopher Donnelly heads the Integrity Initiative. Its basic method of operation is secretly to pay mainstream media journalists around the world to pump out disguised British government propaganda, and to run hidden social media campaigns doing the same thing.

All of the “expert witnesses” before the committee feature in the leaked Integrity Initiative documents as part of Integrity Initiative activites. They are all engaged in doing precisely what they here accuse the Russians of doing. The best exposition, to the highest academic standards, of the fascinating leaked documents of the Integrity Initiative operation is by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and the Media. You can very happily spend an hour looking through their report.

So the UK UK was asking its own paid propagandists what they thought of the Russian propagandists. Every one of the witnesses makes their living from postulating the Russian threat. They therefore said the Russian threat is very big indeed.

Edward Lucas is a hilarious professional Russophobe. He is the go-to anti-Russia expert of the BBC, and can be guaranteed to say something stimulating, such as this:

Lucas actually uses #newcoldwar in his twitter profile, and is jolly keen on the idea.

Christopher Steele is a charlatan and con-man. He is by no means unique in trading on the glamour and reputation of MI6 to build up a consultancy business after an undistinguished career as a middle ranking MI6 officer.

When Steele produced, for a large sum of money, his famous “Pee dossier” on Donald Trump’s “collusion” with Russia, it was obvious to anyone with any professional background in intelligence analysis that it simply could not be genuine. It claimed to have a level of access into Russian security circles which is greater than the penetration ever secured by MI6 or the CIA. I immediately pointed out its deficiencies, but these were ignored by an establishment media desperate to explain away the Trump insurgency into their political space.

Since then the dossier has simply fallen apart. Steele has been successfully sued by people named in the dossier. The lawyer Michael Cohen has shown that he was definitively not in Prague on the date Steele claimed he was meeting Russian hackers there, and indeed has never been to Prague. Most telling of all, it turns out that most of the content of the dossier was simply a compilation of the gossip of the Russian emigre community in Washington by Igor Danchenko, formerly a junior staff member at the Brookings Institute, a liberal foreign policy thinktank.

The silence of the media on the unravelling of the Steele Dossier has been so remarkable it has drawn comment in unexpected quarters:

Having seen the quality of the input, it is unsurprising that the report is a case of “rubbish in, rubbish out”. So let us now, with rubber gloves and a peg on the nose, pick through the rubbish.

To start at para 1, the tone is immediately set of paranoid antagonism to Russia. There is no attempt at balance whatsoever; anti-Russian statement is built on anti-Russian statement until we are supposed to be carried away by the stream of rhetoric to accept each succeeding proposition as it is piled up. Like this one:

The murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 demonstrated that Russia under President Putin had moved from potential partner to established threat.

Did it really? Accepting for the sake of argument that the official British explanation of Litvinenko’s death is true and it was a murder by the Russian state, does that show that Russia is an “established threat”? It would certainly be an appalling abuse of human rights and show Russia is a threat to Russian dissidents, but would it really show Russia is an “established threat” to you and me? Plenty of other countries murder their opponents abroad, notably the USA, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Uzbekistan, countries the UK government is proud to call allies. The UK kills opponents abroad continually, in drone strikes, including deliberately by drone killing its own citizens and even killing young British children. I can condemn all such murders equally. But why should we be carried away by the anti-Russian rhetoric into finding it uniquely reprehensible, only when Russia does it?

I could go through every single para of the report, but life is too short. I will however pick out places where the logic is far less convincing than the rhetoric is impressive. From Para 3:

its lack of strong independent public bodies and the fusion of government and business allow it to leverage all its intelligence, military and economic power at the same time to pose an all-encompassing security threat.

Really? Is Russia really that unified? In fact, this is a startling over-simplification. The extreme oligarchic structure which resulted from the wholesale looting of assets in the western-inspired and western-overseen chaos of Russian privatisation has resulted in a state which is indeed not a healthy democracy. But neither is it a monolith with no dissent and no conflicting interests, and Putin has continually to balance the desires and goals of different oligarchs and factions. Not many Russians would recognise the portrayal here of a super efficient and coherent state and business machine.

Besides, even if it were true, Russia would still only have one fifth of the population of the European Union and an economy the size of Spain. The attempt to pump up Russia as a massive threatening superpower is simply nonsense. What Russia does have is the ability to take decisive politico-military action, on a small scale in limited theatres, such as Crimea or Syria. It does so with success because it has a leader who is better at the game of international realpolitik that his western contemporaries. That is not a value judgement: I personally believe Putin is right in Syria and wrong in Crimea. But to blame Russia for the decrepit state of current western diplomacy is a stretch.

By para 4 the report is surfing along on a surreal wave of nonsense:

The security threat posed by Russia is difficult for the West to manage as, in our view and that of many others, it appears fundamentally nihilistic.

Really? Nihilistic? Now the report has already stated that Russia is a remarkably monolithic and unified state apparatus, controlled presumably by President Putin. I can think of many adjectives to describe Putin, some of them not very pleasant – calculating, machiavellian and devious would be amongst them. But he is the absolute opposite of nihilist. He has a clearly defined view of Russia’s interests – and that view identifies Russian interests far too closely with himself and other oligarchs – and sets out diligently and consistently to advance those interests.

So you can define clear Russian policy goals in the international sphere. These include the consolidation of Russian influence in the former Soviet Union and, where possible, the re-integration of contiguous Russian majority speaking territory into Russia, as seen in Georgia and Ukraine. They include the reduction of democratic space for political dissent at home. They include the countering of American influence abroad, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia. These are serious, hard-headed policies. The very last word I would use to describe them is nihilistic. The Russian oligarch class are as unquestioningly materialist as any class in any society, ever. They are not nihilists.

I can only imagine that the committee picked up on the word “nihilist” from one of the crazed flights of fancy of Edward Lucas.

Para 4 then blunders on into still stranger territory:

It is also seemingly fed by paranoia, believing that Western institutions such as NATO and the EU have a far more aggressive posture towards it than they do in reality.

What could give them that idea?

But what is really strange is the lack of self awareness; a report built entirely upon paranoia about the Russian threat accuses Russia of paranoia about the western threat.

The next few paragraphs make repeated reference to the “Salisbury attacks” and simply take for granted the narrative that Russia was responsible for these. This I am not prepared to do. Clearly some kind of spy subterfuge took place in Salisbury involving both the UK and Russia, but there are too many obvious lies in the official UK government account. I still have seen no answers to my ten outstanding questions, while the attribution of the poison gets ever shakier, with new revelations from that cesspool of corruption, the bureaucracy of the OPCW.

Paras 13 to 20, on cyber warfare, again show that complete lack of self-awareness. They attribute a number of cyber hacks to Russia and the GRU, as though we did not know from Wikileaks Vault 7 leaks that the CIA specifically has a programme, “Umbrage” for leaving behind fake evidence of a Russian hack. But more tellingly, they quote GCHQ as their source of information.

Now it is a simple truth that hacking Russian communications, including military, political, security, research and commercial communications, has been a core part of GCHQ tasking from its establishment. Assuming at least some of the attributions to Russia on cyber warfare are correct, the synthetic outrage at Russia doing what we have been doing to Russia on a far, far larger scale for decades, is laughable. Even more so when paras 20 to 24 talk of the need for the MOD and GCHQ to expand their offensive cyber warfare as though this were a retaliatory measure.

From para 27 onwards the committee is talking about broadcast and new media disinformation campaigns. Here it stops pretending it knows any secret intelligence and states its information is open source, as at footnote 24 where the sources are frothing mad Edward Lucas and fake charity purveyor Christopher Donnelly, telling us how terrible Russian troll campaigns are.

Yet again, there is a total lack of self awareness. The committee fails to note that Donnelly himself has been spending millions of UK taxpayers’ money (at least that which did not go into his own pocket) running absolutely, precisely the same kind of covert campaign of hidden influence propaganda that they are accusing Russia of running. They accuse Russia Today of bias as though the BBC did not have its own state propaganda bias. Yet again, the lack of self-awareness is stunning.

Now we start to reach the stage where all this sanctimonious hypocrisy become really dangerous. Before you read this next few paras of the report, I would remind you that the repression of every bad regime everywhere has always been, in the eyes of the repressive security service, defensive. It is always to protect the truth, to prevent the spread of the lies and disaffection of evil foreign influence. That was the justification of the Cheka, the Gestapo, the Stasi and every South American dictator. They were all protecting the people from foreign lies. Now read this from the committee, and consider what it really means:

33. Whilst we understand the nervousness around any suggestion that the intelligence
and security Agencies might be involved in democratic processes – certainly a fear that is
writ large in other countries – that cannot apply when it comes to the protection of those
processes. And without seeking in any way to imply that DCMS is not capable, or that the
Electoral Commission is not a staunch defender of democracy, it is a question of scale and
access. DCMS is a small Whitehall policy department and the Electoral Commission is an
arm’s length body; neither is in the central position required to tackle a major hostile state
threat to our democracy. Protecting our democratic discourse and processes from hostile
foreign interference is a central responsibility of Government, and should be a ministerial
priority.
34. In our opinion, the operational role must sit primarily with MI5, in line with its
statutory responsibility for “the protection of national security and, in particular, its
protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of
agents of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine
parliamentary democracy … ”.38 The policy role should sit with the Office for Security and
Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) – primarily due to its ten years of experience in countering the
terrorist threat and its position working closely with MI5 within the central Government
machinery. This would also have the advantage that the relationship built with social media
companies to encourage them to co-operate in dealing with terrorist use of social media
could be brought to bear against the hostile state threat; indeed, it is not clear to us why the
Government is not already doing this.
35. With that said, we note that – as with so many other issues currently – it is the social
media companies which hold the key and yet are failing to play their part. The Government must
now seek to establish a protocol with the social media companies to ensure that they take
covert hostile state use of their platforms seriously, and have clear timescales within which
they commit to removing such material. Government should ‘name and shame’ those which fail to
act. Such a protocol could, usefully, be expanded to encompass the other areas in which action
is required from the social media companies, since this issue is not unique to Hostile State
Activity. This matter is, in our view, urgent and we expect the Government to report on progress
in this area as soon as possible.

The government endorsed Donnelly/Nimmo operation identified Ian above as a Russian agent. I have no doubt they would count this article as Russian disinformation. They would set MI5 on Ian and I, and ensure our posts would be banned from social media. Only such a corrupt mainstream media as we have in the UK would fail entirely to note – and they have failed entirely to note – the extreme and illiberal aspects of this report.

There is a real danger identified by the report. But it is not Russia, it is the McCarthyite witch-hunt the report seeks to promote, ironically based upon an entire sea of disinformation.

By paragraph 42 the committee has left reality entirely behind in favour of a tour of Clintonland.

42. It was only when Russia completed a ‘hack and leak’ operation against the
Democratic National Committee in the US – with the stolen emails being made public a
month after the EU referendum – that it appears that the Government belatedly realised the
level of threat which Russia could pose in this area, given that the risk thresholds in the
Kremlin had clearly shifted, describing the US ‘hack and leak’ as a “game changer”,46 and
admitting that “prior to what we saw in the States, [Russian interference] wasn’t generally
understood as a big threat to [electoral] processes”.

Contrary to the committee’s bland assertion, it is now well established that there never was any Russian hack of the DNC. Mueller failed entirely, after spending US $32million, to establish either a hack or Russian “collusion” with the Trump campaign. The only “evidence” there ever was for the Russian hack was an affirmation by the DNC’s security consultants, Crowdstrike, and this summer we learnt that Crowdstrike had never had any evidence of a Russian hack either. While those of us close to Wikileaks have been explaining for years it was a leak, not a hack. We were ignored by the media as it did not fit with the official disinformation campaign.

The committee query why the UK security services were not alerted by the DNC hack to take additional measures against Russia. The answer to that is very simple. The UK and US security services share all intelligence, so the UK security services were well aware from the US intelligence information that there was in fact no Russian hack. Unlike their US counterparts, they were not led by Clinton appointed loyalists prepared to perpetuate and act upon the lie to try to serve their political masters. On the other hand, the UK security services evidently did not feel it necessary to dampen the ardour of the committee on this point when it was about to propose a large increase in their powers and their budgets.

I had already blogged on paragraph 41 of the report and its accusation of Russian interference in the election campaign, founded entirely on a published article on Medium by witch-finder general, the Livingston unionist Ben Nimmo. That article states, among other things, that many Independence supporters on social media also support Russia on Ukraine, and therefore must be agents of Russian influence – as opposed to Scots who happen to support Russia over Ukraine. It notes that a number of people who support Scottish Independence appear not to have English as their first language, and some have trouble with definite and indefinite articles; therefore, Nimmo concludes they must be Russian trolls. As though we have no migrants who support Scottish Independence – and ignoring the fact Polish, Lithuanian, indeed the majority of languages in the world, also do not use definite and indefinite articles.

Let us remind ourselves of Ben Nimmo’s brilliant identification of top Russian trolls, nine out of ten of which turned out to be ordinary Scottish Independence supporters who simply tweeted things Nimmo does not like, while the tenth is a news aggregation bot which actually has the word “bot” in its name. That the committee takes this stuff seriously is a fact so eloquent in itself, I need hardly say more.

When we arrive at section 49 we finally reach material with which I can wholeheartedly agree. The UK, and the City of London in particular, was absolutely wrong to have welcomed in with open arms the Russian billionaires whose fortunes had been looted from the Russian people in the chaotic privatisation process, where assets were seized often by brute force, sometimes by bribery. There is no decent society in which the Deripaskas, the Usmanovs, the Lebvedevs, the Abramovics, should be accorded respect. Dirty money corrupts financial and political institutions. The committee is absolutely correct about that.

But have these people been living under a rock? UK politics and society have been a stinking morass of corruption for generations. Saudi money has worked in exactly the same way as Russian, and has had a bigger political influence, leading to a quite disgusting blind eye being turned to appalling human rights violations and military aggression against civilians. The same is true of all the Gulf states. London has been awash for over 40 years with Nigerian plutocrats, every single one of whose wealth has been corruptly looted. When I worked at the British High Commission in Lagos, the snobs’ estate agent Knight Frank and Rutley had an office there, staffed by expatriates, which did nothing but sell Surrey mansions and Docklands penthouses to crooks.

Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Angola, Sierra Leone, there is not a blood diamond or corruptly acquired oil barrel whose proceeds do not wash up in London. Four of the world’s top ten tax evasion bases are British colonies. The committee was right to describe the City of London as a “laundromat” for looted money, but wrong to ascribe that mainly to Russia. That is without considering the disgusting activities of our own UK and US billionaires, who control our media and ultimately our politics.

I can join in the committee’s condemnation of Russian oligarchs influence in British society, and especially their influence as donors on the Tory party. But remember Mandelson/Deripaska. The corruption has no ideological basis except selfishness. The financial interests of British, American, Russian, Saudi, French, Malaysian or any other billionaires are entirely intertwined, as is their political influence. It is the billionaires against the people. The nationality of the particular billionaire is irrelevant. I strongly recommend this report by Transparency International on the massive involvement of “respectable” British institutions in facilitating obviously corrupt transactions.

Does anybody seriously believe the influence of Russian billionaires is somehow more pernicious in the UK than the Saudis or any of the others I have mentioned? Of course nobody believes that; this report only achieves its aim by a blinkered focus on a singular anti-Russian racism. I am not going to expound on any more of the report, because there is a limit to how much racism I am prepared to wade through.

But before closing, I want to consider how enthusiasm for the new Cold War has swept up pretty well the entire political and media class. There are of course those who were enthusiasts for the last Cold War, the military and security services, the arms industry and bottom feeders like Christopher Steele and Christopher Donnelly, who make a surprisingly fat living from peddling the disinformation the state wishes to hear.

But the “Russia is the enemy” narrative has been taken up not just by the traditional right, but by those who would probably self-describe as liberal or social democrat, by supporters of Blair and Hillary.

Most of the explanation for this lies in the success of Blair and Clinton in diverting the “left” into the neo-con foreign policy agenda, through the doctrine of “liberal intervention”, which was the excuse for much Victorian imperialism. The notion is that if you only bomb and maim people in developing countries enough, they will develop democratic forms of government.

This thesis is at best unproven. But once you persuade people to accept one form of war, they seem to become enthusiasts for more of it, particularly those who work in media. It remains the most important single fact in British politics that, despite the fact almost everybody now acknowledges that it was a disaster, nobody ever lost their job for supporting the Iraq war. Quite a few lost their job for opposing it, Greg Dyke, Carne Ross, Elizabeth Wilmshurst and Piers Morgan being among the examples. It is a simple matter of fact that the Iraq War’s biggest cheerleaders dominate the London political and media landscape, whereas there is no critic of the Iraq War in an important position of power.

But apart from the argument that we must oppose Russia because it is not a democracy (but not oppose Saudi Arabia because… well, because), something else is in play. The cosy liberal worldview has been shattered by a populist surge, as represented by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Both events are cataclysmic to the liberal mind and need to be explained.

For some reason, many mainstream liberals, especially the well-heeled ones who control the media and are columnists therein, are unable to acknowledge the truth. The truth is that our apparently comfortable modern society left a large number of people behind, who suffered loss of status from the ever-growing wealth gap and believed their opinions were not valued by an urban establishment they despised. These people revolted and had a right to revolt. That their discontent was seized upon and diverted by charlatans to unworthy political causes did not nullify the just causes of discontent. Loss of wages, job security and social status has bedeviled the disenfranchised at the same time that the plutocrats have been piling up personal wealth.

The upsurge of populism is a direct consequence of the vicious inequality of late stage capitalism, seasoned with racist attitudes to migrants which were themselves triggered by large waves of immigration the “liberal left” in fact caused with their obsessive pursuit of foreign invasion and destruction. That analysis, that the capitalist system they so wholeheartedly espouse and the wars for “freedom” they so ardently promote are the cause of the political setbacks they have encountered – is unpalatable to the media and political classes.

They therefore look for another cause for the raw political wounds of Trump and Brexit. Incredibly, they attempt to blame Putin for both. The notion that Russia, rather than deep disaffection of the less privileged classes, “caused” Trump, Brexit and even support for Scottish Independence is completely risible, yet uncritical acceptance of that analysis is fundamental to this report. It fits the mindset of the entire political and media establishment which is why it has been lauded, when it should be condemned as a real threat to the very political freedoms which it claims differentiate us from Russia.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Calling all NUJ Members

When a country’s main union for journalists polices the Overton window, you are in a society well on the way to authoritarianism. For four months I have been excluded from the National Union of Journalists and, despite repeated requests, the NUJ even refuses to tell me the nature of the objection.

140 days ago, on 5 March 2020, I applied online to renew my lapsed membership of the National Union of Journalists. For two months I heard nothing, then after inquiring I was told objections had been received to my membership. After two months more pressing I was told the objection is that I am not a “fit and proper person” to join the trade union. I still have no idea on what grounds this is alleged, or who alleges it.

A strange process is underway by which an investigation is carried out, and concluded, by the Assistant Secretary General and a report submitted to the National Executive. Only after the report is finalised do I get any opportunity to see what is alleged against me or to comment, which seems a quite remarkable proceeding.

The other thing that seems very wrong in this procedure is how objections were received and to whom my application was advertised. The system is supposed to work this way. The application is received by HQ, and is then sent within 14 days to your local branch for comment. That is the point at which objections can usually be lodged. My application has never been sent to my local branch, or anywhere. It has never left NUJ HQ. The local branch did not know the application existed until I asked a friend there to check on its progress, over two months after it was lodged.

In my case, my application has never even been sent to my local branch, where I was a member without incident for three years. Objections were lodged while my application was still at NUJ HQ.

But how can this happen? The NUJ claim that the delay in dealing with the objections (plural) is caused by the need to locate the objectors and verify their standing in the union. So if these objectors are so diverse and unknown to NUJ HQ, how did they find out about my membership application in order to object to it? The application was never sent out for comment or posted anywhere. The most obvious explanation is that somebody within the NUJ staff has tipped off some group to object.

I should explain the reason my membership had lapsed. I was a temporary freelance member for three years, which is open to those who get less than 50% of their income from journalism. If after three years you have not reached the 50% bar, you cannot continue as a member. I found myself unfortunately in that position.

As my other income has now mostly gone and there are now subscriptions to this blog, I applied to rejoin as soon as I met the income qualifying bar, after about a 3 year gap. It is worth noting I did not apply as a result of being charged with contempt of court – I applied some eight weeks before that happened. I am not seeking financial assistance from the union.

It is not the income question which is blocking my membership but the allegation I am not a “fit and proper person”. As I lead a pretty blameless personal life, this can only relate to my writings. I find this extremely sinister. It is certainly true that I write things that NUJ members within the mainstream media do not. It is certainly true that I attract massive criticism on social media from a section of mainstream journalists for my writings – on the Skripal case, for example.

But a National Union of Journalists which excludes writers for their opinions is a contradiction. I do not claim this as an absolute – out and out racists and fascists are a different thing. But the union is supposed to be a union for journalists, not for stenographers to power. I find the flat refusal of the NUJ to tell me what I am alleged to have done wrong to be particularly chilling. I find the entire process of handling my application, and the question of how these objections arose before the application was sent out for comment, deeply suspicious.

I therefore call on all members of the NUJ to raise this issue, either direct with NUJ HQ or preferably through your branch. It should not need saying, but strangely it does, that journalists whose political opinions are very different to my own ought still to support my right to be a member of the union. It exists to defend journalists, not to exclude them. If readers have contact with a probable NUJ member, I should be grateful if you could draw this matter to their attention and ask them to act.

I am very sorry to be obliged to publish this post. I am trying to rejoin the NUJ, not to pick a fight with it. My previous three year membership was entirely uneventful. I am a strong supporter of unions, that is why I am trying to rejoin one. But what is happening appears to be extraordinary and wrong. Who are these anonymous objectors and to what do they object? How did they find out I had applied before the application was sent out for comment? Who is behind this objection?

Below is my correspondence with the NUJ. Note that I applied for membership online on 5 March and the first email was received on 26 May, eleven weeks later, in reply to phone calls I made to ask what was happening.

Tomorrow will be precisely one month since I last heard from the NUJ. They still will not tell me what the objection is, 140 days since I submitted my application to rejoin.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations



 

Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
MURRAY CJ
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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