Boris Johnson Issues Completely New Story on “Russian Novichoks” 324

Boris Johnson has attempted to renew the faltering case for blaming Russia ahead of the investigation into the Skripal attack, by issuing a fundamentally new story that completely changes – and very radically strengthens – the government line on what it knows. You can see the long Foreign and Commonwealth Office Statement here.

This is the sensational new claim which all the propaganda sheets are running with:

The Foreign Secretary revealed this morning that we have information indicating that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents likely for assassination. And part of this programme has involved producing and stockpiling quantities of novichok. This is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

This is an astonishing claim and requires close investigation. If this information comes from MI5 or MI6, there is a process of inter-departmental clearance that has to be gone through before it can be put in the public domain – even by a Minister – which is known as “Action-on”. I have been through the process personally many times when working as head of the FCO Section of the Embargo Surveillance Centre, monitoring Iraqi arms acquisitions. It is not, unless actually at war, a Saturday night process – it would have had to have been done on Friday.

So why is this essential information being released not to Parliament on Friday, but on Andrew Marr’s sofa early on a Sunday morning, backed up with a Sunday morning official statement? This is very unusual. Furthermore, it is absolutely incompatible with what I was told last week by FCO sources – they did not know this information, and one of them certainly would have if it was based on MI6 or GCHQ reporting.

I can see only two possible explanations. One – and the most likely – depends on looking yet again extremely carefully at what the statement says. It says “we have information indicating that within the last decade”. If does not say how long we have held that information. And “within the last decade” can mean any period of time between a second and ten years ago, Very tellingly it says “within the last decade”, it does not say “for the last decade”.

“Within the last decade” is in fact the exact same semantic trick as “sale price – up to 50% off”. That can mean no more than 0.1% off and its only actual meaning is “never better than half price”.

The most likely explanation of this sentence is therefore that they have – since last week when they didn’t know this – just been given this alleged information. And not from a regular ally with whom we have an intelligence sharing agreement. It could have come from another state, or from a private source of dodgy intelligence – Orbis, for example.

The FCO are again deliberately twisting words to convey the impression that we have known for a decade, whereas in fact the statement does not say this at all.

There is a second possible explanation. MI6 officers in the field get intelligence from agents who, by and large, they pay for it. In my experience of seeing thousands of MI6 intelligence reports, a fair proportion of this “Humint” is unreliable. Graham Greene, a former MI6 officer, was writing a true picture in the brilliant “our Man in Havana”, which I cannot strongly recommend enough to you.

The intelligence received arrives in Vauxhall Cross and there is a filter. A country desk officer will assess the intelligence and see if it is worth issuing as a Report; they judge accuracy against how good access the source has and how trustworthy they are deemed to be, and whether the content squares with known facts. If passed, the intelligence then becomes a Report and is given a serial number. This is not a very good filter, because it still lets through a lot of rubbish, but it does eliminate the complete dregs. One possible source of new information that has suddenly changed the government’s state of knowledge this weekend is a search of these dregs for anything that can be cobbled together. As I have written in Murder in Samarkand, it was the deliberate removal of filters which twisted the Iraqi WMD intelligence.

In short, we should be extremely sceptical of this sudden new information that Boris Johnson has produced out of a hat. If the UK was in possession of intelligence about a secret Russian chemical weapons programme, it was not under a legal obligation to tell Andrew Marr, but it was under a legal obligation to tell the OPCW. Not only did the UK fail to do that, the UK Ambassador Sir Geoffrey Adams was last year fulsomely congratulating the OPCW on the completion of the destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons stocks, without a single hint or reservation entered that Russia may have undeclared or secret stocks.

On the Andrew Marr programme, Boris Johnson appeared to say for the first time that the nerve agent in Salisbury was actually made in Russia. But this is a major divergence from the published FCO statement, which very markedly does not say this. Boris Johnson was therefore almost certainly reverting to his reflex lying. In fact the FCO statement gives an extremely strong hint the FCO is not at all confident it was made in Russia and is seeking to widen its bases. Look at this paragraph:

Russia is the official successor state to the USSR. As such, Russia legally took responsibility for ensuring the CWC applies to all former Soviet Chemical Weapons stocks and facilities.

It does not need me to point out, that if Porton Down had identified the nerve agent as made in Russia, the FCO would not have added that paragraph. Plainly they cannot say it was made in Russia.

The Soviet Chemical Weapons programme was based in Nukus in Uzbekistan. It was the Americans who dismantled and studied it and destroyed and removed the equipment. I visited it as Ambassador to Uzbekistan shortly after they had finished – I recall it as desolate, tiled and very cold, nothing to look at really. The above paragraph seeks to hold the Russians responsible for anything that came out of Nukus, when it was the Americans who actually took it.

324 thoughts on “Boris Johnson Issues Completely New Story on “Russian Novichoks”

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    • sam

      also this
      Recently, Dr.Udo Ulfkotte went on public television stating that he was forced to publish the works of intelligence agents under his own name, also adding that noncompliance with these orders would result in him losing his job.

      He recently made an appearance on RT news to share these facts:

      I’ve been a journalist for about 25 years, and I was educated to lie, to betray, and not to tell the truth to the public.

      But seeing right now within the last months how the German and American media tries to bring war to the people in Europe, to bring war to Russia — this is a point of no return and I’m going to stand up and say it is not right what I have done in the past, to manipulate people, to make propaganda against Russia, and it is not right what my colleagues do and have done in the past because they are bribed to betray the people, not only in Germany, all over Europe.

      Dr. Udo Ulfkotte

      Dr. Udo Ulfkotte is a top German journalist and editor and has been for more than two decades, so you can bet he knows a thing or two about mainstream media and what really happens behind the scenes.

      • William Bennett

        Sammy you never mentioned Mocking Bird, what you did mention is….er. known

  • Min Clifford

    I have far more trust in this article than the ramblings of our Foreign Secretary who we are know from past records just makes things up as he goes along. He is a loose cannon. the BBC has once again shown the depths to which it had sunk by only shoeing carefully edited clips from the interview with Marr which completely changes with way Boris came across. It looks like collusion to me

    • William Bennett

      Collusion to the point that it would be obvious to a blind horse on a galloping man.

  • bliss_porsena

    ‘Popping the hood’ on a locked 320 in order to remove the protective cowling and introduce a ‘dusty’ substance into the aircon inlet, all the while being unobserved, is not a skill easily acquired.

    Doing the same while the vehicle is in motion is a skill-set beyond even MI5, let alone the Russkies.

    • James

      When the locks failed on my BMW I googled ‘popping the hood’ and got in within 10 minutes. I am not a mechanic.

      Why would you do it when the car is moving? If this was the method for delivering the nerve agent, you’d just do it at night when the car was parked wouldn’t you?

      I have no insider info and no agenda but some of the comments here are descending into wild conspiracy.

  • Rodney Barker

    We are not fucking baby’s just a peak into history and we know what this is all about !

  • glennford

    I note the EU statement sticks with the “highly likely” terminology indicating once again there is no evidence to pin this as firmly on Putin as Boris Karloff is trying to do?

  • Gaynor

    I read your blog daily Craig. Thank you and do please keep up your very good work on this.

  • Monster

    Your referencing Graham Greene brings a smile to my face. The hapless British agent and vacuum cleaner salesman sends back a diagram of a new cleaning product and describes it as a nuclear plant. Christopher Steele has a long way to for such a convincing tale.

  • jazza

    well, i’ve just seen it reported on UKColumn that the police have found a passport belonging to Mr V.Putin at the scene of the ‘crime’ in Salisbury

    • Grahamsno(G64)

      LOL indeed with a note with a Kremlin letterhead stating that you have been warned signed by Putin

  • T Fletcher

    I can’t wait for Boris’s next explanation of the Skripal attack, their latest one is so full of holes there has to be another.

  • crispin hythe

    I think a lot of ‘allies’ are wishing the loopy Brits would ‘shut up and go away’. France, Germany etc are ‘behind’ Uk because it costs nothing. Sure, you do what you have to do, we’re right behind you on the clifftop…

  • The Hidden Hand

    In the BBC Marr interview with the Russian Ambassador, a reference to Porton Down being only 8 miles from Salisbury was met with the question, “Are you saying it was made at Porton Down?” The Russian Ambassador replied categorically, “I don’t know”. In the subsequent interview with BoJo Marr told him the Russian Ambassador had said “It was made in Porton Down”.

    BBC News then persisted in the lie, reporting, “The Russian Ambassador has said the nerve agent was made at Porton Down”.

  • ed roomtax

    Note that the maybot said she had ‘invited’ the OPCW to inspect Porton Down, just as Russia had requested and been refused. No, dear, you were TOLD you had to receive them by international law, one of those treaties that the pesky legalistic foreigners are so fond of. Has she an apology ready for the exposure of her lies?

  • oden schutz

    Watching British TV, the usual mixture of news, panel shows etc, struck over the weekend not just by the kneejerk russophobia, but by the
    frothing intolerant hysteria from MPs, comics, journos. Why the eyeball-rolling nuttiness? MONEY HAS CHANGED HANDS….

  • David Nissen

    I have a feeling in my bones that the west is up to something! The overwhelming propaganda coming from the media in alliance with the government claiming that Putin and the Russians are behind this poisoning is completely irrational. There are so many unanswered questions; such as:
    Where and how was this poison administered?
    How did PC Nick Bailey become affected, was he at the house or at the bench?
    How did the other 23 people become affected?
    Why did it take so long for the Skripals to become ill if they had been exposed long before?
    If the house was the source of the poison, then how did it become active much later?
    If the poison was in gas form in the car, why did it take so long for such a extremely dangerous poison to take effect after a meal at Zizzis and then later at the pub?
    There are many more unanswered questions and yet it is claimed that the Russians were responsable without any real evidence produced.
    It seems to me that the west are now putting so many outrageous lies from the Russians being responsible for Trump winning the US elections to being responsible for the EU referendum to countless other absurdities that no one in their right mind can take any claim from the British or Americans seriously!
    It seems to me that whoever was responsible for this wanted the present outcome – Cui Bono.

  • T Fletcher

    In the future will the Tory’s please make sure they get their stories in sync, before they start spinning them ?

  • Gerard Tierney

    Point of information. The link to UK Ambassador congratulating OPCW on destruction of Russian CW stocks does not appear to point to anything of the kind.

  • Ipse Senex

    Typical government fudge and misinformation when they are pushing a false agenda.
    My money is on either, the connection between Skripal/Steele and the DNC/Clinton (including Seth Reich’s murder) or, a further push by NATO against Russia prior to the election.I favour the first option due to the mounting pressure and investigation of Clinton.

    • William Bennett

      I believe the only chemicals involved in this puerile episode are those developed and delivered to the bowel.

  • Louise

    I don’t have strong views one way or the other as to whether it was Russia. What I would say is that I’d be very surprised if you could tell the origin of a chemical like this from it’s analysis/mass-spec. A mass-spec is great for trace chemicals and can identify structure and impurities without samples to compare with. For a complex mix of natural products – take smoke for example – it can tell you a fingerprint that might match to one species of tree being burned. For a living thing such as anthrax other methods using DNA can establish which strain it comes from genetically. But for a single, fairly simple molecule like we’re being told Novichoks are what you would get is certainty of it’s composition, structure and impurities resulting from the manufacturing recipe. Anyone else using the same recipe would get the same result. I don’t see how there would be unusual components such as isotope ratios to pick up.

  • Naish

    I wouldn’t believe a word coming out of Johnson’s mouth – or Putin’s for that matter. Gavin Tarantula Williamson’s gone quiet.

  • William Bennett

    The undeniably incompetent Mrs. May is “ably assisted” by her even more incompetent Foreign Secretary. We await further developments with grin muscles poised.

  • Nonplused

    I thought crimes were normally associated with a motive. I.e. when trying to figure out who committed a crime investigators start by asking themselves who would have a motive to commit the crime? In this case I can’t imagine why Russia would spend any time trying to kill an exiled former spy who now represents no threat to them. I mean they had him in their jail at one point, in their own country, and they willingly let him go. Vengeance is the only reason I can think of for them to do it but the timing is terrible. Why wait so many years and then do it right before an election and in a manner that will almost certainly be attributed to them? Is the KGB really that sloppy and incompetent? Why didn’t they kill him when they had him in their own jail and could do it without publicity?

    However this doesn’t preclude that it may have been a Russian citizen who ordered the hit. The guy had a lot of enemies. But that is a different sort of thing than if it was the state itself. We don’t normally hold governments accountable for the independent actions of their citizens or we’d have to put the mayor of Chicago in jail for the rampant murder rate in that city. They keep saying of course that only a “nation state” could produce the chemical in question but I don’t know of any other chemicals only a “nation state” can produce. Have you ever sprayed a wasp nest with Quick Shot? Holy heck does that stuff have an immediate affect on the wasps and many companies manufacture it. Meth is another good example, people are “cooking” it in their kitchens all over the place and look what that does to the brain. Chemicals are not like nuclear materials where you need a truly industrial scale facility to process them, anybody with a college degree in chemistry and a bit of money can make them in small quantities.

    And why use a chemical attack when a bullet would do? They obviously haven’t caught the individual that made the attack so if you are that good at evading the police why go through the bother of using a chemical weapon that could just as easily kill you? Back to my Quick Shot example, it’s safe for humans to dispense it at short range because our respiratory system is so much different than that of an insect, but if it was just as effective on humans do you think they’d be selling it to the public? Nope. People would be dropping dead all over the place. So trying to kill a specific person with a nerve agent is an extremely dangerous way to go about it. That’s why they are included in the group of weapons known as “mass destruction”. You are suppose to lob the chemicals in a shell to a great distance from yourself and then gas everyone in the area the shell lands. You don’t run around spraying it in people’s faces from a squirt bottle or you’ll be dead too.

  • Will

    It’s quite straightforward.
    GOOD Russians are those that support the Conservative Party and BAD Russians are those that Jeremy supports.

  • Juhan

    Mr Murray,

    You write “It was the Americans who dismantled and studied it and destroyed and removed the equipment”:

    However, BBC News writes on August 9, 1999

    “The institute was staffed solely by Russians and it was only when they left in 1993, TAKING WITH THEM MUCH OF THE EQUIPMENT AND DOCUMENTATION, that what had gone in there slowly began to emerge.”

    It looks like the Russians who “took the equipment and documentation with them” intended to continue manufacturing whatever was manufactured at the site.

    The USSR was dissolved already in 1991 so the research center appears to have been active during the Russian Federation era as well.

  • DiggerUK

    Sadly, I don’t think the Foreign Secretary will be repeating his lies made on the BBC in parliament.
    He’s venal, not stupid…_

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