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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  • krg

    The theory that the Skirpals, acting as UK assets, obtained the Novichok from PD to assassinate A.N. Other, and inadvertently poisoned themselves has been mentioned online. Anyone think this is any less likely that the official narrative?

      • krg

        And yet it contains about the same level of evidence as the official narrative, i.e none.

    • giyane


      We know our politicians. We went to school with them and suffered them when they used us to practise their lying and controlling techniques on. Craig found out the hard way how utterly ruthless these public school boys become when he objected to the use of torture rendition in the War against Islam. Until then, like you, he had thought our politicians had grains of decency, honesty and respect, to which he could appeal by evidence and humanity.

      One odious schoolboy, whose favourite game was teaching us astrology, proclaimed that he was born under the sign of Aquarius and a new age was dawning where astrology, promiscuity and political oppression would prevail and old-fashioned views and religion would be scrapped. He was looked after as a child by an African, Muslim nurse and his father was governor of the Seychelles. He informed us that he had checked the sexuality of all the boys at school. His favourite past-time at university was seducing his friends’ girl-friends. He has died now of alcoholism.

      Anything the putrid Boris Johnson touches turns to shit, because he just can’t resist a good wind-up, backed up by lies and further dollops of tripet. It is he , I believe , who has got the gullible May into this ridiculous situation in which she gives her verdict before the trial like the Duchess: Chop off his head! Chop off his head! Most people are weaned from egotistical manipulation when they are children, but public schoolboys have no parental guidance to rein in their deviances. Boys brought up by boys, like Animal Farm, and then after becoming bitter and twisted, given power to dish out lies and humiliation to other boys underneath them. That is Eton. It should be closed down IMHO

      • krg

        I would also like to add however that our politicians are actually, in many ways, simply the tip of the iceberg. Over the years I have come to appreciate that it would not be possible for these politicians, whom you describe rather well, to maintain these powerful positions were it not the case that the majority of the general public are equally odious. Most people when faced with doing what is right vs what brings then riches will choose the latter more often than not. If we are to progress we must accept that it is always the majority of a society that poses the greatest risk to it. In essence the so called regular guy/gal are actually the nub of the problem and we must factor this in at the heart of any strategy that attempts to improve the situation.

  • Radio Jammor

    ““We actually have evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok.” – Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.

    So… anyone asked Boris yet, when he came by this information about Russia stockpiling Novichok for the purposes of assassination?

    Has the UK Government been sitting on it, without telling the OPCW, thereby giving Russia the time to actually use this weapon in the UK, or has the UK only just come by this information? If the latter, why has it come to light just now and too late to prevent its usage?

    • giyane

      Radio Jammor

      “anyone asked Boris yet …? ”

      It comes off the top of Boris Johnson’s head. When given the chance to speak on Marr, he concocted it out of snot. Boris Johnson is the ultimate , callous liar. Public health warning if you want to limit the spread of bonkers Boris fibs: Catch it. Bin it. Kill it. He’s a total waste of space.

  • SA

    There are still two crucial facts that do not seem to receive much comment but are pivotal to this narrative offered::
    1. The exposure to a military grade nerve agent designed to get rid of supposed enemies of the state has thankfully not killed anyone yet. This is something that needs explaining. Is it because of poor execution, low dosage meant to be part of the message or is it due to very quick administration of an antidote which would require some pre-knowledge of what is involved?
    2. There are designated centres in this country for dealing with victims of dangerous pathogens and also those of chemical warfare that would require special air filtration so as not to disseminate any residual agent that may still be lurking around so as to protect staff. Why are the Skrupals and DS Bailey being treated in a district general hospital without these facilities.?

    I have written this before but no one seems to think that these are important questions. Around these two questions hinge the next one: was a novichok used in these attacks at all? The raking out of an obscure agent from the old Soviet Union which is not even on the OPCW list, especially after the recent transmission of a drama featuring such an agent suggests a very strange coincidence.
    But of course no self respecting commentator would entertain such a wild conspiracy theory would they?

    • D_Majestic

      Yes, they are pivotal to the narrative, and very important. We are told that it was definitely a ‘Nerve Agent’ at a very early stage. So early on I found an immediate reference to the in-built rapid onset of such agents, circa five minutes. Secondly, of the three victims, two disappeared from the accounts very quickly. The policeman did not. The passing doctor was unaffected, and again has vanished from the narrative. Your point about specialist treatment is also very important. As is the final paragraph. We are left-as so often in these matters-with a random set of ‘Disney Cards’, which we cannot extract any sort of meaningful game from. Maybe this is entirely by design.

  • Nick Owen

    Boris! Sounds Russian to me. And all that money to play tennis with a Russian agent sorry not agent person thingy woman

    • 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.

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