The Novichok Story Is Indeed Another Iraqi WMD Scam 575


As recently as 2016 Dr Robin Black, Head of the Detection Laboratory at the UK’s only chemical weapons facility at Porton Down, a former colleague of Dr David Kelly, published in an extremely prestigious scientific journal that the evidence for the existence of Novichoks was scant and their composition unknown.

In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the ‘Foliant’ programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published. (Black, 2016)

Robin Black. (2016) Development, Historical Use and Properties of Chemical Warfare Agents. Royal Society of Chemistry

Yet now, the British Government is claiming to be able instantly to identify a substance which its only biological weapons research centre has never seen before and was unsure of its existence. Worse, it claims to be able not only to identify it, but to pinpoint its origin. Given Dr Black’s publication, it is plain that claim cannot be true.

The world’s international chemical weapons experts share Dr Black’s opinion. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is a UN body based in the Hague. In 2013 this was the report of its Scientific Advisory Board, which included US, French, German and Russian government representatives and on which Dr Black was the UK representative:

[The SAB] emphasised that the definition of toxic chemicals in the Convention would cover all potential candidate chemicals that might be utilised as chemical weapons. Regarding new toxic chemicals not listed in the Annex on Chemicals but which may nevertheless pose a risk to the Convention, the SAB makes reference to “Novichoks”. The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The SAB states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of “Novichoks”. (OPCW, 2013)

OPCW: Report of the Scientific Advisory Board on developments in science and technology for the Third Review Conference 27 March 2013

Indeed the OPCW was so sceptical of the viability of “novichoks” that it decided – with US and UK agreement – not to add them nor their alleged precursors to its banned list. In short, the scientific community broadly accepts Mirzayanov was working on “novichoks” but doubts he succeeded.

Given that the OPCW has taken the view the evidence for the existence of “Novichoks” is dubious, if the UK actually has a sample of one it is extremely important the UK presents that sample to the OPCW. Indeed the UK has a binding treaty obligation to present that sample to OPCW. Russa has – unreported by the corporate media – entered a demand at the OPCW that Britain submit a sample of the Salisbury material for international analysis.

Yet Britain refuses to submit it to the OPCW.

Why?

A second part of May’s accusation is that “Novichoks” could only be made in certain military installations. But that is also demonstrably untrue. If they exist at all, Novichoks were allegedly designed to be able to be made at bench level in any commercial chemical facility – that was a major point of them. The only real evidence for the existence of Novichoks was the testimony of the ex-Soviet scientist Mizayanov. And this is what Mirzayanov actually wrote.

One should be mindful that the chemical components or precursors of A-232 or its binary version novichok-5 are ordinary organophosphates that can be made at commercial chemical companies that manufacture such products as fertilizers and pesticides.

Vil S. Mirzayanov, “Dismantling the Soviet/Russian Chemical Weapons Complex: An Insider’s View,” in Amy E. Smithson, Dr. Vil S. Mirzayanov, Gen Roland Lajoie, and Michael Krepon, Chemical Weapons Disarmament in Russia: Problems and Prospects, Stimson Report No. 17, October 1995, p. 21.

It is a scientific impossibility for Porton Down to have been able to test for Russian novichoks if they have never possessed a Russian sample to compare them to. They can analyse a sample as conforming to a Mirzayanov formula, but as he published those to the world twenty years ago, that is no proof of Russian origin. If Porton Down can synthesise it, so can many others, not just the Russians.

And finally – Mirzayanov is an Uzbek name and the novichok programme, assuming it existed, was in the Soviet Union but far away from modern Russia, at Nukus in modern Uzbekistan. I have visited the Nukus chemical weapons site myself. It was dismantled and made safe and all the stocks destroyed and the equipment removed by the American government, as I recall finishing while I was Ambassador there. There has in fact never been any evidence that any “novichok” ever existed in Russia itself.

To summarise:

1) Porton Down has acknowledged in publications it has never seen any Russian “novichoks”. The UK government has absolutely no “fingerprint” information such as impurities that can safely attribute this substance to Russia.
2) Until now, neither Porton Down nor the world’s experts at the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were convinced “Novichoks” even exist.
3) The UK is refusing to provide a sample to the OPCW.
4) “Novichoks” were specifically designed to be able to be manufactured from common ingredients on any scientific bench. The Americans dismantled and studied the facility that allegedly developed them. It is completely untrue only the Russians could make them, if anybody can.
5) The “Novichok” programme was in Uzbekistan not in Russia. Its legacy was inherited by the Americans during their alliance with Karimov, not by the Russians.

With a great many thanks to sources who cannot be named at this moment.

Please Also Read My follow-up to this article: “Bothered by Midgies”


575 thoughts on “The Novichok Story Is Indeed Another Iraqi WMD Scam

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  • Dave Lawton

    Don`t mention this.They the State only lets you see and hear what they want you to. Until today Thornhill – now a 70-year-old pensioner – has never spoken publicly about what he saw. He feared the Ministry of Defence would send him to prison.
    He has now broken his silence to tell of the day he arrived at Porton Down’s gas chamber and saw the convulsing body of 20-year-old Ronald Maddison thrashing around on the floor, spewing substances from his mouth.
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/sep/28/military.antonybarnett

  • German Girl

    Thank you for collecting all that information and providing it. I feel that I am constantly being fooled by the press and the government.

  • Yalta

    Its more like “The Mouse that Roared” than “Wag the Dog”

    Also, who will play General Turgidson this time round, now that George C Scott is gone.

  • Sharp Ears

    Treeza has popped up in Sarum. To reassure the good people that they can sleep safely in their beds. Also to heighten the propaganda. I think the local MP is with her and the acting C Constable.

  • Aidworker1

    Why are they giving time to Jack Straw on Daily Politics?

    He’s now trying to defend his policy on Iraq?

    It’s completely ridiculous!

    • Node

      Why are they giving time to Jack Straw on Daily Politics? He’s now trying to defend his policy on Iraq?

      By implication, if Iraq was justifiable, so is Libya, Syria, and Iran. Would you like more time to finish your point, Mr Straw?

  • CatherineClarke

    Why is the BBC not reporting this information on its news as should SKy, ITV, etc?

  • gm

    Mr Armstrong, I’ve just read an article in the Guardian that quotes Chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon as saying “The nerve agent novichok was developed and produced in Shikhany, home of a military research establishment in central Russia” and that ” the information was contained in a report submitted several years ago by Russia to the international body that monitors chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). ” This seems to contradict the information contained in your piece above. Could it be that this information that Bretton-Gordon talks about was submitted after 2013, when the SAB of the OPCW made their report?

      • Radio Jammor

        Hello GM. I saw that article in the Guardian and noted it doesn’t allow comments and hasn’t been pushed via Twitter.

        It seems the purpose of the piece is to support the position that the nerve agent could only have come from Russia. In that respect at least, it is an utter fail.

        Mr de Bretton-Gordon is indeed a chemical weapons expert, and some of what he says may be so, but note that a) this report he refers to is stated vaguely and without much detail and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it (so far at least) elsewhere. Also b) “dismissing suggestions that the chemical could be found in other places in the former Soviet Union such as Ukraine and Uzbekistan. “They have no more anywhere else,” he said.” – that is very much in the present tense. He appears therefore to be talking as if the agent could only have been produced in Russia because it isn’t anywhere else now.

        But he can’t know that to be true, because it is an established fact that it was elsewhere in the past. The BBC and the NYT both reported that the US went into Uzbekistan (as Craig here, who was the Ambassador for the UK there said) in 1999 to clean up at Nukus, and specifically mentioned Novichok.
        http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/25/world/us-and-uzbeks-agree-on-chemical-arms-plant-cleanup.html
        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/415742.stm

        At a Senate Hearing in the US in 2003, Nukus and Uzbekistan is mentioned with regard to Novichok and the US advised that the stockpiles of it were “now being destroyed”. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-108shrg87824/html/CHRG-108shrg87824.htm

        The trouble with that is this is now a dozen or so years after the Soviet Union started to disintegrate and stocks in the likes of Uzbekistan could have been pilfered. This is a point highlighted in The Irish Times yesterday, with an article that also contradicts The Guardian’s piece, and by referring not to a Chemical Weapons expert speaking today, but of experts and information from 1993 and subsequent to that, who were involved in the matter at the time (no indication that de Bretton-Gordon was) – which states, “The main production plant for Novichok was in Uzbekistan.”

        https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/unlikely-that-vladimir-putin-behind-skripal-poisoning-1.3425736

  • N_

    Some facts:

    * the Tory government is weak and is using these events to lay into the opposition.

    * the Putin government is not weak, and is not using these events to lay into the opposition.

    “Novichok” (новичок) is a word that might be translated as “the new guy”, “newcomer”, “newbie”, in this case a new chemical compound on the block, a new line of chemical weapons.

    Everybody’s an expert on “markers” nowadays, but the idea that the fiendish Russians put “markers” on all of their weapons, especially ones they use on the sly, so that other countries’ analysts can recognise their calling cards is a load of b*llocks. If anything called novichok was developed and Britain knew about it and can identify it then they will have had it themselves for years. And if you’ve got something then you can use it, regardless of who first made it. Britain may or may not have carried out this attack, but they certainly had the opportunity.

  • Bruce M

    Craig Murray states that Britain “refuses” to submit the sample to OPCW. This is incorrect – the UK government has clearly stated that it is submitting a sample to OPCW. (See this morning’s news reports confirming this – eg in The Guardian).

    Based on the brief quote from Dr Robin Black, Craig concludes that it “cannot be true” that Britain has identified the nerve agent and its origin. But Craig’s conclusion doesn’t logically follow from Dr Black’s quote. Note that Dr Black is referring only to *publicly* available material.

    I note that France’s Emmanuel Macron has reportedly shifted his stance from one of initial scepticism to backing the UK govenment’s claims. From this morning’s Guardian:

    “On Wednesday a spokesman for the French president, Emmanuel Macron, cautioned the UK not to engage in ‘fantasy politics’. But on Thursday after holding talks with Theresa May on the incident, Macron shifted stance, saying France shared the UK’s conclusion that there was ‘no other plausible explanation’ other than the involvement of Russia.

    “The Elysee palace said the UK had ‘kept France closely informed of the clues gathered by British investigators’ as well as the ‘evidence demonstrating the responsibility of Russia in the attack’.”

      • Bruce M

        I’d put it differently. I’d presume UK specialists presented evidence to French specialists, who in turn presented their opinion to initially-sceptical French politicians. But I could be wrong. Perhaps it’s all an MI6 plot.

        By the way, Craig is fairly ignorant concerning identification and evidence of these substances (look up “mass spectrometer” on today’s Twitter threads to see what I mean).

          • John Remnant

            Really think that Bill Marsh should check the definition of, ‘classified information’. The clue’s in the name …

    • Radio Jammor

      Bruce, what Craig stated was correct at the time. Boris has only now said that the UK is doing this after failing to do it in the first place.

      I would like to know how Porton Down identified this nerve agent if they have never had a sample. Did the US provide assistance? After all, the US cleaned up Novichok in Uzbekistan (read previous posts) and prudence dictates that they retained samples for instances such as this.

      If the US has samples, which seems virtually certain, then the US can produce the nerve agent. In a scenario where the US has itself used this nerve agent in order to point the finger at Russia and heighten what is already a strong anti-Russian sentiment in the US as well as in the UK, over alleged election tampering, and is subsequently relied upon to provide confirmation of where the nerve agent came from, then the US can point the finger where it likes.

      Yes, I’m speculating, but when there seems to be no real motive for Russia/Putin to kill Skripol, especially now, after all this time, when he was in prison under Putin’s control to start with, and when Skripol was not really hiding whilst in the UK (having been pardoned before being part of a spy swap that brought him to the UK). However there does seem to be a motive for the US (to support another adventure in Syria, and get the UK to take action there, whereas it only supports attacks on ISIS within Syria, not on Syria itself), but also the UK has motive (to appear strong, have another “lovely war”, ‘our Falklands’, Corbyn is a commie, etc).

      When the UK has been pushing the ‘Russia is responsible’ line all too eagerly, and ‘it could only have come from Russia’ which can quite easily be challenged as so, you have to wonder why they are taking these lines.

      I really doubt that they the UK has conclusive evidence that can be pointed at Russia, when the nerve agent could have been stolen from Uzbekistan in the 1990s, by organised criminals, or others, or re-created by the US at pretty much any time since.

      • Bruce M

        “I would like to know how Porton Down identified this nerve agent if they have never had a sample.”

        I’m not sure if I can post links here – so look up a thread on Twitter (today) in which a chemist who is knowledgeable about this field educates Craig on how this would be done (search for “mass spectrometer” on Twitter to find it). Thanks.

        Btw, I see that the UK’s allies (including the US) have now issued a statement backing the UK government’s conclusions. This follows a statement by the US envoy to the UN security council (Nikki Haley), which strongly condemned Russia over this:

        “The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent … This is a defining moment. Time and time again, member states say they oppose the use of chemical weapons under any circumstance. Now, one member stands accused of using chemical weapons on the sovereign soil of another member. The credibility of this council will not survive if we fail to hold Russia accountable.”

        • Radio Jammor

          Bruce, if you read the thread you refer to thoroughly – which I know you didn’t, because you would have seen me come in – Clyde the chemist there did no such thing. He just likes to think he did, and people who didn’t look at what he said objectively – like you – didn’t see through him.

          What he only confirms is that Porton Down has the potential to identify it as a Novichok type of nerve agent. They couldn’t identify where it came from without comparison samples from labs that produced it. For some reason, Craig here seems determined to say that Novichok never existed, when really all he has got to back that up is that as far as the OPCW is concerned, they were never provided with such evidence of its existence – despite the US saying (per my links above) that they went into Uzbekistan between 1999-2003 and clean up the place of Novichok.

          The US and Uzbekistan seem quite certain it existed at the time.

          But coming back to Clyde the Chemist’s rant, all he actually said was that Porton Down could identify it as a Novichok. He has then assumed that this means that it must therefore be Russian and therefore the Russians did it. Clyde however is an anti-Corbyn Labourite, whose view is deeply coloured by his opposition to Corbyn, and his ‘wanting more evidence’ stance, and he never provided any answer to my questions as to whether he could identify where it came from in the case of an unknown lab being used to make it. All he really did was say that it could be identified as a Novichok. The rest was blather and bluster.

          Other chemists have confirmed that you need a database of samples from other labs to differentiate where it came from. In the absence of that, all you can do for sure is say what it is, rather than where it came from.

          There is some suggestion that chemists could identify where ingredients came from because of their purity or pollution levels, but that doesn’t necessarily give you the who, although it could help. That could still act as a red herring, because whoever put it together might think of getting the ingredients from somewhere where they are not.

      • Peter Davis

        This crisis could also have been deliberately created by the UK as a means to show the folly of Brexit. Anti-Russian posturing plays well in the EU (see Donald Tusk’s recent comments). The EU has designs on Russia’s sphere of influence (see its exacerbation of the Ukraine crisis and its current anti-Russian campaign in the Balkans). The British establishment don’t want Brexit. What better than to demonstrate how much our security needs close EU cooperation against the Russian menace? And therefore now is not the time to consider leaving the EU?
        This might sound conspiratorial, but having seen how the US Democratic machine has shamelessly milked the Russia connection to try and invalidate Trump’s election victory, nothing would surprise me at present. Those in power have a lot to lose and will go to many lengths to stop it happening.

        • Kat

          I have the same thoughts on the subject. This is a very apropriate time for the UK to start a political scandal to manage its current Brexit issues and to distract the public unhappy with the government unable to come up with a satisfactory solution for the ‘life after brexit’. The scenario reminds of Saddam’s chemical weapon farce used to convince the public of the necessity to invade Iraq. Let’s hope that it’s only about the UK domestic problem-solving and a part of a bigger plan of the geopolitical agenda against Russia.

  • N_

    How could you possibly know that the specific derivative used could not be traced to Russia?

    That’s obvious, but several posters here have explained it. If Britain knew for years how to identify novichok, then they must have had some. Get it?

    “Intelligence community” and “scientists” seem to be very strong phrases for you – and the word “public” like something you’d scrape off your boots. You seem to be Spitting Tory Hater no. 70134.

  • Bob Skeldon

    No withstanding the whole ridiculousness of why
    Moscow would use such a Laurel & Hardy approach
    to murdering someone, or the timing of it, the
    whole thing is quite bizarre e.g.

    Is it simply a co-incidence that Skripal lives in
    Salisbury and the incident happened
    20 miles from the only top-secret military
    establishment in the UK with a particular remit
    for toxic /chemical weapons?

    Huge areas were cordoned off and people in full body
    suits in tents due to the “deadly nerve agent”! When
    the incident was first reported, a young guy who had obviously been on the scene very quickly (perhaps even before the policeman) and was obviously up
    close (he described the “white eyes” and “stiff arms”) suffered no effects whatsoever?

    Somebody is telling porkies and I don’t think it is
    Vladimir Putin!

  • Anon1

    Craig

    Are you going to respond to Clyde Davies on Twitter?

    Im afraid it looks like he savaged you and his detailed, expert refutation of your theory is just hanging there waiting for a response.

    • Radio Jammor

      I’ve read through what Mr Davies has posted and I don’t agree with your assessment. If what he is saying is so, then how can this analysis tell the difference between a) a Novichok produced recently in Russia, b) a Novichok produced recently elsewhere, c) a Novichok produced a long time ago in Russia, d) a Novichok produced a long time ago in Uzbekistan or e) a Novichok possibly stolen from Uzbekistan in the 1990s, before the US cleaned up the site, and has been stored somewhere else since?

      It seems that what Mr Davies is really saying that it is possible to determine that the nerve agent is ‘a’ Novichok nerve agent, without the need for a comparison sample. It doesn’t however differentiate between it coming from Russia, Uzbekistan, Porton Down or Timbuktu. Everything else is his point of view. Indeed, he assumes it is Russian purely because it is a Novichok.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    The Guardian has proven that it is unreliable in reporting anything in this dispute. Its editorial board reported at its outset that Lab X had a long record of killing people like Raoul Wallenberg,, Markov, Litvinenko, etc. That’s a rush to judgment.

  • wonky

    In regard to Syria/Russia, everything is going ecxactly according to plan, as pitched by US diplomat David Satterfield on January 11th and noted in the protocols of the British embassy in Washington DC.
    Only problem is… the plan is total shi*e..

  • Anon1

    Craig has again taken to Twitter to put forward some more of his theories about Israeli involvement (sigh). It’s actually a rather tragic spectacle.

    • Trowbridge H. Ford

      Like what? I don’t go on Twitter.

      The Mossad has a bad record when it comes to ‘false flag’ assassinations, like killing Jorrg Haider, Dr. David Kelly, the al-Hillis et al.

    • N_

      Craig says there is a strong correlation between the Labour Friends of Isr*el and the Labour MPs who attacked Corbyn because they “unequivocally” accept that Russia did Salisbury. He wonders why. That’s a damned good question.

      It’s not even one “theory”, let alone a plurality of them. But of course you only use the plural to get a sneer in. You can shove your sighing and your sneering use of “theories”, “actually”, and “tragic”, Anon1. Craig has raised something very interesting.

      There may also be a strong correlation between those MPs and the warfare state, particularly nuclear weapons.

      Prosopographists, on your marks!

      • Anon1

        All from Craig since the Skirpal hit:

        “This Foreign Policy magazine (a very establishment US publication) article on Israel‘s chemical and biological weapon capability is very interesting indeed.”

        “To return to Israel. Israel has the nerve agents. Israel has Mossad which is extremely skilled at foreign assassinations.”

        “Theresa May claimed Russian propensity to assassinate abroad as a specific reason to believe Russia did it. Well Mossad has an even greater propensity to assassinate abroad.”

        “Remarkable correlation between Labour MPs who attacked Corbyn in EDM wanting no investigation into Salisbury before firmly attributing blame, and parliamentary Labour Friends of Israel, I wonder why?”

        ______________

        But silly me, of course Craig isn’t even hinting that he believes Israel did it.

        • Trowbridge H. Ford

          Craig was certainly right about the Mossad skill in assassinations, should have mentioned the killings of Pim Fortuin, Theo van Gogh, and that Swedish Admiral working for Palme.

  • Robert Davies

    Surely if Porton Down don’t know of its existence then how can the government identify its source. Strange that the British prime minister knows so much immediately about this but the P.D. research facility doesn’t! Her claims cannot be true. Either that or Porton Down needs some new scientists . Let’s get the country behind us on this – it will cut us some slack on Brexit ! While we’re at it, let’s make sure we stock up on Russian gas supplies !

  • Harry Law

    “Commenting on Russia’s dismissal of the accusation, Johnson told BBC News: “There is something in the kind of smug, sarcastic response that we’ve heard that indicates their fundamental guilt” [the Guardian] US, UN Ambassador John Bolton was described as human scum, I would like to call the lying Boris Johnson [“Now for the evidence,” said the King, “and then the sentence”. “No!” said the Queen, “first the sentence, and then the evidence!”] is worse than human scum.

  • Sharp Ears

    Listen to Tara McCormack on Radio 4 PM yesterday
    40.45 in
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09tyzsc

    A lone voice against the welter of propaganda.

    Her twitter.
    https://twitter.com/mccormack_tara?

    She is a lecturer at Leicester University in international relations. Her interests – sovereignty, security, intervention & relationship between foreign/security policy and the changing nature of the state. .

    She was followed by a Con MP, Bob Seely, Isle of Wight.
    Read his biog. A Times stringer in Russia. Then in the Army – Afghanistan and Iraq and so on. Where do they find these people?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Seely

    Seely visited Israel last month:
    Visit organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding, Medical Aid for Palestinians and Conservative Friends of Israel.
    https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/25645/bob_seely/isle_of_wight#register
    Nice little grouping there. What are MAP and CAABU doing collaborating with the CFoI?

  • Craig

    You’ve started with a pre-suppositional argument followed by asserting an argument of authority fallacy. It is well known where these nerve agents originated from, and the chemical composition is known of novichok to a molecular level. Scientists can examine its composition objectively and conclude what that substance’s composition is and advise in kind.

    Comparing this to Iraq and WMD is a false equivalence fallacy: the only two things in common being that we had a problem with two governments version of events (rightly or wrongly). With this we are talking about 3 individuals being attacked with one of the world’s most dangerous formulations of nerve agent ever known, whilst Iraq was subject to international UN sanctions at a state level and was suspected as breaching those obligations. The two situations are utterly different. We are not talking either about potentially going to war with Russia here either! However, what IS important is that the prime minister ‘s FIRST responsibility to his/ her people is their safety and security. This represents an attack that could have been a lot worse had the quantities of the agent been greater, and it is in the national interest to robustly deal with this unequivocally. Drop your spine from your back, it can equal capitulation potentially.

    Learn how to argue a point with more integrity and reason please.

      • Trowbridge H. Ford

        It’s own dismemberment so the neo-cons could pick up what’s left of its resources,

      • N_

        @Xavi – Good question. Most of what’s been offered has been poop, from people who “know” Russia did it and are rationalising. My view is that if the Russian government did do this act, the background might be that they believe war is inevitable. Bear in mind that the psywar part of that war seems already to have started. Then you try to cause divisions, disruption, confusion, unnerve the enemy commanders, make them act hastily, have positions in place from which you can find out stuff you didn’t already know about faultlines, about order of battle, watch the responses by other governments and by various individuals and organisations, who tries how hard to promote which weapons contracts, etc.

        • N_

          Then ask why the Skripal attack has led to so much ruckus whereas the alleged violation of Estonian airspace by a Russian aicraft on its way to Kaliningrad and the death of Nikolai Grushkov in New Malden haven’t. You could easily imagine a massive fuss over either or both of those, but it hasn’t happened.

          Conclusion is that we may be hearing a lot more about chemical weapons soon, and about the GRU. The posh boys in Britain don’t really want too much attention paid to Russian “businessmen” who have no explicit military or intelligence connections, for obvious reasons.

          We’ll probably hear a lot more about Kaliningrad too, but Brit propagandists, though not up to the standard of their Russian counterparts, doubtless understand that you shouldn’t spread an attack, even a propaganda one, too widely, and that there is a “news cycle”. Russian interest in defending its territory in Kaliningrad will be painted as a fiendish dishonest excuse to invade or otherwise screw one or more of the Baltic states. I am not sure whether it’s been mentioned here, but Jacob Rees-Mogg called for a permanent British base in the Baltic. (Can’t they just ask Germany for Heligoland back instead?)

    • N_

      Your understanding of syllogistics is poop.

      Where the compounds were first made is one thing. The provenance of the particular molecules that found their way into the bodies of three individuals currently in hospital in Salisbury, is another.

      • N_

        Just to be clear: my reference to poop syllogistics was aimed at the person who posted at 13:51 under the name “Craig” and who is not the owner of this blog.

    • Radio Jammor

      Craig, the comparison with WMDs is that there is an accusation that “they did it” and demands or consequences before there is the time and opportunity to properly assess who actually did it.

      “It is well known where these nerve agents originated from, and the chemical composition is known of novichok to a molecular level. Scientists can examine its composition objectively and conclude what that substance’s composition is and advise in kind.”

      I have to contest this. If this substance is known to a chemical level, then surely someone with sufficient scientific knowledge and access to a lab (which I fully accept isn’t going to be just anybody, but I don’t accept that you set the bar level only at “state”), then it can be replicated.

      As for your “it is well known…” bit, I’ve read a Guardian piece quoting an expert in chemical weapons saying that it only could have come from Shikhany in Russia, which I might believe if I were not aware that the US cleaned up Novichok from a chemical weapons site in Uzbekistan between 1999-2003. There are 1999 BBC and NYT articles about that, and US Government documents that make reference to it from a Senate Hearing in 2003 (there may be more documents, but that was enough to confirm it for me), and the Irish Times also just posted a piece documenting prior knowledge that states, “The main production plant for Novichok was in Uzbekistan”.

      So aside from the fact that it was made in what is now a former Soviet state that isn’t Russia, and at a time when there was much chaos and stock piles could have gone missing, the US could have actual samples and could replicate the agent.

      My essential point is this: the fact that Novichok originated in the Soviet Union 40 or so years ago is not evidence that this attack came from Russia in the here and now. I do not rule out Russia (they probably killed Litvinenko), but Skripel was someone they allowed to leave after several years in prison – and a pardon. Motive wise, I can think of other countries with bigger and better motives that incorporate Russia taking the fall for this one.

      Russia killing Litvinenko made sense. This doesn’t.

    • Anon1

      Putin in 2010, when Skripal was traded:

      “Traitors will kick the bucket. Trust me. These people betrayed their friends, their brothers-in-arms. Whatever they got in exchange for it, those 30 pieces silver they were given, they will choke on them”

      But no, couldn’t have been Putin. No motive.

      • Radio Jammor

        Odd then that Putin didn’t have him knocked-off when he was in jail in Russia. Putin was President when Skripal was arrested and later sentenced. Medvedev may have been President when Skripal was swapped (and pardoned), but he and Putin are peas in a pod. Indeed Skripal seems to have been treated leniently by both of them, as if respecting his former service as a Russian soldier and intelligence officer, before spying for the UK.

        With the anti-Russia feeling that is going on in both the US and the UK following the allegations of election and referendum tampering, this strikes me as a terrible time to knock-off an old traitor, who could have been killed without anywhere near the fuss, years ago, in Russia, but instead was allowed to leave.

        Skripal, by the way, was living under his own name and with a house bought in his own name. He wouldn’t have been hard to find. He wasn’t in hiding.

        His actions indicate that he didn’t believe the Russian state would go after him.

      • SA

        By the way, do you have a reliable transcript for this quote or a reference. It would be interesting to hear. Thanks.

  • Ivan

    Sir, after reading all the commentary on your blog, the MOA, ZH etc, the preponderance of the evidence still point to the Russians as the suspect. Restricting the field to state actors : the US, UK, Israel and Russia, the former three have much less of a motive to knock off Mr Skripal. Too many Russians resident in the UK have died in suspicious circumstances, for the Russians to play the innocent virgin. I for one no longer find the suave Mr Lavrov persuasive.

    • Radio Jammor

      Sir, I put it you that the evidence points to the Russians as “a” suspect, not “the” suspect.

      “Restricting the field to state actors…”No, don’t do that. That’s too high a bar. Organised international crime and terrorism is well funded (and lucrative in terms of the former) and well resourced. Someone could have stolen it from Uzbekistan and auctioned it to the highest bidder. Someone might simply have got a laboratory and reproduced it. Sarin was, after all, reproduced in sufficient quantity to be used to attack the Tokyo subway.

      I agree that we must regard Russia with suspicion in terms of dissidents and defectors, but given that Skripal was not someone who fled Russia but was swapped in a deal, after originally being in prison for spying (for the British), it seems very odd that he was treated relatively leniently during the Presidential terms of both Putin and Medvedev, when caught in Russia as a spy, for them to only now turning around and deciding to knock him off eight years after letting him go with a pardon.

      Motive wise then, I think you’re arse about face. Israel could have done it to provoke the UK to take action against Syria, who are supported by Russia. The US could have done it for the same reason, and they had direct access to the nerve agent from the Uzbekistan clean-up. The UK could have done it to bolster support for the government, by giving it an enemy to fight, like Thatcher had the Falklands to thank for a second term, when she was looking a bit sticky.

      “Our Falklands”, said Francis Urquhart.

  • simon

    The Novichok Story Is Indeed Another Iraqi WMD Scam

    no no no i think you are wrong on this one i have been around a bit have seen the nature of evil the very idea that folks in vauxhall porton down and westminster are causing kaos in zizi pizza shack and local environment is a nonse ence already.
    why would the friends of tory blair and strong primeminister may hurt and scare the infirm and old folks of this country with talk of russian wars and new national service no no.
    we must face the bully and all of us fight.
    we have created a new jerusalem here hare here let us not give up now because some big moscow bully comes calling.
    we do not need the russian gas we can take macrons nuclear energies he is are friend and his wife looks like british royalty
    all in it together

    apart from when it comes to the fighting that is

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Interestingly I find myself unable to reply in the right place to someone questioning my veracity (I am not a conspiracy theorist, so, disappointingly, have to assume this is accidental). He asserts that he has never come across an account similar to mine. I would be interested to know the basis of this assertion. Is he connected with the GRU or its unpleasant predecessors, for instance, or does he have a wide circle of British ex-PoW acquaintances? Has he studied the matter, perhaps academically? Where?

    There is no doubt whatever, even allowing that my old man took a very rare day off from the truth, that Russian ex-PoWs of the Germans were treated just as abominably when they got home (with our help to Joe) as when they had been in German hands.

    • Ba'al Zevul

      I’m certainly not saying all Russians are bastards. Indeed, a couple of my acquaintance are quite the reverse. Yet even you will have to agree that with the exception of very short intervals, their autocratic governors, as I suggested, have been complete bastards to their subjects. There is a direct line of succession from the Stalin-era Soviets to Putin’s Russia. Putin himself was spawned by the KGB, ffs. You’d have to skin and scald that particular leopard to make it look like an internet kitten. The Soviet apparatus is intact, and it is now working for an overt kleptocracy which is institutionally corrupt. Poor Russians, I say. And I don’t want that determining my future too.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Cui bono? (apologist above)
    1. Opportunity for Putin to strip to the waist, bend iron bar with teeth and demonstrate total contempt for Western opinion. Message: MRGA!
    2. Hence opportunity to pull fellow-nashis together for truly incredible vote for Putin in election.
    3. Opportunity to send message to surviving ex-agents and political enemies abroad that they’e ultimately doomed, and to anyone think ing of falling out with Putin that their lives are cheap. This one’s been explicitly stated. Part of an ongoing programme: timing not particularly critical, but handy to be able to pull a traitor’s corpse out of the bag when needed.
    4. Sow discord and confusion among any and all Western alliances. Ongoing programme.
    5. Provoke crisis situation leading naturally to the annexation of one or more Baltics on behalf of their ethnically Russian population…for their protection, of course. See also Sudetenland.
    6. Road test the internet trolls properly. Just for fun.

  • Republicofscotland

    Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, has just announced a £48 investment in Porton Down.

    Was that the intention all along?

  • What's up Doc?

    OK I’ll bite. As a former industrial organic chemist, both synthetic organic, pilot plant, and QC (quality control), post-doc, this smells to me.

    Regarding the synthesis, as I understand it, this class are binary agents, i.e. non-lethal till mixing, so the two ‘halves’ could be made without specialist kit. Even active nerve agents could be prepared using a just fume cupboard, and the right PPE. Nothing too special required other than non shaky hands. Could be made anywhere the precursors are available. We worked with HF, OsO4, Thallium etc in such environments.

    Regarding the analysis. Typically small quantities are analysed (I used to install them) using GCMS. Gas Chromatography Mass spectrometry. This can detect down to femtogram levels.

    OK.

    So there exists databases of substances and their breakdown patterns under fragmentation, which can give possible matches to known compounds. This compound may have been on there. However, for an allegation of such seriousness, these would be ‘indicative’ rather than ‘conclusive’. For conclusive confirmation a coincidence of what is called ‘retention times’ would also be required against a standard. The retention time is the time it takes for the compound to ‘show itself’ at the end of the long thin tube inside the Gas Chromatograph. Different chemicals hold on to the tube with varying tenacities.and hence give various rates of elution.

    So a professional forensic scientist, I would hope, would do the following.
    Run a GC-Mass Spectrum to confirm the molecular weight.
    Check against a database for possible compounds which correspond to that molecular weight and fragment pattern (there may be a few, it may not be unambiguous at this stage)
    Check for the presence of other impurities, and the ratio of the main ingredient to these, which would give you the ‘fingerprint’
    Run the sample of unknown concentration against a standard of known concentration to determine the amount of active ingredient in the sample.
    Compare the ‘fingerprint’ to database of other ‘fingerprints’ in a library.
    Only when this fingerprint matches the fingerprint from a library can you determine the origin. Even then you can not say who administered the substance, but you would have an avenue to explore.

    OK so a good forensic laboratory would have access to the following.
    A synthetically pure sample of known weight and impurity profile.
    Finger prints of samples from ‘sources of concern’

    So what is being implied here, is that the authorities have both. A control sample (to determine if the quantities found would be lethal) and samples from a few different labs to confirm that the fingerprint was from lab A not lab B for example.

    (How) did they have those?

    • Radio Jammor

      That’s very interesting. I do not have your level of knowledge or expertise, but I suspect that someone must be able to compare pre-existing samples to be able to definitively say where the nerve agent came from.

      However there is the caveat that you could identify where the sample came from, rather than who administered it.

      For the benefit of a layman, if an unknown lab was involved, would you be able to determine where the ingredients came from? Would you be able to say, e.g. this compound with this level of purity can only be found in such-and-such a place? So you could at least find out where in the world the ingredients came from, if not the lab that made it, and give investigators something to work on?

      • What's up Doc?

        It would be unlikely that you could trace the precursors very easily, unless they were very rare, not commercially available or had unusual impurity profile characteristics themselves. The route to synthesis can be determined pretty easily, by presence of small amounts of starting material or route specific by-products.That’s really all you have. You would have to have taken in-situ samples from the labs in question to positively confirm the origin. Interestingly the Polonium that killed Litvenenko was (I have read, usual caveats) ‘impurity free’ which is tantamount to saying ‘untraceable’.

    • Ba'al Zevul

      While I can agree with some of that, with reservations about doing it in a fume cupboard – think I’d prefer a glove box actually – and about whether this is actually a binary made directly from obtainable precursors rather than a binary each of whose halves has to be laboriously synthesised from those precursors ( one of which would also almost have to be HF, for added fun), you are neglecting the role of intelligence. Which, unlike the novichok structures, is not in the public domain. I really do not see us accusing a major power of an attack without being reasonably certain of our ground, and that part of the ground is, and needs to remain, invisible. Which, Russophiles, you would be the first to understand were the tables turned.

      One response to the development of these filthy compounds, designed to defeat then-current NATO detection methods among other things, was apparently our development of a field-deployable GCMS instrument – so your logic is sound. I would very much doubt that stones were left unturned in the case of Salisbury. The presence of a halogenated carbimine (typically X2:C:N-O-) moiety distinguishes these from previous OP agents – shouldn’t be too hard to spot…but DIY? I think not.

  • Jean

    It was pretty clear that commentators were gradually brought to sing from the same hymn sheet – without reference to a clear source. There hasn’t been any clear line of reasoning, which baffles a thinking person – but then – if you repeat something often enough it is quickly assumed by the masses to be true.

  • Tom Davies

    If this is true then Mrs May and Boris Johnson have a lot to explain.
    It is also good reason that Russia is unimpressed.
    BUT some bad stuff used in Salisbury and someone poisoned the pair
    Find them first

  • Rhys Jaggar

    If the US decontaminated the plant in Uzbekistan and destroyed stockpiles, two key conclusions can be made:

    1) 20+ years ago, US contractors had the ability to carry out analysis of field samples for the presence of Novichoks. The plant could not have been given the all clear if it were demonstrably clean of all Novichok, and that could only be demonstrated through validated analytical procedures showing negative samples against a postive standard curve.
    2) Either the USA had the opportunity to deposit such knowledge with OPCW or its forebears or they actively sought to retain such dangerous knowledge for narrow nationalistic reasons.

    So asking the US what they did with that 1990s knowledge might help to clarify who knew what when about Novichoks….

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