Knobs and Knockers 1316

What is left of the government’s definitive identification of Russia as the culprit in the Salisbury attack? It is a simple truth that Russia is not the only state that could have made the nerve agent: dozens of them could. It could also have been made by many non-state actors.

Motorola sales agent Gary Aitkenhead – inexplicably since January, Chief Executive of Porton Down chemical weapons establishment – said in his Sky interview that “probably” only a state actor could create the nerve agent. That is to admit the possibility that a non state actor could. David Collum, Professor of Organo-Chemistry at Cornell University, infinitely more qualified than a Motorola salesman, has stated that his senior students could do it. Professor Collum tweeted me this morning.

The key point in his tweet is, of course “if asked”. The state and corporate media has not asked Prof. Collum nor any of the Professors of Organic Chemistry in the UK. There simply is no basic investigative journalism happening around this case.

So given that the weapon itself is not firm evidence it was Russia that did it, what is Boris Johnson’s evidence? It turns out that the British government’s evidence is no more than the technique of smearing nerve agent on the door handle. All of the UK media have been briefed by “security sources” that the UK has a copy of a secret Russian assassin training manual detailing how to put nerve agent on door handles, and that given the nerve agent was found on the Skripals door handle, this is the clinching evidence which convinced NATO allies of Russia’s guilt.

As the Daily Mirror reported in direct quotes of the “security source”

“It amounts to Russia’s tradecraft manual on applying poison to door handles. It’s the smoking gun. It is strong proof that in the last ten years Russia has researched methods to apply poisons, including by using door handles. The significant detail is that these were the facts that helped persuade allies it could only be Russia that did this.”

Precisely the same government briefing is published by the Daily Mail in a bigger splash here, and reflected in numerous other mainstream propaganda outlets.

Two questions arise. How credible is the British government’s possession of a Russian secret training manual for using novichok agents, and how credible is it that the Skripals were poisoned by their doorknob.

To take the second question first, I see major problems with the notion that the Skripals were poisoned by their doorknob.

The first is this. After what Dame Sally Davis, Chief Medical officer for England, called “rigorous scientific analysis” of the substance used on the Skripals, the government advised those who may have been in contact to wash their clothes and wipe surfaces with warm water and wet wipes. Suspect locations were hosed down by the fire brigade.

But if the substance was in a form that could be washed away, why was it placed on an external door knob? It was in point of fact raining heavily in Salisbury that day, and indeed had been for some time.

Can somebody explain to me the scenario in which two people both touch the exterior door handle in exiting and closing the door? And if it transferred from one to the other, why did it not also transfer to the doctor who gave extensive aid that brought her in close bodily contact, including with fluids?

The second problem is that the Novichok family of nerve agents are instant acting. There is no such thing as a delayed reaction nerve agent. Remember we have been specifically told by Theresa May that this nerve agent is up to ten times more powerful than VX, the Porton Down developed nerve agent that killed Kim’s brother in 15 minutes.

But if it was on the doorknob, the last contact they could possibly have had with the nerve agent was a full three hours before it took effect. Not only that, they were well enough to drive, to walk around a shopping centre, visit a pub, and then – and this is the truly unbelievable bit – their central nervous systems felt in such good fettle, and their digestive systems so in balance, they were able to sit down and eat a full restaurant meal. Only after all that were they – both at precisely the same time despite their substantially different weights – suddenly struck down by the nerve agent, which went from no effects at all, to deadly, on an alarm clock basis.

This narrative simply is not remotely credible. Nerve agents – above all “military grade nerve agents” – were designed as battlefield weapons. They do not leave opponents fighting fit for hours. There is no description in the scientific literature of a nerve agent having this extraordinary time bomb effect. Here another genuine Professor describes their fast action in Scientific American:

Unlike traditional poisons, nerve agents don’t need to be added to food and drink to be effective. They are quite volatile, colourless liquids (except VX, said to resemble engine oil). The concentration in the vapour at room temperature is lethal. The symptoms of poisoning come on quickly, and include chest tightening, difficulty in breathing, and very likely asphyxiation. Associated symptoms include vomiting and massive incontinence. Victims of the Tokyo subway attack were reported to be bringing up blood. Kim Jong-nam died in less than 20 minutes. Eventually, you die either through asphyxiation or cardiac arrest.

If the nerve agent was on the door handle and they touched it, the onset of these symptoms would have occurred before they reached the car. They would certainly have not felt like sitting down to a good lunch two hours later. And they would have been dead three weeks ago. We all pray that Sergei also recovers.

The second part of the extraordinarily happy coincidence of the nerve agent being on the door handle, and the British government having a Russian manual on applying nerve agent to door handles, is whether the manual is real. It strikes me this is improbable – it rings far too much of the kind of intel they had on Iraqi WMD. It also allegedly dates from the last ten years, so Putin’s Russia, not the period of chaos, and the FSB is a pretty tight organisation in this period. MI6 penetration is just not that good.

A key question is of course how long the UK has had this manual, and what was its provenance. Another key question is why Britain failed to produce it to the OPCW – and indeed why it does not publish it now, with any identifying marks of the particular copy excluded, given it has widely publicised its existence and possession of it. If Boris Johnson wants to be believed by us, publish the Russian manual.

We also have to consider whether the FSB really publishes its secret assassination techniques in a manual. I attended, as other senior FCO staff, a number of MI6 training courses. One on explosives handling was at Fort Monckton, not too far from Salisbury. One in a very nondescript London office block was on bugging techniques. I recall seeing rigs set up to drill minute holes in walls, turning very slowly indeed. Many hours to get through the wall but almost no noise or vibration. It was where I learnt the government can listen to you through activating the microphone in your mobile phone, even when your phone is switched off. I recall javelin like directional microphones suspended from ceilings to point at distant targets, and a listening device that worked through a beam of infra-red light, but the target could foil by closing the curtains.

The point is that there were of course no manuals for this stuff, no manuals for any other secret MI6 techniques, and these things are not lightly written down.

I would add to this explanation that I lost all faith in the police investigation when it was taken out of the hands of the local police force and given to the highly politicised Metropolitan Police anti-terror squad. I suspect the explanation of the remarkably convenient (but physically impossible) evidence of the door handle method that precisely fits the “Russian manual” may lie there.

These are some of the problems I have with the official account of events. Boris lied about the certainty of the provenance of the nerve agent, and his fall back evidence is at present highly unconvincing. None of which proves it was not the Russian state that was responsible. But there is no convincing proof that it was, and there are several other possibilities. Eventually the glaring problems with the official narrative might be resolved, but what is plain is that Johnson and May have been premature and grossly irresponsible.

I shall post this evening on Johnson’s final claim, that only the Russians had motive.

Update: I have just listened to the released alleged phone conversation between Yulia Skripal in Salisbury Hospital and her cousin Viktoria, which deepens the mystery further. I should say that in Russian the conversation sounds perfectly natural to me. My concern is after the 30 seconds mark where Viktoria tells Yulia she is applying for a British visa to come and see Yulia.

Yulia replies “nobody will give you a visa”. Viktoria then tells Yulia that if she is asked if she wants Viktoria to visit, she should say yes. Yulia’s reply to this is along the lines of “that will not happen in this situation”, meaning she would not be allowed by the British to see Viktoria. I apologise my Russian is very rusty for a Kremlinbot, and someone might give a better translation, but this key response from Yulia is missing from all the transcripts I have seen.

What is there about Yulia’s situation that makes her feel a meeting between her and her cousin will be prevented by the British government? And why would Yulia believe the British government will not give her cousin a visa in the circumstance of these extreme family illnesses?

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1,316 thoughts on “Knobs and Knockers

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  • Billy Bostickson

    The only way we are going to shed any light on this very British theatrical coup is if Anonymous/Gucifer/Fancy Bears manage to hack Mark Sedwill, Boris Johnosn and Hamish de Bretton-Gordon’s emails.

    I will be checking wikileaks, wikispooks, pastebin and cryptome to see if they m@naged to crack these nuts before they brainwash the Skripals and send them to live in a trailer park in Texas

  • G.Bng

    On the funny side, an article from the Daily Mail, (link below), is for a Johnny English film claiming ‘sources’ saying that the novichok used was a specially designed “boutique” version after exhaustive tests to only work after 4 hrs. And that the Skripals only have survived because Drs that had recently been trained at Porton Down in CWs treatment happened to be on duty that evening and realised what it was. It’s worth a read just for the laughs as well as the comments which are 99% calling it ridiculous.

    On the sad and at least for me extremely worrying side, tonight an alleged CW attack in Eastern Ghouta. Many expected it for some time now the Syrian Army is clearly winning but more so since the Skripal case was presented as a CW attack and with Western politicians all linking CW use in Syria with Russia as an accomplice, which the consider pattern to prove this attack. With things as they are in the US and the West just hope they listened to Putin when he explained in what circumstances Russia would retaliate if struck by a nuclear weapon, “Why do we need a world if Russia ceases to exist?”… that’s what’s called a deterrent!

  • Patrick Mahony

    I said it before but won’t somebody at least try to get a writ of habeas corpus. I don’t believe they are in Salisbury Hospital, but at least a court action might flush some information out.

    • SteveH

      Gosh! Referencing articles in RT! You must be one of those paid Russian trolls we hear so much about, and who are apparently infesting BTL comments on this and other websites to sow discord and confusion amongst the guliible.

  • Bob Irving

    My understanding is that nerve agents are designed to kill by being inhaled, rather than absorbed through the skin, which is said to be the reason why the Skripals did not die immediately or die at all.

    • IM

      So if it were supposed to be inhaled (and one would think that if evil Russian secret service who supposedly were researching that *knew* that for a fact, you wouldn’t be “stockpiling” the nerve agent “for the past 10 years” without figuring out the best way of delivering it, right?!) why on earth would these highly trained assassins merely put it over the door handle?!

    • James Charles

      No one was affected by a ‘nerve agent poison’?
      ‘ . . .   he began his letter to the Times . . . with;“may I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury” ‘
      “ The Times published a letter from Stephen Davies (Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust) on the 16th March. ‘Sir, further to your report (‘Poison Exposure Leaves Nearly 40 needing Treatment’), may I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning. Several people have attended the emergency department concerned that they may have been exposed. None has had symptoms of poisoning and none has needed treatment. Any blood tests performed have shown no abnormality. No member of the public has been contaminated by the agent involved.’ ”

    • Olaf S

      When the old spy woke up and understood what had happened, he laughed out loudly.
      ”Novichok on the doorhandle? Ha, ha, the old joke. (I have not had a ”trip” like that in a long time)”.

    • niels

      To groom public opinion, to prepare you for gas attack in Syria (if they can poison their own with nasty Novichok, they are certainly capable of poisoning Syrians with chlorin) and for all out war beginning with hitting Assad in Damask and Russian bases in Syria.

      • niels

        That was all carefully preplanned – that’s why the last Nimrata Randhawa’s (a.k.a Nikki Haley) speech laying out the plan to attack Assad and Russians in case of a gas attack; and that’s why those f***rs in Ghouta refused to surrender and being transferred – they needed to stay and to carry out a gas attack provocation.

      • sibbaldi

        Obviously, MI5/6 aren’t employing the right sort of people to create a believable false flag operation, as they have to steal ideas from Hollywood. Strangely, there aren’t nearly as many good authors coming out of the security services as there used to be – Graham Greene Ian Fleming Cornwall/Le Carre. I wonder if there’s a connection?

  • Keltro

    Regardless of who or what was to blame two facts can be accepted as undisputed.

    1. Yulia was not an intended target making it more likely a whistleblower will come forward.

    2. The reaction by the UK and other governments will encourage future false flags but that is not saying this was one.

  • Billy Bostickson

    Gasumyanov is known to be connected to an Armenian criminal boss named Tevosik (Tevos Safaryan).

    When he arrived in Moscow, after being released at the end of December 2014 from Yerevan prison where he was suspected of kidnapping a businessman, according to Tevosik himself, he came to the Russian capital at the personal invitation of a retired FSB officer, a former high-ranking official of Rosrezerv and the Russian Federation, and now head of the security block of MMC Norilsk Nickel, Vladislav Gasumyanov (“Mole”).
    “Tevosik” bragged to his entourage of his plans to create an organized criminal group in Russia, with the aim of imposing a tribute for “all Armenian businessmen.” From the stories of Tevosik-Safaryan it also follows that Vladislav Gasumyanov, who invited him to Russia, allegedly already demanded a share of 70% of all the money earned as a result of “raids” with his participation.

  • Billy Bostickson

    So far I’ve followed the clues back to Tatiana Vikeeva (the mother-in-law) whose sponsor, Vladislav Gasumyanov, worked closely with her at the State Reserve and who personally appointed her as the Director of the “NGO”, ” Institute of Modern Security Problems”, which Gasumyanov himself founded. Presently, Gasumyanov is vice-president of PJSC “MMC” Norilsk, Nickel (a large mining and precious metals company).
    He is close to Putin, and from 1982 to 2001 saw service in the bodies of the KGB, SVR and FSB
    It turns out that our Gasumyanov has a colorful past and has been intimately linked to Caucasian criminal gangs and drug smuggling cartels as well as other corrupt activities:
    Who in the Kremlin covers up the “Armenian mole” Gasumyanov?
    This labyrinth of corruption stretches from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia (including Abkhazia and South Ossetia) to the Administration of President Dmitry Medvedev. The supreme distributor of this sewer of corruption is Vladislav Gasumyanov, the deputy head of the President’s Office for Interregional and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, headed by Sergei Vinokurov (later head of SVR), the confidant of the head of the Russian Presidential Administration Sergei Naryshkin.
    More details are here:
    Gasumyanov is known to be connected to an Armenian criminal boss named Tevosik (Tevos Safaryan).
    When he arrived in Moscow, after being released at the end of December 2014 from Yerevan prison where he was suspected of kidnapping a businessman, according to Tevosik himself, he came to the Russian capital at the personal invitation of a retired FSB officer, a former high-ranking official of Rosrezerv and the Russian Federation, and now head of the security block of MMC Norilsk Nickel, Vladislav Gasumyanov (“Mole”).
    “Tevosik” bragged to his entourage of his plans to create an organized criminal group in Russia, with the aim of imposing a tribute for “all Armenian businessmen.” From the stories of Tevosik-Safaryan it also follows that Vladislav Gasumyanov, who invited him to Russia, allegedly already demanded a share of 70% of all the money earned as a result of “raids” with his participation.

  • PeteB

    Just one more “wtf – doesn’t make sense” floating about in an ocean of them; Skripal’s 2 hamsters and his cat were sealed inside his house by police – and left there. The hamsters apparently died of dehydration, the cat was alive when a vet got to it, but was then put down because it also was dehydrated.

    No reports of any animal having second-hand nerve agent from the door handle. And quite apart from the animal cruelty, did nobody think it worth testing them to see if they had been in contact with it? What’s the first thing most people do when they return to a home with a pet in it? (After turning the door handle, obv.)

  • David Melville Edwards

    I write as a novelist rather than as anyone claiming any particular expertise in pharmacology or organic chemistry, but I find it easy to imagine both the reasons for developing a delayed action military grade novichok family nerve agent, and a mode of of action for such a poison.

    Having a delayed action is a useful attribute for a material designed for use in assassinations. It makes it possible for the assassin to make their getaway before suspicion is aroused, and it may also make it harder to determine where and when the poison was administered.

    The delayed action could be achieved by delivering, not the actual poison, but a poison precursor which is metabolised in the victim’s liver to the real poison.

    • G.Bng

      1. Not so “useful” seeing as the investigators discovered it not without too much difficulty
      2. Not so useful if for a targeted assassination as non targets such as the cleaner, a neighbour, a delivery guy or a friend could very easily get contaminated.
      3. No source has said anything about it being metabolised in the liver but hey, maybe that’s the trick, but the theory still would not explain how 2 very different subjects, e.g., male & female, 33 years age difference, health status if one is diabetic, difference in constitution of one being thin the other fairly fat, body fat thickness which would change the rate and timing of absorption, etc. etc., etc., could be contaminated at the same time yet both suffer the effects of the toxin at exactly the same time so that neither was able to call for help.

    • Blissex

      «easy to imagine both the reasons for developing a delayed action military grade novichok family nerve agent/i>»

      Those are reasons to develop any kind of delayed poison of some sort, but they are very stupid reasons for developing a military type nerve gas for battlefield use; for battlefield use you want something that acts as quickly as possible and then decays into something non-poisonous as quickly as possible, so your own troops are not affected.

      As to slow acting poison and novels, there is the famous example of the book in “The name of the rose”, and earlier still the legend about “Plum in the golden vase” novel of 16th century China.

  • Keith McClary

    Comment on
    “So, this special nerve concoction was designed to work after 4 hours, yet a policeman was incacipated straight away. What a load of bull`&$#.”
    sachoman, Osaka, Japan

  • Blissex

    A possible explanation of what happened given some aspects of what the security services have done (remove the door, not entered the house even to feed the pets) and compatible with the timing of the Skripals leaving the house and getting sick a long time later, this is totally speculative:

    * The daughter brings from Russia some toxic substance as the Skripals are into making some small black market profits.
    * The father examines the merchandise but he is not carefu enough and contaminates his hands a very little bit.
    * They leave the house, he opens and closed the house door, leaving most of the contamination on the door handle.
    * While walking or chatting he touches the daughter with the contaminated hand.
    * When they collapse on the bench the policeman helps them to stand by taking their hand.

    If the above entirely speculative scenario is true then:
    * The *inner* handle of the door is also contaminated.
    * There is/was something fairly dangerous inside the house and that’s why it was sealed.
    * The toxic substance is not particularly toxic or volatile.
    * It would also explain why the toxic substance was not washed away by the rain and why nobody was so stupid to put it on the external handle exposed to the elements.
    * it would also explain why the OPCW has been careful to emphasize that the toxic substance is very pure, as it came from a bottle or something, not exposed to pollen or dust or fog or rain on an external door handle.

    There are several possible variants…

    It would be really nice to know if the inner handle has been examined, but of course we are very unlikely to ever be told. It would be interesting to see what will happen in court. With the fantastic density of CCTV in english towns and 5 weeks having passed I guess the suspects have already been figured out :-).

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