Senior Civil Servants Still Deeply Sceptical of Russian Responsibility for Skripal Poisoning 590

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Heywood
Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service

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590 thoughts on “Senior Civil Servants Still Deeply Sceptical of Russian Responsibility for Skripal Poisoning

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  • Bayleaf

    Craig states: “It remains the case that Porton Down scientists have identified the chemical as a “novichok-style” nerve agent…”

    Perhaps I’ve missed something but I thought that the phrase ” Novichok class nerve agent OR CLOSELY RELATED AGENT” still accurately reflects the government’s position.

    If so, that does not mean that it is a “novichok-style nerve agent”. First, the phrase “or closely related agent” omits the word “nerve” and second, it does not state in what way they are closely related. It is quite possible that the phrase is intended to give a misleading impression and that the close relationship is not chemical, in which case comparing it to a “novichok-style nerve agent” would be incorrect.

    Craig should choose his words carefully.

    • Spaull

      The British delegate to the OPCW for the first time has unequivocally said it was novichok that the OPCW identified.

    • Rhys Jaggar

      The most obvious position is any agent interfering with acetylcholine metabolism (any acetylcholine esterase antagonist) as detected as an ACE inhibitory activity in laboratory assays. This includes Novichoks and a whole range of other compounds.

  • Frog free

    From Russia with love : US patent 9200877 – December 1, 2015

    “At least one active substance may be selected from nerve agents, including, but not limited to, organophosphates, such as G-agents, including tabun (GA), sarin (GB), soman (GD), cyclosarin (GF), and GV, V-agents, including EA-3148, VE, VG, VM, VR, and VX, Novichok agents, and any combinations thereof. “

    • Tatyana

      thank you, Frog free, for bringing it here!
      So, one Darren Rubin, Wesley Chapel, Florida, US – May 2, 2012 filed and Dec 1, 2015 patent confirmed.
      Why asking Russia if they develop it, when there is proof USA certainly patented means of delivery of nerve agents, including Novichok.

      • Tatyana

        Key moment for me is the name ‘Novichok’ in the text of patent. USSR programm on chemical research of this type had name ‘Foliant’ and the group of agents had names like ‘A-234’.

  • Bunkum

    Meanwhile in the UN 3 speeches by UK Rep

    Humanitarian situation in Syria

    Syria: International Impartial and Independent Mechanism

    And thirdly and I will cut and paste in full as to me UK GOV have spade will keep digging:

    Russian account of Salisbury is a re-write of Orwell’s 1984

    Statement by Ambassador Karen Pierce, UK Permanent Representative to the UN, at the Security Council Briefing on the OPCW findings on the attack on Salisbury.
    Published 19 April 2018

    Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Karen Pierce CMG

    Delivered on:
    18 April 2018 (Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered)

    Thank you very much, Mr President. Thank you very much to the High Representative who has read out the findings and thank you also, on behalf of the United Kingdom, to the OPCW and its staff themselves.

    The Council invited us to keep it updated, Mr President. Thank you for agreeing to this meeting today. We wish to brief on the latest stage in the investigation but I will also cover briefly findings, attribution and a refutation of some of the public statements that have been made by Russia against my country.

    This meeting is being held immediately after one in The Hague, that the High Representative referred to, of the Executive Council of the OPCW and I would just like to stress, if I may Mr President, that the report itself has been circulated without any redaction or amendment to the states parties and to underscore the point I’d like to stress that the report to Executive Council members is exactly the same the report that the United Kingdom itself received. As the High Representative has set out the OPCW’s findings confirm the United Kingdom’s analysis of the identity of the toxic chemical. It supports our finding that a military-grade nerve agent was used in Salisbury. As our investigation has found, and OPCW has verified, the highest concentrations of the agent were found on the handle of Mr Skripal’s front door. It is therefore, Mr President, the chemical that we said it was and this has been confirmed by an independent mechanism.

    I’d like to just say a word about the use of the term Novichok. This is a term we use to describe these chemicals. We take the Russian term for such nerve agents. The OPCW report itself does not use the term Novichok but the point I wish to stress is that it is the chemical that we said it was. And so there shouldn’t be any lack of clarity on that point. The report sets out the full forensic chain of custody. It sets out how there could be no contamination. It explains how environmental samples were analysed by two laboratories and biomedical samples by two further laboratories. Finally, the report notes the absence of any significant amounts of impurities in the chemicals that were detected. “High purity” is the description given in the Executive Summary in paragraph 11. This suggests, in turn, that a highly sophisticated laboratory, i.e. a state laboratory, made the chemicals.

    The identification of the nerve agent used is an essential piece of technical evidence in the ongoing investigation. But the Porton Down analysis and the OPCW report do not identify the country or laboratory of origin of the agent used in this attack. So I would like to explain Mr President, the wider picture which has led the United Kingdom to assess that there’s no plausible alternative explanation than Russian State responsibility for what happened in Salisbury.

    In our view, Mr President, only Russia had the technical means, operational experience and the motive to target the Skripals.

    If I may turn first to technical means. A combination of credible open-source reporting and intelligence shows that in the 1980s the Soviet Union developed a new class of fourth generation nerve agents. These were known in Russia, and then more broadly, as Novichoks. The key institute responsible for this work is a branch of the State Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology at Shikhany. The code word for the offensive chemical weapons programme, of which Novichoks were one part, was FOLIANT. It is highly likely that Novichoks were developed to prevent detection by the West and to circumvent international chemical weapons controls. The Russian State has previously produced Novichoks and would still be capable of doing so today. Within the last decade, Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks. Russia’s chemical weapons programme continued after the collapse of the Soviet Union. By 1993, when Russia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, it’s likely that some Novichoks had passed acceptance testing. This meant they could be used by the Russian military. Russia’s CWC declaration failed to report work on Novichoks. Russia further developed some Novichoks after ratifying the Convention and in the mid-2000s President Putin himself was closely involved in the Russian chemical weapons programme. It is highly unlikely Mr President, that any former Soviet Republic other than Russia pursued an offensive chemical weapons programme after independence. No terrorist group or non-state actor would be able to produce this agent in the purity described by the OPCW testing and this is something Russia has acknowledged.

    Secondly Mr President, I’d like to refer to operational experience. Russia has a proven record of conducting state sponsored assassinations including on the territory of the United Kingdom. The independent inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko concluded in January 2016 that he was deliberately poisoned with polonium; that the FSB had directed the operation; and that President Putin probably approved it. During the 2000s, Russia commenced a programme to test means of delivering chemical warfare agents and to train personnel from special units in the use of such weapons. This programme subsequently included investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents including by application to door handles. Within the last decade, as I said, Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks under this programme.

    Thirdly, motive: Sergei Skripal was a former Russian military intelligence officer from the GRU. He was convicted of espionage in 2006. It is highly likely that the Russian intelligence services view at least some of its defectors as legitimate targets for assassination. We have information indicating Russian intelligence service interest in the Skripals and this dates back at least as far as 2013 when email accounts belonging to Yulia Skripal were targeted by GRU cyber-specialists.

    Mr President, none of these stocks and production have been declared in Russia’s CW declaration. It is clear that Russia is in breach of its obligations to declare its CW programme.

    I’d now like to turn if I may, Mr President, to an update on the Skripals themselves and their medical condition and the consular situation and then also on the investigation itself.

    The Russians asked us to pass on the offer to provide consular services to Yulia and their request to see her and we have done that. Yulia herself said in a statement on 11 April: “I have access to my friends and family. I have been made aware of my specific contacts at the Russian Embassy who have kindly offered me their assistance in any way they can. At the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services but if I change my mind I know how to contact them”.

    A medical update from the Medical Director Salisbury District Hospital. In the four weeks since the incident in the city centre, the Skripals have received round-the-clock care from clinicians and they have been able to draw on advice and support from the world’s leading experts in this field.

    Because of the Skripal’s right to privacy, I will not go into great detail about the treatment we have been providing but we can say the following: Nerve agents work by attaching themselves to a particular enzyme in the body which then stops the nerves from working properly. This results in symptoms such as sickness, hallucinations and confusion. The hospital, in treating the patients, was able to stabilise them, ensuring that the patients could breathe and blood could continue to circulate. They then needed to use a variety of different drugs to support the patients until they could create more enzymes to replace those affected by the poisoning. The hospital also used specialised decontamination techniques to remove any residual toxins. Both patients have responded exceptionally well to the treatment that we have been providing but both patients are at different stages in their recovery.

    Turning to decontamination in the investigation, as we have said before this has been one of the most comprehensive and complex investigations into the use of chemical weapons ever undertaken. It has involved 250 police detectives. They have been supported by a range of experts and partners and they have gone through more than 5,000 hours of video footage and they have interviewed more than 500 witnesses.

    The British government announced on 17 April that decontamination work in Salisbury is starting this week. It will take some months to complete. In total, nine sites, including three in the city centre, have been identified as requiring specialist decontamination. This will involve a complex process of testing, the removal of items which could be contaminated and that might in turn harbour residual amounts of the agent, and it also involves chemical cleaning and re-testing. All waste will be safely removed and incinerated. Each site will not be released until decontamination is complete.

    Mr President, we’ve heard a number of allegations against the UK and against the findings from the Russian Federation. I would like to deal briefly if I may with some of the most egregious.

    One accusation that we faced today and in recent days was that Yulia had not been poisoned, that the British government had in fact drugged her and put her in a coma and then injected her with the poisons that were found. Mr President, this is more than fanciful. It is outlandish. That sort of thing may happen in Russia but I can assure the Council it does not and will not happen in the United Kingdom.

    Secondly Mr President, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has claimed that traces of the toxic chemical BZ were found in the samples analysed by the OPCW and this disclosed the location of one of the independent laboratories that OPCW used. The OPCW themselves have not disclosed the identity of the labs nor have they produced any information about BZ samples in the Executive Summary that they released to the public. So it is an interesting question Mr President: how and why does Russia think it knows who tested the samples and what result they found? By making this confidential information public, Russia has in turn breached the confidentiality that states-parties owe the OPCW under the Chemical Weapons Convention. On the substance of that allegation Mr President, the OPCW Director General explained in his statement today that a separate sample, separate from the samples taken from the Skripals and their environment, a separate sample with BZ in it was sent with the samples taken from Salisbury to the designated laboratories for testing. This is called a control sample and it is a routine procedure carried out in these tests so the OPCW can test whether the labs findings are accurate. The Director-General has confirmed unreservedly that there was no BZ in any of the samples taken by OPCW in Salisbury. I believe, Mr President, that Russia is fully familiar with this procedure so I would be grateful to know what motive Mr Lavrov had in setting out this obfuscation.

    Mr President, Russia continues to ask to be involved in the UK’s independent investigation. It is quite clear that they are both suspected of involvement and that their behaviour has undermined their credibility on this. As I said before, this is an arsonist-turned-firefighter trying to investigate his own fire. Russia has failed to establish any good reason, under the CWC or otherwise, why they should be involved in the UK’s independent police investigation.

    But if I may Mr President, I repeat what I said at the first briefing in this Council that I took part in on Salisbury. We did go to the Russian Federation, before we went to OPCW, to ask them if this was a rogue attempt by one of their agents and if so, to cooperate with us in trying to get to the bottom of it and resolve the case. And the Russian Federation did not agree to that request Mr President, rather they refused to take it seriously.

    On 13 April, the Russian Federation transmitted to the United Kingdom a list of questions under Article IX of the Chemical Weapons Convention. We will respond as soon as possible and certainly within the 10 days stipulated in the Convention. We will respond to Russia who made the request but we will share our response with all states parties and if I can under the CWC, Mr President, I will of course share it with members of the Council. Russia said that requests were urgent and they have asked us for an answer by no later than 17 April which we have not done because we have 10 days. But we regret that Russia did not consider it urgent when we asked them for an explanation on 12th March. Our questions, Mr President, remain unanswered.

    Mr President, that concludes the briefing I have to offer the Council today. We are at the Council’s disposal to answer any questions. We are also very willing to continue to keep the Council updated if the Council would like that. We’re happy to do that in person or possibly, so as not to disrupt your timetable, in writing. I should mention also that we held an open briefing for all Member States yesterday in the General Assembly and they had a number of questions that we were able to answer.

    Thank you Mr President.

    Right of reply by Ambassador Karen Pierce, UK Permanent Representative to the UN, at the Security Council Briefing on the OPCW findings on the attack on Salisbury

    Wednesday, 18 April

    Thank you very much Mr President. I will be brief. I was asked a number of questions by the Russian Ambassador.

    I have nothing to add to what I said in relation to the OPCW report that has just been published, the way the samples were taken. I have nothing to add to what I said on the consular side. I would like to stress that the investigation in the United Kingdom is indeed independent of the government. On selective adherence to the OPCW or the Chemical Weapons Convention, we are a State party in very good standing.

    On Porton Down, we, the UK does not possess chemical weapons. Porton Down is a defensive establishment. It conducts research. It provides scientific and technical support to the UK government in relation to protection against chemical weapons. Protective research is permitted under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Porton Down is in full compliance with the Convention and it is subject to regular inspection by OPCW and any member state is invited, is able, to conduct an inspection at any time. We received 16 questions from the Russian Federation under Article IX, Mr President, of the [CWC]. The rules and articles of the [CWC] make it clear that we have 10 days to respond and we will respond, Mr President.

    On President Putin, I am happy to clarify that I was referring to the early 2000s. On Litvenenko, the polonium trail literally led all the way back to Russia. I repeat something I’ve said before, Mr President; we respect Russia as a country, we have no quarrel with the Russian people but will always speak out against Russian authorities’ reckless and illegal behaviour whether it takes place in Syria or it takes place in Salisbury.

    Finally Mr President, when it gets to Christmas I would like to buy my colleague the Russian Ambassador a subscription to an English book club but as it isn’t Christmas allow me to return the literary favour today. The Russian account of UK behaviour and what is happening on the ground in either Salisbury or Syria is a rewrite of George Orwell’s 1984, updated for the modern day and modern Russian methods.

    Thank you.
    Published 19 April 2018

    • Jo Dominich

      Hi Bunkum Well what an unmitigated pack of lies this is. I am in utter amazement that members of the international community actually believe this balderdash – you could drive a horse and cart through it – Russia, like everybody else in the convention is also subject to regular checks by the OPCW. She’s got some information totally wrong – in fact, I think invented it – and hasn’t produced a shred of evidence to prove her statements such as the Shikhaney Lab, the development of Novichocks in secret and other things. This is just a concoction of what’s out there in the MSM. Shame on her and shame on the UK

    • Rhys Jaggar

      The Brits have form on this sort of rubbish. Irish pub bombings in the 1970s, two separate cases of fitted up defendants, who the IRA stated categorically later on were not the guilty parties. Twenty years of Home Secretaries lying, the judiciary covering its own arse, forged forensics, you name it.

      The UK Establishment was never punished. Just wait for the guilty parties to be pensioned off….

    • Neil

      The Salisbury medical statement never said the 3 had symptoms consistent with a military grade nerve agent poisoning, but simply that they were exposed to a nerve agent. The high purity found in samples is odd given the known degradation properties of A234.

      • squirrel

        I wonder if a sample switch occurred within Porton Down.

        The head of Porton Down remarked that it was impossible that novichok could have ‘left the four walls’ of the establishment and I wonder if there is an omission there.

  • certa certi

    ‘tailored to the known views of responsible civil servants in the relevant departments’

    There are responsible civil servants in intelligence agencies too.

    fwiw my take is thus far is that the Skripal affair was a botched operation missing the basic risk assessment, mitigation and management of 5 eyes. Nor have 5 eyes practiced pseudo terrorist operations for decades. 5 eyes agencies are stacked with risk averse lawyers who say no to almost everything. They are not proactive, their Ministers must task them. Should the Minister drift toward anything legally dubious or press something assessed to be too risky, senior management may be forced to engage their own legal advice to cover themselves and perhaps demand the Minister puts his/her directive in writing. The Minister will probably not want to do this. Either way office relationships are wrecked, people depart and dissatisfaction leaks into the public domain.

    That doesn’t mean Govts aren’t adept at using a crisis. I was amused by Johnson’s early public outrage, when he proclaimed the poisoning had been both an attack on Brit and on Europe. Strange thing to say for a Brexiteer simultaneously working to separate Brit from Europe, unless he’d been briefed to say it.

    Have any readers of your blog been monitoring the body language of Johnson and Lavrov for porkies?

    • TJ

      They are so “responsible” they nearly got us into a nuclear war with Russia, AFAIK the only thing that stopped it was someone realised that the KH-35 anti-ship misslles the Russians were carrying on their bombers were actually KH-50s which is the nuclear variant of the KH-35. It’s all fun and word games for these “civil servants” until we’re vapourised in a nuclear strike.The whole rotten lot of them need to hang.

  • jazza

    WAR – what is it good for?

    Absolutely nothing! (except big pay rolls for the elites ref Mrs May)

    Blind faith in your leaders in (2018) will get ya killed – Bruce Springsteen

  • Tony M

    From the pdf posted here a few days ago, “Acid Dreams, The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, The Sixties, and Beyond
    Authors: Martin A. Lee, Bruce Shlain, Publisher: Grove Press.Date: 1985”

    “A core group of approximately thirty men and women gathered at Millbrook,
    including many acid veterans from the early days at Harvard. They were rejoined by
    Michael Hollingshead, who had left the group in early 1963 to work in New York City
    with an organization known as the Agora Scientific Trust. Hollingshead had quite a
    scene going for a while at his Fifth Avenue apartment. The entire place was laced
    with LSD—the food, the furnishings, etc.— and anyone who came through the door
    (even the knobs were spiked) inevitably wound up stoned. He threw some wild
    parties at which everybody was dosed; those in attendance included people from the
    United Nations whom he knew from his days at the British Cultural Exchange. But
    when Hollingshead learned of Hitchcock’s generous offer, he knew it was time to
    pack his bags and head upstate. That’s where the action was, and he wanted to be
    part of it.”

  • Tony M

    Just saying door-knob delivery is not exactly something only Russians could ever have dreamed up, which seems to be their entire case for wildly apportioning blame.

    • Bu axmoqlik

      Or the security services have access to training material used by the Russian secret services? For instance it is more effective to put toxin on a door knob rather than a handle as the palm absorbers more through sweat glands, handles can be operated by single fingers and knobs require a firm grip?
      My guess is they have some kind of intercept or CCTV or evidence gathered by “equipment unknown”.

  • Bu axmoqlik

    “Well-placed FCO sources tell me”
    Are these the same sources that told you that novichok may not exist and is a plot fabricated by the US? Do you think they are still on your side and telling you the truth?

    The chip you have on your shoulder since your DV clearance was revoked is plain for all to see.
    “But I moved long ago past a world view where my country are the “goodies” and Russians are the “baddies”, and instead I reached an understanding that those in power oppress the people, universally.”
    Source –

    • Ophelia Ball

      Here! Here! In the absence of anything to say about the substantive issues, let’s attack the man rather than his argument!

      • Bu axmoqlik

        His argument is based on unnamed and unreliable sources (Senior Civil Servant(s) at the FCO), so his arguments attack themselves don’t they?

        • Ophelia Ball

          I could just as easily observe that your nom de plume is gibberish, and therefore your comments must surely also be nonsensical, but I think we both know that such reasoning is not only seriously flawed, but is no more than a device to avoid addressing the substance of the statements Craig – or you – make

          This may perhaps come as a shock to you, but it does not require Craig and his professional credentials to alert many of us to the glaring holes in the British Junta’s narrative, and to the very real possibility that we the public are not being told “The Truth, the whole Truth and nothing bu the Truth”.

          Who Craig was, and who his sources may be, is not directly relevant to that point of view: you do see that, surely?

          • Bu axmoqlik

            Gibberish? Of course.
            Craig and his sources are completely independent of yours surely? So why are you leaping to his defence, is it simply because you share a common opinion? By taking that stance I can only assume that you believe his “sources” are incorruptible and although they work for the UK government and are paid by the UK government are unlikely to pass on misinformation for use in a public forum.
            Your naivety is laughable.

          • Phil Espin

            You make an excellent point Ophelia. Craig has the courage to blog in his own name and anyone who has something worth commenting should do likewise. Before I’m accused of naievity and hear concerns expressed from others about their own personal security I suggest they get a life and step up. I have sympathy for those who are genuine whistleblowers and could be putting their jobs at risk. But if you think a silly name protects your true identity from those who really want to know who you are then you are out of your depth.

          • Bill McLean

            BU – it’s a case sometimes of who is most believable. Me! I personally have not believed a word from ANY British Government since the lies over Iraq – and I’ve not been disappointed with my scepticism and sometimes cynicism! You believe what you like but I would forecast that when the Skripal affair is fully investigate, in say 10 years time, the story will not accord with the current Government’s tale. What happened in the Litvinenko affair – well they had an investigation years later and then hid it on the grounds of “National security”.

          • Bu axmoqlik

            Bill, having read the statement online it makes clear why the full investigation can’t be published. It isn’t simply for National Security, but also in protection of citizens at home an abroad. The fact that you want proof isn’t going to trump the Governments will to protect the public, nor should it.
            “The House will appreciate that I cannot go into detail about how we seek to protect ourselves from hostile state acts. But we make full use of the measures at our disposal from investigatory powers right through to the visa system. And the case of Mr Litvinenko demonstrates once again why it is so vital that the intelligence agencies maintain their ability to detect and disrupt such threats.”

            “Sir Robert Owen’s report contains one recommendation within the closed section of his report. Honourable Members and Rt Honourable Members will appreciate that I cannot reveal details of that recommendation in this House. But I can assure them that the Government will respond to the Inquiry Chair on that recommendation in due course.”

            Two years ago the then Home secretary, May, said “The environment in which espionage and hostile state intelligence activities take place is changing. Evolving foreign state interests and rapid technological advances mean it is imperative we respond.”
            She was correct.

          • Bill McLean

            BU – re your 1204 comment, you clearly don’t think the excuse you quote is facile. If you fall for this guff you are likely to encounter many disappointments! British governments are renowned for their hypocrisy, deviousness, diversion and downright dishonesty. Anyway, each to their own, but remember my caution when the inquiry comes out – unless of course like so many other aspects of British values, including protecting political paedophiles, they will deem it “not in the public interest!

    • Ivan

      Fog of war. Is that any worse than running around like Chicken Little claiming that the Russians had committed the greatest act of aggression against Europe in seventy years or so? Clearly the poisonings even if committed by agents of the Russian state was spun into something larger. A Reichstag Fire for our time. Therefore extreme skepticism is warranted.

  • Tony M

    More on door-knobs.

    “His name was Michael Hollingshead, and he had a profound impact on Leary and his cohorts. An artful Englishman with a keen
    sense of humor, Hollingshead had once worked for the British Cultural Exchange.

    Uniquely fiendish these Englishmen to use door-knobs to deliver Chem-war agents.

    • Rhys Jaggar

      I would have thought it was unwise to assume both Yulia and Sergei Skripal would BOTH touch the same door knob around the same time. Which door knob? Front door seems wildly risky. When I go out, only one of us shuts and locks the door from the outside. Loo door? Who got inside the flat to spike it? Needed to be precise on timing (both going before heading out dor lunch?) or it might have happened in the house with no doctors around to revive them..

      Both car doors much safer in that both would definitely open a door…….and where you press may well be protected from the elements….

      All in all, most unprofessional planning. Far too many variables to expect simultaneous poisoning of both…..

      • certa certi

        ‘All in all, most unprofessional planning’

        Exactly. No risk assessment mitigation and management. No 5 eyes partner could be responsible for this.

      • Mary Paul

        if you look at photos of the Skripal house, the door handle on the front of door is a modern flat (horizontal) lever you depress or raise, as opposed to a round knob which you rotate. Just saying.

      • Ultraviolet

        That’s the thing that gets me. Once you pull together all of the excuses and explanations – the doorknob, the delay in the poison taking effect, the fact that everyone survived – what you end up with is something that completely refutes the possibility that this was a professional hit job by a state actor.

  • Ottomanboi

    Just following orders. Yes indeed, totally subservient to the masters’ whim.

  • Abulhaq

    Welcome to the Mendocratic Banana Kingdom of Ukania ye relics of empire aka the British Commonwealth heads of state. Nice weather for it!
    Scotland, shape up!

  • sackersonwp

    However, these extracts read as unequivocal:

    “…the use of prohibited chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against the civilian population of Douma.”

    “This response was designed to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability.”

    The above phrases seem to assert that the following are indisputable facts:

    – chemical weapons were used
    – the culprit was the Syrian government
    – Syria still has facilities making chemical weapons
    – the US/UK/French attacks on Syria had the sole purpose of destroying such facilities

    Your comments on this?

    • Bu axmoqlik

      You can’t convince a conspiracy theorist of anything…. ask them what would convince them that the Syria/Russian/Iranian carried out such attacks and they will demonstrate that they will never be convinced.

      • Bayard

        . “ask them what would convince them that the Syria/Russian/Iranian carried out such attacks”
        Ah, but what has convinced You that they did?

    • Woke Too Late

      As yet here’s no evidence that proves any of these assertions. They are not indisputable facts.

        • Bill McLean

          BU – I’d like to endorse “Woke Too Late” in his comment. Show us the evidence!

          • Bu axmoqlik

            Bill McLean
            Now when you say evidence what would you regard as irrefutable evidence? Do remember that the legal definition for criminal law is “beyond reasonable doubt”.

          • Bill McLean

            has “beyond reasonable doubt” been proven? Bombing sovereign countries without proof is uncivilized but very British!
            Witness the horrors in Yemen of children, women and civilian men being blow to bits with our assistance – we see the film to prove it! Maybe you don’t?

    • certa certi

      Yes, I could. The Iran banking sanctions badly harmed wheat sales, to the extent that at least one source country engaged in wheat for gold sales via third parties. The US, Canada, Australia, Ukraine, Russia and Germany are all competing for the Iranian wheat market. Any revived sanctions on Iran could well see some of the above asking for exemption.

      • Ivan

        Which simply means they are not sovereign countries since they fear for the knock on effects on their other industries. The UK under Mrs Thatcher for example was sovereign when she refused to follow the American lead in stopping some pipeline work in the 80s in the Soviet Union. Many are beginning to figure out that the Americans are engaged in a form of economic looting as the Russians claim.

  • Sharp Ears

    One of Mr Murdoch’s stooges scribbles in today’s Times. He refers to the Rev Giles Fraser as an ‘Assad stooge’,

    Bloody dictators love a gullible peacenik
    David Aaronovitch
    By visiting Syria with other Assad stooges, Giles Fraser has delivered a massive propaganda coup to an evil regime
    On Monday evening the Rev Giles Fraser, broadcaster, columnist, former canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, sent a tweet from Damascus. It read: “Fascinating meeting today discussing the long tradition of religious pluralism in Syria with the Minister for Religious Affairs. And the view from his office window.”

    It sounds convivial. The minister probably had sweet apple tea served to his guests in small glass cups on silver filigree saucers.

    Accompanying the tweet were two photographs Mr Fraser had taken: one of the bearded minister and, behind him on the wall, a large framed portrait; the other of the view from his office window of minarets and the capital’s urban sprawl.

    Given their ubiquity in Baathist Syria it’s quite possible that one of the buildings…paywall

    I was looking at the output on the Twitter feed of his colleague, and another Murdoch stooge, Mr Oliver Kamm. It is peppered throughout with anti-Assad propaganda, insults to Eva Bartlett and Jeremy Corbyn and the like. He makes space for his own photo (as vain as ever Oliver?) and ‘CARES’ about those affected in the Windrush Home Office débâcle. What a little creep.

  • Tony M

    Has anyone any links to details of the electronic means which disabled the French missile launches or indeed to the harrying of HMS Astute by two Russian subs which prevented their launching of 20 missiles at Syria? Red faces all round I think.

  • Tony M

    Rhys Jaggar
    April 19, 2018 at 08:34
    I would have thought it was unwise to assume both Yulia and Sergei Skripal would BOTH touch the same door knob …

    As they are apparently not looking for any suspects and are still detaining the daughter, could she have been the perp?

    • Ultraviolet

      Can you imagine the scene? Just imagine if days after the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister have openly accused Russia, the domestic police investigation had turned up cast iron proof that Yulia was couriering the toxin that poisoned them.

      What would a domestic investigation do next? How could they charge Yulia?

      What an irony if it were to transpire that the idiocy of politicians has made it impossible to charge a smuggler of chemical weapons who was committing crimes against both the UK and Russia!

  • Ophelia Ball

    There is a new subtext emerging here – first put about by Mad Dog Mattis last week, but now promoted by Herr Trumpf himself: unfortunately, rather than “Peace in our time”, it is a hollow form of triumphalism relating to the airstrike East of the Euphrates earlier this year, in which a number of Russian citizens appear to have been killed.

    Had those pro-Assad troops who were attacked by the US-led coalition been a formation under Russian control, then it is a racing certainty that they would have either enjoyed tactical air support, or would have at least had some form of air defence. I have absolutely no idea who they were, what they were doing, or what happened to them, but I am fairly certain that to present this as USA 1 vs Russia 0 is, at the very least, somewhat misleading, and detracts from the fact that, more recently, US Special Forces and a British Sergeant were also killed “fighting ISIS” near Manjib, notwithstanding the fact that the BBC’s own maps show that the nearest ISIS forces were 800km away. Let’s score that 1-1 then, shall we? Or rather, let’s not – this is not a game, well, not in the sporting sense, although perhaps as a charade to entertain the hard of thinking

    There are a number of points here: the first is that this form of hubristic grandstanding surely serves no purpose other than to goad the Russians; the second that I sense it is a lame attempt to counter the rather unfortunate facts that the Russians are in Syria legitimately, whereas the Americans are not, and that Russia appears to have been far more effective against ISIS in particular than the US-led insurgents

    But the key point, I think, is to distract from what I now sincerely believe was the second failure of “nice, smart” US missiles to penetrate Soviet-era air defenses. Whilst I have no training whatsoever in such matters, I am wholly unconvinced that the damage recorded in the “Before & After” photographs of the US airstrikes is consistent with the amount of ordnance allegedly deployed, or that it is in any way plausible that over 100 missiles, each with a 450kg warhead, would be deployed against only 3 targets. In short – whether due to interception or jamming – I believe that the majority of US missiles failed to reach their intended targets, just as was the case in 2017, and as is now habitually the case with Israeli strikes in Syrian targets.

    This must be a serious concern for the Americans, on 3 levels: firstly, they cannot now expect to reliably achieve their military objectives in a purely kinetic/destructive sense; secondly, the credibility of the US armaments industry is surely on the line – hence the interest of Turkey, India and now Saudi Arabia in the S-400 missile system in preference to the US Patriot. And finally, the myth of US “exceptionalism” and invincibility is now once again seriously open to challenge: merely being “Born in the USA” and toting an M60 may not, in fact, be sufficient to ensure that Rambo will always win, and although the crass failures in Korea and Vietnam have been self-pityingly Hollywooded away, attempts are ongoing to sell the myth that the Iraqi war was some form of heroic victory, whilst glossing over the quagmire in Afghanistan.

    In this sense the Syrian conflict surely does represent the altar upon which the myth of US exceptionalism will be exposed in all its naked frailty, and summarily sacrificed; these troops are there both illegally and inconsequentially, and the USA desperately needs to spin this debacle as some form of triumph of Good over Evil.

    • Hagar

      Ophelia, America has QUANTITY but LACKS QUALITY, as experienced by those who served beside them in EVERY war since the First.

      They are also extremely dangerous to anyone near them as they are likely to shoot their own and you.

      Friendly Fire they call it.

      What is friendly about your own killing you?

      • Ophelia Ball

        I served in what was once the 13th/18th Hussars (QMO) and we knew it as “Blue on Blue”; to this day I can’t look at a picture of an A-10 Warthog without reflexively clenching my buttocks and wishing I were better positioned to make my concerns known to the Pilot (who was probably from the 333rd Bomb Wing of the Odawydaho Air National Guard Hillbilly Tactical Strike Formation, and had previously never travelled further from the farm he was born on than to visit the State Fair or sell grits at his neighbourhood hog rodeo).

  • Leonardo

    On a tangential note, I was pretty astonished by the whole BZ argument that developed at the OPCW in the last few days and was put to rest yesterday. Am I the only one that feels like OPCW procedures are shrouded in a lack of transparency that might be not entirely necessary?

    I mean, yesterday we learned that the OPCW manipulates samples to create control samples that are shipped alongside the real ones to the laboratories that are meant to analyze them. The laboratories do their work and then file a report that the OPCW uses to create its own report, that is finally distrubuted to member states.

    But in order to make the laboratories unidentifiable, the OPCW doesn’t always publish all the details of the laboratories’ reports. Which means that ultimately the entire process is based on trust and as soon as you have a leak, like the one that allowed the Russians to get a hold on the report of the Spiez lab, all hell breaks loose because not even the member states are in possession of the whole detailed result of the analysis and there are details they are not privy to.
    Now the Russians will likely not be satisfied and certain of the data included in the OPCW report until the documents that prove that BZ was actually added to the sample on purpose are released. And after the Khan Sheikoun investigation I really can’t blame them for having their trust in the OPCW a little shaken.

    While this procedure is apparently meant to guarantee impartiality by insulating the laboratories from state members political pressure, in the end it might end up making the whole procedure murkier.

    • fred

      “Which means that ultimately the entire process is based on trust and as soon as you have a leak, like the one that allowed the Russians to get a hold on the report of the Spiez lab, all hell breaks loose because not even the member states are in possession of the whole detailed result of the analysis and there are details they are not privy to.”

      Last time there was talk of a leak round here it was the Democrat emails and it turned out in the end that it was Russian spies that had done the leaking.

      • Leonardo

        Well, sorry if I don’t buy the ODNI hand-picked experts’ report on the DNC hacking without seeing some real evidence. We have been lied to too many times to still credit Western governments with any shred of credibility. As far as I’m concerned, they can release the evidence or shut up. But anyway, let’s not change the subject, please.

        Here we know that the Russians weren’t just making the report up, since the OPCW acknowledged that the Swiss laboratory found a BZ precursor in the sample. If the leak came from russian spies then they did a good job (putting myself in their shoes here), but I’m not interested in the least about where it came from. I’m interested in the light is sheds on OPCW procedures and in the trust issues that it may actually expose.
        The OPCW said that it was a control sample, created on purpose by the OPCW staff. And I’m inclined to believe them.
        But the issue still stands. If the Russians do not know that the sample was temperd with in order to create a control sample, they have to trust what the OPCW says because the documents that prove that the BZ was added are not in their possession. And they are not in their possession because the fact that the BZ was added to create a control sample wasn’t meant to be known in the first place sine it was just an internal technical procedure.

        • Loftwork

          There are problems with the OPCW’s behaviour, certainly. I suggested earlier that the refusal to confirm that there were QA procedures requiring controls did not need to be kept secret for a week, unless the aim was to embarrass Lavrov. Lavrov clearly thought he had obtained leaked information about the findings and wanted more. Instead he was suckered into a rope-a-dope and very publicly roasted by what is supposed to be a highly professional, impartial and academic organization. I simply cannot see any way that Lavrov’s behaviour can be interpreted as anything but ignorance of the actual agent used. If he knew it was A-234, why remind everyone? If he knew it was BZ, then of course push for disclosure – but then it’s BZ and he’s off the hook to some extent anyway. Even if he knew it was A-234 and thought OPCW might have goofed by identifying BZ, it seems unlikely that he’d take the risk of trying to obtain disclosure of an error or unknown factor without being certain OPCW would confirm BZ. No, his being visibly conned and humiliated is the strongest evidence yet that he knows nothing about the Skripal attack.

          • OhOh

            Some possible questions to be answered fully:

            1. Do we have faith in the MET investigation?

            2. Do we have faith that, as the OPCW decided to limit the analysis, to one specific CW and insert yet another CW, BUZZ – for “security” reason, they didn’t insert anything else?

            3. Do we have faith that the stated introduction of the BUZZ CW does not compromise the “confirmation” of the unknown, publicly confirmed Laboratory grade not weapons grade CW?

            4. Are there any analysable chemicals present in BUZZ which are also present in the, “confirmed unknown CW”?

            5. Do we have faith the “introduced BUZZ CW” was pure and not ‘tainted” with the “confirmed unknown CW”?

            6. Who was the “introduced BUZZ CW” supplier?

            7. Was the “introduced BUZZ CW” tested for quality, prior to be inserted into the “confirmed unknown CW” i.e. no “pollutants” introduced?

            8. The OPCW introduced an additional CW to ensure what? The reputation of the OPCW, the reputation of the OPCW labs or the reputation of the requesting country (UK)?

        • Paul

          Then there’s the question of why add BZ in particular–an agent with somewhat racy past of its own, one that would tend to be associated with NATO, and one that would appear to fit the symptomology. It was as if they solved the mystery (eliminating a key alternative theory) before actually doing the chemical analysis.

        • Bayleaf

          @Leonardo. I find it hard to believe that the protocol for analysis of samples was unknown to the Russians. So either the doctored sample is part of the protocol or the OPCW was going outside of agreed procedures.

          As I have mentioned elsewhere in this thread, the presence of BZ in the blood samples of the Skripals has not been denied by the British representative to the OPCW, Peter Wilson. Instead, he says:

          “… the 4 OPCW designated laboratories did not detect BZ in any of the samples collected in Salisbury.

          Salisbury General Hospital, where the Skripals were being treated is not in Salisbury. It lies outside the boundary of Salisbury and is located to the south-west of Britford, which is not administered by Salisbury City Council. So the wording might be deliberately evasive.

      • Bayleaf

        “Last time there was talk of a leak round here it was the Democrat emails and it turned out in the end that it was Russian spies that had done the leaking.”

        Those pesky Wussians, again! Craig Murray has already said that he has first-hand knowledge of the leaks and:

        “The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.”

      • Merkin Scot

        “Last time there was talk of a leak round here it was the Democrat emails and it turned out in the end that it was Russian spies that had done the leaking.”
        As well you know, that leak was an internal leak and the Yank who leaked has already been killed in a staged ‘mugging’ – in which nothing was stolen!!

      • Jo Dominich

        Fred, no evidence to support your assertion at all. In fact, it looks very much as though Cambridge Analytica had a hand in this somewhere – you know, proof positive recently that they had interefered in many elections?

  • The OneEyedBuddha

    US sanctions on Rusal have a weird twist with the Trump/Russia investigation.

    Turns out Manafort may have worked with Rusal owner Oleg Deripaska..

    not sure what it means, but is interesting that Rusal where targeted in all of this, especially with the Supply issues it has caused with Aluminium & the hit Rusal Investors have taken (a lot of them Western)

    “In July, with Trump closing in on the Republican Party’s nomination, Manafort made a previously reported effort to patch his soured relationship with Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate who is close to President Vladimir Putin.

    Manafort once did consulting work for Deripaska’s businesses. The men had a falling out over $18.9 million that Deripaska invested with Manafort in a Ukrainian cable television venture in 2007. The venture failed, leading to litigation, including a lawsuit that Deripaska filed in January claiming Manafort and Gates defrauded him.”

  • Tony M

    I wish we could get to the bottom of this, I’m wondering if the daughter’s itinerary and travel arrangements after visiting her father at Porton Down, were known, I know it can only be conjecture, but when did she plan to return to Russia, if she did intend returning, and was she planning to do so directly or was she stopping over perhaps in Turkey or somewhere else bordering Syria perhaps. It seems the UK-organised false-flag in Syria was lacking an essential component, that being any trace of chemical weapons, as if they never arrived as planned and the false-flag went ahead in a much more unconvincing and amateur fashion.

    • copydude

      Are you sure you mean Porton Down or just Salisbury?

      Yulia certainly intended returning to Russia and did not envisage an extended stay.

      It’s widely reported she had put her dog in the local kennel for 800 rubles a day. Not cheap for Russia and soon become an issue once it was known she wouldn’t return in a normal time frame.

  • Screaminkid

    Salisbury poisoning was a farce! Deliberately constructed 2 mirror a Cold war script of Russia using a Novichok smeared on Skripals front door handle? Russian technology has moved along since those days but obviouslyMI6 imagination hasnt?

  • mike

    Sorry for O/T, but it is relevant to Skripal and Douma.

    Regarding the Windrush boarding cards, yet again the Maybot is being protected by the state broadcaster. She lied to Parliament during PMQs. It should be the top story. It should bring her down. But it is nowhere on the BBC website.

    That’s because the goal is to ‘Get Corbyn’. The state/media nexus is united on that score; the elites are terrified of a socialist Labour Party and will do anything to save the Maybot and her clowns from a wipe-out at the local elections.

  • Bayleaf

    I posted this on the Goebbels thread but it is worth repeating here:

    One thing immediately caught my eye in Peter Wilson’s official statement, being fairly tuned-in to the double-speak and evasions of politicians and officials:

    “In fact, the 4 OPCW designated laboratories did not detect BZ in any of the samples collected in Salisbury.”

    Whenever they add qualifiers like that, I’m immediately suspicious. For example, is the hospital outside the official boundary of Salisbury city? It’s certainly quite a way out from the geographical centre. Weasels will weasel, after all.

    Answer: Yes, it seems that the Salisbury District Hospital lies outside the boundary of Salisbury. It is located to the south-west of Britford, which is not administered by Salisbury City Council.

    So we can reasonably conclude that BZ could have been found in the blood samples taken from the Skripals.

    • Bu axmoqlik

      Or the OPCW (from other security services) understood the Swiss lab had a Russian link so should be investigated by being part of a ransom security check using the BZ marker.

    • Ultraviolet

      I’m getting really fed up with all this secret squirrel nonsense.

      Is there any reason whatsoever why we cannot have a table published, showing the sample reference, exactly what that sample is (Porton Down biomeds taken before OPCW involved, biomed with full chain of custody, environmental sample from location x, y, z etc) and exactly what was found?

      Is there the remotest national security or OPCW confidentiality reason why that could not be done to stop all this fannying around? Why we are not permitted to know precisely what was found precisely where?

      • Jo Dominich

        Ultraviolet, wholeheartedly agree but, that would seriously dent the reputation of the so-called impartial and independent OPCW and hopefully, bring down the British Government. The OPCW conduct of this has, to me, been less than impartial. It seems as though they have been compromised by either the USA or the British Govt. I am so disappointed because I had believed otherwise.

  • Tom Turner

    The BBC still seems to going that extra mile to call other explanations ‘conspiracy theories’. Despicable.

    • Bu axmoqlik

      Tom Turner
      April 19, 2018 at 10:14
      The BBC still seems to going that extra mile to call other explanations ‘conspiracy theories’. Despicable.

      As the OPCW has stated the ONLY explanation is that Russia was behind the attack, this is fact, supported by an agency of the UN of which Russia is a member.

      All other explanations can therefore only be regarded as theories. That is simple logic. You may want to Google the word conspiracy.

      • Ivan

        When did the OPCW state that the Russians were behind the attack? They had identified a chemical or chemicals.

        • Mary Paul

          Agreed. Following changes initiated at UN Securty Council by Russia relating to the OPCW ‘s operating protocols, thevOCPW does not identify manufacturer orl country of origin, of any chemical weapons it analyses, it simply identifies the name and type of the weapon analysed.

      • bj

        Your government just broke international law. Simple logic tells me therefore they have done that before. The explanations offered by it are therefore nothing more than theory, serving a role in a propaganda effort. It is directed at the gullible, such as yourself.

      • Ultraviolet

        “As the OPCW has stated the ONLY explanation is that Russia was behind the attack”

        If you want to be credible, you need to stick scrupulously to the truth. The OPCW has been absolutely explicit in not saying that or anything remotely along those lines, and in stressing that it is not its job to do so.

  • quasi_verbatim

    So, thanks to Gareth Porter at RI, we now know that the entire enchilada is down to dud Novichok and Russian oligsrchs circulating in the post-Soviet space.




    (Unfortunately, the Clueless One has life tenure as Labour leader and I do not expect a Labour government untii, say, the mid-2030s.)

  • jazza

    When we pay our income tax we never really know how it is spent and to which parts of the expenditure it is allocated. What we do know is that our taxes are being used to support terrorists in the ME and across the globe. We also pay a tax for the upholding of the british broadcasting propaganda company.
    We can, therefore, stop paying the tv tax because it is specific and bring down the bbc and we can demand of our parliamentarians that they do not use OUR money to pay for terrorism
    Don’t pay the tv tax from today – get it!

  • Mary Paul

    While we are advancing conspiracy theories…….. initially I read in MSM the Russians saying there was no nerve agent used in Syrian army attacks on Douma. Now I am reading they are saying it was a false flag by the UK government, (and suggesting involvement of the White Helmets in some accounts.).

    Since the leaked OPCW report from the Swiss Lab on the Salisbury sample, we know that the BZ added to the sample there as a control element, is a US/UK developed “exclusive” nerve agent.

    It was I think Russia who originally got 0PCW’s general Terms of Reference modified to restrict their analysis to stating an opinion on the type of nerve agent they found on an inspection, but excluding its origin.

    What if the delay in allowing OPCW inspectors onto the Douma site, is to give the Russians time to seed it with some BZ traces, inorder to point the finger at US/uK as a false flag attack?

    Separately I see Macron is claiming French intelligence has evidence Syrian army used nerve gas in its recent assault on Douma. I assume French are referring to their own first hand on the ground intelligence and not second hand use of British sources.

    • Ivan

      The Russians I believe have had a sea change in attitude towards the West. Till the Salisbury incident they cared about what is called the optics of any incident. But after the sanctions and the ‘kinetic’ action they no longer believe in shaping the narrative by appealing to one peace faction or other. I believe they no longer care to influence public opinion, since the West seems to care only when military might is involved. My money is on them waiting out the World Cup, before fully adopting the new perspectives.

  • Doodlebug

    Bayleaf @10:13

    Thank you for bringing that forward. Clearly certain of the samples apparently analysed at the designated laboratories are supposed to have been gathered from the field, so to speak. We have since been told that whatever the nerve agent was it took the form of a liquid (odourless and colourless?) and was administered via a door handle. I profess no expertise in CSI techniques, but I am at a loss to understand how it was at all possible to submit sufficient material to the OPCW under such circumstances. Craig’s post of 5 April is worth reviewing in this connection.

    • copydude

      I think the Novichock debate is clouding the issue.

      The formula has been an open secret for 20 years, produced in different places, exists in many variants and doesn’t prove or disprove Russian involvement. The weakness of our murder mystery is still motive and the person or persons unknown who dunnit.

      It’s certainly interesting that the hit and the response appear pre-planned. Charles has posted several times questioning the timeline. A response unit appeared almost at once, complete with air ambulance, paramedic and plain clothes detective.

      Moreover, whatever the poison was, it seems to have been identified and diagnosed almost immediately by Salisbury Hospital. Now, with such an esoteric substance, that doesn’t seem ‘highly likely’, to use the current buzzphrase. Litvinenko’s diagnosis took 18 days at a top London hospital, with all kinds of blood and fluid analysis available. Blood, for example, is tested many different ways – but usually determined by what you are looking for. How often do people turn up at the local A&E after a polonium or nerve gas attack?

      The other big puzzle is that our weapons grade novichock did not kill its victims, so was this really the genuine article? Well, here we have to wonder about the curiously coincidental location of the hit, just a few miles from one of the world’s largest nasty weapons facilities. Porton Down has the resources to knock up a batch of anything, maybe a cocktail, a la carte. Testing pathogens and poisons on animals is what they do all day, logging time to death, measuring and assessing benign and fatal doses, so on. They get through 12,000 animals a year. Hmmmm.

      Besides ‘Russian Novichock’, Mrs May supports her assertion of a Kremlin hit by saying Russia has form in this. But Russia never has killed a swapped spy and it’s a convention among all secret services that you don’t. Otherwise all future swaps would be compromised.

      In its defence, the Russians are saying that Sergei was a man of no consequence, not worth a bullet, did his time in prison and was now out of the loop. But this can also be questioned. It’s reported that he lived modestly, but all things are relative. Within one year of leaving prison, he bought two houses cash. He was supporting a wife and two adult children. The ‘modest detached house’ is double my council tax and his incidental expenses – regularly spending #40 on lottery cards, eating out, running the BMW, the Persian cat, the housekeeper – are way beyond most pensioners. He will have got through half a million cash in his first year in the UK.

      So who was paying him, Russia or MI6?

      The other day, Viktoria was on Russian TV, demonstrating outside the British Embassy for her visa. She looked utterly pathetic in the rain with a hand scrawled poster. In Russia, you need permission for a large demo, but surely the Government would have been only too happy to help organise some anti-Brit PR. Obviously not.

      On a talk show, Viktoria was discussing the rejection of her visa application. It’s clear to me she had no clue about the process and had no help whatsoever. Russia could have put money on her bank account, booked the stay, got the letter from her employer about time off and so on. They chose not to.

      The Russian Ambassador has made noises about access and abduction. But it’s only talk. He could have got Viktoria a lawyer for access to the hospital, to get Yulia a phone, a writ to see patient consent forms and most important to represent Yulia at the Court of Protection, when she was declared incapacitated without anyone actually seeing her.

      Somehow it appears that neither side has any interest in Yulia going public.

      • Paul

        … neither side interested in Yulia going public…”

        I think you’re on to something there. The Russian defence of their citizen, here, has been oddly weak. No representation at the High Court for blood samples (and no official legal protest at being kept out of it). No writ of habeas corpus. Little to no support for Viktoria, as you note.

        They may be worried about what she will say, whether she’s actually involved in the plot. The Brits meanwhile, assuming she’s alive, won’t produce her unless forced, since they control that narrative more perfectly with her silence, than by letting her in front of a camera.

        • copydude

          Paul. Certainly. I’d hope our FO would be bit more pro-active if I were suddenly evaporated in some foreign capital.

          There is possibly an ‘innocent’ explanation. that Skripal was once a traitor who, to add insult to injury, is currently causing Russia no end of grief. So Russia is hardly inclined to help the family out of a jam.

          Conspiracy theory: that Skripal was working for Russia again and Yulia some kind of go between. Seems she was quite deliberately poisoned, not collateral damage. And it’s clear she is being interrogated.

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