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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  • Charles

    “Well-placed FCO sources tell me”

    But why did they tell you?

    Did they want the truth to come out? Did they want a false trail laid? Were they gossips? Were Straw Men involved? Were they under the same misapprehension as the FM and were outraged by what they thought they knew?

    Who told the Russian FM that BZ was mentioned in the Report? Or more to the point why was he told?

    During the Dr David Kelly scandal Andrew Gilligan revealed to the FAC that he had 4 contacts in the UK security services that fed him secret and top secret information, he was even given access to the physical documents.

    The question is less who but why. (it is interesting to note that it was also not important for the government to discover who made those leaks to Gilligan, they gave up on that investigation)

    It is common for leaks to contain both truthful and untruthful information for a variety of reasons.

    But regardless, in this case I didn’t need Craig’s snitch to inform me. I was quite capable of working out that if they did have convincing evidence that the Russian State did it it would have been published.

    The same is not true if they have evidence that someone else did it.

    The motive of the UK government to point the finger at Russia, so soon, was to further demonize it in the growing global offensive against Russia that is being led by Britain.

    And there is also a reasonable conclusion to draw as to why other suspects are not being considered (eg Skripals ex colleagues who he betrayed) that is the UK already know who applied the poison (they did after all know what it was 2 days after the attack. How long did it take the OPCW to identify the substance? How long would it take any competent fully equipped lab with all reference data to confidently identify A 234?

    And where did that early sample come from? Not the door handle that was not a contender until two weeks later.

    Oh dear!

    • Bu axmoqlik

      He seems to have been taken on a merry dance by his sources with his blinkers on. Claiming the UK government lies and cheats while using the very same government as a source is what is known as a “self licking lollypop”.
      He needs to live in the real world away from a computer screen and maybe take some anti-psychotics to supress the paranoia.
      Russia has been shown to lie and cheat at everything they do…. badly!

      • Charles

        With dishonesty being the norm from governments now it is important that people like Craig do get the truth out.

        Sometimes they will get it wrong for various reasons. In this case it is inconsequential as, assuming there are intelligent people in the FCO, some intelligent people will come to the conclusion that there is no evidence to convict Russia. What Craig has announced is self evident to some, unsurprisingly not to you.

        However it is more interesting that you latch onto this as re-enforcement of your anti-Russian feelings.

        Where and how did you come across your information that “Russia has been shown to lie and cheat at everything they do…. badly!”

        And why do you rely and value that information so much that you feel compelled to broadcast it? On a computer.

        • Bu axmoqlik

          The truth? He claimed a month ago that Novichok didn’t exist based on information that he received from someone in the know!

          “Where and how did you come across your information that “Russia has been shown to lie and cheat at everything they do…. badly!””
          Going by what you’ve said above, they have been set up by the UK Government and look at the reaction of the international community…
          The Netherlands: Statement by H.E. Ambassador Paul Van Den IJssel Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons at the Fifty-Ninth Session of the Executive Council 18 April 2018 18/04/2018
          Norway: Statement by H.E. Ambassador Martin Sørby, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Norway to the OPCW at the Fifty-Ninth Meeting of the Executive Council 18/04/2018
          Canada: Statement by Ambassador Sabine Nölke, Permanent Representative of Canada to the OPCW at the Fifty-Ninth Meeting of the Executive Council 18/04/2018
          Finland: Statement by Ambassador Katri Viinikka, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Finland to the OPCW at the Fifty-Ninth Meeting of the Executive Council 18/04/2018
          India: Statement by Ambassador Venu Rajamony, Permanent Representative of the Republic of India to the OPCW at the Fifty-Ninth Meeting of the Executive Council 18/04/2018
          Ireland: Statement by Ambassador Kevin Kelly, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the OPCW at the Fifty-Ninth Meeting of the Executive Council 18/04/2018
          European Union: Statement on Behalf of the European Union Delivered by Ambassador Krassimir Kostov, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Bulgaria to the OPCW at the Fifty-Ninth Meeting of the Executive Council 18/04/2018 Statement by Estonia to the OPCW 58th Meeting of the Executive Council 16 April 2018 18/04/2018
          Switzerland: OPCW 58th Meeting of the Executive Council Statement delivered by Ms. Nadine Olivieri Lozano Deputy Poland: Statement by Mr. Marcin Kawalowski, Charge d’Affaires A.I. Deputy Permanent Representative of Poland to the OPCW at the 59th Meeting of the Executive Council 18 April 2018

      • Mark Russell

        So, in the real world, you think the UK government and its officials are all honest brokers? From my experience over the last five years, I can assure you that most certainly not the case. Our entire political system is corrupt – as are many of the institutions and agencies that deliver policy; the only considerations are money and consolidation of power and reputation. I wasn’t a diplomat, nor did I have career in defence or intelligence that brought me into conflict with official policy. I’m just a bloke that looks after your feet.

        Ten years ago I raised a concern with a medical regulator regarding public safety and five years later, was subjected to two separate criminal prosecutions that lasted three years. From evidence during the hearings, we established that two regulators and a number of DoH officials and Ministers, deliberately mislead the public and professions over an essential clause in the legislation that had profound consequences for public safety. They did so for political expediency and financial gain and their actions constitute fraudulent misrepresentation. Yet even when confronted by unequivocal evidence, Ministers and officials continue to lie and deny any wrongdoing.

        Had it not been for the present political crisis, a number of Ministers and officials may well have been interviewed under caution this week. Do I think our politicians and civil servants are trustworthy? I’m afraid not.

      • Jo Dominich

        Bu do you have any evidence of that? The only liars I see are the UK, USA and French Govts at the moment. It is Russia that are the only people not only trying to pursue the truth and being blocked but are the only ones clearly telling the truth – they knew nothing about the Salisbury attack. Do pay attention and do some proper research will you. You really are becoming quite tiresome. Dissent from opinions on this page is welcome but at least opinion on these pages is based on objective analysis of all the lies and truthful documents out there. You just spout out ridiculous cliches. Please do better next time.

        • Bayleaf

          Indeed, Jo Dominich. One of the golden rules of good propaganda is to mix your lies with the truth.

          Unfortunately, many of these “contrarian” types are both unimaginative and totally predictable. As you say, it’s become quite tiresome.

  • Comrade Lavrov

    You’ve got to laugh at the Russian incompetence in this whole debacle. The poor spy/would-be-assassin must be chopped up by now. Gaffes from as high up as Sergei Lavrov have shown up Russia to be a nation full of people willing to cheat and murder to further the ends of the state. Above all, their attempts as the Olympic cheating scandal has demonstrated, they feel belittled enough to gain notoriety by any means. With a population of just double the UK they seem to be unable to carry out their threats or even assassinations competently.
    They repeatedly remind me of the Soviet era and in particular a LADA car spluttering its way along a 4-lane motorway, and their sports men and women as “dopes”.

    • Brian c

      All the threats seem to be directed their way, continually. What are you seeing that I’m missing?

      • Bu axmoqlik

        Well I suppose all this could be a conspiracy brought on them by the UK, the nasty Tory party and the illuminati. The Russian state are on the run that’s for sure or at least on the back foot, oh how the mighty have fallen, being bullied by a society half it’s size!

        Are there any on here that believe the Russian State never carried out doping of their Olympic team?

        • Jo Dominich

          Are there any here that believe the USA have not carried out any doping on their olympic team? Or that Lance Armstrong was a misunderstood athlete who never doped but was the victim of a cruel hoax?

          • bj

            And Sky is carrying out acts of Chemical Warfare and Propaganda with their cycling team and Chris Froome.

          • Bayleaf

            @Paul. The Norwegians “asthmatics” are at least authorised to use the medication. Having to breathe all that crisp, fresh Norwegian air must be so unhealthy. Poor things.

    • marvellousMRchops

      Sir Bradleys TUI’s don’t really count as cheating do they? Why? Because he’s not Russian…….

      • Bu axmoqlik

        So you don’t believe the Russian state were involved in the mass doping?
        Sir Brad isn’t a mass doper is he? You might want to see a movie called Tour de Pharmacy to clear up any doubts you had about Brad and Froome.

    • Ultraviolet

      Let’s suppose you are right.

      Then Russia with absolute 100% certainty is not the threat it is being made out to be in the West.

  • Comrade Lavrov

    Meanwhile the Syrian Russian Coalition denies entry to OPCW inspectors from entering Douma for a 6th day. You would think the might of the Red Army could control the streets of a relatively small suburb wouldn’t you? I suppose the fact they had to use a chemical weapon to root out rebels from tunnels and basements probably demonstrates what a desperate state the Russian arm is in.

    • marvellousMRchops

      “I suppose the FACT they had to use chemical weapons….”
      Source or even better sources please otherwise I will have to laugh at your own incompetence.

    • Brian c

      Compare it with the vaunted counter insurgency abilities of the British Army, most recently demonstrated in Basra and Helmand . . . where they had to be bailed out by Daddy Sam. (Despite having assured Daddy that counter insurgency was a British speciality)

    • Merkin Scot

      “Meanwhile the Syrian Russian Coalition denies entry to OPCW inspectors from entering Douma for a 6th day.”
      Naughty, naughty, pants on fire.
      As well you know, the OPCW inspectors weren’t able to enter Douma until they had received clearence from the UN.

      • Charles

        And when they did get the ok US (armed, funded, trained etc) Rebels / Terrorist shot at them.

        • Jo Dominich

          Charles, sorry to ask this straight out of left field so to speak, but I have noted with interest your timelines about the Wiltshire ambulance data which casts a lot of doubt as to route taken, time missing etc. Is there any change you might be able to provide a very quick, easy to understand summary as to the key issues because although I think I understand what you are saying, being a bear of little brain in this, I am not quite getting it right in my head yet.

      • marvellousMRchops

        So if we use Salisbury for the baseline of how long ‘Military Grade’ chemical weapons remain active – how long have the OPCW got before they need to worry about missing the boat or was it a helicopter or……….a White Helmet?

        • Ivan

          If it were chlorine they have already missed the boat. At this stage it’s all theatre.

    • Jo Dominich

      Get your facts right. It is the UNDSS that is holding up the OPCW Inspectors getting to Douma because they believe it is not safe for them to do so apparently due to sniper fire experienced by an advanced party. For goodness sake, before posting these ridiculous comments please do some extensive reading.

      • Bayard

        Jo, reading is dangerous, it can unearth facts which contradict some very dearly held prejudices. Much better not to.

    • OhOh

      The actual people denying the OPCW FFM entering and investigating are the UN Security team, Not Russian or Syrian authorities.

      See yesterday’s OPCW announcement.

    • bj

      You shouldn’t worry so much. It’s highly likely that the chemical is of a liquid nature that will stick around for the coming months.

    • Konrad E. Wolter

      If chlorine gas where used,the 3rd underground hospital level would be filled with and nobody, without protection mask, would be able to make a nice video with headwashed suffering kids.
      The simle fact that “rebels” installed the field hospital in the 3rd downlevel and permanently use tunnels shows that they where not afraid about the use of CW like chlorine.

      The OPCW inspection arrived in late Saturday. They had permission to go to Douma but get a warning about the local security situation.They are supposed to make a independent inspection and had troubles to find a non governmental protection escort . That was the real situation in syria.
      By the way, it wasn’t the first time OPCW comes under fire in syria.

    • PreProle

      The official line is likely to be a simple inversion of the truth… “high purity” (ie, fresh) A-234 was found in the month-old, trace-BZ containing blood samples taken from the Skripols.

  • Silvio

    Busted! Syrian Boy in White Helmets FAKE Chemical Attack Video Reveals Truth

    “We were in the basement. Mom told me that today we don’t have anything to eat and that we will eat tomorrow. We heard a cry outside, calling “go to the hospital.” We ran to the hospital and as soon as I entered, they grabbed me and started pouring water on me,” Hassan Diab said.

    His father continued the story. He was at his work when he heard that his son was in hospital. He rushed to the hospital and found his family there in good health. He added that he was on the street, smoking and didn’t feel any chemical weapon. According to him, it turned out militants gave all the participants food — dates, cookies and rice — and then released them.
    “There were no chemical weapons. I smoked outside and felt nothing. I entered the hospital and saw my family. Militants gave them dates, cookies and rice for participating in this film and released everyone to their homes,” Hassan’s father said.

    “Rinse, Lather, Repeat”: False WMD Accusations As Tool of Foreign Policy

  • Doodlebug

    Tony M @09:45

    “I’m wondering if the daughter’s itinerary and travel arrangements after visiting her father at Porton Down, were known”

    Visiting Porton Down??? Anyone care to elucidate? I appear to have missed something.

  • JackM

    Rupert Murdoch hosting a private drinks event at his penthouse in 2017 Christmas, here is a list of who of MPs at the Murdoch bash , Jess Phillips, Tom Tugendhat , Dominic Raab, Rishi Sunak and Kemi Badenoch were all there . What was Jess Phillips a Labour MP there for?

  • Blissex

    «Sir Jeremy takes it as read that it is the duty of civil servants to follow “the Government’s position”.»

    J Heywood also notably stated that the chief of staff of the armed forces cannot ask for written orders from the secretary of start for defense (or the PM) when he disagrees with them, that such a request would destroy the “confidence” between political leaders and military leader. Put another way, it seems to me that the point he made was that someone like the chief of staff either is fully complicit with political choices and prepared to be the fall guys, or the chief of staff will be replaced with one who is willing. The problem seems to me that the chief of staff is not a principal, is not elected and cannot take political complicity, oops responsibility for the actions of the political leadership.

    • copydude

      Charles at 10:57 wrote:
      “And there is also a reasonable conclusion to draw as to why other suspects are not being considered”

      Most of the so-called facts of this case are Government leaks to the press, not attributed to anyone, which cannot be independently confirmed. When challenged, the Government will not confirm or deny most of the etail.

      As you say, the question is not ‘who makes this stuff up’ but ‘why?’ It’s to fix holes in the narrative.

      At the very beginning, a ‘source’ leaked to the Sun that the Skripals had turned off the GPS function on their mobiles and could not be traced for 4 hrs.

      Later, an ‘expert’ leaks to the Mail that the substance was a special ‘boutique novichok’ designed with a 4 hour delay. This apparently was the product of “exhaustive testing at a secret Russian factory which had allowed the assassins to flee the country”.

      Having fled the country, the suspects send a message to Moscow via Damascus to say ‘job done’.

      Importantly, the delay also allowed the Skripals to be poisoned at home, by the doorknob, and nowhere else. The doorknob is critical in establishing a ‘Russian’ technique, despite the difficulty of affixing a liquid to a doorknob in the rain. Mrs May herself was declassifying doorknob stories as late as last Friday in the Telegraph.

      So, introduce any other suspects and the storyline would be compromised.

  • Paul Barbara

    ‘Emails reveal White Helmets tried to lobby ex-Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters’:

    ‘…Rogers did not respond to either email, according to journalist Max Blumenthal, who obtained the messages. Instead of giving the stage to the White Helmets during his Barcelona concert, Waters denounced the organization.

    “The White Helmets is a fake organization that exists only to create propaganda for jihadists and terrorists. That’s my belief. We have opposing beliefs,” he said. “If we were to listen to the propaganda of the White Helmets and others, we would be encouraged to encourage our governments to start dropping bombs on people in Syria. This would be a mistake of monumental proportions for us as human beings,” he added….’

    Way to be, Roger!

    • nevermind

      I think that Craig should invite Roger Waters to come and visit, not play, Doune the rabbit hole. It would give us a chance to see and meet many MI’s for a drink in the bar, maybe have a little mud wrestling
      Mind, with all the selfie chemical attacks around, he might want to opt out, and the prospect of having to deal with an emergency on site is not a very refreshing thought.
      We have to start keeping our enemies closer.

  • Paul

    I’m not sure how off-topic this post actually is, if we consider that Salisbury and East Ghouta are part of a vicious war of succession from a unipolar Western plutocratic empire to what has been held out as a multipolar Eurasian (or eventually global) power block.

    If the timetable is, say, 20 years to complete–destruction of US petro-dollar as global reserve currency, flight from US Treasuries, US sovereign default, terminal decay of infrastructure, de-industrialization, final exhaustion of Western working-class and middle-class reserves of wealth and access to credit–it is interesting to wonder that Western elites are prepared to risk nuclear war in the short term to forestall an, after all uncertain, outcome, while hastening an after all near certain and irreversible destruction through anthropogenic climate disruption, when the costs to them personally of forestalling ACD would have ranged from negligible to highly bearable.

    Someone (Naomi Klein, I think) once mused that people find it easier to countenance the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Here, I think, Western elites find it easier to countenance the end of the world (or of human civilization) than the loss of their prerogatives to the elites of another power block.

  • PreProle

    It is a fact that UK Government’s responses to the Salisbury incident have been extraordinary. This extraordinariness includes the severe levels of secrecy this government has shrouded the case in. Were the actor anyone other than the UK Government, the public would be justified in suspecting the operation of a coverup. If indeed it IS a coverup, we might logically surmise that whatever is being covered up must be correspondingly extraordinary to justify the huge efforts made to do so.

    If this is so, we might wonder what extraordinary event might include the following in its preparation?..

    1) the involvement of former spy Sergei Skripol (with whatever network of Russian contacts he retains)

    2) the temporary visit to the UK by Yulia Skripol (arriving a day prior to the incident) before returning to Moscow

    3) an early morning car journey taken by the Skripols the following day (which places them on the road returning from Porton Down)

    4) the inarguable fact that the Skripols were thereafter in possession of a nerve agent (subsequently asserted by the UK Government to be possession only by contamination).

    I propose that the extraordinary event being prepared by the UK Government (until an early-stage botch-up almost killed two of its participants) to which all of the above facts cohere is its own attempt at regime change… in Russia. That is to say, the UK Government-sponsored supply and smuggling into that country of the material chosen (BZ) for the assassination of its viscerally loathed President (…by the very method he himself is widely accused of exploiting to remove his own enemies).

    If this can be seen as ‘Plan A’, we might place into context recent (and equally extraordinary) events in Syria as being a panicked and frustrated ‘Plan B’ – the overriding purpose of the (failed) removal of Putin being to weaken Russia’s iron grip on Syria.

    • Paul

      As I recall, part of the story was that they had de-activated their phones to frustrate a (low-tech) GPS track. Did they visit Porton Down that morning? Though items 1 through 4 are tantalizing, as a suggestion that a Russian traitor and his daughter might have been up to something, perhaps not the assassination of Putin.

      • PreProle

        Shortly after the incident when the police were calling for witnesses to the Skripols movements, they confirmed the car had been identified on the eastern perimeter of the town (and driving back into it) from the direction of Porton Down at 9.15am on the day of the incident (A30 road).

        I’d be interested to know if police have access to CCTV footage from cameras on the grounds of Porton Down itself – or if those recordings would be classified information. If such footage showed the presence of the Skripols at the facility that morning, it’d be more or less ‘case closed’… but it would also, of course, place the spotlight directly on the government – and not Russia – as the prime suspect.

      • Bayleaf

        It is equally plausible that the police don’t want to reveal their movements, and simply made up the story about them deactivating their telephones.

  • TomGard

    Alexander Shulgin (Russias ambassador to OPCW) violated the confidentiality rules of OPCW in his press conference by leaking, that all actual forensic data of the OPCW assistance mission to the UK stays privy to the UK government:

    The report presented by the Technical Secretariat concerning the British specialists’ findings poses a number of questions and calls for additional detailed examination, including by the British side. Any specialist would understand that the final conclusions can be made only having before your eyes the materials of the chemical and spectral analysis of the mentioned samples. And the Technical Secretariat has passed these materials only to London.

    It means, also the chains of custody, if there were any, delivered in the report ar incomplete = invalid. The report contains no forensic data at all. This is for sure – Shulgin wouldn’t tell a lie which every OPCW member would spot at first glance.

    Btw: “Scepticism” fits well within the culture of inquisition. Scepticism and acclamation are inseperable halves of its dynamic – without both complementing each other the process stops…

  • Emily

    At the end of all this.
    Two things stand out.
    There is not a shred of proof against the Russians either in Britain or Syria.
    And they have still refused to give the Russians a sample.
    I thought they had to – if so why isn’t that being enforced by the OPCW?

    • Tatyana

      Emily, Russia have no power to direct OPCW inspectors neither to Britain, nor to any other country without that country’s government invitation. Britain let OPCW inspectors, let me recall, 2 or 3 weeks after the incident. Britain asked OPCW for ‘technical assistance’, it means laboratory analysis and no more.

      • Paul

        Could Russia have demanded a challenge inspection of Porton Down by the OPCW, since Russian citizen(s) attacked, ostensibly by a chemical warfare agent, just 8 miles from a UK / US chemical-warfare research facility? On what basis are the UK’s claims to be the injured party here automatically considered more compelling than Russia’s?

        • Tatyana

          Paul, I’m sorry I don’t know. I can only presume that Porton Down is OPCW verified laboratory, I’m sure I’ve seen this info. So, how can they check their own facility?
          As to russian claims 🙂 we all see how it works – blame a country, tell it to ‘go away and shut up’, declare the investigation ‘top-secret’, raise half the world against this country, pull the ‘strongest bully in the neighborhood’ to your side and incite him for a joint strike. In fact, few of your spectators care much of Syria or its children, so your show has many chances to win the Oscar.

    • copydude

      Yet another Salisbury connection with Syria.

      Maybe Salisbury and some place could do one of those Twin Town things.

    • Ivan

      Smoke bombs are more likely to come from China. That is where all the cheap fireworks are made. Russia is likely larding it . Did it say – Return to Porton Down, Salibury if found – on the cover? I have strived to give the Russians the benefit of doubt, but this stretches credulity.

  • Doodlebug

    PreProle @15:25

    Your suggestion lends credence to the remark of Tony M’s I cited earlier. Irrespective of the ultimate objective, it would not be the first time a wannabe ‘terrorist’ has suffered at his or her own hands, although more usually it’s as a result of a premature explosion. Being in possession of locally acquired material is an altogether more rational explanation for the pair’s misfortune, and that of DS Nick Bailey, who wouldn’t have handled any door knobs.

      • PreProle

        Furthermore, it’s my guess that DS Nick Bailey became contaminated at the Skripol house – likely because the officer went there shortly after the event in the town centre to find identification for the incoherent young woman slumped on the bench. Sergei Skripol would have been easy to identify from his drivers licence… from where the police would also have got an address to visit to possibly discover who the woman was. Of course, the Skripols having collected the nerve agent earlier that day, it too would have been at the house – in whatever compromised state it was in.

        • Mary Paul

          honestly this is all risible. For the benefit of anyone unfamiliar with the UK, identity cards do not exist in the UK and there is no legal requirement for anyone to carry on them any identifying papers of any kind. Many people carry their driving licence but many do not. My driving licence and my passport live in a drawer in my bedroom. The only identifying papers I, like many people, carry are credit cards, a season ticket for public transport and some membership cards..

          • PreProle

            I’m not sure why you think it “risible”, Mary. Almost everyone who drives a car in the UK keeps their credit card sized licence with them in their wallet or purse. If Yulia Skripol had any identifying documents on her at all at the time of the incident, they would most likely have been worded in Cyrillic – making them meaningless to the local police force.

    • copydude

      April 19, 2018 at 17:36
      PreProle @15:25

      Re your ‘locally acquired material’

      I’ve always had a problem with the idea that some nerve agent could ‘only plausibly’ have to come from somewhere like Uzbekistan when there is likely a whole production line just 8 miles away. (Past the traffic lights, first right.)

      It’s also rather hard to place Mr MI6 Skripal next door to Porton Down without any connection. He was in Salisbury compiling a book of Wiltshire recipes, such as Malmesbury Pudding?

      He had pet guinea pigs. I personally haven’t seen guinea pigs in a pet shop for donkey’s years. You usually get them from a lab. But I may be quite wrong of course. And the ‘Metro’ tells me he expensively shipped them from Russia.

      It also occurred to me that a ‘cover up’ would need to be very elaborate. But that’s just silly. They would have to gag half the staff of the Hospital with the Official Secrets Act, destroy piles of evidence, hold people incommunicado . . . . oh wait

      • PreProle

        Only last year Porton Down was in the news for the large number of animals it has mutilated in tests since 2014. The species most common for the facility’s experiments turn out to be… guinea pigs. 439 of these animals have been used since that date – for tests which involve them being injected with… nerve agent (according to a report in the Daily Telegraph).

        It seems highly probable to me that this may be the source of Sergei Skripal’s two pets.

      • Mary Paul

        Well I don’t carry a driving licence with me and nor does anyone in my family. It is quite possible Sergei Skripal carried his but there is no legal requirement to do so, or indeed to carry any form of personal identification. Of course you can do so if you want to , or have a need for it, but it is not essential or mandatory.

        • copydude

          Russian driving licences are also credit card like photocards. It is mandatory to carry one.

          Russian international passports are not in cyrillic but transliterated. As a visitor for a few days, Yulia was probably carrying hers.

          • PreProle

            When I’m abroad I usually leave my passport (and other important documents) safely back in the hotel room – or wherever else I’m staying. If only because of the huge and immediate headache it would cause me if I lost it. I don’t think that’s an uncommon precaution to take. If Yulia’s passport was in her suitcase at the time of the incident – along with the compromised container of BZ – that may be how DS Nick Bailey came to be contaminated.

        • Yeah, Right

          I am not required to carry my drivers license, unless I am driving my car – in which case I need to have it on me.

          Sergei Skripal drove his car to the restaurant, didn’t he? In which case he would have his drivers license on his person.

  • Tom Smythe

    Can anyone lend a hand with the Russian language text shown in the two figures (images named content_001_doc4.jpg and content_001_doc7.jpg) in this Novaya Gazata article of 22 марта 2018? I don’t have a Cyrillic keyboard to enter it with. Google translate does quite well with the text text but can’t get at rendered text in jpgs.

    It has to do with chemical structure of Rink’s stolen novichok used back in the 90’s to poison the Russian banker. (The structure shown is just someone’s guess from mass spectroscopy fragments. It is partially incorrect as a fluorine is present according to the later criminal trial which is not available (?).

    In Salisbury, we here and the OPCW have been talking misleadingly about nerve agents blocking the enzyme acetylcholine esterase, AChE. That’s true enough but the hospital and the two approved labs analyzing blood samples from the 2-3 affected individuals are actually assaying a sister enzyme in the plasma named BChE, butyrlcholine esterase, rather than the AChE on the outer red blood cell membrane.

    BChE has been explored as a stoichiometric antidote to any and all ‘nerve gases’. Because it has an exceedingly similar catalytic site configuration as AChE, it can soak up, in a one-off self-poisoning fashion, the very same nerve agents that block AChE. Because BChE is physiologically dispensable, its short-term loss has no side effects. It is not involved in nervous system signaling.

    While a rural hospital would not stock BChE, Porton Down would, for staff safety and animal antidote experimentation. We’ve seen some hints that PD gave the Salisbury hospital a miracle antidote that turned the Skripal’s fortunes around. The miracle is that the specific poison need not be identified in advance, it works more or less with all of them, or any impure mixture of them. However, only limited quantities of BChE can be given, yet each huge molecule of enzyme takes out only one small molecule of toxic agent. (Avogardo’s number is real big.)

    It would be near-impossible to identify the specific molecule attached to the active site serine of BChE in plasma from the Skripals. That’s because BChE is an minor plasma component, very few molecules would be present per litre of plasma. The labs need environmental samples to get analytic quantities.

    It’s also become clear that “A-234” is only a generic stand-in for the actual novichok PD is reporting. They have not yet disclosed the actual chemical structure determined, supposedly (and plausibly enough) for anti-proliferation reasons.

    Recall all the A’s (230, 232, 234, 242, 262) are shown on google image search as having a most unusual fluorine-phosphorus bond.

    However only A-242 and A-262 are shown with a direct carbon-phosphorus bond. It is only that bond that is prohibited under Schedule 2.B.04 of the chemical treaty. Further, that must be the only C-P bond and the C must be part of a methyl, ethyl, n-propyl or iso-propyl side chain. The F-P bond is not mentioned in Schedule 2.B.04. It’s really more of an intermediate en route to the serious stuff.

    Iglev has said ‘several hundred novichoks’ were synthesized; Rink has called the ampoules had mixes (for lab safety and to confuse adversarial analysts). Maybe so, but the synthetic organic chemistry for OPCW by the Iranian academics shows a bathtub gin approach (cpd3 –> cpd4, scheme 1 in the paper) that can easily yields tens of thousands of distinct novichoks using common unregulatable industrial chemicals (aliphatic alcohols and sodium hydride). That’s right: tens of thousands.

    Worse, their properties can vary in numerous regards, such as resistance to hydrolysis, solubility in plasma, stability in air, skin vs inhalation vs ingestion dose, powder/liquid/gas phase, volatility/odor/color, impurities, heterogeneity in AChE blockage mechanism, and so forth.

    Hence the extreme interest in BChE antidote, mutationally re-engineered to be sure but not to the point the immune system sees it as non-self.

    Did the Russians, and everyone else researching this like the US Army at Edgewood Arsenal, open Pandora’s Box during the last Cold
    War peak? I would say not, this particular PB was already opened prior to WWII because of insecticide research which continues to look at AChE blockage options to this day. (Food security, insect-borne disease, and all that.)

    • IM

      it doesn’t actually say anything about the poison, just says (along the lines of) “I was told that a poison (to kill rats) was to be used against a dog. I said the dog needs to eat food laced with poison. Then I was told the poison was to kill a human. I was threatened. I feared. I asked a place where I have not worked for a long time for something more toxic” no specifics as to what the “something more toxic” actually was.

      The second image is not related to the first on (at least document-wise) the first image has text printed with a dot-matrix printer (you can actually see the impact of the dots within each letter), the second image is written on a typewriter.

    • IM

      The second image actually looks rather speculative: immediately preceding the structure the text is “… for this we can [imagine/assume/suppose] the following structure: “

  • Tom Smythe

    I should have mentioned above that anyone is welcome to view the 3D structure of BChE (resp. AChE) online at the PDB public archive. The really fortunate feature is the highly unusual burial of the two substrate sites deep below the surface of the protein. This means that millions of amino acid sequence variants can be rapidly made and screened for antidotal properties using standard pharma robotics. (However the market being so limited, the pharmas aren’t going to do this on their own.)

    The point being, if the surface amino acids have to be changed, that will be seen as a challenge to the immune system and antibodies against the antidote will be raised, vastly complicating longer-term or repeat use of BChE as nerve gas antidote. Here the surface amino acids don’t have to be changed.

    RCSB PDB – 2PM8: Crystal structure of recombinant full length human …

  • Sharp Ears

    O/T but back to Salisbury

     More

    We are at @CityHallSalis with @DefraGovUK for tonight’s public meeting to update on the #Salisbury decontamination work. Watch the whole meeting live on our website from 6pm:
    or on Facebook:

    Wiltshire Council is closing this building for up to 8 weeks! for decontamination!! It is the police station and offices. Should be fun for the staff and the public needing services. It is a large three storey glass fronted building.

    Wiltshire Council‏Verified account @wiltscouncil · Apr 18
    #Salisbury’s Bourne Hill offices (the new extension) home to some of our services and the police station, will close to staff and public from Friday 20 April for up to eight weeks, as part of the decontamination plans announced yesterday

    The theatricals continue.

    • IM

      They should’ve called the Russians in, since as they were claiming that the Russians would clean up Douma just in time for the OPCW lot to arrive! /roll-eyes

    • Spaull

      First, are they saying they have been using the police station quite happily until now, but now it needs to close for decontamination?

      Secondly, how did any contaminants get to the police station? The Skripals were never there. Surely they aren’t claiming that Bailey was there between being exposed and collapsing? No hazmat suits would have been taken to an uncontrolled environment like the police station.

      So yes, of course this is utterly ridiculous theatre. But what on earth is the cover story for why this ridiculous theatre is necessary?

      • copydude

        I read that they will be cleaning DS Bailey’s house too.

        I suppose he’s lucky it isn’t being demolished. )

    • Crispa

      Thank you for this link. Dipping into It has made a thoroughly entertaining evening. Very Dad’s Army British. Lot’s of empty chairs though for such a star cast. Good stonewalling from DEFRA scientist – “this nerve agent is not like any other you ‘ve come across” – and the local chief plod – “it’s a very complex investigation”. And the county councilors – “we will take as long as it is needed to ensure the safety of the citizens of Salisbury by our thorough decontamination methods” (when several weeks later only three people have been affected). “But what abut the change from the restaurant or the pub if the Skripals paid by cash?” pipes up someone. No need for Ant to make a speedy comeback when one has access to entertainment like this. .

  • Aidan Turner

    There is another way of reading that quote. It fits in with the unnamed Whitehall source who was quoted by John Piennar at an early stage in this crisis. That person talked of “a plan” and everything ” had gone as well as we had hoped, probably better”. Conspiracy?

  • ME

    Can someone provide some speculation on the “BZ in control sample”-explanation? How is that supposed to work? The labs are given a sample of exactly what that contains BZ? Can’t be the Skripals blood, since that would compromise sealing procedures. But if not their blood then why whistleblow worthless info to Russia? I’m assuming the Swiss lab is able to tell Skripals blood apart from not Skripals blood. And if Russia is full aware of the control sample regime, as claimed by the UK, why would Lavrov want to present himself as an idiot in public? And then there’s the Skripals symptoms matching BZ on top.

    • Tatyana

      there’s so many contradicting facts in the whole story, that I strongly suspect we are watching a game and a contra-game in reality.
      Say, russians prepared a plan to poison Skripals with BZ, but MI5/MI6 contaminated the site with Novichok after, and blamed on Russia.
      Or, vice versa… stop, here we come back to the official British narrative and there’s no place for BZ in it.
      Also, why use BZ if it only hits a person out for several days? If someone wanted to kill Skripal, he’d better had used a gun.

    • Tom Smythe

      Billy, IM, myself and others I went over lab controls in great detail in one of the older forums here, section 11 of who is pulling strings:

      Basically, OPCW and its labs have a long history of dealing with Country A angrily pointing the finger at Country B who angrily replies no chems used here or if there were, false flag. The point of salting a sample or two with the 3Q intermediate to BZ is solely to address flack from Country A when no Schedule 1-3 chem is found.

      It establishes the labs do find something when it is there but only where and what was put there. It establishes that some lazy lab tech did not just flushed the samples down the drain. They have two labs on each sample set; spiking chem may vary to rule out inter-lab chatter. The second lab may receive a different spiking compound. OPCW is not re-qualifying labs, that is over and done with.

      The remaining issue is naming the second lab receiving a split of the enviro samples sent to Spiez. Presumably they also found their 3Q or whatever their spike was. Lavrov does not mention the second lab, only Spiez. I’m surprised that any lab was named. I’d be amazed that BZ itself would be mentioned in the OPCW classified report. I’d be gobsmacked if Lavrov knew 3Q was a synthetic precursor to BS. I’d be astonished if the 2nd lab couldn’t find the spiked sample. I’d be speechless if OPCW gave the split to Country A’s lab … Country B would say, hey send the other split to our home team lab.

      Someone said above, this was a fiasco for Lavrov. Not true, it was a public relations bonanza as Spiez couldn’t respond under its contract and OPCW couldn’t respond with the meeting pending. Meaning 99% of the people hearing BZ will go to their graves believing it.

      A misunderstanding (Lavrov) can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on. That’s something that Mark Twain said in 1919. (He died in 1910.)

      • Paul Barbara

        @ Tom Smythe April 19, 2018 at 21:33
        Several probs, though. As BZ has been admitted (and re the second lab, remember the info was LEAKED, so no use asking lab 2 to confirm), then whilst you may shrug or do the hokey-kokey, the reported effects on the Skripal’s mirror the efects of BZ, not of ‘Novichoks’. Time delay, symptoms and 3/4 day incapacitation, as against instant effect and almost certain death from Novichoks.
        All the lies and squirming in the world won’t be able to destroy those facts.
        And whilst it might make sense for the OPCW to check out their chosen labs with spiked samples, that seems to me highly dubious in a case like this – what they have admitted doing (and I suspect they are lying) is ‘tampering with the evidence’. No excuses. Case closed. Off with their heads (cue for the West’s proxy mercenary headchoppers to show what they’re made of).

      • Billy Bostickson

        I respect your analysis but I have zero respect for IM’s as he was proved to be completely wrong about positive controls yet refused to apologise. This reveals the worst kind of pseudo-scientific mindset.

        • IM

          I wasn’t proved “completely wrong” wrong at all- you failed to produce a single OPCW report where the report expressly stated that a control sample was spiked with BOTH a suspect toxin AND an unrelated toxin.

          • Billy Bostickson

            Please, give up, anyone with an ounce of intelligence reading through your nasty little contributions can quite clearly see that you were completely mistaken about positive controls, about BZ, and about Lab procedure for chemical warfare agent analysis in general. They can further see that you lack any kind of respect for the truth and have a tendency to insult people and the inability to apologize when proven wrong.

            As you are well aware, I never claimed that “the positive control sample contained the suspect toxin and BZ”, that was your deluded conclusion. I just said the positive control sample may contain BZ, as reported by the Swiss Journalist and later by the OPCW.

            You say: “Lavrov was unequivocal that BZ and A234 were in the same sample, moreover, it makes no experimental sense to include BZ by itself in a separate control sample.”

            It makes no experimental sense to you perhaps because you probably couldn’t distinguish a Flask from a centrifuge. It is however standard OPCW Lab procedure, as confirmed by the OPCW.

            Again, I demand an apology.

        • Gideon Blackmarsh

          Could someone who has been following this more closely than I have been able please clarify whether or not the BZ and a Novichok were found together in a single sample – which is what I believe the Russians were claiming the leaked report from the Swiss lab said?

          If they were in the same sample, the control sample explanation makes no sense. In my (admittedly layman’s) understanding, there would be three types of sample: one containing the unknown substance to be identified; another, negative control, known not to contain any chemical substances; and a positive control of the same type as the negative control but with the deliberate addition of a known substance.

          If the lab detects something in a negative control which is known by the OPCW not to have been there, or fails to detect the substance which is known to be in a positive control, it casts doubt on the lab’s expertise, competence, methodology or independence and therefore the reliabilty of their conclusions on the main samples (the ones with the substance that needs to be identified).

          If my understanding is correct, how would BZ and Novichok have come to be in a single sample? Or was that a misunderstanding/deception on the part of Lavrov?

          • IM

            Lavrov was unequivocal that BZ and A234 were in the same sample, moreover, it makes no experimental sense to include BZ by itself in a separate control sample.

    • Tom Smythe

      >get the feeling police know there’s no point investigating this thing.

      It’s been a lose-lose situation for them all along. If they did find something, it would have to passed up the line. If compatible with the current nutty narrative, it would be greeted with a big yawn. It weren’t compatible, it wouldn’t see the light of day. At least they’re not at the slightest risk of personal exposure from left-over agent.

      One tidbit, asserted by Lavrov and confirmed in Wednesday’s OPCW release, is the “high purity” of the allegedly novichok-like compound in the environmental samples, be that a chem used initially or salted subsequently.

      I saw (forget where) a rather good analysis of that. The gist of it was, even triple distilled, multiply re-crystallized reagent-grade chemicals still contain impurities. True. Military-grade munition contractors, they could care less. With civilian or pet food adulterants, they could care even less. Pharmaceuticals have side-reactions, regulators, class-action suits, they make an effort. Your home-grown kitchen sink terrorist, they lack the know-how. It’s not need for assassinations: balloons of crude sarin mix were still mighty toxic in Japanese subways.

      The Ph.D chemists who actually make novichoks write that even at micro-mini scale:

      “It should be noted that, due to the extreme toxicity of these materials, the separation and purification of CWC‐related chemicals are very difficult and therefore should be carried out only by a trained professional in an efficient fume cupboard equipped with an active charcoal filtration system.” free access 2016

      No kidding: “Compound 3 in dichloromethane (200 μL) was then added dropwise to the solution, while stirring at 0–5 °C for 2 h. Any precipitate was filtered off.” [An small ordinary drop would be 1000 μL.]

      So who is motivated to take on the massive extra risk making high purity novichoks? Leonid Rink wasn’t going there. Aum Shinrikyo wasn’t going there. The Edgewood Arsenal wasn’t going there. Only a well-equipped modern lab wanting to study properties of the boutique toxins, their biological reactions and their antidotes. So state-sponsored plus whoever could nick a few ampoules.

  • Dave G

    I wonder if Russia will change their rules of engagement in Syria. At the moment, they seem to be allowing the US/UK to hit some Syrian targets with no military response, but they threaten to respond by attacking the platform (ships, airfields, etc.) used to launch the attack if Russians are targeted.
    If they were to start threatening to attack the platform used to launch the attack if they or their Syrian allies are targeted, the thought of ships being sunk or airfields being attacked might dissuade further US/UK attacks.
    And I think they need to do something like that because it’s all set up for another false flag ‘chemical weapon’ attack as a cue for another barrage of US/UK missiles.

    • Paul Barbara

      @ Dave G April 19, 2018 at 23:45
      Whilst some of us ‘armchair warriors’ (myself included) might think the same, Russia has extremely good strategists, who are aware of the balance of forces in the region, and are fully aware of the consequences of big-time escalation.
      They know what they are doing, and more power to their elbow.
      Russia is now more ‘Christian’ than any of our Western countries, who are run by Luciferian soul-sold sh*tbags.

    • Tatyana

      @Dave G,
      Assad asked for military support from Russia, not asking to ally and wage war together. So Russia gave military defence systems and operating competent personell too.
      Russia is not a party in the war, that’s why they can’t hit anything, but only to defend russian personell or russian asset.
      This missiles strike revealed clearly who is doing what in Syria.
      *I’m sorry again for my awkward English*

  • Comrade Lavrov

    One of my reliable sources at the FCO has disclosed that several senior civil servants have been moved from their posts due to inappropriate contact with members of the public. The move which happened over two months ago has meant that journalists are having to concoct their own evidence and attributions.

  • Bayard

    PreProle @15:25
    At last a theory that is plausible and fits all the known facts. The only modification I would like to posit is that the BZ was on its way to Syria, which is why the chemical in the CW attack allegation there had to be chlorine, due to non-arrival of the BZ. (Chlorine, of course, does not required sophisticated labs to manufacture, something else TPTB have not been questioned on).
    TBH, the whole Salisbury narrative looked like a cover-up of a cock-up by somebody from the start: the weak spot in all the “It was the spooks wot dun it” theories is the complete disorganisation of the security services and the constantly changing story line at the start, apart from the finger-pointing at Russia. If it had been a planned psy-ops job, all the ducks would been in a row before it went ahead.
    This theory also bears out the rule that, given the choice between cock-up and conspiracy, cock-up is the more likely.

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