Lynch Mob Mentality 1686

I was caught in a twitterstorm of hatred yesterday, much of it led by mainstream media journalists like David Aaronovitch and Dan Hodges, for daring to suggest that the basic elements of Boshirov and Petrov’s story do in fact stack up. What became very plain quite quickly was that none of these people had any grasp of the detail of the suspects’ full twenty minute interview, but had just seen the short clips or quotes as presented by British corporate and state media.

As I explained in my last post, what first gave me some sympathy for the Russians’ story and drew me to look at it closer, was the raft of social media claims that there was no snow in Salisbury that weekend and Stonehenge had not been closed. In fact, Stonehenge was indeed closed on 3 March by heavy snow, as confirmed by English Heritage. So the story that they came to Salisbury on 3 March but could not go to Stonehenge because of heavy snow did stand up, contrary to almost the entire twittersphere.

Once there was some pushback of truth about this on social media, people started triumphantly posting the CCTV images from 4 March to prove that there was no snow lying in Central Salisbury on 4 March. But nobody ever said there was snow on 4 March – in fact Borisov and Petrov specifically stated that they learnt there was a thaw so they went back. However when they got there, they encountered heavy sleet and got drenched through. That accords precisely with the photographic evidence in which they are plainly drenched through.

Another extraordinary meme that causes hilarity on twitter is that Russians might be deterred by snow or cold weather.

Well, Russians are human beings just like us. They cope with cold weather at home because they have the right clothes. Boshirov and Petrov refer continually in the interview to cold, wet feet and again this is borne out by the photographic evidence – they were wearing sneakers unsuitable to the freak weather conditions that were prevalent in Salisbury on 3 and 4 March. They are indeed soaked through in the pictures, just as they said in the interview.

Russians are no more immune to cold and wet than you are.

Twitter is replete with claims that they were strange tourists, to be visiting a housing estate. No evidence has been produced anywhere that shows them on any housing estate. They were seen on CCTV camera walking up the A36 by the Shell station, some 400 yards from the Skripals’ house, which would require three turnings to get to that – turnings nobody saw them take (and they were on the wrong side of the road for the first turning, even though it would be very close). No evidence has been mentioned which puts them at the Skripals’ House.

Finally, it is everywhere asserted that it is very strange that Russians would take a weekend break holiday, and that if they did they could not possibly be interested in architecture or history. This is a simple expression of anti-Russian racism. Plainly before their interview – about which they were understandably nervous – they prepared what they were going to say, including checking up on what it was they expected to see in Salisbury because they realised they would very obviously be asked why they went. Because their answer was prepared does not make it untrue.

That literally people thousands of people have taken to twitter to mock that it is hilariously improbable that tourists might want to visit Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge, is a plain example of the irrationality that can overtake people when gripped by mob hatred.

I am astonished by the hatred that has been unleashed. The story of Gerry Conlon might, you would hope, give us pause as to presuming the guilt of somebody who just happened to be of the “enemy” nationality, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Despite the mocking mob, there is nothing inherently improbable in the tale told by the two men. What matters is whether they can be connected to the novichok, and here the safety of the identification of the microscopic traces of novichok allegedly found in their hotel bedroom is key. I am no scientist, but I have been told by someone who is, that if the particle(s) were as the police state so small as to be harmless to humans, they would be too small for mass spectrometry analysis and almost certainly could not be firmly identified other than as an organophosphate. Perhaps someone qualified might care to comment.

The hotel room novichok is the key question in this case.

Were I Vladimir Putin, I would persuade Boshirov and Petrov voluntarily to come to the UK and stand trial, on condition that it was a genuinely fair trial before a jury in which the entire proceedings, and all of the evidence, was open and public, and the Skripals and Pablo Miller might be called as witnesses and cross-examined. I have no doubt that the British government’s desire for justice would suddenly move into rapid retreat if their bluff was called in this way.

As for me, when I see a howling mob rushing to judgement and making at least some claims which are utterly unfounded, and when I see that mob fueled and egged on by information from the security services propagated by exactly the same mainstream media journalists who propagandised the lies about Iraqi WMD, I see it as my job to stand in the way of the mob and to ask cool questions. If that makes them hate me, then I must be having some impact.

So I ask this question again – and nobody so far has attempted to give me an answer. At what time did the Skripals touch their doorknob? Boshirov and Petrov arrived in Salisbury at 11.48 and could not have painted the doorknob before noon. The Skripals had left their house at 09.15, with their mobile phones switched off so they could not be geo-located. Their car was caught on CCTV on three cameras heading out of Salisbury to the North East. At 13.15 it was again caught on camera heading back in to the town centre from the North West.

How had the Skripals managed to get back to their home, and touch the door handle, in the hour between noon and 1pm, without being caught on any of the CCTV cameras that caught them going out and caught the Russian visitors so extensively? After this remarkably invisible journey, what time did they touch the door handle?

I am not going to begin to accept the guilt of Boshirov and Petrov until somebody answers that question. Dan Hodges? David Aaronovitch? Theresa May? Anybody?

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1,686 thoughts on “Lynch Mob Mentality

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  • Olaf S

    The secret of the doorknob.

    1.The couple was sprayed while at the bench, considering the strong, simultaneous symptoms, and everything..

    2.Since they were not attacked with a deadly substance, it must have been meant as a warning.

    3.Who sprayed? We can not be absolutely sure at this point. However:

    4.A rather overwhelming set of factors points to UK or US involvement. The crux is the stubborn insisting on the doorknob version by the authorities. Only plausible explanation: The doorknob was actually smeared with novichok! Only Skrips were not meant to touch it: (They were prevented by the spraying attack). The planting of a bottle w novichok in a container would later serve the same purpose.
    The plan must have been to – sumultaneously with the warning – to use the opportunity to keep the general russophobia alive: Not polonium this time, but ”Russian” novichok.

    (5. According to this: Whatever the involvment of the 2 Russian ammateurs, it is unimportment in the big picture),

    • Olaf S

      Sorry for the sentence beginning with ”Skrips”. Probably bad English. Make it ”The Skrips”.

      Probably only a Russian would omit the ”The”, since they have no feeling for this particle ( missing in their language).

    • Mary Paul

      I am really not buying this Russia phobia argument in the UK. In the US maybe, where they have a long standing suspicion of “Russkies” and “Commies” etc. But not in the UK, we never had McCarthy type show trials or Hollywood style black lists. Most people in the UK are not much interested in Russia and certainly not preoccupied with it. Obviously it makes the World news pages in the press for big stories like Crimea and Syria but other than than nothing really.

      I am honestly not buying into the idea it was a secret exercise designed by the UK intelligence services to poison potentially hundreds of British citizens and cause a massive clean up operation in a historic and beautiful British city, in order to whip up some anti Russian fervour. I was in a meeting today and asked my colleagues what they thought about the Sklripal affair. They were sad about Salisbury and bemused by latest developments but other than that had only a passing interest. They were certainly not seething with anger to attack Russia at the first opportunity. .

      And how do you account for the perfume bottle found by Charlie Rowley. How does that factor into a campaign by our intelligence services to stir up anti Russia feeling.?

      • Jo

        about 35% of people I meet are russophobic….intensely…paetichlarly the mid to older generation…even though Russia did so much in ww2

        • __alex__

          calm down. russophobia is just a sufficient condition of ignorance, without exceptions. not every ignorant is russophobe, but every russophobe is ignorant.

      • __alex__

        as any poison novichok has his lethal dose. if you put 1/100 of lethal dose on the doorknob, but poison them by fentanyl in restaurant, you can draw this events as poisoning by novichok. without any threat to citizens.

    • __alex__

      if you apply pure novichok via spray, you must use gas mask and rubber gloves, chemists say.
      was there any gas mask in the charity bin?

  • Andyoldlabour

    Hear are some interesting images from SomersetLive, showing the Nina Ricci “premier jour” perfume bottle alleged to have contained Novichok, plus CCTV pictures of the two Russian “suspects”, who amazingly seem to have perfected timetravel, as they occupy the same space at exactly the same time down to the second, so maybe if I put my Sherlock Holmes deerstalker on, then that would seem to indicate that we are looking for a third individual called – Doc Emmett Brown and a DeLorean sports car.

    Another picture shows the two men at Salisbury station at 1611 on Saturday 3rd March apparently hoping to catch a train back to London.
    They return to Salisbury at 1148 on Sunday 4th March, and are spotted walking in Wilton Road Salisbury moments before the “attack”.
    They then get back to Salisbury station at 1350 on 4th March to return to London, and are spotted clearing passport control at Gatwick at 1928 the same evening.

  • Tom Smythe

    Fascinating … here we are 4-5 days after the two guys came out on Russia and we know absolutely nothing more about their identities, their lifestyle or their maybe-shady nutraceutical business.

    If that involved knock-offs of speciality health products, that would be IP theft from the West, perhaps illegal in Russia but hardly an enforcement priority. Alexandra Elbakyan, who holds the Guinness Book of Records title for most IP theft with 70,000,000 technical documents, not only has not been prosecuted but is openly busier than ever.

    We’ve been served endless rounds of thin gruel about the duo’s partial route in Salisbury and a supposed party in their hotel room, according to a guest who was not named and may not exist, as supported by unnamed hotel staff and cleaners short on details about a never-seen female (?) prostitute and pot smoking (which just puts you to sleep and is perfectly legal in many parts of the world including where I live).

    Suppose, as the NYTimes piece has it, that Sergei had resumed or never stopped working with the main paying client being, as when stationed in Madrid, the Spanish intelligence agency SNSwhich was very concerned over the growing presence and corrupting influence of Spanish-based offshoots of the Tambov-Malyshev gang, once Russia’s biggest crime syndicate and also the late Litvinenko’s area of Spanish consulting expertise.

    Since Sergei would be doing this with the full awareness MI6’ers Pablo Miller and C Steele. the UK immediately knew of who had ordered the attack on the Skripals. The UK, having nothing to be gained from chasing after gangsters in Spain and believing them mere tentacles of the Kremlin, then seized the opportunity to score big propaganda points by blaming the Russian head of state as the octupus’ head, even though then and now no supporting evidence for that could be developed.

    • __alex__

      1. more fascinating is all that story about the perfume bottle. it looks like police never expected to find it, and now does not know what to do with.
      there is no any analysis of its materials, construction, explanation how it could be absolutely hermetic during transportation and be prepared for usage, etc.

      2. Alexandra Elbakian is just a person, who believe that scientific knowledge must be free, and she is a figther against “digital inequality” in the modern world. Her mentioning here is an improper argument in scriplals case.

      3. Isn’t this Scripal’s involvement in spanish jobs just a rumor?

      • Tom Smythe

        Oh I am a big fan of sci-hub and the courageous and competent Elbakian. It is an admirable case of civil disobedience to corporate publishing hegemony, indeed extortion and maintenance of empire, designed to keep less affluent countries that way and discourage scientific and technological progress from an uncontrolled quarter. Open source is on its way … sci-hub has a place in history as a catalyst for change.

        However from a legalistic perspective — and admittedly the copyright laws were dictated by the propertied classes — sci-hub is in violation of intellectual property owner rights. Those that have none now might feel differently if they had some later and were plagiarized. I don’t know Russia’s formal position on IP treaties, and the like, would they sit back as others undercut kalashnikov or buk sales without licensing?

        So whether Petrov et al are producing knockoffs of birkenstocks or health pep pills, it is less nobly wrapped than sci-hub but still a valid analogy. Elbakian has made ten$ of million$ from sci-hub, perhaps not by design but because donations could only be made through early bitcoin. She is well aware that authorities in Moscow could shut the journal distribution down at any time.

        However, like Snowden, that hasn’t happened and won’t happen in the current environment. Ditto Petrov et al, the authorities looked into their business and decided, if it was sub-legal, it was not anything that needed to be shut down. The common denominator for immunity is stealing from the west rather than damaging the national interest.

        Skripal was military attache in Madrid for some years and was introduced to Pablo Miller through SNS. That much is not rumor. The quotes from senior SNS in the NYTimes are likely accurate. Pablo is a Spanish given name, seemingly on his mother’s side. He too was based in Spain for MI6 when recruiting Skripal after SNS introductions. He now lives in Salisbury like Skripal. Coincidence?

        Beyond that, we can infer that Skripal had made serious enemies, probably through recent activities rather than pre-2004 imprisonment. Yulia not, yet puzzlingly she seems to have been targeted or acceptable as secondary casualty. Two or three other plausible scenarios, like dossier cover-up or mother in law have been put forward.

        But yes, we have next to no hard information. There is a lot of reliance on secondary sources and the playing field is littered with misinformation, disinformation, speculation, rumors, and misunderstandings.–malyshevskaya-criminal-gangs-in-spain-/

  • Coldish

    Hi Craig, you wrote ‘Were I Vladimir Putin, I would persuade Boshirov and Petrov voluntarily to come to the UK and stand trial, on condition that it was a genuinely fair trial before a jury in which the entire proceedings, and all of the evidence, was open and public, and the Skripals and Pablo Miller might be called as witnesses and cross-examined. I have no doubt that the British government’s desire for justice would suddenly move into rapid retreat if their bluff was called in this way.’
    That’s an attractive scenario, but in a highly politicised case such as this requires more confidence in the integrity of the British legal system than I would have. You know about the false convictions of Gerry Conlon and all the others innocents convicted of the Guildford and Woolwich bombings; I’m sure you also know about Judith Ward and about the Carl Bridgwater murder case. The Birmingham Six went down for 16 years on the basis of false positive tests for explosive traces (along with forced false confessions).
    As you point out, the only substantive evidence against Boshirov and Petrov consists of two non-reproducible positive traces of ‘Novichok’ (whatever that is) found in a bedroom the men had occupied 2 months previously. We have not been told the total number of samples tested, or what the test procedure was, or how clearly positive the two positives were. The non-reproducibility indicates that the positives may have been equivocal or false. However judges are lawyers and rarely (or never) have scientific or statistical skills enabling them to critically assess forensic evidence. Jurors are likewise mostly laypeople. I’d hate to be dependent on a defence lawyer being able to demolish a forcefully presented statement from a well-briefed forensic witness for the prosecution.
    The crucial evidence against one of the Libyans charged with the Lockerbie bombing was forensic – a timer associated with some scorched clothes which had been bought in Malta. The lawyer representing that defendant hadn’t done his homework and failed to raise the point that the forensic report had been tampered with, some pages missing and others altered. It is by no means clear that there had been any mention of the timer in the original version of the report. As a result the defendant was convicted (by a panel of judges, not by a jury) and sentenced.
    In passing, it’s worth recalling that both defendants in the Lockerbie case were keen to volunteer to surrender themselves for trial as they were confident that the exemplary Scottish legal system would confirm their innocence. If I was Petrov or Boshirov I’d give British ‘justice’ a wide berth.
    Thanks, Craig, for the admirable work you’ve done on this issue. Don’t let the bxxxers get you down!

  • Max_B

    A lot of interesting Canadian government data in an alert from January this year about the typical indicators to look for in Fentanyl trafficking…

    The prescription opioid fentanyl is used to treat severe pain caused by cancer and invasive surgeries. Carfentanil is a synthetic analogue of this drug, created for veterinary purposes to be more potent and cheaper. Traffickers are producing and distributing deadly black-market versions of fentanyl and its analogues to meet the demand for illicit prescription painkillers. The growing number of deaths from taking fentanyl is a public health crisis in Canada.

    Financial intelligence suggests that traffickers procure fentanyl, and its analogues and precursors, from overseas sources, mainly in China. Traffickers most often pay for these materials with wire transfers and money orders processed by money services businesses, but use virtual currency in some instances. Fentanyl and its analogues are typically smuggled into Canada through the postal system, prior to being distributed through networks in a small area surrounding the arrival point.

    I’ve pulled some points out that I found interesting…

    + Typically, the wire transfers and money orders are sent by numerous, seemingly unconnected individuals in Canada to the identical recipients in China (in Wuhan, Zhuhai, Guangzhou, Xianju and Shanghai, in particular), Ukraine and India.

    + Client requests wire transfers to companies advertising the sale of fentanyl and/or its known chemical precursors: NPP (1-Phenethyl-4-piperidone); ANPP (4-azido-2-nitrophenyl Phosphate) and Norfentanyl (N-phenyl-N-pieridin-4ylpropanamide).

    + Client deals with firms that advertise pharmaceuticals, supplements, weight-loss medications and related products. (These firms’ transactions can—knowingly or unknowingly—be used to mask fentanyl trafficking, since they use packaging and shipping services similar to those in the fentanyl trade.)

    Carfentanil is highlighted in the Canadian’s introduction, obviously it’s lethal. I already knew about fentanyl’s trafficked from China… but not that the Ukraine and India are two other fentanyl-type trafficking hotspots. I thought it was interesting that Charlie’s perfume is quite a small sized one, just a 6 ml bottle, which seems ideal for shipping through the post. Considering the RT interview of the two Russian suspects, and their reluctance to reveal their jobs/company, other than they were in nutrition and supplements etc., It is interesting that the Canadian’s highlight that business as an example of a high risk business, that can be used to mask Fentanyl trafficking.

    • Tom Smythe

      Fentanyl attacks an altogether different neurotransmitter system with utterly different symptoms, care, antidotes, duration and sequelae. As you say, it is legal to manufacture in some countries and easily ordered online and distributed by the postal service.

      Here we need something that requires trips abroad, say shopping for samples, client counseling or personal services. Not something doable more securely and affordably online. We could probably do worse than read the transcript line by line and take them at their word. It is scarcely conceivable that their many trips to Geneva and Paris involved assassinations, there would not be an expat left standing yet we have heard absolutely nothing.

      • Tom Smythe

        I could have added, services that could not be provided by telephone or Skype-like video conferencing either. Their travels were a mix of meetings with clients, tourism and various forms of fun.

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