Connect with us

Latest

Analysis

News

Skripal case: Britain’s letter to NATO blaming Russia; full of guesses and based on a single source

Letter begs further questions about the source who is providing the British with their information

Alexander Mercouris

Published

on

1,135 Views

As has now become apparent for some time, the British case against Russia in the Skripal case is based entirely on intelligence of a sort that will never be produced in a court of law.

The conclusions of that intelligence – though not it should be stressed the intelligence itself – has now been revealed in a letter sent by Sir Mark Sidwell (Theresa May’s national security adviser) to NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg.

Since this letter sets out the entirety of the British case against Russia in the Skripal case, I will reproduce it in full

Thank you again for your invitation to me to brief the North Atlantic Council on 15 March regarding the recent attack in Salisbury. I am pleased that we have been able to remain in close contact with you and Nato allies following this attack, and particularly grateful for the measures taken by you and many allies in response.

As you will be aware, yesterday the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons published their report summarising the analysis of environmental and biomedical samples relating to the investigation into the attempted assassination of Mr Skripal and his daughter. As signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention, all Nato allies have received the full report, and several will take part in next Wednesday’s meeting of the OPCW executive council which the UK has called.

The OPCW’s analysis matches the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s own, confirming once again the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical of high purity that was used in Salisbury. OPCW have always been clear that it was their role to identify what substance was used, not who was responsible.

I would like to share with you and allies further information regarding our assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian state was responsible for the Salisbury attack. Only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and the motive.

First, the technical means. DSTL scientific analysis found that Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned using a specific novichok nerve agent. OPCW’s analysis confirmed the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical. This was found in environmental samples taken at the scene and in biomedical samples from both Skripals and police sergeant Nick Bailey, the first responder. DSTL established that the highest concentrations were found on the handle of Mr Skripal’s front door. These are matters of fact. But, of course, the DSTL analysis does not identify the country or laboratory of origin of the agent used in this attack.

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, known as novichoks. The key institute responsible for this work was a branch of the State Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology at Shikhany near Volgograd. The codeword 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.

Russia’s chemical weapons programme continued after the collapse of the Soviet Union. By 1993, when Russia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), it is likely that some novichoks had passed acceptance testing, allowing their use by the Russian military. Russia’s CWC declaration failed to report any work on novichoks. Russia further developed some novichoks after ratifying the convention. In the mid-2000s, President Putin was closely involved in the Russian chemical weapons programme. It is highly unlikely that any former Soviet republic (other than Russia) pursued an offensive chemical weapons programme after independence. It is unlikely that novichoks could be made and deployed by non-state actors (eg a criminal or terrorist group), especially at the level of purity confirmed by OPCW.

Second, operational experience. Russia has a proven record of conducting state-sponsored assassination. The Owen report from the UK’s public inquiry into the death of Aleksandr Litvinenko concluded in January 2016 that he was deliberately poisoned with polonium 210, that there was a “strong probability” that the FSB directed the operation, and that President Putin “probably approved it”. Commenting on other suspected assassinations between 2002-06 Sir Robert Owen wrote: “These cases suggest that in the years prior to Mr Litvinenko’s death, the Russian state may have been involved in the assassination of Mr Putin’s critics” and that “the Russian state may have sponsored attacks against its opponents using poisons”. Since 2006, there have been numerous suspected Russian state-sponsored assassinations outside the former Soviet Union.

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 these weapons. This programme subsequently included investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents, including by application to door handles. Within the last decade, Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of novichoks under the same programme.

Third, the motive. Sergei Skripal was a former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer, convicted of espionage in 2004. 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, dating back at least as far as 2013, when e-mail accounts belonging to Yulia Skripal were targeted by GRU cyber specialists.

We therefore continue to judge that only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals and that it is highly likely that the Russian state was responsible. There is no plausible alternative explanation.

I would of course be pleased to brief you or Nato allies further regarding this attack. I know that Nato will remain seized of the need to confront the increasingly aggressive pattern of Russia behaviour of which the attack in Salisbury was an acute and recent example.

I am copying this letter to the delegations of all Nato allies as well as the delegations of other EU member states to Nato. I will also send a copy to the Office of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

(bold italics added)

The first point to make about this letter is that it straightforwardly admits what both Porton Down and the OPCW have now said: that it is impossible to say whether the Novichok agent used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal was produced in Russia.

The second point to make about this letter is that the words “highly likely” “likely”, “highly unlikely” and “likely” constantly appear in it.

What these words of course mean is that British intelligence does not know what it appears to assert as fact, but that it merely “assesses” (ie. guesses) that what it says is true.

Thus when we are told that

…..it is highly likely that novichoks were developed to prevent detection by the West and to circumvent international chemical weapons controls….

that does not mean that British intelligence knows this for a fact that Novichok agents “were developed to prevent detection by the West”; it means that British intelligence merely “assesses” ie. guesses it.

As it happens – at least in relation to the Skripal case – this statement is misleading and absurd.  Even if the Russians thought in the 1970s that Novichok agents could not be detected by the West, discussion of Novichoks which has taken place in open literature since the 1990s means that the Russians cannot possibly believe that now.

I would add that British officials have on various occasions suggested that the reason a Novichok agent was used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal was so that it could act as a ‘calling card’ from Russian intelligence, brazenly admitting (though in a deniable way) its involvement in the attack.

These two claims – that Novichoks were developed to be undetectable and that a Novichok was used in the Skripal attack as a ‘calling card’ – are of course incompatible.  The fact that the British have made both to my mind shows the extent of their confusion and how little they really know about the Skripal case.

The same of course applies in those other parts of the letter where the words “highly likely” or just “likely” appear.

For example when the letter says that

…..it is likely that some novichoks had passed acceptance testing, allowing their use by the Russian military. Russia’s CWC declaration failed to report any work on novichoks. Russia further developed some novichoks after ratifying the convention….

it is not saying that the British intelligence knows any of this for a fact that this is what happened; it is merely saying that this is what British intelligence believes was the case.

Similarly when the letter says that

……..it is highly likely that the Russian intelligence services view at least some of its defectors as legitimate targets for assassination….

the letter again is not saying that British intelligence knows this for a fact; it is saying that British intelligence merely “assesses” ie. guesses it.

As it happens the letter fails to cite a single example where the Russians have assassinated a defector other Litvinenko, a case where the Owen inquiry in the end only said that he Russians were “probably” responsible, a finding which by the way was almost certainly wrong.

As for the other cases of alleged Russian assassinations of defectors outside Russia, the letter essentially admits that Russian state involvement has not been proved in a single one of these cases since it is only able to say that Russian state involvement in those assassinations is merely “suspected“.

The same principle applies where the words “highly likely” and “likely” are reversed to become “highly unlikely” or in one case “unlikely”.

Thus the fact that the letter says that

……it is highly unlikely that any former Soviet republic (other than Russia) pursued an offensive chemical weapons programme after independence….

once again does not mean that British intelligence knows this for a fact; once again it merely “assesses” ie. guesses it.  I would add that I would personally judge it (to a coin phrase) “highly unlikely” that if there were secret assassination programmes involving Novichok in places in the former Soviet space like Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan that the British would know anything about them.

The one use of the word “unlikely” by itself in the letter is however as it happens rather interesting.

It turns out that it is only

……unlikely that novichoks could be made and deployed by non-state actors (eg a criminal or terrorist group).

To my mind the use of the unsupported word “unlikely” in this sentence comes very close to saying that it is actually possible “that novichoks could be made and deployed by non-state actors (eg a criminal or terrorist group).

In light of what some academic chemists are now saying about the simplicity of making a Novichok I do not find that at all surprising.

Over and above this litany of guesses, there is one grossly defamatory sentence which is straightforwardly mendacious.  This is this one

President Putin was closely involved in the Russian chemical weapons programme.

The sentence taken by itself is actually true.  Placed in the middle of a paragraph containing “assessments” – ie. guesses – about Russia’s alleged post 1991 Novichok programme, it however insinuates – and is intended to insinuate – that President Putin was personally involved in the Novichok programme, and by extension in the assassination programme which supposedly derived from it.

In reality President Putin “close involvement in the Russian chemical weapons programme” is a matter of public knowledge.  He was “closely involved” in it in the sense that he worked to close it down.

In fact if one drills through the letter carefully there is only one paragraph which straightforwardly asserts something which is not a guess.  That one paragraph which is the core of the whole letter is this one

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 these weapons. This programme subsequently included investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents, including by application to door handles. Within the last decade, Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of novichoks under the same programme.

All the claims in this paragraph have previously appeared in the British media, and in the case of the claim that the Russians have “stockpiled small quantities of novichoks under the same (assassination) programme” it has in effect been made to the media by no less a person than the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

There are however two obvious problems with the claims made by this paragraph..

The first is that if the British intelligence agencies had this information for much time before Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned, then one would have expected them to pass it on to the OPCW after it certified last November that Russia had destroyed all its chemical weapon stockpiles.

Even if one allows for the fact that Novichok agents are not formally on the OPCW’s list of prohibited substances (as it turns out because of objections from the US) the British should surely have complained to the OPCW if they had information that the Russians were circumventing the Chemical Weapons Convention in this way.

There is no information that anything of the sort ever happened, or that the British ever passed on any intelligence about a secret Russian assassination programme involving Novichoks to their NATO partners before the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal happened, and one would expect Sir Mark Sidwell’s letter to mention the fact if they did.

That strongly suggests that this information (which according to some media reports derives from something which is being described as a Russian assassination manual) has reached British intelligence very recently, perhaps even contemporaneously with the events in Salisbury which make up the Skripal case.

That must in turn beg questions about the source who has provided this information, and the knowledge this source has about the events in Salisbury, and the extent to which the source may be using this knowledge to manipulate British perceptions of the Skripal case through the information it is providing (see my recent extensive discussion of this).

The other problem is that the whole superstructure of guesses (“highly likely”, “highly unlikely”. “likely”, “unlikely”) upon which the rest of the letter is based strongly suggests that this intelligence is uncorroborated by any other source.

Frankly, it looks to me as if the whole intelligence case against Russia is based on information provided by a single source, with British intelligence going on to draw various guesses from the information this source has provided in a way which is intended to make it seem that the British have more information and more sources for what they say than they really do.

As I have no knowledge of the source who has provided the information I am in no position to judge how reliable the source is.  Nor can I say anything about what agenda the source might be following.

What I would say is that since the source can never give evidence in court in terms of obtaining a conviction – the supposed objective of a criminal inquiry – its information is worthless.

Since it is precisely a criminal investigation which in the Skripal case is supposed to be underway, this information – which can never be tested in court or used to make a finding of guilt or innocence  in a properly conducted trial – should never have been published.

The effect of doing so has been to prejudice the criminal investigation which is underway by in effect publicly directing the investigation’s outcome, something which to be clear is a deplorable thing.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Duran on Patreon!
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of

Latest

BREXIT chaos, as May’s cabinet crumbles (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 18.

Alex Christoforou

Published

on

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the various scenarios now facing a crumbling May government, as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is forcing cabinet members to resign in rapid succession. The weekend ahead is fraught with uncertainty for the UK and its position within, or outside, the European Union.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Follow The Duran Audio Podcast on Soundcloud.

If Theresa May’s ill-fated Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is eventually rejected this could trigger a vote of no confidence, snap elections or even a new referendum…

Here are six possible scenarios facing Theresa May and the UK (via The Guardian)

1 Parliament blocks Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement and political declarations

May faces an enormous task to win parliamentary approval, given that Labour, the SNP, the DUP and 51 Tories have said they will not vote for it.

If the remaining 27 EU member states sign off the draft agreement on 25 November, the government will have to win over MPs at a crucial vote in early December.

If May loses the vote, she has 21 days to put forward a new plan. If she wins, she is safe for now.

2 May withdraws the current draft agreement

The prime minister could decide that she will not get the draft agreement through parliament and could seek to renegotiate with the EU.

This would anger Tory backbenchers and Brussels and would be seen as a humiliation for her government. It might spark a leadership contest too.

3 Extend article 50

May could ask the European council to extend article 50, giving her more time to come up with a deal that could be passed by parliament – at present, the UK will leave on 29 March 2019.

Such a request would not necessarily be granted. Some EU governments are under pressure from populist parties to get the UK out of the EU as soon as possible.

4 Conservative MPs trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister

If Conservative MPs believe May is no longer fit for office, they could trigger a no-confidence vote.

Members of the European Research Group claim that Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, will receive the necessary 48 letters this week.

A vote could be held as soon as early next week. All Tory MPs would be asked to vote for or against their leader. If May wins, she cannot be challenged for at least 12 months. If she loses, there would be a leadership contest to decide who will become prime minister.

5 General election – three possible routes

If May fails to get support for the current deal, she could call a snap general election.

She would table a parliamentary vote for a general election that would have to be passed by two thirds of MPs. She would then set an election date, which could be by the end of January.

This is an unlikely option. May’s political credibility was severely damaged when she called a snap election in 2017, leading to the loss of the Conservative party’s majority.

Alternatively, a general election could be called if a simple majority of MPs vote that they have no confidence in the government. Seven Tory MPs, or all of the DUP MPs, would have to turn against the government for it to lose the vote, triggering a two-week cooling-off period. May would remain in office while MPs negotiate a new government.

Another route to a general election would be for the government to repeal or amend the Fixed-term Parliaments Act which creates a five-year period between general elections. A new act would have to be passed through both the Commons and the Lords – an unlikely scenario.

6 Second referendum

May could decide it is impossible to find a possible draft deal that will be approved by parliament and go for a people’s vote.

The meaningful vote could be amended to allow MPs to vote on whether the country holds a second referendum. It is unclear whether enough MPs would back a second referendum and May has ruled it out.

 

Liked it? Take a second to support The Duran on Patreon!
Continue Reading

Latest

Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may lead to Theresa May’s downfall (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

Published

on

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been published and as many predicted, including Nigel Farage, the document is leading to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.

During an interview with iTV’s Piers Morgan, remain’s Alistair Campell and leave’s Nigel Farage, were calling May’s Brexit deal a complete disaster.

Via iTV

Alastair Campbell: “This doesn’t do remotely what was offered…what is the point”

“Parliament is at an impasse”

“We have to go back to the people” …”remain has to be on the ballot paper”

Nigel Farage:

“This is the worst deal in history. We are giving away in excess of 40B pounds in return for precisely nothing. Trapped still inside the European Union’s rulebook.

“Nothing has been achieved.”

“In any negotiation in life…the other side need to know that you are serious about walking away.”

“What monsieur Barnier knew from day one, is that at no point did Theresa May intend to walk away.”

“Fundamental matter of trust to the electors of our country and those who govern us.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and why the deal is a full on victory for the European Union and a document of subjugation for the United Kingdom.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel

Follow The Duran Audio Podcast on Soundcloud.

Coming in at 585 pages, the draft agreement will be closely scrutinized over the coming days but here are some of the highlights as outlined by Zerohedge

  • UK and EU to use the best endeavours to supersede Ireland protocol by 2020
  • UK can request extension of the transition period any time before July 1st, 2020
  • EU, UK See Level-Playing Field Measures in Future Relationship
  • Transition period may be extended once up to date yet to be specified in the text
  • EU and UK shall establish single customs territory and Northern Ireland is in same customs territory as Great Britain

The future relationship document is less than seven pages long. It says the U.K. and EU are seeking a free-trade area with cooperation on customs and rules: “Comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

The wording might raise concerns among Brexiters who don’t want regulatory cooperation and the measures on fair competition could amount to shackling the U.K. to EU rules.

As Bloomberg’s Emma Ross-Thomas writes, “There’s a clear sense in the documents that we’re heading for a customs union in all but name. Firstly via the Irish backstop, and then via the future relationship.”

Separately, a government summary of the draft agreement suggests role for parliament in deciding whether to extend the transition or to move in to the backstop.

But perhaps most importantly, regarding the controversial issue of the Irish border, the future relationship document says both sides aim to replace the so-called backstop – the thorniest issue in the negotiations – with a “subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

On this topic, recall that the U.K.’s fear was of being locked into the backstop arrangement indefinitely in the absence of a broader trade deal. The draft agreement includes a review process to try to give reassurance that the backstop would never be needed. Basically, the U.K. could choose to seek an extension to the transition period – where rules stay the same as they are currently – or opt to trigger the backstop conditions. In fact, as Bloomberg notes, the word “backstop,” which has been a sticking point over the Irish border for weeks, is mentioned only once in the text.

As Bloomberg further adds, the withdrawal agreement makes clear that the U.K. will remain in a single customs area with the EU until there’s a solution reached on the Irish border. It’s what Brexiteers hate, because it makes it more difficult for the U.K. to sign its own free-trade deals, which they regard as a key prize of Brexit.

Predictably, EU Commission President Juncker said decisive progress has been made in negotiations.

Meanwhile, as analysts comb over the documents, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has already written to Conservative lawmakers urging them to vote against the deal. He says:

  • May is handing over money for “little or nothing in return”
  • The agreement treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.
  • It will “lock” the U.K. into a customs union with the EU
  • It breaks the Tory election manifesto of 2017

The full document…

Liked it? Take a second to support The Duran on Patreon!
Continue Reading

Latest

4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

Published

on

Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Duran on Patreon!
Continue Reading

JOIN OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL

Your donations make all the difference. Together we can expose fake news lies and deliver truth.

Amount to donate in USD$:

5 100

Validating payment information...
Waiting for PayPal...
Validating payment information...
Waiting for PayPal...
Advertisement

Advertisement

Quick Donate

The Duran
EURO
DONATE
Donate a quick 10 spot!
Advertisement
Advertisement

Advertisement

The Duran Newsletter

Trending