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The Skripal case and the misuse of ‘intelligence’

As the Novichok ‘evidence’ collapses, the criminal investigation into the Skripal attack has become corrupted

Alexander Mercouris

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The events of the last few days in the Skripal case provide an object lesson of why in criminal investigations the rules of due process should always be adhered to.  The reason the British now find themselves in difficulties is because they have not adhered to them.

This despite the fact that – as they all too often like to remind us – it was the British themselves who largely created them.

The single biggest unexplained mystery about the Skripal case is why it attracted so much attention so quickly.

Within hours of Sergey and Yulia Skripal being found passed out on a bench the British media were feverishly speculating that they had been poisoned by Russia.

This despite the fact that no information at that point existed which warranted such speculation, and despite pleas for the investigation to be allowed to take its course from the police and from the government minister responsible for the police, Home Secretary Amber Rudd (who has ever since been conspicuously silent about the whole affair).

Within three days of Sergey and Yulia Skripal being found on passed out on a bench – and before any information linking the incident to Russia had become publicly available – the British government’s COBRA committee was meeting – a fact which caused me incredulity – during which a highly revealing article in The Times of London has now revealed it was already agreed that Russia was “almost certainly” responsible.

A Whitehall source added: “We knew pretty much by the time of the first Cobra [the emergency co-ordination briefing that took place the same week] that it was overwhelmingly likely to come from Russia.”

(bold italics added)

“It” of course refers to the chemical agent which poisoned Sergey and Yulia Skripal, with the clear implication that by the date of the first COBRA meeting on 7th March 2018 – three days after Sergey and Yulia Skripal were found in the bench – “it” had already been identified as a Novichok “of a type developed by Russia”.

If what this article says is true – and despite the fact that the article is full tendentious reporting (of which more below) on this one point I am inclined to believe what it says – then that must mean either (1) that Porton Down is highly familiar with the properties of Novichok agents if it can identify the agent used so quickly; or (2) the British authorities already had “other” information before Porton Down completed its analysis which caused them to think that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned with a chemical agent “of a type developed by Russia”.

If it was the first then note that Porton Down took no more than three days to identify the poison as a Novichok despite the fact (1) that Novichok agents are not in general use and are supposed to be very rare and there is no known instance of their having been used before (it seems that contrary to previous reports the Kivelidi murder in 1995 in Russia did not involve use of a Novichok); and (2) that confirming Porton Down’s analysis that the poison is a Novichok is taking the OPCW’s experts two weeks.

If it was the second, and the COBRA committee came to its view on 7th March 2018 that Russia was ‘almost certainly responsible’ before Porton Down had identified the poison, then the last few weeks have been an exercise in smoke-and-mirrors, with the British authorities pretending that the reason for their belief in Russian responsibility was that the poison used was a Novichok, whereas in reality they came to that belief for some entirely different reason.

If so then that might partially why Porton Down and the French scientists were able to identify the chemical agent so quickly.

They were able to identify the poison as a Novichok by the weekend prior to Theresa May’s statement to the House of Commons on Monday 12th March 2018 because they were told in advance what to look for.

I do not know which of these alternatives is true.  However, for what it’s worth, I believe it is the second because it is the one which makes most sense in light of the known facts.

That this is the likeliest explanation of what happened finds support from The Times of London article which I cited earlier.  It contains this highly revealing claim

Security services believe that they have pinpointed the location of the covert Russian laboratory that manufactured the weapons-grade nerve agent used in Salisbury, The Times has learnt.

Ministers and security officials were able to identify the source using scientific analysis and intelligence in the days after the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal a month ago, according to security sources.

Britain knew about the existence of the facility where the novichok poison was made before the attack on March 4, it is understood……

Security sources do not claim 100 per cent certainty but the source has insisted that they have a high degree of confidence in the location. They also believe that the Russians conducted tests to see whether novichok could be used for assassinations.

The disclosure is the latest part of Britain’s intelligence case against Russia, which has been undermined this week by a series of blunders.

(bold italics added)

In other words the entire British case against Russia derives not from identification of the poison as a Novichok but from information about the supposed existence of a ‘secret laboratory’ making Novichok in Russia which British intelligence had obtained – or thinks it had obtained – before the attack took place.

That the British case against Russia is intelligence based and is not based on the fact that the poison used was (allegedly) a Novichok is further shown by one case of manipulation of language and one case of crude editing in some of the things which have been said.

The example of manipulation of language is the constant British harping on the fact that the Novichok allegedly used in the attack is “military grade”.

I am not a chemist or a chemical weapons expert but I cannot see how it is possibly to say such a thing given that no military – not even the Russian military – has apparently ever stockpiled Novichok agents for use as a military weapon.  How can one say therefore that any particular sample of Novichok is “military grade” if no military has ever stockpiled or used it?

As for the example of editing, it is one which I admit I previously overlooked but which was noticed by the invaluable Craig Murray, whose commentary on the Skripal case has been nothing short of outstanding.

The editing is of what was said by Porton Down chief executive Gary Aitkenhead.  Since it was Craig Murray who noticed it rather than discuss it myself I will link and quote to what Craig Murray has to say about it

It is in this final statement that, in a desperate last minute attempt to implicate Russia, Aitkenhead states that making this nerve agent required

“extremely sophisticated methods to create, something probably only within the capabilities of a state actor.”

Very strangely, Sky News only give the briefest clip of the interview on this article on their website reporting it. And the report is highly tendentious: for example it states

However, he confirmed the substance required “extremely sophisticated methods to create, something only in the capabilities of a state actor”.

Deleting the “probably” is a piece of utterly tendentious journalism by Sky’s Paul Kelso.

I did not notice that the key word “probably” had been deleted from what Aitkenhead had said, and as a result my previous article wrongly quoted his words, saying them not as he had said them but as they had been wrongly edited.

It turns out that even what Aitkenhead actually said – that the Novichok agent would have required “extremely sophisticated methods to create, something probably only within the capabilities of a state actor” is almost certainly wrong.

Here is what Craig Murray has to say about that

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

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

That the entire British case against Russia depends on intelligence is further shown by a further strange development in the case today.

This is that the British authorities are now apparently claiming that the fact that the poison which was used to poison Sergey and Yulia Skripal was supposedly found on Sergey Skripal’s door knob is the ‘smoking gun’ which points to Russia.

Whether that is so or not – and I share Craig Murray’s deep skepticism about this – the alleged presence of the poison on the door knob cannot be the reason why on 7th March 2018 the British government’s COBRA committee had already come to the conclusion that the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal “was almost certainly” the work of Russia.

That is because the theory that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned when they came into contact with the poison on the door knob only appeared several weeks after 7th March 2018.

All the evidence points to fact that the ‘intelligence’ the British government used to come to the conclusion – reached within hours of Sergey and Yulia Skripal being found passed out on a bench – that the attack on them had been carried out by Russia must have come from a human source.

If the British authorities really do possess what they believe to be a Russian assassin’s manual (see Craig Murray again) then that all but confirms it.  How else would such a manual have come into their hands?

If that human source really was able to identify the particular poison used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal in advance, then that suggests a very well informed source indeed.

That might be because the source does have genuine access to secret information about a top secret Russian assassination programme, in which case the Russian authorities will by now almost certainly know who that source is.

However given the complete absence of any other evidence of a top secret Russian assassination programme I must say I doubt this (as I have discussed elsewhere, the Litvinenko case does not provide such evidence).

The alternative – which of course is what many people believe – is that this whole affair is a provocation, staged by someone who then tipped the British off that Novichok – a poison of “a type developed by Russia” but which can in fact easily be made elsewhere (see above) – had been used, whilst misleading the British by giving them a trail of false leads which appeared to point towards Russia.

The claim that the fact that traces of the poison were found on the door knob is the ‘smoking gun’ which points to Russia to my mind rather supports this second theory.

If this claim was made before the poison was found on the door knob it suggests that the source knew in advance that it was there, which would tend to implicate the source in the attack.

If the source provided the information about the alleged ‘assassin’s manual’ after reports appeared in the British media about the poison being found on the door knob – which by the way is what I suspect – then that strongly suggests that the source is adapting its information to the changing news, which suggests manipulation of the intelligence in order to implicate Russia.

Whatever the case the fact that Novichok was probably used to poison Sergey and Yulia Skripal (we will only know with any measure of certainty when the OPCW reports its tests) is not proof that Russia was involved.

The British have got themselves into a total mess by pretending that it is.

They would have avoided getting into this mess – and avoided being manipulated by whoever is giving them ‘secret’ information, if that is what is happening – if they had instead done what their law and traditions dictate they should have done, which is allowed the criminal investigation to take its course.

It bears repeating that at this stage no suspect has been identified in the case and even the theory that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by touching Sergey Skripal’s door knob is pure conjecture.

Once again – as in the Litvinenko case and the Russiagate scandal – the course of a criminal investigation has been corrupted by the misuse of ‘intelligence’.

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Clinton-Yeltsin docs shine a light on why Deep State hates Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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Bill Clinton and America ruled over Russia and Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Yeltsin showed little love for Russia and more interest in keeping power, and pleasing the oligarchs around him.

Then came Vladimir Putin, and everything changed.

Nearly 600 pages of memos and transcripts, documenting personal exchanges and telephone conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, were made public by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dating from January 1993 to December 1999, the documents provide a historical account of a time when US relations with Russia were at their best, as Russia was at its weakest.

On September 8, 1999, weeks after promoting the head of the Russia’s top intelligence agency to the post of prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a phone call from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The new prime minister was unknown, rising to the top of the Federal Security Service only a year earlier.

Yeltsin wanted to reassure Clinton that Vladimir Putin was a “solid man.”

Yeltsin told Clinton….

“I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is.”

“I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the nearly 600 pages of transcripts documenting the calls and personal conversations between then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, released last month. A strong Clinton and a very weak Yeltsin underscore a warm and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Then Vladimir Putin came along and decided to lift Russia out of the abyss, and things changed.

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Here are five must-read Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges from with the 600 pages released by the Clinton Library.

Via RT

Clinton sends ‘his people’ to get Yeltsin elected

Amid unceasing allegations of nefarious Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, the Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges reveal how the US government threw its full weight behind Boris – in Russian parliamentary elections as well as for the 1996 reelection campaign, which he approached with 1-digit ratings.

For example, a transcript from 1993 details how Clinton offered to help Yeltsin in upcoming parliamentary elections by selectively using US foreign aid to shore up support for the Russian leader’s political allies.

“What is the prevailing attitude among the regional leaders? Can we do something through our aid package to send support out to the regions?” a concerned Clinton asked.

Yeltsin liked the idea, replying that “this kind of regional support would be very useful.” Clinton then promised to have “his people” follow up on the plan.

In another exchange, Yeltsin asks his US counterpart for a bit of financial help ahead of the 1996 presidential election: “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion,” he said. Yeltsin added that he needed the money in order to pay pensions and government wages – obligations which, if left unfulfilled, would have likely led to his political ruin. Yeltsin also asks Clinton if he could “use his influence” to increase the size of an IMF loan to assist him during his re-election campaign.

Yeltsin questions NATO expansion

The future of NATO was still an open question in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and conversations between Clinton and Yeltsin provide an illuminating backdrop to the current state of the curiously offensive ‘defensive alliance’ (spoiler alert: it expanded right up to Russia’s border).

In 1995, Yeltsin told Clinton that NATO expansion would lead to “humiliation” for Russia, noting that many Russians were fearful of the possibility that the alliance could encircle their country.

“It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? They ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this?” Yeltsin asked Clinton.

As the documents show, Yeltsin insisted that Russia had “no claims on other countries,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the US was conducting naval drills near Crimea.

“It is as if we were training people in Cuba. How would you feel?” Yeltsin asked. The Russian leader then proposed a “gentleman’s agreement” that no former Soviet republics would join NATO.

Clinton refused the offer, saying: “I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO. I’ve always tried to build you up and never undermine you.”

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia turns Russia against the West

Although Clinton and Yeltsin enjoyed friendly relations, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia tempered Moscow’s enthusiastic partnership with the West.

“Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO,” the Russian president told Clinton in March 1999. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that.”

Yeltsin urged Clinton to renounce the strikes, for the sake of “our relationship” and “peace in Europe.”

“It is not known who will come after us and it is not known what will be the road of future developments in strategic nuclear weapons,” Yeltsin reminded his US counterpart.

But Clinton wouldn’t cede ground.

“Milosevic is still a communist dictator and he would like to destroy the alliance that Russia has built up with the US and Europe and essentially destroy the whole movement of your region toward democracy and go back to ethnic alliances. We cannot allow him to dictate our future,” Clinton told Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asks US to ‘give Europe to Russia’

One exchange that has been making the rounds on Twitter appears to show Yeltsin requesting that Europe be “given” to Russia during a meeting in Istanbul in 1999. However, it’s not quite what it seems.

“I ask you one thing,” Yeltsin says, addressing Clinton. “Just give Europe to Russia. The US is not in Europe. Europe should be in the business of Europeans.”

However, the request is slightly less sinister than it sounds when put into context: The two leaders were discussing missile defense, and Yeltsin was arguing that Russia – not the US – would be a more suitable guarantor of Europe’s security.

“We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles,” Yeltsin told Clinton.

Clinton on Putin: ‘He’s very smart’

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges takes place when Yeltsin announces to Clinton his successor, Vladimir Putin.

In a conversation with Clinton from September 1999, Yeltsin describes Putin as “a solid man,” adding: “I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

A month later, Clinton asks Yeltsin who will win the Russian presidential election.

“Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.”

“He’s very smart,” Clinton remarks.

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New Satellite Images Reveal Aftermath Of Israeli Strikes On Syria; Putin Accepts Offer to Probe Downed Jet

The images reveal the extent of destruction in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport.

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Via Zerohedge


An Israeli satellite imaging company has released satellite photographs that reveal the extent of Monday night’s attack on multiple locations inside Syria.

ImageSat International released them as part of an intelligence report on a series of Israeli air strikes which lasted for over an hour and resulted in Syrian missile defense accidentally downing a Russian surveillance plane that had 15 personnel on board.

The images reveal the extent of destruction on one location struck early in attack in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport. On Tuesday Israel owned up to carrying out the attack in a rare admission.

Syrian official SANA news agency reported ten people injured in the attacks carried out of military targets near three major cities in Syria’s north.

The Times of Israel, which first reported the release of the new satellite images, underscores the rarity of Israeli strikes happening that far north and along the coast, dangerously near Russian positions:

The attack near Latakia was especially unusual because the port city is located near a Russian military base, the Khmeimim Air Force base. The base is home to Russian jet planes and an S-400 aerial defense system. According to Arab media reports, Israel has rarely struck that area since the Russians arrived there.

The Russian S-400 system was reportedly active during the attack, but it’s difficult to confirm or assess the extent to which Russian missiles responded during the strikes.

Three of the released satellite images show what’s described as an “ammunition warehouse” that appears to have been completely destroyed.

The IDF has stated their airstrikes targeted a Syrian army facility “from which weapons-manufacturing systems were supposed to be transferred to Iran and Hezbollah.” This statement came after the IDF expressed “sorrow” for the deaths of Russian airmen, but also said responsibility lies with the “Assad regime.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to express regret over the incident while offering to send his air force chief to Russia with a detailed report — something which Putin agreed to.

According to Russia’s RT News, “Major-General Amikam Norkin will arrive in Moscow on Thursday, and will present the situation report on the incident, including the findings of the IDF inquiry regarding the event and the pre-mission information the Israeli military was so reluctant to share in advance.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry condemned the “provocative actions by Israel as hostile” and said Russia reserves “the right to an adequate response” while Putin has described the downing of the Il-20 recon plane as likely the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances” and downplayed the idea of a deliberate provocation, in contradiction of the initial statement issued by his own defense ministry.

Pro-government Syrians have reportedly expressed frustration this week that Russia hasn’t done more to respond militarily to Israeli aggression; however, it appears Putin may be sidestepping yet another trap as it’s looking increasingly likely that Israel’s aims are precisely geared toward provoking a response in order to allow its western allies to join a broader attack on Damascus that could result in regime change.

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“Transphobic” Swedish Professor May Lose Job After Noting Biological Differences Between Sexes

A university professor in Sweden is under investigation after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded”

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Via Zerohedge


A university professor in Sweden is under investigation for “anti-feminism” and “transphobia” after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded” and that genders cannot be regarded as “social constructs alone,” reports Academic Rights Watch.

For his transgression, Germund Hesslow – a professor of neuroscience at Lund University – who holds dual PhDs in philosophy and neurophysiology, may lose his job – telling RT that a “full investigation” has been ordered, and that there “have been discussions about trying to stop the lecture or get rid of me, or have someone else give the lecture or not give the lecture at all.”

“If you answer such a question you are under severe time pressure, you have to be extremely brief — and I used wording which I think was completely innocuous, and that apparently the student didn’t,” Hesslow said.

Hesslow was ordered to attend a meeting by Christer Larsson, chairman of the program board for medical education, after a female student complained that Hesslow had a “personal anti-feminist agenda.” He was asked to distance himself from two specific comments; that gay women have a “male sexual orientation” and that the sexual orientation of transsexuals is “a matter of definition.”

The student’s complaint reads in part (translated):

I have also heard from senior lecturers that Germund Hesslow at the last lecture expressed himself transfobically. In response to a question of transexuallism, he said something like “sex change is a fly”. Secondly, it is outrageous because there may be students during the lecture who are themselves exposed to transfobin, but also because it may affect how later students in their professional lives meet transgender people. Transpersonals already have a high level of overrepresentation in suicide statistics and there are already major shortcomings in the treatment of transgender in care, should not it be countered? How does this kind of statement coincide with the university’s equal treatment plan? What has this statement given for consequences? What has been done for this to not be repeated? –Academic Rights Watch

After being admonished, Hesslow refused to distance himself from his comments, saying that he had “done enough” already and didn’t have to explain and defend his choice of words.

At some point, one must ask for a sense of proportion among those involved. If it were to become acceptable for students to record lectures in order to find compromising formulations and then involve faculty staff with meetings and long letters, we should let go of the medical education altogether,” Hesslow said in a written reply to Larsson.

He also rejected the accusation that he had a political agenda – stating that his only agenda was to let scientific factnot new social conventions, dictate how he teaches his courses.

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