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The Strange Case of the Russian Spy Poisoning

The obvious question again is: why do so now?

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Originally appeared at Consortium

Applying the principle of cui bono – who benefits? – to the case of Sergei Skripal might lead investigators away from the Kremlin as the prime suspect and towards Western intelligence agencies, argues James O’Neill.

The suspected nerve agent attack upon former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal, which also affected his daughter in the English city of Salisbury last Sunday, has given rise to too much speculation, too much hysteria, and too little analysis or insight. It has provided ammunition for the Russophobic Western media to make accusations that it was another example of Russia in general and Vladimir Putin in particular disposing of a supposed enemy of the Kremlin.

As with the Mueller investigation into the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election there are accusations with varying degrees of wildness, but little or no actual evidence that would get past first base in any independent court of law.

First, what are the known facts, only some of which have been accurately reported in the western mainstream media? The victim (assuming it was a deliberate attack upon him and his daughter) was formerly a Colonel in the Russian military intelligence service (the GRU). This is the largest of the Russian intelligence agencies and, as with its western equivalents, has a wide variety of functions, of which “spying” is only one.

In the early 1990s Skripal was recruited by an MI6 agent Pablo Miller, whom the British media declined to name. Miller was an MI6 agent in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Miller’s main task was recruiting Russians to provide information about their country to the British. An interesting fact, possibly coincidental, was that the MI6 officer under diplomatic cover in Moscow at this time was Christopher Steele. Steele was later to become better known as the principal author of the infamous Trump dossier.

When Steele returned to London, he ran MI6’s Russia desk between the 2006 and 2009. The information that Skripal disclosed would have been given to Steele, first in Moscow and later in London.

Skripal was arrested in 2004. In 2006 he was convicted of treason and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. In 2010 he was released as part of a prisoner exchange deal with Russian spies in U.S. jails. He went to live in the United Kingdom where he has lived in supposed retirement ever since. Another interesting fact, although again possibly coincidental, is that Salisbury, where Skripal lived, is only about 12 kilometres from Porton Down, the U.K.’s principal research centre for nerve agents.

If the Russians had wanted to kill him, they had ample opportunity to do so during the years when he was imprisoned or the eight years he lived in retirement in Salisbury. If they did wish to kill him, it is not a very credible that they would do so very publicly and by a means that could not be bought off the shelf in the local pharmacy. The handling and the administering of these very dangerous substances require professional expertise. The obvious candidates for the attempted murder are therefore government agencies, but which government is the unanswered question.

This is where the facts become thinner, but the interesting connections of Skripal offer scope for some tentative hypotheses. While living in Salisbury, Skripal became friendly, according to a report in the UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph, with none other than the aforementioned Pablo Miller – whom the Telegraph declined to name but has since been identified on the web.

Miller is now working with a British security consultancy named Orbis Business Intelligence. Again according to the Telegraph, Miller’s association with this company has now been removed from Miller’s LinkedIn profile.

The obvious question again is: why do so now?

Orbis is the same private intelligence agency as that of Christopher Steele. It seems more than a mere coincidence that the same three men who had personal and professional links going back to the 1990s should have a continuing association at the same time as the Steele dossier was being compiled and later as the so-called Russiagate inquiry was imploding. Former FBI Director James Comey described the Steele dossier as “salacious and unverified” in a Senate hearing.

The former British ambassador Craig Murray has suggested on his blog that a motive for the attempted murder of Skripal and his daughter was to further promote the anti-Russian hysteria that inflicts the Western media and the body politic.

That is certainly plausible, and it has certainly been one of the consequences, as the abysmal coverage of the ABC among other outlets makes clear. But an alternative hypothesis presents itself in the light of the above facts, and this hypothesis has not even been mentioned, let alone discussed by our major media.

My admittedly speculative hypothesis (but I would argue, not an unreasonable one) is that Skripal was likely involved in the production of the Steele dossier. He was therefore in a position to offer potentially very damaging information into the circumstances of the Steele dossier. As noted above, that particular narrative has not only spectacularly collapsed, but the revelations reflect very badly on, among others, the U.S. intelligence community, the FBI, the Democratic National Committee, the Obama White House and the Clinton campaign.

In any major criminal enquiry one of the basic questions the investigation asks is: who had the means, the motive and the opportunity? Framed in that light, the Russians come a distant fourth behind the other prime suspects; the U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies themselves, and those elements of the deep state that sought to prevent Trump winning, and subsequently to undermine his presidency. The primary motive being ascribed to the Russians is revenge for Skripal’s treachery more than a decade ago.

A second major question asked in any criminal investigation is cui bono – who benefits? It is difficult to perceive a credible argument that Russia is a beneficiary of Skripal’s poisoning.

Further support for the hypothesis that this was a false flag operation comes in this statement that British Prime Minister to Theresa May made to the UK Parliament. The statement was frankly absurd and could only have been made when the intention was to further demonize and punish Russia, rather than any attempt to establish the truth and apply ordinary principles of evidence and factual analysis.

May’s argument is thoroughly deconstructed on the Moon of Alabama website, which pointed out that Russia had destroyed all left over stocks from the Soviet Union’s chemical weapon program and does not currently produce chemical weapons. Further, there are any number of governments capable of carrying out the Salisbury attack. “If someone is run-over by a BMW is it ‘highly likely’ that the German government is responsible for it?” the Moon of Alabama asks.

The obfuscations of the British reinforce in the view that Skripal was dangerous to the anti-Trump forces and the authorities therefore sought to have them removed. There is ample precedent for such actions and those familiar with the “suicide” of Dr. David Kelly will recognize the parallels.

The chances of the truth emerging have become vanishingly small at the same time as a serious conflict with Russia becomes correspondingly greater.

 

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Trudeau’s Top Bureaucrat Unexpectedly Quits Amid Growing Corruption Scandal

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

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Via Zerohedge


Since it was exposed by a report in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper earlier this month, the scandal that’s become known as the SNC-Lavalin affair has already led to the firing of several of Trudeau’s close advisors and raised serious questions about whether the prime minister was complicit in pressuring the attorney general to offer a deferred prosecution agreement with a large, Quebec-based engineering firm.

And according to the first round of polls released since the affair exploded into public view…

…it could cost Trudeau his position as prime minister and return control to the conservatives, according to the CBC.

Campaign Research showed the Conservatives ahead with 37% to 32% for the Liberals, while both Ipsos and Léger put the margin at 36% to 34% in the Conservatives’ favour.Since December, when both polling firms were last in the field, the Liberals have lost one point in Campaign Research’s polling and four percentage points in the Ipsos poll, while the party is down five points since November in the Léger poll.

Meanwhile, as the noose tightens around Trudeau, on Monday another of the key Canadian government officials at the center of the SNC-Lavalin scandal has quit his post.

Michael Wernick, clerk of the privy council, the highest-ranking position in Canada’s civil service and a key aide to Justin Trudeau, announced his retirement Monday. Trudeau named Ian Shugart, currently deputy minister of foreign affairs, to replace him.

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” he said, citing the need for impartiality on the issue of potential foreign interference. According to Bloomberg, the exact date of his departure is unclear.

As we reported in February, Canada’s former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, quit following allegations that several key Trudeau government figures pressured her to intervene to end a criminal prosecution against Montreal-based construction giant SNC. Wernick was among those she named in saying the prime minister’s office wanted her to pursue a negotiated settlement.

Wernick has since twice spoken to a committee of lawmakers investigating the case, and during that testimony both defended his actions on the SNC file and warned about the risk of foreign election interference, as “blame Putin” has become traditional Plan B plan for most politicians seeing their careers go up in flames.

“I’m deeply concerned about my country right now, its politics and where it’s headed. I worry about foreign interference in the upcoming election,” he said in his first appearance before the House of Commons justice committee, before repeating the warning a second time this month. “If that was seen as alarmist, so be it. I was pulling the alarm. We need a public debate about foreign interference.”

Because somehow foreign interference has something to do with Wenick’s alleged corruption.

Incidentally, as we wonder what the real reason is behind Wernick’s swift departure, we are confident we will know soon enough.

Anyway, back to the now former clerk, who is meant to be non-partisan in service of the government of the day, also criticized comments by a Conservative senator and praised one of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers.

Wernick’s testimony was criticized as overly cozy with the ruling Liberals. Murray Rankin, a New Democratic Party lawmaker, asked the clerk how lawmakers could “do anything but conclude that you have in fact crossed the line into partisan activity?” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said he seemed “willing to interfere in partisan fashion for whoever is in power.”

Whatever Wernick’s true motives, he is the latest but not last in what will be a long line of cabinet departures as the SNC scandal exposes even more corruption in Trudeau’s cabinet (some have ironically pointed out that Canada’s “beloved” prime minister could be gone for actual corruption long before Trump). Trudeau had already lost a top political aide, Gerald Butts, to the scandal. A second minister, Jane Philpott, followed Wilson-Raybould in quitting cabinet.

Separately, on Monday, Trudeau appointed a former deputy prime minister in a Liberal government, Anne McLellan, as a special adviser to investigate some of the legal questions raised by the controversy. They include how governments should interact with the attorney general and whether that role should continue to be held by the justice minister.

As Bloomberg notes, the increasingly shaky Liberal government hasn’t ruled out helping SNC by ordering a deferred prosecution agreement in the corruption and bribery case, which centers around the company’s work in Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya. Doing so would allow the company to pay a fine and avoid any ban on receiving government contracts. That decision is up to the current attorney general, David Lametti; of course, such an action would only raise tensions amid speculation that the government is pushing for a specific political, and favorable for Trudeau, outcome.

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France To Ban Yellow Vest Protests In Neighborhoods With “Ultra” Radicals

Philippe added that he has asked the State Judicial Agent to “systematically seek the financial responsibility of troublemakers.”

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Via Zerohedge


France is cracking down on “yellow vest” protesters following a weekend of renewed violence – as the Macron administration announced on Monday that it would ban demonstration in several areas of france – including the Champs Elysees in Paris, if “ultra elements” are present, according to Interior Minister Edouard Philippe.

‘We will ban demonstrations if ultra elements’ are present, said Philippe, according to CNEWS.

The ban will apply to “neighborhoods that have been most affected as soon as we have knowledge of” the “ultras.”

“I am thinking of course the Champs-Elysees in Paris, the place Pey-Berland in Bordeaux, the Capitol Square in Toulouse”, Philippe added, where “we will proceed to the immediate dispersal of all groups.

Philippe added that he has asked the State Judicial Agent to “systematically seek the financial responsibility of troublemakers.”

Saturday marked a significant escalation in violence during the group’s 18th straight week of protests – which began as a revolt against a climate-change gas tax and expanded into a general anti-government movement.

As we noted on Sunday, the riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

Sounds like things are about to get a lot more violent in Gay Paree.

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The Destabilisation Of Algeria: The Influx Of New Refugees To Europe And A Threat To Its Energy Security

The destabilisation of Algeria will undoubtedly cause problems for Europe. 

The Duran

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Via Oriental Review:


The president of Algeria, 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power for almost 20 years, has declared that he will not be running for what would have been his fifth term. The announcement was made against the backdrop of widespread protests that have been rocking the country for days. Thus, the latest revolution in the Arab world has succeeded. The question is, what will come next?

Despite being laid to rest countless times, the Arab Spring has continued where it was least expected. Algeria has the same explosive cocktail as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, of course: a young, rapidly growing urban population deprived of jobs and opportunities; corruption and poverty amid opulent wealth and luxury; uneasy relationships between ethnic groups (in Algeria’s case, between the Arabs and the Kabyle people, a Berber ethnic group); Islamist activity; and, finally, an unchanging authoritarian leader who rules with the same unchanging palette of ideas as every other dictatorship – “Who else if not me?”, “It will be worse without me”, “You don’t change horses in midstream” and so on. But judging by how calmly the country endured the turbulent events in nearby Tunisia and Libya, with only localised pockets of unrest, many experts were under the impression that the elderly Bouteflika would simply be able to retire by handing the presidency to whomever he wants – namely Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, who has the unspoken title of “successor”. Something has gone wrong, however.

It is unclear why, on 10 February, Bouteflika announced that he would be taking part in the presidential election scheduled for April. It is even unclear how much say he had in this decision. In 2013, Bouteflika suffered a stroke. A year later he was re-elected amid myriad accusations of election fraud and stopped appearing in public. Until last Sunday, that is, when Bouteflika delivered an address to the nation in which he announced he had changed his mind and no longer wanted to run for re-election.

“There won’t be a fifth mandate and it was never on the table as far as I am concerned,” he said. “Given my state of health and age, my last duty towards the Algerian people was always contributing to the foundation of a new Republic.”

On Monday, the government, including Ahmed Ouyahia, resigned. A “cabinet of technocrats” is being put together in its place headed by the now former interior minister, Noureddine Bedoui, and the streets of the country’s capital are filled with cheering crowds.

The biggest potential powder keg for the situation in Algeria, of course, is the fact that the presidential election has been postponed indefinitely. Exactly when it will take place will become clear after the national conference tasked with drafting a new constitution. The presidential election and the voting on it has to take place at the same time.

So, for the time being there is political uncertainty: a president who has either resigned or hasn’t; an emerging government; and a people inspired by what seems to be a victory. There is also the bulldog fight going on behind the scenes at the highest levels of government about which little is known, but which has been hampered by the presence of the country’s unquestioned leader, Bouteflika.

President of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika

It should be remembered, however, that, no matter what you think of him, the current Algerian leaderdid actually bring stability to the country. It was during his presidency that the so-called “Black Decade” – a civil war instigated by Islamists in 1991 – came to an end. After winning the 1999 presidential election, Bouteflika secured an amnesty for the militants and the wave of terror gradually subsided. At the beginning of his time in office, he pursued a fairly flexible policy, didn’t persecute his opponents as long as they didn’t resort to violent methods, and tried to make it so that rising energy prices had a positive impact on the well-being of the people and not just the ruling elite. The system began to stiffen in 2008, however, when a law was passed allowing the president to be re-elected an infinite number of times. This process has now gone so far that opponents of the regime are only going to be happy with serious, rather than cosmetic, changes, and this kind of attitude always spells danger for the future of a country.

If the situation in Algeria comes to bloodshed, then it is unlikely that other countries will stay on the sidelines. Europe will be forced to intervene, if only to prevent a new wave of refugees from Arab countries.

Meanwhile, the situation in Algeria remains tense. The president’s announcement that he will not run for a fifth term has not quelled the protests. The unrest of the people is now directed against the introduction of a transition period and the creation of a new government that they believe will contain all the same people who are running the country now. The protesters are demanding a regime change, although they are not formulating their position very well. What’s more, following Bouteflika’s decision not to run for re-election on 18 April, no one is ready – there are no other candidates, no one has carried out an election campaign and it would be virtually impossible to do so in the time remaining. It therefore seems that the different sides will now have to talk to each other.

A possible split in the Algerian elite could be dangerous. In fact, that’s why Bouteflika was put forward for president – he united them. The balance among the parties close to power is extremely fragile, but the feelings of unrest and discontent are strong. A number of organisations are taking part in the street protests, including various parties and NGOs, and the longer the protests continue, the more various forces will try to take advantage of them.

Prime Minister of Algeria Noureddine Bedoui

Algeria’s political parties and movements have been divided in their assessment of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decisions. The National Liberation Front has supported the head of state, who “heeded the calls of the Algerian people”. In a statement, the ruling party said: “It allows politicians and members of civil society to take part in the construction of a new Algeria.” Abdelamajid Munasyra, the deputy leader of the moderate Islamist party Movement for the Society of Peace, said that Bouteflika “withdrew his candidacy from the presidential election but remained in power, which violates the constitution”. The Algerian newspaper Elkhabar quotes the politician as saying:

“The political opposition is waiting for the response of the people, whether these decisions will be accepted by the people. But if these steps are not taken, which is likely, then we will stand with the people.”

In a video statement, the head of the Union for Reform and Progress, Zubaidah Assul, called the president’s actions “a political manoeuvre and an attempt to avoid meeting the demands of the demonstrators”. The Algerian politician continued: “From what we have heard, it appears that the president has extended his term in office, and he has not given any indication of how long the transition period will last.” She also noted that the posts of prime minister and deputy prime minister have been filled by representatives of the “old regime”. At the same time, Assul believes that the people will quietly continue trying to oust “the entire regime from power”.

The dissatisfaction of Algerians is being spurred on by the unfavourable social and economic situation in the country. The protesters are demanding pro-Western reforms and they’re demanding changes in the country. According to unofficial sources, more than one million people took part in the protests in Algeria on 1 March.

The lack of a viable successor and the inability of the current elite to solve the economic crisis are contributing to the uncertainty of Algeria’s political future, something that the current regime’s main opponents – the Islamists – will inevitably try to take advantage of. The weakening of the vertical power structure and the continuing protests are creating a breeding ground for the resurrection of Islamist organisations. In particular, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb recently published a talk entitled “Algeria…Getting Out From The Dark Tunnel”, which states that the organisation is ready to take advantage of the unrest when the time is right.

The destabilisation of Algeria will undoubtedly cause problems for Europe. Besides the inevitable influx of new refugees, Europe could also face a threat to its energy security, given that Algeria provides a third of the gas consumed in Europe and as much as half of the gas consumed in Spain. At the same time, the weakness of the current government during a possible civil conflict will be exacerbated by the situation in the bordering countries of Libya and Mali. ISIS jihadists have strong positions in both countries, while the lengthy and poorly controlled border with Mali and Libya risks the spread of Islamic fundamentalism into the vast territories of north and north-west Africa.

The US will also not fail to take advantage of the complex situation in Algeria. Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, Washington will easily be able to implement plans to penetrate and consolidate its positions in the Sahel-Sahara Region. A large-scale military presence will also allow the US to secure its interests in reorienting Algeria’s energy policy towards the development of shale gas and implementing its strategic objective of organising the supply of this raw material to Europe.

Whatever happens, Algeria is facing several serious challenges at once and its ability to respond is being severely hampered by a lack of any notable potential leaders either within government or within the ranks of the opposition.

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