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Unprepared Donald Trump flounders against Hillary Clinton the Pro

The first television debate saw Donald Trump woefully underprepared against Hillary Clinton, one of the most experienced and ruthlessly prepared political professionals in Washington.

Joe Lauria

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A smug Hillary Clinton stood calmly at her podium smirking during most of the first U.S. presidential debate as she provoked emotional reactions from Donald Trump in what appeared to be a strategy to rattle him and keep him on the defensive most of the night.

Clinton needled Trump on his plan to fight the Islamic State, on him not paying his taxes, on his treatment of women, on his denial of climate change, on his denigration of Muslims and his position on nuclear weapons—all legitimate criticisms but delivered with an intent to do personal harm. As Trump grew angrier and angrier Clinton appeared to be laughing at him. At one point she told him he was saying “crazy things” and living “in his own reality.”

Clinton got under Trump’s skin by telling him he started life with a big inheritance, while she was the daughter of a humble small businessman; that he had four times filed for bankruptcy, did not pay his workers, called women “pigs” and had been sued by the government 40 years ago for racial discrimination in a housing development he owned (and which he settled out of court).

Trump seemed uncharacteristically nervous and restrained as the first debate of three got underway, displaying a grudging respect for Clinton by calling her “Secretary,” while labelling  her Crooked Hillary on Twitter. But a series of humiliating jabs by Clinton worked to get Trump’s back up leading to several gaffes, including an admission that he has paid no federal taxes.

After suggesting that Trump would not release his tax returns because he may be hiding this,  Trump lost his cool and appeared to admit he indeed hadn’t pay taxes, by interjecting that it “makes me smart” not to pay.

Ruthless

It was a vicious strategy on her part, cooked up by her team of ruthless campaign operatives and her own experience of 38 debates in her political career. This was Trump’s first one-on-one debate. And it showed.

She took a week off to prepare, while Trump did not hold one mock session. She depended on a team of highly experienced opposition researchers who have dug up every scrap of dirt they could find on Trump.

At one point when Clinton accused him of calling a contestant at one of his beauty pageant “Miss Piggy,” Trump feverishly responded “Where did you find this? Where did you find this?”

“He loves beauty contests,supporting them and hanging around them,” Clinton said, slowly inserting the needle and twisting it slightly. “Then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping,’ because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name.”

“Where did you find this? Where did you find this?” Trump implored.

“Her name is Alicia Machado,” Clinton calmly said.

“Where did you find this?” he repeated.

“And she has become a U.S. citizen, and you can bet…

“Oh, really?” Trump interrupted.

“ … she’s going to vote this November,” said Clinton.

That he wouldn’t know Clinton opposition researchers would come up with something like this, and then would blurt out his astonishment that they did from the podium is itself astonishing.

It showed how little he understood this dirty game and how poorly prepared he was. His opposition research seemed to be based solely on the considerable Clinton negatives already in the public domain. He hit her hard on the emails, but she swatted it away, and Trump backed off.

Trump seemed to think he could wing it. But he ran into a political juggernaut, with master dirty tricksters like former rightwing operative David Brock conjuring up ways to rattle Trump, exposing his temper and his weak command of the facts. Meanwhile, a studied and scripted Clinton merely laughed at him, giving him the rope to hang himself with.

Of Course Russia Did It

Trump did score some points, though they have been largely ignored in a corporate media analysis that scored a decisive knockout for Clinton. In one exchange, she clearly said that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee and Trump called her on it.

CLINTON: “There’s no doubt now that Russia has used cyber attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country, and I am deeply concerned about this. I know Donald’s very praiseworthy of Vladimir Putin, but Putin is playing a really… tough, long game here. And one of the things he’s done is to let loose cyber attackers to hack into government files, to hack into personal files, hack into the Democratic National Committee.”

TRUMP: I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?

TRUMP: You don’t know who broke in to DNC.But what did we learn with the DNC? We learned that Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of by your people, by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Look what happened to her. But Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of. That’s what we learned.”

Trump’s rhetoric on Russia (and with no political record, rhetoric is all we have) is clearly saner than Clinton’s, who has an alarming record. It is simple to understand why Russia would favor Trump. He is not threatening Russia while she is. And she’s left a trail of destruction behind her in Libya, Syria and Honduras making it more than mere words.

No one has come up with any evidence to back up the Clinton campaign’s charge of a Trump conflict of interest because he either owes money or has business in Russia. Frankly I hope he does have businesses there. It would make him even less likely to stir up a crisis with Moscow if he should win.

Nor has anyone come up with any evidence to prove Russia was behind the DNC hack. After the debate CNN either deviously or incompetently did a “fact-check” and said Trump was wrong about “the question that was posed, ‘Who is the leading suspect in the DNC hack?”

But Clinton didn’t talk about the “leading suspect.” She flat out said Russia did it.

Her continued hammering on these supposed business interests and that Russia did the  hacking is suspicious. Linking Trump to Russia has done little to hurt him in the polls. In fact he had risen to a virtual tie in the weeks since the hack. So why does she keep at it?  There could be something else at play, an admittedly sinister scenario, but entirely possible in the Clinton camp.

If she should lose a close election to Trump I would not be surprised if she contested the outcome charging that Russia had hacked the electoral databases and changed the result. If she could challenge enough electors to bring him below 270 electoral college votes needed to win, the result could be thrown to the House of Representatives (as it has three times in history) where a Republican majority, many who hate Trump, just may side with her.

With the way the American public has been relentlessly conditioned to fear and despise Russia, evidence of Moscow’s alleged tampering may not be needed. With the corporate media playing along, evidence wasn’t necessary for the tall tale of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH-17 or Russia’s supposed attack on a humanitarian convoy in Syria last week.

No Mention of Syria

Curiously, there was absolutely no discussion of Syria in the debate, beyond an incidental mention by Clinton. The focus was on the Islamic State’s threat inside the U.S. and what to do about it. Trump accused Clinton, as secretary of state, of creating a vacuum by pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, allowing ISIS to be established. Here Trump insisted again that he never backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which he correctly said caused immense instability creating the conditions for ISIS.

But Trump missed a tremendous opportunity to hit Clinton for being secretary of state when a precursor of the Islamic State was directly aided by the administration she served in. And this is the tragedy of Trump.

He’s wrong on so many things: torture, climate change, tax breaks for the rich, increased military spending, law and order, stop and frisk, and guns. And when he’s right, such as wanting good relations with Russia to avoid catastrophe, he doesn’t adequately explain his position, while being subject to a massive smear campaign.

Only on trade and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure has he been right for the good of American workers, and has also amply laid out this position (spending more time on that in the debate than anything else.) These positions result from the anger of workers and a declining middle class, who have fuelled Trump’s wholly unorthodox campaign, contrasted with the Clinton’s Wall Street, neocon and wealthy liberal coalition.

Last month Trump caused a firestorm when he said that Obama and Clinton had “created” ISIS. He later said Obama “founded” ISIS. While that is an exaggeration, there exists a document proving the Obama administration’s complicity in the rise of this group, a document Trump must be aware of, but has never made use of.  The debate would have been the perfect time.

The declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document of August 2012 said the U.S., some European countries, Turkey and the Gulf Arab states were facilitating the establishment of a Salafist principality in the east of Syria to put pressure on Damascus. The document warns that likeminded jihadists on the Iraq side of the border could join with them to create an “Islamic State.” The document actually uses that name a full two years before the Islamic State was declared.

Trump must know about it because Ret. General Mike Flynn, the DIA director at the time, told  Al Jazeera that the document shows the administration was not turning a blind eye to this but that it was a “willful decision” by Washington. Mike Flynn is a Trump foreign policy advisor. It’s inconceivable that Flynn did not tell Trump about the document. 

And yet Trump inexplicably has never mentioned it, even when he was under heavy fire from establishment Washington and the corporate media for his remark. 

Instead of bringing it up at the debate he merely attacked Clinton for revealing her plan to fight ISIS on her website. “I don’t think General Douglas MacArthur would like that too much,” Trump said, referring to the commanding U.S. general in the Pacific during World War II.

“Well, at least I have a plan to fight ISIS,” Clinton retorted. “No, no, you’re telling the enemy everything you want to do,” Trump shot back.

Instead of mentioning the document he repeated his numbskull idea that ISIS would not exist if his idea of “taking” Iraq’s oil had been followed. ‘Had we taken the oil — and we should have taken the oil — ISIS would not have been able to form either, because the oil was their primary source of income,” he said. “And now they have the oil all over the place, including the oil — a lot of the oil in Libya, which was another one of her disasters.”

Clinton cut his knees out from under him again, saying Trump “actually advocated for the actions we took in Libya and urged that Gadhafi be taken out, after actually doing some business with him one time.”

It looks like it may be a very long six weeks until Election Day for Donald Trump.  And if  avoiding a confrontation with Russia is the single most important issue of the day, more urgent even than climate change, the alternative, Clinton back in the White House, could be a very chilling four years for the rest of us.

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Rod Rosenstein hangs on to post, but not without pain

Media outlets worldwide jump on story of Rosenstein resignation, which although untrue, still points at his recent wiretap controversy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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When news broke that Rod Rosenstein had given his verbal resignation to the White House Chief of Staff, news outlets all over the world jumped on this story, including us here at The Duran. The initial breaking story turned out not to be so – and Mr. Rosenstein is still holding the post of Deputy Attorney General. But the day was no less chaotic for him, and although the initial story may be premature, it is still clear that an upheaval is definitely in progress.

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To go over the events since the initial story, this is what we know so far:

  • From CNBC:Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will remain in his job at least until Thursday, when he is scheduled to sit down with President Donald Trump to discuss his future at the Justice Department, the White House says.Yet the fact that Rosenstein went to work at the Justice Department at all on Tuesday morning was noteworthy, coming on the heels of a whirlwind 24 hours marked by competing reports that Rosenstein’s firing was imminent, that he had already resigned, and that he planned to resign after being summoned to the White House on Monday.”
  • From Wired: “What was already set up to be one of the biggest, most consequential weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency—as the Commander-in-Chief chaired a UN meeting in New York, the Capitol in Washington braced for a showdown over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh—saw the intensity rise to seemingly historic levels by noon Monday, as news outlets raced to report the long anticipated denouement of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.Nevertheless, the momentary firing-that-wasn’t likely marks the postponement of an impending crisis, rather than a permanent escape.

    The fall of Rod Rosenstein—the man who in his first weeks in office helped justify the firing of FBI Director James Comey and then appointed Comey’s predecessor, Robert Mueller, to be the special counsel leading the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election—appeared to happen as Ernest Hemingway once said about going bankrupt: gradually, then suddenly.

    Gradually, because ultimately it has never seemed a question of if Rosenstein would be fired, but when—and how far along Mueller would be by the time Rosenstein got canned. Reporters across Washington had prewritten “Rosenstein is fired” stories numerous times, as the tensions between the White House and the Justice Department ebbed and flowed over the last two years. (Most recently, The Wall Street Journal had actually sung the praises of the Trump-Rosenstein dynamic: “It’s fantastic,” President Trump said of their relationship in August.)

  • Fox News’ Howard Kurtz made his comments in this video piece, which also, incidentally, included further reports on the disintegration of the Kavanaugh lynching attempt by Democrats, also covered here on The Duran:

Interestingly enough, Mr. Kurtz notes the Rosenstein media scrabble as “a day of sloppy, and sometimes overreaching, journalism.” This of course is true, as so many outlets jumped on this story. However, unlike the Kavanaugh sexual-abuse fabrication job being orchestrated by Alinsky-acolyte Democrats, the Rosenstein affair at least has some direct connections to reality.

Mr. Rosenstein no doubt raised some eyebrows and hackles at the White House on Friday, when a report from The New York Times claimed that he had once mused over the thought of becoming a human wiretap, meeting with – and recording – President Trump, to give evidence of how unhinged Mr. Trump allegedly was. Further the report claimed that Mr. Rosenstein questioned Donald Trump’s “fitness for office,” a popular soundbite line among Democrats and globalists who seek to unseat the President by the invocation of the 25th Amendment (or any other possible means). CNBC continues:

The report sent shockwaves through the Justice Department and the White House, further straining what was already a messy relationship between the president and his DOJ. Trump has made no attempt to hide his disdain for Sessions, whom the president holds personally responsible for the escalation of the Russia probe. Moreover, it was Rosenstein himself who appointed Robert Mueller to lead the inquiry after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.

NBC News reported that Rosenstein and White House Counsel Don McGahn discussed the possibility of his resigning over the Times story, but that Rosenstein made it clear to McGahn that if Trump wanted to fire him, the president would need to speak to him directly about it, face to face.

NBC also reported that sometime over the weekend, Trump decided not to fire Rosenstein after all, in part because of the political firestorm it would ignite, just weeks from the November elections.

On Monday morning, however, the news site Axios incorrectly reported that Rosenstein had “verbally resigned” over the weekend, giving the strong impression that Rosenstein was quitting of his own accord, and that his departure was already a done deal. (Axios, for its part, said Tuesday that its initial report Monday “conveyed too much certainty to a fluid situation by presenting Rosenstein’s resignation as a done deal.”)

Axios and other outlets are now all in sync once again, with the present status being that Mr. Rosenstein is planning to meet with the President on Thursday after his return from New York, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly. There does appear to be a lot to talk about. However, at this point, all that really remains is to wait.

The MSM is wild with speculation, of course, but at this point the better course is probably just to wait and see what happens.

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Europe Unveils “Special Purpose Vehicle” To Bypass SWIFT, Jeopardizing Dollar’s Reserve Status

Creating “a defensible banking architecture” is the end goal for the Europeans, China and Russia.

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Via Zerohedge


In a stunning vote of “no confidence” in the US monopoly over global payment infrastructure, one month ago Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US that would allow Brussels to be independent in its financial operations from Washington and as a means of rescuing the nuclear deal between Iran and the west.

Writing in the German daily Handelsblatt, Maas said “Europe should not allow the US to act over our heads and at our expense. For that reason it’s essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels that are independent of the US, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent Swift system,” he wrote.

Maas said it was vital for Europe to stick with the Iran deal. “Every day the agreement continues to exist is better than the highly explosive crisis that otherwise threatens the Middle East,” he said, with the unspoken message was even clearer: Europe no longer wants to be a vassal state to US monopoly over global payments, and will now aggressively pursue its own “SWIFT” network that is not subservient to Washington’s every whim.

Many discounted the proposal as being far too aggressive: after all, a direct assault on SWIFT, and Washington, would be seen by the rest of the world as clear mutiny against a US-dominated global regime, and could potentially spark a crisis of confidence in the reserve status of the dollar, resulting in unpredictable, and dire, consequences.

However, despite the diplomatic consequences, Europe was intent on creating some loophole to the US ability to weaponize the global currency of account at will, something observed most recently as part of Trump’s latest sanctions on Iran, and as a result, late on Monday, the European Union said that it would establish a special payment channel to allow European and other companies to legally continue financial transactions with Iran while avoiding exposure to U.S. sanctions.

The move, as the WSJ notes, “is a direct rebuke of President Trump’s policy on Iran and his decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal in May,” and sets the stage for a confrontation between the U.S. and Europe over the treatment of Iran, the payment for Iran oil, and potentially, jeopardizing the reserve currency status of the dollar itself.

While keeping SWIFT as is, for now, the EU’s foreign-policy head Federica Mogherini side by side with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced a “special purpose vehicle” jointly, in English and Farsi, after a meeting at the U.N. of the parties still committed to the deal—Iran, EU, U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China. In fact, everyone but the US.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (r), speaking alongside Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

According to Mogherini, the plan to create the SPV “will mean that EU member states will set up a legal entity to facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran, and this will allow European companies to continue trade with Iran” despite Trump’s opposition.

As Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky explains, with Iran sanctions back, it is clear to the Europeans (as well as the Chinese and Russians) that any future transactions with Iran must go through entities insulated from the American financial system.

In a July 2018 report, Axel Hellman of the European Leadership Network think tank and Esfandyar Batmanghelidj of the Iranian company Bourse & Bazaar proposed “a new banking architecture” in response to the U.S. sanctions, relying on the existing system of “gateway banks,” such as the Hamburg-based Europaeisch-Iranische Handelsbank, and the European branches of private Iranian bank. “A further third category of gateway banks can be envisioned,” they wrote, “which would comprise of special purpose vehicles established by European governments, or as part of public-private partnerships in order to facilitate Iran trade and investment.”

The new plan focuses on this third option.

Mogherini further indicated that Germany, France and the U.K. would set up a multinational state-backed financial intermediary that would deal with companies interested in Iran transactions and with Iranian counter-parties. Such transactions, presumably in euros and pounds sterling, would not be transparent to American authorities. European companies dealing with the state-owned intermediary technically might not even be in violation of the U.S. sanctions as currently written.

And, in a potentially massive development, the system would be likely be open to Russia and China as well as it would enable the world’s economies to trade with each other, fully independent of SWIFT.

Europe would thus provide an infrastructure for legal, secure sanctions-busting — and a guarantee that the transactions would not be reported to American regulators.

That said, Washington would not be without recourse, although at that point, all the U.S. could do is sanction the participating countries’ central banks or SWIFT for facilitating the transactions (if the special purpose vehicle uses SWIFT, rather than ad hoc messaging).

That, Hellman and Batmanghelidj wrote, would be self-defeating: “There are two possible outcomes if these institutions proceed to work with Iran despite U.S. secondary sanctions. Either U.S. authorities fail to take enforcement action given the massive consequences for the operations and integrity of the American financial system, serving to “defang” the enforcement threats and reduce the risk of European self-sanctioning on the basis of fear, or U.S. authorities take such an enforcement action, a step that would only serve to accelerate European efforts to create a defensible banking architecture that goes beyond the Iran issue alone.”

Europe, naturally, needs a “neutral” pretext to implement this SPV, and that would be Brussels’ desire to continue transacting with Iran:

“We are not backing down [on the Iran nuclear agreement],” said a European diplomat. He said the speeches of European leaders at a Security Council meeting Mr. Trump is hosting on Wednesday on nonproliferation, including Iran, will reflect the Monday night statement.

Additionally, as basis for the potentially revolutionary development, the participants of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, “underlined their determination to protect the freedom of their economic operators to pursue legitimate business with Iran.”

While the details of the SPV mechanism — which would be set up in future meetings with technical experts — were still to be determined, with the United States and the dollar dominating so much of global trade the statement said the new mechanism would “facilitate payments related to Iran’s exports (including oil) and imports, which will assist and reassure economic operators pursuing legitimate business with Iran.”

“In practical terms, this will mean that EU member states will set up a legal entity to facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran and this will allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran in accordance with European Union law and could be open to other partners in the world,” she told reporters.

As a result of Trump’s aggressive new sanctions on Iran, and potentially more sanctions after November as Trump hinted during his UN speech, European companies have been flocking out of Iran’s market and ending contracts to avoid risking U.S. sanctions.  Meanwhile, Iran – which has argued that the 2015 deal entitled the Islamic Republic to benefit from lifting of sanctions and to enter the world market – has seen its economy stumble, with the currency collapsing almost daily against the U.S. dollar since the U.S. exited the deal.

Telegraphing that Europe will continue cooperation with Iran despite US sanctions, Mogherini said Iran has remained fully committed to its obligations under the nuclear deal, as certified by a dozen reports from U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. She also hailed the 2015 agreement as a major achievement for diplomacy and nonproliferation and “deeply regrets” what she called the unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. from the deal.

* * *

In any case, creating “a defensible banking architecture” may well be the end goal for the Europeans, China and Russia, anyway because, as noted above, Iran is merely a convenient pretext: after all, the nuclear agreement is one of the few things that unite the EU, China and Russia against the U.S.

But, as Bershidsky notes, “working to undermine the dollar’s global dominance isn’t ultimately about Iran at all. In his recent State of the European Union speech, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for strengthening the euro’s international role and moving away from traditional dollar invoicing in foreign trade.”

China and Russia have long sought the same thing, but it’s only with Europe, home of the world’s second biggest reserve currency, that they stand a chance of challenging American dominance.

While it remains to be seen if the “special purpose vehicle” would entice European companies such as France’s Total or Germany’s Daimler to get back into business with Iran remains to be seen, the optics of the move by the European Union together with China and Russia to defy the U.S. signaled continued criticism of the Trump administration for its decisions on Iran.

More importantly, it strikes at the heart of the current economic and financial system which is held together by the dollar. By providing an alternative, the global #resistance sets the stage for what potentially could be the ascendancy of other global reserve currencies, and/or a world of bilateral trade agreements which bypass both the US Dollar and Swift entirely, eliminating Washington’s “veto powers” on global trade.

Given U.S. law enforcement’s wide reach, there would still be a risk involved, and European governments may not be able to protect the companies from it. Some firms will be tempted to try the new infrastructure, however, and the public isn’t likely to find out if they do.  In any case, in response to Trump’s aggressive foreign policies and “weaponization” of the dollar, it is worthwhile for Europe, Russia and China to experiment with dollar-free business.

But this brings up the bigger point: no currency’s international dominance has lasted forever, and there’s no reason for the U.S. dollar to be the exception to this rule.

Meanwhile, as Bershidsky concludes, “Trump’s confidence in his ability to weaponize the dollar against adversaries and stubborn allies alike could eventually backfire for the U.S. as efforts to push the dollar off its pedestal grow ever more serious.”

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The Incredible Case Of The Skripal ‘Patsies’ Visas

How likely is it that the day before the professional assassination attempt, which involved handling an agent with which any contact could kill you, Boshirov and Petrov would prepare, not by resting, but by an all night drugs and sex session?

The Duran

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Authored by Craig Murray via CraigMurray.org.uk:


The Metropolitan Police made one statement in the Skripal case which is plainly untrue; they claimed not to know on what kind of visa Boshirov and Petrov were travelling. As they knew the passports they used, and had footage of them coming through the airport, that is impossible. The Border Force could tell them in 30 seconds flat.

To get a UK visa Boshirov and Petrov would have had to attend the UK Visa Application Centre in Moscow. There not only would their photographs be taken, but their fingerprints would have been taken and, if in the last few years, their irises scanned. The Metropolitan Police would naturally have obtained their fingerprints from the Visa Application.

One thing of which we can be certain is that their fingerprints are not on the perfume bottle or packaging found in Charlie Rowley’s home. We can be certain of that because no charges have been brought against the two in relation to the death of Dawn Sturgess, and we know the police have their fingerprints. The fact of there being no credible evidence, according to either the Metropolitan Police or the Crown Prosecution Service, to link them to the Amesbury poisoning, has profound implications.

Why the Metropolitan Police were so coy about telling us what kind of visa the pair held, points to a wider mystery. Why were they given the visas in the first place, and what story did they tell to get them? It is not easy for a Russian citizen, particularly an economically active male, to get past the UK Border Agency. The visa application process is very intrusive. They have to produce evidence of family and professional circumstances, including employment and address, evidence of funds, including at least three months of bank statements, and evidence of the purpose of the visit. These details are then actively checked out by the Visa Department.

If they had told the story to the visa section they told to Russia Today, that they were freelance traders in fitness products wanting to visit Salisbury Cathedral, they would have been refused a visa as being candidates for overstaying. They would have been judged not to have sufficiently stable employment in Russia to ensure they would return. So what story did Petrov and Boshirov give on their visa application, why were they given a visa, and what kind of visa? And why do the British authorities not want us to know the answer to these questions?

Which brings us to the claims of neo-conservative propaganda website Bellingcat. They claim together with the Russian Insider website to have obtained documentary evidence that Petrov and Boshirov’s passports were of a series issued only to Russian spies, and that their applications listed GRU headquarters as their address.

There are some problems with Bellingcat’s analysis. The first is that they also quote Russian website fontanka.ru as a source, but fontanka.ru actually say the precise opposite of what Bellingcat claim – that the passport number series is indeed a civilian one and civilians do have passports in that series.

Fontanka also state it is not unusual for the two to have close passport numbers – it merely means they applied together. On other points, fontanka.ru do confirm Bellingcat’s account of another suspected GRU officer having serial numbers close to those of Boshirov and Petrov.

But there is a bigger question of the authenticity of the documents themselves. Fontanka.ru is a blind alley – they are not the source of the documents, just commenting on them, and Bellingcat are just attempting the old trick of setting up a circular “confirmation”. Russian Insider is neither Russian nor an Insider. Its name is a false claim and it consists of a combination of western “experts” writing on Russia, and reprints from the Russian media. It has no track record of inside access to Russian government secrets or documents, and nor does Bellingcat.

What Bellingcat does have is a track record of shilling for the security services. Bellingcat claims its purpose is to clear up fake news, yet has been entirely opaque about the real source of its so-called documents.

MI6 have almost 40 officers in Russia, running hundreds of agents. The CIA has a multiple of that. They pool their information. Both the UK and US have large visa sections whose major function is the analysis of Russian passports, their types and numbers and what they tell about the individual.

I do not know if the two are agents or just tourists. But the claimed evidence they were agents is, if genuine, so obvious that the two would have been under close surveillance throughout their stay in the UK. If the official story is true, then the failures of the UK visa department and MI6 are abject and shameful. As is the failure to take simple precautions for the Skripals’ security, like the inexplicable absence of CCTV covering the house of Sergei Skripal, an important ex-agent and defector supposedly under British protection.

A further thought. We are informed that Boshirov and Petrov left a trace of novichok in their hotel bedroom. How likely is it, really, that, the day before the professional assassination attempt, which involved handling an agent with which any contact could kill you, Boshirov and Petrov would prepare, not by resting, but by an all night drugs and sex session? Would you really not want the steadiest possible hand the next day? Would you really invite a prostitute into the room with the novichok perfume in it, and behave in a way that led to complaints and could have brought you to official notice?

Is it not astonishing that nobody in the corporate and state media has written that this behaviour is at all unlikely, while scores of “journalists” have written that visiting Salisbury as a tourist, and returning the next day because the visit was ruined by snow, would be highly unlikely?

To me, even more conclusively, we were informed by cold war propagandists like ex White House staffer Dan Kaszeta that the reason the Skripals were not killed is that novichok is degraded by water. To quote Kaszeta “Soap and water is quite good at decontaminating nerve agents”.

In which case it is extremely improbable that the agents handling the novichok, who allegedly had the novichok in their bedroom, would choose a hotel room which did not have an en suite bathroom. If I spilt some novichok on myself I would not want to be queuing in the corridor for the shower. The GRU may not be big on health and safety, but the idea that their agents chose not to have basic washing facilities available while handling the novichok is wildly improbable.

The only link of Boshirov and Petrov to the novichok is the trace in the hotel room. The identification there of a microscopic trace of novichok came from a single swab, all other swabs were negative, and the test could not be repeated even on the original positive sample. For other reasons given above, I absolutely doubt these two had novichok in that bedroom. Who they really are, and how much the security services knew about them, remain open questions.

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