Keep calm and backpedal.
The UK Foreign Office was busted yesterday deleting a tweet on Russia producing the nerve agent allegedly used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) April 4, 2018
A UK military laboratory said it could not identify the source of the nerve agent used in the attack.
That’s despite Britain accusing Russia of orchestrating the attack moments after it happened, and with zero evidence produced, now two weeks after the fact.
I have now asked a total of 50 questions around the Skripal case, which you can find here and here. Having gone back through these questions, as far as I can see only three have been answered by the release of public information or events that have transpired. These are:
- Are they (Sergei and Yulia Skripal) still alive?
- If so, what is their current condition and what symptoms are they displaying?
- Can the government confirm that its scientists at Porton Down have established that the substance that poisoned the Skripals and D.S. Bailey was actually produced or manufactured in Russia?
On the first two points we are now told that Yulia Skripal’s condition has significantly improved to the point where she is said to be recovering well and talking. However, although this provides something of an answer to these questions, it also raises a number of others. Is she finally being allowed consular access? Is she being allowed to speak to her fiancé, her grandmother, or her cousin by telephone? Most importantly, how does her recovery comport with the claim that she was poisoned with a “military-grade nerve agent” with a toxicity around 5-8 times that of VX nerve agent?
On the other point, we do now have a definitive answer from none other than the Chief Executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, Gary Aitkenhead: No, Porton Down was not able to identify the substance as being produced or manufactured in Russia.
It is important that reasonable questions continue to be raised, as they not only help clarify the actual issues, but the answers — or lack thereof — are also a good barometer as to how the official narrative stacks up. As a keen observer of the case — especially since it took place just a few hundred yards from my home in Salisbury — I have to say that the official narrative of the British Government has not stood up to even the most cursory scrutiny from the outset. In fact, there are three crucial issues that serve to raise suspicions about it, and to my mind these issues are the most important aspects of the case so far:
- The absurd speed at which the British Government reacted to the incident
- The British Government’s ignoring of legal frameworks and protocols
- The large number of discrepancies between events and the official narrative
Let’s just look at these in turn.
1. The absurd speed at which the British Government reacted to the incident
I remain astonished at the manner and the speed with which the British Government reacted to this incident. There was the speed with which the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, first pointed the finger of culpability, less than 48 hours after the incident, and before any investigation or analysis of the substance had taken place. There was the speed with which Porton Down was apparently able to analyse and identify the substance, even though it is set to take the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at least three weeks to carry out a similar identification. There was the speed with which the British Government officially accused the Russian Government of being behind the incident, and the 36-hour ultimatum given to it to prove its innocence without being given any of the evidence that apparently showed its culpability. There was the speed with which the British Government, armed with evidence that looked like it was put together by a rather dull 14-year-old on work experience, managed to convince a number of other countries to expel diplomats, including 60 from the United States.
Why, if it was so sure of its claims, did the British Government feel the need to act so hastily and recklessly, rather than await the results of the investigation?
2. The British Government’s ignoring of legal frameworks and protocols
Not only has the British Government acted with lightning speed, it has also ridden roughshod over a number of international legal agreements and protocols.
Firstly, there is the involvement of the OPCW. What ought to have happened is the British Government should have invited the OPCW in as part of the investigation immediately upon suspicion of the use of a nerve agent. However, according to the British Government’s own timeline, it wasn’t until March 14th– the day that Mrs May formally announced the culpability of the Russian State to Parliament – that she actually wrote to the OPCW to involve them in the case. This is, I understand, contrary to the obligations Britain has as a member of the OPCW, and signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
In addition, the British Government has refused to provide evidence to the Russian Government. Again, my understanding is that this is contrary to the protocols set out in the CWC.
The British Government has also refused to grant the Russian Embassy in London consular access to two Russian nationals, Sergei and Yulia Skripal, which it is legally obliged to do under Articles 36 and 37 of the 1963 Vienna Convention and Article 35 (1) of the 1965 Consular Convention.
Why, if it was so sure of its claims, did the British Government feel the need to ignore international agreements to which it is a signatory, and instead act in this opaque and frankly suspicious manner?
3. The number of oddities and discrepancies in the official narrative
The speed of apportioning blame and the ignoring of international legal agreements might not have looked nearly as suspicious had the narrative presented by the British Government and the facts on the ground been in harmony with one another. But they have not been. Instead, many of the actual events that have transpired over the weeks since the incident was first reported simply do not fit the overarching explanation given. Below are five of the most important:
1. As mentioned above, the Chief Executive of Porton Down, Gary Aitkenhead has confirmed that the laboratory was unable to identify the origin of the substance used to poison the Skripals. This is in direct contradiction to the claims made by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who said the following on the Andrew Marr Show on 18th March:
“Obviously to the best of our knowledge this is a Russian-made nerve agent that falls within the category Novichok made only by Russia, and just to get back to the point about the international reaction which is so fascinating…”
If it’s made only by Russia, as Mr Johnson claimed, then it must have originated in Russia. Right? Yet Mr Aitkenhead says they were unable to identify where it was made.
Then in an interview with Deutsche Welle two days after his above comments, Mr Johnson was categorical about the source of the nerve agent as being Russian. Here’s the exchange:
Interviewer: You argue that the source of this nerve agent, Novichok, is Russia. How did you manage to find it out so quickly? Does Britain possess samples of it?
Johnson: “Let me be clear with you … When I look at the evidence, I mean the people from Porton Down, the laboratory …”
Interviewer: “So they have the samples …
Johnson: “They do. And they were absolutely categorical and I asked the guy myself, I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said there’s no doubt.”
Who “the guy” is, perhaps we’ll never know. The cleaner perhaps? I suppose a politician of Mr Johnson’s calibre will happily try to weasel his way out of the implications of what he said. But to us lesser mortals, it does rather look like he was deliberately misleading, doesn’t it
2. Much of the investigation initially concentrated on where the Skripals were poisoned. Amongst the suggestions made were the bench on which they collapsed, the Zizzi restaurant where they had eaten, Ms Skripal’s luggage or Mr Skripal’s car. Then, some 24 days after the incident, it was announced that a high concentration of the “military-grade nerve agent” had been found on the front door, and that this was the likely place of poisoning. Yet it is known that after leaving the house, Mr Skripal and his daughter drove into the City Centre, went to the Mill pub, and then to the restaurant where they ate a meal together. In other words, according to the door theory, the two of them were poisoned by a military grade nerve agent, which then took over three hours to have any effect. Odd, wouldn’t you say?
3. Furthermore, it has been stated that the two of them became ill at the same time on the bench in the Maltings. Therefore, if they were poisoned at the front door, this would mean that not only did the two of them feel little or no effects for the three hours or so that followed, but it would also mean that a large 66-year-old man and an averagely built 33-year-old woman, of different height, weight and metabolism, somehow succumbed to the effects of poisoning at exactly the same time, some three hours or so later. Again, is that not very odd?
4. The claim that they were poisoned by a military grade nerve agent, of a type said to be 5-8 times the toxicity of VX nerve agent, is itself surely open to question. Both Mr Skripal and his daughter not only survived, but Yulia Skripal is now said to be sitting up and talking just weeks later. Perhaps it is possible to survive a miniscule dose of such a nerve agent. The problem with this is that according to many earlier claims, there were significant traces of the substance in various parts of the City of Salisbury, which indicates that it cannot have been a very miniscule amount that they came into contact with at the door. Which means that we are being asked to believe that they were poisoned by “more than a miniscule amount” of this deadly poison, but both somehow survived, despite neither receiving an antidote (a fact now confirmed by Gary Aitkenhead). Does that not seem improbable?
5. The official explanation – that this was planned and authorised at the highest level within the Russian Government – would lead one to believe that the action was carried out by top level agents of the FSB. Yet the mode of attack – nerve agent apparently smeared or sprayed on the door – has to be one of the least effective methods that could be used to assassinate anyone. For a start, it rains a lot in Salisbury, and it did indeed rain on the day of the poisoning. If the substance was left at the front door (assuming it was the outside), the attacker(s) could have had no guarantee that it would not be washed off before Mr Skripal touched it. Nor could they have had any guarantee that he, as opposed to his daughter or perhaps a delivery person etc, would come into contact with it. And of course there is the fact that Mr Skripal is still alive. Does any of this seem consistent with the narrative of a professional, Kremlin-authorised hit-job.
Where does this leave us? The official narrative would have us believe that the Russian Government authorised the killing of a has-been (former?) MI6 spy, who it had freed in 2010 and who presumably posed no threat to it, just a week before the Russian election and weeks before the World Cup, using a nerve agent with an exclusively Russian signature, in a way (on the door) that could not guarantee the intended target would touch it. This would be difficult enough to swallow by itself, but the British Government’s rush to judgement, disregard for law, and the many discrepancies in the actual events themselves make this scenario absurdly implausible.
Another possibility – that the British Government or intelligence services were behind the incident – has been given great credibility by the British Government itself, in its absurdly quick reaction to the incident and its blatant ignoring of legal protocols. These actions were bound to fuel suspicions about the possibility of its own involvement, and I have to say that such suspicions are absolutely legitimate precisely because of the way it has behaved. However, it must be said that the oddities and discrepancies in the case don’t lend themselves very well to the idea of a carefully planned false flag. If British intelligence had planned a hit job on Mr Skripal using a military-grade nerve agent “of a type developed by Russia”, in order to then pin the blame on the Russian Government, I doubt very much that Mr Skripal and his daughter would still be alive, or that the explanation for where the poison was administered would be changing on a daily basis, or that the British Government’s evidence to other countries would have been as risible as it was (unless of course our intelligence agencies are as incompetent as such a scenario would require them to be, that is).
My hunch — and it is just that — is that Mr Skripal himself was perhaps still working for British intelligence, and may have been in possession of a nerve agent. Somehow, this involvement went wrong, and he ended up accidently poisoning himself and his daughter on the bench in The Maltings. The Government then scrambled to concoct a story in order to cover up the real story of a Russian working for MI6 and handling nerve agents, and so quickly decided to point the finger at that most convenient scapegoat, the Russian Government.
The reason that I’m attracted to this possibility is that it explains all three aspects I have described above, and which I think are the most important aspects of the case. The rush to judgement — which looked like panic-mode to me — could have been an attempt to divert attention away from the investigation looking at the possibility of Mr Skripal having military grade nerve agent in his possession. The ignoring of international legal protocols, at least for a time, could have been done to ensure that the case was not probed by any outside body, which may well have exposed discrepancies. And it could also explain many of the oddities mentioned above, such as traces of nerve agent apparently being found in various places in Salisbury, since these could have come about because Mr Skripal was in possession of some sort of nerve agent when he left his house that day.
As I say, this is just a hunch and purely speculative. I am probably wrong. But unless the British Government is able to produce far better evidence than it has so far produced, to back up the claims it has made, I shall consider it a more credible possibility than the one they have sold to the British public.