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

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

Alexander Mercouris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A combination of credible open-source reporting and intelligence shows that in the 1980s the Soviet Union developed a new class of “fourth generation” nerve agents, known as novichoks. The key institute responsible for this work was a branch of the State Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology at Shikhany near Volgograd. The codeword for the offensive chemical weapons programme (of which novichoks were one part) was FOLIANT. It is highly likely that novichoks were developed to prevent detection by the West and to circumvent international chemical weapons controls. The Russian state has previously produced novichoks and would still be capable of doing so.

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

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

During the 2000s, Russia commenced a programme to test means of delivering chemical warfare agents and to train personnel from special units in the use of these weapons. This programme subsequently included investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents, including by application to door handles. Within the last decade, Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of novichoks under the same programme.

Third, the motive. Sergei Skripal was a former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer, convicted of espionage in 2004. It is highly likely that the Russian intelligence services view at least some of its defectors as legitimate targets for assassination. We have information indicating Russian intelligence service interest in the Skripals, dating back at least as far as 2013, when e-mail accounts belonging to Yulia Skripal were targeted by GRU cyber specialists.

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

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

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

(bold italics added)

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

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

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

Thus when we are told that

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example when the letter says that

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

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

Similarly when the letter says that

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

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

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

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

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

Thus the fact that the letter says that

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

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

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

It turns out that it is only

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the 2000s, Russia commenced a programme to test means of delivering chemical warfare agents and to train personnel from special units in the use of these weapons. This programme subsequently included investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents, including by application to door handles. Within the last decade, Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of novichoks under the same programme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tape recorded evidence of Clinton-Ukraine meddling in US election surfaces (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a look at new evidence to surface from Ukraine that exposes a plot by the US Embassy in Kiev and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) to leak Paul Manafort’s corrupt dealings in the country, all for the benefit of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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Via Zerohedge


Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has launched an investigation into the head of the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau for allegedly attempting to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump during the 2016 US election by releasing damaging information about a “black ledger” of illegal business dealings by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Hill’s John Solomon, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko

“Today we will launch a criminal investigation about this and we will give legal assessment of this information,” Lutsenko said last week, according to The Hill

Lutsenko is probing a claim from a member of the Ukrainian parliament that the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), Artem Sytnyk, attempted to the benefit of the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

A State Department spokesman told Hill.TV that officials aware of news reports regarding Sytnyk. –The Hill

“According to the member of parliament of Ukraine, he got the court decision that the NABU official conducted an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” said Lutsenko, speaking with The Hill’s John Solomon about the anti-corruption bureau chief, Artem Sytnyk.

“It means that we think Mr. Sytnyk, the NABU director, officially talked about criminal investigation with Mr. [Paul] Manafort, and at the same time, Mr. Sytnyk stressed that in such a way, he wanted to assist the campaign of Ms. Clinton,” Lutsenko continued.

Solomon asked Lutsenko about reports that a member of Ukraine’s parliament obtained a tape of the current head of the NABU saying that he was attempting to help Clinton win the 2016 presidential election, as well as connections that helped release the black-ledger files that exposed Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort‘s wrongdoing in Ukraine.

“This member of parliament even attached the audio tape where several men, one of which had a voice similar to the voice of Mr. Sytnyk, discussed the matter.” –The Hill

What The Hill doesn’t mention is that Sytnyk released Manafort’s Black Book with Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko – discussed in great length by former Breitbart investigator Lee Stranahan, who has been closely monitoring this case.

Serhiy Leshchenko

T]he main spokesman for these accusations was Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian politician and journalist who works closely with both top Hillary Clinton donors George Soros and Victor Pinchuk, as well as to the US Embassy in Kyiv.

James Comey should be asked about this source that Leshchenko would not identify. Was the source someone connected to US government, either the State Department or the Department of Justice?

The New York Times should also explain why they didn’t mention that Leshchenko had direct connections to two of Hillary Clinton biggest financial backers. Victor Pinchuk, the largest donor to the Clinton Foundation at a staggering $8.6 million also happened to have paid for Leshchenko’s expenses to go to international conferences. George Soros, whose also founded the International Renaissance Foundationthat worked closely with Hillary Clinton’s State Department in Ukraine, also contributed at least $8 million to Hillary affiliated super PACs in the 2016 campaign cycle. –Lee Stranahan via Medium

Meanwhile, according to former Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr, Leshchenko was a source for opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which commissioned the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.

Nellie Ohr, a former contractor for the Washington, D.C.-based Fusion GPS, testified on Oct. 19 that Serhiy Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist turned Ukrainian lawmaker, was a source for Fusion GPS during the 2016 campaign.

“I recall … they were mentioning someone named Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian,” Ohr said when asked who Fusion GPS’s sources were, according to portions of Ohr’s testimony confirmed by The Daily Caller News Foundation. –Daily Caller

Also absent from The Hill report is the fact that Leshchenko was convicted in December by a Kiev court of interfering in the 2016 US election.

A Kyiv court said that a Ukrainian lawmaker and a top anticorruption official’s decision in 2016 to publish documents linked to President Donald Trump’s then-campaign chairman amounted to interference in the U.S. presidential election.

The December 11 finding came in response to a complaint filed by another Ukrainian lawmaker, who alleged that Serhiy Leshchenko and Artem Sytnyk illegally released the documents in August 2016, showing payments by a Ukrainian political party to Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

The documents, excerpts from a secret ledger of payments by the Party of Regions, led to Manafort being fired by Trump’s election campaign.

The Kyiv court said that the documents published by Leshchenko and Sytnyk were part of an ongoing pretrial investigation in Ukraine into the operations of the pro-Russian Party of Regions. The party’s head had been President Viktor Yanukovych until he fled the country amid mass protests two years earlier.

-RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty (funded by the US govt.).

So while Lutsenko – Solomon’s guest and Ukrainian Prosecutor is currently going after Artem Sytnyk, it should be noted that Leshchenko was already found to have meddled in the 2016 US election.

Watch:

Meanwhile, you can also check out Stranahan’s take on Leshchenko being left out of the loop.

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‘I will take over as Brexit Party leader’: Nigel Farage back on the frontline

Nigel Farage says that if the UK takes part in European elections, he will lead his new Brexit Party.

RT

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Via RT


Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has announced that he will lead his new Brexit Party into the European elections if UK MPs decide to delay Brexit beyond May 22.

Farage, who has ostensibly appointed himself leader, told various media, including the BBC and Sky News on Friday morning: “I will take over as leader of the Brexit Party and lead it into the European Elections.”

It comes after the Brexit Party’s leader, Catherine Blaiklock, quit over a series of alleged Islamophobic statements and retweets of far-right figures on social media.

It is not yet thought that Farage has officially been elected as leader, as the party does not, as yet, have a formal infrastructure to conduct such a vote.

The right-wing MEP vowed to put out a whole host of Brexit Party candidates if the UK participates in the upcoming EU elections in May, adding: “If we fight those elections, we will fight them on trust.”

On Thursday night, the EU agreed to PM May’s request for a delaying to Brexit beyond the March 29 deadline. Brussels announced two new exit dates depending on what happens next week in the UK parliament.

The UK will have to leave the bloc on April 12 unless British MPs agree to May’s Brexit deal. If the withdrawal agreement is passed by next week, EU leaders have agreed to grant an extension until May 22.

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Baltics cannot rely on Germany any more

The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it is supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership blunders.

The Duran

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Submitted by Adomas Abromaitis…

On March 29 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will celebrate 15 years of becoming NATO member states. The way to the alliance membership was not simple for newly born independent countries. They have reached great success in fulfilling many of NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased the number of military personnel.

In turn, they get used to rely on more powerful member states, their advice, help and even decision making. All these 15 years they felt more or less safe because of proclaimed European NATO allies’ capabilities.

Unfortunately, now it is high time to doubt. The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership’s blunders. Every member state does a bit. As for the Baltic states, they are particularly vulnerable, because they fully depend on other NATO member states in their defence. Thus, Germany, Canada and Britain are leading nations of the NATO battle group stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.

But the state of national armed forces in Germany, for example, raises doubts and makes it impossible not only defend the Baltics against Russia, but Germany itself.

It turned out, that Germany itself remains dissatisfied with its combat readiness and minister of defence’s ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad, that the military’s annual readiness report would be kept classified for the first time for “security reasons.”

“Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it,” said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-arms/germany-not-satisfied-with-readiness-of-submarines-some-aircraft-idUSKBN1QS1G7) the average readiness of the country’s nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations despite increasing responsibilities.

No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year’s report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.

Zorn said this year’s report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO’s high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.

“The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he wrote.

Critics are sure of incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now — and shows no sign of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, by some miracle for a long time has been remaining in power, though has no trust even among German military elites. Despite numerous scandals she tries to manage the Armed Forces as a housewife does and, of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. The same statement could be easily apply for the Baltic States, which highly dependent on Germany in military sphere.

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