Bad taste: The board game takes players through the cities allegedly visited by the GRU agents on their way to commit the Salisbury Novichok poisonings.
One would expect it to be fake news but it isn’t – a board game based on the Novichok attack in Salisbury last year is on sale in Russia.
The game, ‘Our Guys in Salisbury’, developed by manufacturer Igroland, features the cities visited by the GRU agents accused of carrying out the attack.
Players start in Moscow and pass through Minsk, Tel Aviv, Geneva, Amsterdam, London and Paris before arriving at Salisbury and the finish line, which is decorated with images of the cathedral and two figures in hazmat suits.
Elsewhere on the board is a spray bottle bearing a green skull and crossbones – an apparent reference to the perfume bottle that British police said was used to carry the Novichok nerve agent.
In another corner are illustrations resembling suspects Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, who were placed under sanctions by the EU on Monday for their suspected role in the poisonings.
The Russian government denies the allegation but whether it is true or not, this game is an insult.
Even though Sergei and Yulia Skripal survived the attack, Novichok allegedly killed Amesbury resident Dawn Sturgess and poisoned Charlie Rowley and such a death should never be considered suitable material for a game.
Developer Mikhail Bober’s words ring hollow. According to The Guardian, he says it was an attempt to tell the West that its claims of Russian responsibility weren’t funny: “In some way, this was an idea of our answer to western media: enough already. To us it’s not funny any more. It’s sad. This needs to stop.
“We wanted to support our countrymen who might be offended by this situation … a lot of things are said and a lot of it without any proof.
He said: “We didn’t want to offend anyone.” Well, he has.
It is reasonable to point out that the evidence supporting the claim against Russia was tenuous – This Site has said much the same.
But contrary to Gospodin Bober’s claim, a board game about the event can be seen as glorifying the attempted murders – and will.
Rather than denying Russian responsibility, it seems to confirm it.
It is throwing fuel on the fire, rather than damping down the flames.
And I wonder whether the Russian government had a hand in it.
Does anybody doubt that the man Vladimir Putin claimed was tourist “Ruslan Boshirov” is actually Russian intelligence colonel Anatoliy Chepiga? The evidence seems conclusive to me!
But it raises question after question about both the poisonings of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, and the UK government’s investigations into those poisonings.
If assassins were sent to the UK to poison the Skripals, why did they fail to kill their victims? I know some people have claimed that this was a ‘signature’ attack – intended to show other traitors to Russia that they can be found and harmed by the Russian government at any time, but I’m not buying it – simply because of the substance that was used. We have been told – repeatedly – that Novichok is highly toxic. But the substance used on the Skripals, and ingested by the policeman who tried to help them – was not fatal.
If the intention was to send a ‘signature’ message to Russian traitors, why were two British people also poisoned – one of them fatally? Professional assassins (or whatever you want to call them) would not have left their tools lying around, but would have disposed of them in order to leave no evidence behind. The lack of care suggested by this would indicate that it was not a professional job.
Why was a highly-decorated colonel sent to the UK to do an operation like this? Usually, a field operative with a rank no higher than captain would have carried out such work. Even Bellingcat admitted that this was unusual, quoting a source who said it indicated that the operation had been ordered at the highest level (meaning, one concludes, by Mr Putin). But then we come back to the issue of the substance used and the fact that the wrong person was killed. It doesn’t make sense.
Why did the UK government change its story so many times and why are there so many inconsistencies in it? I really want to know the answer to this. I don’t think it’s about the story altering as evidence came to light. I wonder if there is a more sinister, cynical motive behind it. Was Theresa May trying to take advantage of a tragedy to promote her own foreign policy ambitions?
Too many aspects of this case are failing to add up and it seems the result will be not only that the Russian government has set itself up as an enemy of the UK, but that the British people must now also be highly suspicious of their own government.
Here‘s the Bellingcat investigative piece on Chepiga/Boshirov:
The suspect using the cover identity of “Ruslan Boshirov” is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated GRU officer bestowed with Russia’s highest state award, Hero of the Russian Federation. Following Bellingcat’s own identification, multiple sources familiar with the person and/or the investigation have confirmed the suspect’s identity.
This finding eliminates any remaining doubt that the two suspects in the Novichok poisonings were in fact Russian officers operating on a clandestine government mission.
While civilians in Russia can generally own more than one passport, no civilian – or even an intelligence service officer on a personal trip – can cross the state border under a fake identity. The discovery also highlights the extent of the effort – and public diplomacy risk – Russia has taken to protect the identities of the officers. President Putin publicly vouched that “Boshirov” and “Petrov” are civilians. As it is established practice that the awards Hero of the Russian Federation are handed out by the Russian president personally, it is highly likely that Vladimir Putin would have been familiar with the identity of Colonel Chepiga, given that only a handful of officers receive this award each year.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if Theresa May had been able to provide a statement on the Salisbury and Amesbury poisonings that we all could believe?
Undoubtedly many people will have swallowed the prime minister’s statement, naming suspects who allegedly work as Russian secret agents – but it seems many do not.
Personally, I think the problem is that there are too many inconsistencies in a story that has changed too many times – and people know this. I was going to write an analysis of these inconsistencies myself – but why not turn it over to the public instead?
What better way to make the point?
The following is part of Hansard’s transcript of Mrs May’s statement to the Commons yesterday, with accompanying comments by members of the public (and a couple from more well-known names) debunking it. I’m only going to cover the evidence provided to support her conclusion, not what she proposes to do, having made it. Let’s begin:
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the investigation into the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and the subsequent poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley earlier this year. This was a sickening and despicable act in which a devastatingly toxic nerve agent, known as Novichok, was used to attack our country. It left four people fighting for their lives and one innocent woman dead.
Fact – A weapons-grade nerve agent is so strong that a person dies immediately or within a few minutes. (Shaka, Twitter)
Forensic investigation has now produced sufficient evidence for the independent Director of Public Prosecutions to bring charges against two Russian nationals for the conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal; the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey; the use and possession of Novichok; and causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey. This morning, the police set out how the two Russian nationals travelled under the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, names the police believe to be aliases. They arrived at Gatwick airport at 3 pm on Friday 2 March, having flown from Moscow on flight SU2588.
Daniel Sandford asked a very good question at the press conference this morning. What kind of visas did the two Russian suspects travel to Britain on? The police officer said he didn’t know. But how were the men identified?’ (Neil Clark, Twitter)
[There is also the issue of the photographs that were released by the Met Police, showing the two suspects walking through the entry channel at Gatwick, being ‘doctored’. They show both men walking through the same corridor – at exactly the same time. See Craig Murray’s article for more details including his explanation of why it is unlikely they were walking through different but identical corridors at the same second.]
They travelled by train to London Victoria, then on to Waterloo before going to the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, east London. They stayed there on both Friday and Saturday evenings, and traces of Novichok were found in their hotel room.
I think she blew it when she said today in PMQT that traces of Novichok were found in the hotel room that they stayed in in London! (Kristina Ramsden, Facebook)
So why don’t we have dead guests who used the room after or dead cleaners?! This stinks IMO. (Vine Hill, Facebook)
On Saturday 3 March, they visited Salisbury, arriving at approximately 2.25 pm and leaving less than two hours later, at 4.10 pm. The police are confident this was for reconnaissance of the Salisbury area. On Sunday 4 March, they made the same journey, travelling by underground from Bow to Waterloo station at approximately 8.05 am, before continuing by train to Salisbury.
The police have today released CCTV footage of the two men
Interesting they’re here for under 3 days but wear diff shoes, hats, one has 2 jkts according to cctv. (Julia Jay, Twitter)
which clearly places them in the immediate vicinity of the Skripals’ house at 11.58 am, which the police say was moments before the attack.
If those two were poisoned at home and then went to a restaurant ate food passed money over staff would of served them and handled their cuttelry and pots and there would of been other diners and yet nothing no sickness nothing but the police man who found them on the park bench nearly died? (Janet Healy, Facebook)
This police reports implies both Skripals did get poisoned around 13:00 with their home single doorknob, and then got their first yet critical symptoms at exactly the same time 16:15 (+/- 2 min). This cannot be physiologically possible. Those are not the guys who hit Skripals. (Mat4Rou, Twitter)
They left Salisbury and returned to Waterloo, arriving at approximately 4.45 pm and boarded the underground at approximately 6.30 pm to Heathrow, from where they returned to Moscow on flight SU2585, departing at 10.30 pm.
This hard evidence has enabled the independent Crown Prosecution Service to conclude it has a sufficient basis on which to bring charges against these two men for the attack in Salisbury. The same two men are now also the prime suspects in the case of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, too. There is no other line of inquiry beyond this. The police have today formally linked the attack on the Skripals and the events in Amesbury such that it now forms one investigation.
If they were hit men they’d have surely killed. Its thrown up more unanswered questions. (Sharon, Twitter)
Our own analysis, together with yesterday’s report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has confirmed that the exact same chemical nerve agent was used in both cases.
Well it was surpose to be a gel on the front door but it’s a perfume bottle spray for the other 2 you can’t spray gel out of a perfume bottle. (Tiddles Denise Mclean, Facebook)
How can two samples of a toxin taken a couple of months apart be 100% identified as being the one and same used in both incidents? I ask this as the Government themselves claimed at the time that whilst being a very dangerous toxin its rate of degrading would pose no threat within hours to others. Stinks of a security services cover up again to give credence to the original attack claims. (Mark Bennett, Facebook)
With such purported evidence-based certainty, it does make you wonder why Boris Johnson deemed it necessary to make inaccurate statements about Porton Down scientists’ reports which destroyed his government’s credibility in the first instance. (Samson, Twitter)
There is no evidence to suggest that Dawn and Charlie may have been deliberately targeted, but rather they were victims of the reckless disposal of this agent.
Polis combed that park at the time, then after everyone had given up roasting their bullshit a couple a patsy junkies turn up with a bottle of Novichock they happened upon in the park. Totally legit sounding! (Botty McBotface, Twitter)
Yep, we have to believe the bottle carrying the chemical lay for several months in a street bin that was never emptied. (GerryBoyce, Twitter)
The police have today released further details of the small glass counterfeit perfume bottle and box discovered in Charlie Rowley’s house which was found to contain this nerve agent.
They say they found the bottle on a kitchen table, yet Charlie told his brother the bottle splintered in his hand. (Norma Ballingall, Facebook)
How can the police search the house on 10th July – and then find a bottle on a kitchen worktop on 11th July… “Well, I didn’t see that…” (Liam Hennesce, Twitter)
Particularly when what they were searching for was a small bottle of liquid. (Craig Murray, Twitter)
The manner in which the bottle was modified leaves no doubt it was a cover for smuggling the weapon into the country and for the delivery method for the attack against the Skripals’ front door.
Were they in full protective gear when the smeared the front door and if not why are they not dead? (Patrick Mahony, Facebook)
The police investigation into the poisoning of Dawn and Charlie is ongoing, and the police are today appealing for further information. But were these two suspects within our jurisdiction there would be a clear basis in law for their arrest for murder.
I can today tell the House that, based on a body of intelligence, the Government have concluded that the two individuals named by the police and CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU. The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.
Having read the official release stating doubt that the names used were their real names, then the belief they are linked to the GRU seems to be lacking evidence. (John Beilby, Facebook)
I did a search of their names, apart from a Russian Actor and a sportsman, nothing, that is after I scrolled past a million me too news articles, but…. I did find several links to Gay Porn actors with said names en route. (Mark Savai, Facebook)
What conclusion does the public draw? This:
Two TOP Russian operatives whose faces we know, but not their names, Failed to kill the target, contaminated their hotel room, and disposed of the bottle casually. My sources say they had a hand in planning 9/11. (SpoilPartyGames, Twitter)
Aaand these highly trained TOP “Russian agents” go about losing “novichok” everywhere, from door handles to bushes in a bottle and hotel rooms. That they’re alive at all is supposedly testimony to their expert handling. (Entelekheia, Twitter)
Now you know what other members of the public think.
The trouble is, the Conservative government is not known for its record of honesty in this case.
This Site, and others, have reported inconsistencies in the Tory story, time and again since the poisonings of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March this year.
So I am not prepared to accept Theresa May’s claims unquestioningly. It is interesting to note that the statement from investigators did not pin the blame on the Russian GRU, but Mrs May did.
Let us not forget that she has systematically weakened the UK’s intelligence-gathering capabilities that could have prevented the attack from happening.
And notice that no other line of inquiry is being pursued. Is this because the Tories were determined to pin the blame on Russia and ignored alternative possibilities?
I await analysis by those with more expertise than myself, and would advise you to do the same.
Two Russian nationals have been named and charged over the novichok poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, Wiltshire. British police and prosecutors made the announcement on Wednesday.
Police said the two men were travelling on authentic Russian passports under the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and arrived in the UK on an Aeroflot flight days before the attack. The Crown Prosecution Service said there was enough evidence to charge them. British investigators said the two men were believed to have worked for Russia’s GRU secret service.
The CPS said it had charged the two men with conspiracy to murder the Skripals and DS Nick Bailey, who fell ill after going to the Skripal home after the Russian pair were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury.
The two Russian suspects are also charged with the use and possession of novichok, contrary to the Chemical Weapons Act. They are also charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Yulia Skripal and DS Bailey.
They have not been charged with the later poisoning that killed Dawn Sturgess and left Charlie Rowley seriously ill, after they became unwell on 30 June at an address in Amesbury, Wiltshire.
The investigation has recovered CCTV of the two suspects after they flew into Gatwick airport and stayed in the City Stay hotel in east London. After arriving on Friday 2 March on an Aeroflot flight, they went to Salisbury on the Saturday in what police said they were satisfied was a reconnaissance trip.
They returned to London that day and went back to Salisbury on Sunday, when police say CCTV showed them in the vicinity of the Skripal house. Police believe that after contaminating the front door of the property, they immediately went to Heathrow via train and London underground and flew back on Sunday night at 10.30pm. Health experts said no one they travelled with on the flights or trains is believed to be in danger and no one else is reported to have fallen ill.
The Salisbury Poisoning story is beginning to unravel badly and the UK’s Conservative government is starting to look as guilty as sin.
The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and the Media was established to facilitate research into organised persuasive communication (including propaganda and information operations) and media coverage, with respect to the 2011-present conflict in Syria, including related topics.
The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury earlier this year is a related topic and the working group has been investigating it.
The findings seem clear:
The public has been told a series of stories about the poisoning of these people, none of which are likely to have been true. It seems clear that the government organisations telling these stories never believed they were true, also.
The UK government’s accusations against Russia are false.
The Skripals may have been targeted because of Mr Skripal’s connection with Orbis Business Intelligence, and possible involvement with the creation of a dossier containing questionable information on a connection between US President Donald Trump and Russia – as outlined in an earlier article on This Site.
The UK government’s position is further called into question by the fact that the person putting it forward, Sir Mark Sedwill, used uncorroborated “intelligence”. As he was one of the authors of the so-called “dodgy dossier” on Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, it is entirely possible that his evidence in this case is just as unreliable.
It seems there is no reason to believe anything the Conservatives have to say on this subject. We should all seek our facts elsewhere.
The following briefing note is developed by academics researching the use of chemical and biological weapons during the 2011-present war in Syria. The note reflects work in progress. However, the substantive questions raised need answering, especially given the seriousness of the political situation in the Middle East and UK-Russian relations. We welcome comments and corrections.
Authors: Professor Paul McKeigue, Professor David Miller and Professor Piers Robinson
The Skripals were exposed to a phosphoroamidofluoridate compound named A-234, of high purity indicating that it was most likely prepared for research purposes.
A-234 or similar compounds have been synthesized at bench scale by national chemical defence labs in Russia and the US in the 1990s, and more recently in Iran and Czech. A small quantity of A-234 from a Russian state lab was used in the murder of Ivan Kivelidi and Zara Ismailova in 1995.
No data on the toxicity of A-234 are available in the public domain. The police statement that the Skripals were exposed through contact with their front door is implausible as there are no known nerve agents that cause onset of symptoms delayed by several hours, and it is improbable that absorption through the skin would cause both individuals to collapse later at exactly the same time.
Although Russia is one of several countries that have synthesized A-234 or similar compounds, there is no evidence other than Vil Mirzayanov’s story that these compounds were ever developed (implying industrial-scale production and testing of munitions) for military use. Mirzayanov’s credibility as an independent whistleblower is undermined by his role in a Tatar separatist movement during 2008-2009, backed by the US State Department.
There are multiple indications that the UK is hiding information:-
the withholding of the identity of the compound as A-234. For example, the UK statement to the OSCE 12 April 2018 states only that ‘ the name and structure of that identified toxic chemical is contained in the fall classified report to States Parties’. See also this briefing. The Chief Executive of Porton Down, in his statement 3 April, referred to the compound only as ‘Novichok’.
the withholding of information about its toxicity
the issue of a Defence and Security Media Advisory notice on the identity of Skripal’s MI6 handler and the attempt to conceal or deny his role in Orbis Business Intelligence.
the sequestration of Yulia Skripal.
The UK government’s case against Russia, stated in a letter to NATO, is based on asserting that “only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals”. Each of these points is open to question:-
Technical means: it is not seriously disputed that compounds such as A-234 can be produced at bench scale in any modern chemistry lab.
Operational experience: it is alleged that Russia has a track record of state-sponsored assassination, but this is not enough to support the assertion that “only Russia” could have enough experience to attempt unsuccessfully to assassinate two unprotected individuals.
Motive: No other attempted assassinations of defectors from Russian intelligence services have been recorded. Even if such an assassination campaign had been ordered, the Russian state would have good reasons not to initiate it in the first half of 2018. In contrast there are obvious possible motives (outlined below) for other actors to have taken steps to silence Sergei Skripal at this time.
What was the agent used?
An early report that the hospital was dealing with poisoning caused by an opiate such as fentanyl was most likely based on the initial working diagnosis. Signs of organophosphate poisoning – constricted pupils, vomiting, reduced consciousness and reduced breathing – could easily be mistaken for opiate overdose, usually a more likely diagnosis. OPCW has stated that the BZ detected by the Swiss Federal Institute for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection in one of the samples sent by OPCW was not from Salisbury but was in a control sample.
The Russian ambassador reported that on 12 March the Foreign Secretary had told him that the nerve agent used against Mr and Ms Skripal had been identified as A-234. The OPCW report issued on 12 April did not identify the agent but stated that they had confirmed the identification made by the UK and that this identification had been included in the confidential report provided to “States parties”. On 14 April the Russian Foreign Minister stated that A-234 had been reported by the Swiss Federal Institute for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection that was one of the four accredited labs used by OPCW to analyse the Salisbury samples.
Based on public reports, a ChemSpider record for A-234 has been created which assigns it the IUPAC name ethyl [(1E)-1-(diethylamino)ethylidene] phosphoramidofluoridate. Its predicted vapour pressure is very low indicating that it is predicted to be non-volatile. No information on its stability is available. The OPCW director Uzumcu stated in a newspaper interview that the agent “seems to be very persistent,” and “not affected by weather conditions”. This was confirmed the next day by an OPCW press statement that: “the chemical substance found was of high purity, persistent and resistant to weather conditions”. Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was reported to have stated: “The chemical does not degrade quickly. You can assume it is not much different now from the day it was distributed”. No experimental studies of the stability of A-234 have been reported.
Who could have produced A-234 in bench-scale quantities?
It is no longer seriously disputed that, as noted in our earlier briefing, any well equipped university lab can synthesize and purify such chemicals at bench scale. OPCW reported that the agent (presumably A-234) was of high purity with “almost complete absence of impurities”. This suggests that it was from a batch that had been synthesized for research, rather than for assassination purposes where it would be unnecessary to purify the agent.
“For research activities or protection you would need, for instance, five to 10 grams or so, but even in Salisbury it looks like they may have used more than that. Without knowing the exact quantity, I am told it may be 50, 100 grams or so, which goes beyond research activities for protection”
OPCW quickly contradicted this in a statement that “OPCW would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the nerve agent that was used in Salisbury on 4 March 2018. The quantity should probably be characterized in milligrams”.
Who has studied A-234 or similar compounds?
Bench-scale research on the toxicity of agents that might be used in chemical warfare is entirely legitimate under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and does not have to be declared to OPCW.
Since our last briefing note, more material from the investigation of the Kivelidi poisoning has been published by Novaya Gazeta, updating the earlier article published on 22 March. The second article includes an image of the mass spectrometry profile of the sample recovered from the telephone handset, which matches that submitted by Edgewood to the NIST98 mass spectrometry database. The Russian experts who commented on the original result appear not to have had access to the mass spectrometry profile of A-234, and to have incorrectly reconstructed the structure from a best guess, based on the mass-charge ratios of the fragments, as something like the GV agent (both agents have molecular mass 224 daltons, and a 58-dalton fragment). This establishes that Russia had synthesized this compound at bench scale by the mid 1990s, but does not confirm that it was ever developed for military use as alleged by Mirzayanov.
A 1997 newspaper article refers to a secret US army intelligence report referring to Russian development of A-232 and its “ethyl analog” A-234, indicating that the designation of these compounds and their structures was known to the US by this time. As noted in our last briefing note, the Edgewood lab submitted a mass spectrometry profile for A-234 to the public database NIST98, which was current from 1998 to 2001.
A patent application submitted by a US government lab in 2008 mentions “Novichoks”, but examination shows that the structures given for these compounds were the dihaloformaldoxime structures previously published as supposed “Novichoks”, not the phosphoramidofluoridates published by Mirzayanov later in 2008. This does not indicate that the applicants were studying these compounds – most likely they included them to make their patent as broad as possible.
Iran and Czechia
A study from Iran published in 2016 reported synthesis for research purposes of a compound similar to A-234, differing from it only by the presence of methyl instead of ethyl groups. In an interview with Czech television, President Zeman stated that in November 2017 the related compound designated A-230 was studied at the Brno Military Research Institute.
The director of Porton Down has declined to comment on whether Porton Down has stocks of A-234 for research purposes. The OPCW labs that identified A-234 in the specimens from Salisbury were most likely matching it against a mass spectrometry profile in OPCW’s Central Analytical Database.
What is known of the toxicity of A-234?
No data on the toxicity of A-234 are available in the public domain. The printout of the entry in the NIST 98 database appears to cross-reference an entry in the database RTECS (Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances)but no entry for this compound now exists in RTECS.
Why was the structure of A-234 revealed?
The structure of A-234 was revealed in a book by Vil S Mirzayanov in 2008, some 13 years after he had emigrated to the US with the story of a secret programme to develop chemical weapons of a class named “Novichoks”. During 2008-2009 the US government, with an active part for the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was encouraging the development of a separatist movement in Tatarstan. As part of this, Mirzayanov was declared head of a Tatar government-in-exile in December 2008. The publication of his book may thus have been part of an effort to build up Mirzayanov’s status as a dissident. His role in this operation may explain why subsequent discussion of his book by OPCW delegates was closely monitored (and discouraged)by the US State Department. Mirzayanov’s involvement in this operation undermines his credibility as an independent whistleblower.
When and where were the Skripals exposed to A-234?
A summary of the different versions on which journalists were apparently briefed by security sources was given by the Russian embassy:-
– The Skripals could be sprayed with poison by attackers in the street (Daily Mail, 6 March, source: “Anti-terror police”).
– The nerve agent could be planted in one of the personal items in Yulia Skripal’s suitcase before she left Moscow for London. According to this theory the toxin was impregnated in an item of clothing or cosmetics or else in a gift that was opened in the house of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, meaning Yulia Skripal was deliberately targeted to get at her father (The Telegraph, 15 March, source: “Senior sources in the intelligence agencies”).
– The nerve agent could be planted in the air conditioner of the car of Skripals (Daily Mail, 19 March, source: “Security expert Philip Ingram”).
– The Skripals could be poisoned through buckwheat that Yulia Skripal had asked her friend to buy and bring for her father, because she had forgotten to pick up the grocery gifts herself (The Sun, 1 April, source: “British investigators”).
On 28 March the police announced that “at this point in our investigation, we believe the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent from their front door”.
Although it is possible that a nerve agent could be prepared in a formulation that would be absorbed only slowly through the skin, it is implausible that two individuals exposed through contact with the front door would have received doses that caused them to collapse suddenly and so nearly simultaneously that neither had time to call for help, at least three hours later. It is more likely that they were attacked shortly before they were found collapsed on the park bench.
Sergei Skripal’s link with Orbis: possible motive for murder
This link between Skripal and Orbis may be relevant to the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, the founder of Orbis, containing derogatory information on Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. This dossier had been used by the FBI to apply for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court order authorizing surveillance of Trump’s campaign. By early 2018 the unravelling of this story was creating serious difficulties for Steele and for those he had worked with. These difficulties included a referral for criminal investigation by two US Senators, a libel case in the US against the publisher of the dossier which had led to a court ruling that Steele should be questioned in an English court, and a libel case in England against Orbis and Steele. It is not difficult to postulate a situation in which the potential for damage to US-UK relations could have provided a motive for actors on both sides of the Atlantic to ensure that Sergei Skripal would not be available to give evidence.
The UK government’s position
This was summarized in a letter from the National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill to the NATO Secretary-General on 13 April 2018. Sedwill’s letter made several assertions that were substantiated only by “intelligence”:
By 1993, when Russia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, it is likely that some Novichoks had passed acceptance testing, allowing their use by the Russian military
Russia further developed some Novichoks after ratifying the convention
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.
In the mid-2000s, President Putin was closely involved in the Russian chemical weapons programme
Within the last decade Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks
Sedwill’s involvement in the preparation of the now widely discredited dossier ‘Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction’, released in September 2002, calls into question his credibility in making these uncorroborated assertions. The UK government’s case as set out by Sedwill is based on asserting that “only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals”. Each of these points is open to serious criticism:-
Technical means: it is not seriously disputed that A-234 can be produced at bench scale in any organic chemistry lab.
Operational experience: it is alleged that Russia has a track record of state-sponsored assassination, but this does not support the assertion that only Russia has the operational experience for such an assassination. On the contrary, the failure of the assassination attempt, against two unprotected individuals, suggests that the perpetrators lacked the operational experience and competence that one would expect of state-directed assassins.
Motive: no other attempted assassinations of defectors from Russian intelligence services have been recorded. If the Russian state had decided to begin assassinating these defectors, it is unlikely that they would have chosen to start in March 2018, just before the presidential election and three months before the FIFA World Cup. However, as noted above, it is possible to identify motives for other actors to silence Sergei Skripal at this time.
We thank Professor Rudy Richardson of the University of Michigan for advice on the toxicology of nerve agents.
Yulia Skripal (right) and her father Sergei: Attacked to hide lies about Trump?
Isn’t it interesting that the news media were told to hide the fact that an intelligence officer dealing with the Skripals worked for Orbis Business International!
It’s also interesting that the D-Notice was ineffective as a person who never received it – former UK ambassador Craig Murray – gave the game away on his blog.
He wrote: “There is no doubt that Skripal was feeding secrets to MI6 … and at the the time that Pablo Miller, another member of Orbis Intelligence, was also an MI6 officer in Russia and directly recruiting agents. It is widely reported on the web and in US media that it was Miller who first recruited Skripal. My own ex-MI6 sources tell me that is not quite true as Skripal was “walk-in”, but that Miller certainly was involved in running Skripal for a while… It is again widely alleged on the web that [Miller was] a consultant for Orbis Intelligence and a consultant to the FCO and – wait for it – with an address in Salisbury.
“It was of course … Orbis Intelligence who produced for the Clinton camp the sensationalist dossier on Trump links with Russia … that is a key part of the “Russiagate” affair gripping the US political classes. The extraordinary thing about this is that the Orbis dossier is obvious nonsense which anybody with a professional background can completely demolish… [The] motive was, like Skripal’s in selling his secrets, cash pure and simple.
“I do not know for certain that Pablo Miller helped knock together the … dossier on Trump, but it seems very probable given he also served for MI6 in Russia and was working for Orbis. And it seems to me even more probable that Sergei Skripal contributed to the Orbis Intelligence dossier on Trump… Who better to lend a little corroborative verisimilitude in these circumstances than … old source Skripal?”
So we now have several possible reasons for the Skripal poisoning – and they point to the United States – not to Russia.
Did it happen to cover up the source of the information in the Trump-Russia dossier?
Did it happen to hide the possibility that the information in the dossier was false?
Was it revenge for Skripal feeding the intelligence services a pack of lies in return for a fat wodge of cash?
And why has there been no new information on the Skripals in weeks?
The Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee (DSMA) – a Governmental body – issued a so-called D-Notice requesting the censorship of numerous mainstream media outlets regarding the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury on the fourth of March this year, allegedly by Russia, using the Novichok nerve agent. Sergei Skripal was a double agent for the UK who was obtained and brought to Britain under a ‘spy-swap scheme’ in 2010. The circumstances surrounding his alleged poisoning have been translucent at best, and altogether weird.
It now appears to be the case that the media was censored in how and what it reported of the Skripal poisoning in the days following its revelation.
A D-Notice is, essentially, an instruction issued by the DSMA to the media not to publish matters of certain sensitivity.
The D-Notice issued on 7 March 2018, three days after the Skripal poisoning happened, stated the following:
“Private and Confidential: Not for Publication, Broadcast or for use on Social Media TO ALL EDITORS The issue surrounding the identify of a former MI6 informer, Sergei Skripal, is already widely available in the public domain. However, the identifies of intelligence agency personnel associated with Sergei Skripal are not yet widely available in the public domain. The provisions of DSMA Notice 05 therefore apply to these identities. DSMA Notice 05 inter alia advises editors against the: ‘inadvertent disclosure of Sensitive Personnel Information (SPI) that reveals the identity, location or contact details of personnel (and their family members) who have security, intelligence and/or counter-terrorist backgrounds, including members of the UK Security and Intelligence Agencies, MOD and Specials Forces.’”
The D-Notice instructs the media not to report on matters surrounding security personnel associated with Sergei Skripal.
The individual to whom the D-Notice refers is in fact one Pablo Miller. He is a former MI6 operative. The Telegraph has also previously published that Miller worked for Orbis Business International, a corporate intelligence consultancy.
If Theresa May thinks we’ll swallow unquestioningly her “statement” on the air strikes she ordered last Friday, she must think we were all born yesterday.
We all know the justification by now, right? The claim is that the town of Douma, in Syria, was attacked by government forces using chemical weapons. These have been banned across the world for a century and the US, UK and France launched air strikes against facilities believed to be involved in the manufacture of chemical weapons for humanitarian reasons – to discourage any further use of such weapons. The strikes were said to be tightly targeted, focused on this single objective.
That was the substance of Mrs May’s speech. But it has been seriously undermined already.
She said: “On Saturday 7 April, up to 75 people, including young children, were killed in a horrific attack in Douma, with as many as 500 further casualties. All indications are that this was a chemical weapons attack. UK medical and scientific experts have analysed open-source reports [she means social media posts], images and video footage from the incident and concluded that the victims were exposed to a toxic chemical. That is corroborated by first-hand accounts from NGOs and aid workers, while the World Health Organisation received reports that hundreds of patients arrived at Syrian health facilities on Saturday night with ‘signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals’.”
But as she was participating in a Parliamentary debate on the air strikes, journalist Robert Fisk published a claim that the casualties in the Douma attack were treated for dust inhalation – and not for a chemical gas attack. Listen:
“We needed to intervene rapidly to alleviate further indiscriminate humanitarian suffering,” said Mrs May. “It was not just morally right but legally right to take military action, together with our closest allies.
“We have published the legal basis for this action. It required three conditions to be met. First, there must be convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief. Secondly, it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved. Thirdly, the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian suffering, and must be strictly limited in time and in scope to this aim.”
We have already seen that claims of convincing evidence may have been exaggerated – and in any case, claims that action on a humanitarian basis is legal have been disputed. As the use of chemical weapons is now in doubt, the second condition is also unmet – people are still being killed in Syria. Thirdly – well, we’ll come to that.
“This was a limited, targeted and effective strike that would significantly degrade Syrian chemical weapons capabilities and deter their future use, and with clear boundaries that expressly sought to avoid escalation and did everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.
“As a result, the co-ordinated actions of the US, UK and France were successfully and specifically targeted at three sites. Contrary to what the Leader of the Opposition said at the weekend, these were not “empty buildings”. The first was the Barzeh branch of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre in northern Damascus. This was a centre for the research and development of Syria’s chemical and biological programme. It was hit by 57 American TLAMs and 19 American JASSMs.”
In that case, if chemical weapons were present – or just the ingredients for them – they would have been spread out over a wide area by the explosions. There has been no report of any such contamination.
Quite the opposite, it seems. I accept that the link runs to a report by Russia Today, so perhaps you’d prefer a report by CBS News – the US media outlet. Both make it clear that reporters saw no evidence of harmful chemicals – just anti-venom for snakebites (as reported on This Site previously). We now see that Barzeh was the planned base for the OPCW inspectors, who would have taken up residence there on April 15. Well, it’s rubble now. Who benefits from that?
“The second site was the Him Shinsar chemical weapons bunkers, 15 miles west of the city of Homs, which contained both a chemical weapons equipment and storage facility and an important command post. These were successfully hit by seven French SCALP cruise missiles.
“The third site was the Him Shinsar chemical weapons storage site and former missile base, which is now a military facility. This was assessed to be a location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment, whose destruction would degrade Syria’s ability to deliver sarin in the future. This was hit by nine US TLAMs, five naval and two SCALP cruise missiles from France and eight Storm Shadow missiles launched by our four RAF Tornado GR4s. Very careful scientific analysis was used to determine where best to target these missiles to maximise the destruction of stockpiled chemicals and to minimise any risks to the surrounding area. The facility that we targeted is located some distance from any known population centres, reducing yet further any such risk of civilian casualties.”
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, in his response to the statement, pointed out that OPCW inspectors had given both Barzeh and the Him Shinsar facilities a clean bill of health in November 2017.
He said: “In relation to the air strikes against the Barzeh and Him Shinsar facilities, the Prime Minister will be aware that the OPCW carried out inspections on both those facilities in 2017 and concluded that ‘the inspection team did not observe any activities inconsistent with obligations’ under the chemical weapons convention.”
Theresa May has sidelined and undermined the Nobel Peace Prize winning #OPCW and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Tories should be absolutely ashamed of themselves, but they're actually patting themselves on the back over this!https://t.co/KLEhMfNMgcpic.twitter.com/wZdnBNhtAO
If we knew where [Syrian president Bashar al] Assad was stashing his chemical weapons, why did we wait for him to use them again?
If we just bombed chemical weapons factories in Syria, why was the existence of these factories never reported before – to the UN, the OPCW or the public?
Why did the bombing commence before the OPCW had concluded their chemical weapons investigation?
In this context, it was bizarre to hear Mrs May saying that she supports the OPCW investigation, after having blown up the investigators’ base: “”e support strongly the work of the OPCW fact-finding mission that is currently in Damascus.”
She went on to say that she decided to act ahead of any results because the OPCW would not be able to attach blame, due to a Russian veto on a UN resolution to establish such a mechanism. She said: “Even if the OPCW team is able to visit Douma to gather information to make that assessment… it cannot attribute responsibility.
She continued: “Even if we had the OPCW’s findings and a mechanism to attribute, for as long as Russia continued to veto the UN Security Council would still not be able to act.”
So Mrs May hid evidence that Syria was developing chemical weapons from the OPCW, supported a military operation that bombed the OPCW’s planned base of operations, and would have taken part in air strikes no matter what report the OPCW investigators would have given. That doesn’t seem very supportive to me!
Mrs May denied acting on the orders of US President Donald Trump: “It is in our national interest to prevent the further use of chemical weapons in Syria and to uphold and defend the global consensus that these weapons should not be used, for we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised—within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere.”
“On the streets of the UK or elsewhere”. She had to mention the alleged chemical attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, you see. It is as though that incident was staged in order to soften up the British public to the idea of military action on the pretext of preventing the use of such weaponry. Isn’t it?
Mrs May later added: “Last Thursday’s report from the OPCW has confirmed our findings that it was indeed a Novichok in Salisbury… While of a much lower order of magnitude, the use of a nerve agent on the streets of Salisbury is part of a pattern of disregard for the global norms that prohibit the use of chemical weapons.”
The problem is, the lab that tested the Salisbury substance for the OPCW found that it was BZ – a chemical agent apparently used by the UK and the US.
And there is no evidence of chemical weapons at Barzeh, and both that facility and those at Him Shinsar were cleared by the OPCW five months ago.
Without actual evidence of chemical weapons, it is impossible for Mrs May to justify these activities. And she has no evidence.
Really looking forward to Theresa May spelling out the long term objectives for agreeing to be Trump's poodle. Is this part of the NHS for chlorinated chicken deal? Are they throwing in some hormone-injected cattle too?
Mrs May continued: “Why did we not recall Parliament? The speed with which we acted was essential in co-operating with our partners to alleviate further humanitarian suffering and to maintain the vital security of our operations.”
We have established that it wasn’t. Blowing up facilities that have nothing to do with chemical weapons will not alleviate humanitarian suffering (actually, what does that even mean? She was trying to say she was acting on humanitarian principles but mangled the English language instead).
“This was a limited, targeted strike on a legal basis that has been used before.”
And falsely used in this instance.
“And it was a decision that required the evaluation of intelligence and information, much of which was of a nature that could not be shared with Parliament.”
But it could have been shared with other members of the Privy Council, like Mr Corbyn. Clearly it was not, which casts it into doubt.
PM is lying that there was "urgency", and could have shared intelligence with opposition leaders and shadow ministers in secret.
The best that can be said of Mrs May’s statement is that it is unconvincing.
We have an eyewitness account that the alleged victims of a chemical attack in Douma were in fact under treatment for dust inhalation, there is no evidence that chemical weapons were manufactured or stored at the sites the UK, US and France bombed last weekend (and claims that a Russian chemical weapon was used on the Skripals have been contradicted), so there was no justification for the military action.
On the other hand, Mrs May’s keenness to ascribe the Salisbury poisoning to Russia without evidence, her support for a military adventure that stymied OPCW inspectors, her withholding of evidence – or inability to supply it – from the same organisation – all these elements seem very suspicious indeed.
As this situation is ongoing, further information is likely to become available and I stand ready to be corrected if Mrs May is vindicated.
At the moment, she seems a weak leader, desperately trying to manufacture some popularity – and failing.
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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman meets Boris Johnson: What did they discuss?
Craig Murray makes a couple of very interesting points here.
Why was a Saudi prince visiting London, Washington and Paris just as the row over the Skripal poisoning was kicking off, and before the air strikes on Syria were called?
How did Russia know that a chemical attack would take place in Syria – fake or real – and that it would be used as the reason for an air strike?
And why would the Syrian government attack Douma with chemical weapons, the day before it was due to be handed over to the Syrian government?
What do you think?
March 4 2018 Sergei and Yulia Skripal are attacked with a nerve agent in Salisbury
March 6 2018 Boris Johnson blames Russia and calls Russia “a malign force”
March 7 2018 Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia arrives in London for an official visit
March 13 2018 Valeri Gerasimov, Russian Chief of General Staff, states that Russia has intelligence a fake chemical attack is planned against civilians in Syria as a pretext for US bombing of Damascus, and that Russia will respond militarily.
March 19 2018 Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia arrives in Washington for an official visit
April 8 2018 Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia arrives in Paris for an official visit
April 8 2018 Saudi funded jihadist groups Jaysh al Islam and Tahrir al-Sham and UK funded jihadist “rescue group” The White Helmets claim a chemical weapons attack occurred in their enclave of Douma the previous day – just before its agreed handover to the Syrian army – and blame the Syrian government.
April 14 2018 US/UK/French attack on Syria begins.
This attack on Syria is, beyond doubt, a huge success for the machinations of Mohammed Bin Salman. Please do read my post of 8 March which sets out the background to his agenda, and I believe is essential to why we find our nations in military action again today. Despite the fact the vast majority of the people do not want this.
Contaminated: Investigators examine the park bench in Salisbury where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found after they were poisoned.
Without further information to corroborate this, it is just a wild claim – but still enough to create another doubt about the UK government’s story.
If a Swiss laboratory really did find that BZ was used against Sergei and Yulia Skripal, I would like to know how it got hold of the samples, how it knew they were authentic, and what authority it had to test them.
The claim is still hugely damaging for the UK government’s position because – unlike that of Theresa May and her ministers – it does not contradict anything else the Russians have suggested; they have always denied having any part in the poisoning and this is their first theory about the nature of the toxin.
Of course the UK government and the media will try to rubbish the claim.
But with no credible story of their own, who are we to believe?
Russia claims the substance used to poison double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was an agent called BZ that has been used by Nato states including the UK and US.
It was the Kremlin’s latest denial that the pair were targeted with a Novichok nerve agent developed by the Soviet military and latest attempt to discredit the findings of independent chemical weapons experts.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claims a Swiss lab found that a BZ agent was used against the Skripals.
He said the toxin was never produced in Russia, but was “in service” in the UK, US and other Nato states, state media reported.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found that “high purity” Novichok was used in the attempted murder.
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