On The Skripal Poisoning Case And The Questions It Leaves Unanswered

As the Skripal poisoning saga, and the questions arising from it, have emerged gradually over the past three months, this article will begin with a timeline showing the evolution of the Skripal poisoning story before analyzing the conflicting claims at the core of the narrative. This writer will provide commentary on the overall incident and its place in the manufacturing of diffuse, widespread anti-Russian hysteria.

Timeline

March 2018
3rd Yulia Skripal, a Russian citizen from Moscow (and the daughter of Sergei Skripal), travels to visit Sergei at his Salisbury UK home, arriving at Heathrow airport at 2:40pm.
4th The Skripals are found unconscious on a bench and admitted to Salisbury Hospital.
5th News breaks of a major poisoning incident at Salisbury Hospital in the UK. Initial reports suggest that a suspected Fentanyl poisoning had taken place, but as more details emerge over the 24 hours, the cause is increasingly reported to have been caused by a nerve agent. Several in the press speculate regarding Russian culpability.
7th Police issue a statement confirming that it was a suspected nerve agent attack, and that they are treating the case as an attempted murder.

First DSMA (D-Notice) is issued to the press, essentially resulting in government suppression of coverage of the Skripal incident.

8th A CNN article covers the fact that the FSB had become aware that MI6’s Pablo Miller was Skripal’s handler in the UK. The article doesn’t mention that Christopher Steele and Pablo Miller were both connected through Orbis Intelligence.
9th Over 100 military personnel are deployed to Salisbury.
12th Theresa May tells the House of Commons that a nerve agent used to poison the Skripals was of a type developed by Russia and that the government had concluded it “highly likely” that Russia was responsible for the poisoning.

Media report the incident as a poisoning using an agent of Russian origin. Sarah Huckabee Sanders condemns the attack and expresses support on behalf of the White House, while France’s Emmanuel Macron is contacted, condemns the attack and offers support. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also issues a statement saying he had “full confidence in the UK’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack”.

Moon of Alabama publishes an article dismantling Theresa May’s nonsense.

13th Consortium News publishes an article by James O’Neil titled “The Strange Case of the Russian Spy Poisoning” which details Sergei Skripal’s history in relation to former MI6 agents Christopher Steele and Pablo Miller.

The Russian government issues a diplomatic note to the UK government denying state involvement in the Skripal incident. Russia demands the UK comply with the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

14th Theresa May tells MPs that the UK would expel 23 Russian diplomats in response to the Skripal incident, declaring it to be an: “unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK.” The Russian Embassy responds, stating that the expulsion is “unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted.”

Britain asks the international chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, (OPCW) to verify its findings.

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, publishes an article titled “The Novichok Story Is Indeed Another Iraqi WMD Scam,” which discredits the notion that a Novichok agent would inherently come from Russia. Murray revealed that the Novichok program was actually invented in Uzbekistan and was inherited by America rather than Russia. Murray also relates that the method of production for Novichoks was published 20 years ago and that the UK won’t have a sample to be able to test for the origin (through impurities, etc).

Jeremy Corbyn calls for calm and to wait for evidence, and is then scolded by politicians and press for having a reasoned attitude rather than the seemingly infectious anti-Russian hysteria of his detractors.

A second DMSA (D-Notice) is issued to press, once again forbidding reporting in the UK on the Skripal incident.

15th Craig Murray posts another article, this time highlighting efforts to target him on social media. Murray discusses the manner in which a troll had strategically tweeted so as to create a barrage of condescending bluster and information that, in part, appears as though it came from Wikipedia, but doesn’t actually counter the key assertions made by Murray.

Following a telephone call between French President Emmanuel Macron and the UK’s Theresa May, France backs the UK’s conclusion that Russia was behind the Skripal incident. Leaders of Britain, the US, Germany and France issue a joint statement blaming Russia for the Salisbury poison attack. The four allies urge Moscow to provide “full and complete disclosure” of its Novichok nerve agent program to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

It is reported that UK Defense Secretary (and child appointed to a position of inappropriate responsibility), Gavin Williamson’s response to Russia’s protestations is: “Go Away and Shut up

The UK expels 23 Russian diplomats and/or intelligence agents, simultaneously announcing other measures against Russia.

UK intelligence agencies claim the substance used to poison the Skripals was placed in Yulia Skripal’s luggage prior to departure, which is later contradicted.

16th Craig Murray reports that a source at Porton Down has confirmed they are unable to identify the origin of the nerve agent. Murray also shares significant facts that the mainstream media seem to be completely oblivious to, including the following:

“OPCW inspectors have had full access to all known Russian chemical weapons facilities for over a decade – including those identified by the “Novichok” alleged whistleblower Mirzayanov – and last year OPCW inspectors completed the destruction of the last of 40,000 tonnes of Russian chemical weapons. By contrast, the programme of destruction of US chemical weapons stocks still has five years to run”.

Murray also points out that, in contrast, Israel signed on to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 but refused to ratify as it would mean inspection and destruction of their chemical weapons.

An article is published on WikiSpooks covering how Sergei Skripal, Pablo Miller and Christopher Steele will have previously worked together, suggesting the potential involvement of Skripal with the efforts to produce the dossier.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says it is: “overwhelmingly likely” that the Skripal poisoning was ordered directly by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

17th Craig Murray publishes another article, titled: “First Recorded Successful Novichok Synthesis was in 2016 – By Iran, in Cooperation with the OPCW“, demonstrating that Novichoks are not exclusive to Russia. He cites an article that covered the study and was published on January 1, 2017.

Russia expels 23 British diplomats.

22nd Det Sgt Nick Bailey, who fell ill after attending the incident, is discharged from hospital.

Porton Down scientists gather samples from a door handle at the Skripal home.

Justice David Williams gives permission for blood samples to be taken from the victims.

27th Spiez Lab in Switzerland release their report to the OPCW.
28th Detectives say they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent via contact with Mr Skripal’s front door handle.
29th Yulia Skripal said to no longer be in a critical condition.
April 2018
3rd The Guardian reports that Porton Down experts could not identify the source of Novichok used (confirming what Murray had stated two weeks earlier).
9th Yulia is released from hospital and taken to a secure location.
12th The OPCW releases their report on the matter.
14th Russia’s Lavrov goes public regarding Spiez Lab findings, citing their report he explains that Spiez Lab, in one of the samples tested, found elements indicating the presence of a substance used by US, UK and NATO allies (BZ Toxin), a substance Lavrov says Russia does not produce. He also points out that the purity of the sample of the A-234 Novichok agent was so high that it should have easily killed Skripal.
15th Spiez Lab defers all inquiries to the OPCW.
18th Spiez Lab tweets statement of Switzerland that rebukes Lavrov’s wording (for not being in keeping with the report) but not the fundamental claims that were made.

The OPCW states that the presence of the BZ Toxin precursor cited by Lavrov was actually in a control sample, writing:

“But at a meeting of the OPCW executive in The Hague, the Russian claim was refuted by OPCW officials, who said explained that BZ had been used in the control sample, not the sample itself. It is also a breach of OPCW procedures to identify a laboratory involved in a test.”

22nd A story emerges, suggesting the attack may have been carried out by a former FSB officer, an assertion based on allegations made by Boris Karpichkov. Karpichkov claims to be on the same FSB ‘hit list’ as the Skripals, a list we are asked to accept blindly, with no evidence provided to support its existence.
May 2018
14th The Guardian reports that Skripal had actually been active and giving briefings to European intelligence services in recent years, as recently as 2016:

“It seems that MI6 approved of and facilitated these trips. In June 2016 Skripal travelled to Estonia and met a select group of intelligence officers there”

16th Reuters reports that Germany’s BND had a sample of Novichok from a Russian scientist. It was analyzed in Sweden and the chemical formula was given to the German government and military. Importantly, at the end of the article it also states:

“The German media report said the BND had informed the U.S. and British intelligence agencies about the case following the analysis, and small amounts of the poison were later produced in several NATO member states to test Western protective gear, testing equipment and antidotes”.

17th The Independent reports that Germany had a sample of a Novichok agent back in the 1990s.
18th Sergei Skripal discharged from hospital.
23rd Yulia Skripal makes a public statement, in which she expresses a desire to return to Russia. The Mirror article reporting her sentiments also explains that her cousin, Viktoria, has been refused entry to meet with Yulia twice by the British government.
June 2018
1st Russian dissident journalist and death-hoaxer, Babchenko, claims he wanted to avoid Skripal’s fate.

Conflicting Claims & Shifting Statements

That the swirl of disinformation, speculation and blame relating to the poisoning of the Skripals has been dizzying seems to be a significant understatement.

As independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone recently summarized:

“The poison was placed in Yulia Skripal’s suitcase. Actually no, they got that wrong, it was the air vents in their car. Wait, no, that doesn’t work either. Maybe it was administered via weaponized miniature drone! Wait, no, it was the family’s car door handle. Actually, scratch that, it was the front door of the house. Definitely the front door of the house. We’re absolutely sure. Either that or Sergei Skripal’s favorite Russian cereal. They were given 100 grams of Novichok. Wait, no, that’s ridiculous, we retract that. Okay, maybe we have no idea what happened. Oh hey, their pets were completely unaffected by the poison. Let’s incinerate them.”

Indeed, it’s been an ever-changing story, one that started out as a suspected Fentanyl Poisoning before the explanation shifted to the use of a nerve agent and we were assured its origin had been identified, however, it hadn’t, and we were told the OPCW confirmed it, but they didn’t actually confirm the origin.

We’ve also heard repeatedly how the nerve agent was “of a type developed by Russia”, a strange choice of phrase that Craig Murray pointed out when seeing it repeatedly used by both politicians and media, and that, when properly considered, serves propagandist purposes more than anything else. A phrase Murray succinctly asserts is “of a type developed by liars“.

Those telling us this also don’t seem too eager to tell us it was specifically in Uzbekistan, at the Nukus chemical weapons site that was dismantled by America (with the program being inherited by America instead of Russia) – and would rather insist that Novichok was only made in Russia. It’s also not just Murray’s word against the rest of them, as even the New York Times reported on the dismantling of the Nukus site in an article in 1999 that even cited the Novichok program.

The British government has conveniently ignored the fact that other nations can and have produced it such as Iran did under OPCW oversight in 2016, while also avoiding informing the public that a number of NATO affiliated countries have produced samples of it to test with in the past.

We have been told that Novichok is 5-8 times stronger than the VX nerve agent and that samples given to OPCW were found to be of high purity, so high, in fact, that if the Skripals had have come into contact with it – they shouldn’t have had a chance of surviving.

Too Pure!?

The purity of the samples that were analyzed has become the subject of serious contention, and there are other conflicting stories about Novichok too, with the version depending on which former Soviet scientist you ask.

On one side, you have Mirzayanov, who defected to the US and is credited as leading the Novichok program. He has suggested the poisoning could only have been carried out using highly advanced equipment, that other countries couldn’t produce it, that it was practically unknown along with various other assertions that are, based on the evidence already covered above, demonstrably false and when called out on these, he appeared to back pedal.

On the other side, there’s Leonid Rink, a Russian scientist that claims he was involved in the Novichok program and that has claimed Mirzayanov was one of approximately 5 people to have left the Soviet Union with knowledge of Novichok production methods.

Rink has asserted that Novichok, by the time a sample was taken and sent to OPCW, should have started decomposition already and couldn’t have been a sample acquired so long after the incident occurred due to its purity. Note: The Skripals were admitted to hospital on March 4, 2018. On March 22, 2018, samples from a door handle at their home were taken and a judge gave permission for blood samples to be taken from the Skripals).

Paragraph 11 the OPCW report states:

“The TAV team notes that the toxic chemical was of high purity. The latter is concluded from the almost complete absence of impurities.

Due to Novichok’s decomposition in the body, the blood samples should not have contained the substance in such high purity – unless the victims had been injected with it shortly before the blood samples were taken.

Due to decomposition when exposed to the elements (such as rain in Salisbury on the 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 14/15th, 17th and 18th), it’s extremely unlikely the samples taken 18 days later would have such high levels of purity,

Even Mirzayanov, in an early interview (March 12, 2018) with Kommersant.ru, stated that A-234 decomposes in water in a matter of hours, responded to the revelation of high purity as indicative that the substance was produced in a laboratory and clarifies that the substance is only stable in the absence of moisture and humidity, Mirzayanov even mentions Nukus as a comparative climate, something that was also reported by the Guardian a few days later.

Mirzayanov even states: “This substance under these conditions could only be used by an idiot who knows nothing about the chemical properties of the ‘Novice.’” (“Novice” being a reference to Novichok).

In addition to Rink and Mirzayanov, independent Russian news site The Bell tracked down another scientist involved in the program named Vladimir Uglev who confirmed he had worked at the same facility as Rink and who also explained that Russia ceased their chemical weapons programs in 2011. However, Uglev also gave an interview to the BBC and the outcome of that seemed considerably less favorable to Russia.

One theme seems consistent throughout the Skripal debacle – what we see and hear in relation to controversial topics in the media depends just as much on those doing the narrative gatekeeping, as it does on those who actually serve as a source.

The Mystery Couple & CCTV Cameras

In addition to the inconsistencies in media interviews, another strange twist to the tale comes in the form of a story about a mystery couple seen following the Skripals shortly before they fell unconscious, or, at least, they were seen in a “series of locations” near the Skripals prior to it.

The story appeared in the news early in March 2018 but since then, there appear to have been no updates.

If, as is alleged, the unknown couple approached the Skripals in the park where they were found unconscious, there should have been more CCTV footage available to prove the theory. Instead, the only footage that was released was that recorded by Snap Fitness. Other CCTV cameras were present in Market Walk as well as covering both of the entrances/exits either side. In other words, the big red bag the woman was carrying should have stood out considerably in multiple pieces of surveillance footage.

A CCTV footage frame from Snap Fitness is in the green box, CCTV cameras are in the red boxes, the direction the couple were walking is indicated with the blue arrow.

The residential area in Salisbury where Col. Skripal lived had far less CCTV coverage, however, this may not matter because, if the Skripals were poisoned via absorption of the substance through the skin at their property, them being incapacitated hours later should have been somewhat staggered. The fact that they both became incapacitated at the same time suggests they were poisoned closer to the time they were discovered.

But What About Fentanyl Poisoning?

You may have heard that the Skripals were poisoned by fentanyl, an opioid “10,000 times stronger than heroin” and that this has been covered up.

As an example, some have pointed to articles being altered. For example, there was one in Clinical Services Journal, published on March 5th, that was altered between April 26, 2018 and the April 28, 2018 to remove the reference to Fentanyl (the April 28th 2018 version of the article had the reference to fentanyl removed without a correction notice but a notice has been added since then).

The reality is that it’s entirely possible that a mistake could have been made in initially diagnosing the cause: however, questions do still remain, especially when statements from NHS consultants at the hospital contradict the nerve agent claim, such as consultant Stephen Davies from Salisbury District hospital who wrote to the Times following an article they’d published on March 14, 2018 in which he explicitly states, contrary to their reporting, that no patients had the symptoms of nerve agent poisoning:

D(SMA) Notices & Conspiracy Theories

For those outside the UK, the D(SMA) or D-Notice refers to a press suppression tool used by the UK government since just prior to the first World War. British media has described the D-notice as: “[A] collaboration between state and media [that] has offered a compromise between national security and press freedom – yet sometimes has been tested to the limit.” The UK government relates the following definition of the press suppression tool:

“The DSMA-Notice System is a means of providing advice and guidance to the media about defence and security information, the publication of which would be damaging to national security. The system is voluntary, it has no legal authority and the final responsibility for deciding whether or not to publish rests solely with the editor or publisher concerned.”

Regarding the D(SMA) notices issues in terms of the Skripal debacle, some speculate that the notices may have been related to Skripal’s former MI6 handler Pablo Miller. Following the issuance of the notices, it was discovered that Miller had been working with Orbis Intelligence (which in turn provided a connection to Christopher Steele). Considering that Skripal had been active in recent years, there are further remaining questions as to whether Sergei Skripal may have been involved in the production of the Trump dossier.

Conversely, someone described as a source close to Skripal has claimed that he was investigating Cambridge Analytica, Internet Research Agency, AIQ and SCL.

At present, though, there doesn’t appear to be any solid proof for either premise.

So where does this leave us?

We have been told that Russia, in a clandestine operation against one or both of the Skripals, used a nerve agent with a very Russian sounding name, alleged to be 5-8 times as deadly as VX, on a door handle at the Skripal home in a botched assassination attempt.

We have been told that Porton Down confirmed this by Britain’s foreign secretary only for him to be directly contradicted by the source. We’ve seen diplomats expelled over unsubstantiated allegations, observed politicians and reporters pretend that Nukus never existed and avoided mentioning that the Novichok program was inherited by the US, instead referring to the program as belonging to the Soviet Union (emphasizing that this preceded Russia so that it appears Russia inherited the program).

We have seen that the OPCW analyzed laboratory grade A-234, an unlikely result for Novichok components combined in-the-field a full 18 days before the samples were even taken. In addition, Prime minister Theresa May, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Porton Down’s Gary Aitkenhead have wrongly told us that the A-234 was “military-grade.” If the samples lacked impurities, then it follows that they lacked additives used to ensure the successful application of the toxin that is typical in “military-grade” substances.

We’ve seen Theresa May seeking to invoke NATO article 5, but yet, in stunning contrast, we have seen 3 months go by with the only footage of any suspects being a few frames from a private company’s CCTV recording. There has been no other footage, no photos, artists sketches, detailed descriptions of suspects or information about the suspects movements before or after the incident and there has been no reward for information offered.

Of course, the mainstream media have not helped matters. They have, with few exceptions, obediently regurgitated every lie, every deflection, have been mute in the face of contradiction, and have acted as government-toadying cheerleaders throughout this saga, even echoing the posturing and sabre-rattling of Britain’s prime minister and foreign secretary.

Considering the fact that both Rink and Mirzayanov have stated that the substance would have started decomposition by the time samples were acquired, it seems as though Porton Down may have provided OPCW with Novichok samples developed in a laboratory rather than a substance genuinely acquired 18 days after the components had been combined.

Of course, this conclusion may seem outlandish, but, when the opinions of Novichok experts and the OPCW analysis results are considered, it’s the only reasonable conclusion we seem to be left with that explains the purity of the samples.

Overall critical questions on the reality of the Skripal incident remain unanswered, joining multiple other legacy press obsessions which blame the Russian state for an attack on a Western Nation while ignoring serious factual contradictions underpinning the core of each narrative, including the ‘Russian hacking,’ and ‘Russiagate’ or Trump-Russia collusion sagas. It is important to remember this over-arching context when skeptically considering the contradictions, flat-out deception, manipulation, and glaring omissions that characterize the press and UK government’s reaction to the Skripal incident.

Further Reading

I have tried to make this article serve as a brief up-to-date summary of the convoluted and ongoing Skripal case, however, this topic is complex and there are more facts to know and inconsistencies to be aware of. There are two additional sites I’ve found to be particularly informative on this subject:

Thesaker.is has recently run a series of articles covering the Skripals by the author using the pseudonym “Sushi.” The series provides a close reading of the many inconsistencies as well as a variety of possible explanations as to how the Skripals may have been poisoned.

Former UK Ambassador Craig Murray’s blog has also been a goldmine for accurate information. Murray’s ability to call out the British government’s disinformation and demonstrate himself to be thoroughly knowledgeable and reliable on this topic – especially in light of his experience in Uzbekistan, has been very impressive.

Correction (June 14, 2018)

Theresa may did not directly invoke article 5, she merely sought to. The article has been corrected to reflect this.

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