We need to ask John le Carré what it was all about, but I doubt if even he knows.
It smells to me less like a conspiracy of the entire West led by wicked witch Theresa May to make life difficult for Putin by embarrassing the Russians, as they’ve been moaning it was in Moscow, and more like a hastily concocted cover story for some other skulduggery that went horribly wrong.
Certainly we’re not getting the truth about the apparent assassination attempt in Salisbury two weeks ago on former KGB/GRU Col Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, are we. Why would we? It’s a spy story!
The problem being that, unlike the Litvinenko case where two FSB goons were rapidly identified, in this case there is still no human suspect: there are victims, we have motives aplenty, there is a smoking gun, but there is still no credible theory as to who exactly might have pulled the trigger. Er…
We may never really know. Just remember, however, this horrible stuff was designed by them to be used on us….
Nothing adds up!
Chapter 1: Wiltshire Circus
What was ex-KGB Col Skripal doing, living apparently in comfort, quite openly, in a quiet cathedral city at the heart of one of the most militarily sensitive areas of the UK – Porton Down, the MoD tank ranges, Qinetic defence industries’ HQ, RAF Lyneham, Portsmouth naval yards – Stonehenge (greatest mystery of all… was it a stone-age ICBM launcher?)
Who put him there, with his flashy BMW, and why? Was he really a free agent, entirely at liberty after being spy-swapped for some of his fellow countrymen in 2010? Surely he’d still have been on George Smiley’s string? Or “Karla” Putin’s?
The police have enough to do, micromanaging society, but how aware are they of foreign exiles living in our midst, whose history makes them potential security risks in the event of attempts on their lives, who are simply plonked down in the midst of our peaceful rustic communities by shady quasi-governmental agencies (Quaggas)? What protections can and do they afford them?
Why was Skripal chosen to be in the prisoner exchange? The single spies he was being swapped for hadn’t egregiously betrayed their own country, as he had. Did he really deserve a comfortable, middle-class retirement in an agreeably leafy, sleepy, half-timbered British country town, in Putin’s shifty eyes? Without a quid pro quo?
Why were his family allowed to constantly come and go between the UK and Russia while apparently being bumped off one by one? Why did they continue to do that? How was his son allowed to be flown back from St Petersburg and buried here after his sudden death from liver disease (endemic in Russia), if Skripal’s treachery was still so raw in the Kremlin that, eight years after his release, they would come looking for him, armed with the unnecessary complication of an obsolete compound neurotoxin – “just add water – and an egg”, as the Betty Crocker Cake Mix ads used to say?
As some Russian media spokesmouth observed, he could more easily have just been made to disappear.
What was in the timing?
Why has Putin been playing nice to the traitor, an exchanged double-agent, supposedly – for so many years before acting against him, if simple revenge were all this is about? He could have had him whacked anywhere, anyhow, at any time.
Does the former KGB Colonel Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin like to keep a pool of exiled traitors, live lobsters in a restaurant, to be eliminated publicly one by one as and when politically required to send a signal? Or was Col Skripal, the neighborly and jovial consumer of Lottery scratch cards, back in the GRU fold after all?
Suspected of being a triple-agent, might not the relevant Whitehall travel agency have wanted to make it look like the Russians had caught up with him, using a bag of old Soviet stuff from the stores at Porton Down as the most easily traceable weapon? Might that not at least be a better theory than a huge political conspiracy to draw attention from… what? the rest of the usual shit? Brexit? Stormy Daniels? Surely the Daily Mail is perfectly capable of that?
What was so important about the timing, was it as everyone says a Kremlin black-op to create international animus against Russia in order to stir the patriotic fervor of lethargic voters in today’s presidential election, whose result was always a foregone conclusion? Certainly, the sneers and pathetically transparent inventions of the Russian State-controlled media and tame politicians amplifying the outrage would suggest so.
But could that in turn be covering for something else?
Smirk and mirrors? Smersh and grab? (enough spy puns. Ed.)
Chapter 2: another toxic German car?
How was the red BMW car the apparent focus of the contamination, when they had parked it for several hours and gone to lunch before they were found?
If the car was the focus, how did their house become so contaminated while they were not at home but were out in the car, that entering it could injure the only other person to have been seriously affected, Det Sgt Nick Bailey?
And if as is thought the agent was in powder form, why would anyone enveloped in a cloud of the stuff blowing from the car’s heater not notice it? Skripal was trained in black ops, he would surely know. And why did the toxin then take so long to act? The BBC’s ‘explainer’ about Novichok claims the version that’s suspected is virtually instantaneous. It doesn’t let you go to lunch, followed by a stroll in the park.
If the investigators think the focus was the car, but the house was sufficiently contaminated as to injure Sgt Bailey, then the Skripals must have been heavily contaminated before driving into the city and would almost certainly then a) not have been capable of enjoying lunch at Zizzi’s restaurant and a drink at a pub, and b) would surely have transferred considerably more nerve agent to the environment and the innocent shoppers and diners around them than they appear to have done.
The timelines we’ve been getting in the media seem all wrong.
Chapter 3: Alarm call
Det Sgt Bailey was described as a ‘first responder’, yet he is said to have become contaminated at the house, not at the scene where the Skripals were found.
If someone had called 999 on the basis of two unknown persons found unconscious on a park bench, two uniformed officers would normally have been dispatched; not a detective. How would the despatcher know to send a mid-ranking detective, that it was more serious than a couple of drunks? Why would Det Sgt Bailey have been called a ‘first responder’, when he was apparently not at the scene, but had gone to the house? Why are all the photos of Sgt Bailey in the media showing him in dress uniform? Detective sergeants don’t go around in uniform.
How would Bailey know to go to the house, even know where it was, if he or other ‘first responders’ had not first responded by searching the victims’ pockets for ID (unless he already knew who they were and where they lived?) They were unconscious! But he was not apparently at the scene where the Skripals were found, so could not have discovered their ID, unless someone had called him. And even then, why would he go straight to the house – unless he was already there?
How did he know to go to the house, and – given the victims were right there on a park bench and he was the ‘first responder’, why? Who sent him to the house? What was he supposed to find there? Why would someone call him, especially, to go there?
Nor, surely, would Sgt Bailey have gone to the house on his own as part of a follow-up police enquiry. If a chemical attack was suspected before he went, there would have been a whole team wearing full hazmat protection and carrying guns. Not just one detective. Sgt Bailey appears to have had no protection. He could not have known the house was contaminated. If he knew the house was relevant to the enquiry it must have been on suspicion the house was contaminated. Why would he go there alone and unprotected?
Was he perhaps part of a security detail protecting Col Skripal, who already knew the family and where they lived? Why would that need to be kept a secret? Were the Skripals under surveillance? After all, Yulia had arrived from Moscow with a mysterious package only the day before. It’s inconceivable her arrival would not have been picked up at the airport.
But why then would Sgt Bailey have gone directly to the house after they were found? Someone, surely must have sent him. Why, what was it supposed to achieve? What was he even doing there, unless the police knew the house was immediately relevant to their enquiries? And why did they subsequently seal it off so tightly for ten days, apparently without anyone else going in, that the Skripals’ cats and guinea-pigs (??? wtf) died of dehydration?
What was behind the widespread media release of a days’ old CCTV image of former KGB Colonel Skripal innocently buying scratch cards at a corner store? What did that add to the story, apart from an element of incongruity?
Nothing makes sense.
Chapter 4: Medical mystery tour
Why were no other first responders, paramedics eg, contaminated through primary contact with the victims in the park, before the use of a nerve agent was suspected and protective measures taken? How was it first established that they were the victims of an attack by neurotoxin? Some substance must have been visible.
No-one who came into contact with the Skripals on that park bench is reported to have been hospitalized, even though it would not have been realized at first that a nerve agent was responsible and so no-one responding to their plight would have had any protection to begin with. Yet the only people affected – until the police identified 131 others who had been in the pub and the restaurant, none of whom has been hospitalized – were the primary victims, and the mysterious Det Sgt Nick Bailey*. What was his role in this?
When was it first realized that a deadly neurotoxin was involved, and who by? Knowledge of Col Skripal’s background might have given responders a clue, but who would have had that, before he could be identified? At what stage was the warning given to take extreme hazard precautions, and why were those who attended the scene before that warning went out not themselves badly affected by the toxin?
According to the BBC: “A doctor, who was shopping with her husband in the city centre on Sunday, said Ms Skripal was “slumped in her seat, completely unconscious” and had lost control of her bodily functions.” Did this “doctor” not attempt to offer immediate medical assistance? Why then is she not also in hospital?
Is the Novichok toxin designed to biodegrade so quickly after use that those who come into contact with it later will not be seriously harmed? Judging by the evidence trail still being uncovered, that doesn’t seem likely. If so, how to account for the effect on the Skripals and Sgt Bailey so many hours between the car being parked or the house contaminated and the victims being found? Were the Russian designers in the 1980s clever enough to give the toxicity of their poison a half-life?
* It now appears there was a second, unnamed police officer who was contaminated at the house. Why has he or she remained anonymous while Bailey was immediately named and hailed in the media as a ‘hero’? Was he or she another of the Skripals’ close protection detail?
Chapter 5: Half-life
One possible “signal” being sent by whoever was behind the attack might be a reminder that we seem to be entering a new Cold War, since Novichok was developed back in the 1980s and is supposedly by international convention no longer in military use. Less fashionably “retro” means of assassinating States’ enemies are now available, such as the VX agent used to kill Kim Jong-Nam, inconvenient half-brother of the North Korean tyrant.
Given the Novichok program involved around 100 different substances and was terminated decades ago and all old Soviet-era chemical weapons stocks verified (technically, at least) as destroyed, how did ‘Porton Down’ identify the substance so quickly and with such assurance, unless the chemical signature is held on an active database, presuming therefore that the Russians are suspected not to have destroyed their stocks?
(How is it the Russians imagine their heated denial of this weapon’s existence can possibly be believed, given the Soviet chemical weapons program was destroyed under international supervision and all items therefore presumably identified first? It’s absurd!)
…or unless the independent existence of the particular batch of toxin used was known about beforehand? A Guardian story suggests, for instance, that someone who had worked on the development program was involved in an attempt by organized criminals in the 1990s to make a batch of A232, some of which may have been used to assassinate a Russian banker and his secretary.
If that were the case, and the Russians were said to have complied with the conventions on chemical weapons, was Britain also reproducing these weapons or holding stocks in contravention of the conventions, or do the conventions allow multiple countries to retain samples for analytical purposes, for use in the production of antidotes (or illegal successor weapons)?
Was there something in Skripal’s KGB history linking him with the Novichok program, to make it an appropriate murder weapon? Did he for instance pass the formulae on to the British?
In which case, could the substance used indeed have come from Porton Down, as the Russians are now alleging, just eight miles from the scene of the crime? How? Who would have had access to it, and why that particular sample?
Was it needed in a hurry, that toxic substance directly traceable to a 30-years-old Soviet weapons program?
Two guinea-pigs? Cats, yes, very Ernst Stavro Blofeld… but who under the age of 13 still keeps guinea-pigs as pets?
Chapter 6: Assembly line
The nerve agent we are told was a highly active two-part compound for assembly immediately prior to use that would have had to be handled by someone extremely well trained and protected.
I don’t know what the original delivery system was supposed to be, an artillery shell possibly, but the idea of some Kremlin goon mixing it manually in the bedroom washbasin and then placing it somewhere the Skripals just might come into contact with it, without wearing a hazmat suit and respirator throughout the operation, is surely absurd.
Unless there’s a dead Russian agent slumped in a genteel B&B somewhere in rural southern England? (I’m still wondering how Dmitry Lugovoi managed to smuggle in enough radioactive polonium to kill Litvinenko and leave a glowing slime trail all over London for several days, yet not kill himself in the process?)
Could the Skripals have been making it themselves, for use in some other context, and fouled up? Would that explain why only they and Sgt Bailey were affected? Would it explain what was in the package Yulia Skripal had brought in from Moscow days earlier? Not a booby-trap, but the Novichok precursors ready for them to make up the final weapon? So who was the target? One week later, The Guardian reported:
“The family of the murdered Russian businessman Nikolai Glushkov have said they are devastated at his death and are helping counter-terrorism detectives with the investigation. The 68-year-old was found dead at his home in New Malden, south-west London, on 12 March (exactly a week after the supposed attack on the Skripals) and a postmortem showed he …”
Yes, the former finance director of Aeroflot who embezzled millions of dollars and served time for it had been strangled manually and then strung up to make it look like suicide – the method probably used to kill his billionaire business associate, Boris Berezovsky, at his home in Sunningdale in 2013.
Given the effectiveness of the polonium method (or VX, sarin, manual strangulation, or just a bullet) at causing a lingering public death, why revert instead to this old neurotoxin, that has not as far as we know been used anywhere else for a similar purpose, unless it was all there was to hand, in which case how so, or unless it was of some special significance in the coded world of Anglo-Russian espionage?
Were the Skripals on a mission to pay Sergei’s final debt to the GRU?
Chapter 7: Three-ring Circus
The Russians have offered no explanation on demand to the UK government, incurring the anger of politicians and a pretty fruitless exchange of diplomatic punishments and reprisals.
Mr Boris Johnson has put his foot in it yet again, stating that he had been categorically assured by “the guy” at Porton Down that the Novichok had been traced back to Russia. Shortly afterwards the Director of our loveliest weapons establishment went public with a statement saying they had not established where the stuff came from, it wasn’t their business to do that sort of thing.
The Russians had a field-day with that at the UN.
It appears then that Johnson was trying to hide the fact that British intelligence in Russia had passed the information through to MI6. Never a good thing to admit, since the Iraqi “Weapons of Mass Destruction” debacle, that we have agents abroad who could find their own feet.
Equally the UK government has refused to provide the evidence to the Russians they are accusing of a serious breach of international law. Why not? (The BBC is speculating we might have evidence, but just can’t admit it without being kind to Jeremy Corbyn, who has suggested everyone should look at it first. Politicians, eh?)
And why could we not wait the statutory ten days before hastening to conclusions and accusations, as mandated in the conventions? It has been said, the counter-terrorism forces’ investigations may go on for months, yet we rushed to judgement within hours, almost as if the story were pre-prepared.
Why? What was the timing about, why was it so critical – apart, that is, from having to get a story out fast enough to prevent a possible public health crisis and a panic once it had all gone wrong?
Chapter 8: Send in more clowns
At the time Skripal was apparently turned as a double agent by the British, was Christopher Steele not the MI6 bureau chief in Moscow, or some such?
Steele was the private security consultant responsible for digging up, on behalf it seems in turn both of the Republicans AND the Democrats via an obscure research outfit in Washington called Fusion GPS, what possible ‘dirt’ if any the Russians might have had on Donald Trump prior to his election. Information that could have been used in the US for good or ill – in the event, both.
In 2016, perturbed by what he was finding (his version goes) Steele sent the CIA and the FBI the controversial, so-called ‘pee-pee’ dossier – an uncollated set of 35 pages of previously unverified information supposedly gleaned from his Russian contacts that has substantially since been verified (to howls of “fake news” from the Trump camp) and is now a key part of the Mueller investigation into possible election fraud and financial crimes by the Trump team: an investigation Mr Trump seems almost recklessly keen to have shut down, for whatever reason.
My pet conspiracy theory is that Trump is desperate that it should not come out that he was compromised years ago, not by the Russians but by US intelligence, and was informing on his criminal Russian contacts.
Prudently, but perhaps also melodramatically, when the existence of the dossier became public knowledge in the USA, leaked to BuzzFeed, Steele “disappeared” with his family for several weeks before re-emerging, having seemingly been debriefed by the FBI. Clearly, there was some threat to their lives. But where from? And who spirited the Steeles away to a safe house? If it was his former friends in the security service, why would they do that?
Was Skripal one of Steele’s contacts? Could the attack on him be a warning to any others who might give information related to the Trump “conspiracy” and the part played in it by Mr Putin or possibly other, even more sinister criminal elements in the Kremlin?
I refer you to a curious interview by Emily Maitlis on the BBC’s Newsnight last Friday with longstanding Putin critic and fabulously wealthy exiled oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose view is that Putin has become the prisoner, the sock-puppet, of a gang of evil actors, mafioski he initially surrounded himself with but who have essentially been running things in Russia for the past few years.
I then refer you to a John Sweeney BBC Panorama documentary from 2016, and many other reports alluding to Mr Trump’s alleged financial connections with the Russian mafia, whose terrifying capo, Simeon Mogilevitch is said to have invested heavily but alas, disappointingly in his Atlantic City casino operations and other Trump properties; but must ask you not to jump to any conclusions.
For, here we find on a website called USNews.com, from January 2018: “Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson testified (to the increasimgly fractious and disorderly Senate Intelligence Committee) that the real-estate mogul built relationships with Russian gangsters, who were themselves tied to the Russian government.” (http://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2018-01-18/trump-had-ties-to-russian-mob-figures-fusion-gps-founder-testifies)
And over the weekend, it has emerged that the Cambridge, UK-based data analytics firm backed by Bannon’s former mentor Bob Mercer, allegedly involved in clandestine election-rigging ops using, effectively, hacked Facebook data – including the Trump campaign, Brexit and others – and connected with Wikileaks, purveyors of the Clinton emails – was also tied to Kremlin-backed oil giant, Lukoil in an apparently global attempt to “change the culture”.
At the very least, these revelations represent a rampng-up of the new Cold War rhetoric and a reason for these tit-for-tat sanctions, targeted assassinations (by no means confined to the UK), and punitive measures, to hijack the news agenda.
I finally rest my case on an interview on RT with veteran lefty investigator, John Pilger, who believes Theresa May has concocted the whole thing to make herself look competent and paint the poor Russians into a corner, or some such Pilgeresque paranoid drivel.
Is it all a case of a self-driving conspiracy, with no human agency at the wheel?
Mr Putin is later today being re-elected for another 6-year term as President. Once that formality has been completed we shall no doubt see where the Skripal saga takes us next.
The thick plottens…
“The information commissioner is seeking an urgent court warrant to enter the London headquarters of the elections consultancy Cambridge Analytica after the firm was caught in an undercover sting boasting about entrapping politicians, using honey traps and running fake news campaigns. Cyber-security consultants … who had been engaged by Facebook to do (an) audit, were at CA’s office in London on Monday evening when the ICO asked them to leave so the authorities could pursue their own investigation.” – Guardian
The ICO has been flagging up heavily in the media for the past 24 hours that she will be ‘seeking’ a warrant to invade Cambridge Analytica’s data files. If you were investigating breaches of the Data Protection Act and possible electoral finance offences, would you give a computer firm two days’ clear notice in which to scrub their files like a coalminer’s doorstep, if you didn’t for some reason want them to come out looking whiter than white?
What in God’s holy name is going on?
When not in Rome
Within hours of the incident unfolding in Salisbury, on the basis of secret intelligence, no doubt, British politicians including the bumptious oaf, Boris Johnson, and the new Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, an unindividuated teenager who keeps a pet tarantula in a vivarium in his office, were already pointing the finger at Vladimir Putin for ordering yet another targeted and messy assassination attempt on British soil.
Meanwhile in Nottingham, police have no idea weeks after the event if (in an incident caught on camera) an Egyptian engineering student, Mariam Moustafa, was the target of a racially aggravated assault, or what the motive was, after being chased off a bus and severely beaten while being racially abused by a gang of white girls.
They are keeping an open mind, apparently.
Mariam died in hospital three weeks later. The Health Board is “investigating” whether her death might possibly have been connected with the assault. The post mortem examination was “inconclusive”, the coroner has brought in an open verdict.
The BBC reports, her family is here (they live in Rome, where Mariam was born) looking for answers.
Good luck with that.
Pots, kettles (but no blacks)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the “extensive and fair investigation” had concluded that Mr McCabe “made an unauthorised disclosure to the news media and lacked candour – including under oath – on multiple occasions” – BBC News
Mr Sessions, who has previously admitted lying under oath about his communications over sanctions with the Russian ambassador, is obviously unaware that McCabe’s job description as acting director of the FBI made him specifically the person who authorized statements to the press on behalf of the agency.
Any disclosures he himself made or (as in this case) requested a spokesman to make on the agency’s behalf, would therefore have been authorized by him, no?
In the meantime Mr Trump has spewed out another in his weekly series of paranoid Sunday breakfast tweets today, accusing everyone of being traitors to America, unfair to him, of being in the pay of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNP, and libelling people he hates, McCabe, Comey, Special Counsel Bob Mueller, calling them out as liars and fakers of evidence. “NO COLLUSION!”, he screamed.
He gets more like Nixon by the hour.
His despairing lawyers are entirely unable to stop him doing it, but he is clearly unaware that as a result of his attempts to halt the Mueller investigation without actually firing Bob Mueller, a prima facie case for obstruction of justice is piling up behind him tweet by tweet like a vast heap of shit ready to topple and bury him forever. Not to mention the tiny question, what’s he trying so desperately to hide?
My treasured Follower, Mark Smith may have one possible answer, his Comment is on the previous Post.
I couldn’t, possibly.
(I have a theory that Mark C Smith is a collective pseudonym for GCHQ, I can’t be certain. All I know is, my Views for this and Pumpkin 48 have reached almost virulent numbers today. Starting from quite a low base, you understand.)
Bidness groups warmly welcome transition deal
The CBI has welcomed the deal in Brussels as “A victory for common sense”, insisting that it brings a welcome degree of certainty to British businesses. According to The Guardian:.
“…the transition deal is conditional upon there being a withdrawal agreement. As David Davis, the Brexit secretary, admitted recently, there is a possibility that the withdrawal agreement talks could collapse without a deal at the last moment. In those circumstances, there would be no transition…”
So, good, we’re all certain about that, then.
Davis and Barnier announce breakthrough agreement on Brexit transition.
GW: just drifting on by
Canada: Alberta blanketed with 30 cm snow after two storms collide. Houses buried to the eaves under 20ft drifts.
USA: Storms land on both coasts. Heavy snow blankets Massachusetts in the east, Oregon in the west. An ‘energetic Arctic jetstream’ is threatening another Nor’easter this week, catching Alabama in the middle with ‘tornadic supercells’ with a high chance of damaging hailstorms. And another ‘Pineapple Express’ atmospheric river is set to bring big rain, possibly triggering more landslips on wildfire-damaged hillsides, to southern California.
Italy: Lit-up by exploding electricity substations, a huge tornado rips through Caserta, near Naples, on the night of 13 March.
Romania: Extensive flooding from rain and snowmelt. Croatia: heavy rain and snowmelt trigger mudslides, carrying away houses.
Ireland: Under several yellow warnings for extensive flooding following intense rainfall, 14 March.
Britain: greets curtain-call of the Beast from the East March 17/18 with two days of freezing weather and snowfalls disrupting schools, traffic and flights.
Australia: Cat 2 Cyclone Marcus kicks off the season, nibbling at northern coastal areas around Darwin and Kimberley with 130 Km/h windspeeds, uprooting large trees and damaging cars and buildings. Meanwhile… Sydney swelters in early autumn 40C, 104F heatwave, a lightning storm puts a power station out of action at Terang and rural properties are lost to an “out-of-control” wildfire burning around Brega in Victoria state.
(The NOAA 5-day forecast track for Marcus seems to be showing a slight possibility that having now headed out into the Southern Ocean, it could swing back toward land somewhere north of Perth, Western Australia state.)
Thailand: ‘freak’ storm with cyclonic wind, hail causes floods, damage. Indonesia: Java flooding.
Africa: floods in Kenya, Uganda and Lesotho, where 5 people died in an intense hailstorm. Madagascar, yet another cyclone, Eliakim brings strong winds and flooding.
World: Despite the Beast and the Nor’easters, February managed 6th warmest on record globally, thanks to persistent heat anomalies in the Arctic and across Africa, Australia/New Zealand and central Asia. It’s been a wild winter in the northern hemisphere, but as March progresses there seems to be some flattening-out of the global extremes and some cooling-off in the Arctic that is extending the icefields again, although larger temperature anomalies are appearing in the Antarctic now.
The good news for Europe at least is that the polar jetstream that wandered all the way down to North Africa for months, bringing very cold conditions, may be slowly making its way back north again. Of course, that would bring heat up from Africa, presaging another extremely hot European summer, with more wildfires and probable crop losses.
Climate & Extreme Weather News #103, pt 2, citing Euronews/ Wunderground