Where could you get a nerve agent in Salisbury?

Conspiracy theorists, especially those in the mainstream media and political spheres, seem to have no real imagination these days. Just look at how they have responded to news of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and police Sergeant Nick Bailey in Salisbury, UK, last week.

Isn’t it just too easy to claim “Putin did it” these days? Yes, Skripal is a Russian and former spy for the UK MI6 who ended up in the UK as part of a spy exchange. And yes, there is a compulsion for western media and politicians to demonise the Russian Federation and their president every chance they get. But isn’t that particular conspiracy theory rather thoughtless – the conspiracy theory you automatically go with when you haven’t the energy or skills to actually look for something in the way of evidence.

As we would say in New Zealand – a “Clayton’s conspiracy theory.” The conspiracy theory you use when you don’t have a conspiracy theory! (For the uninformed, this comes from an old advertisement for alcohol-free drinks).

Why can’t the news media, seeing they are only speculating at this stage anyway, look at little closer to home for the source of the nerve agent used in the poisonings?

Only a short distance from Salisbury (8.1 km if you are a crow or an 18 min drive is Porton Down. This is the site of the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory – known for over 100 years as one of the UK’s most secretive and controversial military research facilities. And well-known for their secretive work on chemical and biological weapons.

The map above shows how quickly one would get to Porton Down from Salisbury and back

Even closer (only a 15 min drive, or 6 km for crows) is the Defence Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Centre (the Defence CBRN Centre or DCBRNC for short) at Winterbourne Gunner in Wiltshire. It is a tri-service site, with the Royal Air Force being the lead service. The centre is responsible for all training issues relating to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defence and warfare for the UK’s armed forces.

The map below shows how short the trip is to this facility from Salisbury.

Porton Down has barely been mentioned in the media reports of this poisoning – except more recently because experts from Porton Down are participating in the inquiry. But it seems to me rather fanciful that Russophobe conspiracy theorist Luke Harding should rave on about a weapons lab in Moscow that might not even exist as a possible source of the nerve agent and ignore this other source much, much, closer to Salisbury (see Russia’s Lab X: poison factory that helped silence Soviets’ critics).

Hopefully, the current inquiry will be open and come to a satisfactory conclusion (unlike the Litvinenko inquiry) and, given the murky world of spies and ex-spies, nothing would surprise me.

However, I do wish our mainstream media could surprise me once in a while by refusing to follow the obligatory narratives and perhaps do some speculating using real evidence.

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34 responses to “Where could you get a nerve agent in Salisbury?

  1. So many of the newspaper articles state firmly and ominously, a rare nerve agent like this can only come from a state sponsored laboratory.
    Well yeah, and Porton Down is just up the road.
    It seems Skripal was still working for M16 and met with his old recruiter Pablo Miller regularly at a restaurant in Salisbury.
    Pablo also lives in Salisbury.
    Conveniently close to Porton Down?
    All the fuss about washing clothes and bringing in the army to remove contaminated objects when the first to have anything to do with the couple, a doctor cleared Yulia’s airways, put her in the recovery position , and stayed with her for 30 minutes…. with no medical consequences whatsoever.
    Another Russian exile said Skripal had taken to visiting the Russian Embassy regularly
    Was he in danger of spilling M16 secrets?
    Was he perhaps doing a little job for M16 (to keep his pension coming) transferring a nerve toxin via his daughter, maybe ending up in Syria?
    I can think of many scenarios, but you can bet your boots this will be milked for every gain you can think of
    Getting the EU on board to stop Nordstream
    Putting more sanctions on Russia
    Getting more funding for the intelligence agencies
    “Sending a message” to Putin over Syria
    Getting a more muscular Magnitsky Act passed
    Interfering in the Russian elections… next week
    Boycotting of the World Cup in Russia

    Anyone who smells something a bit familiar and a bit putrid about all of this, here’s a few links

    http://www.moonofalabama.org/2018/03/spy-posions-spy-and-the-anti-trump-campaign.html
    read the comments which provide more links
    https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-chemical-weapons-destruction-united-states-stockpile/28760622.html
    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/sergei-skripal-litvinenko-poisoning-russia-spy-salisbury-kgb-mi6-informant-swap-a8244356.html
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/sergei-skripal-regular-contact-russian-embassy-former-kremlin-officer-spy-poison-nerve-agent-a8244926.html

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  2. David Fierstien

    Just out of curiosity, can you also get polonium 210 just up the road?

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  3. Well actually yes David, much closer to home
    Polonium is present in tobacco smoke, so a little trip to the local dairy will see you right

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  4. This morning RNZ reported Theresa May as saying it is “highly likely” that Moscow was behind the attack; also that the nerve agent used, novichok, was of a family developed and produced by Russia.

    Similar reports are provided by the BBC and the Guardian.

    For a conspiracy that the UK did the deed to have any veracity, I would have to question the UK location of the chemical factory required for production of usable quantities of the nerve agent.

    The UK has been open about its production of chemical weapons. Records show the only chemical factory for nerve agents built in the UK (Nancekuke) was for sarin and VK. It produced a small amount before 1956 then was mothballed, well before novichok was developed by Russia, until it was demolished in 1980.

    So, given that the UK does not have the ability to manufacture novichok, for the conspiracy to exist, the UK would necessarily have been allowed to acquire novichok from those highly monitored and defended locations where it is produced and kept in Russia. I hardly think so.

    Ockham’s razor applies here just as much as it does in science.

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  5. David, I will take a leaf out of Prime Minister May’s book and say it is “highly likely” you can get Po-210 just up the road. Now, on the basis of that, we should go to war with each other. 🙂

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  6. Stuart, “highly likely” was also the phrase used in the report from the secret investigation of Litvinenko’s murder. It’s a political code for “we don’t know but we want to blame someone.”
    I expect (and it will be thoroughly disappointing) that any investigation into these poisonings will also be secret

    No state is open about its secret weapons production, storage and research – especially its chemical and biological weapons – or do you take as factual the Russian assurances that it has followed international obligations and destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile?

    But, of course, this is politics, not science. And we are in the midst of a very intense geopolitical struggle involving an information war. Unfortunately people “take sides” (or confirm biases) on the basis of minimal or manufactured evidence. And a lot of straw clutching is involved in this.

    The situation parallels that of the investigation into the tragic destruction of Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine where the joint investigation team (which included one of the possible guilty parties) ignored all the Buk missile systems under control of the Ukranian army (many situated in the eastern region) so had to go with a rather mythical and tedious transport of a system from another country – and its return after “doing the deed” – suggested by a social media activist!

    But anything goes in the geopolitical struggle. I fully expect to see a further round of sanctions and even withdrawal from the World Cup (a target British politicians have often mentioned – or let slip in unguarded moments). And I fully expect that these actions will not be based on an open or public investigation. But I would be pleased to be proved wrong for once.

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  7. Reenmac, your comment brings back memories.

    I met the famous NZ Nobel winning scientist Ernie Marsden (who worked with Rutherford and Geiger), in the early 60s. Between his retirement and death he did a bit of personal research on the possible role of polonium in cigarettes as an explanation of their ability to cause cancer.

    I met Marsden as he laboured over a cigarette smoking machine in a room next to the laboratory I was working in. I have the memory of a rather pleasant and chatty elderly gentleman patiently knocking the ash off a row of smoking cigarettes as he explained his hypothesis to me.

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  8. Nerve agents are still produced at Porton Down
    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2004/may/06/science.research
    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-truth-about-porton-down
    Novichok agents have never been used before, their properties are hard to verify
    Interesting that Porton Down , in very short order managed to identify it, despite the fact that it has never been used previously
    If they are producing small quantities of other nerve agents, to help research antidotes,why not Novichok?
    The laboratory at Porton Down is perfectly capable of producing the Novichok class of nerve agents
    Porton Down has always been highly secretive and not averse to testing its products on human guinea pigs

    Secondly, The USSR has unravelled in to many other entities
    Uzbekistan for instance, where , supposedly novichok type nerve agents were produced, and where the US assisted in dismantling the laboratory, and decontamination
    So in answer to you

    Porton Down admits to producing small amounts of nerve agents
    Uzbekistan produced Novichok
    What proof is there that Russia is producing Novichoks
    Russia has recently , and ahead of time destroyed all its stocks of chemical weapons
    US lagging behind

    Lastly, I think you’ll find it’s Occam’s razor
    Ockham sponsors fiction in NZ

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  9. Ken, wonderful anecdote!

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  10. I think PM May is getting in over her head on the basis of no, as yet, evidence. I suspect a strong pressure is being applied and it is part of a long-term geopolitical strategy, anyway.

    Her false bravado in the way she speaks to the representatives of the Russian Federation could have serious consequences, consequences not necessarily to the liking of May and her backers.

    Russian Senator and intelligence veteran Igor Morozov has pointed out:

    “The British must realize that they will face a very stiff response from Russia, and our position will be restrained and adequate, but bold. We will see what the London move will be and respond to this challenge.”

    The head of the Russian Federation’s Federal Council committee tasked with protecting Russia’s sovereignty, Senator Andrey Klimov, has said:

    “If the UK decides to expel Russian diplomats in connection with the Skripal case, Moscow’s response will be adequate and swift, this situation as a whole looks like a well thought-out anti-Russian move”

    Maybe “well thought-out” but a protagonist in their thinking often under-estimates possible responses of their opponent.

    This is a nasty situation.

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  11. I notice that back on March 8th Dan Kaszeta ,writing for Bellingcat was preparing the ground for Novichoks
    https://www.bellingcat.com/resources/articles/2018/03/08/nerve-agents-what-are-they/#comments
    The first mention of what may prove to be mythical Novichoks was on the very eve of Russia signing the Chemical weapons Convention in 1992
    Mirzayanov, a Russian chemist now living in the US blew the whistle on a new chemical weapon
    Extremely potent fourth-generation chemical weapons were developed in the Soviet Union and Russia from the 1970s until the early 1990s, according to a publication by two chemists, Lev Fedorov and Vil Mirzayanov in Moskovskiye Novosti weekly in 1992.[9][10] The publication appeared just on the eve of Russia’s signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention. According to Mirzayanov, the Russian Military Chemical Complex (MCC) was using defense conversion money received from the West for development of a chemical warfare facility.[2][3] Mirzayanov made his disclosure out of environmental concerns. He was a head of a counter-intelligence department and performed measurements outside the chemical weapons facilities to make sure that foreign spies could not detect any traces of production. To his horror, the levels of deadly substances were 80 times greater than the maximum safe concentration.[3] (A full account by Mirzayanov is available online.[11])
    Now, hot on the heels of Russia announcing, to the applause of the OPCW
    the destruction of all its chemical weapon stockpile

    https://www.opcw.org/news/article/opcw-marks-completion-of-destruction-of-russian-chemical-weapons-stockpile/

    up pops the golden goose , Novichok to lay another golden egg

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  12. AS always, Alexander Mercouris can be relied on for a thoughtful and intelligent analysis. This article, “Skripal case: Theresa May now demands Russia prove itself innocent,” is certainly interesting and his arguments should be considered –
    http://theduran.com/skripal-case-theresa-may-now-demands-russia-prove-itself-innocent/

    Liked by 1 person

  13. reenmac,

    Did you actually read those references you supplied? Neither tells us that nerve agents have ever been made at Porton Down, merely that Porton Down is the UK centre for research into the effects of nerve agents, protection from them, treatment of their effects, and potential medications prophylactic against them.

    Porton Down has had about a week to run specimens through equipment specifically manufactured to rapidly identify nerve agents in case the UK is subjected to attack. Why are you surprised that they can identify an agent when both of your references tell us that their job is precisely that?

    The novichok family of nerve agents have been known about, in the “western” world, since at least the 1990s. Russia has acknowledged that they developed and manufactured them in the 1970s/1980s. So Porton Down has known about them for at least a quarter century. They are not new agents. My ageing (medical) textbook on NBC warfare covers their immediate and long term effects, and also covers potential treatments.

    Ockham’s razor – attributed to William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), a Franciscan friar. Also known as Occam’s razor or Ocham’s razor. I guess the spelling is down to where you received your classical and scientific education. That part of mine was from a more recent Franciscan friar.

    Ken,

    I’m not taking a stand on causes or origins of the illness affecting the Skripals; I simply don’t have enough information from good enough sources.

    Theresa May has advisors in both the medical and chemical warfare fields, but their advice is being filtered through political minds and the public is receiving only part of the information available – that part which politicians consider that the public will find acceptable.

    The novichok family of nerve agents were not well know among the general public before they were mentioned by Theresa May, even though they were well known to the military establishment and to some of the medical establishment. It is therefore probable (but not certain) by their mention that Porton Down has identified a novochik agent in samples they were sent.

    My textbook tells me that Russia has admitted the development and manufacture of the fourth-generation novichok nerve agents and that the USA and UK have both denied manufacture of those same agents. The UK admits to manufacture of ~20 tons of sarin and test amounts of VK, both of them at its Nancekuke facility, before 1956. They claim that they have not manufactured any chemical warfare agents since then. Wikipedia appears to support those claims.

    I have no sources nor knowledge of whether other countries that have manufactured nerve agents, or which are suspected of having manufactured nerve agents, have ever produced the novichok family of agents. That also means, of course, that I am unable to rule out those 20 or so countries as a source of novichok agents.

    All I can say is that it is unlikely that the novichok agent (if that is indeed what it was) originated in the UK.

    Given all of that, and applying Ockham’s razor to the little information that is available, I think that the claims attributing the illness of the Skripals to a conspiracy originating within the UK are somewhat far-fetched.

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  14. I don’t agree, Stuart.

    It would be completely normal and expected that a good quality lab dealing with chemical weapons should have stocks of this nerve agent. In fact, when the US assisted in the destruction and removal of this specific agent from the manufacturing plant in one of the ex-Soviet republics (can’t remember which at the moment) I would have exp[ected the USA and its allies to have kept some of the material for their own work. I expect this also happened when the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles were removed and destroyed.

    Even if the sole purpose of maintaining such stocks is to assist in their detection it is completely normal for Porton Down to have stocks. The very (claimed) fact experts from Porton Down were able to identify this material so quickly suggests to the mind of this chemist that they would have at least had samples in their stocks.

    As for May’s reaction – commentators suggest she has unwillingly been pushed into this apparently strong stance. She is in an extremely weak political position at the moment and very likely unable to stand against the extreme pressure coming from her cabinet and political/ideological forces in the UK and USA.

    Her very use of words like “likely,” “probably,” and “possibly” indicates that the UK does not have any evidence that would stand up in a real couirt of law. In fact, may have no evidence except the chemical nature of the agent. And this is occurring within a manufactured atmosphere which is painting the Russian Federation as a rogue state and its president as evil. There is constant pressure to proclaim further sanctions, the expulsion of diplomats, boycotting contacts (eg World Cup), support sporting boycotts (the drug scandal) ban alternative media sources like RT and Sputnik, prevent MPs from being interviewed by these alternative agencies and to force UK citizen with programmes on those channels to withdraw. There are attempts to blame the Russian Federation for all the ills of countries like the UK, USA, and Europe – to pretend that any electoral result is caused by Russian meddling. That any social problem is being manufactured by Russian influence in social media.

    The current liberation of terrorist-held territory in Syria is also hurting those particular western political forces – they had hoped to use these head choppers to enforce another regime change. the fact that the Russian Federation is helping to prevent that is casuing a lot of angst at the moment. The international situation at the moment is very stressed.

    So there is plenty of scope for conspiracy theories.

    I do not let any state off the hook. Personally, I can see a scenario where the nerve agent came from a Russian or Russian-affiliated source. But equally, I can see it coming from a British or US source. And the fact that Porton Down is just up the road makes this very credible.

    After all, what would the Russian Federation or its president have to gain? I do not buy the fable that this helps Putin’s re-election of Sunday – if anything it would just encourage Navalny’s boycott movement. At the moment the only loser is the Russian Federation and Putin. But western ideologues have a lot to gain from this incident.

    However, as this proceeds, and if the threatened strong action is taken against the Russian Federation, I think we will all be losers. The Russian Federation is not in any mind to be pushed around anymore like this and they will retaliate against any action taken by the UK, the USA, and NATO as a result of what happened in Salisbury. Of course, they cannot directly influence the political atmosphere in the UK. But their recovery from a near complete collapse in the 90s has come a long way and they have proven capable of taking retaliatory political and economic reactions which can be very painful.

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  15. Stuart
    from the link
    To help develop effective medical countermeasures and to test systems, we produce very small quantities of chemical and biological agents. They are stored securely and disposed of safely when they are no longer required.

    from Wiki
    Like other aspects of research at Porton Down, precise details of animal experiments are generally kept secret. Media reports have suggested they include exposing monkeys to anthrax, draining the blood of pigs and injecting them with E. coli bacteria, and exposing animals to a variety of lethal, toxic nerve agents.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36606510
    where the journalist witnesses a bath of VX being made up at Porton Down
    Thanks for the info on Ockham, interesting

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  16. Ken,

    As a chemist you should be already aware that in order to identify a compound in a specimen it is not necessary for an investigating laboratory or agency to actually possess stocks of the compound.

    Local examples would be Hamilton Pathlab and Waikato hospital labs not requiring stocks of cholesterol in order to be able to detect cholesterol in a specimen. Supplies of the cholesterol, in precisely measured concentrations, are only needed as controls in order to accurately quantify levels of cholesterol, ie measure the concentration in serum.

    Urine drug testing, as used by commercial companies and even WINZ in Hamilton, detects the presence of meth, cannabinoids, narcotics, etc, in urine. But neither the company nor WINZ needs to stock meth, cannabinoids, narcotics, etc, in order to detect the presence of those compounds in a potential employees urine.

    Pregnancy test users do not require stocks of human choriogenic gonadotropin at home in order to detect the compound in urine.

    We have no information as to the nature of the specimen in which novichok was detected, only that it has been detected. We have no information at all whether novichok levels have been quantified.

    From the meagre information that we do have, a conclusion that Porton Down has stocks of novichok is entirely speculative and unjustified.

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  17. reenmac,

    “Like other aspects of research at Porton Down, precise details of … experiments are generally kept secret.”

    There’s a reason for that.

    My textbook does provide many of the details, even though it’s not from Porton Down. Many of the first pages of the book comprise lots of legal material and warnings.

    Btw, some information that doesn’t appear to have been filtered by politicians: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/public-health-england-statement-regarding-events-in-salisbury You might want to locate Public Health England on a map.

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  18. As a chemist, I would want my own standard samples – especially for a rare or unknown compound. And certainly, if I were developing methods I would absolutely need my own standard materials – either synthesised or got from elsewhere. That is why I am sure Porton Down has its own samples.

    But, yes, this is speculation on my part. I am not in the position to know for sure – few people are. All I can do is go one up on May and say my suggestion is “highly likely.” It wouldn’t stand up in court – neither would May’s current story.

    The problem is that all we have in this situation is speculation – and it appears that is all the UK government has as well. In this situation, political prejudice and confirmation bias play a huge role – as does group thinking and prevailing political pressure.

    I have more of an open mind than most on such things (I am not Russophobic) and can see possible conspiracies involving the UK and USA just as clearly as I can see possible conspiracies involving the Russian state, or Russian criminal elements.

    And if we are going to rely on speculative motives (and let’s face it the media and politicians are doing exactly that at the moment) I actually think conspiracies involving the UK state are more credible. Currently, the state and major politicians in the Russian Federation are very much losing as a result of what has happened, yet the major political forces in the US, UK and NATO (and their friends active in Russia) are winning by these actions. I think it would have been incredibly stupid of the Russian political leadership to have sanctioned this action (nothing to gain but everything to lose) – but very clever of political leadership in the US, UK or NATO to have sanctioned it.

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  19. It’s pretty clear to me that the example followed for this attack was in the same spirit of that voiced by our own Minister of Defence (Gavin Williamson) last year, when he threatened enemies of the UK in the Middle East with instant death by drone.

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  20. This theory that, “It would be completely normal and expected that a good quality lab (Porton Down) dealing with chemical weapons should have stocks of this nerve agent,” therefore the Russians must be completely innocent, is a far reach at best. At worst, it’s parroting Russian State propaganda.

    This question of whether Porton Down had it or not is irrelevant. Why?

    It would also be completely normal and expected that a good quality lab would have inventoried its stocks of chemical weapons and would have known if anything was missing, or at least out of the ordinary. Therefore, when someone like Scotland Yard says that all evidence points toward Russia being behind this assassination, it would have been completely normal and expected that State Law Enforcement would have looked at the inventories of the nearest good quality lab which would have had stockpiles of this nerve agent. And Scotland Yard would have known that the nerve agent didn’t come from Porton Down. Otherwise the statement wouldn’t have been issued that all evidence points toward Russia.

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  21. Yes, of course, David, an inquiry worth its salt will look at the records of Perton Down and, hopefully, request the same thing of its allies – particularly the USA. The inquiry held by the Russian Federation will presumably do the same.

    But these inquiries have hardly started and May’s statements are politically based – not based on any evidence form an inquiry. How could they be with the experts telling us such an inquiry is going to take months.

    the danger is that with such a huge political investment an inquiry is going to be very constrained so as not to produce results countering the political claims. I think that the inquiry and judgments will be made ins secret – possibly being justified on security grounds. As happened in the Litvinenko case.

    You say “otherwise the statement wouldn’t have been issued that all evidence points toward Russia.” But that is exactly the point. The statement has been made before any inquiry has progressed. It has been made for political reasons and to precipitate political actions which, as is being acknowledged, have been in preparation for some time.

    So far – what is the evidence that “points toward Russia.”

    1: One of the victims was a double agent, and most recently, a British agent who had betrayed his country, the Russian Federation.
    2: His daughter is a Russian citizen.
    3: The name of the possible poison used is Russian (Novichok – not used by Russians but by western experts) – or more correctly the chemical agent identified (to the extent it has been identified) is thought to belong to a class of chemical agents which has been labeled with that name.

    As for 1 – in the murky world of spying and today’s intelligence bodies (Skipal was most probably working recently for British state agencies) all sorts of things happen. It is naive in the extreme to think that only agents of the Russian state would take such actions – (and I am no way saying Russian State agencies wouldn’t – just that it is extremely naive to assume only they would). On the other hand, he had been caught as an anti-Russian spy, punished, released and pardoned and then exchanged for Russian spies. One would have thought the Russian Federation had considered that matter closed – but as I say the intelligence world is very murky – in the UK as well as Russia.

    There is a range of conspiracy theories which can be (and are being) advanced implicating a range of countries. One has to be very prejudiced to land on any one of these conspiracy theories with no supporting evidence – and there is none at this stage. It is always dangerous to make prejudiced assumptions (and then act on them) at such an early stage.

    Regarding 2 – some theories suggest Yulia was the target and the conspiracy theories supporting that suggestion are just as credible and unsupported as the on advanced by May. Actually, more supported because of recorded claims made by her friends who are now denied access to and information on her.

    Incidentally, Yulia is being denied her rights to consular access which are guaranteed under international law. The secrecy around her and her father, and around the police officer now released from hospital give an indication of how unsatisfactory this whole situation is.

    3: May’s use of the name “novichok” has enabled a lot of hunting around by various people and we now know a lot more about these agents than we did before (which was mainly on the basis of a TV thriller). It seems that the claim Russia developed these chemicals is false – they were developed in the USSR, some of the scientists involved in the work moved to the west when the USSR collapsed. The plant producing these chemicals was in Uzbekistan and it was dismantled and stocks destroyed in the 90s with the help of the USA which was an ally of Uzbekistan at the time.

    Last September international treaty officials, including UK representatives, confirmed that the Russian Federation had dismantled all plants for producing chemical weapons and destroyed all stock in fulfillment of their obligations under the treaty. They congratulated the Russian Federation on this fulfillment in a ceremony at the tui=ime. The UK and USA have yet to fulfill these obligations (the USA claims it cannot afford to – yeah, right).

    I do not know the details but imagine the treaty may allow member states to maintain some samples for research and identification purposes. This tells me that any number of countries could be the source of the material used in Salisbury (including the Russian Federation, USA, and UK). I think May is lying to claim it was military grade material (in the sense of weaponised material) – if it had been then the victims would be dead – and many others would have too.

    So, at this stage the whole situation is wide open – the political claims are worth nothing as far as facts are concerned. The inquiries should be left to proceed – in fact, they should be helped to succeed. The UK should assist the Russian Federation and vice versa in these inquiries. In fact, any sample that the Russian Federation has legally will be invaluable in detecting the origins of the material by high-resolution analysis. The UK refusal to cooperate with the Russian Federation, together with international treaty bodies is, in my mind, very suspicious.

    But, even more seriously, the UK Foreign Minister has made a specific charge which he claims the UK has evidence for – that the Russian Federation has been illegally researching and stocking chemical warfare agents. That is an extremely serious charge which should be investigated properly as such actions would mean the Russian Federation is violating the treaty. The UK is obliged to provide that evidence to the international body which can then investigate it. The Russian Federation has committed itself to cooperating in that investigation.

    It will be very telling if, as I suspect, Boris Johnson does not proceed with his obligations stemming from this claim.

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  22. David
    You have utter confidence it seems in the strict impartiality of the UK govt. institution,Porton Down, which has a record of being highly secretive, and not particularly ethical
    Do you accord the same confidence to the Russian scientists involved in the counterpart institutions?Who no doubt will be undergoing the same reviews
    I find it interesting that in the MH17 enquiry, Almay -Antez, evidence and information was viewed with suspicion and discounted because it is a Russian state institution, therefore its evidence was deemed tainted
    To that I say sauce for the goose…
    Are your views based on the notion that Russians are uniquely dishonest?

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  23. Reenmac, are my views based on the notion that Russians are uniquely dishonest? Absolutely not. I have never said or implied anything negative about the Russian people, and I challenge you, or anyone else, to show me where I have.

    Are my views based on the idea that the Russian government is uniquely dishonest? No, the Russian government seems to be uniquely victimized by accusation. Whenever a political opponent gets whacked, of course the Kremlin gets blamed. For example, the murder of this guy, Boris Nemtsov, who was who was shot on a very highly surveilled bridge near the Kremlin, had, of course, been blamed on the Kremlin.

    Ben Judah, of The Daily Telegraph, wrote that the Kremlin “either ordered or allowed [Nemtsov’s murder] to happen”, saying that “Nothing Boris Nemtsov did was not bugged, tailed, filmed or monitored by the secret police. It is quite simply impossible that this man could have been shot dead without the Kremlin knowing there was a plot afoot to kill him.” And yet there was not one shred of evidence linking the Kremlin to this murder. At the time he was shot, every surveillance camera on that bridge had been switched off for maintenance, except one, which offered a grainy video of a snow-plow blocking the actual murder. And yet, because of this media conspiracy, the Kremlin gets blamed.

    Whenever an opposition journalist in Russia gets killed, the Kremlin gets blamed. For example, this hack Anna Politkovskya criticizes Putin, gets herself killed, and all of a sudden it’s the Kremlin’s fault.

    The downing of MH 17, which you mentioned, is another great example of an international conspiracy to blame the Russian military for something. RT initially reported that the flight may have been shot down in an attempt to assassinate Vladimir Putin; and you’re right, stories like this were conveniently dismissed.

    On the other hand, The Russian Investigative Committee, headed by Alexander Bastrykin, a former university classmate of Vladimir Putin, insisted that a Ukrainian pilot, Captain Vladislav Voloshin (who, oddly enough, was found shot dead in his own home) shot MH 17 down with an air-to-air missile. And of course, that was dismissed as nonsense by both the JIT & the Final Dutch Safety Board’s reports, both which conspired to reach the same conclusion that MH 17 was shot down by a Buk 9M38-series surface-to-air missile with a 9N314M warhead.

    By the way, during the investigation, the JIT interviewed 200 witnesses, collected half a million photos and videos and analyzed 150,000 intercepted phone calls. How much investigation have you, personally, done on this subject to reach your conclusion that, “evidence and information was viewed with suspicion and discounted because it is a Russian state institution, therefore its evidence was deemed tainted?”

    I would really enjoy seeing an answer to that question.

    You say, “Porton Down, which has a record of being highly secretive, and not particularly ethical.” Let’s be clear about what you mean by “not particularly ethical.” Are you discussing animal experimentation? Because if you are, every time you use deodorant you, yourself are complicit in this same unethical behavior.

    “Highly secretive?” Do you mean because the Russian government demanded full and open access to all Porton Down records and the request was denied? Hmm, . . . I wonder why a government military research facility wouldn’t open its records to a foreign government, who asked very nicely by the way.

    Your blatant tactic of attacking those who dare to question the guilt of a regime which so often appears to be at the center of highly suspicious activity and death is tired and old. Your blind defense of that regime is beyond bizarre. Hell, I can’t even get Ken to admit that the Russian Air Force was responsible for collateral damage in Syria. Hell, I caught Russian apologist, Alexander Mercouris, (who, by the way, was disbarred for making a series of outlandish assertions – including the claim that he had been kidnapped and blackmailed by one of Britain’s most senior judges) in a blatant lie regarding the Mueller Investigation. I must have beat Ken over the head with it a dozen times, and he still wouldn’t admit that Mercouris was a liar.

    As I said, your defense of a regime which has become famous for the murders of its own journalists is beyond bizarre, especially in light of your last sentence in which you appear to accuse me of being unfair to the Russian people, and imply that you are their defender.

    Like

  24. Lets keep our comments to the Skripal poisoning, which is what this thread is about
    I absolutely cannot be bothered relitigating everything Putin/Russia has been
    accused of
    God, we could even stray into David Kelley’s demise and be here for the rest of our lives
    My defense is not of the Russian government or Putin, it’s a plea for an honest investigation , stripped of geoplitical ambition and propaganda.
    Write a book , David , you clearly have a lot to get off your chest
    Many articles will inform you of Porton Down’s past
    experiments on unwitting humans, and its extreme secrecy
    Here’s one which covers both , as you must have missed the ones I already posted

    http://www.europereloaded.com/porton-gruesome-secretive-past-britains-chemical-weapons-facility/
    By the way, you didn’t answer my questions

    Like

  25. Yes, David, your response reeks of Russophobia, and I can legitimately call it an example of anti-Russian Racism.

    You assume guilt and then search for some handy media extract to “prove” it – to confirm your bias.

    Stuff the legal investigations of the murders of Boris Nemtsov and Anna Politkovskya. Stuff the fact that most of those found guilty of Nemtsov’s murder have been imprisoned (and one is still on the run). No, you go with the completely mindless accusation that the Kremlin is responsible. Completely mindless, but unfortunately heavily promoted and relatively common these days.

    You rush to support an interim report on the MH17 tragedy, ignoring the fact that only one possible (but highly improbable) hypothesis was investigated. Hell, you would have thought the large number of BUK missile systems in the hands of the Ukrainian army (and the one in the hands of the rebel forces) and based in the area would have been checked out.

    The problem with the JIT report and investigation is that the Ukranian government is part of the JIT. As a possible suspect, they should never have been included.

    Another glaring problem is the refusal to consider the technical and radar information from the actual manufacturers of the BUK missile systems which strongly suggest an older version of the missile not used by the Russian forces (but standard for the Ukrainians) and pinpoints a launch site in territory held by the Ukrainian army.

    Of course you suffer from Russophobia – you are not alone in that. it is heavilky promoted in our scoeity. It is what has enabled the UK to achieve a partial unity in diplomatic and sanctions actuals against the Russian Federation despite never producing any evidence to support their claim of Russian involvement in the murder of the Skipals.

    Hell, we see the same effect of this mindless Pavlovian russophobia or racism in New Zealand. Our government is currently being pressured by the US, UK, atc., to expel some Russian diplomats. It will probably buckle under that pressure. But it won’t do so as a result of any actual factual information showing Russian guilt.

    Like

  26. Reenman, thank you for the link. It was informative. It is also interesting that you are so apprised on a UK military research facility that has only come under the public (and by public, I mean the global public) eye a few weeks ago. Of course, your article did refer to animal experimentation. As a modern human being who uses cosmetic products, you are complicit in these activities. But human beings were also mentioned as being used as guinea pigs.

    As you probably know, the U.S. has been guilty of similar experiments. In those cases, like the CIA & LSD in the 1950s, the Tuskegee experiment, etc., compensation was paid to those victims. Your article didn’t mention if compensation was paid out to relatives of victims. To my knowledge, it is not U.S. policy to experiment on human beings any more to determine the lethal-ness of a chemical or biological agent.

    You have asked, “Do you accord the same confidence to the Russian scientists involved in the counterpart institutions?”

    I would be interested in knowing what would happen to any serious investigator within the borders of the Russian Federation who questioned and exposed Russian policy on human experimentation in Russian “counterpart institutions.” Out of curiosity, I took a look at the Wikipedia article, “Poison laboratory of the Soviet Secret Services,” which extends to current times, and would therefore include the Russian Federation. Interestingly, it included this: “Journalist Anna Politkovskaya. During the Beslan school hostage crisis in September 2004 and while on her way to Beslan to help in negotiations with the hostage-takers, Politkovskaya fell violently ill and lost consciousness after drinking tea given to her by an Aeroflot flight attendant.[20] She survived. The drug was allegedly prepared in the FSB poison facility.”

    So, back on topic, would I accord the same confidence to the Russian scientists involved in counterpart institutions? I guess that would depend on a case-by-case situation. For example, if the shoe were on the other foot, if a Russian spy who spied on the Brits had been murdered within miles of a Russian secret military facility . . If the director of that facility said there was “no way” that the toxic agent came from his facility . . knowing that inventory lists would be the First Thing that State Law Enforcement would look at on Day One . . and knowing that this classified information would be shared with the Russian head of state . . and knowing that the Russian head of state shared this classified information with other heads of state . . and knowing that, thus far, 28 countries agreed that this classified information was damning enough for them to make the bold move of expelling British diplomats from their own countries, . . . and knowing that among those 28 countries was the United States, whose leader has never once criticized the head of the country in question (the U.K., in this case) but has nonetheless criticized every other human being with whom he has come in contact . . . . . . . . . then yeah, I would probably accord the same confidence to the Russian scientists involved in counterpart institutions. I hope that answers your question.

    As to your other question: (“By the way, you didn’t answer my questions”), Again: “Are your views based on the notion that Russians are uniquely dishonest?” . . . . “Reenmac, are my views based on the notion that Russians are uniquely dishonest? Absolutely not. I have never said or implied anything negative about the Russian people, and I challenge you, or anyone else, to show me where I have.”

    I hope this helps.

    Like

  27. It is interesting in this modern world where states have agreed to prohibit development and storage of chemical weapons and to destroy existing stocks that parties to the treaty get to visit and monitor production and storage facilities, and the destruction process.

    In September 2017 sensible people celebrated the completion of the destruction of Russian chemical weapons stocks. This was verified by OPCW’s inspection teams.

    The US has still to complete its obligations under the treaty – it is dragging its feet claiming lack of money to carry out the destruction. Yeah, right.

    Now, I agree, one can hypothesize that the Russian Federation, the US, UK or any other signatory state maintained or maintains an undeclared, secret programme. This would violate the treaty and all efforts should be made to expose such actions.

    In particular, states which make these allegations (as has the UK against the Russian Federation) have an obligation to pass on their information to the OPCW so that the charges can be investigated and monitors can visit the plants where the alleged programmes are taking place. A state which makes such charges and does not provide the information they have is acting irresponsibly.

    I frankly will not believe Boris Johnson’s allegations until the UK government fulfills its obligations and hands over the information.

    But, Boris Johson – come on. He is just not credible.

    Boris

    Like

  28. Thank you, Ken. Your stale tactic of calling “Russa-phobe” was expected and you did not disappoint.

    Ken: “Yes, David, your response reeks of Russophobia, and I can legitimately call it an example of anti-Russian Racism.”

    Response: As I have already said, “I have never said or implied anything negative about the Russian people, and I challenge you, or anyone else, to show me where I have.” You did not respond to that challenge.

    Ken: “Stuff the legal investigations of the murders of Boris Nemtsov . . . Stuff the fact that most of those found guilty of Nemtsov’s murder have been imprisoned (and one is still on the run).”

    Response: Yes, the U.S. Mafia has the same problem. Always being investigated even after others have taken responsibility for the crime. Then on the other hand, . . . Stuff the fact that every video camera on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, a heavily policed area near the Kremlin, had been conveniently switched off on the night of Nemtsov’s assassination.

    Ken: “Of course you suffer from Russophobia – you are not alone in that.” Why? “it is heavilky promoted in our scoeity.”

    Of course. That makes it true. Sports are heavily promoted in our society; therefore, according to your logic I must be a sports fan.

    Do you even hear yourself? Your knee-jerk inability to assign any guilt to the Russian Federation has caused you to suffer from the irrational ability to admit that, for example, the Russian Air Force has caused collateral damage in Syria.

    For example, after being shown point-blank that Alexander Mercouris, (who, by the way, was disbarred for making a series of outlandish assertions – including the claim that he had been kidnapped and blackmailed by one of Britain’s most senior judges) had lied about Christopher Steele and the Mueller Investigation, you irrationally refused to admit that he was lying.

    It’s not me who is Russo-phobic, and again, I challenge you to provide anything I have ever said negatively about the Russian people, it is you who struggles to defend the suppression of those people by irrationally defending a regime that has become famous for the murders of its own journalists.

    Like

  29. This video explains the chemistry behind the detection of this nerve agent and determination of its possible origin.

    You don’t have to agree with his political conclusions at the end – but as another chemist, this is also how I understand the problems, and why I am so sceptical.

    It is interesting (and he doesn’t comment on this) that the OPCW still hasn’t prepared their report of the samples they got from the UK – which sort of underlines the clumsiness and hastiness of the conclusions drawn by May and Johnson within 24 hours. And their absolute irresponsibility in precipitating an international crisis on the basis of that hasty conclusion.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Thanks heaps for the video
    I was made aware of Chris Busby recently from his comment to one of those typically pompous”The Guardian view” articles. This one was about the Skripal poisoning. I know several people who will be grateful for this video.Hope you don’t mind if I pass it on

    Like

  31. Busby’s whole spiel relies on his unsubstantiated assertion that investigating authorities have no samples, and that it is impossible for them to obtain samples of Russian manufactured nerve agents.

    Without that assertion his argument is weak and of what value is an argument based on assertion without evidence?

    Just saying.

    Like

  32. Can’t quite see your point, Richard.

    The question of identifying manufacturing method (and possible source) from high-resolution analysis is very speculative. On the one hand, the Porton Down spokesperson (not a scientist by the way) claimed this was not their job (wrong) – but went on to say they were still working at it. Porton Down obviously have their own samples (presumably synthesised) and may have samples of material taken from Uzbekistan in the late 90s by the USA. Material synthesised in Iran and the USA is probably also available. If Boris Johnston’s claim that the Russian Federation had a recent programme with these materials is at all true (Ha Ha) it is possible the UK has managed to get recent Russian samples for identification purposes. I have seen media reports that there are samples taken from a criminal poisoning in Russia – which does open up a scenario of material stolen from the state during the 90s (when everything was being stolen) was used. This could also explain why it was ineffective as it would have degraded.

    But we are now in a phase we should recognise from the media-intelligence community leaks in the USA over the last year or so. We are being told that the Russians had developed a “delayed action” material (to allow their agents to depart) with a 4 hr delay time. We are also being told that perhaps the material came from Syria! Real evidence is no longer constraining the story

    The story is now being so confounded (probably intentionally) by the media-government-intelligence community misinformation that the actual forensic samples are starting to lose significance. I also suspect the OPCW report (when it is produced, and to the extent the UK reveals its content) will also be of little use. Perhaps just confirming organophosphorus molecular fragments (which mean nothing) which will continue to be used by the UK as “evidence” to damn Russia.

    And now there is also talk of physical destruction of Skipal’s house and the restaurant where they ate!!

    I am afraid this whole issue is going to be buried in political hysteria and evidential confusions – and meanwhile, a very convenient chemical attack has occurred in Syria!! The world is moving on – and becoming more dangerous. The upcoming UNSC meetings will probably illustrate this.

    The Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s Office is currently releasing documents relating to past issues like the death of Berezovsky and Litvenko’s murder – including documents from the UK, which they seem to be suggesting is related to the Skripal incident. At least as evidence for the unhelpful behaviour of the UK authorities in protecting people like Litvinenko and other witnesses against Berezovsky. This parallels their unwillingness for any cooperation in the Skripal case.

    Like

  33. My point is quite simple, Busby states that the UK analysts don’t, and can’t, have a sample of Russian the made agent.
    He states that categorically.

    How does he know?

    Like

  34. Well Richard, the British authorities themselves stated quite unequivocally that ONLY Russia had novichoks, that ONLY Russia could produce them, therefore in the absence of any other country having them QED Russia is guilty
    That seems to me to be a clear statement that they themselves have no samples of Russian novichok
    Busby is also saying , I think , that there is no record of collaboration between Russia and the UK on these matters,, its hardly likely that Russia would say, have a look at these novichoks old chap, take a free sample
    They’ve never been used before,, so they’ve never been analysed before. Very little is known about them
    It’ll be interesting to see how collaborative the British will be with the scientific community
    There will be intense medical interest too I imagine
    Wonder how transparent the UK will be in the interests of the public health of their allies and the rest of the world
    I mean, they could be lying , but thats a whole other can of worms.
    I would like to see the OPCW’s workings transparent and open to peer review, but it seems the UK has the discretion to have the report fully disclosed or not.
    Personally , I’m alarmed at the whole direction this case is heading.When will we actually see the Skripals for instance, theres a fortune to be made in the daily rags and mags. A right feel good tale of survival against the odds
    My opinion is that its a colossal load of bullshit, and not the first, sadly

    Like

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