by Sushi for the Saker Blog — March 26, 2018
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Theresa May and the Dodgy Statement to Parliament
On Monday March 12th 2018 Theresa May rose in the House of Commons and made the following statement:
“It is now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.”
How did May know this to be true?
On March 14th, the Times published a letter from Stephen Davies, Consultant in emergency medicine with the Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust. Davies asserted “no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury” and directly contradicted the assertion the Prime Minister made to the House of Commons.
Davies is a clinician directly involved in the treatment of the 3 poisoning victims. These three are understood to be Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Detective Bailey. As a physician, Davies has a duty of care imposed upon him in law. This duty requires him to at all time act in the best interests of a patient under his care.
If you deliver medical treatment, you have the responsibility to ensure the injury diagnosis is correct, that the treatment delivered is appropriate to the diagnosis, and that you do no harm to your patient.
On Monday, May tells the world the poison was a nerve agent.
On Wednesday, the treating physician publicly states: “no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury.”
How is it possible for May to know more than the treating physician?
On March 20th, 2018 the Russian web publication “The Bell” published an interview with Vladimir Uglev, one of the Russian scientists who was actively engaged in the research and development of the nerve agent May named as “Novichok.”
Uglev states the nerve agents were not known by the name “Novichok” but were part of a nerve agent research program called “FOLIANT.”
Uglev also declares that the nerve agents researched as part of “FOLIANT” actually bore the following names: “B-1976,” “C-1976,” or “D-1980.”
Where did May learn the name “Novichok” when this was not a name used by the scientists who were actively engaged in the Soviet research upon these nerve agents?
“Novichok” is the name of the nerve agent used in an episode of the television show “Strike Back.” This episode was televised one month before the Skripal attack. Uglev worked on the “FOLIANT” program “from 1972 until 1988.” The USSR was formally dissolved by the The Belavezha Accords on December 8th, 1991. Russia, was not therefore a party to the FOLIANT program.
The implication is that May and Johnson are accusing Russia of undertaking an attack using chemical nerve agents named and popularized by a TV show, a show which provides a plot line for an attack similar to the Skripal attack.
On February 13 2017 the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur International Airport using a nerve agent of a type developed by the UK. Under International law nerve agents are classed as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). When will May take responsibility for this indiscriminate and reckless attack? It is well known this nerve agent was first produced in the UK in 1952 and it was later militarized at DSTL Porton Down.
There exist only two plausible explanations: 1) Either this was a direct act by the UK against North Korea, or 2) the UK government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to fall into the hands of others. May has 24 hours to deliver an explanation to the world.
The question of how it is possible for May to demonstrate such absolute confidence with regards to the identification of the toxin becomes more acute when one learns the background to the USSR chemical weapons program and its research into nerve agents.
In 1959 the US successfully initiated a deception program. This program employed a fake double agent who was used to feed false and misleading “chickenfeed” to the USSR.
This deception program continued up until 1982. When running such a deception operation you must provide some genuine information to establish the validity of the false agent. Once you have gained the trust of the very suspicious opposition, you can then start to feed the opponent a mix of true and false information. The goal is to cause the opponent to waste scarce resources in creating a defence for a weapons system that does not exist, or to devote even more resources in an attempt to duplicate a weapon, or a process, known to be a technical dead end. Operation Shocker sought to convince the USSR of US advances in nerve agent research culminating in the US development of an entirely new, and highly lethal, agent named “GJ.”
In a twist worthy of John le Carré, the USSR accepted the truth of the deception program and commenced research intended to duplicate the presumed American advance in nerve agents. This Soviet research program was named “FOLIANT” and, unknown to the Americans, the USSR was able to make technical advances which resulted in a new class of nerve agents. These new agents were named “B-1976,” “C-1976,” or “D-1980.” The Soviet scientists were convinced they were mirroring US advances.
The USSR then turned around and commenced their own deception program against the Americans. The human conduit for this deceptive information is believed to be Vil Mirzayanov.
Mirzayanov was arrested for treason but the case collapsed when it was discovered “the real state secret revealed by Fyodorov and Mirzayanov was that generals had lied — and were still lying — to both the international community and their fellow citizens.”
Mirzayanov later migrated to the US where he wrote a book, available on Amazon, in which he described what he knew of the USSR nerve agent research program. Mirzayanov’s book included a large number of formulas for Novichok nerve agents. According to Uglev the formulas published by Mirzayanov are inaccurate and do not represent the work in FOLIANT.
This assertion by Uglev makes some degree of sense. Few states are able to master all the technologies required to construct a competitive jet fighter, or main battle tank. But almost anyone with a basic chemical knowledge can attempt the synthesis of a highly lethal nerve agent (it is highly unlikely they would be able to do so safely).
Proof of this thesis is found in the sarin attacks conducted in the Tokyo subway system, and the assassination of the brother in law of Kim Jong-Un by a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by the UK.
We are left with a question – Given this wilderness of mirrors, of endless deception, ruse, and counter deception, how is it possible for May to be certain of the toxin used in the Skripal attack? And how can May be so sure of who actually produced that toxic agent?
Methods of Detection
There are two primary methods of detecting a chemical agent. The first method is to locate chemical residue from the attack such as the VX of a type developed by the UK found contaminating the clothing of one of the Kim Jong-Un attackers.
This trace evidence is then subject to CGMS analysis which produces a “signature” or “fingerprint” of the agent used. Once this is obtained it may be matched against a database of known chemical agents to determine its provenance.
Problems may arise. VX and other organophosphates are subject to degradation. Weather conditions may accelerate this degradation. VX is a persistent agent meaning it is intended to remain active for a period of 2 to 3 days after application. Other nerve agents are much more volatile and will evaporate, or degrade, within a period of hours. High volatility may be of military significance as it permits a nerve agent attack on a position that your own troops can then storm and occupy with limited risk of exposure to any residual nerve agent.
Another fingerprint problem arises. The FOLIATE program agents were only produced in the amounts required for research. Mirzayanov, and others, report the destruction of these research stocks via incineration around the time of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. If the research materials were destroyed then there would be no sample available for fingerprinting.
Nerve agents degrade over time at approximately 2% a year with this rate of degradation accelerating as the decomposition by-products accumulate. So even if a sample of Soviet agent from 1988 was obtained, the chemical signature may be inaccurate, incomplete, or incorrect. How then can May be so definite about the nerve agent used in the Skripal attack?
As Uglev reports, the FOLIANT research resulted in the creation of hundreds of toxic agents and derivatives of those agents. Most had no military value and were therefore discarded. So how can May be so definite about the nerve agent used against Skripal?
The OPCW signature for the “Novichok” agents was produced by Iran under OPCW supervision for the express purpose of adding this agent to the OPCW database of agent signatures. But what formula did the Iranians follow? And was it an Uglev formula, a Mirzayanov formula, or some other formula? This is not a frivolous question as the following graphic illustrates:
The question therefore remains – how can May be so certain of the identification of the agent used in the Skripal attack?
Click to enlarge
Which one is correct Ms May? Apologies if I begin to sound like a broken record. But I think somebody needs to ask May how she knows what she claims to know. The Guardian has not asked. The BBC has not asked. Jeff Bezo’s paper has not asked. More problems arise because the OPCW signature was derived from the Iranian synthesis of the Novichok nerve agent and the Iranian formula for Novichoc looks like this:
All I can remember of organic chemistry was Laurel. She was intoxicating. But somebody needs to ask May which is the correct formula. After all, May is the one attempting to invoke NATO article 5. It is May who has described the Skripal incident as an unlawful attack on the territory of the UK. In International law that is grounds for war. So it is not just the citizens of the UK who should demand an answer. The global public should also demand May explain how she knows the VX used in the Malaysia attack was of a type developed in the UK. Oops. Wrong agent. Wrong incident. After a while they all look the same. Who you gonna call? Bill Murray?
The second method of identification is through the analysis of blood serum, or other human tissue, in search of the metabolites of the agent. At present the Skripals are being kept under heavy sedation. The medical reason for this is to permit their bodies time to complete the metabolic removal of the agent (given the toxin’s mode of operation this may prove to be impossible).
This mode of analysis can be extremely accurate. But there are still problems. Imagine the following.
A person eats an apple. You want to know where it came from. You analyse blood, or other human tissue, for the metabolic byproducts produced by an apple. You find what you are looking for. Aha! Now you know! Apple!!!
But was this apple a Fuji? A McIntosh? Gala, Granny Smith, or Red Delicious? These are all apples but they vary in their taste and chemical composition. And, once you determine the exact genus of apple, you are faced with a further problem. Did this apple originate in the Yakima Valley, or the Annapolis Valley? Did it come from Shandong? Maule in Chile? Or from Trentino in Italy? If you are going to invoke NATO Article 5 do you not think it imperative to determine the precise provenance of the apple. Maybe it came from Islington North?
The Skripal Attack Setting
The Image A is an overhead view of the Market walk area. The Market Walk is a covered passageway that leads from Castle Street, though a shopping arcade to a bridge over a portion of the Avon River. Once across the bridge, a small jog to the right will take you to the bench on which the Skripals were found incapacitated at 1600 on Sunday March 4th, 2018.
Salisbury. Click to enlarge
The Zizzi restaurant, the place of the Skripals last meal, is contained inside a rectangular red frame. The couple would have walked south along Castle and then entered the Market Walk shopping arcade. This passageway is highlighted in grey.
The Skripals captured on CCTC. Click to enlarge
Image B was taken by a CCTV camera within the arcade. The Skripals are shown walking west along the north wall of the arcade. They both look up toward the camera location. The time stamp shows that in less than 13 minutes their life will be dramatically altered.
Google street-view contains imagery taken from within the arcade. At the approximate position of the small red circle superimposed on the Market Walk in Image A, there is a shop entrance. Adjacent to the door is what appears to be the image of a Hasselblad camera. The other shops on the South side are a fitness studio, and a stationary store. The only store stocked with high value products, items easy to carry and sell, appears to be the camera store. Immediately above the camera store entrance is a black fixture. This black fixture is believed to contain the CCTV camera used to capture the image of the Skripals shown in Image B.
Image C is an interior image of the arcade. The camera store would be hard left. The Skripals walked on the right along the line of coloured pavers. Ahead is the arcade exit and a footbridge over the Avon. Image D shows the view after exiting the arcade. The route taken by the Skripals bends to the right around the G&T store toward what appear to be tent canopies just past the large tree.
Image E shows the G&T store on the left and the open park area to the North. The red vertical arrow points down toward the approximate position of the bench upon which the Skripals were found at 1600. The young woman who first discovered them reported they were so incapacitated that she did not feel she could do anything to help them.
Thirteen minutes earlier, the CCTV capture shows the Skripals striding purposefully forward. They both appear to be alert and untroubled, sufficiently alert that they notice, and look up toward, the CCTV camera location. By the time they reached the area of the park bench they were incapacitated and on the verge of death.
What occurred in those 13 minutes?
Skripal Attack Conjecture
The Market Walk is a pedestrian tunnel. This presents four problems for an attacker. If you attack within the tunnel, you have only two available exits. If someone wants to stop you, it is possible for them to trap you by closing off one, or both ends.
Second, the tunnel blocks visibility to the area beyond the exit on each end. The attacker has no way of knowing if a police cruiser has just stopped adjacent on Castle Street.
The third problem is critical. Go buy an aerosol can of orange spray paint, change into a clean white shirt, stand three feet from a wall, hold up the aerosol can and spray an imagined target. When you later examine your shirt sleeve and shirt front you will find it speckled with orange pigment. If you laid out sheets of white paper and returned a few hours after spraying you will find the white sheets also exhibit trace amounts of orange pigment. If the orange pigment was actually a military grade toxin like VX then congratulations – you have just killed yourself.
An attack within the still air of the arcade presents a similar problem. Any sprayed powder, or liquid, creates a toxic cloud of blowback which endangers the attacker.
To safely conduct the attack would necessitate the attacker(s) wearing breathing apparatus. You may have noticed from the news coverage that people wearing breathing apparatus have a distinct look about them. It is extremely difficult to run for any distance wearing BA gear; believe me, I have tested this fact. Blowback contamination requires the attackers to quickly change their clothing. If they do not they will be poisoned by the same toxin applied to the Skripals.
The fourth and final problem is the fact the arcade contains a CCTV camera. Image B shows distortion. This distortion is due to the fact the image was created using a fisheye lens, one which covers a field of view of 180 degrees and therefore shows both the east and west approaches to the store entrance. Any attacker would survey potential attack sites in advance and identify the presence of CCTV equipment. Such sites would either be avoided, or the CCTV disabled.
May makes the claim the Skripals were attacked with a military grade nerve agent of a type developed in Russia. This is the same as declaring the death of Kim Jong-nam on 13 February 2017 was due to a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by the UK. According to May’s logic the world should impose sanctions on the UK and withdraw all diplomatic representation.
It is believed the Skripals exited the arcade tunnel and crossed the bridge before the attack. Whereas the arcade tunnel previously presented obstacles to the attackers, it now offers benefits. The bridge and tunnel combination serves to channel and restrict all foot traffic coming from the East. The jog turn past the G&T shop obscures visibility from the South. Images taken on the day of attack show a light rain appears to be falling. This would ensure few pedestrians in the park to the North.
It is suspected that two attackers approached from the West walking toward the Skripals. As they came within range they pulled out aerosol guns and sprayed their victims. The toxic spray would have flooded the Skripals eyes. Unable to see, they made for the nearest seating, which was the park bench. The eyes represent a point of entry into the body. The mucous around the eye, and they eye itself, is an immediate conduit to the bloodstream.
The attackers continued on, walking as if nothing at all had happened. Only a few seconds would have been required to make the attack and, if you find yourself suddenly blinded, you put your hands to your eyes and try to move yourself to a place of refuge such as the adjacent park bench. You don’t cry out. You are too busy tending to your eyes. You are in cognitive shock with no true understanding of what just occurred.
In the first media reports of the attack, when the incident was still under local police control, there was a request for public assistance to locate a couple seen walking in the area at the time of the attack. Once control of the case passed to the Met Terrorist Investigation team, this request was no longer made.
There has been limited coverage of the people who first responded to the scene. The first person to discover the Skripals was a woman who reportedly found them to be so incapacitated she believed herself unable to render any assistance. This women is believed to be the person who first notified the police. Detective Bailey was likely nearby on patrol. He heard the police radio broadcast and he immediately responded. There were other persons reported to be present on scene but no names, or identification, or interviews, can be found. MSM reporting does indicate that a passing physician placed Yulia Skripal in the recovery position.
What follows is further conjecture. It is likely the toxin utilized was a liquid agent based on organophosphate chemistry. It was discharged as a stream, or jet, from an engineered applicator something like a very sophisticated water pistol. Two targets, two applicators, two streams. The streams splashed against the face of each target and washed into his and her eyes blinding the victim. The toxin is fast acting. Ten times more lethal than VX. Within the space of scant seconds you are vomiting and experiencing muscle seizures. You lose control of your faculties. You are no longer able to cry out. Your muscles cease to operate under voluntary control. You are unable to rise from the bench and stand, your chest muscles are beginning to experience tightness and seizure activity and you are beginning to have great difficulty breathing. You defecate and urinate but are completely unaware of this. You have not had sufficient time to come to a conscious understanding of what has befallen you before all of your cognitive functions are impaired. Unconsciousness quickly follows.
The ideal toxic agent would be highly volatile in addition to being fast acting. Target knock down occurs within seconds of toxin application as opposed to the minutes available under a VX attack. This high degree of volatility means the excess agent would immediately begin to degrade and disperse, eliminating any trace evidence of the applied toxin. The intent is to ensure the knockdown and immediate incapacitation of the target, with a lessened possibility of secondary collateral attacks such as affected first responder Detective Bailey. It is likely some of the persons who first responded to the scene were confederates to the attackers, persons with the responsibility to clean up the incident site, prevent injury to others, and ensure any residual trace evidence was wiped away, or otherwise neutralized. These good Samaritans vanished and have never been interviewed by the Guardian, or the BBC, or any other major “news” outlet. Which is a little surprising considering the British press is known to pay top dollar for stories which can be headlined “I was present at the opening shot of WWIII.”
And Theresa May knows exactly the toxic agent utilized in the attack.
What else does she know?
And why does no one ask her the question?
How does she know what she claims to know?
In memory of David Christopher Kelly, CMG (14 May 1944 – 17 July 2003)