Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Skripal Case: 20 New Questions That Journalists Might Like to Start Asking

By Rob Slane - April 18, 2018 at 10:13AM

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While the world’s attention has been largely focused on Syria for the past couple of weeks, we must not forget the Skripal case. The reason for this is that the two events appear to be inextricably linked, either because they show that the Russian and Syrian Governments are willing and able to use chemical weapons for their own ends, or because they show that the Governments of the United States, United Kingdom and France in particular are willing to use false accusations for their own ends.

Russia and Syria have been in the dock and apparently found guilty, but as ever the burden of proof lies with those making the accusations to show the certain evidence they have to back up their claims. However, the only thing that can be said with absolute certainty, regardless of which of these versions is correct, is that those who have made the accusations have not shown anything like the evidence needed to substantiate their claims.

Indeed, the biggest connection between the two events is not the “Who Dunnit” aspect, but rather the fact that guilt has been assigned and reprisals taken prior to the results of the investigations, and therefore before facts could be established with any certainty. Legally, morally and logically this is obvious nonsense, and it is a testament to the decline of educational standards in the West, and the triumph of emotional arguments over ones which appeal to facts and logic, that there are many who appear simply unable to grasp these very basic concepts.

Regarding the Skripal case, there are a mountain of unanswered questions and a multitude of inconsistencies. Yet it is not even this which makes the case so odd. Rather, it is the fact that whenever a question is answered – for example, the medical condition of the Skripals – it merely seems to throw up even more questions, inconsistencies and oddities.

So it looks like we shall just have to keep plugging away, asking questions in order to ensure that:

a) This case does not disappear down the Memory Hole and

b) The great and the good are reminded that the narrative they have presented so far is only consistent in so much as it is utterly inconsistent – consistently inconsistent, you might say.

I have already asked 50 questions around this case so far (here and here), and what I want to do is ask 40 or so more which, at the time of writing, urgently need answering. However, rather than bore you with them all at once, I will set out 20 of them in this piece and then – God willing – another 20 or so in the next day or so.

As before, if there are any journalists out there who possess inquisitive minds, and who have a desire for truth, please do feel free to start posing some of these questions to the appropriate persons or authorities.

1. It is known that Sergei Skripal worked for many years for MI6, having been recruited in 1995 by one Pablo Miller. Curiously, Mr Miller also lives in Salisbury and, according to some reports, the two of them met regularly in Cote Brasserie, which is in the centre of the City. Since Mr Skripal and his MI6 “handler” were in regular contact, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Mr Skripal may have still been working for MI6. Can this be categorically refuted by the UK Government?

2. If the answer to the first question is that Mr Skripal was working for MI6, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that he may have had connections with the Porton Down facility, firstly since it has long-standing connections with MI6 and secondly because of its location, less than 10 miles from his Salisbury home. Can Porton Down confirm whether Mr Skripal ever had any connections to the facility, either directly or indirectly?

3. It has been reported that there are plans to demolish Mr Skripal’s house. If this is the case, it would seem to be a rather extreme action. Why is it not possible to decontaminate the house, rather than destroy it?

4. The advice given by Public Health England (PHE) to anyone who may have come into contact with the substance which poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal was as follows:
Wash the clothing that you were wearing in an ordinary washing machine using your regular detergent at the temperature recommended for the clothing. Wipe personal items such as phones, handbags and other electronic items with cleansing or baby wipes and dispose of the wipes in the bin (ordinary domestic waste disposal)… Other items such as jewellery and spectacles which cannot go in the washing machine or be cleaned with cleansing or baby wipes, should be hand washed with warm water and detergent and then rinsed with clean cold water. Please thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning any items.
Assuming that the advice given by PHE was referring to the same substance that was apparently found on the door handle of Mr Skripal’s house, why were people who believed they may have got the chemical on their clothes or other items not advised to demolish their homes?

5. Alternatively, why is warm water, detergent and baby wipes deemed insufficient for decontaminating Mr Skripal’s house?

6. These two very different courses of action — the demolition of the house, and the instruction to wash with warm water and soap — would tend to suggest that the substances are of an entirely different nature to one another. Is this the case?

7. If so, what accounts for the difference?

8. Is it possible that there were other chemicals in Mr Skripal’s house, which were more toxic than those that PHE advised could be treated with warm water, soap and baby wipes?

9. The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has claimed that one of the laboratories which analysed environmental and blood samples on behalf of the OPCW – the Spiez laboratory in Switzerland – has stated that it found:
…traces of the toxic chemical BZ [3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate] and its precursor which are second category chemical weapons.
The Spiez laboratory has refused to confirm or deny his statement, instead issuing “a non-denial, denial”:
…the only institution that could confirm what Mr. Lavrov was saying is the OPCW. We cannot confirm or deny anything.
Since the UK Government has seen the analysis of the original samples, and has seen a copy of the OPCW’s classified report, can a spokesperson – perhaps the Foreign Secretary – go on record to categorically state that Mr Lavrov’s claim is false?

10. Did the analysis at Porton Down identify any traces of BZ in either the blood samples or environmental samples?

11. If Mr Lavrov’s claim about the Swiss laboratory is correct, would this explain the somewhat ambiguous language used by Porton Down in the evidence they submitted to the High Court, in which they stated that:
Blood samples from Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were analysed and the findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent” [my emphasis added]?
12. Mr Lavrov also claimed that the Spiez laboratory had been surprised to find “the presence of type A-234 ['Novichok'] nerve agent in its virgin state…”. Their surprise comes from the high volatility of the substance in question, and the relatively long period between the poisoning and the sample-taking. This also appears to accord with the OPCW’s official summary of their findings, which stated that the laboratories that had tested the samples had found that:
…the toxic chemical was of high purity. The latter is concluded from the almost complete absence of impurities.
Since A-234 is said to be of high volatility, degrading quickly, can Porton Down offer any explanation as to how the samples collected by the OPCW, weeks after the poisoning, could have contained A-234 of “high purity”?

13. Furthermore, one of the scientists who worked on the development of the A-234 substance in the Soviet Union, Leonid Rink, has stated the following:
OPCW data saying that a toxic chemical was used proves that it was not Novichok… Novichok is a complex nerve-paralysing substance consisting of a mixture of many different components and additives that decompose in different ways. If a pure substance was found, it could not be Novichok.
Can the UK Government, or an expert from Porton Down, go on record to state that Mr Rink’s assertions are incorrect?

14. Mr Rink also stated that if “pure Novichok” was indeed present in the substance found on the handle of Mr Skripal’s front door, both Sergei and Yulia Skripal would have died on the spot had they come into contact with it. Can the UK Government or experts at Porton Down comment on how Sergei and Yulia Skripal, along with Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, could have come into contact with A-234 of “high purity”, and still be alive and well?

15. Can the UK Government or experts at Porton Down comment on how Sergei and Yulia Skripal could have come into contact with A-234 of “high purity” at Mr Skripal’s house, and apparently suffer no ill effects for the next 3-4 hours, including driving into the City Centre, going for a drink, and eating a meal?

16. A-234 is reputed to be unstable and vulnerable to water. Indeed, one of the chemists who allegedly worked on its development, Vil Mirzayanov, claimed that, “only an idiot would have used Novichok nerve agent in humid conditions.” Since it was foggy in Salisbury on 4th March, and rained that evening, can a spokesperson for the UK Government tell us why they think the Russian state chose to use such an ineffective method of assassination?

17. The theory that the substance had been placed on the handle of Mr Skripal’s front door first surfaced around 22nd March, more than two weeks after the poisoning and after a number of other theories had been mooted and debunked. During that time, there were not only periods of heavy rain but also heavy snowfall on the weekend of 17th-18th March. Can a spokesperson for the UK Government, or an expert at Porton Down comment on how a substance that disintegrates in water was not only found on the door handle weeks later, but was also apparently in a “pure form”?

18. The symptoms of “Novichok” agents are said to be as follows:
Acetylcholine concentrations then increase at neuromuscular junctions to cause involuntary contraction of all skeletal muscles. This then leads to respiratory and cardiac arrest (as the victim’s heart and diaphragm muscles no longer function normally) and finally death from heart failure or suffocation as copious fluid secretions fill the victim’s lungs.
The symptoms for poisoning by 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate (BZ) are as follows:
BZ toxicity, which might occur by inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption, is an anticholinergic syndrome consisting of a combination of signs and symptoms that might include hallucinations; agitation; mydriasis (dilated pupils); blurred vision; dry, flushed skin; urinary retention; ileus; tachycardia; hypertension; and elevated temperature (>101deg F).
One of the witnesses in the Maltings on 4th March, Freya Church, described the condition of Mr Skripal and his daughter as follows:
On the bench there was a couple – an older guy and a younger girl. She was leant in on him. It looked like she’d passed out. He was doing some strange hand movements, looking up to the sky. I felt anxious, like I should step in but they looked so out of it. They looked like they had been taking something quite strong.
Which description — A-234 or BZ — fits more closely with Ms Church’s statement of the Skripals’ condition on 4th March, and indeed their subsequent recovery?

19. The method for decontaminating BZ is as follows:
Gentle, but thorough flushing of skin and hair with water or soap and water is required. Bleach is not necessary. Remove clothing.
As for A-234 (Novichok), according to Gary Aitkenhead, Chief Executive at Porton Down, there is no known antidote.

Which of these most closely fits the advice given by PHE to those who believed they may have become contaminated, to use warm water and detergent and to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water?

20. Can Porton Down confirm that it has not had any samples of BZ in its possession in 2018?

Reprinted with permission from The BlogMire.

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