Saturday, 7 April 2018

Skripal Skulduggery

Whether it's true or not, popular opinion has it that the alternate meaning of 'crisis' in Chinese is opportunity. This should be at the forefront of our minds as we cast a critical eye over the Skripal poisoning affair, for what we have seen happen these last couple of weeks less a conspiracy (though sometimes mainstream politics can appear as if it is) and more a case study in the sort of opportunism the Conservative Party and its leading figures revel in.

You might recall the howls of outrage that greeted Labour's response to Theresa May's statement in the Commons. As she condemned Russia for state-sponsored (attempted) assassination, Jeremy Corbyn tried lowering the temperature by suggesting, quite sensibly, that we should wait for the evidence and not jump to conclusions. Yes, how outrageous it is to suggest the government should comply with legal norms before pointing the finger. So unconventional in fact a number of Labour backbenchers let the world know they were prepared to believe what the Prime Minister was saying - it takes a strange mindset to believe the Tories play politics on all things apart from international relations and national security. Of course, it could be that May was and is in receipt of intelligence pointing to suspects linked with or part of Putin's mafia state, but we don't know. And neither does the Leader of the Opposition because the Tories denied him access to the same information on spurious security grounds. It was part of a piece. By refusing to give May a blank cheque the government, particularly the fatuous fool Boris Johnson and their media, spun Jeremy's sensible positioning as weakness. Because it was Russia, wait-and-see was distorted and contorted until it could be presented as reticence, reinforced by the lingering trace of recent Cold War slurs, and the government's decision to withhold evidence dog whistled the tune of disloyalty the Tories have long tried implicating Jeremy with.

This is not the first time - far from the first time - the Tories have spun a "security issue" this way. On the occasion of the London Bridge attack shortly before last year's general election, and despite the immediate suspension of campaigning in respect of the victims, Theresa May responded with a highly political speech. As well as offering a counter-terrorism strategy not worth a hill of beans, she argued Britain was "too tolerant". We needed to be tougher and, implicitly, more authoritarian. In the context of narrowing polls and a campaign opposing the "strong and stable" Prime Minister to the "weak" alternative, this was an intervention deliberately calibrated to reap votes. It failed.

Consider then the right wing rhetoric attending the coverage of the Skripal case. As a nerve agent, Novichok could only possibly be deployed by a state entity. And to reinforce the impression, it was dubbed "military grade", strongly implying this meant an extra layer of deadly compared to the common or garden Novichok you can buy over the counter with your Strepsils at the local Tesco. Not many people know a great deal about nerve agents either, though down the years we've heard tell of how these weapons can easily kill if they come in contact with the skin. Naturally, the tin foil hat brigade have accepted this interpretation of what Novichok is and have seized on the apparent recovery of the Skripals as evidence of a put up job by the government. As Dan Kazseta makes clear however, nerve agents don't quite live up to their fearsome reputation. Provided they're not ingested, in some cases merely washing the exposed area with soap and water can prevent serious harm. You can therefore forgive the conspiracy theorists for their ignorance (conspiranoids are going to conspiranoid), but not the government who have talked up the seriousness of the agent to ramp up the fear and cultivate some political gain - incidentally enabling our conspiracist friends. And there was, of course, Johnson's usual bluster and lies. His comments on German television - that Porton Down had categorically proven the nerve agent was Russian - was spectacularly contradicted by the chief executive of the facility itself. Once again, a truth was "finessed" for an express political purposes.

Is Russia responsible? I don't know. It seems plausible enough given its past history of skulduggery, espionage and assassination, but factoring in the fractured character of the state itself it could also possibly be someone acting autonomously from the government, or a third actor who was able to acquire Novichok. Getting hold of such stuff, particularly in the decade after the USSR fell would not have proven too difficult for determined criminals, weapons dealers and the like. Whatever the case, the government's willingness to exploit this sorry affair for a few polls and Westminster points not only reflects poorly on what is an already desperately incompetent crew, their investment in their official narrative makes the truth much harder to come out.

18 comments:

Chris Rivers said...

It's good to know that when the secret information that government relies upon (in addition to that supplied by Porton Down scientists) indicates the obvious - that Russia was targeting the man it has rightly described as a traitor (and who else would target him?) - the left regards it as the 'tin hat brigade'. This approach does the left no favours.

Phil said...

Well, no. The point is the government have been caught out talking up what happened for their own interests, and putting the blame squarely on the Kremlin when there is a question mark over responsibility. Is a Russian state actor responsible? In my view it's very likely, but that's neither here nor there. Proof rather than the say so from a toerag government that routinely lies about so many other things is what's required.

Ludus57 said...

How do you know that, if the information I'd secret? Please fill us in with what you know.

Mal said...

Dan Kazseta may well be right but he's hardly a reliable source. This take-down by MIT professor Ted Postol was in regard to Kazeta's claims about the Syrian gas attacks but the doubts cast over his expertise and veracity surely linger.

Perhaps another feature of this sort of affair is the way that so many "experts" of dubious provenance always crop up and why they're so rarely adequately questioned.

Anonymous said...

This blog. You can therefore forgive the conspiracy theorists for their ignorance (conspiranoids are going to conspiranoid)

Also this blog. The zionist press is conspiring against our fuhrer!!!!

Comradw Corbyns contra-European isolationist stance is revealed. An anti-internationalist national socialism.

Maybe one day labour wll learn the enemy of its enemy is not or anyones friend

Ian Gibson said...

At present, all the evidence which might suggest it was the Russian state is circumstantial - motive (although for the life of me I can't make out a meaningful one,) past form, facility - but, on the last, this seems to rely on bald statements that 'we know Russia has a chemical weapons program.' Well, no, what know as fact is that the OPCW certified the verified destruction of the entirety of Russia's chemical weapons stocks and programs only last year (we know too that the government is aware of this, because the UK Ambassador fulsomely congratulated the OPCW on the achievement at the time.) Well, that too is circumstantial: it's not impossible to imagine Russia having concealed stocks, But you would then have to explain why on earth they would 1) fritter away that hard-won status (which is pure international political capital) and 2) blow the cover on their secret activity, and for what? a minor act of petty revenge of no strategic significance whatsoever? You'd really have to buy into the narrative that Russia is not only evil but stupid* to think that made any sense

*See Mark Doran's excellent analysis of this phenomenon here: https://markdoran.wordpress.com/2018/03/28/sneer-and-smear-2/

Chris Rivers said...

Yes Ludus, information that a government receives can't be 'secret' or kept confidential - unless everyone knows it, is that your view?

George Christoforou said...

Could also be Ukraine as well . Ukraine used to be part of the soviet union and Ukrainian scientists worked on Novichok.

Anonymous said...

I'm no coincidence theorist but here's my theory.
1)Some people in Salisbury get food poisoning in a reteraunt there.
2) By coincidence one of them is an ex Russian spy.
3) Someone locally relises he's an ex spy and calls in the specialists in hazard suits, just in case.
4)News of this reaches Downing Street where everyone over reacts bigly and starts talking shite. This is encouraged by the political capital that can be made out of it.
5)By the time they've come to their senses its too late and they have to keep digging themselves into the hole.

Coincidence, cock-up and conspiracy all in one theory!

Who's Dan Kaszeta? Doesn't he run some sort of for hire spook outfit?
Perhaps hes done chemistry with the Open University.
I note that his article is published along side stuff like "Why no patriotic Britain should trade with Russia".

Toodle pip.




Anonymous said...

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-04-06/red-flag-homeland-security-hiring-media-monitoring-services-compile-journalist-and

Anonymous said...

That this Government are without a doubt the worst in my lifetime, and that Johnson isn't fit to hold any office in it, doesn't alter the fact that I have yet to hear or read one single credible alternative to the Russian state having their grubby mitts all over this. Alas, there wont be an incriminating confession, or fingerprints found at the scene. It doesn't work like that. We know Russia is not our friend, doesn't wish us well and is perfectly happy to meddle in the affairs of foreign states.
I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but from what we know and what we can reasonably deduce i'd say Russia are the prime suspects.
Given that it seems reasonable to call them out.

Steve

Blissex said...

«indicates the obvious - that Russia was targeting the man it has rightly described as a traitor (and who else would target him?) - the left regards it as the 'tin hat brigade'.»

It seems to me that it would be gross imbecility to believe "the obvious": Skripal did not escape Russia and take refuge in the UK, he was arrested in Russia, sentenced to prison in Russia, did time there, and then was released in a spy exchange.
Why didn't Putin sentence Skripal to death or had him killed while in Russia, but ordered him killed in the UK years later after releasing him? It would seem gross imbecility to fantasize a reason.

Also those spy exchanges are essential to secret service recruitment, and no secret service will murder someone they exchanged, because that makes those exchanges pointless.
It is simply ridiculous to fantasize that the russian government had the motivation to kill Skripal, never mind by using chemical agents in the UK.

The only two plausible possibilities are that the Skripals accidentally poisoned themselves with "something", possibly handling "black market" stuff (the daughter had just arrived from Russia...), or that some mafia gangsters poisoned them, which is what I think is likeliest: people like secret agents are always "contiguous" to the criminal/gangster underworld, and there are frequent "settlements of accounts" among them. The number of russian "businessmen" assassinated by hitmen working for rival gangs is pretty significant, whether they are pro-Putin or anti-Putin.

Blissex said...

«You can therefore forgive the conspiracy theorists for their ignorance (conspiranoids are going to conspiranoid),»

The problem is that so far the Skripal conspiracy theories have all come from the UK government and the press supporting the UK government, who have created a wide range of the most fantastic stories that often contradict each other, or lack any detail.
There have been other amazing propaganda campaigns recently, like rediscovering an alleged antisemitic mistake by J Corbyn from 2012 that had already been published and discussed as hardly notable years ago (isn't it amazing that to find something vaguely related they had to go 6 years back?).

There is something strange going on, and I wonder whether the confirmed news of the launch of a new pro-business, pro-Remain party (as the LibDems seem to have failed) is related to all these strange stories, because it would be a pretty big realignment of UK politics, potentially depriving the Conservatives of their parliamentary majority (if enough "Remain" Conservative MPs were to join it) or resulting in a split the Labour vote at the next general election.

Blissex said...

«Could also be Ukraine as well . Ukraine used to be part of the soviet union and Ukrainian scientists worked on Novichok.»

You can be sure all the big government worked on those chemical poisons, and have stocks of them for research purposes, as their formulas have been published in a book, and they can be easily produced in small quantities in any lab.
The problem with most poisons like that is not that it is difficult to make them, it is difficult to make and handle them *safely* in industrial quantities (thus thousands of years of research into binary poisons). And even in the best university and corporate labs chemists and pharmacologists sometimes die because they mishandle the often very poisonous chemicals they have to use to do much of their work. Or worse: few university chemistry departments have never had to be rebuilt after a fire...

Chris Rivers said...

Blissex said - "... the confirmed news of the launch of a new pro-business, pro-Remain party (as the LibDems seem to have failed) is related to all these strange stories, because it would be a pretty big realignment of UK politics, potentially depriving the Conservatives of their parliamentary majority (if enough "Remain" Conservative MPs were to join it) or resulting in a split the Labour vote at the next general election."
This supposed 'third' party has been mooted for years and is funded by a millionaire Miliband supporter. It has no chance whatsoever, the experience of the SDP in the 1980s put paid to that. And this 'third' or 'new' party (if it ever happens) is nothing to do with Remain supporters per se. Whilst we are at it, let's not forget that 70% of Labour supporters back Remain not Brexit.

Chris Rivers said...

Given the number of Russia-deniers about, it's certainly handy to know that JC has condemned the Russians for the Salisbury nerve agent incident:
"Corbyn has repeatedly said the evidence points to Russia being responsible, directly or indirectly, and that the Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of evidence" [Labour Party]
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43686718

Blissex said...

«It has no chance whatsoever, the experience of the SDP in the 1980s put paid to that.»

Well, the thatcherite wing of the Labour party would be mightily pleased with just undermining the chances that the Labour wing of the Labour party has to win the next elections, by attracting even a small number of "aspirational" voters in some marginal constituencies, or even just persuading them not to bother voting. The SDP managed to cause deep damage in 1983 and 1987.

To some extent what politicians learned from that is that the thatcherite wing of the Labour party has to be appeased, else they will play a spoiling game, as they did several times since G Brown, E Milliband and J Corbin became party leaders (I guess many remember the frequent accusations of far-left leanings against G Brown and those of anti-semitism and belonging to an unpatriotic family against E Milliband).

Blissex said...

Ah the shape of things to come is becoming clear: "bomb bomb bomb Syria" seems to be the endgame:


https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/09/douma-syria-regime-bashar-al-assad-murder-civilians
«It’s time for Britain and its allies to take concerted, sustained military action to curb Bashar al-Assad’s ability to murder Syria’s citizens at will.»
«When Assad used illegal chemical weapons in the past, most notoriously in eastern Ghouta where up to 1,700 people died in a 2013 sarin nerve gas attack, the US failed to enforce what Barack Obama called a red line. Obama was undoubtedly influenced by the British parliament’s vote against military action in August that year. Since then, ignoring Russia’s worthless guarantees, the regime has used chemical weapons, including mustard gas, again and again – culminating in Saturday’s horrific chlorine attack in Douma. Last year, Donald Trump was so upset by photos of gassed children, he ordered a limited missile strike. Assad shrugged it off. Trump should know better now. One feel-good bomb-fest does not a strategy make.»

I guess that the bizarre events of the past several weeks have not been in vain.

Downsides: lots of russian military staff dead.
Upsides: lots of people in the UK (etc.) no longer have to finish paying their mortgages and high population density issue solved.