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Rush to Judgment Over the Skripal Affair in Britain: New Diplomatic Charge of the Light Brigade?

By Denis Bright

Mainstream media outlets have generally rushed to judge the circumstances surrounding the use of nerve agents against Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia in the City of Salisbury in Britain.

Both Sergei and Yulia were found in a critical state on a park bench in Salisbury on 4 March 2018. Some police officers and emergency workers were also overcome by the toxins in responding to this distress.

Initial mainstream reporting focused on the possibility that a nerve agent was planted in Yulia’s luggage by Russian intelligence services before her flight to Britain. Sergei Skripal lived in comfortable exile in the Wiltshire City of Salisbury.

Sergei Skripal was released through an international spy-swap in 2010. This offered a cosy alternative several more years in a Russian prison.

British intelligence had a duty of care for Sergei Skripal to save him from the potential fate of another former spy in Alexander Litvineko who died after drinking radioactive tea at a London hotel in 2006.

For lovers of real live spy-thrillers the full report of Alexander Litvinenko’s death is attached to an earlier ABC news online report (6 March 2018). The report might provide good reading for a wet afternoon.

Meanwhile the media’s reporting on the current Skripal Affair continues.

News.com.au focused on use of the ventilation shaft of the shiny BMW used by the Skripals as the method of transmission of the nerve agents (19 March 2018).

Finally, the source of the contamination has moved to smearing of a toxin from the Novick group on the door handle of the Skripal’s apartment in Salisbury. This is now considered to be the most plausible interpretation of the transmission mode for the nerve agent (ABC, 29 March 2018). The earlier leads overlooked the difficulty of transporting nerve toxins in luggage and car ventilation systems which might have been attractive to amateurs.

By late March 2018, the reflexive explanations of events were becoming less plausible:

Exactly where, when and by whom these chemicals were made, however, and how and who used them against the Skripals remain unclear, triggering a major international crisis.

Three weeks after the Skripals were found in Salisbury, there are new leads emerging in the investigation of this sordid affair. The Salisbury Journal (29 March 2018) will continue to offer fresh updates from a local perspective.

As the extent of Russian diplomatic expulsions mounts to cover more embassies and consulates, largely from countries within US Global Military Alliance, the momentum of the police investigation puts British Labour in a very favourable light in his appeal for a more measured response:

“To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.”

Corbyn warned against a “McCarthyite intolerance of dissent” over Russia. “Labour is of course no supporter of the Putin regime, its conservative authoritarianism, abuse of human rights or political and economic corruption,” he said.

“However, that does not mean we should resign ourselves to a ‘new cold war’ of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent.”

In the traditions of those iconic BBC police sagas, the rush to judgement from circumstantial evidence generally proves to be quite incorrect. It is added to raise dramatic tension levels for audiences.

Both sides of the Cold War Divide dabbled with toxic nerve agents as scientists from the Third Reich’s laboratories shared their expertise with both the Warsaw Pact and NATO Countries.

With the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the new Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was revised through negotiation and entered into force on 29 April 1997. Only Egypt, Israel, South Sudan and the DPRK are missing from the list of signatories who have formally ratified the CWC (Arms Control Association, 18 January 2018).

Under the new protocols in the post-Cold War Era, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague has a vital role in the assessment of chemical compounds which are used illegally in intelligence operations. Why is the door handle of Sergei Skripal’s house so protected from international scrutiny if it is in fact the transmission node for the nerve agents which receive saturation coverage in the mainstream media?

It was a different matter during the Cold War Era when the Porton Down Laboratories near Salisbury dabbled in the storage and testing of hostile toxins for potential military application and for the preparation of antidotes for victims.

Care for a Bicycle Ride on Porton Down?

As you ride down country roads on Porton Down on a simulated journey in this fresh Easter weather, do spare a thought for the volunteers whose lives were negatively changed by official experiments with nerve agents at the height of the Cold War on Prime Minister Churchill’s final troubled political watch (1951-55).

The Guardian recalls the sad events associated with the testing of nerve toxins:

The family of an airman who died in government nerve gas experiments more than 50 years ago is demanding an apology from the Ministry of Defence after an inquest ruled he had been unlawfully killed.

After one of the longest lasting cover ups of the cold war, relatives of Ronald Maddison, were yesterday given the justice they sought. They are now calling for compensation from the MoD, as are up to 550 ex-servicemen who claim they too were duped into submitting to the tests. The multiple claims could run into the millions of pounds.

Maddison, from Consett, Co Durham, was aged 20 when he collapsed and died in 1953 after liquid nerve gas was deliberately dripped on to his arm by scientists at the chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

After a hearing which lasted 64 days the inquest jury ruled yesterday he had been unlawfully killed by the “application of a nerve agent in a non-therapeutic experiment”. The unanimous verdict, which came after years of pressure by campaigners, was greeted with cheers and tears of joy by veterans who had also been subjected to similar chemical warfare experiments.

Lillias Craik, Maddison’s sister, told the Guardian that she now wanted an apology from the MoD. “Ronnie didn’t have a life, they took it away from him,” she said. “They took a special part of our lives away and they have said nothing about it ever since.”

David Masters, the Wiltshire coroner, said the hearing had been momentous. The inquest, the second into Maddison’s death, was ordered after a £2.8m police inquiry and an application by Mr Masters to quash the accidental death verdict of the original inquest, which was held in secret.

An an alternative to the current megaphone diplomacy, there is always the exemplar of New Zealand’s more alternative approach.

The Press Online from Christchurch (12 March 2018) showed that NZ’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters are more focused on real issues of concern such as the rehabilitation of earthquake damage on the South Island than follow the leaders approaches to international relations.

No expulsions of Russian diplomats from Wellington have yet been demanded. Prime Minister Ardern assured New Zealanders no Russian intelligence operators currently deserve expulsions. As a new age leader, Jacinda Ardern is honest enough to admit that intelligence officers have an organizational role and career path in all embassies on all sides of the current megaphone divides in post-globalized international relations.

To Federal LNP leaders who advocate more commitment to the study of history in our high schools, the tragic effects of the Crimean War (1853-56) should be a sober warning against the rush to judgment by Theresa May’s government in the aftermath of unresolved investigations in Salisbury.

The folly of Britain’s opportunist alliance with Turkey against Russia in the Crimea was symbolized by the charge of the Light Brigade on 25 October 1854.

By 1915, Britain had changed sides in its relationships with the Ottoman Empire. British military intelligence wanted to open up a Russian Front through the Dardanelles to save Czar Nicholas II.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 brought another U-turn in British foreign policy. Britain joined Japan and the US to support the remnants of the Russian White Armies until 1923 when the last anti-communist enclave finally opted for surrender.

All respect to Jacinda Ardern for ignoring diplomatic opportunism in the current anti-Russian crusade. The real blind-spot is of course the long history of meddling by Britain and the US in geopolitics through a litany of arms sales, military coups and regime changes for the past two centuries.

Sergei Skripal was no innocent by-stander. He worked with Britain’s M16 for almost a decade before his conviction in 2004 and was well rewarded for the information provided to NATO.

The unfortunate circumstances of the Skripal Affair are insufficient to warrant a Diplomatic Charge of the Light Brigade especially before the current police investigation is finalized, perhaps with the objective assistance of the OPCW in The Hague and likely surveillance videos of Sergei Skripal’s own house which should be available to British investigators.

In the long traditions of the Porton Down’s scandal of sixty years ago, it may yet take two generations to resolve this remarkable case.

Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in advancing pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.




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  1. Terry2

    In the UK Boris Johnson has said that Vladimir Putin will “glory” in this summer’s World Cup in a similar way to Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

    In Australia Julie Bishop has said on the same subject : “There are a whole range of options of further actions that could be taken. The World Cup is one of the further actions,”

    Both have since back-tracked and said that they were not suggesting a boycott of the World Cup but they have left the door open. Strange that you would make claims about Putin using the World Cup as a platform akin to the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics and then say, we’ll still be going. Surely if it was so bad you would immediately pull out !

    The United States says there’s “no justification” for Russia’s retaliatory moves to expel 60 U.S. diplomats and shut the American Consulate in St. Petersburg after the US expelled 60 Russian diplomats earlier in the week and closed the Seattle Russian Consulate Embassy as punishment for Moscow’s alleged involvement in the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in Britain.

    And, the enquiry into the poisonings is still underway. What is going on, is the Spy v Spy , do they get their briefing from Grade 2 school kids ?

  2. Florence nee Fedup

    I would be surprise if Trump listen to briefings. He might be given them but doesn’t hear

  3. paul walter

    Brilliant stuff. More from Dennis Bright.

  4. Zathras

    All the “evidence” to date has been verbal and from the same crowd who once categorically insisted that Saddam had WMDs and could even strike the UK with a missile in 18 minutes.

    For the Russians to undertake such an elaborate yet incredibly hamfisted approach to an assassination at the worst possible time (an election plus World Cup) is puzzling – but also a convenient distraction from various domestic problems in the UK.

  5. Stella

    Denis, thanks for an interesting article on the skiripal affair. An interesting distraction for the government from domestic policy and important national issues which need to be addressed.

  6. Phil

    Nothing cautious and measured about the Turnbull government’s response here. A shameful display of grovelling dependency on higher powers. Australia’s government once again does what every good vassal state does – acquiesce to higher authority. The Australian people are expected to accept that they are not mature enough in the collective to deal with the gravity of the issues. Julie will handle this.

    The most dispiriting aspect of this UK/NATO ham acted theatrics is the raw evidence showing western mainstream media so absolutely corrupted that it serves the military-industrial state as an internal agency against the interests of the people and the democratic system. Murdoch is but one of these traitors to democracy.

    Were it not for internet based independent journalism we would be reduced to silent, passive observers whose only participating role is to applaud on cue. This is the role Turnbull has assigned us. We should be smelling the rat.

    Here for example is relevant background material on Porton Down, the UK chemical and biological research centre just up the road from where, it is alleged the spy and his daughter were found. We need to know so much more before committing to dangerous geopolitical strategies. Evidence would help.

    REVEALED: Pentagon’s $70 Million Chemical & Biological Program at Porton Down in UK

  7. helvityni

    What happened to neutrality; do we always have to rush to where the angels fear to thread….

  8. JohnF

    Moon of Alabama has posted extensively on this case. The latest post discusses western efforts to avoid discussion of the toxin after Russia had destroyed its chemical weapons in 1997. One production and test facility for the ‘Novichok’ agents was in Nukus, Uzbekistan. In 1999 the US helped to dismantle that facility.

    Of interest is a detailed report of the US’s $70m investment in Porton Down research and the testing of chemical and biological agents on unsuspecting Britons.

    Salisbury Nerve Agent Attack Reveals $70 Million Pentagon Program At Porton Down

    The sudden recovery of Yulia Skripal from 1% chance of survival to nearly fully recovered is curiously coincidental with the Russian request for consular access under diplomatic treaties.

    Skripal case becomes even weirder

  9. Chris

    Why did Australia become involved in this incident? What relevance is this to our own geopolitics?

  10. Jon

    Foreign Ministers should help to resolve international tensions and not take sides.

  11. paul walter

    The Conservative oligarchy want May bailed out.

  12. Miya

    The British Conservatives can be counted on to put funding for Porton Down ahead of support for hospitals and preventative health strategies. Churchill 1953 and Theresa May today have similar elitist mindsets.

  13. Paul

    Interesting article Denis! I like the New Zealand style of approach.

    Happy easter.

  14. Leila Smith

    Than you Denis for a most interesting article !It has provided us with a perspective &information that main stream media fail to deliver.
    Great work & thank goodness for free speech in this country & independent thinking

  15. James Robo

    A likely distraction for Theresa May from here own problems of state during Brexit.

  16. Tessa_M

    Britain’s new role in global affairs after Brexit: International trouble-maker and arms supplier to dictators like the Saudi regime

  17. paul walter

    An absolute shambles.

  18. Glenn Barry

    Denis Bright, wonderful article as it captures so many of the subtleties that are so studiously overlooked by the MSM.

    This has all of the hallmarks of WMD, however so many of us knew they were lying back then and yet they persisted – their objective wasn’t to fool us into believing, it was to insult us into submission with their incessant lying…

    I am somewhat surprised at the willingness of some countries to involve themselves in this fiasco, I seriously hope that armed conflict with Russia is not on their collective agendas

  19. Meg

    Funny that you mention WMDs, Glenn – the stink surrounding that when everybody knows that Saddam Hussein let Hans Blix have the run of Iraq for ten years looking for weapons, and of course we know what happened next.

  20. Glenn Barry

    Meg, I always saw the WMD campaign and the Iraq war as exercises in determining the tolerance threshold to denigration and outright abuse through lying and misrepresentation.
    The process has since been repeated with Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen and attempting to repeat it with North Korea and now Russia.

    Meanwhile over the Tasman, New Zealand reveals us to be outrageously dysfunctional

  21. For Neutrality

    Where was the LNP Outrage against the use of Israeli weaponry in Gaza when the use of that weaponry was illogically perceived as being for Their Side of Politics: The Far Right

  22. Rubio@Coast

    Brtiain is a country to watch as the global electorate is tending towards the Right in Politics. Here Jeremy Corbyn made great gains in the 2017 National Elections with a primary vote of 40 per cent against less than 43 per cent for the Conservatives. The media is currently giving Jeremy a hard-time in Britain because he is perceived as a critic of Israel, Saudi Arabia and other big buyers from the global military industrial complexes who also have a big stake in the British export economy. I recommend the BBC News on SBS at 7 am most days if you want to keep in touch with events in Britain and global news from an independent perspective. BBC news is hard-hitting on domestic issues favourable to Labour with current attention to the violent crime wave in London (almost 50 murders in 2018), the housing affordability crisis and the plight of British hospitals. Even ABC TV News in Australia is soft on coverage of many pro-Labor issues. Perhaps LNP appointments to the boards of SBS and the ABC have been a contributing factor with a new wave of non-political programmes about gourmet foods and security services.

  23. Moya

    I agree with Rubio .
    Some public broadcasting programmes are really self- promoting communications.
    A recent programme on the search for Noah’s Ark is self promotion for the old fundamentalist interpretation of Creation.
    Ancestry. com programmes are not acknowledged as a multi- billion dollar business venture with links to major US corporations and the Mormon church.
    The LNP has a vested interest in toning down the critical content in public television.

  24. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks to The Guardian Online for its continued critical reporting on the Skripal Affair. Russia has no monopoly on the production of lethal nerve agents.


    Even The Australian Online if a British antidote for novichok could be produced to treat Sergei and Yulia at the Salisbury District Hospital without a local source of novichok (3 April 2018)

  25. Michael Chesher

    Very interesting article Denis!

  26. Mike

    Very interesting topic Denis, I would be more interested in knowing why the US have such a big presence here in Australia and NZ and why their Secret Service Agency has large influence on our own agency’s here and in NZ.

  27. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Progress of the investigation into the Nerve Agent/s used in the Skripal Affair can be reviewed from the media office of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW Laboratory) in Rijswijk,,The Hague. The investigations are still at an early stage with no real hint of the original of the nerve agent/s that precipitated the Skripal Affair in Britain on 4 March 2018:

    Rush to Judgment Over the Skripal Affair in Britain: New Diplomatic Charge of the Light Brigade?

    The OPCW is sending a team to Syria to investigate the origins of the chemical weapons used in Douma near Damascus:


    Presidential Tweets do not solve these puzzles. The rush to judgement has gathered momentum in the last week and is a dangerous exercise for humanity.

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