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.
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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