Monday, April 16, 2018

The UK's Novichok Poisoning Cover-up

On March 4, 2018, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter, Yulia, were reported to have been poisoned with the nerve agent A-234, aka, Novichok, in Salisbury, England, where Sergei Skripal now resides.

On March 22, the UK Court of Protection gave permission for blood samples to be obtained from the allegedly still unconscious Yulia and Sergei Skripal for analysis to be arranged by the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Warfare (OPCW).

Those blood samples were sent for analysis by the OPCW to several laboratories, among which was the Swiss Federal Institute for NBC-protection in Spiez. The Spiez lab. completed its analysis on  March 27. The OPCW has not publicly disclosed what the Spiez lab. found. However, the Russian Embassy in London reports that:
The experts of the [Spiez] Institute discovered traces of toxic chemical called “BZ” and its precursors. It is a Schedule 2 substance under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“BZ” is a chemical agent, which is used to temporary incapacitate people. The desired psychotoxic effect is reached in 30-60 minutes after application of the agent and lasts up to four days. According to the information the Russian Federation possesses, this agent was used in the armed forces of the USA, United Kingdom and several others NATO member states. No stocks of such substance ever existed either in the Soviet Union or in the Russian Federation.

In addition, the Swiss specialists discovered strong concentration of traces of the nerve agent of A-234 type in its initial states as well as its decomposition products.

In view of the experts, such concentration of the A-234 agent would result in inevitable fatal outcome of its administration. Moreover, considering its high volatility, the detection of this substance in its initial state (pure form and high concentration) is extremely suspicious as the samples have been taken several weeks since the poisoning.

It looks highly likely that the “BZ” nerve agent was used in Salisbury. The fact that Yulia Skripal and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey have already been discharged from hospital, and Sergei Skripal is on his way to recovery, only supports such conclusion.
It remains to be seen whether the OPCW will release the data to which the Russian Embassy refers, and thus either confirm or refute the Russian Embassy's claims. But that blood samples from the Skripals contained two nerve agents is not surprising given the mode of action of A-234, with which, so the British authorities claim, the Skripals were poisoned.

A-234 is a convulsant, which acts by preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction, with the result that muscles go into full contraction, hence the symptoms of convulsions, vomiting, etc.. One can assume, therefore, that if they were victims of A-234 poisoning, the Skripals would have been treated with an agent having effects antagonistic to those of A-234. BZ, a paralytic drug, is such an agent, which acts by binding to acetylcholine receptors at the neuromuscular junction without activating them, thereby preventing muscle contraction, voluntary or otherwise.
Thus, whereas BZ would be an effective antidote to A-234 poisoning, A-234 would serve as an antidote to BZ poisoning, which if severe can lead to fatal paralysis and hence asphyxiation. So the presence of A-234 in the Skipal blood samples is not conclusive evidence that it was the poison, rather than the antidote.

That the powerful nerve agent A-234 would have been prescribed as an antidote to the rather less potent nerve agent BZ may seem improbable, but it must be remembered that the Salisbury Trust Hospital where the Skripals were treated is within seven miles of Britain's Chemical and Biological Weapons Research establishment at Porton Down, where doctors at the Salisbury hospital might well have sought advice on treatment for apparent nerve agent poisoning.

Certainly, the Porton Down lab must have a supply of A-234 on hand, since it was able to identify Novichok in samples provided by the police or Salisbury hospital, and for that they would have required a sample of authentic A-234 for comparison.

That BZ was the poison and A-234 the antidote, is consistent with the letter to the Times newspaper in which the Salisbury Trust Hospital's Resident in Emergency Medicine, Dr. Stephen Davies, stated that no one had been treated at the hospital for nerve agent poisoning. That would make sense if BZ, which is a readily available pharmacological agent, was considered to be just that, a pharmacological agent — not a WMD or nerve agent. Then Dr. Davies letter can be interpreted to mean that the Skripals were treated not for nerve agent exposure, but by nerve agent exposure.

The truth of what happened to the Skripals in Salisbury the day they were admitted to hospital for treatment of poisoning is unlikely ever to be known with any certainty unless the physicians and others who attended on the Skripals are allowed to come forward and provide evidence. So far, it appears they have been effectively gagged.

Specifically, one would like to know from the hospital staff whether they can confirm the claim of the "doctor," who attended on the Skripals in the park where they were stricken (and who requested that her identity not be disclosed) that the Skripals were vomiting and convulsing when admitted to hospital, i.e., showing symptoms of A-234 poisoning.

In addition, one would like to know (a) what treatments, including drugs, were applied to these patients, and (b) what analyses of blood and vomit or stomache contents were ordered by the attending physicians a the time the Skripals were admitted to the Salisbury Trust Hospital, and (c) what did those tests show?

As we wait for answers to such questions from the Government of Theresa May, we will not hold our breath.

Tass: Russia proves Novichok agent patented in US as a chemical weapon — OPCW envoy
Tass: Yulia Skripal ‘held hostage by British authorities’ — Russia's OPCW ambassador
CanSpeccy: 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate: The Antidote to Novichok
CanSpeccy: Novichok: Russia’s Antidote to Seafood Poisoning.


  1. Interesting commentary. But why would a Spy agency want to use a poison that isn’t very effective? What has been bothering me about this whole thing is the dearth of information from the British Government. It really is very strange that we are not getting told more about what has happened and provided with more details about the health of the Skripals. Since this has nearly taken Britain to war with Russia, the people have a right to know all of the facts. What is this all about? I am beginning to think of the old policeman’s comment – “What have they got to hide?”

    1. “What have they got to hide?”


    2. "But why would a Spy agency want to use a poison that isn’t very effective?"

      If Sergei Skripal is back in the pay of MI6, then it must be considered possible that the Skripals are a party to a fake WMD attack, to be attributed to Russia, as a means to stoke Russophobia. In that case, it would be natural to use a relatively mild incapacitating agent from which recovery would be assured.

      Then the presence of Novichok in the blood samples received by the Spiez lab. could be the result of the samples having been spiked, as the Russian Embassy suggests, or because the Novichok, carefully administered in precise amounts in a hospital setting is a safe and effective antidote to BZ.