Friday, July 27, 2018

Britain's Novichok Poisonings: An Opportunistic Anti-Russian Propaganda Operation?

What follows is a hypothesis to explain the reported Novichok poisonings of the Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia, and the Amesbury couple, Charlie Rowley and the late Dawn Sturgess.

In formulating this hypothesis I have drawn on information and ideas provided by some of those commenting on Ambassador Craig Murrray's blog, and on what is known of the physiological action of nerve agents and opiates.

In considering this hypothesis, readers should be aware that what I am proposing is stark contradiction of the May Government's position and the  claims attributed by British media to police and Security Service sources. However, such police and Security Services statements quoted thus far have a high degree of deniability in the event that evidence to emerge in the future renders the narrative they promote inoperative, to use the immortal terminology of Richard Nixon's press secretary, Ron Ziegler.

Thus for example, on July 19, the Guardian reported the Press Association "quoting a source with knowledge of the Skripal case as saying:"

Investigators believe they have identified the suspected perpetrators of the novichok attack through CCTV and have cross-checked this with records of people who entered the country around that time. They [the investigators] are sure they [the suspects] are Russian.
So if you find compelling the Guardian's report of the Press Association quoting what someone said to have knowledge of the case is said to have said, then read no further. 

Equally, you may find reassuring the July 20, report in the Telegraph that: 

Russian agents responsible for the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury sent a coded message to Moscow which included the phrase, "The package has been delivered"
That no indication is provided as to how it was determined either that the senders of the message were "Russian agents responsible for the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury" or that the wording "the package has been received" had anything to do with the use of a chemical weapon of mass destruction in Salisbury, England (rather than, say, the delivery of a pair of pants from the dry cleaners), may for some detract from the force of the Telegraph's story. Also questionable, is the provenance of the information, the attribution being simply to:

A British intelligence listening station based in Cyprus, [that] allegedly picked up [the] message shortly after former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, were attacked in March.
Alleged by whom, we are not to be informed. 

So, yes, why not consider an alternative account. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Skripal poisonings, the British media speculated on the possibility of fentanyl as the poison, on the assumption that the Skripals were opioid drug users poisoned by heroin cut with fentanyl. Thus the Telegraph reported on March 6:

Early reports suggested that colonel Skripal and the unnamed woman may have been exposed to the synthetic drug, Fentanyl, which is up to 10,000 times more powerful than heroin and has been linked to scores of deaths in the UK.

Which is consistent with the March 16, letter to the Times from Salisbury Trust Hospital's consultant in Emergency Medicine, Dr. Stephen Davies, who wrote:

“Sir, Further to your report (“Poison Exposure Leaves Almost 40 Needing Treatment”, Mar 14), may I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve-agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning... Source

Which suggests an interpretation of the CCTV images below, which, according to the Guardian, shows: "two people walking near the spot where a former Russian spy and his daughter were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury." 

Who are those two people? The Amesbury poisoning victims, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess? So it has been suggested.

And what about the red bag, the blonde woman is carrying? Is it the red bag found beside the bench where the Skripals were stricken?

Could the bag have delivered the poison?

In 2015, Charlie Rowley was jailed for eight weeks for:

... possession of eleven wraps of heroin and theft of £1,700 from Matthew Rowley. He was already serving a suspended sentence for driving while banned... Source

So was Charlie supplying heroin to Sergei Skripal? And if so, was the drug cut with fentanyl, creating a combination that has proved deadly to tens of thousands?

And if that's what happened, is it not possible that Charlie and his partner Dawn Sturgess, known drug users, fell victim to the same potentially lethal drug cocktail?

But if so, whence the Novichok?

One explanation, which I outlined here, is that both the Skripals, and Rowley and Burgess were not poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok but treated with Novichok as an antidote to poisoning with an the opioid respiratory inhibitor, fentanyl. 

At lethal concentrations, nerve poisons such as BZ, botulinum toxin (the latter much more poisonous that Novichok), or fentanyl inhibit the release of acetyl choline at the neuromuscular junction, resulting in respiratory arrest and death by suffocation.

The organo-phosphorus nerve agents, of which Novichok is one, have the opposite effect: they inhibit the activity of the enzyme acetyl choline esterase, thereby preventing breakdown of acetyl choline released at the neuromuscular junction. The result is convulsive muscular contraction causing death due to asphyxiation. Novichok thus has potential to serve as an antidote to fentanyl. 

Was Novichok administered to the Skripals, and to Rowley and Burgess as  an antidote to fentanyl poisoning? 

That we do not know. But we do know that staff at Britain's chemical and biological weapons research establishment at Porton Down, just a few miles from where both alleged Novichok poisonings occured, were consulted on treatment of the Skripals

What advice did they give? 

There appears to be no public information on that. But since fentanyl poisoning can be deadly, why would they not have proposed an organophosphorus nerve agent, such as Novichok as an antidote, even if such treatment was untested and potentially harmful?

Splendidly, from the point of view of those seeking to demonize Putin's Russia, use of Novichok as an antidote to whatever the victims were poisoned with, whether it be botulinum toxin in a seafood salad lunch, a dose of BZ administered by means unknown, or fentanyl-laced heroin, it provided a basis for accusing Russia of an atrocity on British soil.

The evidence? Why the name of the poison, of course. Novichok. With a name like that, it's got to be from Putin's Russia. 

But on what evidence was use of Novichok claimed? 

Well none at all really, except the word of Porton Down, and, in the case of the Skripals, the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Warfare, which had samples of blood from the Skripals analyzed and found them to contain Novichok. 

And that, according to the above hypothesis, Porton Down would have known without need of testing, since they themselves had supplied the Novichok and supervised its use under the carefully controlled, and therefore relatively safe, conditions of the Salisbury Trust Hospital. 

Perhaps Theresa May's or her subordinates will someday offer more conclusive evidence of Russian responsibility for the Novichok "poisonings," but don't hold your breath. 

1 comment:

  1. In his latest column, John Ward of the Slog Blog, takes your view:

    "The Skripal Affair offers a classic example of the redefining of news. We will almost certainly never know for sure, but the couple’s “poisoning” probably represented a security services Black Op that went wrong, but was then opportunistically turned into accusations first against Putin, then his ally Assad…and finally became the rationale for bombing Syrian and Iranian airfields and emplacements."