The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong

The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong

The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong

As the globe breathes a sigh of relief over the positive tones regarding a formal end to the Korean War and working towards a de-nuclearised Korean Peninsula, after the meeting between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, the North and South Korean leaders, we will start to see Donald Trump taking the credit for saving the world from a North Korean nuclear Armageddon. However, we have to ask is all as it seems?

It is very easy to see what we want to see, and a de-nuclearised Korean Peninsula is what we want to see in the same way George Bush and Tony Blair wanted to see Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), so they ensured the world saw that threat…….

We all know how Iraq has turned out because we didn’t open our eyes properly.  The intelligence game is all about keeping our eyes open and acting as the conscience for decision makers. Sometimes they listen, often they don’t and when they don’t and it all goes wrong, the intelligence agencies get the blame, not the politicians who made the decisions.

As I look at the Korean issue, I want to start with Russia and ask some of the intelligence game questions.

65-year-old Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (Влади́мир Влади́мирович Пу́тин) takes a long and global view of his vision to rebuild mother Russia in the image of the USSR but utilising his version of capitalist principals, not communism.

He has effectively been in power since 1999 when he was first Prime Minister of Russia, becoming President in 2000, engineering a break back to Prime Minister from 2008 – 2012 where his close ally Dmitry Medvedev became President, Putin has now been elected for his second 6-year term of this Presidency. He will be setting the conditions to ensure he can retain power long past this second term even if this means another ‘flip’ with Medvedev.

The ‘So What?’ from this is that Putin can afford to take a long-term view of what he wants to achieve for Russia and can use that longevity to bypass any sticky overseas opposition just by playing the long game.  He knows perfectly well that the leaders of the countries that oppose him are in power for relatively short periods of time and have adversarial political systems which he can easily manipulate so that dealing with the Russian bear remains a relatively low priority.

Putin is an old-school Russian, almost genetically disposed to see conspiracy from the West aimed at destroying Russia. He hankers after the days of the cold war where things were easy but loves the power and wealth he has in post-Soviet Russia; he is a Russian nationalist almost to fanatical levels, but that is his role, after all, he is President.

As you would expect his politics have created domestic enemies and friends; the difference between them and western political allies and opposition is that they are on the whole hugely wealthy and in their own spheres, hugely influential. Like all wealthy influential people, they also have ambition. Those such as Roman Abramovich and Arkady Rotenberg keep their ambition in line with Putin’s and are considered as friends. Those such as Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky are sent clear messages to toe the line or are exiled or imprisoned.  That messaging, as we have seen, is delivered by Polonium 210 or Novichok.

Putin, whilst he is more than happy to ‘go it alone’ is very conscious that his fortune comes from global business and from his long-term view position and historical mistrust of the USA and other NATO countries, he wants to make political and global business alliances. He knows he can control the EU and USA from anti-Russian excesses; Trumps change of mind regarding additional sanctions against Russia whilst Nikki Haley, his Ambassador to the UN, was outlining when they would be implemented is one sign of this. Not quite the eagle has landed and more of the eagle has been warned. Germany signing a gas contract with Russia on the day they issued a statement of condemnation over the Salisbury Novichok attack is another.

Putin sees his route for alliances to be with non-NATO like-minded countries and when their economies are growing, even better. We have been seeing greater cooperation with China and India, we have seen tolerance of Iran and continued massive support for Assad in Syria, but it is China and India I am interested in here.

The South China Seas/Indian Ocean region is seeing the fastest growth of power projection military capabilities of anywhere in the world. India is developing their naval blue water capability, China is doing the same, Japan is responding with constitutional changes and expeditionary capabilities and the disputed Paracel and Spratley Islands are being militarised.

Xi Jinping’s economy continues to grow at almost 7% and he has cemented his political longevity in a way I am sure Putin is envious of.  However, with only one-year difference in age, we have two P5 leaders with very long-term political stability and greater economic interaction, in 2015 Russia signed a $400 Bn 30-year natural gas supply agreement with China. They are natural global bedfellows and Russia’s courting of India makes them a natural focus for defence exports as they can pay!

Xi has been seen for a long time as Kim Jong Un’s only ‘ally’ and he is more like a great uncle trying to keep an errant, badly behaved distant nephew in check.  However, Dan North from the North Korean Monitoring site 38North.org has identified a company called TransTelekom (ТрансТелеКо́m) has put a fast internet connection into North Korea alongside their older and much slower Chinese supplied connection. TransTelekom is a major Russian telecommunications company that owns one of the world’s largest networks of fibre optic cables. The company is a full subsidiary of Russian national railway operator, Russian Railways who are owned by the Russian Federation.  Putin has his fingers in North Korea!

We have seen North Korea blamed for the sophisticated cyber-attack on Sony and the 2017 global WannaCry attack. At the same time, we see North Korea’s nuclear capability go from a warhead of less than 1Kt detonated in 2006 to in 2017 a warhead of an estimated 120-160 Kt exploded. His ballistic missile technology goes from short range to ICBM and failure most times to success most times, over an even shorter period of time.  Where is North Korea getting its cyber training and awareness and where is it getting its newfound nuclear and missile know-how and technologies? What has Russia to gain from a relationship with North Korea? These questions have never been successfully answered.

And what of the young dictator, Kim Jong Un the man who starves his people, executes his relatives with anti-aircraft guns if he suspects them of being disloyal or if exiled, executes them in an international airport with VX, a deadly persistent military grade nerve agent?  He has new friends who are helping his cyber capability and his missile technology. He has his Chinese ‘great uncle’ who has scolded him for poking Trump bald eagle with his ICBM nuclear stick. He has a need for investment and a pause in his nuclear programme, as his test site has collapsed. He has a long-term view just like Xi and Putin. He has, from his perspective, joined the ‘big boys club’ by getting the US President to come to him and showing the world his conventional and nuclear capabilities. He has given Putin an idea of what using a nerve agent as an assassins’ weapon is like. He has nothing to lose by having talks with Moon and Trump and everything to gain. He has a smug feeling in his belly.

The manoeuvring that is going on between Xi, Putin and Kim Jong Un, whilst it all seems to be separate and not interconnected, is likely to be just that, interconnected. What are Russia and China’s long-term goals and why are they playing with North Korea? There is a wider game at play here and it is probably 3 wider games, the Chinese one of global economic dominance, the Russian one of nationalistic resurgence and the North Korean one of sitting at the top table. The short-sighted view many Western countries will have of what is going on will force them to see what they want to, the cries for Trump to get the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘solving’ the North Korean issue have already started.  There is a global alliance here and it may have something to do with the disputed islands in the South China Sea.

We just have to remember some recent historical examples of success and failure. The Chinese economy grows when everyone else’s recedes. Putin annexed Crimea successfully and has a strong foothold in Eastern Ukraine. He has turned Assad’s assumed demise into a winning home run. He has clearly demonstrated the power of маскировка (maskirovka) in influencing elections, referendums and political debates on both sides of the Atlantic. Kim Jong Un has got the President of the USA to come to him.  We the West have a less successful record, the debacle of Iraq that resulted in the creation of ISIS and global terror, the failure in Afghanistan allowing the Taliban and ISIS-affiliated groups, to retake many of the areas soldiers blood was spilled to secure initially and Libya with the humanitarian disaster we see with refugees in the Mediterranean.

Who has the long-term vision and who sees what they want? Should we be worried? My view is, hell yes !!……….

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

Geopolitical manoeuvring and continued hybrid conflict.

Geopolitical manoeuvring and continued hybrid conflict.

Geopolitical manoeuvring and continued hybrid conflict – what will Putin do next?

As the rhetoric after the US, UK and French bombing of sites in Syria associated with their chemical warfare programme continues, what are we seeing happen with the Russian reaction and how is it likely to develop? Philip Ingram MBE a former senior British Intelligence officer gives his thoughts on the geopolitical manoeuvring and continued hybrid conflict we are seeing.

Putin, emboldened by his political successes at home built on nationalistic fervour and fear when his economy is collapsing and in any normal democratic country he would be held to account politically, we have seen him go on the international offensive.

Putin sees the political cracks in institutions around the world as opportunities and he influences them as any old spy would do, by sticking his knife into them and wiggling it. That knife just happens to be propaganda, fake news, data manipulation and information operations, what the Russians have enshrined in their doctrine, маскировка (maskirovka).

That маскировка is being used to good effect to try and throw off any association with the novichok agent attack on Sergi Skripal, the former Russian military intelligence officer, in Salisbury and the Syrian chlorine attack on Douma.

It has to be remembered that the primary audience for the маскировка campaign is domestic, attempting to make him look strong to his own people. His secondary audience is the increasing groups of conspiracy theorists who seem to believe anything that opposes a government or establishment view, no matter how incredible it sounds.

It is this group that acts as Putin’s voice – spreading the маскировка in their home territories and arguing its justification on social media outlets. They act as the маскировка knife in the institutional cracks across the West and turn it into a self-wiggling knife.

However, as his freedom to manoeuvre in the messaging battlespace is coming more constrained as the details around the Salisbury attack and the Douma attack become clearer, we are seeing the hint of a chink in Putin’s маскировка armour. More and more claims from his officials fall into the fanciful bracket and they begin to sound like ‘Comical Ali’, Saddam Hussein’s spokesman before and during the Gulf War. It is a shame many don’t see this and continue to let closed minds fall to continued маскировка.

So what next, or are we already seeing it? The word that springs to my mind is Kompromat, the threat to or deliberate exposure of compromising material. Unfortunately for President Trump, the whole Muller investigation puts him in an immediate position where he could be compromised. All Putin needs to do is say he had detailed discussions with Trump before his election and offered any help he could, and Trump would be sunk.

It is highly likely there is more and the indicator for this was US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s statement to the UN saying there would be increased sanctions against Russia, just to be told that for some unknown reason, President Trump had changed his mind and there would be no sanctions. The question why has to be asked? It is highly possible that Putin’s intelligence machinery will begin the slow drip feed of any Kompromat they have on Western figures over the coming months. The tabloids should be salivating.

The next possibility is to ramp up pressure on the West through increased Cyber-attacks. We have already seen Russia’s capability with the notPetya attack last year after North Korea was formally blamed for the earlier WannaCry attack. However, the relationship between North Korea and Russia is interesting and bears analysis as North Korea gives a plausibly deniable outlet for blame for Russian inspired attacks.

Dan North from the North Korean Monitoring site 38North.org has identified a company called TransTelekom (ТрансТелеКо́m) has put a fast internet connection into North Korea alongside their older and much slower Chinese supplied connection.

TransTelekom is a major Russian telecommunications company that owns one of the world’s largest networks of fibre optic cables. The company is a full subsidiary of Russian national railway operator, Russian Railways who are owned by the Russian Federation.

WannaCry occurred only a few months before this new connection was confirmed live and over a similar period, North Korean missiles went from failing most of the time to being successfully fired and over increasing ranges almost every time. How was their technology improving so fast? Why would the Russian state want to help Kim Jong Un?

What doesn’t fit with Russia using North Korea to execute cyber-attacks on the West, is the planned Kim Jong Un / Trump meeting, but I suspect this is not all it seems on the surface. However, there is always the potential to use Iran as a plausibly deniable outlet. Time and incidents will tell. With Kim Jong Un and Trump, that is a whole new article, but it is unlikely to be the miracle ‘seeing of the light’ we are all hoping for.

So what? We are likely to see a steady increase in cyber-attacks, using novel and sophisticated methodologies ranging from the carefully targeted to the global releases. The finger of blame from these attacks will likely be pointed at non-Russian actors who I argue, will fall into the plausibly deniable bracket.

Putin’s machinery will take care not to escalate global anti-Russian sentiment too much as they can’t afford retaliation. However, cyberspace is interesting as it is globally unregulated in warfare terms, unlike the Geneva Conventions and Protocols and Outer Space Treaty that regulate warfare in the Land, Maritime, Air and Space environments, cyberspace is a free-for-all environment.

Should escalation occur then the Russian machinery has the ability to refocus western countries into a domestic protection stance. That protection will be from a sustained series of extremist Islamist and increasing number of right-wing inspired terror attacks.

If we look at how many of the attackers in the UK over the past 2 years have been inspired, ranging from the Finsbury Park Mosque attack to the Palace of Westminster attack the internet has played a critical role in inspiring their terror.

The Russians have a clear history in Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere of enabling terrorists and “freedom fighters” by whatever means to rise up against authority. Given the power of the internet and what is available in the Deep and Dark web but the power of how social media influences, it would be relatively straightforward for Russian inspired terror, prosecuted by plausibly deniable agents, to hit the streets of the UK and elsewhere. They have done it before elsewhere.

One thing is clear when dealing with Russia is that they plan long, use non-standard tactics, work in the area of subtleties and fight dirty. They love it for other people to take the blame and love the ability to manipulate our politically naïve and will see it like ‘shooting fish in a barrel.’ We are in interesting times but given Putin’s political longevity and domestic political unity compared to any western country, we are in very dangerous times and are currently on the back foot. Now is the time for a firm, coordinated and robust defence based on subtle offence. I suspect our democratic systems will not allow this; we are losing.

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

How can we be certain, the intelligence game?

How can we be certain, the intelligence game?

How can we be certain, the intelligence game?

In the run-up to the action in the early hours of Sat 14thApril to bomb very specific targets in Syria to send a clear message, not just to Bashar Al-Assad but the world, that the use of chemical weapons is completely unacceptable, I have noted with sadness the large number of dissenters questioning the decisions of 3 elected heads of state, who represent the worlds policing body, the P5 of the United Nations Security Council.

Even after the attack, we have the leader of the opposition calling it illegal, questioning the decision making and the evidence to say it was Assad who carried out the horrific chlorine attack on Douma killing countless women and children.

The reports that came out of Douma alongside video released by the Syrian civil defence force, the White Helmets was not the evidence or intelligence the leaders of the USA, France and UK used to make their decision to bomb Syria, it was merely the initiator of a complex, layered process to understand what happened.

For the uninitiated, I am going to describe the sorts of processes that are in place to ensure that our leaders know that Assad’s forces were behind the chemical attack.  I am leaving myself open to criticism as I cannot go into the real detail of how systems work and what their exact capabilities are, but I ask that people recognise I have used these systems and processes in the past, I have personal experience. Also, intelligence can be wrong but the more independent sources used and the fact here there would be 3 independent national collection and assessment operations reduces that possibility enormously.

The Middle East and Syria, in particular, is a focus for the intelligence capabilities of many countries involved or affected by the conflict.  These will include the USA, UK, France, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Iran and many more. It is a part of the world with a huge volume of intelligence gathering platforms listening, sniffing, watching, reporting every piece of activity. Banks of analysts will be trying to analyse and interpret that activity, 24/7, 365 days a year – the intelligence cycle of direct, collect, analyse and disseminate is unending.

So, starting with the video from the White Helmets it gave a possible activity at a claimed time with a claimed weapon, how can we know it was a chlorine bomb dropped from an aircraft by Assad’s forces?

Once the reports started coming in, the banks of analysts pouring over their intelligence databases will have started to put together the questions they need answering, and looking for information collected that relates to those questions.  The first in this instance would be – was there an aircraft at the claimed time over Douma and if so what type was it, where did it come from and who owned it?

AWACS Airborne early warning aircraft and other capabilities are watching all aircraft movements on a continual basis – they can track hundreds of movements simultaneously and will know if one was there, what type of aircraft it was, civilian/military, fixed wing/rotary wing and possibly even the callsign and model.   They will know where it took off from, the route it took to Douma and where it went back to and the route with the exact times of all activities.

Cross-referencing the movement with signals intelligence data gathered from the aircraft, ships, UAVs and other assets hoovering up all radio traffic and more, there will be recordings of the aircraft’s crew checking in with their air traffic control and operational base. Those recordings will be translated, and translations checked.

So, we now know there was an aircraft in the right vicinity at the right time and we know where it came from and when.  Imagery Intelligence of the base it flew from the moment it took off going back in time will be poured over by imagery intelligence specialists looking for the preparation of the aircraft, the weapons being loaded onto it, the crew joining it and everything that happened prior to it taking off.  That capability exists and can be cross-referenced with capability from partner nations.

It will take time, but the loading of the aircraft will have been photographed. From those pictures an assessment of the weapon can be made – a barrel bomb is not easy to hide from the prying eyes of Western Intelligence. Once that assessment has been made and the number and types of vehicles used to move the weapon to the aircraft identified, the next task is to find the convoy which brought the bomb to the airfield.  Intelligence gathered by the likes of the US JSTARs or UK Sentinel R1 can look for movement from known weapons dumps to the airport over a period of time.  Various possibilities will be identified and will be cross-referenced with detailed imagery analysis of all of these sites and communications to and from the sites. The picture is building.

Human Intelligence (HUMINT) agents on the ground and Signals intelligence (SIGINT) assets will have been tasked to see what they can find out, what are personnel from the bases saying? What are the discussions Syrian military and political decision-makers having? How are they reacting to the international condemnation? What is being said between Assad’s people and the Russians? What are the Russians saying back to Moscow? Information in little snippets will be being fed to the analysts, agents will be talking to their contacts, supercomputers will be cross-referencing thousands of communications.

It is highly unlikely that there will be a report of the clarity, “Hello base, this is the heli, we have just dropped the chlorine bomb on Douma and are returning to base, over.” But what our intelligence will have told us is there was a Syrian aircraft over Douma at the time the alleged incident occurred, that aircraft came from an airfield where an object consistent with a barrel bomb was seen to be loaded.  That object is consistent with one loaded onto trucks from a known chemical weapons storage site. HUMINT and SIGINT will add further context.

Intelligence is an art, scientifically approached, it can be wrong, it never (well rarely) gives a 100% picture, but we can be confident that the picture it does give is pretty close to what actually happened.

What I have described above is not necessarily what happened in the run-up to the decision to attack Syria but it will be in the right ballpark….

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

Oooooh Betty, I think I’m in a bit of a pickle, what are our options on Syria?

Oooooh Betty, I think I’m in a bit of a pickle, what are our options on Syria?

****UPDATED****

Oooooh Betty, I think I’m in a bit of a pickle, what are our options on Syria?

The suspected chemical attacks on Saturday on Douma, the last rebel-held town in the Eastern Ghouta region of Syria have stirred up a hornet’s nest of rhetoric flying between Trump and Putin with the UK and France caught in the crossfire not just internationally but domestically.

The first thing we have to realise is that this suspected chlorine attack is only the latest weapon used against the civilian population in Eastern Ghouta. In February, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched an assault on the Eastern Ghouta that has reportedly left more than 1,700 civilians dead. Those deaths were through bombs, artillery and gunfire; there is one fact that is very clear; civilians are being targeted and dying in this conflict. The targeting of civilians by whatever means is illegal under international law. The use of chemical weapons just breaks a different law but has the same effect – dead civilians.

The second fact about these deaths, un-guided bombs from aircraft and artillery are area weapons, they are not precise, they are designed to rip apart anything in their blast and shrapnel zone and cannot distinguish between civilian and fighter.  That is why coalition forces attacking so-called ISIS targets use precision-guided munitions, accurate enough to hit a very precise target and care is taken to ensure the safety of any nearby civilians.

The bigger question the people of the world have to ask themselves is in a globally focused world is it right to do nothing when you know atrocities are happening, and by doing nothing does that make us as guilty as the perpetrator of these heinous acts?

If the decision is that you have to do something, then the questions are who and how? For international matters the organisation responsible for policing the world, the who, is the United Nations and in particular the United Nations Security Council.  The 5 permanent members of the Security Council are expected and should show leadership when it comes to policing global conflicts. Of the 5, China has maintained a stance of not getting involved in wider issues outside an immediate interest to China.

That leaves the USA, Russia, the UK and France who all pulled together to stabilise the Balkans. Historically and primarily because of NATO cooperation the US, UK, and France have worked closest together, and Russia has been on the outside. That changed to a degree is the run-up to NATO intervention into Bosnia when a formal Russian delegation was set up in NATO headquarters just outside Brussels, to facilitate greater military and political cooperation.

So, coming back to Syria how have we got to where we are and what can be done? We have to recognise the Russians have a real strategic interest in Syria.  The Russian Naval facility on the northern edge of the Syrian seaport of Tartus is a vital strategic facility and Russia has had other long-standing strategic interests in Syria given its location in the region, bordering on NATO’s southern flank, within a short distance of the British bases in Cyprus, able to monitor Iran and Israel and more.  Putin needs Syria.

In addition to Putin needing Syria, we have seen him regenerating the old cold war strength of the Soviet Union at least in the minds of the Russians. That is why he has reconstructed his naval capability, why his strategic air capability is now flying, and he parades new complex fighting machines. It is why he fired cruise type missiles under the glare of the global press against ISIS targets from his submarines and warships and deployed an aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean to fly air sorties. He wanted to show the world the same pictures the Americans had done in the Iraq war, he wanted to show Russia was back.

Emboldened by his political successes at home built on nationalistic fervour and fear when his economy is collapsing and in any normal democratic country he would be politically held to account, we have seen him go on the offensive. He sees the political cracks in institutions around the world and he influences them as any old spy would do by sticking his knife into them and wiggling it.  That knife just happens to be propaganda, fake news, data manipulation, information operations, what the Russians call маскировка (maskirovka) – masking. Banging his military drum is part of that process as is his abject failure to sanction the UN Security Council resolution to let independent teams from the OPCW investigate the Douma incident.

Putin is sticking 2 fingers up at the world and has used the attack on the Skripal’s in Salisbury with the deadly novichok nerve agent and is using Assad’s willingness to terrorise and kill his own people as his latest tactics to do this.

The USA, UK, and France are now carefully looking at not just the reports that have come out of Douma but the wider intelligence they will have relating to the situation in Syria.  All 3 countries have had extensive intelligence assets continuously watching, listening and analysing what is going on, so any action taken will not just be on the say so of the White Helmets in Eastern Ghouta or the activists from the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) who record alleged violations on international law in Syria, or any other group.

The USA, UK, and France should be looking at the objectives of any retaliation into Syria, asking what collateral damage could be done politically with the Russians and what the risk of escalation is and then asking if any proposed action is worth those risks? They will be balancing the dangers associated with striking militarily with the dangers of doing nothing. However, it is certain that any action will fall well short of an attempt at regime change or anything that could escalate into a wider conflict with Russia.

At the same time, no matter what President Trump does on Twitter, behind closed doors measured diplomatic actions will be taking place to de-conflict any potential actions with Russia.  Whilst the public rhetoric of a Twitter-addicted Trump and a маскировка (maskirovka) enabled Putin play out, good old-fashioned diplomacy will set and ensure clear boundaries.

Militarily the use of conventional aircraft to bomb Assad’s bases is virtually impossible. Many of them are protected by sophisticated and very capable Russian air defence systems.  Military tactics dictate that these would have to be destroyed before attacks on the bases took place and as they are manned by Russian personnel, that would be an immediate escalation.

Therefore, a military response will rely on attacks by cruise missiles and it takes time to get these into firing positions.  The USA will not want to be the only country attacking. That time will be well spent with diplomatic de-confliction activity and gathering more intelligence to increase the understanding of what happened in Douma.

In addition, a military assessment of how many missiles will be needed to penetrate the potential Russian Air Defence network and cause a sufficient show will be happening. It would hand President Putin a real propaganda coup if he managed to shoot significant numbers of them down.

Douma is merely the straw that has broken the back of the camel of world opinion. Do we act or do we not, what is morally right for not just the people of Syria but the people in the next conflict zone?

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

 

Novichok and Salisbury – a British Military failure

Novichok and Salisbury – a British Military failure

Novichok and Salisbury – a British Military failure

It should have been a strategic gift, an assassination attempt using an agent that as we have heard from Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the MoD, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), said was a military-grade novichok nerve agent, which could probably be deployed only by a nation-state. Instead, we are being led a merry dance in information terms regarding the burden of proof and apportionment of blame.

The Russians, who I more firmly than ever assess were behind this attack have a doctrine of маскировка (maskirovka), literally masking. This was defined in the International Dictionary of Intelligence from 1990 as the Russian military intelligence (GRU) term for deception and if we are ever seeing a deception operation in play today just look at all of the Russian statements around every reason why everyone else was to blame for the Salisbury attack.

Looking at what we the public know and the thinking behind it means there can be only one guilty party. That guilt is based on an intelligence assessment and intelligence is not an exact science.  In fact, to make an intelligence call, very often you are working only on a balance of probabilities rather than what a court of law would require with a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ call.  Intelligence does not, and rarely is as certain.  That is why it is a professional business and why, when amateurs or politicians, such as happened in the ‘dodgy dossier’ case for the Iraq war, think they can amend carefully worded assessments, they get it wrong in a spectacular way.  We have not seen and won’t see the publication of a political interpretation of the intelligence, we have seen a political statement of what the agencies assess.

Intelligence looks at two things, capability and intent, and Gary Aitkenhead, a MoD employee, has clearly outlined the capability side of the argument.  Often scientific analysis can identify not just the lab was an unusual substance is made but the individual who made it; that is clearly not the case with this novichok compound. However, it is not the remit of DSTL to comment on intent.

The theories I outlined in my blogs here: http://greyharemedia.com/sergei-skripal-assassination/ and here: http://greyharemedia.com/sergei-and-yulia-skripal-assassination-attempt-further-comment/  continue to hold accuracy and I continue to believe that on the balance of probabilities, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin ordered this assassination attempt using novichok. He did it for a number of reasons including sending a powerful message to anyone who opposes him and remember this happened 14 days before the Russian Presidential election and to stick a proverbial 2 fingers up at the West, he wanted the world to know it was probably him hence the choice of a novichok agent, as he would have known it would be traced back to him. This was a political attack rather than an assassination attempt; the means required the assassination attempt.

So why do I call this a British Military failure? Earlier this year Robert Hannigan, the ex-director of GCHQ, said of the Russian threat in an interview, ‘We didn’t see Russian use of disinformation coming‘.  Combine this with the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Gordon Messenger telling The Times that the need to win the information war concerns him more than the latest model of tank, fast jet or warship.

He said, hardware still has a role but wants to see an evolution in the military mindset about the importance of using data to help defeat and destroy an enemy. “We have to wake up to the idea that our ability to turn data into information advantage, our ability to respond faster through cleverer decision-making which is enabled by the flow of information, is actually frankly as important if not even more important than whether our tanks out-range an anti-tank missile.”

These statements clearly demonstrate a naivety with the UK’s senior defence decision makers and a failure to remember what they have been expensively taught at military staff colleges. General Messenger will be staff college trained and educated as a member of the Royal College of Defence Studies, an elite course tailored for those heading to the top, both courses will have taught the importance of маскировка (maskirovka) and its use by the Russians as well as its historical underpinning by the ancient Chinese General and Philosopher Sun Tzu in the 6thCentury. The military mindset should be there already.

How can defence have forgotten what is taught and allowed Gary Aitkenhead to give a very public interview where only the most naïve wouldn’t have realised the potential implications and the information operations gift it would give Russia? Yet it happened in a vacuum of zero MoD pre and post-interview messaging to reinforce the MoD’s part in the wider government intelligence assessment process.

This is a basic tactic that the MoD should have deployed yet instead we have silence. That silence is tantamount to providing an advantage to another state to cause harm to the UK. It has and will continue to embolden the Russian маскировка (maskirovka) campaign and cause the UK political damage domestically through naïve anti-government groups and internationally to those who want to keep Russia onside for a bit at least.

In law, often doing nothing is as much a crime as committing the criminal act if it is known about. Here we have the MoD knowing a statement from a MoD official, will likely cause national harm, yet it does nothing. That is the failure and that failure needs to be held to account. We don’t need an enemy with capability anymore, intent is good enough, we give them the capability.

It is akin to the MoD making IEDs for terrorists to use, it is wrong and has to stop. So, either CDS has failed or he has been ordered by his political master not to do anything, one or other must account for damaging the nation.

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Offficer who was based near Salisbury in the past. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE