The Stena Impero, what next?

The Stena Impero, what next?

The Stena Imperio, what next?

With the UK flagged tanker Stena Impero being seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Strait of Hormuz, reportedly in Omani Territorial waters according to the UK Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, what can be done next?

Whatever the next step is, it will by default be seen by the Iranians as escalatory. We are entering a very dangerous phase that would tax the most experienced and hardened of Prime Ministers never mind a new one starting next week. 

The Foreign Office has summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires in London, in the first step of what will be a fraught period of diplomacy where every word counts.  Penny Mordaunt has already declared it as a ‘Hostile Act,’ a significant choice of words in the diplomatic world as it is one associated with the easing of a military’s rules of engagement and a precursor to greater military deployments.

Once severe displeasure has been lodged with the Iranian charge d’affaires it is likely that Teresa May and Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary will be on the phone to allied to ask them to pass their condemnation onto Iran’s representatives in their capitals. We should start to see statements of condemnation and concern from allies coming out.

The next formal step will likely be an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council early in the week, to pass a resolution ordering Iran to release the Stena Impero and her crew and to stop all aggressive behaviour in the region. If the phrase ‘hostile act’ gets into the UNSCR the next phrase to watch for is “by all means necessary” when it comes to enforcing the resolution. That is in effect a UN authorisation to go to war if necessary. Words are important!

Given Iran’s links to Syria and therefore Russian activity in Syria they would probably hope that Russia would veto any resolution worded too strongly.  However, given there is a Russian citizen amongst the crew and there is already pressure on Russia elsewhere, this is less likely.

Iran is angry at the UK’s seizure of an Iranian oil tankerthe Grace 1in Gibraltar’s waters, for operating against EU sanctions on Syria.  Iranian TV’s Channel Two, broadcast part of an interview with Mr Abbas Mousavi, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman who said the seizure was “a form of piracy” 

The issue is however much bigger and Iran’s beef with the UK goes far back in history with recent disputed over undelivered tanks, ordered during the Shar’s reign and partially paid for but not delivered due to the Iranian Revolution.  The initial payments were never refunded, and Iran has taken the UK Govt owned company who brokered the deal, to court.

Iran is concerned about current sanctions and sees the UK as a bedfellow of their arch enemy the US. President Trumps recent withdrawal from the Iran nuclear treaty has enflamed tensions.  Those tensions are further enflamed by the continuing proxy wars in Syria and Yemen where British weapons and supplied military capabilities are being used against Iranian backed rebels.

The one conclusion form all of this is it is a mess and will be very difficult to unpick, it is likely the Stena Impero will be in Iranian waters for quite some time to come.  Any next step is likely to enflame tensions further and I suspect activity in Portsmouth will be increasing rapidly to prepare more ships for sea. Not a good time for RN personnel if they have annual leave booked.

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

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Document Find, was it the GRU?

Document Find, was it the GRU?

With the latest embarrassment linked to Porton Down Philip Ingram MBE asks, the document find, was it the GRU?

At one-minute past midnight on 4thOctober 2018 a statement came out from the British Government saying that the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had “identified that a number of cyber actors widely known to have been conducting cyber-attacks around the world are, in fact, the GRU.”

The GRU is the Russian Military Intelligence organisation also known as the Main Intelligence Directorate who have been accused of being responsible for the assassination attempt on Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March last year and causing the death of Dawn Sturgess.

Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga and Colonel Dr Alexander Mishkin had flown into Gatwick on 02 March and out of Heathrow on 04 March 2018, having been seen in Salisbury on Saturday 03 and again on Sunday 04 March when Sergei Skripal was contaminated by Novichok being placed on the handle of the front door of his house.

Sergey Naryshkin, the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence the SVR said in October,“Even if one assumes that some secret service was really given such a mission, the way it handled this case was very unprofessional.” Philip Ingram MBE a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence believes rather that his statement being a Russian denial of Salisbury, it was a swipe at the GRU.  “There is no love lost between the GRU and the SVR especially when it comes to competing for resources and influence,” Ingram said.

Then in November 2018 Victor Korobov, the head of the GRU died at the age of 62 supposedly after a “long and difficult illness.”  He had been on sick leave ever since a dressing down by President Putin after the expose of GRU activities in Salisbury, outside the OPCW in the NL and the Bellingcat revelations of wider GRU activities.

The one thing that clearly comes out of this is the GRU were bruised, bruised operationally and their ego was deflated. As an organisation they had something to prove, that something was they could still operate.

Since then we have heard of Wiltshire Council computers suffering a cyber attack (The GRU operate Russia’s cyber capability), Gatwick Airport suffered a cyber attack, a mysterious and large Russian flag was unveiled on scaffolding on Salisbury Cathedral, Gatwick Airport was closed for 36 hrs through drone incursions which both Philip Ingram and Sir Gerald Howarth, David Cameron’s international security minister, assessed could have been done by the Russians and now we have classified documents relating to staff at Porton Down being found in a recycling bin in North London.

One thing an intelligence professional will look for is a pattern, and there is a very clear pattern of activity aimed at embarrassing Wilts council and the people of Salisbury, Gatwick who had pictures of the GRU team arriving, Porton Down and through to all the UK Government. That pattern of activity points towards an intent.

The second question an intelligence professional asks is if they have the capability. That is easier to confirm. The GRU are responsible for Russia’s national cyber capability.  The Bellingcat investigations have exposed their global travel carrying out operations. Philip Ingram believes even Salisbury will have a longer term focus as he highlighted in his blog

Putting all of this together we have a strong possibility that the documents discovered by an individual in a recycling bin, reportedly from or related to Porton Down and passed to a national newspaper and not the police, were compromised and put there by a GRU team to embarrass Porton Down. Ingram’s spooks paradise blog looks even more credible! 

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