The Skripal Files

The Skripal Files

The Skripal Files by Mark Urban, a review by Philip Ingram MBE

I am an intelligence and counter intelligence expert and have commanded a unit which had a specialist capability trained and deployed to monitor Russian (KGB and GRU) activities as well as others. I know how the Russian intelligence agencies work and have been fortunate to speak with former Russian Intelligence Officers who have defected to the West.  I too was a Colonel in Military Intelligence, but British Military Intelligence.

I am also for my sins a CBRN expert having studied chemical defence at degree and masters level. Since the 4th March I have been writing in my blog about the Skripal incident, commenting in the national and international press in all its formats, print, radio and TV on what was going on and my assessment.

I was the first to directly blame the Russian, the first to suggest a thickened Nerve Agent, one of the first to suggest Novichok and the lone voice until Teresa May said it in Parliament and Mark Urban mentioned it in this outstanding book, that said the attack on Sergei Skripal was to send a message.

What Mark Urban has done which is unique is to bring Sergei Skripals character, history and thinking to life because he spent time with him, I never met him, but I feel I know him a little better. Mark has been careful to outline fact and caveat assessment – he makes a call on what probably happened at times, but this is the real world and is how real-world intelligence works and he clearly distinguishes where he has made an assessment.

The Skripal files bring to life in such a realistic way how undeclared intelligence officers operate around the world, no matter what country they are from. His description of the research process and recruitment processes are very accurate, his analysis of the motivations that turned Sergei, fit with what was going on at the time and his description of wider case management is spot on. I have a distinct feeling I know some of the characters he has described, and some quite well.

What is fascinating is the interplay between different spy rings and how easy it is for an agent to be compromised and what happened after Sergei was arrested in a gem of an insight. It would have broken most mortals, and this shows the real strength of character Sergei must have.

I can see the accuracy and analysis in this book has struck a raw nerve with some and Marks description of the Information War is not turning into some ‘individuals’ reviewing his book very negatively. That there is an information war being raged against him and is a sign of how embarrassed the GRU and Russian intelligence organisations are.

Simply put, I can’t recommend this book more highly – my only disappointment is he had a publishing deadline as there is much more to this story that has yet to come, but I can look forward to the sequel.

Note: This review is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence, who was based near Salisbury and has assessed Russian activity for many years. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

To buy this fantastic book from Amazon Click HERE:  THE SKRIPAL FILES

The GRU is on the Ropes

The GRU is on the Ropes

The GRU is on the Ropes

****Updated 1230 on 04 Oct 18*****

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 this year.

Since then, the British Prime Minister Teresa May has openly accused the GRU of their involvement in the attack, saying the two attackers, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov had flown into Gatwick on 02 March and out of Heathrow on 04 March and these names were almost certainly pseudonyms.

The investigative journalism website Bellingcat went on to expose the real identity of the man who travelled under the name Ruslan Boshirov as Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated GRU Officer who had received the Hero of the Russian Federation award in 2014.

In what Philip Ingram MBE a former British Colonel in British Military Intelligence believes is a swipe at the GRU the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, when he said the Salisbury attack was “unprofessionally done.”

Almost sensing the GRU is ‘on the ropes’, openly outed for the Skripal attack, embarrassed by the ease with which investigative journalists with Bellingcat managed to expose serious flaws in the administration of their secret agents and expose the real identity of one of their highly decorated agents, linking him to Salisbury, for the first time, the UK authorities have come out fighting.

What is the GRU accused of this time?

The NCSC has attributed a number of recent attacks to the GRU.  The October 2017, BadRabbit ransomware attack encrypted hard drives and rendered IT inoperable.  This caused disruption including to the Kyiv metro, Odessa airport, but was almost an own goal as it also caused disruption at Russia’s central bank and two Russian media outlets. NCSC assess with high confidence that the GRU was almost certainly responsible.

In August 2017, confidential medical files relating to a number of international athletes, including the cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins were released.  WADA stated publicly that this data came from a hack of its Anti-Doping Administration and Management system. NCSC assess with high confidence that the GRU was almost certainly responsible.

In 2016, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was hacked and documents were subsequently published online. NCSC assess with high confidence that the GRU was almost certainly responsible.

Of interest in July 2018 the team of special investigator Robert Mueller named 12 apparent GRU officers over the alleged hacking and leaking of Democratic party emails.

Between July and August 2015, multiple email accounts belonging to a small UK-based TV station were accessed and content stolen. NCSC assess with high confidence that the GRU was almost certainly responsible.

This is not the first time the GRU has been accused.

In June 2017 a destructive cyber attack targeted the Ukrainian financial, energy and government sectors but spread further affecting other European and Russian businesses. The UK Government attributed this attack to the GRU in February 2018.  NCSC assess with high confidence that the GRU was almost certainly responsible.

In October 2017, VPNFILTER malware infected thousands of home and small business routers and network devices worldwide.  The infection potentially allowed attackers to control infected devices, render them inoperable and intercept or block network traffic

In April 2018, the NCSC, FBI and Department for Homeland Security issued a joint Technical Alert about this activity by Russian state-sponsored actors.

The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt said:

“These cyber attacks serve no legitimate national security interest, instead impacting the ability of people around the world to go about their daily lives free from interference, and even their ability to enjoy sport.

“The GRU’s actions are reckless and indiscriminate: they try to undermine and interfere in elections in other countries; they are even prepared to damage Russian companies and Russian citizens.  This pattern of behaviour demonstrates their desire to operate without regard to international law or established norms and to do so with a feeling of impunity and without consequences.

“Our message is clear: together with our allies, we will expose and respond to the GRU’s attempts to undermine international stability.”

The UK is not alone with accusing the GRU and last night the Australians came out to support the UK statement. Of note, the Australians are part of the 5 eyes community.  This is an intelligence-sharing community of the US, UK, Canadians, Australians and New Zealand.

Timing is of interest as it is almost certainly a swipe at President Putin, waning him off interfering with the US midterm elections due on 6thNovember 2018.

The UK Prime Minister said in Parliament on 5 September 2018, the UK will work with our allies to shine a light on the activities of the GRU and expose their methods.  Her dancing queen speech in Birmingham is turning into her Rocky Balboa attack on the GRU, for the first time she is taking the fight to the Russians.

The announcement this morning by the Major General Onno Eichelsheim from the Dutch MIVD intelligence service regarding the expulsion of 4 GRU agents who were targeting the OPCW in the Netherlands is significant in it shows the international community joining Teresa May in ‘the ring’  helping with the fight against the Russians in an unprecedented way.  Of significance, what is being exposed are some very bad ‘drills’ by the GRU operatives  and this reinforces Sergey Naryshkin comments that the Skripal attack was ‘unprofessionally done.’

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence, who was based near Salisbury and has assessed Russian activity for many years. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

GRU and Salisbury, a more complete account.

GRU and Salisbury, a more complete account.

GRU and Salisbury, a more complete account.

Background

It is not every day that a quiet little English city is caught in the grips of a story that would be a page-turner in any spy novel, where the readers would be sceptical that what was being written about could actually happen.  Well, it did, with the tragic death of Dawn Sturgess and the hospitalisation of Charlie Rowley, Nick Bailey, Yulia Skripal and her father, the intended target of a nerve agent attack, former Russian GRU Colonel, Sergei Skripal.

I am someone who has commanded an intelligence unit with a capability to covertly monitor Russian national intelligence operations, has studied organic chemistry and nuclear science related to defence against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, at both degree and master’s degree level. Having been a military intelligence officer and also a Colonel, I have the experience and knowledge of all aspects of the decision-making process leading up to the attack on Sergei Skripal, how it would be planned, executed and the actions the Russian government has taken since then.  It is classic spy story stuff and I am pretty certain my assessments of what happened, why it happened, and more, are accurate.

Having been asked for my opinion on Salisbury by press outlets ranging from Japanese newspapers, to European, Canadian and Australian TV and radio, as well as the usual CNN, BBC, mainstream UK newspapers and bizarrely by several Russian broadcasters, I thought I would put the key points into one blog, bringing together the threads of my previous blogs.  Please feel free to scroll back and read them.

Why Sergei Skripal?

The most important point to start with is the reason for the attack on Sergei Skripal. It was not done first and foremost to kill him. If that was the motivation then he would have been shot, stabbed or had a car accident. Sergei Skripal was a vehicle used to send a message to any Putin dissenters across the globe that he could get them anywhere, any time and in a horrible way. Prime Minister May hinted to this in an answer to a question after her statement in the House of Commons on 5thSep 2018.

The second reason was to stir a nationalistic fervour into his Presidential campaign domestically by having a reason to say the west was attacking poor Russia.  Remember the attack happened exactly 14 days before the Russian Presidential election and opposition parties and oligarchs were becoming more threatening to Mr Putin’s position and his desire for an increased majority.

Sergei Skripal was chosen because Salisbury in next to DSTL Porton Down, the UK’s chemical defence laboratory and this allowed an element of plausible deniability where President Putin could claim that this was set up to undermine him in the eyes of the international community.

Of note, this is exactly the messaging that came out in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The Russians have a doctrine called маскировка (maskirovka) which is all about ‘masking’ or deception and is central to all they do.  The Russian people have an unhealthy belief in conspiracy theories and that the west is out to get them no matter what and this played into President Putin’s domestic messaging.

How did Petrov and Boshirov do what they did?

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov (almost certainly not their real names) are alleged to have carried out a nerve agent attack in Salisbury in March, which poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal and have been charged by the Crown Prosecution Service, resulting in an INTERPOL Red notice being issued alongside a European Arrest Warrant.

Petrov and Borishov

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu from the MET police counter-terrorism unit, said the suspects were in the UK only briefly, flying in from Moscow on Friday 2ndMarch, staying for two nights at the City Stay Hotel on Bow Road in East London, and flew back to Moscow on Sunday 4thMarch, the day they carried out the attack on Sergei Skripal’s house.

The men took a train to Salisbury on Saturday 3rdMarch “for reconnaissance of the Salisbury area.” They then returned the next day to carry out the poisoning. The police said closed-circuit television recordings showed the men near Sergei Skripal’s house and have found minute traces of Novichok in their Bow Road hotel room.  It is worth noting that big chunks of their time have not been accounted for.

Prime Minister May firmly stated that the two suspects belonged to the Russian military intelligence organisation, the GRU (or Main Intelligence Directorate).  Her choice of words, clearly stating that they were GRU agents, after stating that their names were probably false, strongly suggests that the UK Intelligence agencies know their real identities and therefore links to the GRU.

How would this operation have been planned and executed?

Under a 2006 Russian Federation law, extrajudicial assassinations by agents of the Kremlin need be approved only by the Russian head of state, without reference to others and the GRU will keep an up to date list of those they believe should be targeted including Western spies, political dissenters and others.

Colonel General Igor Valentinovich Korobov, head of the GRU will be no stranger to President Putin, appointed in 2016 by him and made a Hero of the Russian Federation in 2017 he will be a regular advising President Putin on difficult and delicate matters such as Eastern Ukraine, Crimea, Syria and will almost certainly be someone President Putin will use for advice and options in dealing with concerns.

President Putin will have been concerned that his dealing with Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, ensuring his criminal conviction meant he couldn’t run against him, had stirred up further dissent but this time in more powerful and wealthy oligarchs who until then had remained silent. Putin will have asked Korobov to look at options to send dissenters a clear message.

Messaging is a clear tactic used by Russia and the Alexander Litvinenko case will have shown the GRU the wider messaging impact of using novel assassination methods.  GRU scientists will have been trialling many different methods of assassination in their labs that resemble those of Q in the James Bond movies, including the use of nerve agents.  The use of a Nerve Agent as an assassination method was demonstrated by 2 alleged North Korean women in Kuala Lumpur Airport in 2016 when Kim Jong Nam, half-brother to the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was assassinated with an agent identified as VX and the assassins remained safe. This methodology could have been Russian inspired as a ‘field trial’ as there are some unexplained links between Russia and North Korea!

Novichok, a more potent, safer to handle, less detectable and more persistent agent than VX, works in the same way. It poisons the nervous systems ‘off’ switch and is absorbed slowly through the skin. Immediate treatment is using Atropine and similar drugs widely available in any hospital A&E. Its slow action and dramatic effect was the perfect choice to send a message that this was from the Russians but with plausible deniability using маскировка (maskirovka) by choosing a target near to a Western chemical defence establishment. Hence why Sergei Skripal came to the fore.

Once he had been identified as the vehicle to be used to send the message, his electronic life will have been hacked as well as that of his daughter Yulia so they could be constantly watched and a pattern of life study carried out.  The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) station in the Russian embassy in London will have been tasked to carry out a reconnaissance of Sergei Skripal to update national records and monitor his movements over at least a week-long period at the end of February. That report will have been passed to the GRU and formed the basis of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov’s trip to Salisbury on 3rdMarch for them to confirm the detail prior to the assassination attempt trip on 4thMarch.

Prior to flying to the UK, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov will have been practising the application of Novichok to a door handle and the removal of protective gloves with the live agent, they will have been learning how to administer the anti-nerve agent drug, Atropine, to themselves should they become accidentally contaminated. They will have been rehearsing their assassination attempt. They will likely have brought the Novichok, already sealed in the modified fake Nina Ricci ‘Premier Jour’ perfume bottle in a Russian chemical warfare laboratory, into the country in their hand luggage.

Their trip to Salisbury on 3rdMarch will have been to check aspects of the SVR pattern of life study and possibly get briefed by the SVR team themselves. So that they could return alone on 4thMarch and apply the deadly Novichok to Sergei Skripals front door.

After they applied the Novichok they will have removed their protective gloves but accidentally dropped the fake Nina Ricci ‘Premier Jour’ perfume bottle with a specially made poison applicator, as they put it back into its cover. Knowing just how deadly the substance was they left, hoping no one would find it. This act was simply a cock up. Their gloves and other contaminated items will have been put into a bin in Salisbury, taken to landfill by unwitting council workers the next day. It was that accidentally dropped bottle that Charlie Rowley found and took home to his girlfriend Dawn.

Putin and the GRU will have been surprised at the tenacity of the UK’s counter-terror police and Security Services investigation and the level of detail they have managed to ascertain. The public exposure of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and the strong indications that the UK Government knows their real identities has forced the Russians into what was an embarrassing interview with the Russian state-funded RT network.

The reason for the interview is not to appease the international community or provide a credible story but it is a standard tactic as part of the маскировка (maskirovka) campaign, this time aimed at the Russian domestic audience who are becoming wary of Putin’s performance. The Russians have a word, враньё(vranyo), which means to tell a lie without expecting to be believed. the lie is told purely to save face knowing they won’t be challenged.  This tactic unsurprisingly was common practice in the Soviet era.

What are we missing?

However, there are subtilty’s in the investigation and what has been released and what hasn’t been released that allows what I will caveat as speculation, but argue it is informed speculation.

There has been just enough information, including CCTV stills shown to the general public to back the Crown Prosecution Service charges and the statement by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons. It is almost certain there is a lot more information not yet released.

There will be a lot more CCTV from both the Saturday 3rdMarch and Sun 4thMarch trips that will give a greater insight to Petrov and Boshirov’s movements around Salisbury that hasn’t been released. The police will have made an assessment as to what happened to the protective clothing, as a minimum, pairs of gloves Petrov and Boshirov would have worn to carry out the attack. These will be contaminated.

There is no statement as to where the fake Nina Ricci ‘Premier Jour’ perfume bottle was found by Charlie Rowley and how it remained unaccounted for, for so long. There is no statement to Petrov and Boshirov’s movements in London and how the Bow hotel was identified, or why traces of Novichok from a sealed container would have been found there?  There has been no assessment as to the hours unaccounted for on both 3rdand 4thMarch as Petrov and Boshirov walked around Salisbury.

Why is this being kept from us? The basic answer is, we don’t need to know. I would speculate that the SVR team who carried out the pattern of life study on Sergei Skripal have possibly been identified by the UK intelligence agencies and there is a distinct possibility at least one of them lives in the Salisbury area. If that is the case, they will be running an operation to target individuals and turn them to become double agents for the UK. This I know sounds very James Bond like, but is the day to day role of counterintelligence officers in MI5 and Intelligence officers in MI6. I have seen these types of operation.

Who are the GRU?

They are Russia’s military intelligence service and one of three of Russia’s intelligence agencies whose activities often overlap – the others are the Federal Security Services (FSB) and the Foreign Intelligence Services (SVR). The FSB has a broader remit, including counter-terrorism, border control and domestic surveillance, but all the agencies are in competition for resources and funding.

The GRU came back in favour with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, activities in Eastern Ukraine and in Syria as they own a special forces element called the Spetsnaz.  They also have historically been responsible for assassinations, espionage and cyber warfare around the world.

The GRU also have a direct-action special forces capability in their ranks called Spetsnaz GRU. It is individuals from these unite we have almost certainly seen in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and in Syria.

What is Novichok?

Novichok (новичок meaning “newcomer” or “newbie”) are a series of organophosphate-based nerve agents. They were designed by the Russians in the 1970’s and 80’s as they sought to produce a binary chemical warfare agent whose constituent parts would fall out with the chemicals that were to be banned in the International Probation of Chemical Weapons Convention, that was in its diplomatic infancy at the time.

A binary device consists of two ‘safe’ compounds that when mixed together form the nerve agent but on their own are little or no danger. An organophosphate nerve agent is one that works on attacking the chemical switch inside every nerve cell in your body that turns the nerve cell off after being stimulated. That chemical switch is an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase and nerve agents to destroy the body’s ability to synthesise that enzyme.

Nerve agents fall into 3 persistence categories, non-persistent, eg Sarin (used by Assad in Syria), which has the consistency of petrol and evaporates relatively quickly; persistent agents eg Vx (used to assassinate Kim Jong Nam (Kim Jong Un’s half-brother) in Kuala Lumpur airport last year and has the consistency of engine oil; and very persistent such as Novichok that can be in a solid, powder or treacle level of consistency.

Aside from Sarin, the primary method of absorption for nerve agents into the body is through the skin, so it is unlikely that you would know that you have been contaminated with this the colourless, odourless substance until you start to exhibit symptoms.

The symptoms can build slowly for low exposure or come on rapidly for high dose exposure and include: Runny nose and eyes, small pupils or blurry vision, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhoea, fatigue, headache, or sweating, muscle twitching or a seizure, leading to collapse, respiratory failure and death.

Nerve agents are designed to cause casualties first and foremost to overwhelm evacuation and medical facilities on the battlefield and to deny ground through a sort of chemical minefield.

What will happen next? 

In reality very little – the sabre rattling will continue, if there is sufficient international support then the only way Putin can be hurt is by freezing the assets of his oligarch supporters and aiding Russian opposition parties; play them at their own game but do it within the international rule of law.

Will it happen? Unlikely, as the Russian influence into western governments is much greater than we realise.  The Mueller enquiry in the US will expose some but closer to home the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline providing Russian Gas to Germany shows the economic interdependence that politicians won’t want to destabilise.

President Putin is currently sitting behind his grand desk in Moscow, with a very large glass of the best vodka on ice, stroking a white cat on his knee, knowing he has won yet again.

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

 

 

How to understand Jihad – read Nine Lives

How to understand Jihad – read Nine Lives

How to understand Jihad – read Nine Lives

a review by Philip Ingram MBE

I am in a unique position to review this book for several reasons.  I was part of the NATO planning team preparing to take over from the United Nations in Bosnia and then deploying to do just that when Aimen was cutting his teeth in jihad.

As a senior British army intelligence officer with access to the highest levels of intelligence I would often read CX reports, CX reports are highly classified MI6 reports, but they never give away the true identity of the source and I would often speculate where they had come from.  The description Aimen has given regarding what he gave to his MI6 handlers now fills many of those speculative blanks.

The final reason is I know Aimen personally and knew him before he went public about his past and I am proud and privileged to see him as a friend.  We have talked on many occasions about some of the events and stories so well-articulated in this fantastic book, Nine Lives by Aimen Dean, Paul Cruickshank, and Tim Lister.  It also explains why there were times when Aimen went ‘off grid’ and I couldnt contact him.

Nine Lives gives an essential reading insight to the various paths people take to extremism and gives a frightening insight to the coordination that goes on across a globally linked network that is almost delivering terror by franchise.

I have seen some of the training manuals and other plans that Aimen refers to and know they sit in centralised hidden libraries in the dark web and elsewhere, easy for franchised extremist groups and individuals to request access to and learn their horrific trade from. Given their proliferation, it is near impossible for the authorities to remove every source of this extremist material from our ever-connected world.

We should remain concerned and recognise that it is everyone collectively who has a role to play in helping defeat extremism by reporting unusual activity. Remember, the extremists have only to be successful once, but the intelligence services have to be successful all of the time, and they have lost a real asset in the middle of the extremist networks when Aimen was compromised.

I know the pressures an agent and an agent handler go through as I have been there.  If anything, Aimen doesn’t do his mental resilience enough justice as the stress of what he was doing to help keep us safe would have been unmeasurably large.  I am not surprised he became ill on several occasions.

I know intelligence, I know spying and there is only one word that can describe this book – outstanding. For anyone who wants to know how extremist networks work this is a must-read. If it were a novel it is a page-turner, but the frightening fact is it is a true story.  Aimen, Paul, and Tim, I salute you, but Aimen, for the countless lives you have saved, your contribution to humanity is truly awe-inspiring, thank you. This books contribution to understanding the sewer pit of extremism and the role of intelligence agencies is seminal.

Get the book on Amazon now – you won’t regret it: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nine-Lives-Time-Inside-al-Qaeda/dp/1786073285/

How did Dawn and Charlie get contaminated?

How did Dawn and Charlie get contaminated?

**Updated 19th July 2018**

How did Dawn and Charlie get contaminated?

I have been talking to a number of press outlets regarding how the detritus from the Skripal attack could have come to be in a position to contaminate and kill Dawn Sturgess and put her partner Charlie Rowley into intensive care in Salisbury District Hospital.

I will caveat this piece from the outset – it is based on speculation, this is purely scenarios I have come up with using a bit of knowledge from my intelligence background and a knowledge of how Novichok and other chemical agents work. As background reading on what Novichok is and more please see my previous article here: http://greyharemedia.com/salisbury-and-novichok-the-truth-and-myth/

One fact we have is that ‘ground zero’ for the Skripal attack was Sergei Skripal’s front door so I am going to work from that point.

Sergei and Julia Skripal were contaminated with Novichok on 4thMarch 2018, however this was not some random act that just happened on that day.  The person or more likely persons involved in the attack will have been preparing for some time.

The first thing that will have been happening once the target was chosen is what is called a pattern of life study to establish Sergei Skripal’s regular routine.  This will have required a surveillance team physically watching Sergei Skripal over a period of days or weeks as well as monitoring his communications and those of his relatives and associates.  We already know Julia Skripal’s emails were being monitored by the Russian state and her phone will almost certainly have been monitored and if they could, the Russians will have been monitoring Sergei Skripals’ communications and online activity.

Whilst the pattern of life study was happening, the would-be assassination team would be practicing working with such a deadly substance, initially with inert substances and possibly have a final practice with the ‘live’ agent. They will he rehearsing their approach to a house in an estate and the application of the agent as well as carrying our many map studies of Salisbury and their route to the Skripal house.

The pattern of life team will then be carrying out practice runs to Sergei Skripals front door. They will adopt an alias based on the pattern of life study – so the delivery of the local takeaway menu, or local free newspaper, or charity clothes bag – all to check and see if Sergei or his neighbours would notice something slightly different.

At some time before 4thMarch 2018 the Novichok nerve agent will have been flown into the UK in a container, probably inside another container and sealed to ensure there could be no leakage. Probably separately the individual or more likely individuals who would be carrying out the attack will have flown in using false identities.

In a few days before the 4thMarch it is probable that the would-be assassins will have been taken to Salisbury and driven around and past the Skripal’s house so they could familiarise themselves with the ground and confirm their detailed map reconnaissance’s.

I now get into the scenarios as to how detritus from the attack could have got into Queen Elizabeth park and remain in a concentration to kill Dawn Sturgess and put her partner Charlie Rowley into intensive care. This is pure speculation on my behalf, including the pick-up and drop off points and routes taken to the Skripals house.  The only two fixed locations are Christie Miller Road where Sergei Skripal lived and Queen Elizabeth Park where Dawn and Charlie were contaminated.

Scenario 1: It came from pre-attack preparation.

The attack team is dropped off in the carpark beside Queen Elizabeth Park – they are sitting on a park bench, it is dark, they are looking like 2 drug users, regular visitors to the area.

On the bench they open a plastic bag and take out a Tupperware type container, it is dark, no one notices they are wearing elbow length protective gloves, unfolding the bubble wrap in the Tupperware container there is a small syringe containing a hand gel-like substance contaminated with the deadly Novichok nerve agent. They squirt the agent onto a cloth and put it back into the Tupperware container – that cloth will be used to smear the nerve agent onto the Skripal’s front door.

Knowing how deadly the agent is and the adrenalin rush of the live op, the would-be assassins are nervous, they accidentally knock the syringe on the ground. Not able to see it quickly and knowing they had a mission to do they left the syringe where it was.

They walk slowly along Churchfields Road, turn right onto Cherry Orchard lane and the cross the A36 down Canadian Avenue and make their way to Christie Miller Road, a quick walk to Sergei’s front door where the cloth is removed from the container and quickly wiped over the door, pretending to post something through the door.

The team moves quickly up India Avenue to the A360, in the process putting the contaminated cloth in a new bag and stripping off their gloves and anything else that could be contaminated and disposing of it in a bin on the A360 before being picked up and driven off to escape the country.

Scenario 2: It came from post-attack disposal of attack means.

The team are dropped off at the India Avenue and A360 junction and walk slowly to Christie Miller Road – they have a cloth in a Tupperware container pre-soaked with a Novichok solution cloth and after quickly wiping it onto Sergei Skripal’s front door they walk south, down Canadian Avenue, up through the industrial area of Lower Road and Churchfield road, heading for Queen Elizabeth Gardens, chosen so they could look like drug users as they took their protective clothing off and dispose of their contaminated detritus.

Unfortunately, as they carefully place everything into another bag, having removed their gloves, the Tupperware container falls to the ground. Un-gloved and unprotected they have no desire to touch it and leave it where it lies. The bag containing gloves, cloth, and other items is placed in a bin near the toilets. Walking down Crane Street to New Street they make their way to the A36 to be whisked away by a pick-up team.

Dawn and Charlie….

Sitting on a bench in Queen Elizabeth Park, Dawn sees a Tupperware container sitting under the bush, thinking “that could be useful” she picks it up and puts it in her handbag, thinking nothing of it, not knowing of its deadly contamination. Or, she sees a syringe and knowing children play in the park she picked it up meaning to put it safely in a bin. Either way, she is a short time off touching the contaminated part of the object and the countdown clock starts for her exhibiting symptoms.

Holding hands on the bus from Salisbury to Amesbury, some of the Novichok is passed from Dawn’s hand to Charlie’s hand. The countdown for him succumbing to the nerve agent started.

Scenario 3:

Scenario 3 is what happened, it could be a mix of one and two or most likely is something else, but I have highlighted these to show what could have happened. The real story will help the police and security services focus their intelligence processes and potentially identify the would-be assassins and their supporting team. Rest assured this was a team effort.

So What?

Under any and all of these scenarios, we have a few common factors. There were a number of people in the original assassination team and it was a carefully planned attack. More worryingly, there is likely to be more contaminated detritus than the one container the police are looking for at the moment.

**Update**

The police investigation potentially identifying a number of “Russian” suspects is what I would expect at this stage of a complex investigation. However, the reports of a perfume spray cause me to raise an eyebrow as it would be a dangerous method for would-be assassins to deploy such a deadly substance. Dangerous because a spray would create an aerosol of this deadly substance that is absorbed through the skin so all exposed skin would have to be covered and the splash back risk from spraying ti would be great potentially contaminating more fo the would-be assassin’s clothing. I would describe it as a ‘brave’ way of deploying a nerve agent. Time will tell.

The reports of several attackers fit with the theoretical scenarios I have outlined above. I would expect the assassination team to be long gone out of the country but Salisbury will always remain a ‘spooks playground.’ http://greyharemedia.com/salisbury-sleepy-hollow-or-spooks-playground/.

This is a very complex investigation and we may never get all of the answers. No matter what I have written, the risk to the general public remains small, but there is a risk, that risk should get smaller as time goes on.

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

Salisbury and Novichok the truth and myth

Salisbury and Novichok the truth and myth

Salisbury and Novichok the truth and myth

Updated 07/0718 1645 by request for additional information

As someone who commanded an intelligence unit with a capability for the covert surveillance of Russian intelligence operations, has studied organic chemistry related to defence against chemical and biological weapons at both degree and master’s degree level, I think I am qualified to do some analysis of detail that is coming out from the reporting of the Sergei and Yulia Skripal and subsequent incidents in Salisbury. ‬

Also, having commented widely in the national and international press I thought I would put all my thoughts in one place.

What is Novichok?

Novichok (новичок meaning “newcomer” or “newbie”) are a series of organophosphate-based nerve agents. They were designed by the Russians in the 1970’s and 80’s as they sought to produce a binary chemical warfare agent whose constituent parts would fall out with the chemicals that were to be banned in the International Probation of Chemical Weapons Convention, that was in its diplomatic infancy at the time.

A binary device consists of two ‘safe’ compounds that when mixed together form the nerve agent but on their own are little or no danger. An organophosphate nerve agent is one that works on attacking the chemical switch inside every nerve cell in your body that turns the nerve cell off after being stimulated. That chemical switch is an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase and nerve agents destroy the body’s ability to synthesise that enzyme.

Nerve agents fall into 3 persistence categories, non-persistent, eg Sarin (used by Assad in Syria), which has the consistency of petrol and evaporates relatively quickly; persistent agents eg Vx (used to assassinate Kim Jong Nam (Kim Jong Un’s half-brother) in Kuala Lumpur airport last year and has the consistency of engine oil; and very persistent such as Novichok that can be in a solid, powder or treacle level of consistency.

Aside from Sarin, the primary method of absorption for nerve agents into the body is through the skin, so it is unlikely that you would know that you have been contaminated with this the colourless, odourless substance until you start to exhibit symptoms. The symptoms can build slowly for low exposure or come on rapidly for high dose exposure and include: Runny nose and eyes, small pupils or blurry vision, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhoea, fatigue, headache, or sweating, muscle twitching or a seizure, leading to collapse, respiratory failure and death. Nerve agents are designed to cause casualties first and foremost to overwhelm evacuation and medical facilities on the battlefield and to deny ground through a sort of chemical minefield.

Why were the Skripals attacked?

Contrary to popular belief assassinating Sergei Skripal was not the main aim of his attack. Sergei Skripal was chosen because he lived in Salisbury and in President Putin’s eyes, was a legitimate target, more of which in a minute. The main reason for this attack, 14 days before the Russian Presidential election was to send a message to any Putin dissenters across the globe that he could get them anywhere, any time and in a horrible way. The second reason was to build a nationalistic strength call, into his campaign domestically.

Sergei Skripal was chosen because Salisbury in next to DSTL Porton Down, the UK’s chemical defence labs and this allowed an element of plausible deniability where President Putin could claim that this was set up to undermine him in the eyes of the international community, and that is exactly the messaging that came out in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The Russians have a doctrine called маскировка (maskirovka) which is all about this and is central to all they do.

The Russians also have an unhealthy belief in conspiracy theories and that the west is out to get them no matter what!

Was this a new attack or related to the Skripal attack?

This latest incident is almost 100% related to contaminated detritus left from the Skripal attack. Novichok has only ever been used once, and that was 4 months ago in Salisbury.

Looking at the timeline from probable contamination to hospitalisation my assumption for what happened would be: Dawn Sturgess in Queen Elizabeth Park touched some residual contamination on a bench, or spotted a syringe (or other object) in the hedge. Knowing children were in the park, she picked it up to put in a bin or dispose of later. She wouldn’t have noticed the colourless, odourless contaminant that had been transferred to her skin. The nerve agent will have started its path of adsorption through her skin and into her bloodstream. Initial symptoms would be minor, building over time and dependent on 2 factors, the amount she was exposed to and the absorption rate through her skin. Only when sufficient was absorbed would she collapse with classic nerve agent poisoning symptoms.

At some stage later, she touched her partner Charlie Rowley, possibly just held his hand. Some of the contaminant would have been transferred but a smaller dose than Dawn had been exposed to but his path to showing symptoms would have been the same. It is possible (I say possible, as there are other scenarios and this is pure hypothesis) that the dose Dawn was exposed to was extremely small and that is why it took time to build up to show symptoms of nerve agent poisoning and that smaller dose, combined with slower absorption is why it took several hours more for Charlie to exhibit symptoms.

If the reports suggesting they were known drug users are accurate, their drug habit could affect the absorption rate, symptoms and treatment they are receiving but I am not a medic and this borders on a speculative comment.  Eventually, the nerve agent would build up to an LD50 level where 50% of people with that quantity in their body would die, the amounts we are talking about are extremely small, probably less than a grain of salt.

So, what was missed?

My Blog (http://greyharemedia.com/clear-and-present-danger/), ‘Is there a continuing clear and present danger?’ published on 15th March 2018 and quoted the following weekend in some of the national newspapers, outlined a continuing threat. That threat related to the would-be assassins.

The would-be assassins will have transported the Novichok in a container, they will have worn some form of protective clothing when they applied it and, unless this was left at the crime scene, they will have taken it away with them. That meant that there was Novichok contaminated item or items somewhere away from the immediate crime scene and possibly anywhere in the country.

I fully expected the police, if they had recovered these items, to make a statement like they do on murder-suicide cases along the lines of “we are not looking for anyone else in respect of this crime.” That type of statement didn’t come and I was concerned that this container and the protective clothing could have been discarded over a school fence, in a train station, in the local fast food restaurant, anywhere! I called the MET Police who refused to discuss it.

It seems that after the path the Skripals took that fateful evening had been checked and decontaminated, the threat from potential residual contamination was wished away and the police followed what I call the ostrich effect and hoped. Unfortunately for Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, that hope didn’t protect them.

In defence of the police and other security and emergency services.

Novichok is very, very, difficult to detect as it is designed to evade what is normal nerve agent detectors and whilst very persistent it will degrade, albeit very slowly, over time. It also requires you to come into direct contact with it to get contaminated. So, the chance of getting contaminated, even if the assassins gear was never found, was very low indeed. Maybe Charlie and Dawn should have bought a lottery ticket!

That difficulty in detecting means that swabs, samples, items found have to be sent to Porton Down for testing. Porton Down won’t have a high capacity testing capability, so it takes time to get through the hundreds or thousands of samples collected, a lot of time.

Is Public Health England right in their advice?

In a word, yes, the statistical chance of coming in contact with a contaminated object or area is very small but there is a chance! So they should have caveated their advice.  The advice to wash clothes and wipe objects down with baby wipes is sound, it is a matter of chemistry for minute amounts of this substance.

What should be done?

The local council should set up a hotline and app to report discarded items as a specialist collection team sent to recover them quickly. This would be expensive but would leave Salisbury the cleanest city in the country and restore public and tourist confidence. It would be a lot less costly than another city close down!

The police have to find the container used and any protective clothing discarded by the would-be assassins – this is a very small needle in a very large haystack and doing it blindfolded with your arms tied behind your back. It is that easy!

Government scientists should be developing a method for testing for Novichok easily in the field. Of note, only today I was talking to one British Biotech company who have the solution to this problem, the issue is they are a research company and not manufacturers. They just need someone to rapidly develop what they know works, for the current threat. A challenge to the wider biotech world and government research laboratories, drop me a line if you want to know more, but I can’t put more out publicly, unfortunately.

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