Sergei and Yulia Skripal – additional assessment
by Philip Ingram MBE
The reporting around how Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned and how Det Sgt Nick Bailey came to get sufficient exposure to make him very seriously ill with another 20 or 21 casualties have to be treated for potential contamination raises a number of questions. The reason is, classic nerve agents, even thickened ones are not designed to be slow acting, they are designed to incapacitate first and foremost overwhelming evacuation and medical facilities, sending a clear psychological message to anyone operating in the area where chemical weapons are used.
One thing is clear, a psychological message has been sent to the residents of Salisbury, the politicians in London and any potential dissenters associated with the perpetrators. I still believe on the balance of probabilities that this is a direct assassination attempt ordered by Putin.
The Mail on Line has produced a very good list of the six ways they believe a hitman (or woman) could have contaminated the victims. Their list, with my comments, is:
POISONED FLOWERS: Skripal regularly placed plastic flowers on his late wife Liudmila’s grave, but last Sunday, unusually, according to a source, he took a fresh bunch. The deadly bouquet could have been taken to his house by a hit squad after being laced with poison.
- Comment: Nerve agents are designed to incapacitate quickly and kill more slowly. This would suggest a completely new type of slow working nerve agent, difficult to design, unpredictable in its delivery. The question is why, when so many alternatives already exist. The other point to consider is that use of the phrase ‘Nerve Agent’ is not wholly accurate and a specially designed mycotoxin specifically for this type of assassination attempt has been used (the reported symptoms don’t quite fit). The Russians have developed a weaponised mycotoxin with the designation T2.
Another organophosphate type compound from the carbamate group, such as Aldicarb, which a cholinesterase inhibitor in the same way as the nerve agents and exposure to high amounts of aldicarb can cause weakness, blurred vision, headache, nausea, tearing, sweating, and tremors in humans. High doses can be fatal to humans because it can paralyse the respiratory system.
Of note, several countries have lost stocks of Aldicarb in recent years. Aldicarb requires a higher dose so symptoms would develop more slowly with smaller doses but have the same effect. However, the contamination of Det Sgt Nick Bailey reduces the likelihood of it being a classic carbamate. Comment Ends.
A ‘TROJAN HORSE’: Some sources have suggested Yulia may have unwittingly brought a poisoned package, known as a Trojan Horse, into her father’s home. It would have had to remain stable until activated – possibly concealed in a gift of vodka or cigars.
- Comment: This is possible but is not specific enough for a focused assassination. There is too much potential for ‘collateral’ damage or it just not working as he didn’t feel like a drink or a cigar or the like. Comment Ends.
THE ZIZZI MEAL: Skripal and his daughter ate garlic bread and seafood risotto in a branch of Zizzi just before they fell ill, so their food could have been poisoned. But that would have required the hitman to have access to the kitchen – and know which dish would go to their table.
- Comment: It could be a contaminated glass, plate or cutlery, the table wiped with a contaminated cloth or a contaminated napkin or a brush past by a member of staff or another diner. All of these would leave significant traces at the restaurant. Comment Ends.
THE MILL PINT: The couple also went to The Mill pub in the Maltings which has been sealed off by police all week. The potent toxin could have somehow been slipped into their drinks without the bar staff being aware.
- Comment: It could be a contaminated glass, the table wiped with a contaminated cloth or a contaminated bar matt. All of these would leave significant traces at the pub. There could also have been a brush past from an assassin with a contaminated cloth in the public bar: Comment Ends
THE LETHAL LETTER: The would-be assassins could have simply had the deadly chemicals delivered to Skripal’s house in a letter or parcel. The ploy is simple but, because his symptoms appear to have developed rapidly while he was in Salisbury town centre rather than at home, seems less likely.
- Comment: This is possible but again is not specific enough for a focused assassination. There is too much potential for ‘collateral’ damage should the parcel or letter get damaged in the post or delivered to the wrong address. Additionally, a lot of post is screened, so there would be potential for it to be intercepted. Comment Ends.
THE FACE SPRAY: CCTV has captured images of an unknown couple walking close behind the Skripals just before they collapsed on a bench. They could have sprayed the nerve agent at them. The shocking tactic was used in the VX attack on a North Korean at an airport last year.
- Comment: It is more likely a wipe or brush past with a contaminated piece of clothing touching Skripal’s skin and could have happened whilst out walking, in the restaurant or bar. Comment Ends
What is critical to identifying the way the poison was delivered is looking at how and where Det Sgt Nick Bailey got contaminated, there has been confusing reporting about him being contaminated at the Shripal’s home or when tending to them at ‘The Maltings’ shopping area. Clarification of this is critical and working out the time from potential exposure to incapacitation will pinpoint where the attack took place. Additionally, the finding of the chemical agent at the Zizzi restaurant is important and doing a pattern analysis as to where the other casualties got contaminated.
Looking at all of the emerging evidence, and on the balance of probabilities. I still believe this is a probable Putin ordered assassination attempt using a variation of one of the classic ‘V’ agents outlined in my previous article possibly ‘thickened’ and potentially delivered in a reduced dose to allow the ‘exposure to incapacitation’ time to be extended with a dose being delivered by exposure to a contaminated object over an extended period of time. Again, this makes understanding how Det Sgt Nick Bailey was contaminated is a critical piece of evidence.
The Russians were also known to have developed Novichok (новичок meaning “newcomer” or “newbie”) agents that were significantly more powerful than than VX but designed to be undetectable using standard NATO chemical detection equipment, to defeat NATO chemical protective gear and to be safer to handle. We have seen military personnel wearing additional protective suits over their standard military issue ones but what look like standard respirators. These agents work in a similar way to other nerve agents and can be treated in a similar way.
Only time and more information will tell. I will caveat this report in that I am analysing press and government open reporting only. The newly released Public Health England advice is good general advice and highlights the minute risk there is to the general public from further contamination but emphasises that fact that the agent identified is likely to be a very persistent one.
Note: This blog will be updated as new information is received. The current version was updated at 1335 on 11th March 2018 – if you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE