Skripal and Salisbury an infamous combination
It is now a year since Colonel Dr Alexander Mishkin and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, traveling under the false identities of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, both members of the Russian Military Intelligence Service, the GRU, entered Britain through Gatwick airport. They had a deadly intent, kill the double agent who was living in the sleepy city of Salisbury, Sergei Skripal, using the deadly nerve agent Novichok.
Their mission was a simple one but had been carefully planned. Sergei Skripal’s daughter Yulia was landing at Heathrow airport to visit her father and be with him on what would have been her late brother Alexander’s birthday. Her emails and probably her phone, were being monitored by Russian intelligence and they would have known her arrangements in detail.
After checking into a cheap East End of London hotel Mishkin and Chepiga waited until the next morning to take the train to Salisbury from Waterloo, to carry out a final ‘close target recce’ of Sergei Skripal’s house in Christie Millar Road.
Their detailed movements in Salisbury that day have not been revealed completely but it is probably that, in their possession they had a detailed ‘pattern of life’ study on Sergei Skripal, possibly delivered to their hotel, so they knew his normal routine. They knew he left his house through the front door, not the side or back door, they knew he pulled it shut by the handle, not the door frame, they knew everything about him because others will have spent time watching him closely, studying his movements, reading his emails, listening into his phone conversations.
Mishkin and Chepiga’s trip to Salisbury on Saturday 3rdMarch 2018 would be to confirm the route to take to Sergei Skripal’s house from Salisbury Station, look for signs of him being watched by British Intelligence, confirm their escape plan and possibly meet with at least one member of the team that carried out the ‘pattern of life study,’ before returning to London.
Early on Sunday 4thMarch, Mishkin and Chepiga return to Salisbury with a fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume bottle filled with deadly Novichok in Russia having replaced the cap with a special applicator that morning. On arrival in Salisbury they quickly retrace the route they checked out the day before and approached Sergei Skripals house to smear the deadly agent onto his front door.
Whilst it is possible it was dispensed directly from the modified perfume bottle the danger of ‘splash back’ would have meant putting it onto a wipe and smearing that onto the door handle would be safer; we don’t know if this is what they did. Both Mishkin and Chepiga will have been wearing protective gloves and it is probable that Mishkin carried self-injecting epi pens filled with a nerve agent antidote, atropine, just in case anything went wrong.
This is where their movements become a bit of a blur. At some point they will have taken their contaminated gloves off and disposed of them, that is probably the point they dropped the fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume bottle and exactly where all of this happened is not known publicly yet, neither are the details of their movements around Salisbury before catching the train back to London and then to Heathrow. How and where they disposed of their contaminated gloves has never been mentioned and the fate of the fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume is too well known when Charlie Rowley gave it to his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess on 30thJune 2018 and she sprayed its contents onto her skin, exposing herself to a lethal dose of Novichok.
Just after the attack on 15thMarch 2018, I asked the MET police who had taken over the investigation, what had happened to the items the ‘would be’ assassins had used and was met with silence, I published my concerns here: https://greyharemedia.com/clear-and-present-danger/and in the Sunday papers. Statements from Public Health England said the risk to the public was very low, Dawn Sturgess paid with her life months later.
The detail of where Charlie Rowley found the contaminated perfume bottle and when he found it are unclear. It is distinctly possible he found it in early March and put it in his bag, forgetting it was there until he unpacked after moving into new accommodation from a homeless shelter in June.
I now repeat my question, what happed to the gloves they will have worn? I suspect they were put in a local bin and the next day taken by the council to landfill so are now safely disposed of, but no one has said.
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, it was assumed, given the deadly nature of Novichok, that he would die. However, if that were the sole 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.
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 Mishkin and Chepiga by the investigative website Bellingcat will have severely embarrassed the GRU.
Sergei and Yulia Skripal will now be under the protection of MI5 and being held safely out of the public eye. They will be receiving further medical support for their physical and mental symptoms. Their futures will be being discussed with them and they are an integral part of any and all decisions about what happens next. For Yulia, a complete innocent who had a bright career and future, it must be particularly hard.
What are we missing?
We are missing detail what the police believe happened to other contaminated items, we are missing detail around the movements of Mishkin and Chepiga around Salisbury, very little footage from the city’s new £450,000 public space CCTV has been released, we are missing details of the team that will have carried out the pattern of life study, we are missing details of what Mishkin and Chepiga did in London.
However, we have to remember there is a politically sensitive, highly complex live murder investigation ongoing, so it is unlikely much of this detail will be released because we don’t need to know. A comment on the contaminated detritus to build further public confidence would be good however.
We have to recognise the huge effort the police, security service, ambulance, fire and rescue, NHS, military personnel, DSTL scientists, civilian security staff and council workers have put in to deal with every aspect of this ongoing spy story. If it were not for their professionalism and coordinated effort there would almost certainly be more deaths and much longer lasting consequences for Salisbury and its surrounds.
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
**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: https://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 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.
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.
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.’ https://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