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

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: 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:

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.’ 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

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 (https://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

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: https://greyharemedia.com/sergei-skripal-assassination/ and here: https://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

Skripal poisoning, it was on the door

Skripal poisoning, it was on the door

Skripal poisoning, it was on the door

When Teresa May said in Parliament, “It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’.”  Fingers were pointed at Russia as they have a history of using novel methods to assassinate people, Alexander Litvinenko is a case in point, it sends a message.

There is a lot of speculation about the exact nature of Novichok (новичок, “newcomer” or “newbie”) nerve agents.  Nerve agents are organophosphate based poisons designed to stop the enzyme acetylcholinesterase from working. It is the ‘off’ switch for a nerve and if you can’t turn a nerve off, your body loses control of all functions.

Novichock’s are very persistent agents, undetectable using standard equipment and they give off little or no vapour, so are designed to be absorbed through the skin.  Easy for an assassin to apply, virtually impossible for the authorities to detect.

What has yet to be confirmed by the police is exactly where the Skripal’s or Det Sgt Bailey were contaminated and how long it took from contamination to collapse. Nerve agents are extremely toxic and the absorption of a minute quantity, less than a grain of sugar’s worth, could prove lethal.

They can be applied to any surface by rubbing it with anything contaminated and an assassin would choose a surface they knew the victim would touch, like a door handle.  That would require some prior knowledge of the victim’s behaviour, so the Skripal’s were probably watched.

Once contaminated, cross-contamination is easy, holding hands or lifting a contaminated object such as a drinks menu would be enough. An assassin could transport their lethal cargo in a sealed small container with pre-contaminated wipes or a pre-made-up liquid or gel.

Nerve agents are designed to incapacitate quickly. The time from contamination to showing symptoms depends on many factors including, how much has got on the skin, its absorption rate through the skin and the size of the victim.  Large doses could be lethal in minutes, smaller doses may take a few hours.

The shocking contamination of three children through touching bread given by Sergei Skripal to feed the ducks shows just how easy it is to get contaminated and how minute an exposure is needed to cause symptoms. It also tells that Sergi Skripals’ hands were contaminated.

This was first exposed by @SelbyMirror in the Sunday Mirror on 25th March where I provided comment. Its a pity his insghts were not acted on on Sunday!

We need to know where the assassin and the container they transported the agent to the Skripal’s is now?

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