Were the Skripals poisoned with a nerve agent?

25 April 2018

Martin Deane: I was asked, given the court judgment to examine the Skripals, for the OPCW, regarding what were poisoned with, if I still accepted alternative accounts. My reply... 
The term conspiracy theorist I reject, since it is pejoratively used in the media, and by others, to marginalise those who question the official story. The more we live in Orwellian times, the more we have to question our government as a matter of course, and the more labels like 'conspiracy theorist' are used to shut down questioning.
So 'history man' would be more appropriate! Except what we are really doing here hasn't had time to become history - like 9/11, or the Iraq War conspiracy - so really it is intelligence analysis - something political parties in Britain are woeful at, imho.
I have read the whole judgement. As ever, a good answer requires a good question, and to take a small aspect may not do justice to the overall story. The questions, as in an interview, can determine what comes out, and may show one view, compared to what perhaps ought to come out.
To your first question: if the Government wanted to cover up the "truth", and the truth was that the Skripals hadn't been poisoned with a specific nerve agent - why on earth would the Government go to court to allow the OPCW to obtain blood samples, and use DNA to verify the Portland Down samples were genuinely the Skripals' blood?
In the first place, they would go to court to illustrate to the world they weren't lying! That's only a bit flippant, as it has come out that there are distinct procedures to follow, and they were simply following procedure. Except they weren't quite - as the first procedure is to approach the government suspected. As they didn't do this, the next step is to ask the OPCW to step in. They wouldn't do this unless they were sure of their case (or playing for time) (or sure of the OPCW, though in this case the body appears unimpeachable. Not always the case!). So they felt sure.
To your second question: Which holds more weight in your view? The opinion of the Treating Consultant, given to a Court under oath, under threat of perjury; or a letter in a newspaper?
Prima facie, the answer ought to be the court statement, that they were poisoned by a nerve agent. - Note it doesn't mention novichok or Russia once. - The court is going to take the consultant's word for it, 1, as a professional, 2, because this is the stated reason for the court!, 3, that this is the official story, so there's likely to be no surprises. However, even were it contrived, the consultant would never face perjury over it. Simply because that's not how power works.
The letter to the Times was quick after the fact. This is interesting as that's the best thing to do: get your story out quick. Prima facie, it's a responsible person in the hospital concerned, worried about aspects of the official story. He wants to say 3 things: that 40 people weren't treated for nerve agent, that no-one was treated for nerve agent, that only 3 were treated for poisoning. Despite this information being out there, this consultant was not asked before the court. I presume a different consultant was. Nor has he been questioned further by anybody. Interestingly.
And this is the nub of intelligence analysis. What happens with conflicting stories? Is one true, is one false? Could both be true? To what extent? And finally: what's really important?! The extent to which both could overlap could be precisely what poison was used. Could it have been a nerve agent, or of a 'nerve agent type', which could be treated in the manner of standard poisoning. (Ie, it's not sarin or VX we're talking about here, at least not when the main targets survive a presumed professional hit!). Note the change in language there, which Craig Murray instantly spotted about the Porton Down/FCO phrase 'of a type produced by Russia'. Could it be that Stephen Davies was quite accurate at the time, AND that the court witness was quite accurate too, at that time?
But the real question is: Were they poisoned with a novichok from Russia? Why? Because that's what the Foreign Minister said! My answer is probably not. And that, in brief, is based on the Stephen Davies letter, the Craig Murray FCO whistleblower, the Porton Down statement and the OPCW report, plus additional points Craig Murray covers, such as other states' potential responsibility, and indeed the possibility of non-state actors. So, to my question for you - Does the OPCW say that they were poisoned by, 1, a novichok, 2, from Russia? 3, 'of a type produced by Russia? 4, then what nerve agent?
Update: the Russians have gone on record, saying the Spiez lab in Switzerland, which the OPCW uses, has found BZ in the blood. BZ doesn't kill you but incapacitates you for a few days, matching the Skripals symptoms. The lab won't confirm this, as the reports are confidential to the OPCW. The lab went on to say they have no doubt Porton Down found what it said it did. This doesn't SAY Spiez found novichok too, but implies it. Are the Russians making BZ up? If it wasn't that, what was it that gave them those symptoms- rather than killing them! Another report says Spiez found novichok and that it was high purity - so why aren't they dead? If both were in the blood - when was the novichok added?
Martin Deane