Excellent reporting on Syria

Things are not looking good for the British government at the moment. Their flaky story about Skripal cumbling by the day and now apparent confirmation that the “gas attack” in Douma was a hoax too.

This is the report from British journalist Robert Fisk. Robert Fisk doesn’t work for RT or the Morning Star. He has a reputation as a good, independent, journalist. He writes in the Independent. Fisk’s account of the “gas attack” is based on an interview with a doctor in the hospital used in the videos. It wasn’t a gas attack. Rather; people were suffering from smoke inhalation. Someone ran into the emergency room and shouted “gas” – this started the panic; which was then filmed and uploaded to YouTube by the White Helmets.

This account tallies with those produced by Russian state media – using different witnesses. Of course one can posit that Russia has somehow managed to persuade all the 22 eyewitnesses they have produced for the OPCW – some at least of whom are doctors – to tell a coordinated lie. But then: who is talking “conspiracy theory” now?

Fisk is an exception in British journalism. Today’s issue of the Independent carries another story on Douma in which it refers to the White Helmets as a “relief organisation”. The White Helmets are nothing of the sort. They are funded – with millions of pounds – by the Foreign Office. At the start of the Syrian civil war when William Hague was Foreign Secretary it was openly announced that the British strategy on Syria would be to help the “resistance movement” to document human rights abuses by the Assad regime. The White Helmets are the result. There can be no doubt that the White Helmets are managed by MI6/the SAS. This gives credence to Russian claims that the Foreign Office asked the White Helmets to stage last week’s “chemical attack”.  But the British press continues to present the White Helmets – who are fully aligned with the jihadis in Syria – as some kind of humanitarian or relief organisation. It is an example of wilful naivety to believe – as the government and propagandist media does – that in exchange for all these millions from the Foreign Office, handed over no doubt in cash by the SAS, the White Helmets are going to be particularly objective when it comes to reporting “war crimes” by Assad.

There are a number of points which emerge from Robert Fisk’s first-hand reporting:

i) He is allowed to move freely around Douma even though there are Russia military around. This is not consistent with the narrative that the Russians are trying to tamper with evidence in Douma.

ii) He reports that the bombing by Syrian and Russian forces targeted jihadi (in this case Jaish al-Islam, a right wing Islamist group not part of the “free Syrian army” network) positions in the town. And that in  some cases Jaish al-Islam fighters took up residence in civilian houses in order to try to avoid the bombing. This  – eyewitness accounts gathered by an experienced reporter – blows apart the Guardian narrative that Russia and Syria are bombing civilians in Syria.

iii)  The White Helmets all left town with the Islamic militants. Military fatigues were found in their base. (Bought with British tax-payers money?)

iv) Many people in Douma did not leave with the militants and are happy to be back under Syrian government control.

Fisk’s report cuts through the fog of propaganda which normally passes for “news” in papers like the Guardian and Daily Telegraph – and quite probably the Independent too. (This editor doesn’t read it).

But we are now at a point where the British political and media classes automatically believe their own propaganda to the point that anything else is immediately and in all sincerity, apparently, discounted as produced by “Kremlin trolls” and so on. They like to talk about the “Kremlin media bubble” which Russia apparently enforces on its citizens – but they themselves live in a bubble of their own making.

 

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Skripal – wave 2

The first ploy was to tell the public (and possibly Britain’s allies) a lie. Porton Down had indentified the substance used as coming from Russia.

That was exposed as a lie.

What has happened since is exactly what we would expect from Britain’s intelligence services. They have leaked a series of claims to the press.

The leaks (better understood as planted information) concern this persistent claim about a Russian training manual mentioning smearing nerve agents on doors and the claim about a message being sent from Syria to Moscow about “the package has been delivered” and “two agents have made their egress”. (With reference to the latter Craig Murray suggests this is probably just a sexed up translation of “left”).

That is – they are scraping through their records to find anything, no matter what, which can be used to prop up the government line. This – information management – is a primary function of the intelligence services. This is what they do.

No doubt there was some kind of an intercept (by all accounts of an unencrypted communication) from Syria. No doubt there is some document which can somehow be described as a “training manual” and there are some grounds which permit it to be said that it dates from post-Soviet times (which is what they are claiming). But all this is just the usual titbits  – without the details including the source of the alleged ‘training manual’ no one can independently come to any conclusion at all.

All this doesn’t stop the eager press from playing its part. For example, today’s Daily Telegraph has the headline: “Russia hacked Yulia Skripal’s emails for five years and tested Novichok on door handles, bombshell intelligence dossier reveals”. There is nothing “bombshell” about this. As we say above this is routine and the intelligence services are just doing their bit to prop up a government story. – As for the story about Russian intelligence carrying out surveillance into Julia Skripal’s emails – we would expect them to be doing exactly that. If a British spy defected to Moscow and his daughter continued to work in London MI6 would not be hacking her emails? Come on. What is going on here is little titbits of ‘information’ are being released as part of a studied news management campaign to prop up a failing story.

MI6 is doing what we would expect from them. Telling lies (or at least planting massaged information) to prop up whatever the government wants them to prop up.

But it is lamentable to see the “free press” quite so eagerly doing their bidding. We can note the Telegraph breathlessly says “it has been revealed” and “it has emerged”. The “journalist” will get some kind of a payback for further dressing up MI6’s planted stories. But it has zero to do with journalism.

 

 

 

 

Baby talk – serious war

This is the text of the statement from 10 Downing Street following the emergency Cabinet meeting on Syria:

This afternoon Cabinet met and received an update on the attack against innocent civilians in Douma, Syria, on Saturday.

The Prime Minister said it was a shocking and barbaric act which killed up to 75 people, including children, in the most appalling and inhumane way.

Cabinet agreed that the Assad regime has a track record of the use of chemical weapons and it is highly likely that the regime is responsible for Saturday’s attack.

The Prime Minister said it was a further example of the erosion of international law in relation to the use of chemical weapons, which was deeply concerning to us all.

Following a discussion in which every member present made a contribution, Cabinet agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged.

Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

Cabinet agreed the Prime Minister should continue to work with allies in the United States and France to coordinate an international response

Note how the definite article has been dropped. “Cabinet thinks this, Cabinet has agreed..” Who do they think they are? God? Any other entity needs a definite article. “The cabinet….”.  “Every member made a contribution”. This is student talk. Modern babified students talk like this. This is an example of how the culture of narcissism exemplified by Therapy Culture has penetrated the world of politics (and media – no difference in the UK any more).

Notice the usual conflation of “highly likely” and fact. It no longer matters which to these people. In the 4th sentence it is “very likely” that this alleged attack was committed by the “Assad regime” By the 6th sentence very likely has become a definite fact: “..the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime”. This is startling: a war is being started on the basis of such an obvious distortion of facts – and no one in the mainstream media will pick up on it.

“Erosion of International Law, deeply concerning to us all…”. Notice the religious tone. This is supposed to rally the troops. (That is the public).

As for concern for International Law – from the people who brought you the illegal (and terroristic bombing of Serbia) at the end of the 90s, the illegal invasion of Iraq, the catastrophe in Libya (based on a sophistic twisting of a UN Resolution) and most recently their illegal interventions in Syria this is a joke. But apparently they take themselves seriously.

As for the level of strategic thinking. How will bombing Assad and weakening his forces alleviate distress? The main opposition to Assad is from right-wing Islamists. Not “moderate” (pro-Western) rebels. If Assad loses, Syria will become something like Afghanistan after the Soviet pull-out; a battle between warring factions. This is hardly going to alleviate “distress” (why “distress” and not suffering? – more baby talk). No; this is just about re-asserting Western power. They don’t like chemical weapons because their use tips the balance of power away from the West. From this perspective it doesn’t matter who used them and indeed if they were used. It is the perception that they have been used which cannot be permitted to stand. This is the same logic which led to Iraq. They have a need to demonstrate their power. There are no military or strategic reasons for bombing Assad which, even without the Russian question, will be a disaster which will help no one.

 

 

 

The obvious untenability of the UK narrative on Skripal

there can be no doubt what was used and there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible — only Russia has the means, the motive, and record [1]

Boris Johnson following the release of part of the OPCW  report into the chemical poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on 4 March. The report agrees that the nerve agent used was of the type identified by Porton Down – that is a family known in the West as Novichoks and developed in the Soviet Union.

The problem is that here Boris Johnson is (like many others in today’s Western media and political circles) simply coining a new method of determining truth. In this method it is enough for the West to assert something for it to be true.

  1. “Only Russia has the means”. It has been well-established now that this is simply not true. This type of nerve agents are a development of the organophosphate family. The formulas are quite widely known. The substances are not that hard to produce. After the fall of the Soviet Union both actual materials and/or know-how may well have been exported from the Soviet Union. Craig Murray has noted some of the evidence for all this including the US role in dismantling the old Soviet Chemical Weapons programme in Uzbekistan. It is just not true that “only Russia has the means”.
  2. “Only Russia has the motive”. Not even a plausible lie. Russia might have had a motive in killing their traitor. But Sergey Skripal has not been active (based on information that is available in the press) since his release as part of a spy swap in 2010. Why would Russia  simultaneously blow their supposed secret chemical weapons programme and provide the West with an excuse to ramp up sanctions etc – for the sake of a small act of revenge? Even if we allow that Russia “had a motive” it simply isn’t true that only Russia had a motive. The police will tell you that when investigating a crime one tactic is to see who benefits. Who benefits from this crime? The further isolation of Russia was a fully predictable result. Many countries have the motive to see Russia more isolated. Or, again, it could have been a personal motive. It just is not true at all that “only Russia had the motive”.
  3. “The record”. This of course is a circular argument. If every time something happens you accuse Russia and then say “it must be them because they did it last time” you have in fact not proven anything (other than your ability for self-delusion). Presumably this is a reference to the assassination of former Russian agent Litvinenko in London in 2006. In this matter the case seems stronger. The polonium which was used to kill him could be forensically linked to two Russians who visited London. Litvinenko was actively working for MI6 and against Russian interests when he was killed. But the case remains unproven and other explanations are viable. One contested (and let’s not drag up Soviet era assassinations by the Bulgarian secret service) assassination does not make a record. And, anyway, previous form does not and should not mean guilty. A basic principle of British justice which seems to have escaped Johnson.

That the British position (and this position is the same one as they have based their case on all along) is so completely untenable should tell us something. One explanation is that they are so terrified of Russia getting away with something they have to blame Russia even though they know that it might not be Russia. Another is that they don’t care; they wanted to ramp up the pressure on Russia and someone has conveniently provided them with an excuse. A third explanation is that they do indeed have secret intelligence which implicates Russia but which they can’t put into the public domain for fear of revealing sources. However; in this case one would perhaps expect them to say that. The public understand that some information has to be classified. That they haven’t done this and have tried to claim it must have been Russia on the basis of this strange new epistemological device: “it is true because no other plausible explanation is possible” suggests that this isn’t the explanation here. Other, more sinister, explanations are possible.

Notes

1. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/04/12/russia-nerve-agent/509994002/

Britain and the problem of depth in its political class

I’m borrowing this one pretty shamelessly from RT.

Apparently during an exchange with the Russian representative at the UN, Britain’s representative said:

In respect of Karl Marx, I think he must be turning in his grave to see what the country that was founded on many of his precepts is doing in the name of supporting Syria by condoning the use of chemical weapons on Syrian territory

Firstly, and in passing, we can observe: “condoning the use of chemical weapons on Syrian territory”. Officially Britain is still waiting for confirmation of who the guilty party (if there is one) was. But this merging of “very likely” (based on conjecture and “capacity and motive”) with acceptance of something as a fact is now officially part of the discourse of the West in this post-Skripal world. Quite openly – it no longer matters if they have proof or if it is just “likely”.

But the point here is the extraordinary blunder in terms of politics and history. Ms Karen Pierce is a diplomat operating at the highest level in International affairs. But she appears to believe that Russia was “founded on the precepts” of Karl Marx. As RT points out – Russia as a nation dates its foundation to the 9th century – in what is now Ukraine. In October 1917 Lenin’s Bolshevik party came to power (following the overthrow of Tsarism in the February Revolution of that year). Certainly Lenin’s ideology can be said to be derived from Marx. But – has Ms Pierce not noticed that something momentus happened in 1991? To fill her in – the Soviet Union collapsed. Many of is constituent republics went their separate ways.  Quite specifically the regime (system) set up by Lenin (which is where Marx comes into it) was completely abandoned. Modern Russia in no way implements the “precepts” of Marx. Marx would be horrified by the modern Russia not because of her alleged support for alleged chemical weapons attacks. But because she is a modern capitalist state with an elected parliament, private capital, wage labour, prices fixed by supply and demand, a bureaucratic state, and all the rest of it.

The problem, as this web site has often noted, is that the political class in the West at the moment are simply not up to the job. They are out of their depth in managing world affairs. They have no grasp of politics and history and no capacity to perform accurate analyses of political events. They simply blunder from one horror to the next as they try to convince themselves they represent something.

 

Bedknobs and broomsticks

This is an interesting post by former British Ambassador Craig Murray on the Skripal case.

He seems to raise some interesting questions, some of which have been troubling this writer for a while.

Firstly; if this nerve agent is quite so powerful how come it took three hours (from contact on the door knob) to Sergey Skripal and his daughter collapsing on a park-bench in Salisbury? It seems a bit unlikely. Perhaps it was just a tiny amount or a ‘weak’ batch (perhaps because of insufficient or dated precursors being used to prepare the substance?) – but then, if so, this is looking more like an amateur hit than an assassination by the Russian state.

To this Murray adds the interesting observation that Mr Skripal and his daughter apparently fell ill at exactly the same time – on the park bench. All the press reports describe them being  found unconscious together. If one had fallen unconscious before the other they would surely have got help? But the length of time a poison takes to take effect is usually dependent on body-mass (plus perhaps other factors to do with the circulation). Murray suggests this casts doubt on the door knob theory which seems to imply that they both touched the door at more or less the same time. (Of course one can posit that they acquired different levels of the toxin from the door and this then balanced itself out in terms of body-weight – but this seems to be stretching probability a bit).

Mr Murray does not mention it in his article but in the very early reports on this case there was mention of an opioid, fentanyl, being found in the vicinity. Fentanyl is sometimes found in street heroin or even sold as a street drug directly. It is a powerful synthetic opioid. It is easy to manufacture – within the reach of criminals. [1] (It could also be a tool of choice in an assassination of course).

Mr Murray does at least imply that the Met police anti-terror squad may be planting evidence about the door knob and alleged “Russian trainng manuals”.

Given the inconsistencies in the UK government story, their inability to decide if it is a case of “case proven” or “very likely”, the fact that the alleged chemical nerve agent used is far more widely available and readily produced than the public was at first led to believe, the rather too convenient story about a Russian training manual and door-knobs, the welcome but striking apparently full recovery of the Skripals from a nerve agent whose last victim, a Soviet scientist who was accidentally exposed, died after a long and protracted series of illnesses, [2] plus of course, the sheer unlikelihood of the Russian state doing something like this at this moment, it really doesn’t seem completely far-fetched to speculate that the whole operation was a stunt by British intelligence. It doesn’t fit with this writer’s pre-conceptions of what British intelligence would and wouldn’t do. But.

The Porton Down chief executive Gary Aitkenhead (apparently a former Motorola executive according to Mr Murray – which shows the links between the Western corporate world and the military) said that they could not be sure of the “precise origin” of the substance. This is interesting. There are two ways such substances can be attributed; i) what is the chemical composition and who has the capacity to synthesise these chemicals and ii) they can contain impurities which can be used to link them to specific production centres – if samples exist. There are two ways then of interpreting “not possible to ascertain precise origin”. One is – this is standard corporate world/pseudo-science gloss for “not possible at all to have any idea of origin”. The other, more interesting one, would be to ask Mr Aitkenhead what other countries are indicated by the sample analysis? Uzbekistan? Kazakhstan? Ukraine? The UK?

Notes

1. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/05/alleged-former-russian-spy-critically-exposure-unknown-substance/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/05/salisbury-incident-critically-ill-man-is-former-russian-spy-sergei-skripal

https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/aug/29/why-fentanyl-could-become-the-uks-most-dangerous-drug

2. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/23/nerve-agent-was-used-in-1995-claims-former-soviet-scientist

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/22/andrei-zheleznyakov-soviet-scientist-poisoned-novichok

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story on Skripal begins to fall apart

The Foreign Office is now saying:

It is our assessment that Russia was responsible for this brazen and reckless act and, as the international community agrees, there is no other plausible explanation.

As the Prime Minister has set out in a number of statements to the Commons since March 12, this includes our knowledge that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents probably for assassination and as part of this programme has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views former intelligence officers as targets. [1]

This is really very thin. It wouldn’t stand up in a criminal court. That the act was “brazen and reckless” is just there to add some colour – a barrister’s trick; he hopes to sway the jury just by stressing the enormity of the crime. But in reality this has no bearing on who did it.

The “international community” (our military allies) agrees because – as for example Merkel explained [2] they have been presented with some convincing evidence by the British. Now, apparently, the fact that they agree is itself proof of the truth of the claims. This is a circular argument.

It would be interesting to know the basis of the claims about Russia stockpiling small quantities of “Novichoks”. At any event Porton Down has not said that they don’t. Former British Ambassador Craig Murray suggests that the form of words used by the representative from Porton Down on Sky News today is as good as an admission that they have produced it. [3] If this is so – we can ask; if Britain can why not Russia? The claim about producing the substance “probably for assassination” probably (!) relies on claims made by a defector.

Russia’s “record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations”. Such as? Again this is looking rather like circular reasoning. And “our assumption”. This is why this case wouldn’t stand up to the rigours of a proper criminal investigation; you can’t convict people based on “our assumption”.

The document produced by the British side and circulated in Moscow to Foreign Embassies explained that Russia must be responsible for the Skripal poisoning because they have the “capability, intent and motive”. “Intent” means they want to do it. Again; this is a circular argument.

The British case that Russia did this looks very much like what it is. They’ve decided it must be Russia because it meets their current image of Russia. There’s not much else. A good barrister could tell you that this is precisely how miscarriages of justice occur. People get put in the dock because they “fit the bill”. This is what is happening here and the British government should have thought first.

Update 4/4/18

They can’t make up their minds. In the text above the Foreign Office said “there is no other plausible explanation” that the crime was committed by Russia. Today they are saying, in connection with Russia’s attempts to call a meeting of the OPCW: “Of course, there is no requirement in the chemical weapons convention for the victim of a chemical weapons attack to engage in a joint investigation with the likely perpetrator”. [4] Well; which is it? “no other plausible explanation” or “likely perpetrator”. If they can’t decide in their own narrative between dead cert and “likely” why should anyone believe anything they say?

 

Notes

1. http://metro.co.uk/2018/04/03/scientists-mod-lab-cannot-verify-novichok-nerve-agent-came-russia-7438320/

2. https://www.rt.com/news/422147-merkel-blames-russia-skripal/

3. https://www.rt.com/uk/423075-porton-down-skripal-proof/

4. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/salisbury-poisoning-latest-russia-opcw-meeting-nerve-agent-attack-chemical-weapons-sergei-skripal-a8287676.html