Sooner than most of us expected, but a welcome expose of the Skripal affair nonetheless! Another of those “Conspiracy theorists right again” moments. MH
Wed, 17 Apr 2019 20:44 UTC
While London almost immediately blamed Moscow for being behind the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK city of Salisbury in March 2018, Russia has strongly rejected its involvement, stressing it’s been denied access both to the investigation into the incident and the Russian nationals affected.
On 16th April, the New York Times published a glowing profile of Gina Haspel, who in May 2018 became the seventh director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The article referred to Haspel – the former head of a CIA ‘black site’ in Thailand at which an indeterminate number of suspected terrorists were viciously tortured – as an “adept tactician” blessed with “good listening, empathy and an ability to connect”, and discussed the difficulties the intelligence chief faced in ensuring “her voice is heard at the White House”, due to the intransigence of President Donald Trump and a White House that allegedly treats national security professionals “with deep skepticism”.
So far, so obsequious – but buried in the hagiography is a fascinating disclosure. In a section titled ‘The keys to talking to Trump? Realism and emotion’, authors Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman document how Haspel “solidified her reputation” as one of the “most skilled briefers” of the President.
Following the 4th March 2018 poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, top national security officials are said to have gathered inside the White House to discuss with Trump how Washington should respond – at the time, Whitehall was preparing to expel dozens of Russian diplomats from the UK, and aggressively pushing various key international allies to follow suit.
Trump was said to have initially dismissed the significance of the poisoning, characterising it as “legitimate spy games, distasteful but within the bounds of espionage”. However, Haspel lobbied the President to expel 60 Russian diplomats from the US – and persuaded Trump to take the “strong option” by showing him the Skripals “were not the only victims of Russia’s attack”.
“Ms. Haspel showed pictures the British government had supplied her of young children hospitalized after being sickened by the Novichok nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals. She then showed a photograph of ducks British officials said were inadvertently killed by the sloppy work of the Russian operatives. Ms. Haspel was not the first to use emotional images to appeal to the president, but pairing it with her hard-nosed realism proved effective: Mr. Trump fixated on the pictures of the sickened children and the dead ducks. At the end of the briefing, he embraced the strong option,” the article states.
This small excerpt raises innumerable questions about the ever-mystifying Salisbury incident. Firstly, the images apparently provided to Haspel by the British government have never been published, or even mentioned, by the British media.
Given Whitehall’s determination to blame and diplomatically punish the Russian state for the poisoning before a motive had been established, any perpetrators identified, or other basic facts ascertained – in the face of significant public disapproval, and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn demanding action be informed by evidence – it’s entirely inconceivable that if these pictures existed, they wouldn’t have been provided to major news outlets and prominently publicised. If they were sufficiently impactful to convince a sceptical US President to support Whitehall’s strategy, hesitant British citizens may well have been similarly swayed.
Moreover though, since March 2018 no UK media outlet, government minister/spokesperson, health professional or law enforcement official has ever even claimed a single child was “sickened” after coming into contact with so-called “Novichok” (there have likewise been no reports of any waterfowl having tragically died due to the nerve agent). Again, it’s utterly imaginable that had a child suffered adverse effects from the nerve agent, it wouldn’t have been widely reported.
There could be several explanations for this seeming anomaly. To name just some of the most unsettling:
- Several children were hospitalised, and several ducks did die, and for reasons unclear the British government didn’t inform the public and prevented the children and their parents from revealing they’d been affected, while secretly communicating the fact to other governments in literally graphic detail.
- Counterfeit and/or misleading images may have been produced by persons unknown to bolster Britain’s case for concerted international action, and further been relayed to Haspel (if not other overseas officials), conning her and Trump into backing its mass-expulsion policy.
Alternatively of course, perhaps the stirring tale of Haspel converting the reticent President with impactful images is mere gossip, or spin – after all, the article’s authors didn’t discuss the episode with the CIA chief herself, but based their article on interviews “with more than a dozen current and former intelligence officials who have briefed or worked alongside her”.
However, even if the explanation is quite so anodyne, that in turn raises major questions about how and why the individual(s) who relayed the story to Barnes and Goldman came to believe children and ducks had been affected by Novichok.
The official narrative of the Salisbury incident is ever-fluctuating. Seemingly each and every article, news segment, official statement or documentary about any element of the case contains new information, requiring the established account to be at least partially rewritten and/or contradicting established elements of the story.
To name but two significant instances of this strange phenomenon in recent memory, on 19th January it was revealed 16-year-old Abigail McCourt had won a ‘Lifesaver Award’ for giving first-aid to the Skripals after finding them unconscious on a public bench in the centre of Salisbury. Accompanying reports indicated she’d been the first person to notice the collapsed father and daughter, and had quickly alerted her mother Alison – together, they provided potentially life-saving assistance to Sergei and Yulia.
The story was somewhat at odds with the official timeline, as advocated by Whitehall and the Metropolitan Police, which stated an off-duty doctor and nurse had found the Skripals – but moreover, Abigail’s award announcement also revealed her mother wasn’t merely a nurse, but the Chief Nursing Officer for the British Army, with the rank of Colonel.