The Two Options on the Skripal Poisoning

Now that British PM Theresa May has publicly fingered Russia and, at the same time, identified the chemical weapon used (Novichok) … there are two possibilities in the Sergei Skripal poisoning:

  1. Russian President Vladimir Putin has broken long-standing “rules” about assassinating former spies who change hands in prisoner swaps and, in so doing, has also revealed an active chemical weapons program.
  1. This was a false-flag attack by state-associated agency with the capability of generating and deploying an advanced, highly-specific chemical agent that replicates a chemical weapon of Russian provenance.

No doubt, in the coming hours and days we will see plenty of clickbaiters and some earnest speculators pick-up #2 and run with it on Twitter, on Reddit and in the alt-right blogosphere. The problem, however, is that any viable conspiracy theory MUST FIRST be slashed with Occam’s Razor. It must also pass the “Cui Bono?” test, as in … who benefits? Then it needs a document, a verifiable eyewitness, a whistleblower … something more substantial than mere speculation … before it can be properly entertained and then researched.

We certainly are nowhere close to a viable conspiracy theory with this and, if you apply Occam’s Razor (all things being equal, the simplest explanation with the fewest assumptions tends to be the correct explanation), the #1 idea … that Russia’s security apparatus carried out a hit … is the likeliest answer. And it is made more likely given the fact the poison used was easily and specifically traceable to Russia and Russia alone.

It is not that Porton Down in the UK or Fort Detrick in the US or that another advanced state couldn’t replicate and deploy the chemical agent to frame Putin (false-flag), it’s that the use of this specific agent makes a lot of sense if you want to send a specific message to anyone who may currently be cooperating in ongoing investigations or is on the verge of blowing a whistle or is pondering a covert defection. A false-flag attack would have a chilling effect on these persons and, therefore, derail your opponent’s covert operations in process and could potentially derail investigations that depended on cooperating witnesses who could implicate Russian agents, agencies, officials or associated organizations … like the Internet Research Agency, for example.

Therefore, use of Novichok could logically be construed as an intentional signaling of both impunity and of reach … and it sends a chilling message to a variety of possible targets who might be transgressing Russian interests. In other words, the use of Novichok instead of VX or Sarin or Ricin or any number of less distinctly traceable chemicals has the effect of leaving intentional “breadcrumbs.” This practice of leaving an assassination calling-card is not uncommon in covert ops or criminal racketeering.

The “Cui Bono?” question is then answered easily because Russian President Vladimir Putin and the security apparatus he commands gets a distinct benefit in terms of long-term operational integrity and security through the establishment of a looming threat … a practice that has been a hallmark of Russian ops since the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the poisoning of UK-based Alexander Litvinenko … and the disfiguring poisoning of Ukrainian politician Viktor Yushchenko.

Now, that fact — that Novichok is specifically associated with Russia’s chemical weapons program — will understandably embolden some to default to the false-flag explanation because, again understandably, it buttresses the case that Putin is a bad actor and it reinforces the “Russian Aggression” mantra that has been a Western staple since the annexation of Crimea. The “Cui Bono?” would then perhaps involve the “Deep State” trying to further Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russiagate case … but, then again, Mueller’s investigation doesn’t really seem to need much more complexity, nor are the American people likely to respond strongly to the goings-on in Britain … unlike the British.

It could also be postulated as a covert op designed to unite NATO in Europe around Cold War 2.0, but that’s been underway for years, US-produced missile defenses are already being deployed, Sweden is hardening its defenses and Europe has kept the pressure on Russia through sanctions for some time.

Perhaps the other false-flag option is another actor … like Ukraine or a terrorist organization or George Soros … but again, we are left with making a series of assumptions to get the narrative to work (paging Occam’s Razor) and then we have to identify a “Cui Bono?” This again requires not just means, motive and opportunity, but also actual evidence … something more than mere suspicion, no matter how well-founded that is in history.

Which is why it looks right now like a Russian-sponsored covert operation is responsible for the Skripal poisoning and, on the eve of his election and with Mueller poking around Erik Prince’s Seychelles sojourn and various financial flows around the Trump family and the Kushners … it does stand to reason that Putin has sent a well-timed and reasonably well-executed message to any and all Russians who might run afoul of the Kremlin … and a distinct message (a two-fer!) to both the British Government (who may be seen as too weak to mount a counter-initiative) and to the targets of the Mueller investigation and/or the targets of US intelligences services who might be actively exploiting Russian sources and agents. That’s a big part of why it is hard to see the logic of UK or US covert operators attempting this as a frame-up. They seem to have less to gain.

In short, if the critique of Russiagate and the often histrionic media scrum’s relentless focus on all-things Putin is that it is a shrill part of an emerging Cold War 2.0, it just stands to reason that the wildly outspent and out-gunned Putin would default to asymmetrical means to both poke back at the US-led encirclement and, with an growing investigation into what some see as revealing key sources and methods through Mueller’s Russiagate probe, to employ the type of “Spy vs. Spy” operations that are both effective at letting your opponent know you are not rolling over and, more importantly, effectively enforce operational security throughout your covert network. It is also effective to use assassinations as a tool for messaging your intentions to key individuals who have knowledge of your operations.

Frankly, that kind of lethal chess-move is old hat in the underbelly world of covert ops and typical of the enforcement of loyalty in organized criminal enterprises, both of which often appear indistinguishable. That’s why, absent some forthcoming piece of hard evidence or the appearance of a whistleblower, the use of Occam’s Razor indicates that every other explanation of the Skripal poisoning is just clickbait.

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'The Two Options on the Skripal Poisoning' have 4 comments

  1. March 13, 2018 @ 12:24 pm Stephen Norrie

    Very good article. In our “post-truth” society (i.e. when no-one can plausibly pose as an impartial news provider) citizens are left having to figure stuff out for themselves, with radically inadequate information. You show a good method for handling this kind of situation. You could tidy the penultimate paragraph a little though.

  2. March 13, 2018 @ 12:31 pm admin

    Yeah, you’re right … that was a helluva run-on sentence.

  3. March 13, 2018 @ 1:23 pm Stephen Norrie

    Thinking a bit more re. the cui bono, I wonder if there isn’t a case against Putin as guilty party too. After the Litvinenko killing, he must have known how incendiary such an assassination would be in Britain. If Putin did it, that must imply he was willing to go with that as a consequence. But my impression is that Putin has generally been trying to dampen down the cold war 2.0 frenzy, not stoke it up. He’s just managed to convince a bunch of people in the west that he’s the sane guy in Syria, a brutal reminder of what a cold murdering bastard he is seems to undermine those propaganda successes. As with so much in the news re. Russia and Syria, I’m left thinking Montaigne’s skeptical “que sais je?” is the only sensible position.

  4. March 13, 2018 @ 5:57 pm JP

    I don’t think he’s concerned about consequences. Russia is already dealing with sanctions. He likely thought May was too weak to matter … (Alexander Litvinenko widow: Theresa May ‘did nothing’ after my husband’s death) … and he just got done talking up Russia’s advanced, hypersonic weapons program. He is about to win a sham election, but he wants to win it with strength and verve. He still has domestic concerns and, more importantly, he is atop an political system that closely models an intelligence agency and an organized crime operation. Enforcing loyalty is key. Consequences for transgression is also key. And in Syria, the West was simply exposed as bad actor with Saudi ties that was way over its skies. He simply came in a exploited Western failure. I think this is a crucial point … the US/neoliberal order is bending and, in some ways, cracking … and this is a time of great opportunity for Putin’s Russia, which bore the brunt of that US neoliberal order’s shock therapy in the 90s. Ultimately, a little Cold War 2.0 is good for domestic political consumption inside Russia. That’s need is also being met by his embrace of retrograde Russian Orthodox religious fundamentalism. He is, frankly, playing his hand well given the cards he’s got.

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