This article titled “Sergei Skripal: former Russian spy poisoned with nerve agent, say police” was written by Vikram Dodd, Luke Harding and Ewen MacAskill, for The Guardian on Thursday 8th March 2018 07.21 UTC
The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were deliberately poisoned with a nerve agent in a case that is now being treated as attempted murder, the police counter-terrorism chief has said.
Scotland Yard assistant chief commissioner Mark Rowley said the police officer who was first to the spot where Skripal was found in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon was “seriously ill” in hospital. His condition had deteriorated, Rowley said, adding: “Wiltshire police are providing full support to his family.”
Describing the poisoning as a major incident, Rowley said scientists had identified the substance used. He refused to reveal what the specific poison was.
All three were suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent”. Detectives now believed that Sergei and Yulia Skripal were specifically targeted, he added, in a deliberate act. They remain critically ill in hospital.
Although further details are awaited, the suspicion in Downing Street will be that the Kremlin has attempted another brazen assassination operation on British soil. Moscow will furiously deny involvement, but Theresa May will have to consider how the government might respond should the police and other evidence point to Russia and its multiple spy outfits.
Unlike in the case of Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with a slow-acting radioactive cup of tea, detectives got to the scene in Salisbury quickly. Hundreds of officers were now working around the clock, Rowley said. They were examining CCTV footage from the city centre and building a detailed timeline of events, he added.
An unidentified man and a woman spotted strolling in the alleyway close to the bench where Skripal was poisoned are likely to be of intense police interest. The woman has blond hair and was holding a large scarlet bag. CCTV captured them around the time Skripal collapsed.
The man appears much thinner than Skripal, who was recorded on CCTV on 27 February, buying milk and lottery scratchcards from a local shop, Bargain Stop.
Rowley urged anyone who visited Salisbury city centre and who had not spoken to detectives to get in touch. He appealed to the public to send any images or footage from the area to the police website.
Scientists at Porton Down have assisted in the investigation, which is being led by Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, SO15, with significant help from the intelligence agencies.
The investigation comprises multiple strands. Among them is whether there is any more of the nerve agent in the UK, and where it came from. Intelligence sources said on Wednesday they were so far maintaining an open mind about motives and where responsibility for the attack rested.
The medical and chemical evidence and the effects on the victims point to a sophisticated nerve toxin. The best known are VX and sarin.
Chemical weapons experts said it was almost impossible to make nerve agents without training and dismissed the theory that an amateur could have assembled the substance using materials obtained from the internet.
“This needs expertise and a special place to make it or you will kill yourself. It’s only a small amount, but you don’t make this in your kitchen,” one said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the UK’s chemical, biological and nuclear regiment, said nerve agents such as sarin and VX had to be made in a laboratory. He said it was a complicated task: “Not even the so-called Islamic State could do it.”
Richard Guthrie, another chemical weapons expert, said: “Nerve agents, such as sarin or VX, require some fairly complicated chemistry using certain highly reactive chemicals. Small quantities could be made in a well-equipped laboratory with an experienced analytical chemist. To carry out the reactions in a domestic kitchen would be essentially impossible. Moreover, sarin is odourless, colourless and tasteless. Any tiny leaks of its vapour would be potentially fatal.”
Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said on Wednesday the risk to public health from the incident was low. Decontamination work has been undertaken to make areas feared to have been affected by the poison safe.
The cabinet’s most pressing problem is how to formulate a political response if the trail – once again – leads back to Moscow. In previous eras, it might have been possible for rogue elements to lay their hands on toxic substances. But it is now unlikely that any operation to murder a defector could originate in Russia without a degree of official permission.
One former senior Foreign Office adviser suggested the Kremlin was taking advantage of the UK’s lack of allies in the US and EU, and its inability to do much about the Skripal case. He said the British government was in a “weaker position” than in 2006 when the two assassins sent by the FSB spy agency poisoned Litvinenko using radioactive polonium.
The adviser said the use of a nerve agent suggested a state operation, adding that its deployment in the centre of a sleepy cathedral city on a Sunday afternoon was “brazen”. “It says a lot about how seriously [the Russians] take us that they feel able to do something like this,” the former adviser said.
Sources close to British intelligence said further toxicology tests would be key in the days ahead. They warned that other factors or triggers might have been involved.
There was renewed activity in Salisbury on Wednesday afternoon as around a dozen police cars, fire engines and ambulances arrived in the city centre. Attention was focused on Sarum House, next door to the Zizzi restaurant, one of the locations sealed off by police. A dark-haired woman was escorted out by police officers and put in an ambulance.
Skripal and Yulia, 33, were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon.
It has emerged that the pair had been in the city centre since 1.30pm, almost three hours before they collapsed.
The Metropolitan police said on Tuesday that due to the “unusual circumstances” its counter-terrorism unit would lead the investigation.
Officers are keen to speak to anyone who visited Zizzi restaurant on Castle Street and the Bishop’s Mill pub in the Maltings, both premises the Skripals are believed to have visited.
Speaking earlier, Rowley said: “Working alongside Wiltshire police and partner agencies, we continue to carry out extensive inquiries. This investigation is at the early stages and any speculation is unhelpful at this time.
“The focus at this time is to establish what has caused these people to become critically ill. We would like to reassure members of the public that this incident is being taken extremely seriously and we currently do not believe there is any risk to the wider public.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died
Buckingham Palace has announced that The Duke of Edinburgh has died.
Philip Mountbatten, the rakish naval officer who captured the heart of a young Elizabeth Windsor and became the lifelong consort to the British queen, has died aged 99.
The death ends the longest marriage of a reigning monarch in British history, an enduring alliance that outlasted the Cold War, war and peace in Northern Ireland and the painful divorces of three of their four children.
Reacting to the death, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said;
“Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the UK, across the Commonwealth & around the world.
He was the longest serving consort in history & one of the last surviving people in this country to have served in WW2.”
Prince Philip never held the official title of Prince Consort, but he was Queen Elizabeth II’s closest confidant, most reliable political advisor and the undisputed master of the royal household for more than six decades.
Philip was known equally as a curmudgeon and a charmer who could quickly put nervous guests at ease with an easy oneliner.
The Queen, on the event of their golden wedding anniversary in 1997, said of her husband: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”
The Duke is survived by his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, and his children Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
While Elizabeth presided over affairs of state, Philip championed dozens of charities, including the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which has promoted selfreliance, physical development and other personal accomplishment for more than 6 million youths all over the world.(more…)
Biden Expected To Repeal Military Trans Ban Tomorrow
The Biden administration is expected to repeal the ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military, multiple people informed of the decision told CBS News. The announcement is expected as soon as Monday, one senior Defense official and four outside advocates of repealing the ban told CBS News.
The senior Defense official told CBS News the repeal will be through executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The announcement is expected to take place at a ceremony with newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will order the Pentagon to go back to the policy enacted in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly.
The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The new order will direct the branches of the military to outline an implementation plan.
The ban was announced by former President Trump via a tweet in July 2017. The ban took effect in April 2019 and barred transgender Americans from enlisting in the military.
In 2014, it was estimated there were around 15,500 transgender military members serving, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Biden frequently repeated on the campaign trail his promise to repeal the ban.
Austin said at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he planned to repeal the ban.
“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said on Tuesday when asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “I truly believe, Senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve. And, you can expect that I will support that throughout.”
Trump Pardons Steve Bannon In One of His Final Acts As 45th President
(CNN)— President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.
Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.
Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.
It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said at the time.Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump’s inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.
Since Trump’s election defeat, the President has leaned further into his expansive pardon powers — granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others.
Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.