After days of analysis, police investigators announced on Wednesday that they believe a nerve agent was used to poison former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter on Sunday, raising questions of how it was created and how the attack was carried out.
A range of highly potent nerve agents were developed by military scientists from the 1930s onwards and a number have since been used in assassinations and terror attacks. On Tuesday, the US state department confirmed that it held Kim Jong-un’s North Korean regime responsible for the murder of his estranged half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Kuala Lumpur international airport last year. The Malaysian authorities have charged two women with Kim’s murder after they allegedly sprayed the nerve agent VX on his face. The two maintain they were duped into the attack, claiming they thought were being filmed for a TV prank show.
In the 1990s, the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult in Japan used VX to kill dissenters before releasing another nerve agent, Sarin, in the Tokyo subway, leaving more than 600 people in need of treatment. More recently, Sarin was used by the Syrian government in the civil war that has ravaged the country since 2011.
Nerve agents are not hard to make in principle, but in practice it takes specialised facilities and training to mix the substances safely. The raw materials themselves are inexpensive and generally not hard to obtain, but the lethality of the agents means they tend to be manufactured in dedicated labs. The main five nerve agents are Tabun, which is also known as GA and is the easiest to make, Sarin, Soman, GF and VX.
VX was invented in the UK in the 1950s, and is the most powerful nerve agent. It is mostly absorbed through the skin, and tends to take effect in the space of minutes. It can also be turned into a vapour by heating it, in which case the effects are almost immediate.
Because it is particularly stable, it tends to remain on clothing, furniture and the ground for a long time, meaning it can be detected on samples collected from areas where it is used. But because of its potency and persistence, people attacked with VX are themselves a danger to first responders who can fall ill when they come into contact with minute traces of the agent. The victims must be decontaminated and affected areas cordoned off until they can be made safe.
In pure form, all nerve agents are colourless organophosphorus liquids. They were found to be highly poisonous in the 1930s and became the dominant chemical weapons of the second world war. Once made, the substances are easy to disperse, either as liquids or aerosols, are highly toxic, and have rapid effects. Most are inhaled or, as is the case with VX, absorbed mostly through the skin, but in liquid form they can also be added to food and drink, which delays the onset of their effects.
The agents take their toll on the body by disrupting electrical signals throughout the nervous system. The effects are fast and dramatic. People exposed to nerve agents find it increasingly hard to breathe. Their lungs produce more mucus which can make them cough and foam at the mouth. They sweat, their pupils constrict, and their eyes run. The effects on the digestive system trigger vomiting. Meanwhile the muscles convulse. Many of those affected will urinate themselves and lose control of their bowels. At high doses, failure of the nerves and muscles of the respiratory system can kill victims before other symptoms have time to develop.
There are antidotes for nerve agents, such as oxime and atropine, both of which are used in military devices that deliver quick shots to victims. The antidotes are particularly effective against VX and sarin, but they must be given soon after exposure to work.
Chris Morris, a medical toxicologist at Newcastle University, said: “If the symptoms can be controlled until the agent is removed then recovery is good. With the type of supportive care given in these cases, there may be minimal long term effects if treatment was rapid and effective.”
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.