Monday, 9 April 2018

Novichok narrative questioned

Letter sent to The Times:
Your Diplomatic Correspondent’s front page reports on the source of the Novichok nerve agent used in Salisbury (“Salisbury poison ‘made at Russia’s Porton Down,” 6 April 2018; and “UK locates source of Salisbury nerve agent,” 5 April 2018; appear to be based substantially on the assessment of Col. Hamish de Bretton Gordon, the former commander of Britain’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear  Regiment, who you  importantly report “has seen the intelligence.”
If accurate, this raises an important constitutional issue, as Security Minister Ben Wallace explained on the BBC radio Today Programme on April 5, that the number of people entrusted with the most sensitive intelligence details the needed to be deliberately kept small so intelligence sources were protected, when he justified not sharing  all the Government knows with  Jeremy Corbyn, the  leader of the official opposition in Parliament, even on  privy council protective  terms.

If the Government believes it is acceptable to share such secret information with a retired chemical weapons expert - albeit one who now makes a living as managing director CBRN of Avon Protection Systems, based in Wiltshire, selling respirators to the US military - but not with Mr Corbyn, we have a serious problem of trust.

You cite ret.Col de Bretton Gordon as dismissing the notion the Novichuk could  have come from a chemical laboratory in Uzbekistan, rather than Shikhany in Russia, but provide no supporting evidence for this assertion.

What is known is that in August 1999, the US military began dismantling the Chemical Research Institute at Nukus, in Uzbekistan, where Novichuk was tested on the nearby Ustyurt plateau.(“US dismantles chemical weapons,”  BBC News on line, August 9, 1999;

We also know from an earlier report from the New York Times (“US and Uzbeks Agree on Chemical Arms Plant Cleanup,” , May 25 1999; the Pentagon announced  that it intended to spend up to $6 million under its Cooperative Threat Reduction program “to demilitarize the so-called Chemical Research Institute, in Nukus. Soviet defectors and American officials say the Nukus plant was the major research and testing site for a new class of secret, highly lethal chemical weapons called Novichok."

For Government to work properly on national security issues, it is essential that the leader of the opposition is provided with the full intelligence details on ‘privy council’ conditions. Otherwise the public may rightly conclude there is something inconvenient to the Government’s  “novichok narrative” it wishes to keep to itself and its friends.

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