From the editor
FROM THE EDITOR - MARK BIRDSALL
THE SKRIPAL SANCTION
It's nearly 12 years ago, since former FSB officer and MI6 agent, Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in an audacious attack in London, performed by 'soldiers' of the Kremlin. Since then, some 20 other attacks on individuals, with varying degrees of success, have been carried out in the UK, Europe and in Russia itself. There are some common factors and most of the victims were opponents of the Kremlin; intelligence and military officers (designated 'traitors'), political opponents of President Putin, and business and banking operators, some moving monies through Russia's very dark underworld. In many of the cases, the targets were poisoned, though not all; some were shot, others found in peculiar circumstances, such as Boris Berezovsky whose body was found with a rope around his neck in southern England. I don't think Berezovsky killed himself, nor do detectives close to the case.
Six years ago I was told by an associate
that a list of names had surfaced in Serbia
that included as many as 100 names, mostly
Russians. It was described as the 'Russia
List' or 'Assassination List' - opponents
and perceived traitors whose end game had
been sanctioned. And since then, the rest is
history. I've not seen the list, nor as far
as I am aware has it surfaced as a physical
document, but some of the people whose names
were included, have since perished or have
been attacked. Perhaps supportive of its
authenticity, MI5 and New Scotland Yard have
been asked to re-examine as many as 14 cases
which could well be the product of the list.
Three years ago, MI6's most famous agent,
former KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky fell ill
and said he thought he had been poisoned.
The story was quietly dropped and filed by
the Foreign Office. Senior media people were
asked to withdraw their interest. This could
well be one of the case files reopened. And,
just recently, some well placed sources said
eight Russians linked to the UK may well be
on the list.
And what of GRU man Sergei Skripal, the latest Russian exile to be targeted in Britain? Much has already been written about Skripal in the media, and few in the intelligence world do not know who he is, or the circumstances of how he came to be in the UK today. Numerous theories abound about his poisoning, and conspiracy tales are emerging every day. MI5 and senior NSY detectives know the back story and the nerve agent used in the attempted murder of the agent and his daughter Yulia. It's likely by now, they have a good idea of how it was 'delivered'. This part of the investigation has spawned a host of stories, all priceless if you are trying to sell copy, but a hindrance to those at the leading edge of the investigation. From e-cigarettes, to tampered mail, those in the speculation game continue to peddle mischief.
British government scientists have now reportedly concluded "beyond reasonable doubt" that the nerve agent used to poison ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia last week was made in Russia. Specialists at Porton Down, the Ministry of Defence's chemical warfare lab, reached the conclusion, according to intelligence sources.
Tests carried out proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that Russia made the chemical used in the attempted murder on 4 March. The compound's identity has yet to be made public. Prime Minister Theresa May says there is "sufficient evidence" to link Russia to the attack and it is 'highly likely' Russia poisoned Sergei and his daughter. The Russian ambassador has been summoned in to explain how a Russian nerve agent came to be used against the ex-spy.
In time, the 'Skripal Sanction' will be bracketed amongst the many case files in the spy wars of Britain, America and Russia.
But one fact does puzzle me greatly. With a current history of strange deaths and attacks on those with Russian intelligence links living in Britain, why did Skripal choose to live in plain sight, use his own identity and still maintain threads with more than one spy agency? It is not known whether Skripal was offered a new identity, but he made little attempt to follow a key tenet of espionage - to be unpredictable and avoid routine. No doubt this will become an area of much debate and speculation in future days.
Rest assured, we are already working with senior analysts and media editors to place context on the Skripal incident. Hopefully, he and his daughter and police officer Nick Bailey will recover fully to add their own version of events.
Mark Birdsall - Editor