Newly released messages obtained by Sara Carter suggest that DOJ Official Bruce Ohr’s ties to Christopher Steele are deeper than previously thought and that Steele, in particular, was worried about being discovered.
Ohr was first brought to the public’s attention when investigative reporter Jon Solomon revealed text message records and handwritten notes linking Ohr to Fusion GPS, the company’s investigation into Trump – funded by the Clinton campaign, the DNC and the FBI – and the author of the resultant dossier alleging Russian collusion, British spy Christopher Steele.
Ohr and Steele probably never expected to become famous faces, and certainly never hoped that their notoriety would stem from the major controversy that continues to plague the Trump administration – the Russian collusion investigation. Steele was reportedly so dismayed when his name was originally revealed by the press, that he fled his home with such haste he forgot to turn off the lights – though he did manage to ask his neighbor to take care of his cat while he was gone. Ohr hasn’t felt the need to run away and has apparently continued to work in his position at the Department of Justice (DOJ), although questions have been posed about his future there.
Fear of Exposure
Ohr’s notes show that Steele was becoming more and more concerned about what information would come out regarding the dossier. Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey in May 2017 sounded alarm bells as Ohr reportedly writes in his notes after a call with Steele that the Brit was, “very concerned about Comey’s firing, afraid they will be exposed.”
It is interesting to note that Ohr does not include himself among those who may be “exposed” – who is the “they” he refers to? As well as Steele, is he talking about FBI officials who used the spy’s intelligence despite previously firing him for improperly leaking information to the press, to Fusion GPS staff (among them, Ohr’s wife), or to his anonymous Russian source(s)?
Steele was paid by both the FBI and the Clinton Campaign to produce the dossier; his actions are a matter of public record. What could it be that he was concerned about exposing – possibly the identity of his source(s)? Previously revealed text message between Steele and Ohr revealed that exposure of the identity of Steele’s “guy” would be “disastrous.”
According to Ohr’s notes, Steele was worried about a letter sent to Comey from the Senate Judiciary Committee, inquiring about his possible connections to Steele, as well as testimony that Comey may give to Congress. Two days before Comey testified to the House Select Intelligence Committee in March 2017, Steele sent an urgent message to Ohr, hoping that “important firewalls will hold.”
In June of 2017, Steele asks Ohr to “accelerate” his “reengagement with the Bureau and Mueller” in order to make the most of “some new, perishable, operational opportunities which we do not want to miss out on.” It appears that Steele was now tainted property, however, as in October, Steele reportedly tells Ohr of his dismay that the FBI may tell Congress “about my work and relationship with them. Very concerned about this. People’s lives may be endangered.”
Ohr appears to have acted as a go-between for communications between Steele and the Mueller investigation, although somewhat unsuccessfully. Steele complains:
“I am presuming you’ve heard nothing back from your SC (special counsel) colleagues on the issues you kindly put to them from me. We have heard nothing from them either. To say this is disappointing would be an understatement! Certain people have been willing to risk everything to engage with them in an effort to help them reach the truth. Also, we remain in the dark as to what work has been briefed to Congress about us, our assets and previous work.”
Reaching the Truth
The cat is slowly clawing its way out of the bag now, however. The Ohr notes revealed by Solomon and Carter have brought forth serious questions about FBI conduct in accepting Steele’s information through Ohr, as well as the DOJ employee’s own conflict of interest in promoting Steele’s dossier to the law enforcement while his wife had financial interests with Fusion GPS.
Ohr has been demoted by the DOJ twice for failing to declare his wife’s position in Fusion GPS, while the White House recently intimated that Ohr’s security clearance may be revoked in short order. He is also scheduled to face a private interview with the House Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform committees on August 28.
“We are going to get to the bottom of what he did, why he did it, who he did it in concert with, whether he had the permission of the supervisors at the Department of Justice,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) told Fox News.
Since Ohr’s interview will be confidential, it is unclear what information may arise to aid the public in unraveling the seemingly endless knots in the tangled web that is the Trump-Russian collusion investigation.
In a landmark court verdict, the most commonly used agricultural chemical in history was recently found guilty by a San Francisco jury of causing cancer. Roundup weedkiller, which uses the active ingredient glyphosate, has been a source of controversy for decades, although no conclusive data has been drawn on its potential toxicity.
While the scientific community may be divided over the safety of Roundup and glyphosate herbicides, one California jury found the evidence compelling enough to award $289 million in damages to plaintiff Dewayne Johnson, who suffers from terminal cancer after being exposed to Roundup on a regular basis at work.
As the most common herbicide in the world, Roundup is sold for household and garden use, as well as sprayed on commercial crops that end up on consumers’ dinner plates; glyphosate use has spread even further since Monsanto’s patent on the formula expired in 2000. Johnson’s was the first lawsuit to be heard on the possible cancer-causing properties of the chemical and the verdict has prompted public health concerns among consumers and businesses.
Johnson, 46, is a former school groundskeeper who used Roundup around 20-30 times per year as part of his job; he also testified that he had two accidents during which he was soaked in the chemical. In 2014, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and now suffers from lesions on around 80% of his body.
While it is medically impossible to prove that the chemical directly caused Johnson’s cancer, it is equally impossible for the chemical’s inventor and manufacturer, Monsanto, to prove it did not. In this case, the burden of proof was on the plaintiff to convince a jury that Roundup was a “substantial contributing factor” to Johnson developing cancer – a feat that was certainly managed, with the jury awarding him around $39 million in compensation and $250 million in punitive damages. The jury also determined that Monsanto had deliberately failed to warn consumers of the potential dangers of their product, and that the company had acted with malice or oppression.
Brent Wisner, one of Johnson’s lawyers, said that his team had shown the jury documents proving that the company had known for decades that Roundup could cause cancer, adding that the verdict was a “message to Monsanto that its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first over profits.”
“You can’t take a lung cancer tumor and run a test that proves that tobacco caused that cancer… You’re seeing the same thing here,” said Timothy Litzenburg another Johnson attorney. “I think we’re in the beginning of that era of this dawning on us as a country — as a public — the connection between these two things.”
If he is right and the Johnson case provides a precedent that others will follow, Monsanto could be in for a world of hurt, with thousands of lawsuits already pending against the company from patients claiming that Roundup caused them to develop cancer. According to Litzenburg, he and other attorneys already have 4,000 similar cases pending in various states, and an additional 400 cases have been filed federally via multidistrict litigation.
“This is a big victory for human health worldwide,” he declared although Monsanto has already claimed that it intends to appeal the verdict. Roundup is “completely and totally safe and the public should not be concerned about this verdict,” said Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge. He continued:
“We will appeal this decision and continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective and safe tool for farmers and others”
“More than 800 scientific studies, the US EPA, the National Institutes of Health and regulators around the world have concluded that glyphosate is safe for use and does not cause cancer,” argues Partridge. While his claim is not inaccurate, there is significant evidence that at least in some of these cases, Monsanto has applied pressure to get the scientific and regulatory results they want.
Developed in the early ‘70s, Roundup kills plants – with the exception of “Roundup ready” genetically modified species, also developed by Monsanto – and is used extensively in agriculture and forestry, as well as on household gardens. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “The general population is exposed primarily through residence near sprayed areas, home use, and diet, and the level that has been observed is generally low.” According to the organization Moms Across America, the substance has also been detected in childhood vaccines.
In 1985, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified glyphosate as a possible carcinogen based on animal experiments, but a 1991 reevaluation changed the classification to label it non-carcinogenic to humans, a ruling that has been upheld.
A 2016 report by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in conjunction with the U.N. clashed with the EPA, as it found that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and that the chemical caused “DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells.” The report was a major blow for Monsanto and Roundup’s reputation, despite having been signed off for decades by U.S. and international agencies.
Monsanto claims that the IARC’s report falls below the standards of those used by the EPA, however Monsanto has already been caught out interfering with the EPA’s procedures.
In Bed with Regulators
Unsealed court documents showed in 2017 that Monsanto was tipped off about the IARC results months before they were released, by Jess Rowland, a former deputy division director at the EPA who was in charge of evaluating Roundup’s cancer risk. The documents included internal company emails and email communication between Monsanto executives and regulators. They reveal that Rowland was attempting to prevent a glyphosate safety review by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR); “If I can kill this, I should get a medal,” he is quoted in an email by Monsanto executive Dan Jenkins. It appears Rowland was successful, since the review never went ahead and the ATSDR “agreed, for now, to take direction from EPA,” according to a Monsanto internal memo.
Rowland was in charge of a committee that reported insufficient evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic in a document that was leaked, seemingly by accident, days before he resigned from the agency.
Rowland is the target of a legal filing that says he “operated under Monsanto’s influence to cause EPA’s position and publications to support Monsanto’s business.” The filing cites a 2013 letter apparently written by the late Marion Copley, a 30-year EPA scientist, expressing concerns about Rowley’s handling of glyphosate, accusing and he and others of unethical and corrupt conduct. The letter also alleges that, “It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer.”
The unsealed emails also showed the company may have ghost written supposedly academic research on the safety of glyphosate, and had almost certainly done so in the case of a paper given as evidence to the EPA in 2000.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also ruled Roundup to be non carcinogenic with a renewed study in 2015, however, questions have been raised about the organization’s impartiality; the Guardian reported in 2017 that dozens of pages of the EFSA report been had copied verbatim from Monsanto materials, including sections dealing with peer-reviewed studies.
Monsanto executives are correct that agencies such as the EPA have approved glyphosate as a safe ingredient, however it is difficult to take such regulations seriously when considering the lengths the company will apparently go to in order to get what it wants. Without further access to their records, it is impossible to tell which scientific papers are reliable and which are biased.
The matter is further complicated as Johnson’s lawyers did not argue that glyphosate itself caused their client’s cancer, but rather a combination of roundup ingredients working in fatal synergy. As of yet, science still cannot determine whether Roundup or glyphosate pose a risk to the public, but judging by the Johnson verdict, the public may be deciding that for itself.
The State Department has imposed sanctions against Russia in a move that surprised many, following President Trump’s seemingly conciliatory meeting with President Putin. While Trump is often criticized for being in the pocket of the Kremlin, these sanctions are yet another step in a pattern that shows the administration is treading ever further on an anti-Russian path.
The new sanctions are a direct reaction to the poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia as well as two British nationals, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, in the English town of Salisbury.
The Soviet-developed nerve agent Novichok was identified as the poison and the attacks were squarely and immediately blamed on Russia, despite little evidence connecting the Kremlin to the samples found. As previously discussed on Liberty Nation, there are a number of alternative sources who could have manufactured or obtained the Novichok used and the State Department has not presented any evidence to confirm Russian responsibility for the poisonings, despite pushing forward with sanctions.
It is also possible that Sergei Skripal contributed to the Steele Dossier that alleged Donald Trump colluded with Russia to win the presidency, a theory that seems to fit with some of the recent evidence presented by investigative journalist John Solomon that the dossier was not based on information from sources within Moscow, as was previously thought.
U.S. Blames Russia for Novichok Attacks
The U.S. has so far enacted the strongest reaction to the Novichok poisonings, evicting 60 Russian diplomats and closing the Russian embassy in Seattle, which was then broken into by the State Department in a legally contentious move – according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, the land no longer belonged to Russia and officials were inspecting the property to make sure Russian officials had left as instructed; Russia meanwhile claims the act was a violation of international law.
Nauert also attributed the latest round of sanctions to the use of Novichok in Salisbury:
Following the use of a “Novichok” nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, the United States, on August 6, 2018, determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the Government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.
Although the U.S. has decades of bad blood with Moscow to draw on, it’s unclear why the State Department feels the need to punish Russia far more strongly than even the victim – that is, the U.K., which has expelled only 23 Russian diplomats, as well as taking some measures that could “not be shared publicly for reasons of national security,” according to Prime Minister Theresa May. Nevertheless, the U.S. sanctions seem to be going down well with the British government. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted:
If we are going to stop chemical and biological weapons – including nerve agents – becoming a new and horrific 21st cent norm states like Russia that use or condone their use need to know there is a price to pay. Thank you USA for standing firm with us on this.
Still No Evidence
Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the Novichok poisonings. While it’s plausible that they would do so even if guilty, the fact remains that a host of inconsistencies continue to haunt the whole episode and the investigation, despite costing the public millions of dollars, has been sorely lacking in transparency.
While the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report on the poisonings did not state that the Novichok could be traced to Russia, the organization was, up until June, unable to assign guilt for chemical attacks. Unsatisfied with this, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for a vote to extend the power of blame to the OPCW, and achieved it with the backing of 30 countries, including the United States.
Subsequently, the U.K. has made a new request for the OPCW to extend its assistance, which will involve the deployment of “a technical assistance team for a follow-up visit and to collect additional samples.”
The Porton Down military laboratory, located in the vicinity of both Novichok poisonings, has also refused to attribute blame to Russia or any other party, despite not being bound by the same limitations as the OPCW, however.
Russia has accused the U.K. investigation of lacking transparency; in one example, Anton Utkin, a former Russian U.N. chemical inspector in Iraq, told state outlet RT, “The UK’s desire is that OPWC confirm the chemical agent, that the UK has already identified. That means that the OPWC specialists will be limited to take only those samples that UK will allow, they will interview only those people that the UK would allow.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Brits “grossly manipulated” the OPCW regarding the rule change and accused the U.K. of “consistent physical extermination of the evidence.”
A military hardware factory called “Chemring Countermeasures“ situated near both the poisonings and the Porton Down facility recently exploded – whether or not there is any connection to Novichok is unknown at this stage.
Skripal, Ohr and the Steele Dossier
Investigative journalist John Solomon made waves in D.C. political circles when he revealed the role played by Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr in liaising between Trump-Russia collusion report writer Christopher Steele and the FBI.
Fusion GPS – the company that commissioned Steele’s report – co-founder Glenn Miller told Ohr that most of the information used in the dossier did not come from within Russia, after all. Ohr’s handwritten notes reportedly read, “Much of the collection about the Trump campaign ties to Russia comes from a former Russian intelligence officer (? not entirely clear) who lives in the U.S.”
According to text message records, Steele told Ohr that, “We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position now looks stable.”
Nobody is quite sure who this “guy” could be, but does Sergei Skripal fit the bill?
As previously explored on Liberty Nation, Skripal has connections to Steele’s company Orbis Business Intelligence – subcontracted by Fusion GPS to compile the dossier – through his friend and former MI6 hander Pablo Miller, thought to be an employee of Steele’s.
Skripal is a convicted traitor in Russia and it is unlikely the Kremlin would welcome him back, although by all accounts he lead a quiet and stable life in the town of Salisbury England, also the home of Miller.
He is a former Russian spy who surely has residual sources in Moscow – his daughter Yulia had flown to England from Moscow shortly before the two were poisoned.
True, Skripal is a U.K. resident, and not a U.S. one, although this could be a simple error given that Ohr’s notes appear to be sloppily written and with mistakes; Glenn Simpson’s name is repeatedly misspelled, according to Solomon. It is also reasonable to think that Steele’s source would be located in the U.K., as this is where Steele himself was based.
If there is any possibility that the Skripal poisonings are connected to the Steele dossier, it would be in the Trump administration’s interest to demand a full and transparent investigation into the Novichok poisonings, rather than accepting the existing narrative and imposing sanctions before any reliable evidence is presented.
The Russian collusion scandal may have initially been intended to discredit the Trump campaign, but as the investigation interminably continues – again, without presenting proof – it now serves as a useful distraction, convincing half the American people that Trump is a Kremlin puppet; these people have been manipulated into demanding a harder line on Russia, while the state pursues the trajectory it has been determined to follow all along: gradually escalating conflict with Russia and its allies.
The government and the press have always had a love-hate relationship; they are natural enemies while relying on each other to function – what girls might call the archetypal “frenemies,” if you will excuse the term. This symbiotic link has always existed on a knife-edge; there is a reason that the Founding Fathers felt the need to enshrine the right to press freedom in the First Amendment of the Constitution. But nobody who keeps track of the news these days could deny that the relationship between the government and the media has become toxic.
While President Trump has undeniably heightened antagonism between government and the media, is this really new, or is it part of a pattern that has been a long time in the making? Is the open hostility between Trump and certain media outlets productive in the goal for a balanced press, or is it in fact strengthening the existing dysfunctional “news as entertainment” industry, while also contributing to a potentially dangerous precedent that could be used to suppress press freedom in years to come?
The Enemy of the People?
President Trump has called the U.S. media the “enemy of the people” on various occasions and recently the issue resurfaced with a vengeance due to Press Secretary Sarah Sanders’ refusal to denounce the President’s statements in a confrontation with CNN’s Jim Acosta.
While Sanders may not have been willing to contradict the President, his daughter Ivanka made headlines when she came out in an interview with Axiom to say that although she has been the target of inaccurate reports, she doesn’t agree that the media is the enemy of the people.
Is the media truly the peoples’ enemy? Perhaps much of it is, but the problem goes much deeper than Trump has delved.
The Cornerstone of Democracy?
One person who saw the decline of the U.S. media before most people realized what was going on is Robert McChesney, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who released the book Rich Media, Poor Democracy in the year 2000. Legacy news personalities like Acosta may be up in arms about Trump’s supposed threat to press freedom, however, these same people have built their careers on a distinct lack of media diversity. McChesney gave a 2003 interview in which he claimed that the Constitutional right to press freedom has been hijacked by massive media corporations, and no longer serves the public:
Often times people say ‘well what about the First Amendment, isn’t that our safeguard against tyranny, isn’t that the thing that keeps our press free?’ And what’s really happened is that the First Amendment has changed dramatically from when it was written to how it’s interpreted today…
It was meant originally as a social right. We have a right to a free press, we have a right to free speech, not just for ourselves but for the entire society. So I have the right to a free press not so that I can make a newspaper but also I can consume a vibrant free press and that’s the principle involved…
In the new [since the 1920s] corporate regime, though, the courts have unambiguously said that the right to a free press goes to the shareholders, to the corporate investors, it doesn’t go to the editor, it doesn’t go to the reporter – they only have their First Amendment rights to the extent the investors grant them to them.
According to the professor, there no longer exists a right to consume a quality, free press, but only the right to produce content as you like – a privilege in the hands of an increasingly tiny minority of corporate cronies, as media ownership continues to become more and more concentrated.
But what about the internet, hasn’t that opened up press freedom to the public? The internet has indeed been a democratizing force, however, it is still a medium in its infancy and that freedom is already being reined in by the “mommy and daddy” corporations who know best. Online communication is perhaps held in even fewer hands than the traditional media, and those hands are now clenching into fists in the attempt to crush alternative opinions, as illustrated by the recent purge of InfoWars host Alex Jones from several social media sites in a clearly coordinated attempt to wipe him into the internet’s memory hole.
The corporations that now own our news media, that increasingly bought them into their massive empires, realize that giving journalists the autonomy to make professional decisions is bad business. It’s much better business to hold your news division to a fierce accounting, to make it generate the same sort of profit as your movie division, as your TV division, as your music division.
And that means basically fewer resources, less investigative work, less controversial work, more puff pieces. More trivia, more entrainment, more celebrity coverage, and that’s exactly what we’ve gotten…
And so what we get is a much weaker journalism, a journalism that tends toward covering the much easier stories about celebrities and royal families, who’s idea of balanced political reporting is to simply put a mike in front of a Republican and then get a Democratic opinion, but almost never means going out a figuring out who’s telling the truth, actually doing the journalism of investigating the various claims and then telling us what’s actually going on.
Hasn’t coverage of President Trump become like a never-ending celebrity puff piece, where you are expected to either love him or hate him? We are faced with endless talk about the man, with little substance or investigative work delving into the truth behind the gossip. People love to hate their political adversaries, and that has become the new entertainment.
Conservatives – and people of all stripes who value press freedom – didn’t like it when President Obama favored media outlets such as CNN, over ones like Fox News. Although many may find it tempting to revel in this opportunity for revenge as Trump has turned the tables on those complacent outlets, but is this a wise move?
A 2013 Fox News article called “Obama vs. Fox News — behind the White House strategy to delegitimize a news organization” stated:
“Sure, everyone understands how some of Fox’s opinion programming would get under President Obama’s skin, the same way MSNBC from 4pm until closing time is not the favorite stop for Republicans. But it’s not okay — or presidential — to continue smearing an entire network of hard working journalists because you are mad at Sean Hannity.
Simply change some of the names and this line could have been penned by CNN in 2018. One Fox segment from 2013 titled “Bias alert: President Obama’s war on Fox News” discussed the issue, with Ellen Ratner saying:
You don’t go after a news organization. First of all, we have freedom of the press in this country, last time I looked. By going after a news organization, you’re essentially saying that this news organization should be toeing the line.
Obama’s “War on Fox” may have seemed inexcusable, and Trump has upped the ante with a “War on the Media” – what will the next president do, and how will Republicans feel when a future Democrat president has a well-established precedent that can be used to justify the next crackdown on conservative outlets, or any other perspective that is deemed “fake” or illegitimate? As said by clergyman Douglas Horton, “While seeking revenge, dig two graves – one for yourself.”
President Trump, like many on the right of politics, may have identified genuine flaws in the current U.S. media, but only on a superficial level that does not address the root problem. Rather, these “wars” between politicians and the press benefit both combatants, providing hours and hours of material with which to distract the public from the deeper root problems that both are causing in society.
Rather than complaining about symptoms and engaging in a downward spiral of “tit-for-tat” attacks, it would be nobler to start addressing the long-term root causes of today’s media problems.
The matter of UFOs has often been associated with tinfoil hat wearing fanatics looking for little gray men, but the people who have long been relegated to society’s fringes may finally be getting what they always wanted.
In December 2017, the long-dismissed idea of covert government research into UFOs was given a new level of public credibility by a most unlikely source: The New York Times. In a piece called “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program,” NYT reporters revealed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), a black budget Pentagon program that was investigating reports of unidentified flying objects in conjunction with private company Bigelow Aerospace.
AATIP, UFOs and the Media
The Department of Defense (DoD) program began in 2007 with the backing of former Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). While a lack of funding reportedly ended the Department of Defense program in 2012, the program’s former head, Luis Elizondo, believes that it has continued.
The story made a splash in the papers, with coverage by the big players including Politico, Fox News, CNN, Washington Post, Vanity Fair etc. What The New York Times story did, which countless ufologists never managed, was to bring the (or at least one) government UFO program to the serious attention of the public, and the mainstream media now deemed it acceptable to mention the term “UFO” without irony. As career Exopolitics researcher Paola Harris wryly told an audience in Manchester, the article had finally convinced her children that she wasn’t crazy after all.
Public interest has also been fuelled by a video of an encounter between a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet and a mysterious craft. Released by the DoD at the same time as the AATIP acknowledgment, the video depicts an unidentified flying object in the most literal sense – whether it is extraterrestrial in origin is not a foregone conclusion and many alternative scenarios are possible. Nevertheless, the possibility of alien craft presented in the footage has sparked an interest in the mainstream media that is unprecedented. Fox News host Tucker Carlson declared, “UFOs have captivated the public interest for decades but they’ve always been dismissed, including by me, as the province of wackos, but that is changing,” in a segment where he broadcast the Navy footage and interviewed Elizondo.
It’s not just the press that has finally expressed an interest in UFOs; U.S. politicians are getting in on the action too. Representative Ami Bera (D-CA) called for a congressional hearing on the matter at a Politico Space panel in April, saying “I think it’s fascinating, you know, we don’t know what these phenomenon are. Obviously, it was important enough to allocate some funds. We ought to talk about what we can talk about openly.”
The U.S. Government, Space, and UFOs
Soon after President Trump took office, he brought up the goal of returning man to the moon and achieving a manned mission to Mars. In June 2018 he told reporters that he wanted to attain “American dominance in space” and directed the Department of Defense to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military. While the announcement was met with plenty of mocking voices, others may be wondering what influence research programs like AATIP will have on any potential space missions going forward, and what role will private companies such as Bigelow Aerospace and Elon Musk’s more attention-seeking Space X have within these U.S. government programs? Robert Bigelow, head of Bigelow Aerospace, has publicly admitted that he believes aliens visit Earth – how will views like this impact the development of the U.S. space program?
The president’s plan has not yet been fully endorsed by Congress but according to Defense One, a leaked DoD draft report states:
“DoD will usher in a new age of space technology and field new systems in order to deter, and if necessary degrade, deny, disrupt, destroy and manipulate adversary capabilities to protect U.S. interests, assets, and way of life… This new age will unlock growth in the U.S. industrial base, expand the commercial space economy and strengthen partnerships with our allies.”
However, this futuristic military branch may not be as quick to set up as the president may be hoping for:
“The Department will recommend that the President revise the Unified Campaign Plan to create the new U.S. Space Command by the end of 2018 and evaluate the need for any additional personnel, responsibilities and authorities.”
Disclosure or Disinformation?
Fans of the long-running television show Ancient Aliens may have been surprised to see that, among the mainstay personalities of the UFO world, the new season features John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton and Counselor to Barack Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. Podesta has repeatedly advocated for disclosure, and he is not alone; Bill Clinton unsuccessfully tried to delve into the U.S. government’s UFO research in the 90s, while in 2016, Hillary made it a campaign promise to declassify files relating to Area 51 and UFOs.
It certainly appears that space is the next frontier in the military and U.S. politics. Is the U.S. government finally starting to give the public the disclosure that many have hoped for since the iconic Roswell crash, or is this actually an attempt by the DoD to prime us for the imminent expansion of war beyond the confines of our planetary surface? Or could it be both?
Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with UFO expert and former U.K. Ministry of Defense official, Nick Pope, in which Liberty Nation explores these issues and more.
Trump’s relationship with Iran has been nothing less than turbulent, what with the U.S. pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and the recent harshly worded exchange of threats from both sides.
Despite the recent harsh threats made over Twitter, President Trump said that he would be willing to meet Iranian President Rouhani without any preconditions. “It’s good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet,” he said. “I do believe that they will probably end up wanting to meet,” he added. “And I’m ready to meet any time they want to. And I don’t do that from strength or from weakness. I think it’s an appropriate thing to do.”
As predicted by LN’s Onar Åm, Trump’s established negotiating technique dictated that he follow his Twitter threats by offering an olive branch, but will the formula work in this case?
Trump and his Administration on Iran
The president seems capable of a spontaneity that is rarely seen in today’s highly managed political messaging. His tweeting habits no doubt send his staff into as much of a tizzy as his opponents, and his unscripted statements at rallies and press conferences usually cause a stir, with real possibility for world change… until his administration officials step in to bring matters back under control.
Unlike Trump’s aggressive tweet, which was openly supported by officials, including National Security Adviser and notorious war hawk John Bolton, Trump’s offer of a meeting was barely out of his mouth when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo popped up to reel the situation back to the established state position. While Pompeo said he would support Trump meeting with the Iranian president, he immediately listed a series of preconditions that would be required before it could happen:
If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people – reduce their maligned behavior, can agree that it’s worthwhile to– enter in a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have a conversation with him.
Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the president’s National Security Council and a Bolton acolyte, also chimed in and said the U.S. would not lift any sanctions or re-establish relations until “there are tangible, demonstrated, and sustained shifts in Tehran’s policies.” He added, “The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course.”
While Trump himself may be willing to make spontaneous statements, that certainly doesn’t mean that his administration is going to support these overtures. A similar pattern was seen after the president’s seemingly impulsive April comment that the U.S. troops would be leaving Syria “very soon,” when White House officials, including Secretary of Defense General Mattis, immediately congregated to persuade Trump to stick to the existing plan of keeping a military presence in Syria indefinitely. Of course, this was shortly before the chemical attack attributed to Assad that renewed Trump’s vigor on Syrian military action.
Can the U.S. Really Help the Iranian People?
The state department has hinted at a regime change in Iran for months. In his first public address, held at the Heritage Foundation, Pompeo announced a dozen demands that Iran would need to meet before the U.S. would lift sanctions on the regime. He announced, “Unlike the previous administration, we are looking for outcomes that benefit the Iranian people, not just the regime.”
He further hinted at a change in leadership during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. “The level of corruption and wealth among regime leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government,” he said. A recent tweet stated that he and the Trump administration “supports Iranians yearning for freedom… after nearly 40 years of oppression.”
Last week I spoke to the Iranian-American community to let them know that the Trump Administration supports Iranians yearning for freedom. Here are a few voices expressing their hopes for the proud people of #Iran after nearly 40 years of oppression. pic.twitter.com/LnSTDu7DZ9
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 31, 2018
At the recent pro-Trump rally in London, Liberty Nation witnessed some Iranian Trump supporters carrying a banner that thanked the president for siding with the Iranian people. The president and Pompeo have indeed made it a point to express solidarity with Iranians who may be suffering under the current government, and there is no doubt that modern day Iran is a repressive place to live, with an authoritarian regime, links to terrorists, and many human rights violations. But has Western interference ever managed to help Iranians in the past? History tells us that the answer is no.
The Lessons of History
It is well established that the CIA and MI6 organized a 1953 coup to reinstate Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the monarch of Iran after he was exiled by the more or less democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. The U.K. was unhappy with Mosaddegh’s plan to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, which was at that point controlled by British interests. The U.K. and the U.S. used Operation Boot and Operation Ajax, respectively, to put the Shah back in power, where he pursued a pro-Western agenda, partially due to his clandestine Western patrons and partially following the path of modernization started by his father in the 1920s.
In 2013, the CIA admitted its role in the 1953 coup and the ensuing regime, and today, the common narrative is that Shah was a U.S. puppet who was overthrown during Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic revolution – to the shock and horror of the West. But is this true?
Although the U.S. government maintains that it stood by the Shah during the revolution, declassified documents reveal that officials had extensive contact with Khomeini in the run-up to the revolution, according to the BBC. The revolutionary leader asked the U.S. for assistance. Although the Carter administration initially refused to entertain the notion, officials came to see the Shah’s regime as doomed and Carter reportedly paved the way for the new government by instructing him to “leave promptly.” The U.S. allegedly then began talks with Khomeini, albeit reluctantly, hoping for a military coup rather than a theocratic one. The degree and impact of U.S. involvement in the transition of power is yet unknown.
Israeli journalist and author Ronen Bergman claims in his book, The Secret War with Iran, that the U.K. was involved in supporting Khomeini’s rise to power, allowing him to broadcast propaganda on the BBC Persian Service. At the time, one British broadcaster, Lord George Brown, criticized the “BBC Overseas Services” for “broadcasting Ayatollah Khomeini’s instructions to the people.” The Shah is also quoted as calling the BBC his “number one enemy” in the years leading up to the revolution, according to one research paper.
Pompeo may well talk about 40 years of oppression since the 1979 Islamic revolution, but Western involvement did nothing to hinder the installation of this oppressive regime and may even have aided it. Will Pompeo’s goal of regime change yield better outcomes?
John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani have expressed support for the anti-government Iranian group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), which was listed by the U.S. as a terrorist group until 2012. Will replacing the current regime with MeK really do anything to help the Iranian people, or the U.S., in the long term? As Einstein famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Editor – Liberty Nation presents part three of our Novichok series. In part one, we addressed the details of the two Novichok poisonings that have taken place on English soil in 2018, and their political ramifications. Part two looked at which nations had access to the poison and why Hillary Clinton was trying to cover up U.S. knowledge. In this final installment, we look at the connections to the Trump-Russia Collusion narrative and the people involved.
A transmitter disguised inside a fake, plastic rock and placed on a Moscow street – this may sound like the type of equipment used by agents in the 1960s spy comedy Get Smart, but British Intelligence wasn’t saying “Good thinking, 99” when Russian TV revealed that this very piece of equipment was being used by MI6 (the U.K.’s version of the CIA) to collect information from its sources in Moscow.
This tragically hilarious piece of espionage incompetence involved a number of British agents and Russians secretly working for the Brits, including one of the main characters in our Novichok saga, Sergei Skripal. Mr. Skripal, a Russian military intelligence officer, had been caught passing information to the Brits by using the rock (other reports suggest he was betrayed by a Spanish agent), and was arrested. While Skripal worked as a double agent throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, nobody yet knew that his MI6 handler and reportedly close friend would end up working for none other than Christopher Steele, author of the Fusion GPS Trump-Russia dossier.
Skripal the Spy
While the British government publically denied involvement in the “Fake Rock” scandal until 2012, it was eventually admitted by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s former Chief of Staff that, “The spy rock was embarrassing, I mean they had us bang to rights. Clearly, they had known about it for some time and had been saving it up for a political purpose.” Indeed, the Russians clearly knew about and monitored the rock for at least two years before they decided to make their accusations since Skripal was arrested in 2004 but the TV exposé wasn’t broadcast until 2006.
Skripal was tried and convicted of high treason, following his December 2004 arrest. Although he was sentenced to 13 years in prison, he was pardoned and released after six years, as part of a spy swap in 2010 – prompting speculation that the Kremlin eventually poisoned him in revenge. He relocated to England where he purchased an average home in the town of Salisbury and reportedly lived a quiet, retired life until he was poisoned in March 2018. Salisbury also happened to be the residence of his former MI6 handler and friend, identified as Pablo Miller.
Liberty Nation has previously examined the existence of DSMA notices (or “D notices”) issued by the British government to pressure the media into ignoring certain stories. The Novichok affair has been the source of two D notices urging the media not to publish certain details of the case.
After a few hints and rumors about the existence of the D-notices, the documents – if they are genuine – were eventually obtained by and published by Spinwatch, a website that campaigns for lobbying transparency in the press.
The first D-notice was released on March 7, shortly after the initial Skripal poisoning. According to the document provided by Spinwatch, it instructs media outlets not to reveal the identity of an intelligence operative connected to the case:
The issue surrounding the identify [sic] of a former MI6 informer, Sergei Skripal, is already widely available in the public domain. However, the identifies [sic] of intelligence agency personnel associated with Sergei Skripal are not yet widely available in the public domain. The provisions of DSMA Notice 05 therefore apply to these identities.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper ran an article that did not identify this mysterious agent by name, although it included a few tidbits that left many readers intrigued:
The Telegraph understands that Col Skripal moved to Salisbury in 2010 in a spy swap and became close to a security consultant employed by Christopher Steele, who compiled the Trump dossier. The British security consultant, according to a LinkedIn social network account that was removed from the internet in the past few days, is also based in Salisbury.
On the same LinkedIn account, the man listed consultancy work with Orbis Business Intelligence, according to reports. Orbis is run by Mr Steele, a former MI6 agent, who compiled the notorious dossier on President Trump that detailed his allegedly corrupt dealings with Vladimir Putin…
The consultant’s wife told the Telegraph, when asked if her husband had worked for Orbis and knew Col Skripal: “He won’t be talking.”
As evidence of the D-notice began to surface, such as a tweet by the chief correspondent for Channel 4 News, Alex Thomson, the authorities evidently weren’t happy. March 14 saw the release of a second D-notice “to remind editors” not to publish the identity of the mysterious agent connected to the Skripal case. So who is this person? He is now believed to be Pablo Miller, Skripal’s former handler and apparent friend.
Pablo Miller and Christopher Steele
Russian counterintelligence started claiming in 2000 that Pablo Miller was an MI6 agent recruiting Russian spies while working undercover at the British embassy in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. At the time, spies who were arrested identified Miller as their handlers. In 2007, tax inspector Major Vyacheslav Zharko surrendered himself to Russian authorities and admitted to spying for the Brits, naming Miller as his recruiter, according to the FSB.
According to Meduza, a site specializing in Russian news, and the BBC, the details of Skripal’s spy career were published in the 2015 Russian language book “Devil’s Dozen of Counterintelligence” by Russian secret service historian Nikolai Luzan. According to the book, Miller recruited Skripal while working under the alias Antonio Alvarez de Hidalgo, and the two had a working relationship for almost a decade, during which they compromised around 300 Russian agents.
Let’s not forget our friend Christopher Steele in all this – what was he doing while all of this was going on? Why, he was also working for MI6 and was reportedly known as an expert on Russia. During Skripal’s active years, he was stationed at the British Foreign Office, but from 1990 to 1993, he worked undercover in Moscow, and between 2006-2009, he worked at MI6’s Russia Desk in London.
In 2009, he reportedly left MI6 and founded Orbis Business Intelligence, the company that was eventually sub-contracted by Fusion GPS to research Donald Trump on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Between 2014 and 2016, Orbis compiled 100 reports on Russia and Ukraine, some of which were used by the U.S. State Department.
Curiously, Pablo Miller and Christopher Steele also have links to another famously poisoned Russian defector, Alexander Litvinenko, who died from exposure to radioactive polonium-210, in 2006. Steele was reportedly Litvinenko’s case officer and the person who identified his death as a “hit” by the Russian state. Litvinenko allegedly worked with Miller and introduced him to possible assets, such as the earlier mentioned Zharko. How closely together did Miller and Steele work?
Skripal the Spy, Continued?
Is it possible that Skripal had continued his spying career under the radar? Valery Morozov, a Russian political refugee who now lives in the U.K., told Channel 4 that Skripal was still working cyber-security and was in monthly contact with military intelligence officers at the Russian Embassy. Morozov added that he avoided Skripal because it might “bring some questions from British officials.” Was the British government aware of the possibility that Skripal was still involved in espionage – and for which side?
According to the Independent:
The Russian double agent poisoned in Salisbury may have become a target after using his contacts in the intelligence community to work for private security firms, investigators believe. Sergei Skripal could have come to the attention of certain people in Russia by attempting to “freelance” for companies run by former MI5, MI6 and GCHQ spies, security sources say.
Private security firms such as Orbis, run by former spies, such as Christopher Steele with help from Pablo Miller, perhaps? Naturally, Orbis has denied that Skripal had contributed to the Trump dossier, but did not comment on whether he had worked on the company’s other reports.
The Telegraph’s report was also quickly denied by reporters at the BBC and The Guardian, including Luke Harding, who appears to be in contact with Steele and has just released a book called “Collusion: How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.”
Of course, Steele had been the object of his very own D-Notice in 2017, as the British government unsuccessfully attempted to hide his identity as the creator of the Trump dossier.
Is it to be expected that three key figures in MI6’s Russian intelligence operations knew each other and continued to work together? Is it mere coincidence that Skripal was poisoned soon after Steele’s Trump dossier began to fall apart, and that two major incidences driving the West’s current anti-Russian narrative involved the same key figures?
Or is there something else connecting these three men? Was Skripal involved in creating the spectacular failure that was the Steele dossier? What information may he have on the production of this document that may affect those who commissioned the paper and even the Mueller investigation into the Trump-Russia collusions scandal? Or was the dossier actually authored by a Russian spy, as posited by Paul Roderick Gregory at Forbes, possibly by Skripal himself?
Alas, it is with these questions that we must close our Novichok series, but let us part with one new piece to the puzzle. As the only victim who has actually died from exposure to this apparent weapons-grade chemical, Dawn Sturgess, is put to rest, Public Health England has taken “protective” measures at her funeral. There will be no pallbearers, her coffin will be placed in situ when mourners arrive, and her family will be permitted 15 minutes with the coffin, before a private cremation.
Liberty Nation presents part two of our Novichok series. In part one, we addressed the details of the two Novichok poisonings that have taken place on English soil in 2018, and their political ramifications. In this installment, we look into the allegations that Russia is the prime – and indeed, only – suspect for these crimes.
“There is no alternative conclusion, other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter, and for threatening the lives of other British citizens,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May in an accusation that worsened the already bad relations between Russia and the West.
May was referring to the use of the Soviet-developed chemical Novichok to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal on English soil, in March 2018. The incident has had major diplomatic ramifications, yet there is still no proof that Russia was responsible for the attack. The case against Russia depends simply on the idea that no other country could possibly have had access to the Novichok family of chemicals.
Moscow has repudiated the charge by arguing that the toxin could have originated in a handful of other countries, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the U.S., the U.K., and Sweden. Is Russia simply trying to pass the buck, or is there a basis for this claim? Did anybody else have access to this toxic chemical?
Yes, They Did
In 2016, Iranian researchers published in the scientific journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry that they had analyzed samples of Novichok. They reported passing their findings on to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for use in their database. Although the experiments at the time held little interest for the public, a summary was also published in the industry e-zine Spectroscopy Now, in 2017.
According to investigative reporters from German broadcasting outlets NDR and WDR, and the Die Zeit and Suedeutsche Zeitung newspapers, Sweden and Germany also had access to Novichok dating back to the 1990s, when the German foreign intelligence service (BND), was reportedly given a sample of the chemical by a Russian defector. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl then allegedly ordered the BND to share the substance with Berlin’s “closest allies,” including the U.S. and the U.K., and later Canada, France, and Holland. “Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities” in order to develop protective equipment and antidotes, reported the media outlets. German authorities have not commented on the assertions.
The government of the Czech Republic has been somewhat divided on whether they have or have not produced (and subsequently destroyed) a version of Novichok in 2017. President Milos Zeman ordered an investigation into the possibility, and in May told a local TV channel that the country’s Military Counter-Intelligence had confirmed the production of the substance in a Czech lab. This was later disputed by civilian counter-intelligence agency BIS, which claimed the substance produced had been a-230, not the substance found in Salisbury, which was identified as a-234. While Russians have decided that a-234 was the Skripal poison, this has not been confirmed by the OPCW or British government, who merely identified the chemical vaguely as belonging to the Novichok family. According to the book Compendium of Chemical Warfare Agents, by forensic chemist Steven L. Hoenig, a-230, a-232, and 2-234 are all designated Novichok agents.
Only Russia…Or Anyone Who Read My Book
Publishing in 2007, Hoenig admitted that when it came to Novichoks, there was little information available. Had he waited a year or two to write his compendium, however, he may have had a little more to go on. In 2008 not only was the existence of Novichok disclosed to the public, but even the formula itself was published. Vil Mirzayanov was a Soviet chemist who worked in a secret chemical weapons laboratory developing substances including Novichok for over 25 years. In 1992, he was charged with treason after publishing “state secrets” about Russia’s chemical weapons program. The case was eventually dropped over a lack of evidence and in 1995 Mirzayanov moved to the U.S., where he was granted asylum and informed the authorities of his Novichok research.
In 2008, he published the English-language book State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program, which included detailed information about the development of Novichok, as well as the precise details of each version’s chemical formulation. According to Mirzayanov:
“Some people from Washington persistently advised me not to include the formulas of the chemical agents… I asked why it would be a bad idea to publish this information, since it would be for the safety of all people. Then the governments would work to have those chemical agents and their precursors included into the Control List. They responded, “Terrorists could use them for their criminal actions.” This kind of reasoning is used all the time now to scare people and prevent any discussion. We are already used to ignoring a lot of real problems thanks to that…
All of the advice people gave me not to publish formulas of the Novichok chemical agents, based on the argument that terrorists would use them, does not ring true. These agents should be acknowledged and immediately put under the control of the OPCW, the organization that administers the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
Mirzayanov claims his motivation for publishing was to increase awareness of Novichok agents, “for the sake of the world safety,” as well as information for use in further research. He also says that only experts in well-funded government labs would be capable of safely producing such chemical agents without accidentally poisoning themselves and that some of his colleagues had died as a result of mishandling the substance.
Are the formulas provided by Mirzayanov accurate? The Associated Press reported that Russian Defence Ministry General Igor Kirillov called the book “complicity to terrorism,” implying he thought they were genuine. Professor Leonid Rink, another scientist who worked to create Novichok, also admitted that other countries could use the book to synthesize their own samples of the chemical.
Rink, previously convicted for selling similar poisons used in murders, told Reuters it was unlikely that Russia would be so careless as to use an agent obviously connected to them, but according to the Independent newspaper:
Though the formula for the nerve agent was once secret, Rink said other countries including Britain, the US and China were now capable of manufacturing versions of the substance, however, analysis of the poison used in Salisbury should reveal whether or not it was “cooked up” in Russia.
The OPCW didn’t take Mirzayanov seriously, it appears, as its Scientific Advisory Board claimed in 2013 that “it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of ‘Novichoks.’” This attitude was mirrored by scientists at the U.K. Ministry of Defence lab Porton Down, who analyzed the samples used in the 2018 poisonings, as well as being situated only a few miles from the incidents. Leaked documents, however, show that they may well have been playing down their knowledge of Novichok and its formulas.
Who Knew What?
Was the U.S. government aware of Novichok and Mirzayanov’s book? It certainly was, as Wikileaks documents reveal none other than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton instructed envoys to “Avoid any substantive discussion of the Mirazayanov book “State Secrets: An Insider’s View of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program” or so-called ‘Fourth Generation Agents.’” The classified document also instructs delegates on how to respond if anybody raised the topic of the book at a 2009 meeting of the Australia Group, an affiliation of various allied countries to control the export of controlled substances and prevent the spread of chemical weapons:
- Report any instances in which the book is raised.
- Not start or provoke conversations about the book or engage substantively if it comes up in conversation.
- Express a lack of familiarity with the issue.
- Quietly discourage substantive discussions by suggesting that the issue is ‘best left to experts in capitals.
U.S. State Department cables reveal that the topic was discussed during a Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) at The Hague, but U.K. and U.S. diplomats “indicated a lack of familiarity with the subject matter and indicated no interest in pursuing the discussion further.” The documents also reveal that the diplomats asked the CIA, the National Security Council, and the State Department how to deal with questions about Mirzayanov’s book and that the U.S. had discussed the book with counterparts in the U.K., Finland, and the Netherlands.
It also shows that the U.K. “Ministry of Defense has spoken to its counterparts in the Netherlands and Finland, apprised them of the conversation, and asked each country to provide guidance to its del[egate] members not/not to raise this issue in the future.”
So, is there truly “no alternative conclusion” than that Russia was behind the Novichok poisonings in England? Perhaps the Skripals were indeed targeted by the Kremlin, however, that is far from the only possibility. Not only did multiple countries know about Novichok and its chemical makeup, but so did anyone who had read a book that was widely available to the public since 2009. Not to mention that Porton Down, a major lab that is likely to possess samples of the chemical, is situated only a few miles from both poisonings.
In the third and final installment of this series, we will explore the strange connections between the Novichok poisonings and the dossier that tied President Trump to the Russian Collusion scandal.
Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series.
The Russians have long been known for their witty yet dark sense of humor. “The need to suffer is an inherent feature of Russians throughout the ages,” wrote Dostoyevsky, but from this comes the ability to make light of even the most serious of problems. This is seen on the world stage with Vladimir Putin’s trademark “your inferiority amuses me” facial expression, his wry reaction to the Trump collusion scandal, and now, the country’s response to ongoing accusations that Russian agents are responsible for recent chemical poisonings on British streets with the Soviet-developed nerve agent Novichok.
What other culture would respond by serving “Novichok” cocktails to English tourists during the World Cup, or copyrighting “Novichok” brands of alcohol, household cleaners, and pharmaceuticals for domestic use?
The poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English town of Salisbury in March quickly lead to accusations that Russia was responsible for the use of the Novichok nerve agent on British soil. While most mainstream media outlets were quick to jump on board with the blame game, others, including authors at Liberty Nation, found some aspects of the narrative rather questionable.
Although no direct evidence was used to support the British government’s accusation, other than the fact that the chemical had originally been formulated in the Soviet Union, the result was that 28 countries expelled a total of 152 Russian diplomats. NATO expelled seven diplomats from the Russian mission to Brussels, while the U.S. ejected 60 diplomats – more than any other country, including the U.K. – and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle “in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world.”
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, as they say, and indeed Russia responded to each country in turn; 60 American diplomats were expelled and the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg was closed.
A Second Poisoning
A second incident brought the Novichok poisonings back into the press; this time, two English citizens with no apparent connection to Russia appear to have been poisoned by accident. In June, two residents of Amesbury, a town seven miles from Salisbury, where the first incident occurred, were struck down with the same chemical used against the Skripals.
It may be noted that both towns are also in close proximity to the secretive Porton Down Ministry of Defense laboratory, which, according to the U.K. National Archive, has long been a chemical and biological defense research lab. It was also the lab that analyzed the substances found at each crime scene and identified them as Novichoks.
Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley were reportedly poisoned with Novichok on June 30; while there has been some confusion about the source of the poison, it now appears the substance was concealed in a glass perfume bottle that Rowley – a drug addict who frequently went “bin diving” – found. He reportedly gave the perfume to Sturgess, his girlfriend, who fell ill after spraying the substance on her wrists. She died a week later, on July 8. Rowley also became sick after the bottle broke in his hands and is currently being held at an undisclosed police facility, despite being discharged from hospital. Indeed, one curious aspect of both poisonings has been the public absence of the victims.
On July 20, Charlie Rowley was discharged from Salisbury District Hospital, almost three weeks after being poisoned with Novichok. Hospital staff and Public Health England assured the public that Rowley’s release posed no danger to the community and the regional Wiltshire Police Chief Constable, Kier Pritchard, publicly welcomed Rowley’s release.
Not two days later, however, Rowley appears to have been tucked away into a top-secret police safehouse with no access to the outside world, apart from phone communication with his brother. According to Matthew Rowley, Charlie was banned from watching television and reading newspapers, and has been given a special phone – without camera or internet – with which he could call his brother.
“He rang me and said he’s being driven stir-crazy. He’s being kept in a plain room without TV or newspapers because they don’t want to upset him… Police have said he mustn’t say anything about where he is – all he told me was that he was safe.
It was a short conversation because nurses said I shouldn’t wear him out. He sounded really weak, almost as if he’d been drinking too much. He sounded pretty fed up… He’s been given a strange new number which doesn’t always connect. I’ve only been able to speak to him once. I’m hoping I’ll be able to find out where he is and visit him soon.
He said he was too tired to talk. He seemed like he was on some really strong medication… It was really frustrating for me because I haven’t really got any detail from him.”
If Rowley poses no risk to the public and is well enough to be released from hospital, why is he holed up in a police safehouse with no access to the outside world? There may be valid reasons to keep him hidden for investigative purposes, but why limit his access to the media? If Rowley was poisoned by accident, and not specifically targeted, then why does he require continued police protection?
Sergei and Yulia Skripal have also been curiously absent since their own hospital discharges, so much so that Russian OPCW representative Alexander Shulgin claimed they’re “being held hostage by the British authorities.”
Yulia, a Russian citizen, left the hospital on April 9. Her release was followed by a statement from Scotland Yard, apparently on her behalf. It rejected any assistance from the Russian consulate and asked that her cousin, one of her closest family members, not be in touch. Nothing more has been heard from her, except for one media appearance in May when she spoke to Reuters at an undisclosed location. She said:
I’m grateful for the offers of assistance from the Russian embassy but at the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services. Also, I want to reiterate what I said in my earlier statement, that no one speaks for me or my father, but ourselves.
Yulia’s father, Sergei Skripal, was released from hospital on May 18, but neither hide nor hair has been seen of him. Are the Skripals laying low for fear of further attacks, possibly from their own motherland? Or is there another reason that they have declined to tell their story? And why is Charlie Rowley being kept from his home and family, despite hospital blessings?
Police continue to investigate both poisonings.
No further sanctions against Russia have been announced as a result of the second Novichok incident, but U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid recently accused Russia of using the U.K. as a “dumping ground for poison.” Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, went so far as to call the use of Novichok a “war crime” by Russia.
The U.K., the U.S., and dozens of other countries all leaped to the conclusion that Russia must be one and only responsible party for these attacks on British soil – but is there any evidence to back up this claim? Stay tuned for Part Two, where we look at exactly who had access to this deadly chemical weapon.
As much as we like to think we live in a free and open democracy, the fact is that most of our politicians are working somewhat like ducks: while we are often presented with a cool and calm image, much of the action is furiously going on beneath the surface and away from public view. Our supposedly transparent system of governance is conducted away from public eyes; meetings between world leaders are no exception to this reality.
While President Trump’s private conversations with British royalty and Prime Minister Theresa May did little to pique public curiosity, a frosty history and the “collusion” scandal has made his subsequent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin the subject of intense media speculation. Despite all the apparent cloak and dagger secrecy, Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, may have revealed additional insight into what Putin was hoping to achieve at the summit.
Since Presidents Trump and Putin held their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki, branches of the media and political classes have been wondering what went on behind closed doors – are the two world leaders engaged in a conspiracy to undermine the power of the U.S.? Does Putin have “dirt” on Trump, blackmailing him into becoming a mere Petrushka – the foolish and tragic puppet of Russian folklore? Or were the discussions no more than an excuse for the two world leaders to assess each others’ foreign policy motives?
Antonov Reveals Discussions on Ukraine
President Trump tweeted that topics for discussion had included, “stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more.” Naturally, the president’s political opponents didn’t see it as prudent to simply take his word for it, though the Democrat attempt to subpoena Trump’s interpreter for the full details was ill-fated.
The Associated Press reported that Ambassador Antonov gave further details to journalists in Moscow, revealing that Putin had made several “concrete proposals,” but denying that any “secret agreements” had been struck between the two leaders. “There were no secret agreements. There were discussions on the Syrian topic, on Ukraine, concrete orders were given to experts to work in this area,” he said.
According to Antonov, the possibility of a Ukrainian referendum had been discussed as a possible solution to the ongoing dispute over whether Eastern Ukraine belongs to Russia or has the right to claim its own sovereignty. “This problem has been discussed, concrete proposals have been made on how to resolve this issue,” he said, “The Russian side made several very serious proposals some of which were announced by Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) at the news conference.”
President Trump reportedly asked Putin not to publicize the possibility of a Ukrainian referendum before he had time to consider the matter, but U.S. National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis later said that, “The administration is not considering supporting a referendum in eastern Ukraine.”
Antonov also called into question the Minsk II agreement that sought a ceasefire between separatists and Russophiles in Ukraine. The agreement was brokered in 2015 between Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine, and while seeming pivotal at the time, has failed to be enforced or adequately observed according to international relations experts. “We should ask a question: is Minsk alive or not? If all the countries support the Minsk agreements, then they need to be observed,” said Antonov.
The ambassador called the recent Trump/Putin meeting a “key event,” and although he said the two nations should “deal with the results” of the first meeting before attempting another, he responded positively to President Trump’s suggestion of a second meeting. “Russia was always open to such proposals. We are ready for discussions on this subject,” he said.
Who is Anatoly Antonov?
A career politician and diplomat, Antonov is an expert in international relations and the politics of nuclear weapons. He has a reputation as a hardliner for Russian interests against the West and was serving as Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defence during the 2014 Russian military incursions into Ukraine – a role that made him the personal target of European Union sanctions.
In an April interview with NBC, he recalled the alliance between Soviet Russia and the Allies during WWII and said that these two forces could come together again to work against evil in the modern world. He recognized that:
“The shape of our relations are very bad. As a bilateral ambassador of course I try to do my best to facilitate, to improve relations between the United States and Russian Federation but frankly its rather difficult because it seems to me that I even failed to stabilize them… As to Russia, we want to have good relations with the United States…”
“There is a great mistrust between the United States and Russia, but at the same time I would like to emphasise that we have great potential areas of co-operation.”
Trump and Putin: Friends or Frenemies?
Hillary Clinton was overtly hostile to Russia and many onlookers expressed a fear of open war in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. After Trump won, his apparently friendly attitude toward Putin alleviated those fears, while Trump opponents erroneously labeled him a Kremlin puppet. As Trump tweeted, the world leaders “got along well,” but when looking at actions, rather than words, a different story is revealed.
It has been noted that both Trump and Putin are critical of NATO, but many fail to recognize that while Putin dislikes NATO’s increased activity around the Russian border, Trump has criticized NATO for not putting enough funding into these same activities. He also sided against Russia on the matters of recent Syrian chemical attacks and the U.K. Skripal poisoning, as well as imposing sanctions. The path to open conflict is certainly slower under Trump, but it looks as though it leads to the same destination. If Trump and Putin can find common ground on a personal basis, perhaps we will be lucky enough to see a diversion from that road to perdition.