A Curious Incident
A famous Sherlock Holmes story contains the following dialog between Holmes and Detective Gregory.
Gregory: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
A confrontation is taking place between two states over the alleged poisoning of a former double agent in Salisbury, UK on March 4th, 2018. A great many claims have been made. Few of those claims have been substantiated by evidence.
Since this incident appears likely to provoke conflict between two nuclear armed powers, it may be of benefit to apply the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes to see what we might learn. It is certain the British people will not object to this use of logic and astute observation as employed by one of the UK’s most famous and revered characters.
The following article contains information culled from public sources. The intent is to engage the Saker’s readers in crowd sourcing the investigation of the poisoning of the Skripals. I have set out what I believe to be “accurate” or “known” facts along with hypotheses or conjecture. The reader is invited to comment and critique, or to add other public information known to them. It is hoped that this crowd sourced investigation may serve to ensure the integrity of the state agencies involved in this affair, and preclude the curious incident of the Skripals being used as a pretext to initiate further global conflict. Let us begin with a chronological summary of events.
Summary of Events
Sergei Skripal is a British citizen. Skripal came to the UK in 2010 as part of a “spy swap” after he had been convicted by Russia of passing information to MI6.
Skripal’s daughter, a Russian citizen resident in Moscow, travelled to visit him at his Salisbury UK home arriving Heathrow at 1440 on March 3rd 2018.
March 4th at 1600 both Skripal and hid daughter were found semi-comatose on a park bench in the Maltings market area of central Salisbury, the police and ambulance services were called, and the couple were removed to Salisbury District Hospital where, as of March 18 2018, they remain in critical condition.
On March 12th Prime Minister May stated “Mr Speaker, on Monday I set out that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Novichok: a military grade nerve agent developed by Russia.” and “This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.”
Any unlawful use of force by one state against another implies an act of war. May issued an ultimatum to Russia provide a full explanation within 24 hours.
March 13th the Russian government issued a diplomatic note to the UK government rejecting any state involvement in the Skripal incident. Russia demanded the UK comply with the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention to which both Russia and the UK are signatories.
https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3570734 (See Twitter note)
March 14th the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats and/or intelligence agents, and announced other measures against Russia.
March 15th the UK intelligence agencies claimed the toxic agent had been placed in Yulia Skripal’s luggage prior to her departure from Russia and the contaminated luggage was the mechanism of delivery.
Friday, March 16th, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson said that it was “overwhelmingly likely” that the poisoning had been ordered directly by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
March 17th Russia announced the expulsion of 23 UK diplomats and/or intelligence agents, and other measures against the UK.
These events have implications with regard to the conflict in Syria, the NATO build up on the borders of Russia, the Mueller investigation of President Trump, and the allegations against Trump contained in a document created by a former MI6 agent connected to both the creation of the “Steele Dossier,” and to Skripal.
In the next sections the attempt is made to “unpack” some of the extant reporting and attempt to determine the logical validity of that reporting. We start with Scenario #1.
Mode of Toxin Application Scenario #1
The Skripal’s sit on a Salisbury park bench and a mystery couple sidle up and spray the two of them with a nerve agent which immediately incapacitates them. The “mystery couple” then walk away.
Evidence and its Absence
Since the UK has an extensive network of CCTV installations there should be video evidence of the “mystery couple.” It should be possible to track this couple as they move through Salisbury both before, and after, the attack. No such video evidence has been produced.
SCENARIO #1 Conjecture 1
It is likely the incident was a team effort. In addition to the “mystery couple” there would have been other team members watching out for interference / observation by innocent members of the public. This surveillance team would follow the Skripal’s and advise the kill team of the appropriate moment to move in and deliver the toxin. No video evidence of such concerted team activity has been produced.
SCENARIO #1 Conjecture 2
The team activity described in Conjecture 1 requires communication between team members. This would likely involve radio transmissions and would result in a spike in radio transmissions. These transmissions may have been recorded. This is especially true if the public cell network was utilized. No evidence of such communications activity has been produced.
SCENARIO #1 Conjecture 3
Most nation states employ counter-intelligence agents whose principle purpose is the identification and monitoring of foreign intelligence agents. The UK government has expelled 23 alleged Russian agents. This confirms the UK has such knowledge. Known foreign agents operating within the host nation are typically kept under close observation. A team of foreign agents operating against the Skripals would have been detected. No evidence of active foreign agent involvement in the Skripal incident has been produced.
SCENARIO #1 Conclusion
There was no team of foreign agents present in the UK and operating against the Skripals.
Mode of Toxin Application Scenario #2
The toxin was hidden in Yulia Skripal’s luggage and she unwittingly introduced the toxic agent into the Salisbury home of her father. This new allegation obviates the need for an operations team on the ground in Salisbury and provides a convenient means to explain the absence of evidence outlined in Scenario #1.
SCENARIO #2 Conjecture 1
Yulia Skripal’s luggage was not found adjacent to the park bench on which the incapacitated couple were discovered. If the luggage was the delivery mechanism for the toxic agent, and if the Skripal’s did not carry the luggage with them on the day of the attack, then the luggage must have remained in the Skripal residence.
SCENARIO #2 Conjecture 2
If the toxic agent emanated from the luggage then it must have permeated the household in such a way as to be ingested/inhaled by the victims. If the house was not ventilated, this toxic atmosphere would have persisted over time.
SCENARIO #2 Conjecture 3
If conjecture 2 is correct then any other person entering the victim’s household would also have been subject to attack by the same incapacitating agent. There is evidence to support this conjecture. Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey drove from the park bench location where the incapacitated victims were found to the Skripal household, appears to have entered the residence, and became sufficiently ill he then took himself to hospital. He is still under treatment as of March 18th 2018.
SCENARIO #2 Conjecture 4
The following is a time-line of events of Sunday, March 4, 2018. The only firm fact is the time of the victim’s being discovered on a park bench in downtown Salisbury. The other events of March 4th have been culled from public reporting on the incident. The time estimates are my own conjecture based on a Google maps examination of the relative distance between the locations. The greatest uncertainty attaches to the travel time from the Skripal residence to the London Road Cemetery. Readers may have additional detail. If so please provide this detail in a comment.
Skripal Incident Timeline
REVISION DATE March 18 0028
UPDATED WITH DATA FROM BBC TIMELINE
0915 Skripal’s maroon BMW seen in vicinity of London Road Cemetery
The Skripals are known to have visited the cemetery which
contains the graves of Skripal’s wife and son.
1330 Skripal car seen driving down Devizes Road, towards Salisbury town centre
10 minute travel time from residence to the Maltings shopping district
1340 Arrive Sainsbury parking lot. Walk to Bishops Mill Pub
1415 ESTIMATE depart pub for 5 min walk to Zizzi restaurant
1420 Arrive Zizzi pizza restaurant
Skripal angry with demonstrated loss of emotional control.
1535 Depart Zizzi pizza restaurant
1547 CCTV capture of the Skripals on foot in the Maltings walk area
1600 Found on park bench in the Maltings walk area
Comatose, frothing at mouth, contracted pupils, vacant stare, convulsions
1615 Police summoned
1630 Police and ambulance response. Victims removed to hospital.
Time Budget Estimates
First Trip of March 4
Depart residence for London Road Cemetery and return
Estimated 15 minute travel time from residence to cemetery
Estimated 45 minutes viewing graves in cemetery
Estimated 15 minute travel time to return to residence
Estimated 0900 departure of residence for cemetery
0915 Skripal car observed in vicinity of cemetery
Estimated 1000 departure from cemetery
Estimated 1015 arrival back at residence
Estimated 30 minutes total car travel time
It is likely Yulia would have unpacked items from her luggage prior to going to sleep on the night of March 3 to 4. If the toxin was concealed in her luggage then it would likely have been released at the time of unpacking on the evening of March 3. The total residence exposure is therefore estimated to be in excess of 12 hours (midnight to 0900 on March 4) plus 3 hours in the residence (1015 to 1315) on return from the cemetery and before leaving for lunch in central Salisbury.
Second trip of March 4
Depart residence for the Maltings shopping district in Salisbury
1330 left house
10 minutes travel time in car
1340 arrive Sainsbury parking lot
1600 discovered on bench incapacitated 2 hrs 30 min after departing residence for the second time.
Salisbury Police Detective Bailey is reported to have been one of the first responders to the scene in the Maltings park bench area
Time Estimates for Bailey Exposure
1630 Bailey arrives on scene at Maltings park bench
1700 Bailey conducts initial investigation. Locates Skripal ID
1710 Bailey arrives Skripal residence and enters using key found on victim
???? Bailey becomes ill and drives himself to hospital
Estimated 30 minutes spent adjacent to victims
Estimated 10 minutes car travel to Skripal household
Bailey becomes ill after an unknown number of minutes in the Skripal residence
Bailey’s period of residence exposure is considerably less than the estimated 12 plus hours of residence exposure by the Skripals.
If the residence is the site of toxic exposure for both the Skripals and Detective Bailey why the differential response time to the toxic agent?
A number of assumptions are made. The first is that at the time of the first police response to the Maltings park bench area, Detective Bailey had no awareness of a toxic agent being present. He knows only that two people have been found incapacitated on a park bench with one of them having been sick and vomited.
It is assumed he searches both victims for identification and, once the ambulance has removed the victims to hospital, Detective Bailey then proceeds to the Skripal residence. When he arrives and gets no answer at the door, he enters using a key obtained from the victim and commences to search the interior.
At this point very little is known about the incident. Detective Bailey may assume the incapacitation is due to a recreational drug overdose. He would likely search through the house and its contents seeking confirmation for this assumption. If he did find evidence of recreational drugs he would then advise the Hospital medical team of the possible cause of the Skripals incapacitation.
It is not known how long Bailey was in the house before he became ill. If we reconsider SCENARIO #2 Conjecture 1 it becomes clear that the residents of the household would have been exposed to the toxic residence atmosphere for considerably longer than Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey. The Skripal’s had an estimated minimum 8 to 12 hours of residence exposure to the toxin but they only became incapacitated an estimated 2 hours and 45 minutes after departing the residence a second time for a total duration of 10 to 14 hours.
The evidence suggests Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey was overcome in a much shorter period of time. If the household environment was so toxic that Bailey was overcome within an hour or less, how is it the Skripals showed no effects after an exposure time in excess of 12 hours?
Scenario #1 the organized team attack may be discounted as no evidence has surfaced with respect to the activities of such a team.
Scenario #3 “From Russia with Luggage” may be discounted as it is awkward to explain the differential response to a household environment made toxic by bad luggage.
It is much more likely “From Russia with Luggage” has been concocted to explain the lack of evidence supporting the presence of a surveillance and kill team operating in Salisbury on March 4th 2018.
Such concoction supports the allegation that state agencies are acting in a deliberate way to create a new “dodgy dossier.”
In memory of David Christopher Kelly, CMG (14 May 1944 – 17 July 2003)