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OPCW Blunders In Salisbury Novichok Amount

by Oui Sat May 5th, 2018 at 01:21:42 AM EST

More below the fold ...

Skripals poisoned by novichok dose of up to 100g, watchdog says

Quantity of nerve agent dose thought to have been used suggests it was created as a weapon

The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a dose of liquid nerve agent as large as 50-100 grams, the director general of the international chemical weapons watchdog has told The New York Times . [Soon after publication of the interview with its head, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons withdrew this claim saying it could make no such estimate. See footnote below.]

Ahmet Üzümcü, of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the amount of novichok - a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union - used was significantly more than needed for research purposes, which indicates it was likely created for use as a weapon.

In an interview with the New York Times, Üzümcü said he had been told that about 50-100g of the nerve agent was thought to have been used in the attack in Salisbury - 100g is equivalent to 100ml, the maximum amount of liquid allowed in carry-on luggage on a flight.

OPCW Spokesperson's Statement on Amount of Nerve Agent Used in Salisbury

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- 4 May 2018 -- In response to questions from the media, the OPCW Spokesperson stated that the OPCW would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the nerve agent that was used in Salisbury on 4 March 2018. The quantity should probably be characterised in milligrams. However, the analysis of samples collected by the OPCW Technical Assistance Visit team concluded that the chemical substance found was of high purity, persistent and resistant to weather conditions.



As the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention, the OPCW oversees the global endeavour to permanently and verifiably eliminate chemical weapons. Since the Convention's entry into force in 1997 - and with its 192 States Parties - it is the most successful disarmament treaty eliminating an entire class of weapons of mass destruction.  

Salisbury attack: Chemical weapons watchdog backtracks on '100g of novichok' claim | The Independent |


New York Times headline: Large Dose of Nerve Agent Used in Attack in Britain, Says Weapons Watchdog | Huff Post / Yahoo News |

Ahmet Üzümcü, director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) , said that between 50 and 100 grams of Novichok was used in the attack on the pair in Salisbury on March 4.

The quantity ranges from slightly less than a quarter-cup to a half-cup of liquid and was significantly more than was needed for research purposes, meaning it was likely created for use as a weapon, Uzumcu said.

The agent could be applied with an aerosol spray or transported in liquid form, he said.

    “For research activities or protection you would need, for instance, five to 10 grams or so, but even in Salisbury it looks like they may have used more than that, without knowing the exact quantity, I am told it may be 50, 100 grams or so, which goes beyond research activities for protection,” Uzumcu told the New York Times.

After the OPCW made a press statement, the New York Times did not issue a correction, but instead deleted its original article wholesale, replacing it with a new text.

Even after its apparent resolution, the episode raises questions. Why did Üzümcü overestimate the quantity of Novichok by a factor of thousands? It did not appear that he merely misspoke reading the context of the original NY Times article.

Czech government confirms it tested Novichok-type agent | DW |

I have no idea if any of this means anything, but no one can seriously claim that someone is poisoned with 50 grams of nerve agent and lives? I'd say the reporter screwed up.
And by the way, does anyone have a reliable link on what the stuff is actually supposed to do? Initially I supposed the very fact that there seemed to be such a gap between exposure and onset of symptoms is enough to rule out nerve agents. However, apparently Novichok is known to only act hours after exposure.
Now I'd only like an explanation of why, if the stuff was so pure, are both victims still alive?

But I think that is one of the defining features of the whole Russia plot. People who are sceptical about the whole thing just aren't the target audience for the NATO side. While the Russians throw enough shit at the wall so the sceptics can build any case they like.

And really, I think that is one of the defining features of the age. Being right or consistent wins you little. For every Cornyn that pushes through with his consistency there are countless others that tried the same and failed and orders of magnitude more that win through with utter cynicism.

by generic on Sat May 5th, 2018 at 03:21:05 PM EST
"I'd say the reporter screwed up."

No! It was OPCW Secretary General Üzümcü who made this crazy statement, here a blog that looks at his precise words of the interview and tries to explain his intention ...

A Bucketful of Novichok | The Blogmire |

As an aside, I'd love to know which media asked the questions. My guess is that it wasn't any of those organisations who had repeated the claims made in the New York Times.

But what of the statement itself? Taken at face value, along with Mr Uzumcu's original statement, it is very odd for a number of reasons:

    1. Firstly, it says that the OPCW would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the substance used. But of course this is exactly what Mr Uzumcu did appear to say, when he mentioned the quantities 50 and 100 grams.

    2. Secondly, the statement says that the quantity should probably be characterised in milligrams. Not bucketfuls then? But of course the problem with this is that it does appear to leave Mr Uzumcu looking rather stupid, as if he:

    a) Doesn't know his grams from his milligrams and

    b) Doesn't realise that a cupful of military grade nerve agent 5-8 times more toxic than VX would kill people - like, lots and lots and lots of people

    3. And thirdly, the milligrams for grams exchange completely undercuts the whole point Mr Uzumcu was making. He was saying that it appeared from the amount used that it could not have been produced in any old laboratory, as he had admitted a week before when he had said it could be produced "in any country where there would be some chemical expertise." Rather, the point he was making was that quantities like 50-100 grams could only point to military production of the agent, rather than simply for research purposes.

This is all very bizarre. That's hardly surprising, though, since there is almost nothing about this case that has not been extremely odd. From what I can tell, there are only really two possible explanations for this latest bout of strangeness.  

The Blogwire on twitter

More about the lethal aspect of Novichok nerve agent from my first diary ...

Gulf War Veterans - NOVICHOK a Deadly Deception

Also interesting this new article from US and German "non-compliance" to possess CWB products ...

Germany's Cold War chemical weapons: Military planned to stockpile arsenal in 1960s
Middle East: CWB weapons a poor man's option to Israel's nuclear arsenal

Global Warming - distance between America and Europe is steadily increasing.

by Oui on Sat May 5th, 2018 at 04:25:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for that, a combination of phone posting and increased distraction seems to be doing a number on me.

After some more thought: They still seem unwilling to tell us what exactly is supposed to have been used. The factoid that there are Novickoks that are several times more toxic than VX is often brought up, but if the design goal of the program was to work around the international treaties of the time, than it is conceivable that there are far less deadly toxins with more common precursors. And if you are actually planning to use the stuff on a battlefield it wouldn't matter much if you ended up killing your targets or if they could get back to work after a few weeks.

by generic on Thu May 10th, 2018 at 04:15:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, since then I found this:

The Russian ambassador reported that on 12 March the Foreign Secretary had told him that the nerve agent used against Mr and Ms Skripal had been identified as A-234.   The OPCW report issued on 12 April did not identify the agent but stated that they had confirmed the identification made by the UK and that this identification had been included in the confidential report provided to "States parties". On 14 April the Russian Foreign Minister stated that A-234 had been reported by the Swiss Federal Institute for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection that was one of the four accredited labs used by OPCW to analyse the Salisbury samples.

So we have a name for the agent, but the only source is the Russian foreign ministry.

(links at source)

Also this is interesting:


though in confirmation, the so called "government of Tatarstan in
exile" was formed in the United States in December 2008. It is headed by US citizen Vil Mirzayanov, a Russian scientist granted political asylum in the United States.

Though the sourcing is a bit strange. Nezavisimaya Gazeta via Johnson's Russia List via Wikileaks.

I apologize if I missed it earlier, but this was new to me.

by generic on Thu May 10th, 2018 at 08:28:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Killing enemy troops is suboptimal: better to disable them and leave them uselessly soaking up resources.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 10th, 2018 at 09:53:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fair, but it also depends on what kind of conflict you expect. If you expect to route the other side you'd might have more trouble with the live ones.
Though of course all of that nonsense only applies to the hypothetical conventional war between nuclear armed powers that is decided on a battle field.
by generic on Thu May 10th, 2018 at 11:58:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But that was the conflict most of the Soviet research was aimed at, I think.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 10th, 2018 at 02:04:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
does anyone have a reliable link on what the stuff is actually supposed to do?

Wikipedia is your friend.

As nerve agents, the Novichok agents belong to the class of organophosphate acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. These chemical compounds inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, preventing the normal breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine concentrations then increase at neuromuscular junctions to cause involuntary contraction of all skeletal muscles (cholinergic crisis). This then leads to respiratory and cardiac arrest (as the victim's heart and diaphragm muscles no longer function normally) and finally death from heart failure or suffocation as copious fluid secretions fill the victim's lungs.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sun May 6th, 2018 at 04:16:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Which is all true, but I was more interested in the design goals. And if it is true that it was designed to work around the international treaties of the time than a lot of the weird behaviour could be expected.
by generic on Thu May 10th, 2018 at 04:22:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sergei Skripal: poisoned ex-spy discharged from hospital | The Guardian |

Waiting for new insights:

According to UK authorities, Skripal, his daughter, and police officer Nick Bailey were all exposed to the military-grade nerve agent Novichok, originally developed in Russia. The UK publically blamed Moscow for Skripal's poisoning and imposed new sanctions over the widely-publicized incident. Russia has denied any involvement and hinted at a UK-led conspiracy to discredit Moscow. After emerging from weeks in coma, both Skripals have so far been tight-lipped on the circumstances of the poisoning. Any future revelations from the two could have dramatic impact on the UK-Moscow international standoff.

Putin: Skripal Would Be Dead If Poisoned By Military-Grade Weapon | RFERL |

The Novichok nerve agent and knowledge has been spread across Western allies since the disposal of the Soviet bloc CBW laboratories. Germany's intelligence agency shared the chemical formula for Novichok, the deadly Russian neurotoxin, with the US and Britain.

Deadly Russian poison Novichok cataloged by Germany in the '90s

Two decades ago Germany's intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), reportedly helped obtain information about the deadly neurotoxin Novichok, the substance used to poison the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in March.

The Germans were privy to the poison's chemical formula in the 1990s thanks to a sample from a Russian scientist who defected, German media reported. The compound was first analyzed in a laboratory in Sweden. Afterwards, the formula was sent to Germany's Ministry of Defense and the BND.

It was under orders from former German chancellor Helmut Kohl that the BND informed the CIA and MI6, the respective intelligence agencies of the United States and Britain. Since then, small quantities of the poison have been produced to test antidotes, gauges and protective gear.

Germany's Bundeswehr, or armed forces, actively researches how to protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear warfare agents within the framework allowed by international treaties, a defense ministry spokesman said.

Czech government confirms it tested Novichok-type agent

Global Warming - distance between America and Europe is steadily increasing.

by Oui on Fri May 18th, 2018 at 09:03:38 PM EST

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