As mentioned earlier, this story seems to be following an odd path of its own.
It began as a series of quirky oddities, then progressed to a flock of mild irritants, then blossomed into something akin to barely contained mass-alarm, and has now (well, at least for the moment) come to rest in the realm of one gigantic heaping helping of WTF.
Most people in Salisbury were quite happy to offer some wiggle room at the outset. The cause of the trauma to the couple on the park bench certainly could have been drug-related.
But it did seem odd that the authorities were so quick to identify the man as an agent, but then were equally adamant that they would not -and have not- released the name of the other agent, the nerve one.
What remained were unanswered questions: Was the threat real? Or continuing? Or overplayed? Or downplayed.
Who the hell knew. Like who the hell knows.
There is anecdotal evidence that some people are avoiding the city centre but as noted elsewhere, the Saturday Market (located almost within spitting distance of The Bench) appeared to have been as populated as ever.
In short, the Salisbury Spy Scandal has become a microcosm of everything you do not want to see happening within walking distance of your bacon bap, from either the good guys or the bad guys.
For now the story seems to be simply limping along.
Well, aside from those times when military and other personnel are said to have shown up by the boatload and the local authorities suddenly announce that anyone who might have been exposed -a week ago!- should not take their possibly contaminated clothing in to be dry cleaned. Better to keep it in a bag, discreetly hidden from view, don’t you know, awaiting further cleaning instructions.
London (CNN)It’s more than a week in and we still know very little about the poisonings in the cathedral city of Salisbury in southern England. Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, remain hospitalized in “very serious condition.”
Here are four big questions that remain unanswered.
How did the Skripals leave such a long trail of contamination?
It is staggering, but the statement Sunday from health authorities effectively said the pair were in contact with — or carrying — the poison for their entire Sunday afternoon trip. Authorities found traces in the Mill pub and the Zizzi pizza restaurant, as well as on the bench where the two began to lose consciousness. This suggests that they perhaps carried the poison with them.
But where did they become initially exposed and get their lethal doses? If they, for example, carried an infected package with them for the afternoon and then opened it somewhere, you would expect a larger concentration in one place. Yet health professionals talked about small traces in both the pub and the pizza restaurant. So, they either got their main dose on the bench — say from inhaling a cigarette or opening a package — and immediately succumbed, or were exposed way beforehand.
A key question here is how was Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey given a larger dose than other first responders? He was critically ill, but is now recovering. Does that mean he was heavily exposed at the bench, say from trying to resuscitate the pair? Or, as former police commissioner Ian Blair has suggested, did he go to their home after the bench? Was he looking for medicine for the pair in their house? We don’t know. But it looks most likely that the pair were exposed at the start of their afternoon in Salisbury and they carried the contamination with them to all three places. This means the agent took hours to affect them.
What was the poison?
VX and Sarin are two well-known nerve agents, but they act almost instantaneously as a gas (slower as a liquid), and are not really “very rare,” which was how Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd described them last week. Some experts have suggested Novichok, which is a Soviet-era poison made in the ’70s to evade various chemical weapons treaties and provide a more stable, two-part agent that was harder to detect. We have no idea what the poison is however, and if it were Novichok, that would point an enormous finger at Russia.
Why did the presumed would-be assassin choose something so specific and traceable?
That is an important question. Presume, for example, that this was ordered at the highest level in the Kremlin — although there’s zero evidence of that. Such a presumption would mean that Vladimir Putin, less than two weeks ahead of an election (that he will undoubtedly win), had ordered a public killing of a dissident that could really only be traced back to Moscow. It would risk more sanctions on Russia’s beleaguered economy and greater isolation: two things that have not played well with an electorate he is careful to keep happy enough.
So there are two other options. This was done by the Kremlin’s enemies to frame and further confirm Russia as an international bad actor (after Syria and Ukraine, does the West really need further convincing?). Or it was done by a rogue part of the Russian state, set upon further isolating Moscow or seeking to please a Kremlin that wouldn’t be brazen enough to order such an act itself.
All three options are, of course, bad news, and suggest Moscow is out of control, with nerve agents being used with a reckless disregard for British public safety.
Why are people in Salisbury suddenly being asked to wash all their clothes?
The official response from the UK has been puzzling. At first, they thought it might have been an opioid. Forty-eight hours later the counter terrorism police took the lead in the investigation. And then 24 hours after that they stepped forwards to say they knew the “specific nerve agent” it was. Yet, it was only 48 hours after that when the British army was sent in, providing pictures of soldiers in protective suits removing cars and securing gravestones.
If there was at no point any risk to public safety — as health officials insisted from the start — these images risked looking like they served a political purpose by making the threat seem severe and the military the required response.
And then finally, an entire week later, and four days after the agent has been identified, 500 locals who went to the pub or restaurant are told to wash their clothes and themselves.
It’s a baffling chain of events and shows a government that either did not understand what it was dealing with for an entire week, despite insisting there was no threat to public health, or after seven days is amplifying the threat as the political ramifications rear their head.