The Holes in the Official Skripal Story

Russia has a decade long secret programme of producing and stockpiling novichok nerve agents. It also has been training agents in secret assassination techniques, and British intelligence has a copy of the Russian training manual, which includes instruction on painting nerve agent on doorknobs.

The only backing for this statement by Boris Johnson is alleged “intelligence”, and unfortunately the “intelligence” about Russia’s secret novichok programme comes from exactly the same people who brought you the intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s WMD programme, proven liars. Furthermore, the question arises why Britain has been sitting on this intelligence for a decade and doing nothing about it, including not telling the OPCW inspectors who certified Russia’s chemical weapons stocks as dismantled.

If Russia really has a professional novichok assassin training programme, why was the assassination so badly botched? Surely in a decade of development they would have discovered that the alleged method of gel on doorknob did not work? And where is the training manual which Boris Johnson claimed to possess? Having told the world — including Russia -the UK has it, what is stopping the UK from producing it, with marks that could identify the specific copy erased?

The Russians chose to use this assassination programme to target Sergei Skripal, a double agent who had been released from jail in Russia some eight years previously.

It seems remarkable that the chosen target of an attempt that would blow the existence of a secret weapon and end the cover of a decade long programme, should be nobody more prominent than a middle ranking double agent who the Russians let out of jail years ago. If they wanted him dead they could have killed him then. Furthermore the attack on him would undermine all future possible spy swaps. Putin therefore, on this reading, was willing to sacrifice both the secrecy of the novichok programme and the spy swap card just to attack Sergei Skripal. That seems highly improbable.

Only the Russians can make novichok and only the Russians had a motive to attack the Skripals.

The nub of the British government’s approach has been the shocking willingness of the corporate and state media to parrot repeatedly the lie that the nerve agent was Russian made, even after Porton Down said they could not tell where it was made and the OPCW confirmed that finding. In fact, while the Soviet Union did develop the “novichok” class of nerve agents, the programme involved scientists from all over the Soviet Union, especially Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia, as I myself learnt when I visited the newly decommissioned Nukus testing facility in Uzbekistan in 2002.

Furthermore, it was the USA who decommissioned the facility and removed equipment back to the United States. At least two key scientists from the programme moved to the United States. Formulae for several novichok have been published for over a decade. The USA, UK and Iran have definitely synthesised a number of novichok formulae and almost certainly others have done so too. Dozens of states have the ability to produce novichok, as do many sophisticated non-state actors.

As for motive, the Russian motive might be revenge, but whether that really outweighs the international opprobrium incurred just ahead of the World Cup, in which so much prestige has been invested, is unclear.

What is certainly untrue is that only Russia has a motive. The obvious motive is to attempt to blame and discredit Russia. Those who might wish to do this include Ukraine and Georgia, with both of which Russia is in territorial dispute, and those states and jihadist groups with which Russia is in conflict in Syria. The NATO military industrial complex also obviously has a plain motive for fueling tension with Russia.

There is of course the possibility that Skripal was attacked by a private gangster interest with which he was in conflict, or that the attack was linked to Skripal’s MI6 handler Pablo Miller’s work on the Orbis/Steele Russiagate dossier on Donald Trump.

Plainly, the British governments statements that only Russia had the means and only Russia had the motive, are massive lies on both counts.

The Russians had been tapping the phone of Yulia Skripal. They decided to attack Sergei Skripal while his daughter was visiting from Moscow.

In an effort to shore up the government narrative, at the time of the Amesbury attack the security services put out through Pablo Miller’s long term friend, the BBC’s Mark Urban, that the Russians “may have been” tapping Yulia Skripal’s phone, and the claim that this was strong evidence that the Russians had indeed been behind the attack.

But think this through. If that were true, then the Russians deliberately attacked at a time when Yulia was in the UK rather than when Sergei was alone. Yet no motive has been adduced for an attack on Yulia or why they would attack while Yulia was visiting — they could have painted his doorknob with less fear of discovery anytime he was alone. Furthermore, it is pretty natural that Russian intelligence would tap the phone of Yulia, and of Sergei if they could. The family of double agents are normal targets. I have no doubt in the least, from decades of experience as a British diplomat, that GCHQ have been tapping Yulia’s phone. Indeed, if tapping of phones is seriously put forward as evidence of intent to murder, the British government must be very murderous indeed.

Their trained assassin(s) painted a novichok on the doorknob of the Skripal house in the suburbs of Salisbury. Either before or after the attack, they entered a public place in the centre of Salisbury and left a sealed container of the novichok there.

The incompetence of the assassination beggars belief when compared to British claims of a long term production and training programme. The Russians built the heart of the International Space Station. They can kill an old bloke in Salisbury. Why did the Russians not know that the dose from the door handle was not fatal? Why would trained assassins leave crucial evidence lying around in a public place in Salisbury? Why would they be conducting any part of the operation with the novichok in a public area in central Salisbury?

Why did nobody see them painting the doorknob? This must have involved wearing protective gear, which would look out of place in a Salisbury suburb. With Skripal being resettled by MI6, and a former intelligence officer himself, it beggars belief that MI6 did not fit, as standard, some basic security including a security camera on his house.

The Skripals both touched the doorknob and both functioned perfectly normally for at least five hours, even able to eat and drink heartily. Then they were simultaneously and instantaneously struck down by the nerve agent, at a spot in the city centre coincidentally close to where the assassins left a sealed container of the novichok lying around. Even though the nerve agent was eight times more deadly than Sarin or VX, it did not kill the Skripals because it had been on the doorknob and affected by rain.

Why did they both touch the outside doorknob in exiting and closing the door? Why did the novichok act so very slowly, with evidently no feeling of ill health for at least five hours, and then how did it strike both down absolutely simultaneously, so that neither can call for help, despite their being different sexes, weights, ages, metabolisms and receiving random completely uncontrolled doses. The odds of that happening are virtually nil. And why was the nerve agent ultimately ineffective?

Detective Sergeant Bailey attended the Skripal house and was also poisoned by the doorknob, but more lightly. None of the other police who attended the house were affected.

Why was the Detective Sergeant affected and nobody else who attended the house, or the scene where the Skripals were found? Why was Bailey only lightly affected by this extremely deadly substance, of which a tiny amount can kill?

Four months later, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were rooting about in public parks, possibly looking for cigarette butts, and accidentally came into contact with the sealed container of a novichok. They were poisoned and Dawn Sturgess subsequently died.

If the nerve agent had survived four months because it was in a sealed container, why has this sealed container now mysteriously disappeared again? If Rowley and Sturgess had direct contact straight from the container, why did they not both die quickly? Why had four months searching of Salisbury and a massive police, security service and military operation not found this container, if Rowley and Sturgess could?

I am, with a few simple questions, demolishing what is the most ludicrous conspiracy theory I have ever heard — the Salisbury conspiracy theory being put forward by the British government and its corporate lackies.

Homes, cars and possessions belonging to Sergei Skripal and the police officer poisoned in Salisbury nerve agent attack ‘are to be bought by taxpayers in £1million deal’

UK taxpayers will pay £1 million for the homes, cars and possessions belonging to Sergei Skripal and the police officer poisoned in the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

The former Russian spy’s house, still the scene of an ongoing investigation, will be bought by the Government for about £350,000.

Wiltshire Police will pay Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who fell ill after being exposed to military nerve agent Novichok while investigating the March 4 attack, around £430,000, the paper added.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it would be inappropriate to comment on the personal matters of anyone involved in the attack.

‘Mr Skripal’s home is still the scene of an ongoing police investigation and has not yet been released for clean-up work,’ a spokesman added.

Wiltshire Police told the paper it was a ‘personal matter’.

Earlier this month it was revealed the force’s response will cost £7.5 million, and the area’s police and crime commissioner Angus Macpherson has asked the Home Office to cover the bill.

A huge police probe and a large-scale clean-up operation were launched in the wake of the attack, which saw Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, found unconscious on a bench.

The pair, along with DS Bailey, have since been discharged.

Why Face Recognition on the iPhone X is the New Mobile Security Standard

With the iPhone X, Apple introduced face recognition to the iOS operating system. Face recognition is a form of biometric authentication that can be used to secure the phone or to safeguard different operations on the phone.

The face recognition technology on the iPhone X is a major step forward in bringing this software to consumer products and other mobile designs. Creative digital agencies that have attempted to release this innovation in the past have had trouble with reliability and security, and it has been a long journey to develop this new feature for iOS. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at some of the developments that have helped to make this the new standard for mobile security.

Sensors

Apple’s FaceID works by building a 3D model of the face. It then compares that model to a known template of the user’s face and gives it a score based on the similarity of the two models. Depending on the score, the device will then provide or deny access to the person holding the phone.

Since building a 3D model of the face is one of the keys to face recognition, the first hurdle is to provide the phone with the ability to accurately determine depth. One method that has been used in the past is to analyze RGB values, but this technology does not perform well in adverse lighting. In bright sunlight, the sensors get overwhelmed with light and in low-light conditions, there is a loss of pixel information.

Earlier versions of the iPhone used stereo cameras to determine depth in an image. The phone would compare the two images from the stereo cameras to create a disparity map, and this would allow the device to determine the depth of objects in a photograph.

With the iPhone X, the phone uses structured light cameras to determine depth. With the structured light camera, thousands of infrared dots are projected onto the surface. The phone then uses factors like the time of flight to create a 3D map of the face. This is a method that can reliably determine depth, and it can also work well under adverse lighting.

Neural Networks

The iPhone X needs to be able to reliably compare face templates for the facial recognition to work. It also needs to be able to do this quickly for it to be a service that people will want to use. In the past, this was a major challenge for face recognition systems. Thanks to advances in neural networks, these problems are being solved.

AlexNet was one such development that helped to demonstrate the capabilities of neural networks for image classification. With this Convolutional Neural Network, researchers were able to achieve a high level of accuracy for visual recognition.

Hardware

Convolutional neural networks are going to be the key to bringing technologies like face recognition and augmented reality to the next level. Recognizing this fact, manufacturers are now in competition to develop the processors that are going to power the Deep Neural Networks of the future.

To power the iPhone X, Apple developed a custom GPU. To run the complex algorithm behind FaceID, the GPU will use a “Neural Engine”. This is a pair of processing cores that are tuned to perform a range of algorithmic functions including the operations behind the FaceID system.

These technologies have helped to make face recognition a reality for a handheld device, but they can be applied to much more. With the advanced sensors and the application of Deep Neural Networks, we are going to see developers looking for new and inventive ways to integrate these technologies in with their apps for the ultimate, secure experience.

 

Written by Serena Garner, Guest contributor.

US-led Coalition Airstrike On Assad’s Forces Was Not Accidental

On May 18, the moving convoy of the Syrian pro-government forces consisted of militias was hit by a massive airstrike of the U.S.-led international coalition. The accident occurred at the Syrian-Jordanian border near the settlement of At-Tanfa.

As reported by the official representative of the U.S. Central command Josh Jakes, the Pentagon did not have any information about the number of casualties as a result of the airstrike. Continue reading “US-led Coalition Airstrike On Assad’s Forces Was Not Accidental”