96

Skripal Case: Luke Harding’s latest work of fiction

Kit

Luke Harding likes writing books about things that he wasn’t really involved in and doesn’t really understand. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, that covers pretty much everything. His book about Snowden, for example, was beautifully taken down by Julian Assange – a person who was actually there.

He’s priming the traumatised public for another of his works, this time about Sergei Skripal. This one will probably be out by Christmas, unless he can find someone else’s work to plagiarise, in which case he might get it done sooner.

It will have a snide and not especially clever title, perhaps a sort of pun – something like “A Poison by Any Other Name: How Russian assassins contaminated the heart of rural England”. It will relate, in jarring sub-sub-le Carre prose, a story of Russian malfeasance and evil beyond imagining, whilst depicting the whole cast as bumbling caricatures, always held up for ridicule by the author and his smug readership.

There’s an extract in The Guardian today. It’s not listed as one, but trust me, it will be in the book. It’s title, as predicted above, is sort of a pun (and will probably be a chapter heading):

Planes, trains and fake names: the trail left by Skripal suspects

You see? Like that film? I don’t really get it either but until someone else comes up with something clever he can copy, Luke is left to his own rather meagre devices.

It starts off surprisingly strong, waiting three whole sentences before lurching violently into totally unsupported conjecture:

The two men were dressed inconspicuously in jeans, fleece jackets and trainers as they boarded the flight from Moscow to Gatwick. Their names, according to their Russian passports, were Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Both were around 40 years old. Neither looked suspicious.

This is, as far as we know so far, true.

The plane trundled down the icy runway. In Moscow the temperatures had fallen below -10C, not unusual for early March. In Britain it had been snowing.

…and so is this. In fact, in googling “Moscow weather March 2018” Harding has displayed an uncharacteristically thorough approach to research that was rarely (if ever) evidenced in his previous works.

They had also packed a bottle of what appeared to be the Nina Ricci perfume Premier Jour. The box it came in was prettily decorated with flowers, it listed ingredients including alcohol and it bore the words “Made in France”.

This is where truth ends and guesses take over: there is no evidence, at all, that these two men had anything to do with the “perfume bottle” allegedly found by Charlie Rowley on June 27th and allegedly containing a powerful nerve agent. There is (as far as we know) no fingerprint or DNA evidence on the bottle, nobody saw them with the bottle, and there’s no released CCTV footage of them holding or carrying the bottle. Saying “it’s in their backpack” is meaningless without any evidence to back it up.

According to the Metropolitan police, the bottle in fact contained novichok, a lethal nerve agent developed in the late Soviet Union. The bottle had been specially made to be leakproof and had a customised applicator.

Note he doesn’t feel the need to examine, question or even verify the words of the Metropolitan Police. This is a recurring theme in Harding’s works – there are people who tell the truth (US) and people who lie (RUSSIANS). Evidence is a complication you can live without.

Moscow’s notorious poisons factory run by the KGB made similar devices throughout the cold war.

Did they? Because he doesn’t show any evidence this is true. One thing you can be sure of, if there had ever been even a whisper about a “modified perfume bottle” in any Soviet archive or from any “whistleblower currently living in the United States”, it would be on the front page in big black letters.

Petrov and Boshirov were aliases, detectives believe. Both men are suspected to be career officers with the GRU, Russia’s powerful and highly secretive military intelligence service.

Note use of the word “believe”, it makes regular appearances alongside it’s buddies: “suspect” and “probably”.

And yes, they “believe” they are aliases because IF they were assassins then obviously they used aliases. There’s no evidence taken from their (currently totally theoretical) visa applications that point to forgery, nobody at the time questioned their passports. As of today, we have been given no reason to think they were aliases, except reasoning backwards from assumed guilt…which isn’t how deduction works.

In fact, there’s more than enough reason to assume they aren’t aliases – Firstly, they passed the visa check, secondly their passports were never questioned, thirdly they’ve used them before (see below), and finally…just WHY would a Russian spy-come-assassin use a fake Russian name and a fake Russian passport? That’s ridiculous.

The officers’ assignment was covert. They were coming to Britain not as tourists but as assassins.

[citation needed]

Their target was Sergei Skripal, a former GRU officer who spied for British intelligence, got caught and was freed in a spy exchange in 2010. They were heading for his home in provincial Salisbury.

Luke doesn’t feel the need to dig down into the nitty gritty here – motive is a trifle, to be added in the footnotes or made up on the spur of the moment when asked at a book signing. I’m a bit more fussy than that – I feel the need to ask “Why did they release him in 2010 and then try to kill him in 2018?” If they had wanted to kill him, why not just do it when he was in prison in Russia between 2006 and 2010? If they wanted to kill him…why do it just weeks before the World Cup? What could they possibly have to gain?

Luke doesn’t know, and neither do I.

Their Aeroflot flight SU2588 touched down at 3pm on Friday 2 March. They were recorded on CCTV going through passport control, Boshirov with dark hair and a goatee beard, Petrov unshaven and wearing a blue gingham shirt. Both were carrying satchels slung casually over the shoulder.

This is all true, and completely unnecessary. It’s what we in the industry call “filler” or “padding”. Totally meaningless and useless words that do nothing but take up space. Without it, a lot of Luke’s books would only be about 700 words long.

According to police, the pair had visited the UK before.

Way to bury the lead there, Luke.

This is actually quite important isn’t it? I mean, when did they visit the UK before? Did they visit Salisbury then too? Did they have any contact with Sergei Skripal? Were they travelling under the same names? Were these visits linked with other intelligence work? Were they just holidays? What kind of assassins would use the SAME FAKE IDS ON TWO DIFFERENT OCCASIONS?

These are all very important questions, but Luke doesn’t ask them. Because Luke is a modern journalist, and they don’t interrogate the claims of the state, just report them. To Guardian reporters a question mark is just that funny squiggle next to the shift key.

From Gatwick they caught the train to London Victoria station and then the tube to east London, where they checked in to the City Stay hotel in Bow. It was a low-profile choice of accommodation. The red-brick Victorian building is next to a branch of Barclays bank, a busy train line and a wall daubed with graffiti. Across the road is a car pound and a Texaco garage.

This just more filler. Totally meaningless packaging material. The prose equivalent of All-Bran.

On hostile territory, Boshirov and Petrov operated in the manner of classic intelligence operatives.

In this instance “the manner of classic intelligence operatives” means, flying direct to London from Moscow, using Russian names and Russian passports (which you’ve used before), checking into a hotel with a CCTV camera on the front door, going straight to the hometown of an ex-double agent, leaving a Russian poison his front door even though he’s already gone out, dumping your unused poison in a charity bin on the high street, going back to your hotel, smearing poison around that too even though you already dumped it, and then flying directly back to Moscow without even waiting to see if the plan worked and the target is dead.

This, in Luke’s head, is ace intelligence work.

On the day of the hit, according to detectives, the pair made a similar journey, taking the 8.05am train from Waterloo to Salisbury and arriving at 11.48am.

Yes, they arrived at 11.48, making it absolutely pointless to put poison on the Skripal’s door, as they had already gone out.

The perfume bottle was probably concealed in a light grey backpack carried by Petrov.

It was “probably concealed” in that backpack because, as I said above, there’s no evidence either of those men ever knew the perfume bottle existed. You never see it in their possession.

Oh, and the backpack would have to contain TWO bottles of perfume – because the police aren’t sure the bottle Rowley found 3 months later was the same bottle, and Rowley reported it was unopened and wrapped in cellophane. Perhaps Luke should have read the details of the case instead of trolling IMDB looking for movie titles with “plane” in them or googling “insouciant” to see if he was using it right.

From Salisbury station the two men set off on foot. It was a short walk of about a mile to Skripal’s semi-detached home in Christie Miller Road.

…which doesn’t matter, because the Skripals weren’t there. They left at 9.15 and there is no evidence they ever returned.

At Skripal’s house the Russians smeared or sprayed novichok on to the front door handle, police say.

…which doesn’t matter, because the Skripals weren’t there. They left at 9.15 and there is no evidence they ever returned.

It doesn’t matter if Borishov and Petrov re-tiled the bathroom with novichok grouting or hid novichok in the battery compartment of Sergei’s TV remote or replaced all his lightbulbs with novichok bombs that explode when you use the clapper….according to everything we’ve been told so far Sergei and Julia were literally never in that house again.

Luke seems to write a lot about this case, considering he is barely acquainted with the most basic facts of it.

The moment went unobserved

True. There is not a single piece of footage, photograph or eyewitness placing these men within a hundred feet of the Skripals, or their house. The “moment went unobserved” is an incredibly dishonest way of phrasing this, “the moment is entirely theoretical” is rather fairer. Or, if you want to be honest “it’s possible none of this happened”.

At some point on their walk back they must have tossed away the bottle, which at this point was too dangerous to try to smuggle back through customs.

It’s all falling into place perfectly isn’t it?

At some point the two men, who we never see holding or carrying the bottle, must have thrown it away because three months later someone else found it.

They took it through customs once but couldn’t a second time, because reasons.

Also one of them was smiling a sort of “I just poisoned somebody” smile:

At 1.05pm the men were recorded in Fisherton Street on their way back to the station. They appeared more relaxed, Petrov grinning even.

Those evil bastards.

By the time Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found collapsed on a park bench in the centre of Salisbury later that afternoon, the poisoners were gone.

No Luke: By the time Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found collapsed on a park bench in the centre of Salisbury later that afternoon, the ALLEGED poisoners were gone.

Alleged is an important word for example, there is a marked difference between being an ALLEGED plagiarist, and being a plagiarist.

The visitors were captured on CCTV one more time, at Heathrow airport. It was 7.28pm and both men were going through security, Petrov first, wheeling a small black case. In his right hand was a shiny red object, his Russian passport. Police believe the passport was genuine, his name not. In other words, that it was a sophisticated espionage operation carried out by a state or state entities.

You see? Nobody thought the passport was fake, which means it was a really good fake. So the Russian state must have been in on it. This is known as an unfalsifiable hypothesis. If the passport did look fake, that would be evidence that the men were spies…and therefore the Russian state was in on it.

Harding has created a narrative where there is literally no development that could ever challenge his conclusions.

Seemingly, the GRU plan – executed two weeks before Russia’s presidential election – had worked perfectly.

This is an example of the cum hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy – two things happen at the same time, therefore they happen for the same reason. It’s a maneuver we at OffG refer to as “the Harding”, where you state two separate assertions or facts one after the other in such a way as to imply a relationship, without ever making a solid statement. I’ll give you an example:

Luke Harding was born in 1968, mere weeks before the brutal assassination of Robert Kennedy.

Harding is suggesting some sort of connection between the election and the poisoning. He can’t STATE it, because then he has to explain his reasoning – and there isn’t any. Putin, and Russia as a whole, had nothing to gain from poisoning an ex-spy they had released nearly a decade earlier, especially on the eve of a Presidential election and mere weeks before the World Cup. There’s no argument to be made, so he doesn’t attempt to make one, he just makes a snide and baseless insinuation.

In his defense, Luke might genuinely believe it, cum hoc ergo propter hoc is a favorite amongst paranoid personalities, of which Luke is definitely a prime example.

Vladimir Putin, the man whom a public inquiry found in 2016 had “probably” signed off on the operation to kill Litvinenko. The UK security services say a “body of evidence” points to the GRU.

“Probably” is also a big word. For example, there’s a marked difference between “probably being a plagiarist” and “being a plagiarist”.

It seems clear that Moscow continues to view Britain as a playground for undercover operations and is relatively insouciant about the consequences, diplomatic and political. The Skripal attack may have misfired. But the message, mingling contempt and arrogance, is there for all to see: we can smite our enemies whenever and wherever we want, and there is nothing you can do about it.

This is the second time Luke has used the word “insouciant” in two days, which means that word of the day calendar was a probably sound investment, but he forgot to flip it over this morning.

Other than that, this final paragraph is nothing but paranoia.

The Russians were TRYING to make it obvious, to send a message. But were also lazy and arrogant. And yet also left no solid evidence because they are experts at espionage. They had no motive except being mean, and couldn’t even be bothered to make sure they did it right. They want us all to know they did it, but will never admit it.

The actual truth of the situation can be summed up in a few bullet points. Currently:

  • There is no evidence these men were using forged documents.
  • There is no evidence these men were travelling under aliases or assumed names.
  • There is no evidence these men ever had any contact with Sergei Skripal’s house.
  • There is no evidence these men ever had any contact with Sergei Skripal or his daughter.
  • There is no evidence these men were Russian intelligence assets or had any military training.
  • There is no evidence these men ever possessed or had any contact with the perfume bottle found by Charlie Rowley on June 27th.
  • They have visited the UK before, not on intelligence business (as far as we know).
  • Their movements don’t align with the timeline of Skripal’s illness.

The entire narrative is created around half a dozen screen caps of two (allegedly) Russian men, not behaving in any way illegally or even suspiciously. All the rest is fiction, created by a hack to service an agenda. This isn’t one of those “You couldn’t make it up” stories, it’s not that incredible. It’s just insulting and stupid.

You could make it up, and he did.


Kit Knightly is co-editor of OffGuardian. The Guardian banned him from commenting. Twice. He used to write for fun, but now he's forced to out of a near-permanent sense of outrage.

Filed under: Kit, latest, On Guardian, Skripal case

by

Kit Knightly is co-editor of OffGuardian. The Guardian banned him from commenting. Twice. He used to write for fun, but now he's forced to out of a near-permanent sense of outrage.

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Tom

This is brilliant work by Kit. Holding the mainstream media to account is becoming a vital service to the country.

WeatherEye

Whenever Harding heard that his idol Obama killed a bunch of Muslim kids by drone, he’d shout “Bug splat!” in unison with the console operators in Nevada. The rest of his colleagues would laugh. Today they’re collapsing with moral outrage at Trump’s twittery (big deal).

Tom Hall
Tom Hall

Harding’s method’s speak for themselves, which is to say, for his employers. But does anyone else find it odd that we haven’t (as far as I can determine) been given photographic evidence of the lethal perfume bottle/atomiser used against the Skripals and found by a hapless couple three months later? One would normally expect the authorities to produce the item with a triumphant flourish, especially in a case surrounded by so many doubts, denials, contradictions and unsupported assertions. Where is this vital piece of evidence? In whose custody does it reside? Why haven’t we seen it?

Deborah
Deborah

Not sure if you are aware that OffGuardian gets a mention in an article about the Skripal case on WWSW.

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/09/07/skri-s07.html

Barb
Barb

How did they know that Oxfam had a donation dumpster at the back of their shop? Charley said that is where they found the perfume. Why bother to do that if they cd have just thrown it in a litter bin – what have they got against the poor volunteers in the Oxfam shop?

Estaugh
Estaugh
rtj1211

The real question is this: now the BBC no longer commission farce, do their scriptwriters now work on contract for MI6 to make up this sort of rubbish?

Jen
Jen

The Fraudian’s resident plagiarist reveals his ongoing obsession with strange Russian men who always travel in pairs (never singly nor in groups of three or more) and frequent hotel rooms, this time in an article about Nikolai Glushkov who apparently was a target of an attempted assassination by two such figures back in 2013.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/sep/07/murdered-russian-exile-nikolai-glushkov-poisoning-attempt-bristol

You’d think LDH was homophobic or something.

Estaugh
Estaugh

Luke Harding prob’ly wrote out the Skripal scenario. All goes on behind the screens; then a face pops out and narrates to the audience what’s happening out of sight, and what we must think about it. And the entire narrative is poppycock and balderdash. If it was the Russians who ‘did it, we, the great unwashed would have been saturated, by now, with the gore, the nuts and bolts of the whole shebang. We got nothing but say-so. Not as tho’ there is a ‘government’, anyway. More like a Quisling governance, sock-puppets to the corporative states of EU, US, Israel, Bank of England etc,etc. Definitely NOT a British SOVEREIGN Government; at all, at all.— Skripal = Emmerdale / Coronation Street, and the like. IMO; It’s obvious that “They” want / need to bash Ivan. Ditto for Iran. For to do that a ‘Casus Belli’ is required and Ther Skripal thing, ludicrous as it is, is what they are betting on to get their said Casus Belli. Whatever else ‘they’ ARE planning to shut us up and shut us down. My question is; do we get the pre-planned financial meltdown before or after the crackdown on freedom of movement, Marshall Law, in a word. Interesting times, repeat and rinse——————After thought: I think they will need a bigger false-flag than the Skripal red-rag being waved in our faces. In my view,Traitors, evr’y last one of them. Boooo them of the stage. Rant over.

Thomas Peterson
Thomas Peterson

Yeah you know what, he probably does write the scripts for these unconvincing stories.

homeslicez

Great post! Especially this:

“In this instance “the manner of classic intelligence operatives” means, flying direct to London from Moscow, using Russian names and Russian passports (which you’ve used before), checking into a hotel with a CCTV camera on the front door, going straight to the hometown of an ex-double agent, leaving a Russian poison his front door even though he’s already gone out, dumping your unused poison in a charity bin on the high street, going back to your hotel, smearing poison around that too even though you already dumped it, and then flying directly back to Moscow without even waiting to see if the plan worked and the target is dead.

This, in Luke’s head, is ace intelligence work.”

mark
mark

Together with scoring some drugs, getting a couple of hookers in for a good orgy, annoying all the other guests and staff, hoping nobody notices and flying straight back to Moscow. All standard KGB procedure.

nondimenticare
nondimenticare

As for believing “at least six impossible things before breakfast,” do they, really? Does the public, or a portion of it? Do the governments of the US,Canada, et al., when imposing sanctions for these suppositions? Do Luke Harding and his ilk? Do they all, but for different reasons? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sav
Sav

There has to be a list in British intelligence ranking the narcissism of people in the MSM. Luke has to be in the top 5.

US news networks exist in Russia. Have any of them been killed or stopped from making reports on what they want? I’ve even asked them on Twitter – and never get a response. Yet, this is never spoken about. Instead we get attention seeking fantasists like Harding who think they are public enemy no.1. Why exactly would the Russians bother harassing this idiot?

As Harding inadvertently told Aaron Mate “I’m a storyteller”. That he doesn’t have any actual facts or evidence but if he constantly makes claim after claim you should start singing his tune.

Moscow Exile

comment image
comment image

That fat copess above could have done with having a good lick at that door handle — the Novichok smeared on it would have worked wonders on her in the light of what happened to Miss Skripal.

Steve
Steve

If that door handle really was smeared with a nerve agent, both those cops would be dead. If the police really did believe it was then they put those cops in danger through gross criminal negligence. The fact that they didnt have them wear protective clothing and the fact they are not dead tells us there is no nerve agent on the door handle. It is that simple.

Yarkob
Yarkob

I couldn’t keep away…Just a little aside regarding “novichok” and its potency;

In the “exclusive” Sky interview with Charlie Rowley, he said, and I quote: “It was all over my hands” when describing what happened to the liquid (or was it a gel!?) after he got hold of the bottle and opened it. Really?

He said he had to crack the packaging and assemble the atomiser pump to get at it. This rather flies in the face of most of the released “evidence” that the bottle must have been abandoned after use, and that it is, indeed, 10 times more potent than VX. Being that the average punter has no idea really what VX is, let alone how strong it is, it’s a journalistic slam-dunk in the “the size is x number of London buses” tradition.

There are so many holes in this story that either HMG is actually trolling Russia, or they just couldn’t give a monkeys that anyone with half a brain can see through the spoon-fed narrative. Every bit of “new” news about it is more bizarre than the last.

bevin
bevin

This editorial at Strategic Culture is worth reading
https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/09/07/britain-should-be-in-the-dock-over-skripal-saga-not-russia.html

It is clearly Amateur Hour in Westminster: anyone with a distraction gets centre stage. And, for the Armed Forces- desperately searching for a role in the world- anything that raises tension and promotes the idea that the UK is in danger is welcome.
God forbid that any of those starving kids should snatch a meal out of the maw of BAE !

Francis Lee
Francis Lee

” … for the Armed Forces- desperately searching for a role in the world- anything that raises tension and promotes the idea that the UK is in danger is welcome.”

Agreed and at the same time a British warship, HMS Albion thought that it might be a good idea to take a cruise in the South China Sea quite near the disputed Parcel Islands. This blatant provocation was said to be an exercise in keeping shipping lanes in international waters free for navigation.

Yarkob
Yarkob

Luke Harding is a fucking idiot.

Sorry. I have nothing intelligent to add to this farce at the moment. I just wanted to get that off my chest.

As you were.

WeatherEye

He’s not an idiot. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a conscious establishment propagandist and manipulator. We must be weary of such psychopaths.

Harding is a graduate of the Bernays school, a misinformation enterprise codenamed “British Broadcasting Corporation”.

Nothing to see
Nothing to see

We need to strengthen the democratic system in the UK and bring all the criminals to trial.

The propagandists
Those lobbyists interfering in the functioning of the government and the opposition
Those who are torturing Assange in solitary confinement
Those who committed war crimes and invaded other nations
Those committing war crimes by helping the Saudis destroying Yemen
Those who stopped representing the average citizens and working solely for the benefits of the 1%
Those who are turning blind eyes to the mass shootings in Palestine

But no .. forget all these things. It is Russia’s fault!

Anyway, there is no more sympathy left for whatever happens to the UK’s governing elites.

Ross Hendry

Well said.

James O'Neill

Kit, this brilliant take down of that journalistic fraud has made my week.

vexarb

Meanwhile in the real world, Russia and China are developing advanced weapons. If NATZO intends to subdue East Eurasia ad majorem gloriam Rothschildensis, they will need more than a charge led by St.Theresa of Westminster waving her little bottle of Novijoke:
comment image

tutisicecream

Harding’s story follows the British government’s story adding as Kit says, copious fillers to distract from the mass of holes in it. These two men whoever they could be could be from anywhere.

As the British are not talking to the Russians about this we can assume there is no real evidence. So as they are not presenting anything to the Russians where are the airport scans of visa and passports for example? These could show that these men passed through Gatwick airport and they were Russian. Otherwise we might assume they were mere actors.

But of course if they are not Russians, faking the documentation for the British would be a problem. Better to just provide photos of which there are already questions about the synchronocity of the date stamps, creating an improbable and impossible coincidence? Believable? Only in Harding’s head.

No this is a further false narrative which Harding is all too eager to spin a yarn from for cash.

Planes, Trains and Auto mobiles was a comedy fiction.

Harding’s, Planes, trains and fake names is too.

mark
mark

Mossad have a history of using forged and stolen passports (especially British ones) to carry out terrorist murders abroad.

tutisicecream

Yes the Mossad connection is quite possible. In reality the information so far presented by the British leads nowhere except a new book for Harding in the shops by Christmas…

worldblee
worldblee

To keep up with Harding’s preferred style of plagiarism where he copies the substance but changes the words around, he should have called it “Airplanes, rail transport, and fake names”…

Antonyl
Antonyl

During his years in New Delhi Harding made most of his stories about the vast subcontinent from his cozy AC room there. All the Guardian readers got was 2nd, 3rd or 4th hand “info”. He might as well have stayed in London but the perks must have been better abroad….
Glorified tourist posing as journo.