- Print This Post Print This Post

by John Helmer, Moscow

The ongoing release of secret information about nerve agent manufacture and testing at Porton Down, the British Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), indicates that monkeys were used as targets for several years before Sergei and Yulia Skripal suffered poisoning in Salisbury on March 4, 2018.

The British kill dose and death speed experiments on the monkeys were paid for by the US Defence Department.  

Publication of the experiment details and the number of monkeys and other animals tested show that the Anglo-American nerve agent weapon programme was under way for several years before the Skripal case began, and has continued since then. This gives the lie to the 2018  declaration to parliament by then-Prime Minister Theresa May that “only Russia had the technical means, operational experience and motive to carry out the attack”. 

That was a special kind of deceit.  May knew that what she intended the House of Commons and everyone outside to believe wasn’t the whole truth. May’s phrase “only Russia” was false, because the rest of the truth was that the UK and US also had the technical means, operational experience and motive to manufacture and test organophosphate weapons like Novichok. This truth May intended to dissemble. 

The top-secret nerve agent programme at DSTL, or Porton Down as it is also known for short, has not been fully disclosed to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW); it violates Article II of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC);  concealment from other, non-allied states, is a violation of Article IX of the Convention.

If suspected by the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, the Porton Down operations with Novichok would have been an obvious target for espionage for years before the Skripal attack, and reason thereby for the circulation of GRU agents in the Salisbury area.  If British counter-intelligence suspected that Sergei Skripal might try to pass Porton Down’s Novichok secrets to GRU, and been caught red-handed two years ago, the meaning of next month’s anniversary of the Salisbury incident changes more than a little.   

The falsehoods of the story of the Skripal case, as told by the British Government, MI6, the Metropolitan Police, the Wiltshire Coroner, and the BBC can be followed in the new book just published.  

For more from the DSTL Handbook, right, click to open.

The book reports the refusal of Porton Down to substantiate the blood samples, reportedly taken from Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury District Hospital after the March 4 incidents, and also after a London High Court ruling authorized the OPCW to take additional blood samples for testing and matching.

If the Skripals’ blood was in fact tested by Porton Down, there is no chain of custody for the blood test evidence to be admissible in an English court. The allegation that the Skripal blood revealed at Porton Down a Russian-made Novichok is a political charge, not a legal one. It was made in parliament; it has not been made in a court of law.

The first political statement by Prime Minister May was read out in the House of Commons on March 12, 2018.  “Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Mr Speaker, there are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March. Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country. Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others. This afternoon my Rt Hon Friend the Foreign Secretary [Boris Johnson] has summoned the Russian Ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and asked him to explain which of these two possibilities it is – and therefore to account for how this Russian-produced nerve agent could have been deployed in Salisbury against Mr Skripal and his daughter. My Rt Hon Friend has stated to the Ambassador that the Russian Federation must immediately provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. And he has requested the Russian Government’s response by the end of tomorrow.”

May made another Skripal statement to parliament six months later on September 5. “As we made clear in March, only Russia had the technical means, operational experience and motive to carry out the attack. Novichok nerve agents were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1980s under a programme codenamed FOLIANT. Within the past decade Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of these agents, long after it signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. And during the 2000s, Russia commenced a programme to test means of delivering nerve agents including by application to door handles. We were right to say in March that the Russian State was responsible. And now we have identified the individuals involved, we can go even further. Mr Speaker, just as the police investigation has enabled the CPS to bring charges against the two suspects, so the Security and Intelligence Agencies have carried out their own investigations into the organisation behind this attack.”

May’s claim that only Russia had produced, tested and stocked Novichok was a fabrication.  In December 2016 open-source evidence was published by Iranian chemists that nerve agents of the Novichok type could be synthesized and had been manufactured outside Russia by other countries.

  Source: https://analyticalscience.wiley.com/

That Porton Down routinely synthesizes the organophosphate agents VX and VM for testing on pigs and guinea pigs was reported in this scientific paper prepared for the Royal Society Proceedings in 2014 by a group of Porton Down scientists.  Their objective was to measure the lethality of the weapons for penetrating the skin of the animals in high concentrations, as well as in dilutions,  while the animals were alive, and to judge their survival rates. The report concludes: “provided the effects found in vitro in guinea pig and pig are reproduced in humans, there is no requirement to handle mixtures of VM and VX (or mixtures of precursors 1 with 2 and/or 3) any differently from the pure nerve agents.”

In June 2019 the Arms Watch website reported on chemical warfare programmes from US Freedom of Information Act releases, as well as from budget documents of agencies of the US Defence Department. These showed that the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DRTA) was funding annually, on multi-year contract arrangements (“single source indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity”), chemical and biological agent testing at Porton Down. The contract began in 2015 and was continuing through 2017 at an outlay of almost $825,000 per annum. Read the report in full.   

Here’s part of the US Government contract evidence for chemical nerve agent testing in the UK in 2017:

Source: https://govtribe.com/

The official explanation for what the contract money was buying includes lines which cover organophosphate agents devised in the UK as well as in the US, and swapped between the arsenals and laboratories of both countries.  For instance, “collaboration and exchange of scientific and technical capabilities with the United Kingdom (UK) Ministry of Defence (MOD). DTRA will leverage DSTL scientific and technical capabilities, as well as DSTL access to UK MOD requirements, capabilities, test data, and investments to improve interoperabiliy and operation support as well as supporting evolving initiatives related to homeland defense and combating weapons of mass destruction.”

According to Arms Watch founder and reporter Dilyana Gaytandzhieva,  Porton Down is “just one of the Pentagon-funded military laboratories in 25 countries across the world, where the US Army produces and tests man-made viruses, bacteria and toxins in direct violation of the UN convention. These US bio-laboratories are funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) under a $ 2.1 billion military program– Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP), and are located in former Soviet Union countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa.”

“The Pentagon-funded military facilities are not under the direct control of the host state as the US military and civilian personnel are working under diplomatic cover. The local governments are prohibited from public disclosure of sensitive information about the foreign military program running on their own territory.”

In the House of Commons on January 29, 2013,  questions were asked of the Ministry of Defence to report the number of animals which had been experimented on at Porton Down between 2005 and 2012. Watch the monkey number, because that is the type of animal most likely to have been the subject of testing of nerve agents targeting human beings. When the number of monkeys goes up at Porton Down, the manufacture of organophosphate nerve agents, including Novichok, also goes up.

Source: https://publications.parliament.uk/

Independently, according to the Arms Watch report,  US documents reveal that 12 marmoset monkeys had been experimentally infected by Porton Down’s own brew of Ebola virus between 2012 and 2016. The objective was “to measure the lethal dose of exposure and time to death meaning that the Ebola virus Kikwit was researched for its potential as a bioweapon. All infected marmoset monkeys died from 6 to 10 days after exposure to the Ebola virus.”

Another six monkeys were infected with a haemorrhagic fever in 2017, also to measure the time to death. Measuring kill speed is what laboratories do when they are developing weapons, and preparing defence against them. In 2007-2008, twelve monkeys were attacked at Porton Down with an anthrax dose in an experiment paid for by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). That makes a total of 30 dead monkeys accounted for on the Pentagon tab, according to the Arms Watch report.  Read the full Gaytandzhieva report here.

The production and testing of Novichok-type or Novichok-class agents, at military grade concentration as well as in dilution,  is implied in disclosures from the US Defense Department. These phrases – Novichok type, Novichok class and military grade – are the ones which the British Government, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police have used in their claims that the nerve agent detected in the Skripal blood was Russian-made.

A leading English specialist on organophosphates explains: “As PD [Porton Down] profess to be a world centre of excellence, then it would be the expectation that they can make, store and test any and all chemical weapons known to mankind. When Boris [Johnson] was being interviewed by German media in March 2018, he said the phrase: ‘Of course they have a sample’. To me, that was very significant. What I understood it to mean was: Porton Down have a reference sample of Novichok and that allowed them to positively identify the compound on the [Skripal home front-door] door handle. It was lost on the mainstream media that Mrs May’s claim that Novichok equals the Russian state, was illogical if PD already had reference material of this same compound. It was typical for Johnson to blab, and in this case he blabbed too early.  But what he said was true. PD already had Novichok. Of course this allowed PD to swab it wherever they wanted to be found.”

Here is then-Foreign Secretary Johnson revealing to the German state news agency Deutsche Welle that the British already had produced and stocked Novichok before the Salisbury incident. “Let me be clear with you … When I look at the evidence, I mean the people from Porton Down, the laboratory … [Question: So they have the samples…] They do. And they were absolutely categorical and I asked the guy myself, I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said there’s no doubt.”

Source: https://www.youtube.com/  Note Johnson’s interviewer is the anti-Kremlin activist Zhanna Nemtsova, daughter of Boris Nemtsov.

When Porton Down laboratory has admitted to the British parliament that it has been testing monkeys on US military contracts, this means it has been manufacturing and testing the range of organophosphate agents decided by defence ministry officials at the Pentagon and Whitehall. Again, note the big increase in monkeys on the Pentagon work from 2012.

Source: https://publications.parliament.uk/

In March 2017 a Freedom of Information Act question was put to Porton Down. Without specifying the chemical agents, the question focused on the number of animals tested at the laboratory during 2016. The question didn’t discriminate between the US assignments and the British ones, so the response from Porton Down is imprecise about what agents the monkeys were exposed to, and thus what agents, including Novichok, DSTL was manufacturing,  stocking, and testing.  

As the response (below) indicates, the reported number of monkeys was 116.  If all were involved in the US contract operations – there is no telling for certain – then the number is much larger than the 2012 figure. The higher the monkey count in 2016, the more experimentation with nerve agents like Novichok appears to have occurred between 2012 and 2016.  “PD [Porton Down] must have had, and tested, a series of Novichoks prior to 2017” — the expert on organophosphates is categorical.  

Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/

There remains a substantial number of monkeys unaccounted for in the US weapons programme at Porton Down.  This monkey number was the subject of a new request filed with Porton Down in January of this year. This asked “what primates are used in the testing, how many, and which nerve agents specifically are being used?” 

As the illustration excerpt shows, Porton Down gave an interim reply a week ago, on February 18. “We are treating your correspondence as a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). The Ministry of Defence requires further information in order to determine whether it holds any information in scope of your request. Please clarify what you mean by ‘the testing’.”

Leave a Reply