“Those who serve us with poison will eventually swallow it and poison themselves.” Vladimir Putin
“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”
This past year former Russian spy, Colonel Sergei Skripal, 66, and daughter Yulia, 33, became critically ill after they were poisoned with a lethal substance. The attack is being treated as an attempted murder. There are several questions I would like to address concerning the attack: What is a terrorist act by international agreement? Can it be carried out by a government? When does a crime become a terrorist attack? What happens in a chemical attack, specifically a sarin attack? How does sarin gas effect the human body? How should we respond in case of a suspected chemical attack?
As I have stated before, most of the world does not agree on a common definition for terror or terrorism. Bruce Hoffman said, “Terrorism is thus violence – or equally important, the threat of violence- used and directed in pursuit of, or in service of, a political aim.” It is that last phrase, “a political aim” that distinguishes terrorism from other forms of crime.
When does a crime become an act of terrorism? In light of this week’s alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal, most are implicating the Russian government as the culprit. The question remains; how was there a political aim concerning this attack? It appears that there are two messages being sent as a result of the attack; more specifically there are two ways that a political agenda was at the heart of the attack. If it is verified that Russian President Putin was at the helm of these murder attempts, then the messages are coming through loud and clear.
A clear message to the Russian people is being sent. It is a simple message to future traitors. If they cross sabers with their country (or President Putin) they will not go unpunished. No matter where they go, they will be found, along with their families and associates. This is a fearsome threat that I am sure at this point is causing many former Russian spies to be looking over their shoulders.
Along with a clear directive to the Russians, there is also a message to the British people. They are not to interfere with the country of Russia without expecting consequences. There will be a measured response with repercussions on the general populace. They should be concerned when their leaders cross the Russian government. Their safety cannot be guaranteed.
Both messages, the ones to the Russian people and the ones to the British are terroristic in nature. They are attempts to not only kill, but to create fear, doubt and anxiety. In my opinion the poisoning of Sergei Skripal was an act of terrorism against the British people. It fits the definition of terrorism nicely.
Apparently the British government realized that the act of poisoning Skripal and his daughter was indeed an act of terrorism. Very quickly, MI6’s counter-terrorism unit took over the investigation, taking the reigns and jurisdiction from the local police. The sophistication of the attack is seen as an indication that the would-be assassins were likely to have had access to State resources as they extensively planned the attack. All fingers are pointing toward State actors. Those state-sponsored actors appear to be Russian.
Why is a poisoning as this such an egregious attack? Scotland Yard confirmed scientists have identified the nerve agent used in the assassination attempt, although they refused to give more details. Security experts say it bore the hallmarks of a Sarin attack —and say that Putin is a suspect.
Sarin is a human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Sarin originally was developed in Germany in 1938 as a pesticide. Sarin is a clear, colorless and tasteless liquid that has no odor in its pure form. However, Sarin can evaporate into a vapor (gas) and spread into the environment.
The “nerve agent” does not directly kill. Rather, within seconds, it turns our own nervous systems against us. What does Sarin do to the human body? Our nerves talk to each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. The amount of a particular neurotransmitter helps to determine whether a nerve fires or not. Nerve agents alter those neurotransmitters. They kink the signaling between our nerves, telling them to do things they normally do, but with altered frequency.
After a neurotransmitter has delivered its message, an enzyme usually comes along and demolishes it. Nerve agents block those enzymes. The enzyme can’t break down the neurotransmitter, so the neurotransmitter stays around and keeps giving its message. If that message is, for example to release a little water onto your eye because your eye is dry, then the repeated message would become, “make your eyes water uncontrollably.” We would be killed by the accumulation of our own normal neurotransmitter telling our own nerves to do the normal things which they normally do, just in excess…and then we die.
While one drop of sarin can be fatal, it is non-persistent—it disperses and vaporizes quickly, meaning that large quantities may be required to inflict mass casualties. For international treaties overseeing the possession, development and deployment of chemical weapons, click here.
Which countries possess Sarin? The simple answer is: The United States, Russia, Libya, Syria and North Korea. For a deeper look from the International Arms Control Association, click here.
As far as the United Kingdom and the case for Russian involvement is concerned, whether or not the Kremlin’s fingerprints are found, the Skripal case is likely to be seen as a warning to Russian operatives. They will definitely be aware of the dangers of working with MI6 or the CIA. Several Kremlin critics have met grisly ends in Britain in recent years.
1. Boris Berezovsky, an oligarch turned government critic, was found hanged at his home in Berkshire in March 2013. The coroner delivered an open verdict.
2. Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB security service officer, died in 2006 after being poisoned with polonium-210 in the lobby of a Mayfair hotel, allegedly by Russian hitmen. Vladimir Putin dismissed accusations of Russian involvement.
3. In 2012, Alexander Perepilichnyy, a former banker who was helping Swiss prosecutors investigate a Russian-linked money-laundering scheme, died after collapsing in Surrey. At a pre-inquest hearing it was learned that traces of a chemical that can be found in the poisonous plant gelsemium were later found in his stomach. The inquest is due to resume next month.
4. Stephen Curtis, a millionaire lawyer with close ties to the exiled Russian tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, died when his helicopter crashed close to Bournemouth airport in 2004. Curtis is reported to have told a close relative that if he were to die, it would not be an accident.
5. One of Curtis’s associates, Scot Young, who had business links to Berezovsky, was found impaled on railings after falling from his apartment in Marylebone, central London, in 2014. The coroner found insufficient evidence to rule it a suicide, and his family suspects he was murdered.
Obviously, the allegations for Russian involvement are still factually unproven, but if precedence is any indicator, there will be problems in the future for British and Russian relations. For an in-depth look at how the global community views chemical weapons proliferation, see the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) website.
It has been a while (since the Cold War ended) that we in the West have given much attention to the “Russian Bear.” The terrorist attack, the poisoning of Scripal may actually prove that the Cold War hasn’t ended. Perhaps it was simply put on “pause,” while many of the pieces were shuttled around the board.
We should be concerned that attacks of the above-mentioned nature add yet another possible threat to our safety and to that of our loved ones. I would not say that this is a huge threat, but it is a threat nonetheless. However, with the simplest precautions, the possible consequences of these threats can be minimized. I plan to publish a series of pamphlets addressing specific threats that you and your family can read together. I assure you that by being forewarned you will be prepared for most of the possible threats that could affect your life as a result of potential terrorist attacks.
It is unlikely that you or I will ever be exposed to the chemicals in sarin gas, but if we are it is extremely important that treatment be initiated immediately. Sarin gas is a difficult weapon to design and manufacture. There are perhaps only five labs in the world that have the capability to manufacture it. It is a highly unstable substance. Anyone coming into contact with it is at great risk for exposure. It is extremely painful. Conditions must be very favorable to deploy such a weapon. Here is a quick primer on what to do should that happen to you.
—Sarin can cause symptoms within seconds to minutes, depending on its route and exposure levels. People who are exposed to sarin should quickly decontaminate themselves by removing their clothing and washing their skin with soap and water. They should also flush out their mouth and eyes with clean water.
People who become paralyzed as a result of being exposed to sarin gas may benefit from an oxygen mask attached to a device that will help them breathe. Sarin affects so many of the body’s organs that usually an antidote is needed to help people who are exposed to survive.
One antidote to sarin gas, atropine, blocks acetylcholine receptors, sparing the body’s muscles from overstimulation. The other, pralidoxime, or 2-PAM, removes sarin from the enzyme that stops acetylcholine from accumulating. However, both antidotes must be given within about 10 minutes of exposure in order to be effective.
Update- Former Russian spy, Colonel Sergei Skripal, 66, and daughter Yulia, 33 both recovered from their Novichok nerve agent poisoning. They have been given new names and have entered Britain’s witness protection program and their whereabouts are unknown… which is probably about how they prefer to keep it. Two Russian suspects entered the UK on Russian passports using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Both were seen on CCTV cameras near the Skripal’s house and then seen boarding a plane for Moscow within hours of the poisoning. There is little doubt by the international community that the Russians were behind the entire event. Russia continues to deny it. There is a great article on BBC that discusses the entire affair. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43643025
In this issue I have included in my links a series of clicks that will enable you to go quickly to some mini-notes. They will help you if you desire to look further into a specific matter.
People treated for possible chemical poisoning in London: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/sergei-skripal-how-many-people-treated-ill-poison-russian-spy-police-salisbury-a8246566.html
Is the Russian government terroristic?… https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-03-09/u-k-spy-poisoning-treat-russia-like-the-terrorist-it-is
Chemical poisoning treated as terrorist attack in London… https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/06/counter-terrorism-take-on-russian-spy-sergei-skripal-poison-case
What countries have sarin?… https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/cbwprolif
What is sarin gas?… https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/sarin
Facts about sarin…https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/sarin/basics/facts.asp
Putin jokes about poisoning the West…https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5755602/vladimir-putin-jokes-poison-enemies-sergei-skripal-daughter-hospital-sarin/