"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
From one perspective there can be no better example of the impotence of Great Britain. A nerve agent released in a sedate cathedral town, with the clear intent of killing. This nerve agent has spread far and wide, although it took the authorities days to notice. A couple of people are fighting for their lives. Thousands are directed to take precautions. Meanwhile, the government looks lost and unsure.
Specialists military units are on the ground assisting police struggling to deal with the threat. The response appears slow, painfully slow. In the main, residents are stoic, although a few folks mumble about the cordons and late advice on precautions.
And yet, it’s in the realm of political response that something odd is happening. Either Prime Minister May is weak in the extreme or is holding back for a reason. Hiding behind the excuse of an ongoing investigation, she is silent. Her reluctance to state who is the suspected culprit defines her feebleness or is something else going on?
Let's assess what's known, and then draw some conclusions. The motive is always a vital component of any police investigation. In this instance, one of the supposed victims is a former Russian spy who worked for the British. He arrived in the UK after a swap of arrested agents. Assuming he has no other enemies, nor organised crime connections, then who is the likely perpetrator?
Further, the use of a nerve agent points toward a sophisticated plot that is well-funded. Production of nerve agents is not beyond non-government organisations. In 1995, five members of Aum Shinrikyo launched a chemical attack on the Tokyo subway using a nerve agent. That resulted in 12 dead and over 500 injuries. Thus, to suggest only a government could mount such an attack is erroneous.
Given the record of such incidents in Great Britain, suspicion points in a particular direction. Another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, was likely murdered by Russian agents in 2006. Other Russians residing in the UK have died under strange circumstances.
The natural conclusion to draw is that the Russians are up to their old tricks. The Cold War antics never went away. Why then the reluctance to lay blame? Why the hesitation, the softly-softly approach and delay? After all, someone has released a nerve agent in the town of Salisbury.
Less than two miles from Salisbury town centre is one of Britain's most sensitive military establishment. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. Usually referred to as Porton Down. This place carries out work on chemical, radiological, biological and nuclear threats (CBRN). Also nearby is an RAF run-facility, the Defence CBRN Centre. This place provides all training related to CBRN threats.
Now call me a suspicious sort, but the proximity of these establishments to this incident raises questions. The spread of the nerve agent suggests someone carried it around. That was either by accident or an intentional act.
Even the old Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War proved a rational player. Ruthless and robust, but logical. This thought suggests opting to use a nerve agent in a busy urban area is not a sensible choice.
Three scenarios are getting attention. Attempted assassination by the Russians appears to be the favoured version. Next is the suggestion that someone is trying to make the Russians look bad. They’re plenty of folks, including wealthy exiled Russians who have an axe to grind.
Then taking account of the proximity of Porton Down, you have the third possibility. The alleged victim is not the retired spy portrayed.
Could he be working at the close-by secret facilities using his expertise? That would explain the reticence on Mrs May’s part. If that’s true, then a whole can of nasty worms bursts open. What is the source of the nerve agent, the role of various agencies and what exactly did the politicians know?
There is also the issue of money from Russian exiles sloshing around inside the Conservative Party. These substantial contributions buy influence, why else give the money. It’s legitimate to ask is there another dimension to this incident? Mrs May needs to do some explaining soon.
In the meantime, the public gets fed a line. We are distracted by a brave police officer, the incredible work of the responders. The truth lurks in the background.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.