Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Gaslighting Initiative

Originating in the title of a 1938 play by English dramatist Patrick Hamilton, the term ‘gaslighting’ is more familiar to North Americans than to Brits. In the second of two wartime silver screen adaptations, Ingrid Bergman was cast as the wife of a man with a skeleton in his closet, who dims the gas lights in their home for his own nefarious purposes, and then persuades his spouse that the change is but a figment of her overactive imagination.

On 5th September 2018, MI6/GCHQ etc blitzed Britain's media and public with a rolling barrage of new evidence in the Salisbury poisonings inquiry. That afternoon LBC’s Eddie Mair, who once famously called Boris Johnson ‘a nasty piece of work’, spoke to another pantomime villain, US-born financier Bill Browder. Never having forgiven the Kremlin for thwarting his ability to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Russian economy (an activity he developed a taste for in the late 90s, when many ordinary Russians lived in poverty), Browder sees it as his personal mission to attack and smear Vladimir Putin at every available opportunity. As might be expected however, Eddie Mair wasn’t quite as obsequious as other interviewers:

Mair: “It’s the discovery of the Novichok in the hotel room that’s got people wondering, ‘Well hang on, if these are professional Russian assassins, they wouldn’t leave that there, would they?’”

Browder: “Well […] the same thing happened with the Litvinenko murder, they were leaving trails of Polonium all over London, and they could trace it right back to these two individuals, and so just because they were sloppy and stupid, doesn’t mean they didn’t do it.”

Mair: “Hmm. But that is precisely why people suspect that the official British story may not be true, you get that don’t you? If it was a sloppy operation and if the previous operation was sloppy, can we be sure that the apparently very efficient Russian state operation was involved?”

Browder: “Well I mean this is the Russian spin, the Russian spin says we can’t trust anything anyone says about anything, but that just doesn’t make any sense. I mean the Litvinenko story was looked at in a public inquiry, chaired by a High Court judge, who has no political ambitions whatsoever, and he came to the conclusion that the Litvinenko murder was state-sponsored, probably directed by Vladimir Putin, certainly directed by the FSB, using radioactive materials.”

Browder then provided a magnificent demonstration of the gaslighter’s art:

“If you don’t trust him [i.e. the High Court judge], you might as well not trust anything you think in your own head.”

The idea of Russian responsibility for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko came under fire in this letter to the Scotsman, dated 23 January 2016:
I then wrote a further critique of Sir Robert Owen’s report, in detail here and more succinctly here. Returning to the Skripal case however; two days after the poisoning, on 6th March ‘McMafia’ author and former BBC journalist Misha Glenny appeared on Channel 4 News:

“Well it’s difficult to tell until we have the forensic evidence, so that we know what’s going on. There are a couple of things I would say. It looks more like ‘state’ than ‘crime’ I have to say – but you have to ask yourself two things, before we get the forensic evidence. Why now? Why in advance of the presidential elections in Russia and why in advance of the World Cup?”

A week later, remarks by former FSB director and one-time prime minister of Russia Sergei Stepashin covered similar ground:

“Tell me, what kind of idiot in Russia would do this? Where is the logic? It’s obvious to me, that probably this is a crude provocation by British intelligence. Who in Russia needs this traitor at all? There is one more reason aside from the elections: the World Cup. The English simply hate us for the reason that the tournament is taking place in our country.”

On 16th March Glenny was invited to share his expertise with listeners to BBC Radio 4’s flagship news programme ‘Today’, and seemed ready to at least partially countenance Stepashin's theory:

“It is possible, because knowledge about these weapons has been around for 30 years, that another intelligence agency could have got their hands on it.”

When you look at the ridiculously counterproductive timing from Russia’s point of view (a hundred days before the World Cup, and with the ink barely dry on an agreement to go ahead with construction of ‘Nord Stream 2’, a natural gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany), the involvement of another intelligence agency should have been the working assumption from Day One. Yet Theresa May chose PMQs on 12th March to fully authenticate Kenneth Clarke's off-the-cuff description of her, as someone who doesn’t know much about foreign affairs:

“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.”

What’s difficult to know exactly is why this statement sent so many MPs from all parties into full-blown, hysterical, frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Russian witch-hunt mode. All I can suggest is that if Mrs May thought long and hard about its precise phrasing, there may have been a lingering smell of burning in the air.

On 5th July (when the World Cup was in full swing), the Guardian published an opinion piece in which Simon Jenkins offered a more level-headed perspective:

“I seem to be the only person alive with no clue as to who has poisoned four people in Wiltshire. I am told that only Russians have access to the poison, known as novichok – though the British research station of Porton Down, located ominously nearby, clearly knows a lot about it. Otherwise, I repeat, I have no clue. I suppose I can see why the Kremlin might want to kill an ex-spy such as Sergei Skripal and his daughter, so as to deter others from defecting. But why wait so long after he has fled, and why during the build-up to so highly politicised an event as a World Cup in Russia?”

As the facts stood at the time, few people with an ounce of common sense could have taken issue with any of that, or with Jenkins’s eminently reasonable observation:

“The most obvious motive for these attacks would surely be from someone out to embarrass the Russian president, Vladimir Putin – someone from his enemies, rather than from his friends or employees.”

However by the middle of September two developments appeared to have tipped the balance of probabilities. Firstly, the tragic death of Dawn Sturgess. It’s all very well, so the argument goes, trying to throw suspicion on shadowy figures within or on the fringes of MI6 and Porton Down – but surely they wouldn’t murder an innocent British citizen just to incriminate Russia? And second, the fresh evidence which came to light, implicating two men whose real names, we are told, are Col. Anatoly Chepiga and Dr Alexander Mishkin. Regardless of where the material came from – doesn’t it leave us with a clear picture of two real-life, actual GRU (Russian military intelligence) officers, who were in Salisbury at the time of the attack, yet claim to have been, wait for it – on a sight-seeing trip?! How the 'conspiracy theorists' must have wished the ground would swallow them up when they saw those two clowns interviewed on Russian television! I mean, Glenny pointed out that a hostile spy agency could have got hold of the poison, and Jenkins said the obvious motive would be from people out to embarrass Putin – but surely, only a very well-funded intelligence service with a burning hatred for all things Russian would actually go ahead with a caper as baroque and mind-bogglingly complex as this. And given that virtually all mainstream commentators added their voices to the Russia-bashing chorus, even before the Chepiga/Mishkin revelations, we’d need to see evidence of a highly professional and coordinated programme of media manipulation – a ‘gaslighting initiative’, if you will. Oh wait...

What’s this, from the Christmas-New Year edition of Private Eye?
This bit might be worth another look:
...and so might this:
As outlined by Max Blumenthal and Mark Ames in a recent Grayzone Project article, in 2005 US journalist James Bamford uncovered
Addressing cadets at the US Air Force Academy in 1996, Rendon explained:

“I am not a national-security strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, a person who uses communication to meet public-policy or corporate-policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager”[1]

...and a gaslighter. 

It's childish to imagine that the people involved in pulling the wool over our eyes in the run-up to the Iraq War (an aggression which killed, maimed and displaced hundreds of thousands of men, women and children) would lose much extra sleep over complicity in the murder of someone like Dawn Sturgess. But you may ask, how can it be that people like them are in any position to set western countries on a path towards more conflict? Aren’t they all languishing in prison, where they belong? Sadly, no – indeed, warmongering has enabled many of them to make a killing.

As described in Private Eye, the documents show that Gaslighting Initiative (GI) ‘clusters’ have been busy whipping up anti-Russian hysteria and ‘criminalising diplomacy’[2] across Europe, the United States and elsewhere. The UK outfit includes arch Putin-demoniser and CEPA[3] vice president Edward Lucas. His fellow Times columnist David Aaronovitch is also mentioned; renowned for his unwavering, almost Messianic devotion to Bush-Blair’s Iraq invasion timetable:
There are also a few high-ranking BBC newscasters, among them Diplomatic Editor Jonathan Marcus, whose public disavowal of the Gaslighting Initiative cleverly doesn’t quite rule out the possibility that he is, in fact, aware of being associated with the anti-Russian smear unit:

"...neither Marcus nor the BBC knew of the list of journalists, nor did he or the BBC consent to be part of any so-called cluster."

Meanwhile, this passage is worth bearing in mind...
...when looking at the transcript of a two and a half minute report broadcast on Vesti, one of Russia’s most watched TV news programmes. Posted on YouTube on 7th January (Russian Orthodox Christmas), the typically Russian lack of circumspection at the beginning of the segment doesn’t quite survive all the way to the end, but nonetheless it all just about stacks up.

Vesti newsreader: “Hackers from Anonymous have leaked sensational news. It turns out that Britain planned the Skripal incident in advance. The details have been published online of the who, the how and the when of the planning of the events in Salisbury. Alexander Khabarov, a VGTRK correspondent reporting from Great Britain, has examined the documents that, up until yesterday, where highly classified.”

Correspondent Alexander Khabarov: “The timeline of events that followed the Salisbury incident was planned beforehand. That is the conclusion which can be drawn based on the Integrity Initiative documents, a project the British government set up through the Institute for Statecraft. As early as 2015, Victor Madeira, a senior researcher at the Institute, outlined his proposals for sanctions to be carried out against Russia. One of the proposals was to repeat Operation FOOT, carried out in 1971, when London expelled 105 Soviet diplomats all at once.”

[from 2015 document] Dr Victor Madeira: “Simultaneously expel every RF intelligence officer and naval/air/defence attaché from as many countries as possible (global Operation FOOT 1971).”

[This certainly would seem to vindicate comments reported soon after the incident (14th March 2018) by Igor Pshenichnikov, media relations czar at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies:

“The speed with which London took the decision to expel Russian diplomats from Great Britain demonstrates that this move was planned and prepared in advance. The whole Salisbury poisoning incident is a sleazily prepared provocation, aimed at reviving anti-Russian hysteria in the Western world.”]

Khabarov: “The director of the Institute for Statecraft, Christopher Donnelly, is also the head of a military intelligence team. In October 2016 he had a discussion with General [Richard] Barrons about the so-called Russian threat, and ‘predicted’ a catastrophe, which would force politicians to strengthen Great Britain’s national defence.” 

[from written record of discussion between Donnelly and Barrons]: “If no catastrophe happens to wake people up and demand a response, then we need to get the core of the government to realise the problem, and take it out of the political sphere. We will need to impose changes over the heads of vested interests. NB We did this in the 1930s. My conclusion is that it is we who must either generate the debate, or wait for something dreadful to happen to shock us into action.”

Khabarov: “According to Anonymous, prior to the Salisbury incident, Donnelly recruited Mark Laverick, who was employed by the secret chemical laboratory, Porton Down, where the nerve agent allegedly used to poison Sergei Skripal was later examined. In March 2018, the Integrity Initiative became heavily engaged in the informational operation on the Skripal affair. Extensive research was commissioned in order to conduct mainstream and social media analysis of the Skripal scandal coverage in different countries. The Institute for Statecraft also paid chemical weapons experts to write articles about the incident. In July 2018 the institute held a meeting with the Syrian White Helmets and Pablo Miller; a former MI6 agent, the recruiter of Sergei Skripal, and his neighbour in Salisbury. [Note of caution here – Pablo Miller’s name and email address appears to be included in a list of invitees, but it is not known if he attended the meeting] Prior to his transfer to the intelligence agency, Miller served in the military together with Mark Urban, who is currently working for the BBC, and has recently published a book called The Skripal Files.

According to Urban it was pure coincidence that he was able to conduct an exclusive interview with the double agent a year before the poisoning scandal. If the documents released by Anonymous are authentic, then some of the coincidences in the case may be connected to secret projects funded by the British government.”

Alexander Khabarov, Ilya Mardyukov, Vesti, London.

Mind you, Urban kept his personal acquaintance with Skripal under wraps until several months after the incident – so when he tweeted this sort of thing: one knew of his ulterior agenda – an intention to publish a book whose anti-Kremlin slant was not subject to change. As we have seen, Urban was at one time a comrade-in-arms of Pablo Miller in the British army; since then he's written quite a number of books on military history. His total dedication to the Establishment line extends to tweeting stuff like this: well as Retweeting thoroughly nasty, not to say bloodthirsty stuff, like this:
Furthermore, in 2015 his BBC profile ensured a wide readership for a book he wrote, ‘The Edge’, which lends pseudo-legitimacy to an array of paranoid anti-Russian talking points. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mark Urban’s father was Ukrainian. Hence, looking at the timing of the book’s publication (a year after the far-right coup against Ukraine’s democratically elected government, which sparked fighting in the east of the country and Crimea's vote to reunify with Russia), when he decries Nato’s lack of readiness to deal with the ‘Russian threat’, it’s a safe bet that what he actually has in mind is some kind of pitifully stupid re-enactment of the Battle of Balaclava.

In the current context this serves as a reminder of a claim George Blake once made, that ideologically committed spies should be taken much more seriously than those like Skripal who merely do it for money. On 10th March a report in the Daily Mail cited an earlier FT article which left no room for doubt that the then 66 year-old Russian had long outlived his usefulness to Whitehall: 
And meanwhile, when Urban’s book came out in October it revealed that Skripal himself was

“...initially reluctant to believe that he might be the target of a Russian government murder plot”.

For all the world therefore, it looks as if the most important witness in the whole business

“...wanted to believe glib conspiracy theories instead because it made him feel smart or sassy”.

It also goes almost without saying that this “reluctance to believe” the British government narrative could well be a major part of the reason why Skripal has been neither seen nor heard from since he left hospital, in May.[4]

Returning briefly to Pablo Miller, another point to make about him is that immediately after the incident he was the subject of a media gagging order, to keep him out of the public eye. As an aside, too; his reportedly close proximity to Skripal’s home means he just might have been well-placed to entice a pair of dupes like Chepiga and Mishkin to south Wiltshire’s favourite cathedral city, on some kind of errand.

One other person worth a mention, who features in the same Gaslighting Initiative document as Miller, is Howard Body, assistant political commissar at – where? – you guessed it, Porton Down. The secretive defence laboratory with as much expertise on chemical weaponry and specifically nerve agents concentrated in one place, as can be found anywhere on earth. The elephant in the Old Sa-room, which received a £48 million funding boost within days of the Skripals' admission to hospital. Still, you've got to hand it to the team which found traces of Novichok in the London hotel where Chepiga and Mishkin stayed. Without knowing where to look, Porton Down's sleuth hounds are supposed to have taken samples from the room with cotton swabs - and afterwards discovered that in this process they'd managed to decontaminate it! This is all the more miraculous when you consider that after a squirt or two onto Skripal's door handle, it was considered necessary to dismantle the entire building.

As for the goings-on in Salisbury on the afternoon of Sunday 4th March, I predict that neither Auntie Beeb nor anyone else will ever broadcast a ‘Crimewatch’-style reconstruction – or at least not of the version of events we’re currently expected to believe. After watching actors in the role of the ‘baddies’, Chepiga and Mishkin, furtively tip-toeing across Skripal’s driveway in the middle of the day and spraying deadly nerve agent on the door handle, the audience would be expected to swallow the idea that for some mysterious reason, both Sergei and Yulia put their un-gloved hands on the entrance lever (why did it take two people to close a door?). Having received exactly the same dose, they went off and had lunch and did a few other things, before collapsing simultaneously on a park bench, roughly three hours later. They were then attended to by the chief nursing officer of the British army, recipient of an OBE for her work in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak, who happened to be passing by at that very moment. And by further happy coincidence, Mark Urban's book tells us not only that these first aid efforts were supplemented by a local doctor who caught sight of them; but "just a few weeks earlier", Salisbury District Hospital had conducted a "major-incident exercise" in how to deal with a CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear) attack!

In case anyone is interested, here’s a first-hand description of the man who rendered the Skripals unconscious on Sunday 4th March, from a Mail on Sunday article published a week after the events. The “witness who works as a pest-controller” is describing an encounter which took place well over an hour after Chepiga and Mishkin had caught their train back to London (acknowledgements to The Blogmire):


We all know Ian Fleming’s most celebrated brainchild had a ‘licence to kill’; but it’s disappointing to note that since the fall of communism, Britain’s intelligence confraternity has taken its cue more from the likes of Fred West than James Bond. And while the dashing exemplars of this 'master race' no doubt spend quite a lot of their time in grand country mansions, Porton Down appears to be their equivalent of the basement at 25 Cromwell Street, where they get up to mischief. In no particular order, below is just a very small selection of the people who have either definitely, very likely or probably been summarily executed, with immunity from prosecution, by “dark actors playing games”.[5]

There is no longer any dispute that in February 1989 the British government colluded in the shocking murder, in front of his young family, of Irish human rights lawyer Pat Finucane. David Cameron's 2011 refusal to allow a full public inquiry must have reflected his awareness that MI5 actually issued the order to carry out the killing. A decade later, there were uncanny similarities in the case of another human rights lawyer assassinated by loyalist paramilitaries, Rosemary Nelson. Of the other cases touched on here, Dr David Kelly (who worked at Porton Down of course, and reportedly intended to write a ‘tell all’ book about WMD at the time of his death) is the least controversial – though I was completely taken in by the official “suicide” story at the time. Similarly, it doesn’t take Miss Marple to see that the MP for Livingston and former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was eliminated, a few weeks after writing a devastating critique of the idiocy of Trident renewal.

Equally or perhaps even more vile are instances where a person’s life was ended and their reputation was destroyed at the same time. Stephen Milligan MP, whose body was found in the most utterly degrading circumstances in February 1994, was not just an obscure backbencher as I’d always thought, but a high-flying private secretary to Defence Procurement minister Jonathan Aitken. To this day, none of his friends from his earlier career in journalism (people like Andrew Neil and John Simpson) believe the official narrative about his death. Milligan had recently uncovered illegal arms sales to Iraq and may have threatened to blow the whistle; exactly as former RAF pilot-turned-journalist Jonathan Moyle had done, when he died in ‘spookily’ similar circumstances in Chile four years earlier.

Only nine days after Milligan’s death, 65 year-old James Rusbridger, a former MI6 courier and inveterate writer of letters to newspapers, was found dead in his west country home in circumstances going beyond bizarre, including wearing a CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear) hazmat suit and surrounded by pornographic images. According to the same Daily Mail article cited above, he’d just written to a local television station, stating his intention to investigate the death of Stephen Milligan.

The people who killed 31 year-old Welshman Gareth Williams, found locked in a hold-all in his bath in August 2010 (again with ‘tell-tale’ smut strategically placed around his London flat), undoubtedly sought to trash his reputation at the same time. The US State department requested that none of his work relating to Uncle Sam should be made public at his inquest.

In other news: there may have been more to the death of the Princess of Wales than met the eye. And the same could be said of the death of 55 year-old Scotsman John Smith. His history of heart trouble could mean either that his death in May 1994 was a result of natural causes (not to be ruled out) – or that his murderers were bright enough to realise that the only way to ensure his death appeared natural would be to induce a heart attack.

Peter Mandelson wasn’t called the Prince of Darkness for nothing.
In the same Guardian article we learn that

“In his biography of Mandelson, Paul Routledge claims "some intelligence experts believe he may have been an MI6 'agent of influence' working, perhaps innocently, for the west during a critical period of the cold war"”

Very clearly, this could be a euphemistic way of saying that Mandelson, whose links to Foreign Office subsidiaries date back to the 1970s, was an MI6 mole who successfully infiltrated the Labour Party. John Smith sidelined him, but by then he’d been elected as MP for Hartlepool. Mark Hollingsworth also tells us that he was
In 1994, Labour’s already rosy election outlook was only enhanced by the circumstances of Stephen Milligan’s death, which made a mockery of John Major’s ‘Back to Basics’ call for honourable conduct in public life. Could elements in MI6 have decided that their fears of a Labour government became intolerable, when placed alongside the prospect of an ISC under the control of a politician as diligent and incisive as the Right Hon John Smith QC? 

While it’s not suggested that either Mandy or Petty is likely to have been directly responsible for Smith’s death, it’s interesting that in the climactic scene of Petty/Judd's first novel (about the Troubles in Northern Ireland), the semi-autobiographical hero kills a Belfast teenager. This event is not considered a reason for much remorse or soul-searching however; soon afterwards the book is concluded on an upbeat note, with the main character gleefully jumping from an aeroplane (with parachute) over England.

Which brings us to a quick discussion of similarities in the names and backgrounds of natives of these islands who could have been targeted by Britain's cloak and dagger merchants. It does appear that it’s marginally safer to be English than Irish, Scottish or Welsh. And whichever nation you identify with, it’s safer not to have an Irish surname.
Dr David Kelly, weapons inspector. Murdered by British military intelligence, 17 July 2003

Stephen Milligan, high-flying MP, former journalist. Murdered by British military intelligence, 7 February 1994 
[1] James Bamford, ‘The Man Who Sold the War’, Rolling Stone, 18-11-2005

[2] Appearing in a CNN discussion on 31 July 2018, this phrase was used by Stephen F. Cohen (professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton and New York Universities) to counter highly personalised slurs spouted by neo-McCarthyite bully, Max Boot. 

[3] Center for European Policy Analysis; a think tank bankrolled by Nato, the US government and the US defence industry.

[4] In light of the way western media sources latched on to Vladimir Putin’s later description of Skripal as a ‘scumbag’ (apparently nettled by claims the double agent could in any way be held up as a champion of human rights), it’s worth being reminded of his reaction to news of the latter's discharge from hospital:

“God grant him good health,” the Russian president said. “If a military-grade poison had been used, the man would have died on the spot. Thank God he recovered and that he left [hospital].”

[5] The words David Kelly used in an email to a friend just before his death in July 2003.

With acknowledgements to the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, Briefing note on the Integrity Initiative 

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