Events over the past week portend a developing international crisis.
On Sunday, March 4, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England. Was the Poisoning of a Former Russian Spy a Chemical Weapons Attack?
Skripal and his daughter Yulia are still in critical condition after they were found slumped on a park bench on March 4. The officer who found them is also still in the hospital but is communicative. At least 21 people received medical attention, and hundreds more who visited the restaurant where the nerve agent has been detected may have been exposed and have been urged to wash their clothes.
* * *
The Skripal poisoning wasn’t a battlefield attack, of course, but the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which both Russia and Britain are signatories, prohibits the use of toxic chemicals such as nerve agents except for a few, specifically described purposes; assassinating ex-spies on foreign soil is not one of them.
British Prime Minister Theresa May addressed Parliament on Monday regarding the chemical weapon attack in Salisbury, England last week. In her address, she squarely placed the blame for the chemical weapons attack on the Russian government:
Mr. Speaker, this morning I chaired a meeting of the National Security Council in which we considered the information so far available. As is normal, the Council was updated on the assessment and intelligence picture, as well as the state of the investigation.
It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.
This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’.
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 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 [Tuesday].
* * *
Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday we will consider in detail the response from the Russian State.
Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.
And I will come back to this House and set out the full range of measures that we will take in response.
Mr. Speaker, this attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals.
It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk.
And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.
Here in the United States, the White House response to the Prime Minister was muted. Sarah Sanders Simply Refuses To Say ‘Russia’ When Quizzed On UK Poisoning:
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pointedly avoided saying the word “Russia” on Monday when very specifically questioned about that country’s culpability in the poisoning last week of a former Russian spy with a deadly nerve agent.
British officials have determined that Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with a nerve agent developed in Russia. British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Monday that it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible for the attack. “We must now stand ready to take extensive measures,” May said.
But when asked ― three times ― at a White House press briefing about Russia’s link to the poisoning or any possible repercussions for the country from the U.S., Sanders carefully did not say “Russia” — or otherwise address who may have been responsible for the attack. She characterized it as an “indiscriminate” attack, although British authorities have concluded that Skripal was clearly targeted.
“We’ve been monitoring the incident closely, take it very seriously,” Sanders said. “The use of a highly lethal nerve agent against U.K. citizens on U.K. soil is an outrage. The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible. We offer the fullest condemnation.”
“So you’re not saying that Russia was behind this?” a reporter asked.
“Right now, we are standing with our U.K. ally,” Sanders said again. “I think they’re still working through even some of the details of that.”
Pressed a third time, an annoyed Sanders answered, “Like I just said, we stand with our ally and we certainly fully support them and are ready if we can be of any assistance.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is currently touring Africa, declared Monday that the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the U.K. “clearly came from Russia” and vowed it “will trigger a response.” Tillerson: Spy poisoning has Russia link, vows action:
Tillerson says he doesn’t know whether Russia’s government had knowledge of the poisoning. But he is arguing the poison couldn’t have originated anywhere else. He says the substance is known to the U.S. and doesn’t exist widely. He says it’s “only in the hands of a very, very limited number of parties.”
Tillerson calls the poisoning “a really egregious act” and says it’s “almost beyond comprehension” that a state actor would use such a dangerous substance in a public place.
But he says he won’t elaborate on what response might follow.
Tillerson spoke to reporters on his aircraft as he flew from Nigeria to Washington.
The Secretary of State will never get the chance to respond. In curious timing, Putin’s puppet, our Twitter-troll-in-chief, fired him this morning on Twitter.
The Washington Post reports, Trump ousts Tillerson, will replace him as secretary of state with CIA chief Pompeo:
President Trump said Tuesday he has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and plans to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him as the nation’s top diplomat, orchestrating a major change to his national security team amid delicate outreach such as possible talks with North Korea.
As Tillerson traveled through Africa, White House chief of staff John F. Kelly called to wake him up in the wee hours there Saturday to alert him that he would soon be replaced and to return to Washington as soon as possible, White House officials said.
Tillerson cut his trip short Monday to fly home, and his spokesman said Tuesday that the secretary of state was “unaware of the reason” for his firing and had not spoken directly with Trump.
Officials at the State Department and throughout the national security community were flummoxed by the news.
Tension between Trump and Tillerson has simmered for many months, but the president and his top diplomat reached a breaking point over the past week [since the chemical attack in Salisbury, England], and media inquiries about the fraught relationship accelerated the timing of the ouster, White House officials said.
Trump told reporters Tuesday that he had been considering removing Tillerson for “a long time” because they disagreed over U.S. strategy in key areas of foreign policy, such as the Iran nuclear deal, the approach to North Korea and the tone of U.S. diplomacy [e.g., towards Russia].
Trump selected Gina Haspel — the deputy director at the CIA — to succeed Pompeo at the CIA. She would become the first woman to run the spy agency.
Oh, hell no!
Haspel could come under added scrutiny over her past role running one of the CIA “black site” prisons where detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely denounced as torture.
Both Haspel and Pompeo would need to be confirmed by the Senate at a time when the closely divided chamber has stalled on confirming dozens of Trump nominees.
UPDATE: The New York Times reported back in 2017, Gina Haspel, C.I.A. Deputy Director, Had Leading Role in Torture:
As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.
On Thursday, Ms. Haspel was named the deputy director of the C.I.A.
The elevation of Ms. Haspel, a veteran widely respected among her colleagues, to the No. 2 job at the C.I.A. was a rare public signal of how, under the Trump administration, the agency is being led by officials who appear to take a far kinder view of one of its darker chapters than their immediate predecessors.
* * *
President Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks torture works. And the new C.I.A. chief, Mike Pompeo, has said that waterboarding and other techniques do not even constitute torture, and praised as “patriots” those who used such methods in the early days of the fight against Al Qaeda.
Ms. Haspel, who has spent most of her career undercover, would certainly fall within Mr. Pompeo’s description. She played a direct role in the C.I.A.’s “extraordinary rendition program,” under which captured militants were handed to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by agency personnel.
Mr. Zubaydah alone was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, had his head repeatedly slammed into walls and endured other harsh methods before interrogators decided he had no useful information to provide.
The sessions were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the C.I.A. station in Thailand until 2005, when they were ordered destroyed. By then, Ms. Haspel was serving at C.I.A. headquarters, and it was her name that was on the cable carrying the destruction orders.
The agency maintains that the decision to destroy the recordings was made by Ms. Haspel’s boss at the time, Jose Rodriguez, who was the head of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service.
Trump had words of praise for Tillerson despite their well-documented rifts: “Finally, I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service. A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well.”
A spokesman for Tillerson said the secretary of state has not spoken directly with Trump about the move.
So Trump did not have the common courtesy to tell Tillerson he is fired face-to-face, and to explain his reasons why? Instead our Twitter-troll-in-chief made the chickenshit move of firing him by a tweet? This is no way to run a government.
UPDATE: Trump also fired Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein for contradicting the White House declaration that the firing was planned in advance, instead stating that Tillerson had only learned he was fired via Trump’s Tuesday morning tweet. NBC says a White House official has confirmed that Goldstein was fired specifically for contradicting their account of how Tillerson was fired.
I would remind you that Britain is a NATO ally and if Britain decides to take actions against Russia for the chemical weapon attack in Salisbury, England, they could invoke Article 5, the Collective Defense provision of the Washington Treaty creating NATO:
- Collective defence means that an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.
- The principle of collective defence is enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.
- NATO invoked Article 5 for the first time in its history after the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.
- NATO has taken collective defence measures on several occasions, for instance in response to the situation in Syria and in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
- NATO has standing forces on active duty that contribute to the Alliance’s collective defence efforts on a permanent basis.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump said NATO is “Obsolete,” but since has reversed his position. Trump says NATO no longer ‘obsolete’. Of course, you cannot believe anything this pathological liar says, as recently demonstrated with the DREAMers and the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
Trump has yet to criticize Vladimir Putin, and he has actively sought to reverse sanctions on Russia and to obstruct the Russia investigations. If Britain invokes article 5 and Trump refuses to commit the U.S. to its NATO obligations, it will undermine the NATO Alliance. And his pal Putin wins.
We have a
Manchurian Kremlin Candidate in the White House.