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The Skripal Files, Mark Urban

Notes on the book follow...

KGB/FSB and GRU are different. KGB was the government/civilian spy agency dealing with internal affairs.

GRU was military intelligence. GRU proved tougher to infiltrate.

The GRU maintained (maintains) a network of sleeper agents, ranging from 4 - "dozens" in NATO nations. They live normal lives and have no contact with the Russians - except in times of war. When the core diplomatic and spy staff are expelled, these agents are activated and take over as the eyes and ears inside the country. This included keeping caches of radios and weapons ready for sabotage operations.

Yeltsin was viewed with disgust and scorn by the GRU. On one trip to the USA he had got so drunk that he was found staggering the streets outside the White House trying to order a pizza - in only his underpants.

Opposition to Yeltsin grew and centered around the Duma's head of the Parliamentary Defence Committee, a General Lev Rokhlin. He campaigned for more defence spending and better treatment of veterans. A darling of the right.

In 1998 masked gunmen broke into his home and shot him in the head. His funeral was attended by 10,000 people and his wife was framed for the murder. The case eventually fell through but while she has been arrested all other investigations ceased.

MI6 got intelligence that the masked gunmen had been sent by a "shadowy ex KGB" man in Yeltsin's government. A few weeks later, this man, Vladimir Putin, was promoted to head of the FSB.

"Four and a half months after Rokhlin’s murder, assassins claimed the life of another Duma member, Galina Staravoitova. At the other end of the political spectrum to the general and his movement, she was the liberal who’d tried to move legislation banning former KGB men from power."

One of Putin's first acts when he became President was to put the FSB under his direct control.

Skripal had worked in Madrid for the GRU. He was courted by a MI6 officer and became an informer. He was paid $3000 for each meeting. However, he has been betrayed by a Spanish agent working for the Spanish secret service. Skripal was eventually arrested.

The first act of Russian state assassination was Litvinenko. He was killed using a radioactive poison, put in his tea. He only had a few sips so his death dragged out over several days, allowing him to spill the beans to the British and allow them to identify the two assassins (ex-colleagues he met with at a fancy hotel).

The second was in 2007, this one MI6 got wind of - it was to target another Russian in exile, Berevosky. He left the country before the assassin arrived. The assassin was followed and then, along with a handful of other diplomats, expelled.

Despite these high profile attempts the UK Gov continuously downplayed the danger Russia posed - ignoring reports from SIS and putting pressure on the media not to report. A BBC News night episode caused particular alarm as it presented evidence that showed that SIS blamed Putin directly. That it was released (by coincidence) on the same day as Brown met Medvedev, was seen by Russia as a signal that SIS was trying to destabilise relations.


The FSB has a 'Department S' - in charge of deep cover illegals. People who spend their entire lives as a spy, assuming a false identity and often spending 10-15 years building up their cover stories. Putin was a director of Department S affairs in East Germany when he was younger.

A large network existed in the USA. However, in 1999 they had been detrayed by Colonel Poteyev, a Russia Department S officer. He had been in charge of all operations in the US - and then later was promoted to deputy for the whole international operation. He gave the US access to everything. In 2010, for reasons unknown, the FBI made their moved and arrested the lot. This gave the US a great tool to arrange a spy swap. They asked for Skipral.

He settled in Sailsbury. His wife came over and died of cancer in 2012. His son and daughter visited frequently.

In 2018 he was poisoned along with his daughter using the Russian nerve agent Novichok. A police detective was also poisoned. The paramedics, thinking initially it was an opiod overdose, administered atropine. This was vital as it is one of the key drugs that can protect from the impact of nerve agents. They didn't mean it for that reason, but they just saved their lives.

They were out in comas and gradually worked ok by doctors who were treating an entirely novel situation. Only 3 people in the world have ever been infected with Novichok.

The government called a Cobra meeting. Home Secretary Amber Rudd chaired it, the day before Boris, as Foreign Minister had run his mouth in Parliament and all but blamed Putin - pissing off everyone concerned with the investigation.


Note - the top Russian defector, Poteyev, is living in the USA under FBI protection. In 2016 the FSB put out a fake "Poteyev" has died story, hoping that by monitoring the Internet communications of his friendship group they would learn his whereabouts. It failed and a subsequent assassination plot was reportedly also been foiled by the FBI.


Why Skripal? Lots of theories. A week before his death Russian YouTube channels had published news stories about Skripal, reminding the public who he was. It was weeks before the Russian election - some say Putin used the spike in "Russophobia" in the Western news to his advantage, painting himself as protector of Russia against external threats.

In the end May went to the commons and in no uncertain terms blamed Russia. They expelled lots of diplomats and were able to get Allied nations to do the same. Russia responded in kind. Russian media went to work, ridiculing the British press and PM May for their lack of evidence.

The GRU sent a 4 man team to the Hague. They set up a fake WiFi from inside a rental care they parked outside the OPCW laboratory (where one of the Novichov samples had been sent). Buy MI6 were on to them and they were arrested by Dutch police and expelled from the country.

RT then published a story saying that the samples proved it wasn't Novichok, because it contained trace elements of another drug. This was taken from a press release from the laboratory which said this was standard procedure and acted as a control drug - to make sure the assessment equipment was working.

About a month later two drug addicts were admitted to hospital with similar symptoms. One of them died - the only fatality in the whole story. They were looking through bind and found a fake perfume bottle behind a skip - It was the container the GRU men had used to deliver the Novichok.

"Examining the Skripal affair one year on in the light of these revelations it is very hard to avoid the conclusion that the operation was mounted in such a way (by using such a rare poison and sending officers who were decorated GRU staffers into the highly monitored environment of the UK public transport system) that its discovery was intentional. It conformed to the ‘trail of breadcrumbs’ theory, with the aim of showing that those who have betrayed Russia should never sleep easy; a willingness to take considerable risks in pursuit of the country’s ‘great power’ interests; and, quite possibly, to stimulate a Western outburst that could be labelled ‘Russophobia’ on the eve of March 2018’s presidential elections. In this sense the motive was not simply to murder Sergei Skripal. One needs only to think about the subject a little to imagine methods – for example using Eastern European mafia hitmen hired through cut-outs to murder Skripal in his bed and make it look like a break in – that could have achieved that aim while maintaining plausible deniability. Rather, as Sir John Sawyers, formerly Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, put it in a BBC interview, ‘the method was part of the message, they wanted to get a message across to Russians everywhere that you are never beyond our reach and we will always be able to get to you’. And of course in this sense, regardless of the fact that Sergei Skripal survived the attempt, and its execution cost Russia a good deal diplomatically, this signal had been sent loud and clear to Russians around the world. Probably the whole operation was a way of demonstrating Russian resolution and impunity at a time when espionage has emerged as one of the principal battlegrounds in a new age of great power competition."


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