Russian nerve agent attack may leave Skripals with 'limited mental capacity'


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/03/22/brains-on-novichok.html


#2

Remember that the TGOP’s President congratulated the man [Putin] that ordered the chemical attack on these two people, that’s the President of the United States. Yes folks, we are in a world of shit and the TGOP’ers are skipping down that rosy path with our futures hanging in the balance.

Are you registered to Vote?


#3

Anybody else with some neuro in their background? I think what I’m reading is they were hypoxic for an extended amount of time. If this weapon is based on organophosphates, it should have cleared by now.

And yes, it doesn’t matter what the mechanism of action is, it’s still horrific and no country has a right to invade and commit murder.


#4

Agent Orange should have said “Nice way to rig an election, creep. And anyone else dies in the UK with a Russian last name and we’re invoking Article 5 of NATO. GFY. (click)”

Instead we have a Putin stooge who thinks the nuclear football should be controlled from his tweedlephone.


#5

Also wonder how long Bolton will last. Since I doubt he’s a Putin admirer.


#6

The interesting is, why use an obviously Russian developed nerve agent that could be traced to them. And given some of the comments in the Russian media (ie. criminals and spies should know they can’t escape to the UK) and Putin being all coy about it, really means the message is to the west - guess what we can do and there’s little you can do about it.


#7


#8

might as well post these links, for reference:

https://cen.acs.org/articles/96/i12/Nerve-agent-attack-on-spy-used-Novichok-poison.html

(gets into the chemistry)

which cribs from this source, among others

http://archiv.uni-nke.hu/downloads/aarms/docs/Volume6/Issue1/pdf/15vasa.pdf

Novichok – choline esterase inhibitors (Novichok 5 and Novichok 7). They are effecting very rapidly, penetrate through the skin and respiratory system. Novichok 5 exceeds effectiveness of soman by 10 times and of VX by 5 to 8 times. Novichok 5 (Substance A-232) and its ethyl-analog (Substance A-234) can be produced in binary form by using acetonitrile and an organic phosphate compound.12 System of agent A- 232 components was successfully tested in Nukus Uzbekistan, in the military chemical proving ground in 1992. Existence of the “Foliant” program and Novichok were revealed in 1992 by chemists Lev Fedorov and Vil Mirzayanov in an article of the newspaper Moscow News. Mirzayanov said in an interview that these new binary agents probably were destroyed. They were exploded at a testing site near Saratov. Russia has officially never acknowledged the existence of the group Novichok.


#9

A friendly reminder that while everyone talks about Novichoks as if they are a well known thing, they only seem to exist in the memoirs of one defector. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons knows of no evidence they actually exist.

Seriously.

The OPCW, incidentally, is not some Russian front. I went and checked, just in case.


#10

Thanks. That’s what I expected.

I wish I had more to offer than condolences for their family and solidarity and apologies for the waste of molecules we’re dealing with.


#11

It’s a big country with a small population per square kilometer. I’d like to believe OPCW, but it’s a tough confirmation project.

OTOH, the entire class of organophosphate nerve agents do essentially the same thing: break the nervous system to incapacitate. If it lasts more than a short time, incapacitation becomes death, because shutting down the nervous system shuts down breathing. So I’m not sure how much it matters if it’s a VX variant, or something new. Knowing exactly what is more about duration, treatment if possible, and preventing contamination if possible.


#12

#13

Mirzayanov published the formulae for the relevant agents in his book, though. It’s rather interesting that after being told what they actually are nobody who studies chemical weapons for a living did anything with this information.

Or, and this is what I suspect, Mirzayanov did what a lot of Soviet defectors did: make up a story that some people are eager to believe. The best example of that is Yuri Bezmenov, of course, who went and told the John Birch society precisely what they longed to hear. The Soviets were coming to sap and impurify their precious bodily fluids and Joe McCarthy did nothing wrong.

It makes no difference to the people poisoned what precisely they were poisoned with, of course. Only the effects. But I find that the truth of this matter, foggy as it is, is being further obscured by Tom Clancyish flourishes. Oh, yes, it’s not just assassination by nerve agent (what, the most ineffective method of killing a specific individual isn’t fancy enough?) it’s assassination with a special new form of nerve agent! Soviet super-science!


#14

As far as the story/potential formula: that’s so far outside my area of expertise I cannot comment. (I know enough about organophosphates to know how they work, and the ones that get used as pesticides are nasty shit that destroy farmers’ brains over years. And those are the nicer ones.)

You could be right. I assume that anyone in NATO-sphere who tested that formula is either inside an intelligence/defense agency, and must glomar, anyone outside NATO-sphere is not going to admit it*, and academic labs reacting like the person who proposed it was promoting recreational arson as a fulfilling hobby. Which means more uncertainty.

Fear’s powerful; it motivates people to give a damn. We did see the global reaction to KJU’s assassination of his brother. Oh, used VX? A Kim is dead? No big loss. Yawn. It’s not like we can sanction them more. What else is happening? And that’s the worry - that we’ve gotten so numb and overwhelmed that nothing makes us care. (Which is absolutely not an argument for using a lie or exaggeration as propaganda. It’s the argument against, because when the lie comes out - and it always does - it further erodes trust and makes everyone more vulnerable. But governments are short-term thinkers.)

I just know that I don’t want Bolton anywhere near this.

*Because admitting it and publishing is admitting they made nerve agents and tested them and wow, that’s a route to pariah state almost nobody wants to take…


#15

One possibility is that they got cocky and thought the British wouldn’t be able to identify the stuff. It’s only obviously Russian if you figure out what it is.


#16

“Novichok” agents were first described in an article in the newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti by the chemists Lev Fyodorov and Vil Mirzayanov, which then lead to an article in the Baltimore Sun. Mirzayanov was subsequently charged with treason for revealing state secrets in the article, but was acquitted on a technicality and fled to the United States where he’s written about the Soviet chemical weapons program and works as a researcher at Rutgers University.

Mirzayanov is not the only source though. As has been already posted, The Bell has an interview with Vladimir Uglev, another scientist from the Foliant program that developed “Novichok” agents. Uglev also says that one agent from the class was used to murder Ivan Kivelidi and his secretary back in the 1990s by smearing the stuff on his telephone’s mouthpiece; Reuters has more reporting on the case based on documents from the secret murder trial.

As for the OPCW document, it says specifically “The SAB states that it has insufficient
information to comment on the existence or properties of ‘Novichoks’.” Given that the chemical class was never officially declared by a Convention party and had little to no description in the public literature that statement is not too surprising. It’s also from 2013 and is out of date; earlier this year spectroscopic information on several “Novichok” agents were added [archived link] to the OPCW database.


#17

It would lead to a way too much acetylcholine in the brain. As wikipedia says under “cholinergic crisis”: “As a result of cholinergic crisis, the muscles stop responding to the bombardment of ACh, leading to flaccid paralysis, respiratory failure, and other signs and symptoms reminiscent of organophosphate poisoning. Other symptoms include increased sweating, salivation, bronchial secretions along with miosis.”

You are probably correct that hypoxic brain damage would be a / the major issue. This will damage parts of the brain first that have high oxygen metabolism, including the hippocampus which aids in storing and accessing memories. Damage would be based on minutes without oxygen with mechanical ventilation needed to keep the brain working. They really could be seriously affected by this.

(my background is clinical psychology with a special interest in neuropsychology. I’m not strong on biology at a chemical level but I would be able to perform an assessment to determine the areas of functioning affected).


#18

Skripal had time to do stuff since the 2010 spy exchange. Perhaps he did some more double agenting with the Russian refugees/mobsters in Londongrad.


#19

Now there’s a third Russian scientist on the record on creating Novichok agents. Leonid Rink did his doctoral dissertation on them, and confesses that he supplied the poison in the above mentioned murder of Ivan Kivelidi and his secretary. He also thinks the British must have attacked Skripal because it’s too obvious a link to Russia, and because Russians would never be so sloppy as to leave Skripal and his daughter alive.

Plus here’s a translation of the interview Vladimir Uglev gave to the magazine Novoye Vremya in 1993 (starts on page 21 of the PDF).


#20

Quick chat with my sister, fresh over from Moscow.

The Russians are gearing up to host the World Cup. They are not interested in chasing spies. This is seen as propaganda, which I suspect it is. They liked Britain once, but they don’t regard it as a threat or anything now.

The Russians or their agents have killed people in the UK. Ricin from an umbrella for one, polonium for another. These were subtle and effective attacks. Credit where credit is due, the KGB would not botch a job like this.

Skripals had been in custody in Russia. If they had wanted to get rid of him, he might have just had a burst appendix, or something back then. Why do it now? It makes no sense.

My sister was with Roger Cook when he was offered a 450 kiloton warhead for sale (Cook Report 1993). They dropped the discussion, and it is doubtful that the warhead existed, but there was a lot of unaccounted-for stuff after the break up of Soviet Russia. So, it is just possible that still like Novichok was lying around in the hands of someone who knew what it was. The experts with Novichok seem to be in the US.

This is misdirection. Funny as it is to see Teresa May trying to rouse Europe (no sympathy there) this is not what we should be looking at.