Sergei Skripal and the superforecaster. And, by the way, where IS Sergei?

Silly Dominic Cummings. He could have saved himself a lot of bother this week by asking QuadRanting to put forward a competent superforecaster before he picked super-weirdo Andrew Sabisky.

QuadRanting would have pointed Dom to the impeccably-credentialed and not-actually-too-weird-for-government-work, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, managing non-director of military respirator firm, Avon Protection, and former commander of the now-disbanded UK Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment.

It was two years ago this Sunday just gone, 16 February, that Mr de B-G popped up in the BBC News web pages making a couple of hugely prescient superforecasts, apparently completely out of the blue, about Russia and chemical weapons.

”In the new “Cold War” with Russia, NATO must be prepared for chemical weapon usage,”

…he wrote, adding:

”…there is speculation that research has been done on new super chemicals many times more potent than nerve agents like Sarin and VX.”


”Nato needs to re-invest in its chemical defence capabilities and be prepared to fight in this “dirty” environment – or we could quickly be rolled over by a concerted attack from the East.”

What was it Heinrich Heine said? “Thought precedes action as lighting does thunder”.

Barely three weeks after the BBC article appeared, the former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury. The government rapidly alleged that the poison was a Russian-developed nerve agent, said to be “many times more potent than Sarin and VX”, which it called Novichok.

You couldn’t make it up. Except of course, some people obviously have done.

And they’ve kept at it.

A month after Salisbury came another act from the chemical weapons narrative playbook; a bogus-looking “Syrian government chemical weapon attack” on civilians in Douma.

Unfortunately for the superforecasting wing of British intelligence, no one ever said that actions that follow thoughts won’t be ham-fistedly cocked up. Soon the version of the Douma story as credulously retailed by the Western media also turned out to be riddled with bigger holes than you could fit a lightly-damaged gas cylinder through.

As with Salisbury, no-one with more than the critical thinking ability of a kitten believed the official version of events about Douma. On the other hand, both incidents were ‘job done’ as far as the narrative managers are concerned.

The British public incuriously accept as facts that “Putin used chemical weapons on UK soil”; and that Bashar-al-Assad is a tyrannical butcher of his own people, and the White Helmets are a genuine humanitarian organisation.

But what might raise awkward questions in people’s minds would be a forensic public dissection in the Houses of Parliament’s offices of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)’ attempts to discredit its own inspectors’ findings that there was likely no chemical attack at Douma. (Oh, silly me. That’s already happened, on 22 January, though the UK media universally ignored it.)

Then there’s the endlessly-delayed inquest into Dawn Sturgess’ death, which will very probably undermine the alleged links between it and the attack on the Skripals.

Or how about letting the Skripals themselves getting the chance to tell everyone what they think happened to them, and why? After all, Britain is a free country isn’t it?

But Sergei and Yulia are being held incommunicado by the UK authorities at a secret location, increasingly forgotten except by people who read John Helmer’s new book Skripal in Prison (link goes to the Kindle edition on Amazon UK.)

“The story of how the largest and longest criminal investigation in modern British history ended in a prosecution without evidence of the crime, the weapon, the crime scene, and even of the crime victims”

As for the BBC, which kicked off the chem-war narrative of 2018 with its unaccountable decision to allow Hamish de Bretton-Gordon to flog his firm’s gas masks via an op-ed, it has just put up a five-minute film about someone they describe as a Russian pro-democracy activist, who’s currently under house-arrest in Moscow.

We see Anastasia Shevchenko meeting her son from school, getting ready to walk the family dog and talking candidly to the BBC’s Moscow correspondent, Sarah Rainsford, about what’s happening to her because of her activities for an outfit called Open Russia UK.

Yes, the ‘UK’ in its name is a bloody great clue to why it’s on a list of foreign-funded organisations Russia has declared ‘undesirable’.

According to Rainsford, the Russian courts have only recently relaxed Shevchenko’s conditions sufficiently for her to talk to the BBC. Nevertheless, her detention arises from activities that are, rightly or wrongly, illegal in Russia. She will be publicly tried for it fairly soon.

But here’s the thing, Sarah. Yulia Skripal hasn’t broken any UK law. She’s not been charged with anything – what, using a Class A drug (if the agent she was attacked with was actually fentanyl, as some suspect)?

Yulia Skripal has done nothing wrong. Yet she is detained so securely and inaccessibly by the British state that it’s easier for the BBC to meet an ankle-tagged dissident in Moscow than to talk to Ms Skripal.

Does it need a superforecaster to predict that the Skripals will remain where they are, gradually disappearing from the public memory? Certainly as long as a government led by the perpetrator of one of the most audacious lies about proof of the Russian origin of the Salisbury nerve agent remains in power.