Was the Integrity Initiative behind the Salisbury Poisoning?

Documents implicate British government thinktank in Skripal drama

Tom Secker
Jan 4 · 7 min read
Excerpt from Integrity Initiative document on meeting between Donnelly and Barrons

Newly-released documents on the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative suggest that they had a hand in the Salisbury poisoning fiasco that dominated the British press last summer. An alternative narrative — whereby the poisoning of Yulia and Sergei Skripal was the work of British military and intelligence figures, in order to transform Britain’s foreign policy — is emerging.

The Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative

Craig Murray and Kit Klarenberg established that the Institute’s real HQ is in the basement of 2 Temple Place, London. But the accounts and budgets that have been made public don’t list any rent or other property expenditure, so it is not clear exactly who is paying for this basement in one of London’s most luxurious and expensive properties.

Some of the organisation’s funding comes from private donations and partner organisations but the majority comes from the Foreign Office, the British MOD, the State Department, NATO HQ, Facebook, the Smith Richardson Foundation and the Lithuanian MOD.

The Director of IfS and its Integrity Initiative is Christopher Nigel Donnelly, a long-term British military intelligence officer. As detailed by Craig Murray, a large proportion of its staff and contacts are either employees of the FCO or the MOD — mostly intelligence and PR specialists.

In short, they are a Western government-funded ‘charity’ packed to the gills with media and intelligence professionals, run by a senior British military intelligence officer. They’ve tried to hide where they are working, and it is clear that some of their funding is covert. For example, their handbook mentions funding from the British MOD, but none of the documents specify how much money the MOD provided or when it was requested or claimed.

An Alternative Timeline for the Skripals’ Poisoning?

One of Madeira’s other proposals was to fund the removal of paywalls on the Kyiv Post, The Times, The New York Times etc. This would involve public money being used to subsidise major Western news media organisations, to enable them to better compete with the likes of RT.

Around the same time, the Institute’s Director Chris Donnelly was promoted to the rank of Honorary Colonel of SGMI (Specialist Group Military Intelligence), which gave him responsibility for recruiting others into this elite military intelligence unit.

In October 2016, around 18 months prior to the Salisbury poisoning, Donnelly met with recently retired General Sir Richard Barrons, where they discussed the overhaul of Britain’s military, foreign policy and ‘defence’ strategy. This included envisioning a future war with either Russia or China for which, they concluded, Britain was ill-equipped.

In their assessment, which is worth reading in its entirety, there was little political appetite in the UK for a major war, both within the political establishment and the public.

Excerpt from discussion between Donnelly and Barrons, Oct 2016

Their discussion went on to ask, ‘So, how do we change the current group think in Whitehall?’. Barrons and Donnelly then called for a catastrophe to ‘wake people up and demand a response’:

So, if no catastrophe happens to wake people up and demand a response, then we need to find a way to get the core of government to realise the problem and take it out of the political space.

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.

The line about ‘we need to find a way to get the core of government to realise the problem and take it out of the political space’ is, in effect, a reference to a plan for a military-style coup d’etat within Britain. The document also outlines plans to re-adopt a WW2 model where the Chiefs of the different military servies would play a key role in determining foreign policy:

Service Chiefs are insulated from the NSC and Defence Council. We need to bring the Chiefs into the system again as in the WW2 model. The CDS nowadays is only ever asked if something could be done, never if it should be done.

After this meeting, Donnelly recruited a new member of SGMI — Mark Andrew Laverick, a chemical and biological weapons specialist at Porton Down.

The ‘catastrophe’ Donnelly and Barrons lusted after then took place — in March 2018 someone poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal. While the official story, that they were poisoned with Novichok by Russian intelligence, is made ludicrous by the simple fact the Skripals are still alive, IfS and their Integrity Initiative leapt into action.

They launched Operation Iris — a media monitoring program that covered not just mainstream Western and Russian media but also social media discussion of the case of the Skripals.

On April 14th, FCO propaganda man Andy Pryce (an associate of the Integrity Initiative) sent out a letter summarising what in his view is Russian disinformation. It accused Russia of faking evidence, staging news broadcasts and running an army of Twitter-bots and trolls promoting the idea that maybe the Skripals weren’t poisoned with Novichok by the Russian state.

The letter also mentions ‘Chemical weapons expert Dan Kaszeta’ as among those who have debunked Russian state ‘claims’ and ‘conspiracy theories’. There are three key problems with this.

  1. Kaszeta’s attempt to debunk conspiracy theories relied almost entirely on information about other nerve agents, not Novichok, and speculated that the Skripals were wearing gloves, OR washed their hands because they got some ‘muck’ on them, OR that the door handle got wet, diluting the poison. But no evidence has emerged in support of any of these possibilities, the Skripals were apparently so covered with the stuff that a table in the seafood restaurant they visited three hours later had to be burned, and the OPCW’s testing of the door found ‘the chemical substance found was of high purity, persistent and resistant to weather conditions.’
  2. Kaszeta is not a scientific expert in chemical weapons (least of all Novichok) but an expert in crisis response planning, especially in the wake of a CBRN attack. It appears he never wrote a word about Novichok prior to March 2018.
  3. Kaszeta was writing articles on the Skripal affair on behalf of the Integrity Initiative, who were paying him for those articles.

The Pablo Miller Twist

According to Anonymous (who leaked the documents) Miller attended a meeting in July 2018 with the White Helmets at the Institute for Statecraft. Presumably this took place at their London office, not the decrepit building in Scotland.

Another attendee was Howard Body, Assistant Head of Science Support at Porton Down. Body has no scientific credentials and also works as Assistant Head of Strategic Analysis at the British MOD. So whether this meeting was to do with the White Helmets or the Salisbury poisoning (or both) is not clear, but I suspect it was more to do with the latter.

In sum, we have a group that called for a ratcheting up of sanctions and actions against Russia, then called for a ‘catastrophe to wake people up and demand a response’, who in effect are plotting a military takeover of the British foreign policy establishment, who work closely with both scientific and non-scientific officials at Porton Down, and have some association with Skripal’s handler, and were for a time engaged in information warfare on the Skripal case.

If I were in the business of constructing rival conspiracy theories then I’d be tempted to make an accusation against the Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative.

Put simply, this is a more coherent and incriminating series of events than the evidence cited in support of the British government’s story.

Tom Secker

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Journalist, Investigative historian, podcaster and author patreon.com/tomsecker