18 March 2018

The phallus that discombobulated FSB

The story is rather old, but needs a refresher. A rare case when size matters.

The story starts with the Russian art group "Voina" (War):
Voina (Russian: Война, IPA: [vɐjˈna] (About this sound listen), lit. War) is a Russian street-art group known for their provocative and politically charged works of performance art. The group has had more than sixty members, including former and current students of the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography, Moscow State University, and University of Tartu. However, the group does not cooperate with state or private institutions, and is not supported by any Russian curators or gallerists.

The activities of Voina have ranged from street protest, symbolic pranks in public places, and performance-art happenings, to vandalism and destruction of public property. More than a dozen criminal cases have been brought against the group. On 7 April 2011 the group was awarded the "Innovation" prize in the category "Work of Visual Art", established by the Russian Ministry of Culture.
One of the famous actions of Voina was:

Dick Captured by the FSB
During the night of 14 June 2010, Voina painted a giant 65 m long phallus on the surface of the Liteyny drawbridge leading to the Bolshoy Dom, headquarters of the Federal Security Service in Saint Petersburg. This painting was entitled Giant Galactic Space Penis. The group studied traffic patterns at the bridge, and practiced coordinated actions for two weeks beforehand, in a parking lot, because they would have only 30 seconds to complete the painting before the drawbridge was raised.
And the drawbridge was raised!

More about the action in the Youtube description:
June 14, 2010, Saint Petersburg

Security guards are stopping traffic across the Liteyny Bridge, located in front of the local FSB (ex-KGB) headquarters.

Voina members, on foot, bike and in a car, breach the roadblock. Activists rush over with white paint. Voina President Leo the Fucknut is captured and roughed up by the cops.

Onlookers shout, 'It's a Russia Day celebration!'

Menacingly rising, Voina's Dick slowly erected in front of the Federal Security Service building, lovingly nicknamed The Big House by the Russian people.

Some images of Voina's Dick opposing the FSB building has been immortalized on a Norwegian postal stamp. All revenues from the stamp were directed to political prisoners in Russia.
And here is a recording of the preparation of the monument:

Viva Voina!

16 March 2018

Moscow was confident that nobody will catch them

The latest news on the poisoning of the Russian colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia brings another twist to the story.
The nerve agent which poisoned a Russian double agent was planted in his daughter's suitcase before leaving Moscow, it has been reported.
Of course, this is not (yet) a rock solid proof that the hand of Kremlin was in this assassination. As the article shows, there is a possibility of a run-of-the-mill criminal revenge, carried out by a person with security connections, possibly able to obtain the poison. A bit too far out, but still useful for deniers...

Whatever the conspinuts say, the nerve agent was traced back to Moscow. Not that this will deter the seekers of "real truths". For the rest of us, I am translating* here an interview with Vil Mirzayanov, a scientist and later head of Foreign Technical Counterintelligence at the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT) in Moscow in the 1970s and 1980s, which produced the shadowy class of binary nerve agents known as the “novichoks” (newcomers). The reason for this translation: there are several other interviews in English with the man, however in all cases the interviewers were too lazy or too unprepared to ask the right questions. The reporter for Voice of America has done a better job.

(The headline of this post is, in fact, a translation of the title of the article in question).


The world learned about the existence of the nerve-fighting poisonous substance "novichok" from Vil Mirzayanov. In 1992 he wrote an article "Poisoned Politics" for the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. Mirzayanov was arrested twice, but the case against him collapsed before coming to court. The chemist went to the US, where he wrote the book "State secrets: the Russian program of chemical weapons from the inside." In his blogs, he argued that Washington was extremely unhappy with the publication containing complete chemical formulas of the poison agent.

Since 1992, Mirzayanov tried to achieve the ban of "novichok" as a chemical weapon, but failed. The substance officially still does not exist.

Where could have British chemists got samples of the "novichok", which country could organize the production of this nerve agent, how long the chemical weapons are stored, why Moscow insists on actions "in strict accordance with the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,"  - Vil Mirzayanov tells in an interview for Russian service of the Voice of America.

- You have participated in the development of unique Soviet chemical poisons - nerve agents, known today as "novichok". At the same time, you argue that there is no such weapon in any country in the world, except Russia. How did British investigators find out which substance was used to poison Sergei Skripal?

- In order to establish what "preparation" was used in this case, you need to have access to a powerful high-resolution mass spectrometer, in the "library" of which there are spectra of all compounds known to date. The sample taken is compared with those already known, and the computer indicates the spectrum with a 96 percent probability. That's it, there can be no mistake here.

- But for this purpose the investigators should have some kind of sample?

- These are the usual procedures. You can take blood, urine, extract the sample from clothes with the help of solvents. There are many ways.

- Russian officials have repeatedly stated that the chemical used to poison former colonel GRU Sergey Skripal could be produced in other countries, including the UK. You say that in England there were samples of the "novichok".

- The British could synthesize it on the basis of the formulas that I published in my book in 2008 [State Secrets: An Insider's Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program Secrets .- VA]. Each country takes care of its own security independently, and in the study of potential threats it was possible to create a sample.

So that samples could exist in many countries, but production was set up only in the USSR and Russia.

- Have you published these formulas completely?

- Completely. I suspected that something like that [an attempt on the Skripal - VA] could happen, and therefore for a long time, since 1992, I tried to include "novichok" in the list of officially banned chemical compounds. But this can only be done by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), having an agreement on this decision with all the member countries of the convention.

After my book was published, this issue was discussed at a meeting at the OPCW headquarters and, to my knowledge, no decision was taken.

- The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergei Lavrov, responding to the claims of the British side, accused London of non-compliance with the requirements of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

- The OPCW, within the framework of this Convention, can only work with compounds that are on the list of banned substances. "novichok" is not on this list, and, therefore, the headquarters of this organization does not have methods for recognizing the "drug".

- You have announced the existence of "novichok" in 1992 for the first time. These weapons could have been improved since then? How can you be sure that in this case we are not talking about a completely different compound with similar characteristics?

- Of course, it could have been improved, but the "skeleton" of the drug remains unchanged. "novichok" differs from all, without exception, nerve gases in that it is based on the connection of phosphorus and nitrogen. All other poison agents do not have such a connection, so "novichok" is a fundamentally new class.

- "novichok" was created in the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GONIIOKHT) back in the late 1980s. While working on this project, you have assumed that it could be used in such cases as the "Skripal affair"?

- In Soviet times we always worked together with the KGB. When Markov [the Bulgarian writer Georgy Markov, killed in London in 1978 - VA] was killed, ricin, obtained in our laboratory, was used in the assassination. But we did not engage in tools of murder, for this purpose the KGB had its own laboratory.

- Russian officials claimed that the "drug" you created could be found in the republics of the former USSR. As a possible source, for example, they have named Georgia and Uzbekistan.

- This is empty talk. The Soviet Union collapsed 27 years ago, and if somewhere in the republics there was a clean "novichok", it had long since disintegrated and would not do as a weapon.

Any chemical poisoning agent decomposes. There is no compound that retains its properties for a long time. In the first year, 2% is lost, in the second year - 3%, and the resulting decomposition products accelerate the decay process. That is why the storage and disposal of toxic substances is a big problem, which, moreover, is more expensive than production.

- You said that during the assassination of Skripal and his daughter binary weapons could have been used ...

- Yes. It is because of the difficulties in storing and recycling that today nobody will produce the so-called "final product". Instead they produce components, relatively harmless individual components, which are mixed immediately before use.

- And such production can be hidden?

- Yes, for example, simultaneously with the development of a promising substance, when stage-by-stage tests are already under way, an agricultural pesticide is being developed, which in its characteristics basically repeats this substance. That is, the production of so-called "subproducts", which are components of binary weapons, can be conducted quite officially. At some enterprise they can carry out a plan for the production of pesticides, even without realizing that they are actually producing chemical weapons.

- From your point of view, how easy it is to transport such substances across borders and then use them?

- It's not very difficult. You need two glass ampules, some high-pressure agent, for example a light volatile gasoline. Ampules must be broken before use, and the mixed substances will give the desired compound. Then, as an aerosol, it can be sprayed. But this is a very crude option, and I'm sure that the FSB could come up with a more sophisticated way.

- You think that the attempt on ex-colonel Skripal was "emphatically demonstrative." That is, the culprits counted on the fact that traces of the "novichok" will be found in advance?

- I do not think so. This was really a demonstrative punishment, but in my opinion, Moscow was sure that no one would find traces of the substance. This "drug" does not officially exist, it is not mentioned in any of the lists of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Since almost 30 years ago, no one has been engaged in its development. It is obvious to me that Moscow was counting on the fact that no one will catch them.

- But you have published the formula of "novichok" eight years ago.

- I do not know whether the FSB saw my book. Perhaps in one of the departments it was read, but in the other one, which was preparing the attempt, they did not hear anything about it.

- After the incident with Sergei Skripal, representatives of the OPCW or of any international organizations approached you as one of the creators of the "novichok"?

- No, nobody approached me, except journalists.


(*) With kind assistance of Google Translate, for the bulk of the material.

15 March 2018

Craig Murray: deep at the bottom and busy digging

It is usually not a surprise for anyone, when, a few hours after any atrocity happening on this globe, the usual conspinuts come out from under their stones and Mossad gets fingered for another "false flag" opearation.

It is thus no wonder that, when the recent Russian style poisoning of a Russian ex-colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter happened, Mossad came up almost immediately. Sure thing. And even the de facto confession of Kremlin on the air didn't help:

The source of the "nudge nudge, wink wink" this time, though, was somewhat interesting. Craig Murray, an ex-ambassador of UK in Uzbekistan, whose righteous fight against the British FCO and, especially, his epic legal and moral war against the mogul Alisher (Jabba) Usmanov, were supported by the blogging world (and yours truly) with no hesitation at the time.

Since then, Mr Murray settled down to a mundane career of what he defines as "a professional dissident"*. One of his preferred targets became - how not? - the Zionist Entity. As could be witnessed by these two posts, for example. Or by his collection of speeches, selling on Amazon under a quaint title: Zionism is Bullshit.

So this is no wonder as well that, while deflecting the blame from Kremlin, Mr Murray digs up his favorite foe in the article Russian to Judgement (cute, ain't it?). It is no wonder that he dedicates a good part of that piece to the devious Mossad. So why do I produce a post with so many "no wonders"?

Just because the article definitely shows some troubling signs of brain softening in our hero. Small signs, like twice misspelling the term "novichock" ("newcomer" in Russian) for the nerve agent used in the Skripal affair. Sometimes he calls it “novochok”, sometimes "novachok". Of course, Russian is a) a difficult proposition at all times and b) not of much use to an ex-ambassador. But a simple copy/paste operation would have sufficed, I would dare say.

A more troubling sign comes now. The second paragraph of the article starts with:
The “novochok” group of nerve agents – a very loose term simply for a collection of new nerve agents the Soviet Union were developing fifty years ago...
And - lo and behold, the next paragraph begins:
Incidentally, novachok is not a specific substance but a class of new nerve agents.
By the way, have I already mentioned brain softening? Hmm...

But these are only symptoms. There is more. Here is the usual conspinut's "Cui bono", used by all and sundry to the same end:
And while I am struggling to see a Russian motive for damaging its own international reputation so grieviously, Israel has a clear motivation for damaging the Russian reputation so grieviously.
Interesting, innit? That same Israel that tiptoes around Syria, doing its best not to harm a single hair on a single head of a Russian "adviser", when there is a need to do some surgical bombing of a Syrian (read "Iranian") ammunition depot. That same Israel that avoids any public condemnation of Russian orgy of killing in Syria or any other place, for that matter. Does it sound logical to you that this same Israel will dare to damage the Russian reputation so "grieviously"?

Update: From the latest news:
Israel issued Thursday a belated criticism of the poisoning on British soil of a former spy with a powerful nerve agent, but failed to attribute responsibility to Russia in a bid to avoid souring relations with Moscow.
As noticed above, no need to expand on this, I believe.

Well, as logical as this pearl:
On the other hand, in Syria Russia has saved the Middle East from domination by a new wave of US and Saudi sponsored extreme jihadists.
Saved indeed. A few years of more of this "saving" and there will not remain a Syrian alive to save, but what do we all know? Anyway, the finger pointed at the hated Zionists was only an exercise, as our hero confesses:
Both the Orbis and Israeli theories are speculations. But they are no more a speculation, and no more a conspiracy theory, than the idea that Vladimir Putin secretly sent agents to Salisbury to attack Skripal with a secret nerve agent.
Oh, it's speculation time then! OK. So what if a certain retired diplomat, who always brags about his special friendship with all kinds of spooks in all kinds of spooky establishments, not excluding that infamous Porton Down, decided to harm the British/Russian rapprochement extremely "grieviously"? What if he sneaked out some of that nov/o/a/i/chok stuff out and, devilishly laughing, sprinkled it on that poor Russian ex-spy and his daughter? I am just speculating here, of course...

And I simply don't recall: have I mentioned already the softening of the brain?

(*) This definition comes from the blurb on Amazon, written by the author himself in all probability. The text as a whole is priceless and the only reason to link to that vile opus. There couldn't be a price for this one, for instance:
But a combination of his patent honesty, muscular logic and fluent writing style gradually found its audience.
But I really don't want to spoil your reading of the whole, so go there and enjoy!

12 March 2018

Matt Adler and the bitter reality of Israel

I have had a curious Facebook encounter recently that caused me to do some searching for an explanation. On an FB page that is dedicated to left wing Zionists' aspirations, I have got involved in a discussion of an ancient expression "אור לגויים" or, in a not totally precise, but widely accepted translation, "Light to the Nations". The expression itself, as could be easily (but only partially) seen from the links above, is quite a complex one and given to wide, and sometimes wild, interpretations.

The person who raised the issue, one Matt Adler (מטע אדלר) insisted that the current use of this expression in Israel is to stress the perceived superiority of people of Israel (or, rather, Israelis, which is not one and the same) over goyim. And that he hears it used all the time by these stuck up obnoxious Israelis.

I was quite surprised by that strong observation. In my experience almost all people who use that term, do it with a healthy dose of irony (or sarcasm, depending on the context) and in most cases it is self-deprecatory, as Jewish habits go. Which was the point I made. The response was quite surprising: in a minute or so I got blocked by Matt. That without any personal remarks or attacks, in the midst of a polite exchange of opinions.

It isn't that I am oversensitive. After many years of keyboard wars, one tends to grow a thick enough skin. It is just that, after finding Matt's blog, Planting Roots Bearing Fruits and reading a few posts there, I feel quite concerned about the author. Concerned because he seems to be good people and because we (the state of Israel) seem to be losing him. So, exactly as I am concerned about hundreds of thousands of other young people we have lost during these 70 years, I am worried about Matt.

Matt describes himself as "An open-minded* multilingual Jewish explorer". From his other remarks, it appears that he moved to Israel in July 2017 (less than an year here), that he is gay, belongs to the Reform community and strives "to learn and grow here in Israel".

And here is Matt's opinion, quite a firm one, crystallized in half an year of his presence here:

Israel is pretty awful when it comes to human rights, to respecting diversity, to preserving Jewish culture, to living up to Jewish values, to treating people with respect, and to pursuing peace both within society and with our neighbors.
Oh, and another one I almost missed:
Israel is a super stressful place to live...
So much so, that Matt's deep dissatisfaction with his findings ends in:
I’ve been pretty fed up with God lately, tired of Zionism, and not even really sure if I feel Jewish anymore. So I decided to see if maybe Diaspora Judaism, the Judaism I grew up with, still fit.
I am not sure what the deity or, for that matter, Zionism (rather a concept to tickle the Diaspora Jews - we don't deal much with Zionism here, we just live in the land) and the technicality of being Jewish - what measure of bitterness each of the three contributes to Matt's tiredness? but anyhow it's a rather troubling picture.

So what, would you ask, is the ideal situation Matt looks forwards too? Probably in this passage Matt gives a partial answer:
Much like Israel, Judaism needs a revamp. No need to throw everything out, but the way it’s going isn’t working- at least not for me. As I watched two Israelis living in Barcelona learn the Reform liturgy Friday night- and engage in gentler, more peaceful ways than I usually see in Israel- I see a bit of light. Jews outside of Israel need Israel. Yes, it’s a deeply f*cked place and I would rather the world not have states at all. And I’ll keep fighting for that.
Yes, a stateless open world, a gentle and peaceful globe, where the lamb will lie down with the lion. Wouldn't we all love that? I dare say only a hardened asocial psychopaths will willingly offer an objection to that proposal.

I don't think that I could parse all of Matt's complaints in the limited format of a blog post. But one thing should be said about many of them - and his blog in general is full of unhappy observations. "A little learning is a dangerous thing". And some of Matt's (quite firm) opinions and conclusions are indeed a result of little learning. Things that he picked up rather as a result of a confirmation bias than a well-rounded observation and research.

For example - human rights, in this case as related to Matt's view of the refugees issue. To start with, I am generally with Matt on the subject of forceful expulsion. Only generally, because there still is a need to resolve the question of who exactly is a refugee (asylum seeker) vs who is a work seeking migrant. But first and foremost, there is an issue of integration of refugees here. A grave mistake, made by our government, as it was made by practically all European governments, was in letting the refugees to gravitate to the same two gathering spots - one, smaller, in Eilat and the second in the poor neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. This "I wash my hands" policy, practiced by many governments, under the guise of so called "multiculturalism", was a total failure. Multiculturalism was clearly an euphemism for doing practically nothing and investing no effort in real integration of newcomers in the society. The problems created by this approach (or, rather, lack thereof) in south of Tel Aviv, with resulting bitterness of local population and eruption of what Matt considers to be racist affectations. It is easier to blame the government for trying to resolve the problem, as government clerks know to, by forcing the refugees out. As it is easier to blame the embittered south Tel Aviv Jews for their racism than to look a bit deeper into the issue.

But is it a Israeli-specific fault? I dare say hardly, and many a refugees' ghetto in Europe confirms my point of view. And how does Matt round up the discussion? From here:
The Israeli government, then, is willing to deport these people who it views as economically beneficial. Why? Jewish supremacy and racism.
And, to go for some proof:
It’s telling that the government isn’t stepping up enforcement of the thousands of Romanian or Ukrainian or Filipino workers. Just the really black ones.
This statement is interesting only as a proof of strong confirmation bias that allows a person to ignore a simple detail: that these "Romanian or Ukrainian or Filipino workers" usually come here with working visas, which are quite tightly controlled and only in rare cases these workers break the visa conditions. A bit different from the refugees, I would say. But when you are consumed by a righteous wrath against racist Israel, you can't be really bothered by details like this one, can you, Matt?

Matt is frequently raging. Against what he considers to be a all-consuming Jewish supremacy, the institutional racism, the mutual hate between various groups and subgroups of Israeli citizens. The problem with his observations, as I have mentioned, that they are too shallow, built on skimming the surface to confirm his existing prejudices and beliefs, to strengthen his preoccupation with (what he believes) is the only solution to he world't sickness:
What’s the best solution for the Middle East? Perhaps for the world? The no state solution. For anyone. We need a better way of organizing human life. I don’t- and can’t- have all the answers because it’s something we need to talk about together.
The saving grace is that in his heart of heart Matt does understand the necessity and rightfulness of this little and maddening state. From the post already quoted above, where Matt provides his litany of complaints about the place, quite a different sentiment:
Which brings me to what else Israel does well- it gives me a place where if people are ignorant about my tradition, they can learn on my terms. It gives me a place where I’m in a position of power- as fraught as that is. A place where if people want to expel us or lecture us or deride us, we don’t have to grit our teeth and put up with it.
Yes, Matt, and while we all strive to bring the stateless and borderless world to being, let's not forget what exactly was going on with your stateless tribe during the last, say two thousand years. After all, you seem to understand this point only too well, no matter how hard it is for you to make (temporary) peace with it.

There are a lot of other points wrong with Matt's observations on other issues, big and small (and no, Matt, the Adalah's "Discriminatory Laws Database" is not persuasive, sorry - it could be read in different ways, which Adalah is known to exploit quite well). But I really can't go on for much longer. Just to stress the importance of complete and unbiased observations, a small but oh so typical point. Matt on Tel Aviv Purim festivities - a side observation that is wrong too:
I can’t imagine a small town in Israel- Jewish or otherwise- putting together this level of festivity. It’s amazing.
In small villages, Matt, where people are much closer to each other, the Purim celebrations are, of course, not as grandiose as in Tel Aviv. However, after spending some time with my nearest and dearest in a village in the northern parts of the country, I can say that the week-long Purimspiel, with different costumes every day and lots of different daily activities for the kids puts Tel Aviv in a rather humble shadow... so there.

Oh, and another point. Matt, as long as you talk about the local population as "they" or "Israeli Jews" or any similar variation but not "we" and "us", you are not there yet. Consider it a point to study.

(*) Regarding Matt's open-mindedness: his propensity for blocking people who disagree with him was already noted (I wasn't the only one, by the way, as it appeared). Another testimony offered by Matt himself:
One commenter on my last blog suggested deporting African refugees isn’t racist because Israel “absorbed” Ethiopian Jewish immigrants.
If you follow the link to that last "blog" mentioned, titled There is no racism in Israel, you would search for the above mentioned comment in vain - Matt deleted or otherwise disappeared it. So much for open-mindedness...