I generally don’t blog about anything related to politics, religion or sex. However, a fascinating, yet horrifying, incident occurred recently in Salisbury, England that intrigued me.
Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer who reportedly worked for years undercover as a spy for Britain’s MI6 (the British equivalent of the US CIA), was the victim of an apparent assassination attempt along with his daughter by use of a military grade nerve agent.
There is controversy between British and Russian officials regarding the source of the agent used. A Russian representative states that the nerve agent was developed in the West, specifically in the US and the UK. However, a chemical weapons expert with a security group in London states that only Russia had the ability to produce the substance. Other reports indicate that the components to make Novichok may be available at manufacturing plants designed to produce fertilizers and pesticides.
The lethal substance in question is called Novichok, a military grade nerve agent developed by Soviet scientist Vil Mirzayanov in the early 1970s and produced by Russia in the 1980s under a weapons program called Folio. The chemical was designed for use in bombs for mass killings in potential battlefield warfare scenarios.
It was developed to achieve four primary objectives: 1) to be undetectable—at least by 1980 NATO chemical detection standards, 2) to defeat NATO chemical protective gear, 3) to be safer to handle than similar lethal agents, and 4) to circumvent the Chemical Weapons Convention list of controlled/banned weapons.
Although there are reports of at least 14 deaths of Russian spies in the UK between 2003 and 2016, I’ll leave the politics and spy ramifications to the experts and watch as the scientists follow the evidence trail to establish blame for this incident.
Let’s focus for a few moments on the chemical itself and what a fascinating substance it is for use in a potential international thriller novel.
The Novichok nerve agent (which translates in Russian to the English word “newcomer”) is considered to be up to ten times more lethal than the nerve agent VX used to assassinate Kim Jong Un’s brother in the Fall of 2017.
Like many other so-called “elegant lethal substances,” Novichok is a colorless, odorless poison that can be produced in many forms—a gel, a fine powder, a gas or a liquid. Those facts lend to the substance’s versatility as a murder weapon. A potential drawback is that it is a binary agent, meaning that two separate, non-toxic components (called precursors) must be mixed together to convert them into the active nerve agent. This is advantageous in that those handling the agent do not accidentally poison themselves in the process of manipulating the delivery device for the lethal agent.
The initial effects of Novichok are immediate and they include a dangerous slowing of the heart beat and constriction of the airways. Death is usually attributed to asphyxiation.
Longer-lasting, systemic effects may be delayed for up to 18 hours and include chronic muscle weakness, liver damage, epilepsy and continued difficulty with mental focus. There are several antidote drugs that can be used to prevent death (including atropine and diazepam), but permanent injury often occurs even after antidotes are used.
The United Kingdom contends that this assassination attempt was a deliberate act of Russian aggression to continue to silence defected Russian spies. At the very least, UK officials alternately state that Russia has lost control of its supply of Novichok.
Either way, this incident presents yet another interesting idea for a method of murder in developing plot ideas for a next best-selling thriller.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!