back to article Ex-GCHQ boss: All the ways to go after Russia. Why pick cyberwar?

Former boss at Brit electronic spy agency GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, has called for the application of "unexplained wealth orders" and economic sanctions against Russia rather than cyber attacks. Appearing on Radio 4's flagship Today programme this morning (Tuesday from 2:20-2:25), Hannigan said starting a cyber-conflict against …


                      1. Sir Runcible Spoon
                        Thumb Up

                        Re: Nothing new here, move on.

                        Acknowledged. Apologies. Classification as putinbot was in error due to both context ambiguities.

                        No problem. I think we are all good now.

                    1. Mark 65

                      Re: Nothing new here, move on.

                      My objection to talking as if the chap and his daughter were already dead was because, I feel, it is in rather poor taste.

                      To be fair, from what I have read online about the affects of nerve agents (even when treated) the results are not good. Given the amount of time they were exposed before receiving treatment they are likely to be utterly fucked if they survive if they're not already clinically dead.

                  1. Daggerchild Silver badge

                    Re: Nothing new here, move on.

                    "In fairness, correction is posted. Far more constructive in debate..."

                    When I hit reply, it wasn't there yet :-(

    1. Killing Time

      Re: Nothing new here, move on.

      Perhaps this attitude is what separates us. You appear to use the term 'hate' as a justification for the actions and further justify them by claiming we all 'knock off' traitors so what is the issue.

      Maybe I missed some news but please tell me which other sub group of a particular nationality has been 'knocked off' so publicly, brutally and with such disregard for the general public of another country?

      Please don't trot out the vacuous excuses about military actions in other countries where there are ongoing conflicts, the situations really are different. If you attempt to draw parallels I believe there really is no reasoning with you.

      I truly object to the attitude of 'suck it up and get on with it'.

      No, believe me, that ain't gonna happen.

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just shoot every known member of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedk operating in the UK, and send them back in black bin liners. Increase surveillance on every low-level embassy worker. Otherwise we're just playing rabbit games.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      We already kick out known intelligence agents. At least the ones who are here illegally. Unless it's deemed worth watching what they get up to.

      As for the legal ones, they work in the embassy. Again there's a trade-off. You can kick them out, but then the opposition will shuffle the deck and you'll not know who the new spies are. And it'll cost lots of overtime in surveillance trying to find out. So it's a hassle. Though if you chuck them all out at once, it's bound to throw a spanner in the intelligence works.

      On the other hand, we have spies in our Moscow embassy. So now the Russians will kick them out, and we'll have to do lots of catching up.

      As for sending diplomats home in body bags, no. That's a very bad idea.

  2. Ken 16

    Block them from post-Brexit trade deals

    and send Liam Fox over regularly to remind them what they're missing out on

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    [Putin's] way of wrapping himself in a nationalist flag," "We shouldn't play to that narrative

    well, we just did (but I approve all the same, and I don't give a flying monkey (...) that thee Russiand don't care.

    Now, about this Russian money... it's an entirely different matter. If we say: we'll go after you hard NOW, the message really is: it's been GREAT business boys. Not exactly a reassuring message, is it? Not that anyone's naive enough to expect UK government's been really cracking down on all this money flowing in and through the UK :/

  4. x 7


    Nice piece of misdirection........

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Clever

      A real motivations becomes clear...

      On Wednesday, Labor MP Chris Leslie addressed May on the issue of reforming the UN Security Council in order to limit Russia’s rights within the body during a parliament session.

      Leslie argued that Russia was “increasingly looking like a rogue state,” adding that “we must now begin to talk about reform” of the UNSC. “Russia can’t be allowed to simply sit pretty, thumbing its nose to the rest of the world community and feeling that it’s immune from the rule of law internationally,” Leslie said.

      May responded by saying that Leslie was not the only one to stress the need for changes within the UNSC, promising that “this is something that we will look at.”

      “We do talk to the United Nations about the reform of the UN in a whole variety of ways. Of course, any decision – the Catch 22 if you like – is that any decision that might be taken in the Security Council to reform it, of course, could be subject to a veto by Russia, who are sitting there,” the prime minister said.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Clever

        There's been talk of reforming the UN Security Council since at least the 50s. It's never got anywhere, and probably never will. Given 5 members have vetoes, there's always bound to be one of them that won't like any proposed changes.

  5. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    False flag?

    We were unconcerned about killing a few thousand innocents in Iraq, or poisoning various foreign countries with depleted uranium, so why get our knickers in a twist over one not-so-innocent man and two unfortunate "collateral damages"?

    I am pretty sceptical about the whole thing. Firstly, why would Russia all of a sudden take an interest in a has-been spy? Secondly, why would they use an expensive nerve gas to kill him when a knife or bullet would have been cheaper, easier and not give away that it was carried out by a state actor?

    Russia is not the only country with nerve agents (we have plenty in the UK), so it is ridiculous to say that it must have come from Russia. I'm pretty sure that the recipe for the toxin in question will by now be fairly widely known, and could be made in any reasonably equipped laboratory.

    It's a pretty common tactic for a small guy to kick a big guy in the backside, and then point to another big guy as being the culprit. Once the two big guys are fighting, it leaves the way clear for the small guy to do what he likes without interference.

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: False flag?

      There is a perfectly plausible reason for the MO... It is a signature that is simultaneously definitive and deniable

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: False flag?


      We don't have plenty of nerve agents in the UK. The UK gave up its chemical weapons program in the 1950s. Admittedly they're still finding old WW1 mustard gas shells kicking around, but they're far more dangerous to us than any foreigners. Plus we're still destroying stuff from Saddam's chemical stockpiles, and I believe other country's too.

      Russia don't either, supposedly. They gave theirs up in the mid 90s.

      As for your argument about why use this rather than a bullet. Who knows? Why poison someone with Polonium? That was a lot easier to trace back to Moscow, since the idiots who used it kept opening the damned flask, and contaminated their hotel rooms, their seats on the plane back to Moscow, their children, themselves, the diners at several restaurants and bars and God knows who else.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: False flag?

        >Why poison someone with Polonium?

        Because they will not survive it, there is no antidote.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: False flag?

        What is very confusing is when people who have no background at all in NBCD make statements about the difficulty about manufacturing things.

        The classic example from the past couple of years is the commentary around Sarin and how it is indicative of government involvement. This is the same thing that was used in the Tokyo subway attack in 1995. So unless the Australian government* wants to come forward and take responsibility we have to admit that this stuff can be manufactured by those who have sufficient motivation. Perhaps the same is true for this agent, I have no idea.

        Also, was it brought into England, or manufactured somewhere in the UK? Again, no idea.

        * Aum Shinrinko - the Japanese group that used Sarin in the attack - originally manufactured Sarin on a station in Western Australia.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: False flag?

          They didn't kill many people with it though. Making chemical weapons is easy. Doing it without killing yourself isn't all that much harder. Weaponising them successfully is much, much more difficult. Iraq never got their sarin working properly. Most of what they used in the war with Iran was plain mustard gas.

          What made the 2013 Syrian attack so obviously the governments' fault wasn't the sarin. It was the 1000-odd identically manufactured artillery shells with proximity fuses designed to disperse the agent evenly over a large area at the right concentration to be lethal. And the ability to deliver all those shells relatively accurately in a few minutes.

          That was the tech the Iraqis never fully mastered. I believe the UN reports from the 90s also said that their chemical purity was pants - which meant their sarin stocks had short use by dates.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: False flag?

            Again, someone with no background in NBCD pontificating as though he were a world expert on the matter.

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: False flag?

              I claim no expertise. Just a bit of reading on the subject. What do you say I've got wrong?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: False flag?

      @Cynic_999 Stop asking questions!! Just follow the script - you are opening the door to doubt.

    4. Pier Reviewer

      Re: False flag?

      No - dick swinging. Putin feels the need to look like the big macho man prior to the elections. “Look at me, strong man, leader, rawr! Russia act with impunity against traitors. UK weak” etc.

      Not entirely sure why to be honest - there’s little chance of a loss in the elections. It’s most likely about trying to put other potential defectors off by setting an example.

      The U.K. isn’t about to go to war because a Russian traitor got killed on its soil. It’s a pretty safe move from Putin’s standpoint.

      The only country making a concerted effort to weaken Russia is the USA. Fracking (to cause oil and gas prices to bottom out) and the ongoing arms race will likely see a repeat of the last Cold War. Money wins. Every time. The US is happy for Russia to develop super duper weapons tech because development is expensive. They’ll run out of cash again.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: False flag? The West loses the Plot and Goes Full Retard

        Money wins. Every time. The US is happy for Russia to develop super duper weapons tech because development is expensive. They’ll run out of cash again. .... Pier Reviewer

        Howdy, Pier Reviewer,

        You may like to consider that Russia has already DEVELOPED and DEPLOYED super duper expensive weapons tech which will have American run out of cash .... although as a Premium Sub-Prime Bankrupt Nation ..... and here is their current rising debt burden which is being added to exponentially with their present deficit spendings ...US National Debt ... is that already a moot point to realise.

        Bankrupt and acting as if nothing is in decline and everything is in their command and control is hubris squared and a catastrophic delusional condition/crazy mental condition which will not end well for the patient.

        And what does all of that tell you about UKGBNI support for Uncle Sam's profligate ways/Insane Memes?

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: False flag?

      There is a very good reason for Putin to make an example out of a former agent, especially one living in a powerful western country. To show the dangers of providing information to western intelligence agencies and reduce the risk or rate of it happening. Over the last two years, I'd be appalled if the intelligence agencies of my country (and every other western country) hadn't been spending a lot of effort (and money) recruiting agents in Russia due to their very clear attempts to damage the fabric of our countries (at surprisingly low cost) and in mine they've found a few particularly soft spots (USA). In the last few months there have probably have been many such overtures and they may even have caught one or two attempts, and figured they needed to send a strong message along the lines of "even if a foreign government promises to protect you in their arms, it wouldn't amount to anything and we'll get you and your family".

      The problem with Russia is we are complicit in what its become, and its becoming increasingly difficult to unwind without severe repercussions and retaliation from the insiders who benefit from the current situation. Realistically, we're not going to remove Putin from power, he runs Russia and will for as long as he lives. We have to deal with that. But the Russian people are to some extent aware of the fact that we gave them Putin. I don't mean consciously, I mean, we made it particularly hard on Russia after communism, like it was necessary to punish them for "having been communist", or "let em starve til they ask us to save them in exchange for their nukes". Anyone in Russia old enough remembers how we turned our backs on them in 98. Just think if we'd treated them like a potential ally that needed help, the world stage would be very different and some of our biggest problems would be so much more tractable. The upshot of all that means we will never win their hearts and minds because they won't trust us again, so we have very little "people power" leverage over Putin.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We should scare the s**t out of their Black Sea fleet.....

    ...with our spiffy four billion pound aircraft carrier. That will show them!

    Err, cough, sorry....forgot there were no aircraft......

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: We should scare the s**t out of their Black Sea fleet.....

      The aircraft carriers would be VERY unsafe as Russia has strong standoff capabilities in any case.

      Getting a few Kalibr missiles into a carrier ain't sounding too nice.

      Note the demonstrations Russia has made of the above during the "Planet Hoth" expedition in Syria.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: We should scare the s**t out of their Black Sea fleet.....

        If a British aircraft carrier were sent to the Black Sea, it would survive on Russian sufferance from the moment it passed Sicily.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We should scare the s**t out of their Black Sea fleet.....

      How will we get through the Bosphorus? Not much draft there.

  7. reprobate

    No proof it was Putin in the first place ...

    have a look at:

    The nasties were from the Soviet era, made in Uzbeckistan, and unguarded for a few years before the Yanks were invitied in to help look after them. It could have been any one of all manner of criminals who dunnit.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: No proof it was Putin in the first place ...

      I wonder if this stuff even exists.

      Remember "Red Mercury" from way back when.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Re: No proof it was Putin in the first place ...

        Top trolling there.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Mien Fuher, I can walk!

    It would be more useful if the UK didn't cooperate in the US neocons plot to start the next World War with the Russian Federation. Who was it that once said that the best way to distract from problems at home was to start a small war abroad.

    1. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Re: Mien Fuher, I can walk!

      Erm. Putin must have a lot of problems at home then, unless you really wish to gloss over his active portfolio..

      I'm kinda impressed that anyone thinks either of the present US or UK administrations could plot their way out of a wet paper bag, tho.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Mien Fuher, I can walk! @Daggerchild

        I'm kinda impressed that anyone thinks either of the present US or UK administrations could plot their way out of a wet paper bag, tho. ..... Daggerchild

        The question just has to be asked, Daggerchild ...... Impressed or depressed and distressed? The sentence above tends to imply the latter but it is always better to remove any ambiguity so as not to provide succour to the proven disenabled.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just get them to use Windows 10 and wait for the next mega update.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Mrs May is following in the steps of her great hero(ine) Mr(s) Thatcher. Mags was in a tight spot politically, when the Argies took the Malvinas. In true style she threw everything at this political opportunity and went to war, and became popular after that, only be ousted by the most bland, grey man a few years after.

    Now Theresa has screwed up Brexit, for which she secretly blames Russia, and is now trying to do the same thing when this opportunity that has come up.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Brexit


      One, it's the Falkland Islands. As named by the people who bloody live there.

      Two, Thatcher's popularity was on the upswing due to the economy starting to come good. Helped by the unpopularity of Labour. Who knows what would have happened?

      Three, what were either of them supposed to do? Not react? Neither chose the timing. They just played the hand they were dealt. Any PM who doesn't react forcefully to this situation, after the Litvinenko murder, is unfit for office.

    2. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Re: Brexit

      You randomly declare war on someone else when you want to instil single-minded patriotism. However single-minded patriotism *caused* Brexit. Only an idiot fights a housefire with a housefire.

      May was already drowning. This diplomatic explosion makes everything even worse. Which, I suspect, may have been the point: Overload. Fry the circuits. A weakened mother births a weakened child.

      Murderous wolves are already snatching prey, and we haven't even finished sawing through the branch we're on yet. There will be a bloodbath when this 'coloniser' hits the ground, disorientated, and separated from the pack.

      "Malvinas" huh? So, I guess you're already after at least one of our islands :)

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Brexit


        What a load of old tosh. This diplomatic "explosion" is minor. It's a story that will be gone in a week or two. Just like the Litvinenko case. It'll rumble on in the diplomatic background for at least the next ten years - but it says nothing new. Putin has been murdering the odd enemy, at home or abroad, every year or so. Just to keep his eye in. He'll keep doing it.

        I don't really understand why. He's got what he wants, power in Russia and to look scary. And a nice managegable conflict with the nasty old West. But the more he does this sort of thing, the harder he makes it for those in the West who'd like a quiet life and to ignore his provocations. This has been called a divide and conquer strategy, but I don't believe it's strategic at all. I think Putin is much more a tactical man - and doesn't do strategic thinking quite so well. The more he pokes the West, the more he unites thinking that he's dangerous and needs to be opposed. And the less likely people are to consult with Russia and make it feel all warm and snuggly and great power-y.

        Look at Trump. He supposedly wanted to ease relations with Russia during his election. But he's been totally unable to, because even appearing to be close to Russia is now so politically toxic. Admittedly I guess that's also because he's got the attention span of a gnat.

        Notice Russia haven't really got allies. There's no political pull.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Brexit

        That the UK was in the process of selling to Argentina when they stupidly invaded. Had they waited, they would have been in permanent possession of the islands, and the kelpers would be somebody else’s problem.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just part of Maybot philosophy

    Guilty unless proven innocent. Especially if they don't like you.

    Even if they do eventually identify it wasn't Putin, or Russia, or the daughter, do you think they'll apologise? Or make it public?

    What the Maybot really hates is the embarrassment that someone could firstly successfully murder military personnel in the heart of a UK Army town and secondly that they could successfully smuggle a nerve agent past border control.

    1. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Re: Just part of Maybot philosophy

      If a professional government assassin entered a country with a small vial and *failed* to poison a civilian in public, *that* would have been embarrassing.

      In this country, murder is seen as a fault in the murderer. Not sure why it's seen differently at your end.

  12. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Learn to speak the language

    Putin has been offing 1-2 expats a year for how long? There is only one way to get him to stop. I'll let a retired James Bond explain: "You wanna know how to get Putin? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue."

    At the very least, you have to figure out what he cares about--and hurt that. If not him, then the people that will take care of him for you. Throwing out diplomats is a farce. Economic sanctions are a farce. (Check NK, Iran, Syria...) Cyberwar actually plays to his strength, because our economies are far more dependent. Direct military action is out.

    "You said you wanted to get Putin. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I'm saying is, what are you prepared to do?"

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The UK now has the Donald on it's side.

    What could possibly go wrong? (Does WW3 count as "going wrong"?!?)

    Is that the same Donald they've been calling an idiot for the last 2 years?

    Perhaps the Maybot idiot has promised him a red carpet state visit in return, now she's united the country. LOL.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who has the most to gain?

    Think about it, Russia has royally pissed off the septics and even more their zionist friends by helping Syria, pipelines they can't build and oil fields they can't steal. Both of those countries have bio and chemical weapons, the yanks are years behind schedule in destroying theirs, Israel won't ratify so their activities and stocks remain hidden.

    So now Russia is the 'new' pariah, everyone's against them guilty or not, so who benefits the most?


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