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Salisbury views at Olympia Expo

Two speakers at the International Security Expo 2019 at London Olympia last week touched on the 2018 Novichok poisoning case in Salisbury.

One was the former US Army man now settled in Britain Dan Kaszeta, a consultant on chemical weapons and defence. As he told the forensics conference part of the show, nerve agents, and chemical and biological weapons, used to be at the edge of science fiction, and for the military, and not something to deal with day to day: “That’s not the case any more.” Besides the sarin attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995, chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian civil war, and in the attempted Skripal assassination attempt in Salisbury (Cathedral, pictured) in March 2018.

As for Kaszeta’s background in chemical defence, he was 12 years in the White House, and has been in the UK since 2008; first working for the product manufacturer Smiths Detection, and now as a consultant in the field. Much of his talk covered forensics. Why is that required whether in civilian or military use of chemical weapons? As he explained, the need is to collect intelligence of what happened, how it happened and who did it; to better know how to treat any sick or injured. And forensic evidence might be of use in court; although as Kaszeta pointed out, intelligence gathering is not the same as evidence gathering. In practice (as after an acid attack) the fire brigade may flush away the nerve agent with water; so the investigator has to ‘be prepared to go dow the drains’ to go after the evidence.

Kaszeta’s history of nerve agents, from Nazi Germany to Putin’s Russia, Toxic, is due to be published by Hurst in May.

Later, in the crisis management and business continuity conference on day two of the show, Laurie Bell, of The Cheltenham Trust, former director of communities and comms for Wiltshire Council, spoke of the Salisbury poisoning as ‘a case study in resilience’. As she recalled, the case was, besides a hazard and a crime scene, a political incident, and caused fear in the wider community. She said that the city showed real collective spirit, and visitors are returning. In fact she suggested that Salisbury as a result had national and international recognition, and that such an incident could work as an ‘opportunity’, for a ‘brand’ to seize, and for the city to bounce back. On a more personal note, she said: “It’s very difficult after an incident to actually go back to ‘business as usual’, when you have been on adrenalin and you have been working in crisis for a long time. Business as usual becomes almost alien to you.” It could mean that after working in a crisis, she added, you had to move work ‘to a new challenge’.

The International Security Expo 2020 runs at the same venue on Wednesday and Thursday, December 2 and 3; visit https://www.internationalsecurityexpo.com/.


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