This new evidence tends to make the suggestion by Lugovoi himself
that Litvinenko may have died as a result of 'casual handling' of polonium look plausible. Such casual handling, I suggest, may well have arisen in the course of a nuclear scaremongering operation -- with the ironic result that Litvinenko ended up giving an unjustified appearance of validity to disinformation purveyed by him and Scaramella about supposed plots by the Russian authorities to murder them and others.
While the evidence is hardly conclusive -- and one cannot simply discount the possibility of murder -- what one can say is that, although Lugovoi's own role in the affair is murky, he quite patently did not deliberately poison Litvinenko in the Pine Bar. This is a frame-up, which has served to distract attention from a major scandal which is British, not Russian -- having to do with the incompetence of sections of our intelligence services, and the credulity of the British print and broadcast media.
Here, it is worth dwelling for a moment on the ironical echoes of Le Carré's fiction in recent events. A trivial if amusing one is that the name 'Shvets' means tailor in Ukrainian.
Of more moment is the frequency with which the kind of systematic ambiguity in the available evidence which is the basis of Le Carré's thriller confronts intelligence analysts. In the thriller, there is evidence purporting to establish that the KGB agent Polyakov is a double agent working on behalf of MI6 -- but it turns out this is disinformation, and his MI6 handler is the double agent.
Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the British Joint Intelligence Committee -- chaired by John Scarlett, who today, as Sir John Scarlett, heads MI6 -- gave us to understand that there was reliable evidence that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Niger, and had weapons of mass destruction that he could launch in forty-five minutes. It turned out that there was no such reliable evidence, but a great deal of disinformation.
So how are we to regard the claim by the 'senior British security official' quoted by the BBC's Mark Urban that the death of Litvinenko was 'state action'? Certainly it could be that there is persuasive evidence of this -- but in comments on Urban's blog, Karon von Gerhke provided strong arguments that the supposed 'evidence' is disinformation.
She focused on an earlier attempt to blame key figures in the Russian government for Litvinenko's death, made in an half hour BBC Radio programme presented by Tom Mangold, who had been making programmes for the BBC for more than forty years, on December 16, 2006.
According to Shvets, when Litvinenko spoke to him on the 'phone shortly after being admitted to hospital on November 3, 2006, he accused Scaramella, and continued to do so for three days afterwards. But on the fourth day, Shvets asserted, Litvinenko changed course and accused Lugovoi.
As to the motives behind the poisoning, Shvets claimed that he and Litvinenko had collaborated on a 'due diligence' dossier, produced by a London risk management agency, on behalf of a 'reputable British company'.
This, Shvets claimed, had frustrated a business deal in which 'one of a group of very powerful people closely associated with President Putin' had a strong personal interest, and this figure had ordered Litvinenko's murder in revenge. According to Mangold, Scotland Yard, who had sent two detectives to Washington to interview Shvets and obtained a copy of the dossier, were 'focusing interest' on this figure.
Discussing allegations that there was a a 'shadow establishment' embedded within the Russian security services which had associations with organised crime and corruption, Mangold quoted a former KGB officer who apparently could not be identified for reasons of his 'own personal security'.
This unidentified source explained that Russian organised crime had been destroyed by the government, but the security agencies had stepped into its shoes, assuming 'the function and methods of organised crime.'
In Mangold's presentation, Shvets's impartiality was not in question -- he was described as a 'due diligence' expert, who had testified to the U.S. Congress on Russian money-laundering and organised crime, and had gone into partnership with Litvinenko in 2005 because of their common involvement in 'due diligence' investigations.
There is an obvious problem with the claim that a reputable British company hired Litvinenko to do 'due diligence'. As the journalist Thomas de Waal noted in an article cited by von Gerhke, by 2005 Litvinenko was accusing the FSB 'of having links to al Qaeda and of colluding in that summer's London subway bombings' -- hardly making him an obvious person to consult for anyone seriously interested in doing business with figures close to Putin.
Almost two weeks before the BBC broadcast Shvets's allegations, a story in the Observer had suggested that he, like Litvinenko, had 'worked for the Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, whom the Kremlin has tried unsuccessfully to extradite from Britain.'
Less than a week after the BBC programme, Catherine Belton reported in the Moscow Times that in 2002 Shvets 'landed a $400,000 contract from Berezovsky to transcribe a set of audiotapes that appeared to implicate then-Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in the killing of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and in sanctions-busting arms deals.'
These are the famous tapes of conversations involving Kuchma which were recorded by Major Mykola Melnichenko, and played a major role in facilitating the so-called 'Orange Revolution' in the Ukraine. There is an unresolved controversy over whether the tapes -- the originals of which have never been made available for examination by Melnichenko -- were or were not edited so as to misrepresent what Kuchma said.
So it would seem that even a perfunctory investigation should have alerted Mangold to the fact that claims made by Shvets needed to be handled with care -- which is precisely what Karon von Gerhke argued in detail in her comments on Urban's claims.
The impact of her arguments, it has to be said, was not enhanced by their being made under the pseudonym 'timelythoughts' -- which made it easier for Urban to dismiss what she said.
After she had produced an extended series of comments, he professed incomprehension, explaining that he would be 'happy to admit I was wrong if I could understand what you say I have got wrong, and share your view', and complaining that 'your posts are very long'.
Responding to her suggestion that American officials do not think there was 'state involvement' in Litvinenko's death, Urban asked incredulously: 'Are you really suggesting you are one of the very small number of US officials with a full view of UK Humint?'
He then insinuated she was a fraud, saying that her use of the acronym CTCU 'suggests to me somebody who is NOT familiar with the workings of British intelligence agencies', and noting that the term 'is quite similar to CTU', the American term Counter Terrorism Unit -- which, as he remarked, is well known from the television series '24'.
These responses by Urban represent a rare instance where we can see the processes by which some British journalists screen out information calling into question what their intelligence contacts tell them in operation.
As objections to what she says, they miss the point. The key to assessing whether 'timelythoughts' did or did not have important evidence lay in evaluating her claim to have exchanged emails with Shvets about the Litvinenko affair in its early stages, which demonstrated that the claims he made to Mangold were false.
The simplest way of doing this would have been to ask for the emails -- which Urban did not do. Short of that, an obvious start was to ascertain the true identity of 'timelythoughts', which in fact could be done with Google in minutes, through references in her comments to the story by Catherine Belton from which I have quoted. In this, some of the same claims she makes on Urban's blog are reported under her own name -- and it made clear she did know Shvets well, as she is described as a 'business partner' of his.
Only a little further investigation on the net, moreover, would have been required to discover central elements of the history of von Gerhke's relations with Shvets, which she herself describes in a somewhat explosive response to Urban's suggestion that she had 'just got a thing about Berezovsky.'
You are most assuredly correct that I have a "thing", as you call it, against Berezovsky. Not without cause, I fear. I have known his Washington based disinformation specialist for ten plus years. We testified at the BoNY oversight hearings together. And before the BoNY scandal broke, he was a key witness in the political asylum case of Alexandre Konanykhine, who was a target of the CIA penetration of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Menatep Bank money-laundering operation I penetrated.
The BoNY is the Bank of New York, and the testimony by Shvets to which von Gerhke refers would seem to be the same testimony to which Tom Mangold referred in putting Shvets forward as an authoritative source -- which was given in hearings before the House Banking Committee on September 21 and 22, 1999.
These hearings, prompted by revelations about Russian money-laundering through the Bank of New York, provided fascinating information on the realities of Russian privatisation, as described in some incisive comments by another who gave testimony, the writer Anne Williamson.
While American triumphalists saw in the Russian President Boris Yeltsin 'a great democrat determined to destroy the Communist system for freedom's sake', Williamson commented, the reality was quite different:
Western assistance, IMF lending and the targeted division of national assets are what provided Boris Yeltsin the initial wherewithal to purchase his constituency of ex-Komsomol bank chiefs, who were given the freedom and the mechanisms to plunder their own country in tandem with the resurgent and more economically competent criminal class.
On the involvement of the KGB in this, Shvets focused on the activities of Konanykhine, who he suggested had started as a KGB front, who did indeed become a Vice President of Bank Menatep, and whose activities are discussed in detail in the 2004 study of global money-laundering
by Alan Block and Constance Weaver, All is Clouded by Desire.
In April 1993, U.S. lawyers acting for Konanykhine in his capacity as Vice President of Menatep -- which was indeed Mikhail Khodorkovsky's bank -- approached Karon von Shvets's company, the First Columbia Company Inc., looking for assistance in moving money out of Russia.
According to her testimony to the Committee, she informed a CIA contact, from whom she learned that the CIA believed that what was involved was an elaborate operation 'to launder billions of dollars stolen by members of the KGB and high-level government officials.'
From then until her cover was blown that September by the Russian spy Aldrich Ames, von Gerhke operated as an unpaid CIA agent penetrating this money-laundering operation.
According to her account, precisely because the Clinton Administration had committed itself to a fantasy view of Yeltsin and his associates -- of whom Berezovsky was a key one -- as virtuous 'reformers' and 'democrats', the information this penetration operation turned up was as unwelcome to many in Washington as to many in Moscow. "The money-laundering trail led directly to Boris Yeltsin," she was reported as saying in the Times. "It was a politically unpalatable situation for the Clinton Administration, the Yeltsin Administration and the CIA."
Having introduced Shvets to contacts in Washington, von Gerhke claims to Urban, she found that the self-presentation deployed in his testimony, as the disillusioned former KGB operative telling the truth about the iniquities committed by his erstwhile colleagues, told less than the whole truth about him. At some point -- she does not make clear when -- he had become a key player in Berezovsky's disinformation operations.
We were not informed that he was in Berezovsky's employment. And as would prove to be the case, he was disseminating intelligence and information generated by Berezovsky and other members of his entourage that, beyond its falsehood, would prove dangerous to U.S. Russia relations. He was also obtaining intelligence and information on Berezovsky's behalf, which Berezovsky then used to further damage U.S. Russia relations.
So the case that von Gerhke was trying to put to Urban was that having been one of the most rapacious of the Yeltsin-era plunderers, Berezovsky was now using his 'ill gotten wealth' to employ 'an entourage of disinformation specialists' like Litvinenko and Shvets to pursue his personal vendetta against Putin.
The caution appropriate in dealing with accusations by such figures, von Gerhke claimed, had not been exercised either by the British investigation into the death of Litvinenko, or in the media coverage of the affair. Here, the suggestion by Urban that her reference to the CTCU implied she was actually thinking of the American CTU can be dismissed, as she had already made clear that she was referring to the CTC -- the Scotland Yard Counter Terrorism Command, or SO15.
True, her description of the organisation as 'an umbrella of Scotland Yard, MI6 and MI5' is technically wrong -- it is part of Scotland Yard. But one of its responsibilities, as listed on its website, is to 'assist the British Security Service and Secret Intelligence Service in fulfilling their statutory roles.'
One would certainly expect SO15 to collaborate closely with the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), and given her past involvement in investigations into murky Russian mysteries, there is nothing particularly improbable in von Gerhke's claims that she had contact with the British investigation, and dealt with MI6 officers.
A complete straw man, meanwhile, is Urban's question as to whether von Gerhke is 'really suggesting you are one of the very small number of US officials with a full view of UK Humint?'
This actually takes us to the heart of what I am suggesting is the British scandal involved in the Litvinenko mystery. There is a recurrent pattern by which claims are made by anonymous 'security sources' to favoured journalists, who then recycle them to the general public, with asseverations that they are backed up by 'humint' -- human intelligence, the product of spies.
This is something whose precise nature it is suggested cannot be disclosed, because of the risks of exposing the sources from which it comes. But we are supposed to take it on trust, because it is produced under the aegis of expert spymasters like Sir John Scarlett.
But it was on precisely such a basis that the authority of the Joint Intelligence Committee -- then chaired by Scarlett -- was deployed to persuade us that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Niger, and had weapons of mass destruction he could launch in forty-five minutes. The evidence supporting both these claims turned out to be derisory.
Responding to comments from Andrei Soldatov, a journalist with the Russian paper Novaya Gazeta, Urban asked whether he would 'regard information received from MI5 and the FSB as carrying the same basic level of credibility?' The reference to MI5 arises from the fact that Urban had also explained that officers at MI5 believed that they had thwarted an attempt to kill Berezovsky.
As to MI6 under Scarlett, one has to say that, given that claims made by British officials on Iraqi WMD turned out less be less reliable than those of the notoriously mendacious Iraqi regime, there are no good grounds for assuming that its claims are more reliable than those of the FSB or Lugovoi. As to MI5 -- precisely the question Karon von Gerhke has raised is whether British intelligence in general is capable of seeing through ex-KGB disinformation specialists.
As Soldatov stresses, all claims from intelligence agencies should be checked. And the importance of Karon von Gerkhe's claims is that they help us to check claims originating from British 'security sources', because they bear on a fundamental problem with the official British version which I identified in my initial diary on the Litvinenko mystery.
At the start of an investigation into a suspected poisoning, one expects the police to ask whom the possible victim thinks may have poisoned him, and also whom he has met, and what he has eaten, prior to falling sick. These are questions which can be answered in outline in minutes.
There is hard evidence that Litvinenko suspected, or at least professed to suspect, Scaramella. Indeed, in the study The Litvinenko File by Martin Sixsmith, an interview Litvinenko gave to the BBC Russian Service on November 11, 2006, is quoted, in which, although without naming him, Litvinenko unambiguously points to Scaramella as his suspect. According to Shvets, he first discussed the poisoning with Litvinenko shortly after the latter's admission to hospital on November 3, and Litvinenko accused Lugovoi on the fourth day after this: which at the latest would be November 7 or 8: it is surprising that neither Mangold nor the British investigators seem to have seen the rather obvious problem.
This also makes more plausible von Gerhke's claim that emails from Shvets demonstrate that he did not know Lugovoi's name 'until after it was published in the Times on 21 November', and did not know that Lugovoi had met Litvinenko in the 'very public Pine Bar at the Millennium Hotel in the bustling Mayfair District of downtown London', as well as not knowing that Kovtun had also attended this meeting.
What she also claims is that her contacts in MI6 were similarly ignorant. That Litvinenko had met Lugovoi on November 1 was something which, according to von Gerhke, MI6 only discovered from a press statement said to have been made to the Times by Berezovsky's close associate Alex Goldfarb on November 21, while the presence of Kovtun at the meeting only emerged on November 22.
The only meeting on November 1 that Litvinenko had acknowledged throughout the weeks following his poisoning, she suggests, was with Scaramella, and the Italian was the only person that Litvinenko had accused.
According to von Gerhke, meanwhile, MI6 found the reluctance of Litvinenko to talk about his meeting with Lugovoi and Kovtun 'mind boggling'; and she herself describes his disinclination to acknowledge any meeting other than that with Scaramella as 'indeed most perplexing.'
This reluctance, as I argued in my initial diary, can be identified from the British reporting at the time. The first reports in which Lugovoi's name is mentioned -- such as this one in the Daily Telegraph -- date from either November 21 or 22, and the source of the information is given as Goldfarb.
A mysterious Russian is supposed to have been present at the meeting, who is named in the Telegraph as 'Vladimir'.
According to the Telegraph, the location of the meeting was 'an unknown central London hotel'; in another of these initial Telegraph stories, it is specifically stated that detectives 'need to identify' the hotel where the meeting took place.
Moreover, in these stories, as in all the early reports I can trace, the meeting with Lugovoi is supposed to have taken place before Litvinenko met Scaramella at the Itsu sushi bar in Piccadilly in mid-afternoon. The meeting at the Pine Bar, where it is now suggested that Litvinenko was poisoned, took place after the meeting with Scaramella.
All suggestion of a meeting prior to the Pine Bar meeting, and of the presence of mysterious Russian, is now forgotten in the official British version -- although, as I noted in my first diary, the Soviet-era KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky has continued to insist Litvinenko was poisoned at such an earlier meeting, as also has the GRU defector Boris Volodarsky, who indeed reiterated this argument in comments on an article in the New York Sun published by Edward Jay Epstein in March.
The account given by Shvets to Mangold is actually a kind of strange compromise. At one point, Litvinenko is described as having met 'at least two former FSB officers' -- with Lugovoi and Kovtun being named. But Shvets is then quoted as suggesting that the murder was committed by a team of three -- Lugovoi, Kovtun, and a third man who 'probably administered the poison.'
What Shvets also claims is that Litvinenko attributed his death to a failure in tradecraft -- his having drunk tea without seeing it made. What is not made clear is whether all this is supposed to have happened before or after Litvinenko's meeting with Scaramella, or indeed precisely where it is supposed to have happened. But while the claim about tradecraft would at least make sense if the meeting was not in the Pine Bar, it would only be relevant to the Pine Bar meeting if the FSB had planned an attack in the Millennium long in advance and infiltrated the kitchen.
As Shvets appears to be proposing a kind of incoherent half-way house between what Goldfarb originally claimed and what became the official British version, if indeed the British investigators were taking his claims as seriously as Mangold suggests, this is frankly puzzling. But von Gerhke suggests that they were -- claiming that the figure she calls 'Berezovsky's disinformation specialist' would have been among the British investigations 'most credible witnesses', had she not come forward with the emails from him which proved that his testimony was fabricated.
Why then do the investigators from SO15 appear to have been so ignorant -- and also so incurious? Possible explanations are suggested by evidence produced by de Gondi. In a story in the Guardian in January this year, Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy suggested that Litvinenko's collaboration with Scaramella in the so-called 'Mitrokhin Commission' in Italy could have been an important part of the background to his death.
What Scott-Clark and Levy had suggested was that Lugovoi might have been the instrument of the revenge of the Naples-based former FSB agent Alexander Talik, whom Scaramella and Litvinenko had tried to frame, supposedly in an effort to persuade him to provide information on the Ukrainian mobster Semyon Mogilevich. This attempted framing precipitated the arrest of Scaramella.
Evidence produced by de Gondi suggested that Scott-Clark and Levy had -- like so many other British journalists -- uncritically accepted disinformation, so that having reported on the framing of Talik for one crime he did not commit, they went on collaborate in framing him for another.
The evidence de Gondi has produced is of fundamental importance to understanding the Litvinenko mystery, and amply merits more detailed investigation on another occasion. But key activities of Litvinenko and Scaramella were already highlighted in the excerpt from the request submitted in January 2007 by the prosecutors of Scaramella to use wiretaps of his conversations which de Gondi translated in commenting on my initial diary. This summarises conversations in December 2005 between Scaramella and the head of the Mitrokin Commission, Senator Paolo Guzzanti.
3) - 4) - 5) - 6) - 7) - 8) - 9) conversations that took place on number [omissis] on December 1st, 2005, at 16:10:08 # 833, 16:43:40 # 848, 17:13:02 # 856, 17:56:45 # 860, 18:15:48 # 861, 19:56:22 # 867, 20:20:50 # 873, containing precise references to the campaign organized by Scaramella and Litvinenko to support the thesis of a conspiracy to assassinate Guzzanti, attributing the responsibility to TALIK and elements of the Russian mafia, the camorra and Russian and Ukrainian secret services, with the indication of relevant documents acquired by Scaramella and sent to Senator Guzzanti, or to be acquired and transmitted. The conversations are of particular relevance if confronted with intercepted conversations in the acts between Litvinenko and Ganchev on one part and between TALIK and his wife on the other, having as their object the same facts albeit their reconstruction appears quite different, as noted in the motivations behind the arrest warrant emitted against Scaramella (Scaramella calls Guzzanti and tells him that at least ten different press agencies in Ukraine have mentioned the assassination attempt against Guzzanti, including the declarations of Litvinenko as referred byhim. Litvinenko received dozens of calls from Ukranian reporters and Litvinenko mentioned Talik's name. Guzzanti tells Scaramella that he received a letter in Russian from Litvinenko; Scaramella will send the translation which corresponds to the registration but omitting all references to Mario Scaramella. Guzzanti notes that there is a problem since in the letter Litvinenko asserts that he works for the Commission; Scaramella says that Litvinenko had in precedence undertaken activity concerning nuclear [?] in Italy that they [the commission] had acquired; at the London meeting, official missions, documents countersigned by Bukowsky, Gordievsky, Svorov and Palombo. Conversations intercepted between CUCHMA (he lost the elections against Yushenko) and MOGILEVICH/FSB. SHVEZ, ex-president of the KGB took the material [?] to the USA. Scaramella tells Guzzanti that in Ukraine there is an agency, "the fifth element," probably close to Berezosky, that follows the work of a commission similar to the Mitrokhin Commission that investigates facts of Soviet Union espionage. This agency had interviewed Litvinenko, and Scaramella sent the article to Guzzanti. In the interview Litvinenko talks about the Ukrainian aspects and also mentions Guzzanti (indicated as Paolo Guzzante), Talik, etc. They study the article together even if it is in Russian or Ukrainian. A passage on Simon Moghilevic and an agreement between the camorra to search for nuclear weapons lost during the Cold War to be consigned to Bin Laden, a revelation made by the Israeli. According to Scaramella the circle closes: Camorra, Moghilevic- Russian mafia- services- nuclear bombs in Naples.)
In this passage there is no direct mention of what its critics claim was a principal activity of the Mitrokhin Commission, which was to portray the political opponents of the Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi as having past or present links with the KGB/FSB -- the principal target being the centre-left leader Romano Prodi.
The excerpts do however refer quite clearly to another central thread in the activities of Litvinenko and Scaramella. This was to produce information purporting to show that the 'vastly swollen and powerful KGB/FSB club' depicted in Tom Mangold's BBC report was so afraid of and enraged by the activities of the Mitrokhin Commission that it concocted elaborate plots to assassinate those involved with it -- including Scaramella and Litvinenko as well as Guzzanti.
As the wiretap request brings out, in implementing these plots this 'shadow establishment' was supposed to make extensive use of the 'associations with organised crime and corruption' to which Mangold referred.
So Talik was supposed to be linked, not only to the Russian and Ukrainian secret services, but to the Russian mafia and the Camorra -- the mafia-like organisation which has a strong hold in Naples and its environs. But, as noted earlier, the Italian investigators concluded that Talik was framed, and he was never charged with anything -- while Scaramella was charged with aggravated calumny and illegal arms trafficking, and eventually sentenced.
Moreover, the wiretap request suggests that certain claims made by Litvinenko in Britain were, as it were, the tip of an iceberg. In the scenario depicted by Scaramella, we find the claims made by Litvinenko that the FSB was linked to Al Qaeda and an instigator of terrorism.
But in the more elaborate version of this scenario produced by Scaramella, the FSB was supposed to be involved, along with Mogilevich, the Ukrainian secret services and the Camorra, in searching for Soviet nuclear weapons which had somehow come to be lost in Naples, which were then to be handed over to Osama bin Laden.
All this, of course, required evidence -- be it information or disinformation -- linking the various parties. Those who transcribed the conversations between Scaramella and Guzzanti were obviously unfamiliar with Yuri Shvets -- but that is clearly who the 'SHVEZ' referred to is. It seems from the passage I have quoted that Scaramella hoped to link the FSB, Mogilevich, and Kuchma with the help of the conversations that had been identified -- or were claimed to have been identified -- between Kuchma and Mogilevich, and Kuchma and the FSB, in the Melnichenko tapes.
Another interesting reference is to Gordievsky -- whose shift from accusing Litvinenko of having made up evidence to smear Prodi to get money out of Scaramella, to himself smearing Prodi, I described in my initial diary, using evidence from de Gondi.
As to the reference to 'Svorov': in his comments on my initial diary, de Gondi translated a passage from an an interview with Litvinenko conducted by the Italian paper La Repubblica in March 2005, but only published in November 2006.
At the beginning of 2004, I received a call from my friend Viktor Suvorov, Viktor is an ex-official of the GRU (Soviet Military Counter-Intelligence) and now lives in Bristol where he plays at being a famous writer. He asked me if I had anything against talking to a friend of his, an Italian judge, Mario Scaramella, who works for the Mitrokhin Commission.
So it seems likely that 'Svorov' is the same as 'Viktor Suvorov', whose real name is Vladimir Rezun. There is an interesting discussion of the writings of 'Suvorov' by the editor of a newsletter focusing on the murkier activities of British intelligence agencies, Robin Ramsay, who cites these as an instance of the practice of disinformation by these agencies.
While one obviously needs to avoid rushing to premature conclusions, it is I think not difficult to think of possible reasons both why Litvinenko might have been reluctant to be candid with the British police about aspects of his activities -- and why all kinds of people might have had a strong interest in preventing serious exploration of Litvinenko's links with Scaramella.