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Murder in a Teapot?

by djhabakkuk Thu May 1st, 2008 at 10:34:11 AM EST

Posts by de Gondi on this site shed fascinating light on the activities in Italy of the former KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko, who died of polonium poisoning in November 2006. It has widely been assumed, however, that Litvinenko's death had nothing to do with his involvement, together with the disinformation peddler Mario Scaramella and the Soviet-era KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky, in smear campaigns directed at the opponents of Silvio Berlusconi.  

A story by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy in the Guardian in January called this assumption in question, suggesting that Litvinenko may have been murdered as a direct result of his activities in Italy. But their account presupposes that the British request for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi to face trial for Litvinenko's murder is backed by compelling evidence.

According to the official British version, the radiation trails left by Lugovoi establish beyond reasonable doubt that he deliberately poisoned Litvinenko in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair. But painstaking work by the bloggers AJStrata and copydude, and the veteran investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein, has called in question both the strength of the evidence behind the indictment, and the good faith with which it was made.

In a post on 'Russia Blog' I have pointed to the extraordinary way in which Gordievsky and the London-based ex-Russian military intelligence operative Boris Volodarsky have been undermining the official British case.

Whether in smearing Berlusconi's opponents Gordievsky was acting in conjunction with elements in British intelligence remains unclear.  In insisting that Litvinenko was not poisoned in the Pine Bar, but at another meeting earlier the same day, however, Gordievsky is cutting the ground from under the official British version of how Litvinenko died.  So although some of what he and Volodarsky have claimed is clearly itself disinformation, it is worth exploring the possibility that some of what they say may be true.  

Doing so may help us get closer to understanding how Litvinenko died.  And it brings us up against a range of issues concerning the ambiguous relations between public and private institutions in what Epstein terms the 'shadowy world of security consultants'.  This obscure world, which has mushroomed in recent years, is one on which more light badly needs to be shed.

In an article in the New York Sun in March, Edward Jay Epstein suggested that the British request for the extradition of Lugovoi was not a bona fide attempt to bring a murderer to justice, but rather a manoeuvre in a long-running conflict between the Russian and British authorities over the presence and activities of anti-Putin Russian exiles in London.  The death of Litvinenko -- an important part of the network surrounding the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky -- had, Epstein noted, given the Russian investigators an opportunity for a 'fishing expedition' among the London exiles.  Moreover:

The Russian investigation could also have veered into Litvinenko's activities in the shadowy world of security consultants, including his dealings with the two security companies in Mr. Berezovsky's building, Erinys International and Titon International, and his involvement with Mr. Scaramella in an attempt to plant incriminating evidence on a suspected nuclear-component smuggler -- a plot for which Mr. Scaramella was jailed after his phone conversations with Litvinenko were intercepted by the Italian national police.

The 'suspected nuclear-component smuggler' is of course another former KGB agent, Alexander Talik, whose framing by Scaramella and Litvinenko was discussed at length by de Gondi.  The clear implication of Epstein's comment would seem to be that, although Talik was framed by Scaramella, he is suspected of involvement in nuclear smuggling.  By whom is not made plain -- as elsewhere in his article, Epstein makes an elliptical comment which suggests that he has much more information than he as yet feels in a position to make public.

But his remark needs to be seen in the context of another of his arguments against the official British case:  that, while an intending murderer would be most unlikely to choose polonium as his weapon, its possible roles as a trigger in a primitive nuclear weapon, or in constructing a 'dirty bomb', mean that it is likely to be of interest to nuclear smugglers.  It is, Epstein argues, overwhelmingly likely that a nuclear smuggling operation is involved in the Litvinenko mystery somewhere.  

And this indeed fits in well with arguments made in the article by Scott-Clark and Levy, which draws on material from Italian investigators.  The bizarre attempt to frame Talik by Scaramella and Litvinenko, they suggest, was actually designed to secure information -- which could however obviously have been disinformation -- about the activities and involvements of the Ukrainian gangster Semion Mogilevich, whom they describe as 'the darkest figure in Russian organised crime'.

But having rehearsed the extraordinary story of the framing of Talik -- which demonstrates beyond doubt that Scaramella and Litvinenko were disinformation peddlers and blackmailers -- Scott-Clark and Levy collapse back into credulity mode.  As in the BBC 'Panorama' programme 'How to poison a spy' which de Gondi criticised, claims by Litvinenko's associates are uncritically recycled -- and a marked lack of scepticism is also evident in the treatment of Litvinenko's interest in Mogilevich.  

So Scott-Clark and Levy tells us that Litvinenko claimed that Talik was an FSB agent who had been in 'deep cover' in Naples since 1999, that he had 'strong links to Mogilevich's mob' and further that Mogilevich 'according to Litvinenko's sources, had extensive links to Putin's government.'  When he began investigating Mogilevich, according to Scott-Clark and Levy, Litvinenko 'soon picked up word that he was enraging the Ukrainian's siloviki friends in Moscow.'  Reports of claims by Litvinenko veer off into acceptance -- without any attempt at critical examination whatsoever -- of the suggestion that Litvinenko's uncovering of real links between Mogilevich and the Putin government was a key part of the background to his death.

We go back to hard evidence with a phone tap played in Italian court which, as Scott-Clark and Levy very fairly say, suggested that Talik 'was in a mood for revenge', and made clear that he had asked for Litvinenko's London address, and sent a dossier to Moscow.  But we are then told that Lugovoi was a 'close associate' of Talik, the two men 'having served together in the same KGB and FSB divisions', with no evidence presented in support of these claims, or indication of what the source for them is.  

To establish that a man in a fury about being framed made threats of revenge does not establish that he carried them out.  The picture of Lugovoi as prepared to commit murder -- and get himself contaminated with potentially lethal polonium -- in order to help an old comrade get his own back is not an entirely convincing one.  A more credible motive really would be required to make the story cohere.  Equally important, moreover, the account given by Scott-Clark and Levy presupposes that the British case against Lugovoi is soundly based.  Both the work of the bloggers AJStrata and copydude, and also the case against the official British version which Epstein has been developing since shortly after Litvinenko's death, call this assumption into question.

The British 'extradition gambit', Epstein suggests, not only put an end to the possibility of a Russian 'fishing expedition' into the activities of anti-Putin exiles -- it also discredited Lugovoi's account, by naming him as a murder suspect.  What Lugovoi claimed in the press conference he and his associate Dmitri Kovtun gave on May 31 last year was that Litvinenko worked for MI6, and that MI6 attempted to recruit him, with a view to obtaining compromising material on Putin and his family.

In fairness to Scott-Clark and Levy, if they are relying on British reports such as the one in the Guardian to which I have linked they will have missed crucial details of Lugovoi's claims. Fortunately, a transcript of excerpts is available on the BBC website. According to Lugovoi, the purpose of the attempt to recruit him was to find something incriminating on a state official, who would be lured to London and blackmailed with threats to expose his bank accounts into providing incriminating information on Putin.  The approaches by MI6, Lugovoi claimed, followed introductions by Litvinenko to British business partners, who turned out to be acting as fronts for MI6. Further claims about his dealings with these 'security consultants' -- more often called private security companies -- were made by Lugovoi in an interview he and Kovtun gave to Izvestiya a few days after the press conference, which was reproduced in English translation on the email Russia List run by David Johnson. (This is an invaluable resource for those interested in the case who lack Russian.)

Whether Scott-Clark and Levy are unaware of Lugovoi's claims, or simply accept the contention of British 'security sources' that these are self-evidently 'smokescreens' as beyond question, is unclear. They repeat a familiar story, according to which Litvinenko's expectations that the British authorities and private security companies would be interested in what he had to tell them were disappointed, and he was driven by money problems first to involvement with Scaramella and then to the involvement with Lugovoi which resulted in his death.  But in fact, automatically to assume that British denials are necessarily more reliable than Lugovoi's assertions is dubious.  

So Scott-Clark and Levy make no reference to the claim made by the Daily Mail last October that Litvinenko was working for MI6, and that its head, Sir John Scarlett, had been personally involved in his recruitment.  Moreover, among all the claims and counter-claims, one hard piece of evidence is that Litvinenko and Lugovoi did visit three British private security companies -- Erinys and Titon, whom Epstein mentions, and RISC Management -- and that polonium traces were found at all three locations.  

Simply to assume that such companies had given Litvinenko the cold shoulder at an earlier stage, and not even refer to his documented involvement with them in the period leading up to his death, seems odd.  Moreover, Scott-Clark's suggestion that Livinenko was driven to deal with Lugovoi by lack of money rests in part on the suggestion that the relationship began as a result of a chance meeting at Berezovsky's 60th birthday party in February 2006.  According to Lugovoi, he was already dealing with RISC in December 2005.  He may be lying, but he could be telling the truth.

Having failed to take account of crucial pieces of evidence which might lead them to ask questions about the official British version, Scott-Clark and Levy not suprisingly interpret the information they have gleaned from Italian investigators about the interest of Litvinenko in Mogilevich in ways which leave that official version intact.  For those less convinced of the self-evident truth of the claims of British officials, introducing Moglevich opens up a whole range of possibilities.  Among the accusations levelled against him which appear to depend upon reasonably credible testimony is that of attempting to smuggle enriched uranium -- and in taking this to be true, Scott-Clark and Levy may be construing the evidence quite reasonably.  

An alleged involvement of Mogilevich which Scott-Clark and Levy fail to mention is with Eural Trans Gas and RosUkrEnergo, companies which successively acted as middlemen in the transit of gas from Russia and Central Asia to and through the Ukraine.  Back in 2003, following the emergence of the distinctly dodgy-looking intermediary Eural TG on the scene, there was a kind of slanging match match between Gazprom and the Ukrainian company Naftogaz as to who was responsible.  At the same time, a British company, JKX Oil & Gas, was reported to be attempting to buy a stake in Eural TG.  Another matter in which Mogilevich is reported to have been heavily involved in the money laundering scandal, involving the Bank of New York, which broke in 1999.

It follows from this that all kinds of different people, for all kinds of different reasons, are likely to be interested in information about Mogilevich.  Among them are law enforcement offices and members of intelligence agencies going about their proper business, without any political axes to grind.  But information about Mogilevich is also highly likely to be useful to people who want to use it to promote political agendas -- and for this purpose, disinformation may be quite as useful as information.  

What Scott-Clark and Levy have argued is that political purposes related to the smearing of the Italian left were central to Litvinenko and Scaramella's attempts to frame Talik to provide information -- or disinformation -- about Mogilevich.  Noting links with elements in American intelligence, they also suggest that these disinformation campaigns against the Italian left served the interests of the Bush Administration and imply they may have been promoted by elements in it.  

It is not difficult to see how information -- or disinformation -- about the activities and involvements of Mogilevich could have served the interests of Berezovsky and the other oligarchs.  But it seems that Scott-Clark and Levy are convinced that Litvinenko refrained from giving his close associates in the circle round Berezovsky any information whatsoever about his attempts to secure such information or disinformation.  One might have thought Berezovsky would have paid for it -- but somehow his apparently pressing money problems seem not to have persuaded Litvinenko to breach the Chinese wall he had supposedly set up between his activities in England and his activities in Italy.  

Why this should have been so is as unclear as why Lugovoi should have committed murder simply to oblige an old comrade.  But Scott-Clark and Litvinenko quote, without comment, the claim by Alex Goldfarb that his associates in the circle around Berezovsky 'had no idea what he was doing in Italy', and Marina Litvinenko's claim that, when her husband went abroad, she did not even ask him which country he was going to.

In fact Mogilevich -- who was arrested in Moscow on charges of tax evasion shortly before the Scott-Clark and Levy article was published -- is highly likely to have links with important figures in the Russian government -- as in the Ukrainian -- who are involved in the energy business, and also among the oligarchs.  Quite how obscure these networks are is illustrated by the fact that Western analysts debated whether his arrest was a move in favour of the new Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, or against him:  hard information was patently lacking.  It is thus perfectly possible to see how Litvinenko might have been on the trail of genuine information, which could be seriously damaging to important figures in the Russian government.  Equally, he could have been attempting to build an elaborate structure of disinformation on a foundation of accurate information about Mogilevich.  

Central to the propaganda campaigns in which Litvinenko and Scaramella have been involved has been the exploitation of a number of themes which mobilise popular emotions and anxieties.  The image of the KGB is one, links with criminals and terrorists another, nuclear fears yet another.  As de Gondi noted, Scaramella has used disinformation on the nuclear theme in the past -- and it is hardly beyond the bounds of possibility that the fact that Mogilevich was reported to have been involved in nuclear smuggling was being used to construct fresh disinformation.  But again, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Mogilevich is genuinely still involved in nuclear smuggling.  The fact that Litvinenko was a disinformation peddler does not in itself establish that he was not on the trail of genuine information, be it about nuclear matters or about the murky underworlds of the energy industry.

Among the possibilities that open out, obviously, is that MI6 had recruited Litvinenko, and was using private security companies as a front, but was doing so in pursuit of perfectly legitimate intelligence inquiries -- sometimes disinformation peddlers do have access to reliable sources.  But then it is also possible that Litvinenko was actually peddling disinformation to British intelligence and British private security companies, who were taken in by it.  And of course the kind of aggressive intelligence operation claimed by Lugovoi could have happened.  What we also have to take into account is the fact that if Litvinenko was attempting to obtain genuine information about Mogilevich and the networks in which he was involved, or to manufacture disinformation about these, or indeed had been involved in an aggressive intelligence operation, someone might easily have been provoked to murder him.  And if polonium was already being smuggled, many of the objections to it as a murder weapon lose force.

If British journalists could break with the habit of sleepwalking down any path on which disinformation peddlers, be they among British officialdom or the Berezovsky circle, choose to send them, they might appreciate that there is a wide range of different scenarios about how Litvinenko might have died.  Many of these suggest that all kinds of people involved in the affair might have a great deal to hide.  As to Lugovoi, an ingrained assumption that everything he has said has to be a smokescreen produced to hide his having deliberately poisoned Litvinenko with polonium in the Pine Bar has obscured the fact that a good deal of what he says could actually be true.  Equally important, it has obscured the fact that some of what he says could as well be designed to hide awkward facts from the Russian authorities, as from the British.

The evidence that the British authorities are putting up smokescreens, meanwhile, has become overwhelming.  In his New York Sun article, Epstein reported the results of his discussions with Russian investigators, who showed him the report presented by the British in support of the request for Lugovoi's extradition.  This, Epstein argues, simply does not contain the kind of basic information which would be expected if the British really had a strong case, and were seriously interested in Lugovoi's extradition.  Crucial to evaluating different hypotheses about how Litvinenko died is information about how the polonium entered his system, for which the autopsy report would be required.  It seems it has not been supplied.  Likewise, concrete data about the trail of polonium contamination which is central to the case against Lugovoi has been in very short supply.  Moreover, other information, such as CCTV footage or witness testimony, supporting the claim that Litvinenko was poisoned in the Pine Bar, has not been provided.  Requests for further information, according to the Russian investigators, have not been met.

What makes it all the more difficult to dismiss these Russian complaints as disinformation is that accounts by British journalists who have clearly been extensively briefed by the police have turned out to be problematic.  Important here are the accounts given in the Panorama 'How to poison a spy' programme, broadcast in January last year, and in the book The Litvinenko File published the following April by the former BBC Moscow Correspondent Martin Sixsmith.

A suspicious circumstance, which AJStrata and copydude have discussed at length, is the mysterious appearance in an ABC report in late January last year of claims of a 'hot' teapot at the Millennium, supposedly giving an 'off-the-charts' reading for polonium.  While the teapot was said to have been discovered in early December, journalists had for no very obvious reason been kept in the dark about this supposedly decisive piece of evidence.  The detailed account of contamination at the Millennium in the Panorama programme, which went out just days before the ABC report, makes no mention of it.  

How the dose could have been strong enough to leave such a high reading after six weeks of cleaning, while weak enough to take three weeks to kill Litvinenko, does seem a puzzle.  And given that the teapot appears in an ABC programme in which an unnamed 'senior official' is quoted as saying investigators have concluded that Litvinenko's death was a 'state-sponsored' assassination, the suspicion arises that disinformation is at issue.

More fundamental problems arise with the central contention on which the case against Lugovoi presented both in the Panorama programme and Sixsmith's book appears to rest -- that as Litvinenko was not leaving radiation traces when he arrived in London on the late morning of November 1, he must have been contaminated subsequently.  This claim does not sit very easily with the reports, quoted by Epstein, that toxicologists had found two separate 'spikes' of polonium in Litvinenko's body.  These reports Volodarsky attempted to dismiss as Russian-inspired disinformation, but in fact they first appeared in the Telegraph:  hardly a noted source of Kremlin propaganda.  And even if one treats it as beyond question that Litvinenko had not been in contact with polonium before his arrival in central London in late morning, he could clearly have ingested polonium in the several hours that intervened before the Pine Bar meeting in the late afternoon.

But this brings one to the extreme oddness of Gordievsky's accounts, on which I focused in my 'Russia Blog' post.  In the Moskovsky Komsomolets interview in late January last year which de Gondi discussed, Gordievsky was suggesting that Litvinenko was poisoned, not in the Pine Bar, but at a meeting held in a hotel room.  Repeatedly, he has claimed that this hotel room meeting happened hours before the Pine Bar meeting.  

Beyond question, the Pine Bar meeting took place after Litvinenko's meeting in the early afternoon with Scaramella at the Itsu sushi bar, following which he is said to have visited Berezovsky's offices to copy emails given him by Scaramella.  The meeting at which Gordievsky suggests Litvinenko was killed happened before the meeting at the Itsu -- and Litvinenko, according to Gordievsky, suggested that the polonium had heated the tea which he was served:  a claim in direct conflict with the official account, according to which it was only immediately before Litvinenko's death that investigators heard about polonium.  Although moreover Lugovoi is said to have attended this earlier meeting, the actual murderer is said to have been a mysterious Russian, whose name is variously given as 'Vladimir' or 'Vladislav'.  

Moreover, in Sixsmith's study, Boris Volodarsky -- whom he describes as being like Gordievsky a former member of the KGB, but actually seems to be a former member of the GRU, Russian military intelligence -- is quoted making the same case.  Among other things, Volodarsky suggests that there is CCTV footage of the Pine Bar meeting, which establishes that Litvinenko could not have been murdered there.  But of course, this CCTV footage is one of the things which the Russian investigators complain that they have not been given.  In a long comment on Epstein's story, moreover, Volodarsky repeats the case.  So, quite simply, if the claims made by Gordievsky and Volordarsky have any connection whatsoever with the truth, the official British account of Litvinenko's death has to be disinformation -- just as the Russian investigators are suggesting.

Of course, everything Gordievsky and Volodarsky say may be disinformation.  As de Gondi chronicled, Gordievsky first denied Scaramella's claim that he was the source of the accusation that Romano Prodi had worked for the KGB, and accused Litvinenko of telling Scaramella what he wanted to hear because of his money problems -- and then went back to smearing Prodi.  Furthermore he accused Evgeni Limarev -- another associate of Berezovsky who had been a source of much of the disinformation put out by Scaramella -- of working for the FSB:  which looks like an attempt to suggest that Scaramella and Litvinenko honestly accepted FSB disinformation.  

There are however reasons for not assuming that Gordievsky's claims about this earlier meeting are a total fabrication.  One of the most remarkable, and neglected, aspects of the whole Litvinenko mystery is that one would have expected that, very soon after his poisoning, he would have been interviewed by the British police, and they would have obtained from him -- as a matter of routine -- a full account of who he had met, and what he had eaten, in the period leading up to his being taken ill.  

The available evidence suggests however that the police only learned about Lugovoi shortly before Litvinenko's death, and at that point the meeting was indeed supposed to have taken place before the meeting with Scaramella, and to have involved Lugovoi and 'Vladimir'.  The information appears initially at least to have come indirectly, through Alex Goldfarb -- and the police seem to have been completely ignorant about the Pine Bar meeting.  It is unclear what information, if any, about Lugovoi the police obtained directly from Litvinenko.

Moreover, the fact that Litvinenko appears to have been deeply reluctant to be candid with the British police investigating his case about his meetings with Lugovoi sits uneasily with the claim -- accepted without question by Scott-Clark and Levy -- that on his side at least what was involved was innocent commercial activity.  An obvious question arises as to whether he was more candid with anyone else -- if he was, one would want to ask why they were not more candid with the police.  

Here, obviously, the claim made by the Dail Mail that Litvinenko was working for MI6, and that Scarlett had been personally involved in his recruitment, is relevant.  Even leaving that aside, we have Gordievsky's claim to have been a friend of Litvinenko, and the fact that Scarlett was case officer for Gordievsky when the latter was KGB resident in London.  Last but not least, it was Scarlett who, as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, was instrumental in the dissemination of the claims that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Niger and had weapons of mass destruction he could launch at 45-minutes notice -- in both cases, claims made on the basis of already highly dubious information were clearly 'sexed-up', just as the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan claimed at the time.

According to Scott-Clark and Levy, among the targets of the disinformation campaigns in which Scaramella and Litvinenko were involved were the journalists from La Repubblica who did much to expose the bizarre story of the forged documents on which the Niger uranium claims were based and their dissemination by elements in Italian intelligence.  The question of how far Gordievsky does or does not act as a mouthpiece of British intelligence remains, as I have noted, an open -- and puzzling one.  

What however one would have expected is that, as soon as Litvinenko fell ill, Gordievsky and Scarlett would both have been informed, and would have obtained from him an account of what had happened -- as also, one would have expected that Berezovsky would have obtained an account of what had happened.  If we knew who, if anyone, knew more about Litvinenko's dealings with Lugovoi than the investigating police appear to have done, we would I think be a long way to solving the mystery of his death.

What should however be clear is that, although the Russian investigators may very well be putting out disinformation, the official British account is so questionable that one is certainly not entitled to discount what they say.  And here, one comes back to the 'security consultants' Erinys and Titon International, to whom Epstein refers. As to the former, one suggestion that merits particular attention is the Russian investigators' claim that all the traces of radiation provided in the British report in support of the request for Lugovoi's extradition 'could have emanated from a single event, such as a leak  -- by design or accident -- at the October 16 meeting at the security company in Berezovsky's building.'  

Actually, this suggestion develops one made by Lugovoi, when he and Kovtun answered questions put by British journalists in August last year.  What Lugovoi claimed was that the flight on the Russian carrier Transaero on which the two flew in from Moscow prior to that meeting was found to be free of radiation traces -- but that 'large amounts of polonium' were found at the offices of Erinys:  which according to a story in the Independent shortly after Litvinenko's death, were indeed located in a building owned by Berezovsky.

At this press conference, as usual, British journalists refused to be distracted by information that might have called the official case into question.  But there really are puzzles about this Transaero flight, and the Transaero flight on which Lugovoi and Kovtun flew back to Moscow after this visit.  According to Sixsmith, Transaero refused requests by the British police to examine both planes.  

This claim is in tension with a report carried in the Washington Post on December 1, 2006, according to which a Transaero plane had been checked and cleared after landing at Heathrow, but the Home Secretary John Reid, had said there was one other Russian plane that the British authorities might be interested in.  On December 4, meanwhile, discussing Lugovoi and Kovtun's return journey, the Guardian reported that subsequent tests had 'shown that the Transaero aircraft was not contaminated by polonium-210, and nor was the hotel where Mr Lugovoi stayed on his first visit.'

The British journalists might have probed Lugovoi to be more precise about his claims about how he came to contaminated with polonium.  In fact, the suggestion that there might have been a leak at the meeting at Erinys on October 16 actually calls into question some of what was claimed by Lugovoi at the August press conference.  If indeed there is no visible polonium trail prior to that meeting, then questions are certainly raised about what was going on in the Erinys offices.  But by the same token, even if the Transaero flight on which Lugovoi and Kovtun flew in prior to the meeting was clean, this would hardly be strong evidence against the charge that they brought the polonium from Moscow.

One would expect any competent polonium smuggler to keep the material in a secure container, so that it would be extraordinarily surprising if traces were left.  Moreover, the claim that the source of the polonium contamination was a leak at Erinys would logically imply that Lugovoi and Kovtun must already have been contaminated when they boarded their return flight on Transaero.  So the absence of radiation traces on this return flight would then present a significant problem.  It could be that the notion of a leak at Erinys on October 16 as the source of the trail collapses -- in which case one needs another explanation of why its offices were contaminated.  

But in fact one of the complaints of the Russian investigators, as reported by Epstein, was that the trail in London was 'inexplicably erratic, with traces that were found, as they noted, "in a place where a person stayed for a few minutes, but were absent in the place where he was staying for several hours, although these events follow one after another."'  In his response to Epstein, Volodarsky appears to agree that the fact that someone is contaminated does not mean that they necessarily leave traces wherever they go.  But if this is so, even if in fact we can be certain that Litvinenko was not leaving a contamination trail when he arrived in London on the morning of November 1, is it absolutely clear that this establishes that he had had no prior contact with polonium?

Had the British reporters paid more attention to what Lugovoi said, they might might have noticed an interesting implication of the claims he was making -- which is put into much starker relief by what the Russian investigators have said to Epstein.  How easy is it, one would want to ask, to contaminate people with polonium, so that they leave the kind of trail that Lugovoi and Kovtun proceeded to leave -- without their being aware that something odd is going on?  

Moreover, if in fact the contamination occurred as a result of a leak, how likely is that the leak passed unnoticed?  A natural corollary of the claim being implied by Russian investigators would seem to be that Litvinenko and those from Erinys present at the meeting were aware that polonium was present -- and also that Lugovoi and Kovtun were.  But if that was the case, then Epstein's hypothesis that a smuggling operation must have been involved somewhere in the Litvinenko mystery looks all the more plausible.

Although in an affair quite as bizarre as this it is difficult to rule anything out, what we know of the other activities of Litvinenko and of Scaramella does not lead naturally to the conclusion that radiation traces were left at Erinys because those who met there envisaged selling polonium on the nuclear black market.  But polonium could have ended up present in the company's offices as the result of a genuine investigation of the activities of figures suspected of nuclear smuggling -- as Mogilevich is.  It could also have ended up there as the result of a disinformation operation involving nuclear scaremongering.  

And here it worth taking into account the fact that Scaramella has been involved in nuclear scaremongering in the past, and also his reported claim -- about which he later said he had been misquoted -- that Litvinenko had said he had been involved in such smuggling as an FSB operative.  It could be that Scaramella was not misquoted, and that he had been producing some of the disinformation which was to be validated by a polonium trail pointing to Moscow -- but backtracked when it was obvious that he was in deep water.  It is moreover perfectly conceivable that both elements could have been present at the same time -- a genuine investigation of polonium smuggling and a disinformation operation could have become intertwined.  

What also seems clear is that it is difficult to account for Litvinenko's falling ill on the evening of November 1 on the basis of a leak at Erinys on October 16.  But given the problems of the official British version, at this point one is driven back to look at what happened between his arrival in London in late morning and his appearance at the Pine Bar.  One possibility is that there was another meeting, as Gordievsky and Volodarsky have suggested.  And of course there is a substantial lapse of time between Litvinenko arriving in London at 11.30am and the meeting with Scaramella at the Itsu around four hours later, which has not been accounted for.  

It could indeed have been that Litvinenko was deliberately murdered at this earlier meeting, just as Gordievsky and Volodarsky claim.  But then there could simply have been another leak at the meeting -- which could have led to his accidental ingestion of polonium, either at the time or indeed subsequently.  The meeting might have been at the Millennium, but might not.  It might have involved Lugovoi, but might not.  But then one has also to take into account the curious puzzle that Sixsmith describes contamination as present on the photocopier which Litvinenko used at Berezovsky's offices, but says he used it prior to the Pine Bar meeting.  Although Sixsmith seems not to grasp this, his account, if true, creates major problems for the official British version.

It is thus possible to take what Gordievsky and Volodarsky say about an earlier meeting in a variety of ways.  If it happened, and there was simply an accidental leak, Gordievsky's account of what Litvinenko said could either be disinformation designed to obscure the fact that a nuclear smuggling operation was involved, or an account of Litvinenko's own garbled attempts to make sense of what happened.  If Litvinenko was deliberately murdered at the such a meeting, then Gordievsky and Volodarsky could actually be telling the truth.  Indeed, some of the odd unclarities and ambiguities as to what Litvinenko is supposed to have said would make sense, irrespective of whether or not his poisoning was deliberate or accidental, if they were the incoherent remarks of a dying man.  Polonium would not have heated tea, but someone at death's door trying to make sense of what had happened to him might conjecture that it could have.  

And Gordievsky and Volodarsky could have gone 'off message', because while MI6 is trying to prevent various kinds of embarrassment which might result if the actual truth came out, they are not.  But then, their whole story could be an invention -- designed to make sense of the anomalous evidence about contamination at Berezovsky's office, which could naturally be taken to suggest that this was where Litvinenko was poisoned:  which would of course fit in very naturally with the suggestion by Lugovoi and others that Berezovsky might have had Litvinenko killed.

Another element that needs to be added in is the suggestion of the Russian investigators that, according to Lugovoi, he had been offered large sums of money to provide compromising information about Russian officials -- and that Kovtun backs up his story.  And here, obviously, Lugovoi is simply restating the claim he made at his original press conference.  In itself, the claim is quite compatible either with the hypothesis that a genuine investigation was at issue, and the hypothesis that a disinformation operation was at issue.  Moreover, such information, or disinformation, could have related to nuclear matters -- but could also have very easily have related to the murkier underworlds of European energy trading.  And of course, the claim could itself be disinformation.  

But it is hardly impossible that it is disinformation supplied by Lugovoi and Kovtun to the Russian investigators.  For if -- as is not impossible -- the two had been involved in activities in London of which the Russian authorities would take a dim view, they might very well have good reasons to want to pull the wool over the eyes of their countrymen.

What makes it difficult simply to discount even the most improbable-seeming hypotheses, however, are the failures of British intelligence in relation to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.  As Scarlett and MI6 appeared to have collaborated in a weird mixture of purveying what they must have known was disinformation, and credulously accepting disinformation provided by Iraqi opponents of Saddam's regime, it is difficult to rule out the possibility that something similar has happened again.  And it is certainly difficult to have confidence that elements in British intelligence were not either complicit in, or gulled by, the disinformation operations of Scaramella, Litvinenko -- and Gordievsky.  After all, if investigative journalists writing in the Guardian can simply accept without question what Alex Goldfarb tells them, one can hardly rule out the possibility that employees of MI6, or indeed Erinys, are just as gullible, if not more so.

Moreover, a fundamental fact about the history of Erinys may well here be relevant -- that the company emerged as a major player in the private security industry as the result of a contract to protect oil installations in Iraq, which was secured in collaboration with close associates of Ahmad Chalabi.  And Chalabi is one of the most notable purveyors of disinformation in recent history -- and moreover, has been charged by former very senior American intelligence analysts with being an agent of influence of the clerical regime in Tehran.  The complexities involved here however -- as with the other companies Litvinenko and Lugovoi visited -- must be left for another occasion.

Wow, thank you for that. An incredible tale, one sadly to which there will never be a definitive answer when, it seems, there are so many parties unwilling to look too closely.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 06:10:01 PM EST
I thank you very much for your presentation of the latest developments in the Litvinenko mystery here at Eurotrib, above all your grasp of the arguments that far overshadow anything I might venture in merit. Both articles, the Scott-Clark and Levy Guardian piece as well as the Epstein Sun article were presented here in the Salon.

As in past work on the Niger disinformation case and the role of the British press, I am rather wary of the Guardian article, and have promised myself to review it here. I'm afraid you in-depth article may force my arm somewhat. Epstein's reconstruction of the case are in my opinion of great interest.

Re Mogilevich it had crossed my mind that he may have been arrested by chance- or mistake, as it appeared the real objective was Nekrasov, and not a certain Sergei Schnaider, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that may only testify to my ignorance of Russian affairs. It is an eloquent coincidence that Mogilevich was arrested before the elections just as Provenzano was arrested on election eve in 2006 after 40 odd years at large.

I am certainly looking forward to comments by blackhawk and sargon.

(I'll be signing off now- it's 2.20 here in Europe.)

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 08:28:33 PM EST
I am also very much looking forward to comments by blackhawk and sargon.

At a guess, I would think that when they arrested 'Sergei Schnaider' the Russian authorities knew who they were dealing with -- although one cannot be certain.

I think there are indications that both on the Russian and Ukrainian sides there is a will to get rid of this rather curious intermediary structure in the gas trade to and through the Ukraine.

But the worlds of business, politics and crime became so intimately entangled in the chaos produced by 'shock therapy' that someone like Mogilevich may very well have compromising connections with/compromising information on, all kinds of people.

Accordingly, he both may have powerful protectors -- and also a lot of other people, who may have no desire to protect him, may feel he has to be handled with kid gloves.

People like Mogilevich -- also Berezovsky and Chalabi -- are experts on corrupting people, which is one of the reasons they are as dangerous as they are.

A very important breach in the wall of orthodoxy has come with a long article by Mary Deyevsky in the Independent this morning.

It takes up and elaborates the arguments made by Epstein in a most interesting way.

About one aspect, however, I have mixed feelings.

The hypothesis to which she inclines is that Litvenko's death was an accidental result of a polonium smuggling operation.

While this seems to me perfectly possible, I also think that it is perfectly possible that he was deliberately murdered -- only if he was, it was certainly not in the Pine Bar.

She mentions complaints by the Russian authorities that 'sting' operations mounted by Western intelligence agencies in relation to nuclear smuggling amounted to 'provocations'.

It would seem to me perfectly possible that the dealings of Scaramella and Litvinenko with Talik involve this kind of operation, and not beyond the bounds of possibility that MI6 could have been involved.  On the part of Scaramella and Litvinenko, however, a disinformation operation would almost certainly have been involved.  It is not difficult to imagine that there might be people who decided that either kind of activity might justify removing Litvinenko from the scene.

Equally however there are strong grounds to believe that the 'evidence' on the basis of which Berezovsky was granted political asylum was disinformation in the production of which Litvinenko was heavily involved.  If in fact, as has commonly been suggested, Litvinenko was becoming something of a loose canon, the general British assumption that Berezovsky can be ruled out as a suspect for lack of motive collapses.

The quite extraordinary credulity of large elements of the British elite about Berezovsky is to my mind a major puzzle.  Ironically, there was a very good piece on this by Stephanie Marsh last July in the Times.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Fri May 2nd, 2008 at 05:28:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 08:39:08 PM EST
The 'suspected nuclear-component smuggler' is of course another former KGB agent, Alexander Talik, whose framing by Scaramella and Litvinenko was discussed at length by de Gondi.  The clear implication of Epstein's comment would seem to be that, although Talik was framed by Scaramella, he is suspected of involvement in nuclear smuggling.  By whom is not made plain -- as elsewhere in his article, Epstein makes an elliptical comment which suggests that he has much more information than he as yet feels in a position to make public.

Considering his talent, I do hope that Epstein's allusion to a "suspected nuclear-component smuggler" does not refer to Alexander Talik. There is an individual previously condemned in Italy as an agent provocateur for arms and nuclear smuggling who is linked to a vast network, also involved in international criminal activity, of which the Berlusconi witch-hunts and disinformation campaigns are part. However it is unlikely that he or his accomplices would be set up to be framed like Talik. Quite to the contrary.

As for Talik, there is really no information available, despite the suggestive Guardian piece, that would have him as some sort of sleeper capable of organizing a murder on commission with an exotic weapon, much less to be involved in an international criminal organization. He appears very much a small fry caught up in an intrigue far beyond himself and his capabilities.

With Scott-Clark and Levy we are requested to lay faith in their sources (Italian security services), a notoriously dodgy concession when dealing with deception in Italy. All the more so when some of the information they offer is characterized by suggestive atmospheres and omissions, when not misrepresentation. One does wonder how the authors had access to the so-called Litvinenko files, presumably in the vaults of the Mitrokhin commission, while there was on-going opposition in the recent legislature to making them available to public scrutiny. It would also have been kind on their part to inform the reader that the Berlusconi Senator Gian Paolo Pelizzaro, presented as a consultant for the Mitrokhin commission, theorizes rightwing fringe conspiracies that were perfectly in keeping with the commission's agenda. It is certainly not a question of Pelizzaro's opinions but a matter of contextualizing them. One does hope that Scott-Clark and Levy did not rely on Pelizzaro or his entourage to get in contact with the "Italian security services."

At what point should the Litvinenko dossier be taken seriously? On March 3, 2005 (Repubblica, 26 November 2006), Litvinenko declared on tape that after each interrogation session with Scaramella he would sign the transcripts translated into Italian without knowing if they faithfully reflected his declarations. Further, Scaramella emailed prefabricated documents to Litvinenko expressly asking him to print and sign them, and send them back (Repubblica, 29 December 2006).

The matter of the so-called Limarev document alleging an assassination plot that prompted Scaramella's trip to London has long since been denied and debunked by Limarev as reported here and here . The same goes for the unverifiable assertion attributed to Trofimov that Prodi was their man in Italy, which in Guardian article morphs into a declarative sentence. Coincidently the phrase "Prodi is our man" was suggested by Guzzanti to Scaramella in a taped conversation of 28 January 2006. Guzzanti, who is well known for his uncanny capacity to imitate voices, is apparently also capable of making the dead talk. Because the tapes involved a Senator they could not be used by prosecutors without prior consent by the Senate. The past legislation never freed the tapes of this obligation.

Talik's mishaps at the hands of Scaramella and Litvinenko are far more mundane than what the authors would like us to believe. Scaramella and his "personal assistant" Andreij Ganchev, much like the cat and the fox of Pinocchio fame, promised Talik pipe dreams of fast money if he collaborated with them. Talik and Ganchev eventually had a falling out over a vacation resort get-rich scheme that saw the two haggling over € 1200. Nor were relations with Scaramella fruitful. The resourceful Scaramella eventually felt that Talik could serve as a fall guy in his mad scheme to frame Prodi  and create a media event in which he and Guzzanti could be billed as would-be martyrs.
Aspects of the case can be grotesque. Scaramella's denouncement of Talik and the two vans at the Dante commissariat in Naples (not Rome) immediately aroused suspicion in the police. They determined that Scaramella placed several phone calls to the vans on his cell phone as the vans drove down the Adriatic coast. It is uncommon for a self-designated victim to call up his would be assassins to see how their trip is getting along. It is no wonder then that the Naples investigation of Talik never lead to his arrest. It is a curious twist that Talik called Scaramella for advice on what to say when he was summoned for a police interrogation in November 2005. And it was the clumsy bragging of Litvinenko to the Ukranian press at the end of November that rightly outraged Talik as you have so well described.

It is scandalous that the dossier of the Naples investigation took fifteen months to get to Teramo where the four Ukrainians were held in custody for smuggling weapons. It was an authentic coup de théâtre when the Naples evidence was produced in court. Just as the testimony (Repubblica, 07 March 2007) of the ex-functionary of the Ukrainian secret services, Vladimir Kobik, who declared that Scaramella had approached him asking him to either procure weapons of war for the Mitrokhin commission or indicate how to procure them. Following Kobik's refusals,  Scaramella then asked him if he would be willing to vouch for the provenance of the weapons were Scaramella to procure them on his own. Kobik's testimony was confirmed by evidence found in Scaramella's personal computer as well as paper trails imprudently left by Scaramella. The court immediately suspended the trial and ordered the release of the four Ukrainians. At the final hearing on May 22, 2007, the judges took all of 30 minutes to declare the defendants not guilty "for not having committed the crime."

In this light, phrases of the following tenure are misleading:

The trial of the six [sic] Ukrainians who had been arrested with the grenades, and who had been in custody since October 2005, collapsed for lack of evidence.

Trial transcripts are public. The authors have had plenty of time to verify what sort of "lack of evidence" they have in mind. Before the 1989 reform of the criminal code a sentence could be given with the formula "not guilty for lack of evidence," definitely not the case in the Teramo trial. Evidence abounded. Alas, phrases of such tenure evoke the sort of illations Senator Guzzanti has accustomed us to.

In September 2007, after nine months in police custody, Scaramella was placed under house arrest at his family's villa near Gaeta, a seaside town north of Naples. He denies the charges.

On February 14th, 2008, two weeks after the Guardian article, Mario Scaramella plea bargained a guilty sentence for aggravated and continuous calumny, smuggling of weapons of war and violation of official secrets. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment. He had already spent 14 months in custody and house arrest. Scaramella was immediately released thanks to the benefits of the Prodi-Mastella indulgence law expressly written to condone all criminal activity conducted before and during the Berlusconi (XIII) legislature 2001 through May 2006. Mario Scaramella is currently charged with embezzlement for having pocketed one million euro in government funds for the false demolition of 23 abusive buildings in the Vesuvius National Park. He is also involved in a case of attempted embezzlement of 500,000 euro under similar circumstances in the Gargano National Park in Puglia.
Whatever Scaramella may have to face in the near future, it is unlikely he will be out of work. He is a very resourceful individual who had no problems continuing his activities after the Mitrokhin Commission. Police raids turned up a stash of $ 20,000, brand new, in a series that did not originate in Europe. The recovery of his computer revealed documents with false charges sent to an American destination, all contrived in mid-2006.

You have rightly brought attention to the Niger forgeries in this context. I can only add that in the sophisticated art of deception, forgeries can actually be far more effective if they are badly made. What counts in the final analysis is the impact and controversy in the media. What is missing or barely suggested draws attention and leads to fascination. The polarization of public opinion is very persuasive, and the first victim is fact. A perfect forgery would imply that a chain of authority would have to assume responsibility for its contents and effects. The Niger forgeries case will remain as one of the most extraordinary and effective disinformation campaigns since the gift of Constantine. In the end it hardly matters who actually forged them.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sun May 4th, 2008 at 06:31:32 AM EST
I'd like to go into detail on the so-called "Italian security services" and their alleged documents as evoked by Scott-Clark and Levy:
If Scotland Yard have been restricted in their investigations, the Italian security services have no such inhibition - and felt able to show us the results of their inquiries. They were watching Litvinenko long before he came under scrutiny in London, and gathered a vast dossier of material on him, including phone tap transcripts, affidavits, photographs and emails, court depositions and police interrogations; it charts how, driven by money worries, Litvinenko had been secretly cultivating a new project in Italy.

At the time the two Italian state security services that could have investigated Litvinenko and Scaramella were the military secret services, the SISMI, which in theory is to operate outside Italian territory or against foreign menaces within states borders, and the SISDE, which operates on Italian territory. The SISMI was run by General Pollari at the time, the SISDE by General Mori. When the Scaramella-Litvinenko affair broke, members of parliament asked the government and the then heads of the services if they had gathered information related to the Mitrokhin commission and the two figures. The SISDE reply was a categorical "no" while Pollari's reply was ambiguous.

The Minister of Interior Giuliano Amato, interrogated by the Copaco, the IS oversight committee, declared that neither of the services nor the police had collaborated in any way with the Mitrokhin commission.

At this point it may be a case of "plausible denial" especially in the case of the SISMI. High officials of the SISMI were deeply involved in illegal activity such as the Telecom-SISMI scandal which involved the massive production of disinformation and illegal domestic espionage through off-shot security covers. One of the "gate-keepers" in the scandal was the Polis D'Istinto security company which was linked to another 52 security services. Apparently security services were in hot demand during the Berlusconi years.

As far as government intelligence services are concerned a simple question may be raised, ignoring the stumbling block of it being a crime: Why would such a wealth of documentation be shown to two foreign reporters if ever it existed, all the more so when both services officially deny any involvement? Sure, the English press has a vast audience and prestige. But the Italian press knows its Italy and all that has passed here. An English article, even if it is critical, makes a great bouncing board.

It is no secret that the judiciary branch investigated Scaramella, each procura for its own reasons. Teramo, Naples, Bari, Rome. But investigative judges do not hail from "security services."

Scott-Clark and Levy offer a list "including phone tap transcripts, affidavits, photographs and emails, court depositions and police interrogations..." which raises serious problems. Had Litvinenko personally made court depositions or had been subject to police interrogations, it would be public knowledge by now. More likely he may have been cited in court depositions and police interrogations in the only trials or pending trials that involve Scaramella. As a defendant, Scaramella and his lawyers, are the only ones that had access to that material before trial. Once a trial is underway, the material becomes public. But then Scaramella was the protagonist, not Litvinenko.

Throughout Scaramella's handling of Litvinenko and Limarev, he made shows of authority in front of shills in unidentified offices, alleging that they were IS covers, even CIA covers.  Limarev describes him as presenting himself in SUVs with six Israeli bodyguards. An entire building in San Marino under court seizure was magically open and running when Limarev was escorted there. Scaramella was even hired by the Republic of San Marino to manage state security.

Litvinenko's interrogations (affidavits?) were described as follows in a taped declaration in the London offices of Berezovsky on March 3, 2005.

[...] 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. Mario called me and asked me if I could tell him everything I knew about the KGB's operations and contacts in Italy. I told him right off that I didn't know Mitrokhin and knew nothing about his archive, but if he wanted a list of possible Russian contacts on the argument and my consultation to understand the criminal mechanisms of the KGB and the FSB, their links to organized crime, I was available. We agreed that I would come to Italy at the end of February 2004.

Then, suddenly, something happened then that I, unfortunately, didn't understand then. I have a brother named Maxim. He's 21 and has been in Italy for the past four. He lives in Rimini where he's a university student and works as a cook in restaurant that specializes in steak alla brace. Well, a month before I arrived in Italy, Maxim called me up in desperation. The police no longer considered his student visa valid and menaced to expel him back to Russia. I asked Mario for help, and he said not to worry. He told me that Berlusconi had been told about my impegno with the Mitrokhin and that Maxim shouldn't worry. If I collaborate bringing the evidence the commission asks for, Maxin will get political asylum. Maxim confirmed that Mario went to Rimini and talked to the police. But in the end my brother had to do it all by himself to get his visa. The episode was certainly a way to get me to collaborate.


At the beginning of March 2004 I arrived at Fiumicino where I found Scaramella waiting for me with an interpreter and a driver. We got in Mario's car, a brown Land Rover, and drove straight to Naples. The driver told me he was a penitentiary cop and I suppose he was because he travelled armed. The interpreter introduced himself as André. He was a Russian citizen and I was surprised he had no documents to stay in Italy. No visa permit, no political asylum. I said to Mario: "How do you expect to protect this person? The things he'll hear from me about the KGB and the FSB accuse Putin and therefore put his life in danger..." Mario told me to mind my own business. In Naples I stayed in the hotel "Britannia" or "Britanique" on the "hill" (in Naples in Corso Vittorio Emanuele, there exists a hotel called Britanique. The hotel is on the slopes of the Vomero. Ed.) Mario paid my room, the airplane ticket and the expenses of my brother who spent the last two of the five days I was there. The days were all alike. I waited in the hotel until they came to pick me up. They took me to a house not far from the hotel towards the sea. The apartment was on the first floor of a low building which overlooked the courtyard of a big school with a volleyball field. A woman transcribed my declarations on paper and at the end of each work day, I was asked to sign. Now I don't know what I signed because the texts were in Italian and I can't swear that the interpreter didn't make any errors. We worked late into the night. I decided to collaborate after I was reassured. [...]

Now the only people that could have all of this documentation, including documents effectively signed by Litvinenko, are Mario Scaramella and whoever he passed it on to, whether it was the Mitrokhin commission or  private security services, for example.

Whatever is written in these Litvinenko files should be weighed with caution. Even the presence of names such as Mogilevich.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 03:50:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have made a lapsus in the above translation which should include the following phrase (in my bold):
The police no longer considered his student visa valid and menaced to expel him back to Russia. Which would have meant his death sentence. I asked Mario for help, and he said not to worry.

Of course, steak alla brace means grilled over wood charcoal. impegno means "committment" or "pledge to cooperate" in this case.

My apologies.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 04:37:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am grossly ignorant about Italian politics -- and also very conscious of the need not to jump to conclusions in these murky affairs.

But the natural hypothesis to which your comments seem to lead is that by 'security services' Scott-Clark and Levy mean the SISMI.  While the SISDE's categorical 'no' is hardly definitive evidence that they were not gathering information about Litvinenko and Scaramella, Pollari's ambiguous reply would seem strongly to suggest that the SISMI was.  And the past activities of the SISMI to which you have referred do incline one to think that it could very easily have collaborated with the Mitrokhin Commission -- despite Amato's denials.

I certainly don't think Scott-Clark and Levy are lying, so we can assume that a 'wealth of documentation' really existed -- although of course the possibility that documents are being fabricated, or the reporters have simply accepted claims about what they say, cannot be ruled out.  (I do not know whether they read Italian, or had the services of someone who did.)

So -- why should this have been shown to two foreign reporters?

Particularly given the record of the SISMI, and the many problems of the suggestion that Talik instigated Litvinenko's murder, disinformation seems overwhelmingly likely.

There would seem to be two possibilities -- although these are hardly mutually exclusive.

It could be that the instigators of the disinformation are in Italy -- and that the purposes it serves are Italian.  Your conjectures as to the possible purposes are obviously immensely better informed than mine.  But to an ignorant outsider, what you say about Pelizarro points to the possibility that it could be convenient to suggest that certain activities of the Mitrokhin Commission were due to the 'loose canon' Scaramella, Litvinenko, and Limarev -- so diverting attention from the responsibility of others.

But then, Scott-Clark and Levy could simply have started investigating Litvinenko's activities in Italy -- an obvious enough line of inquiry -- and someone in Italy could have decided that it would be sensible for SISMI to point them in certain directions and found means of engineering this.

But then again, it could be that SISMI -- or whoever -- are involved in a disinformation operation instigated by people outside Italy.  What would seem to make this at least possible is the fact that the accusation against Talik looks like another in a series of false trails, designed to prevent people asking obvious questions about the death of Litvinenko.  One such false trail was based upon the famous emails -- of disputed provenance -- which Scaramella was said to have brought to London, which refer to the organisation named 'Dignity and Honour':  Sixsmith sleepwalks along this route.  

Another highly dubious trail laid not long after Litvinenko died had the former KGB operative Yuri Shvets claiming that Litvinenko was murdered because of a 'due diligence' dossier he produced on a prominent Kremlin figure:  Tom Mangold on BBC Radio recycled this interpretation, without mentioning that Shvets has been associated with Berezovsky.  Mangold worked for the BBC 'Panorama' programme for many years, and an exchange of emails relating to an article he was writing recycling British intelligence disinformation about Iraqi WMD featured in evidence to Lord Hutton.

It also worth bearing in mind Epstein's suggestion that one of the purposes of the request for Lugovoi's extradition was to prevent people taking seriously his account -- according to which Litvinenko was working for MI6, and that organisation used private security companies to attempt to recruit him.  The disinformation supplied to Scott-Clark and Levy at the London end looks as though it was designed to stop them contemplating the possibility that at least some of what Lugovoi says is true -- if so, it succeeded.

In that case, the original source could very well be within the Berezovsky circle -- note that Scott-Clark and Levy seem to have talked extensively to Goldfarb, whose history as a Soviet-era human rights activist makes him an ideal channel for disinformation.  The source could also have been in British intelligence, or indeed the police, although both seem less likely.

The list is I agree puzzling.  Just possibly, Scott-Clark and Levy could have been referring to materials already in the public domain as a result of the court hearing concerning Talik, which the 'security services' just happened to have collected.  But if the material relates to Scaramella one would indeed tend to conclude that the information came either from him or from his lawyers, through the Mitrokhin Commission or through a private security company.

I agree that if anyone has the documentation referred to in the La Repubblica transcript of the taped declaration by Litvinenko on March 3, 2005, it is likely to have been sourced through Scaramella.  The denial by Litvinenko that he knew what he was signing is obviously likely to be in some sense true -- but he could have been giving himself deniability, should he want later to disassociate himself from claims he had actually made by blaming Scaramella.

It would certainly be interesting to be clear as to whether we have adequate reason to believe that the supposed tape from October 2005 in which Litvinenko discusses Mogilevich exists.  If it does, it could well be a pack of lies.  But then even what Litvinenko said was pure disinformation, the fact he said it could be of very great relevance to the mystery of how he died.

The only publicly accessible information relating to this Ukrainian Moriarty-figure which Scott-Clark and Levy mention is the suggestion by Talik in court proceedings that the purpose of his framing was to get him to provide information on Mogilevich -- by which they may have meant to play the role of a plausible source of disinformation.  It is not clear whether these are the same proceedings where the tape of his threats against Litvinenko is reported to have been played.  But whether or not they are, this information is presumably in the public domain, and it would be interesting to know precisely what Talik said.

I certainly agree that one needs to weigh all information in this case with caution.  But I also think that one needs to put these shenanigans in Italy alongside Litvinenko's dealings with private security companies in London -- in particular Erinys.  This company could well be interested in Mogilevich, for all kinds of reasons -- including his involvement in RosUkrEnergo.  They could also have been the victims of disinformation by Litvinenko.  Never underestimate the gullibility of today's Brits.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 11:25:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have covered the issue of the services manipulating reporters in this diary, The Italian Uranium Forgeries- Adventures in Manipulation. I refrained at the time of expressing my point of view why Buongiorno and Farina wrote their articles on Rocco Martino. The tone of their articles and the paradoxical false newsbit on Rocco's possible fate leave little space for interpretation. Rocco got the message loud and clear. So did we.

As the reporter and editor Giuseppe Fava once wrote, "One of the jobs in our business is, to put it banally, to read newspapers. Now, usually- and I'm not saying always- it isn't difficult to read what the papers write, it's more difficult to read what they don't write. It's more complicated, but it's usually more instructive."

Formally, neither the Sismi nor the Sisde collaborated with the Mitrokhin commission. In the parent scandal, the Telekom-Serbija commission scandal, I suspect that the Sisde worked as a spoiler.

The Sismi were most likely aware of Scaramella's frauds and may have played a role indirectly through the illegal Mancini, Tavaroli, Cipriani networks.

Whatever the two state services may have gathered was on their own initiative without concerning the commissions. Of course, if they were to feel the urge to share it with reporters, it would likely follow the same old script I described in the above mentioned diary.

The "sources of proof" are only available to the investigative judge and his office as well as to the defence. It is only with the trial that "sources of proof" are accepted as evidence and then made public. Since Scaramella never underwent a public trial, whatever documentation concerning him and his alleged crimes could only have come from him or his lawyers.

Transcripts of Talik's conversations as well as his testimony could have been admitted as evidence in the Teramo trial, and therefore are public. But the evidence would only be pertinent to the trial which excludes all irrelevant Litvinenko files.

Thus any Litvinenko files shown to the Guardian reporters most likely originated as we have come to agree: through Scaramella or to whom he may have given them. The only other possibility is that some of them may be extraneous forgeries thrown in with the package deal. That is standard fare.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 01:57:16 PM EST
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I have found the references to Mogilevich in conversations between Scaramella and Guzzanti. They are summarized in the Prosecutor's request of authorization to use wiretaps involving a member of parliament as a source of proof. (The authorization was denied on February 19th, 2008).

I will give a full translation of relevant passage as soon as possible. In brief, the source is Scaramella who attributes the accusations to Litvinenko. Scaramella links Mogilevich, Bin Laden and various mafias to an effort to recover phantomatic Soviet nuclear weapons that Mario asserts are in the Bay of Naples.

The prosecutor notes that Scaramella's claims to Guzzanti are in contrast with wiretaped conversations between Litvinenko and Ganchev as well as between Talik and his wife.

With the caveat that Litvinenko may have later signed claims similar to Scaramella's claims, it does cast a shadow over any document allegedly by Litvinenko that may have been shown to Scott-Clark and Levy.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 05:43:44 PM EST
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The following passage may be found on page 7 of the request for authorization to use wiretaps:
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 Scaramenlla 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 by him. 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 Berezovsky, 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.)

The Naples Bay nuclear weapons hoax was a favorite of Scaramella. Lou Palumbo, an ex-CIA agent worked as a consultant for the Florida based Incident Management Group. Lou introduced Filippo Marino to the IMG where Marino rose to become senior consultant. Marino is Scaramella's associate in their company the ECPP.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 07:20:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It would be interesting to find out in what Ukrainian publication(s) the Litvinenko allegations appeared (November 2005).

It is not the first time the Ukrainian press was used as a conduit for bogus information in tandem with the Berlusconi commissions.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 07:30:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely fascinating.

I think that SHVEZ, who took the material to the U.S., is probably the same person as Shvets who was the source of the disinformation about how Litvinenko died which was recycled uncritically in Tom Mangold's programme on BBC Radio.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Sat May 10th, 2008 at 02:39:43 AM EST
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I really don't have much to say here, beyond two things. One, it seems that at least Gordievsky is a Her Majesty Secret Service employee, and he could not veer off the corresponding message. Rather, there might have been a tension between Scotland Yard's story and MI6 story, and if this is the case, MI6 has won hands down.

Second, today there's an article in a second-class Russian business newspaper "Vzglyad" ("Vedomosti" and "Kommersant" are the first class; "Vzglyad" tried to enter that elite group, but seems to have failed). This is actually a report from an interview given to RIA Novosti by the FSB Deputy director Viktor Kolmogorov, head of the FSB operative information and international relations service. He says the following:

We are ready for cooperation and interaction with them [British security services] but the first step should be made by Britain. We expect them to apologize for unfounded accusations as we are absolutely uninvolved in what they accuse us

In a Russian version of this material we can also read:

Комогоров констатировал, что в настоящее время говорить об эффективном взаимодействии ФСБ России и спецслужб Великобритании нельзя, так как "у нас сложились определенные отношения в связи с "делом Литвиненко".

Kolmogorov stated that currently we cannot say about efficient interaction between Russian and British secret services, because "certain relations appeared because of Litvinenko case"

"Они обвиняют нас в чем-то непонятном, хотя совершенно беспочвенно, совершенно надуманно", - подчеркнул Комогоров.

"They accuse us in something unclear, though absolutely groundlessly and artificially (can't find a better word here - S.)

"Этого конструктивног&# 1086; взаимодействия не хватает. Мы рассчитываем, что эти времена пройдут, но первый шаг в нормализации отношений между спецслужбами Великобритании и ФСБ России должны сделать англичане, а не мы... Англичане сделали шаг в сторону от нас, пусть делают первый шаг и навстречу", - считает представитель ФСБ.

"We miss this constructive interaction. We count on these times passing, but the first step in normalizing relations between British secret services and FSB should be made by British,not us... British made a step away from us, let them make the first step towards us also" - thinks FSB representative (read Kolmogorov - S.).

Он пояснил, что в настоящее время спецслужбы Великобритании не участвуют в мероприятиях, проводимых по линии ФСБ.

"Они блокируют все наши инициативы, кроме них, этого не делает никто. Это связано с надуманным "делом Литвиненко", которое они придумали и которое имеет политический оттенок, и не имеет под собой никаких оснований для обвинения ФСБ по этому делу", - сказал Комогоров.

He explained that currently British secret services do not participate in operations of FSB.

"They block all our initiatives, no one but them is doing this. This is connected to this unfounded "Litvinenko case" which they invented and which has a political tint, and does not have any foundations to accuse FSB in connection to this case"m said Kolmogorov.

The FSB head was changed after Medveded became a president. The new head, Alexander Bortnikov, was actually accused by the "The New Times" magazine of being an immediate organizer of Politkovskaya murder. "The New Times", beyond having an outward reputation of a very liberal outlet (for example, they have Valeria Novodvorskaya as a columnist; she started calling Putin's regime totalitarian a couple of years before Kasparov started doing so), was accused of being used in internal struggles between Russian secret services.

Reading through the materials, it seems that the FSB is very confident. It would be interesting to see if any semi-official response by the MI6 follows.

by Sargon on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 04:01:21 PM EST
I have been puzzling over the relationship between Gordievsky and MI6 ever since I first read the diaries that de Gondi posted on these matters last year, and in particular the discussion between him and you of Gordievsky's Moskovsky Komsomolets interview, sections of which you translated.  You suggested that Gordievsky's statements were likely to be made on behalf of British intelligence -- de Gondi expressed scepticism.

I have also been puzzling over the relationship between Gordievsky and Scaramella:  should we believe Gordievsky's asseverations that the accusation that Prodi was a KGB agent was a lie produced by Litvinenko to get money from Scaramella, and that Scaramella's claims that Gordievsky was the source were without foundation?  These seemed reasonably plausible until Gordievsky went back to smearing Prodi in the MK interview -- after which they became rather less so.

If in fact Scaramella was justified in claiming that Gordievsky was the source, and we also had good reason to believe that anything Gordievsky did or said was done on behalf of British intelligence agencies, one would have adequate grounds for believing there was high level British official involvement in the Scaramella-Litvinenko smear campaigns.  

What we would have reason to suspect would be the involvement of senior elements of MI6 in a coordinated 'information warfare' campaign, involving elements in a number of countries, with targets in a number of countries, in support of the neocon dream of a 'global democratic revolution'.

It this possible?  Given the role of the current head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett, in disseminating the bogus intelligence which made the invasion of Iraq possible, it is hard to say a confident 'no'.  Also worth noting is that his predecessor Sir Richard Dearlove is a signatory of the declaration of principles of The Henry Jackson Society -- a British neocon group.

But there are reasons to believe that all is not sweetness and light between Gordievsky and MI6.  There was, for one thing, a seriously weird story which appeared in the Daily Mail last month.  

It appears that Gordievsky was accusing an old friend who was a former Russian military intelligence officer of being the instrument of a Kremlin-inspired assassination attempt.  He also accused MI6 of ordering Special Branch not to investigate the alleged attempt.  

The identity of the former Russian military intelligence officer was not mentioned.  But the two former GRU officers who have been involved in this circle are Boris Volodarsky and 'Viktor Suvorov' -- real name Vladimir Rezun.

It is also I think difficult to make sense of the Gordievsky/Volodarsky subversion of the official British version -- their denial that Litvinenko was poisoned in the Pine Bar -- in terms of a division between MI6 and Scotland Yard.  If as Epstein suggests, and as seems likely, a cover-up is going on, then the driving force is likely to be within MI6 -- not within Scotland Yard.

Given the multiple implausibilities of the official British version, an overriding interest of those trying to maintain the cover-up would seem to be to have everyone singing from the same song-sheet.  This is what both Gordievsky and Volodarsky have signally failed to do.  For this, I can see two possible reasons.  

One is that -- as has not been widely noticed -- the accounts of the timeline which have been leaked to journalists actually make Berezovsky an obvious suspect:  indeed, although Sixsmith does not realise it, his account of the timeline suggests that Litvinenko was contaminated in Berezovsky's office.  I do not myself take this too seriously, because I have come to think that very little of what has been claimed about the timeline can be accepted without question.  But others may.

The other possibility is that the British authorities do have information about an earlier meeting -- which Gordievsky and Volodarsky want to see made public, and MI6 do not.

A particularly fascinating element in the wiretap request is the reference to 'the London meeting'.  Given the figures involved, this could have been the same meeting as was described by Gordievsky in the La Repubblica interview de Gondi discussed -- or there could have been more than one meeting.

Of the figures mentioned, 'SHVEZ, ex-president of the KGB' is, as I have noted, likely to be the former KGB officer Yuri Shvets, who is associated with an organisation in Washington called The Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies, as also is Major General Oleg Kalugin.

On Shvets, some material from a story by Catherine Belton which appeared in the Moscow Times not long after Litvinenko's death is interesting:

In 2002, he 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.

Shvets said he no longer does any work for Berezovsky. But the connection did provide him with an introduction to Litvinenko, he said.

Shvets said Litvinenko introduced him last year to Scaramella, who has courted controversy with his claims that the Soviets left nuclear mines in the Bay of Biscay and that Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi had links to the KGB.

The story also refers quotes a lady called Karon von Gehrke-Thompson, who is described as a 'business partner' of Shvets.  She surfaces making a very interesting comment on Epstein's story.  An extract:

Mr. Epstein: I know through Paul Stubbs (MI6) that your analysis on the polonium 210 trail is accurate as are your findings on evidence withheld from the Russian prosecutors by the Crown Prosecution Service. You are on target. I can asset without equivocation that based on my year-long collaboration with the CTCU and what I learned through that collaboration from senior investigators at the CTCU that your analysis and your conclusions are indisputable.

If accurate, her story suggests that there are divisions both in MI6 and Scotland Yard -- and underlying unhappiness in both which may make the cover-up vulnerable.  CTCU is Counter-Terrorism Command, which was headed by Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, who was in charge of the Litvinenko investigation.  

One of the functions of the Command, according to the Scotland Yard website, is:  'To assist the British Security Service and Secret Intelligence Service in fulfilling their statutory roles.'  If the agencies get into deep water in 'fulfilling their statutory roles', it may be that a policeman's lot is not a happy one!

The 'Svorov' referred to in the wiretap request may well be Suvorov/Rezun, I think -- particularly as according to the tapes quoted in La Repubblica he introduced Litvinenko to Scaramella.  It has been suggested that he is a long-term British intelligence asset, which would not surprise.

That said, the wiretap request brings one back to the same problem one has with Gordievsky.  It could be that this meeting occurred with the full knowledge and collusion of MI6.  But it could simply be that we are dealing with networks involving Berezovsky, Washington neocons, elements in Italian intelligence, etc etc.  There are all kinds of connections:  so, for example, Alex Goldfarb and Nathan Sharansky were I think both part of the circle round Andrei Sakharov.

My own guess, for what it is worth, is that Lugovoi is right in claiming that connections were forged between Berezovsky and his circle and MI6 back when he was a key player in Russian politics.  Because he and the other fugitive oligarchs control so much money, and because elements in MI6 and elsewhere bought into their claim to be virtuous liberals fighting the dark forces of 'communists' and 'hardliners', it may well be that the leadership of MI6 have ended up associated with people whose activities they not understand and cannot effectively control.

The same thing happened with the neocons and Chalabi -- who used the rhetoric of the 'global democratic revolution' to get his American friends to topple Saddam on his behalf, and, it is widely believed among members of the official American intelligence bureaucracy, that of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  

The involvement of Erinys with associates of Chalabi is interesting in a number of ways -- not the least important is that it suggests that those involved on the British side may be easily gulled.  But then, this is what the self-professed former MI6 agent Vyacheslav Zharko said Litvinenko told him:  that we are mugs.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Tue May 20th, 2008 at 05:23:18 AM EST
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