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.