In fact in a whole series of ways the evidence from the recently concluded case against Scaramella, which follows an earlier aggravated calumny case in relation to which he made a plea bargain in February 2008, suggests that the possibility that Litvinenko's death was not murder needs to be given serious consideration by the inquest. This case just concluded resulted from the attempt by Scaramella, making use of 'evidence' from Litvinenko, to frame a San Marino lawyer and politician, Alvaro Selva, as a pivotal figure in a nuclear smuggling ring in which the Russian security services had supposedly been centrally involved.
Evidence that Scaramella and Litvinenko were involved in disinformation involving nuclear scaremongering was presented in the same December 2008 diary in which the implausibility of attempts by Litvinenko's associates to claim that he had accused Lugovoi of murdering him was discussed. The outlines of the picture which we were able to glimpse them have been fleshed out by the evidence from the case in Rimini, and from the materials which Scaramella deposited with the so-called 'Mitrokhin Commission', as well as other sources, since that time.
The suggestion that Litvinenko might have accidentally ingested polonium has actually been made easier to discredit, because it has commonly been presented in the context of claims that there was good reason to suspect were disinformation disseminated by Russian official sources. Following the reports - apparently accurate - that Litvinenko had converted to Islam on his deathbed, an article by Andrew McGregor on the website of the Jamestown Foundation on 7 December 2006 discussed suggestions that he might have been smuggling polonium for use by the Chechen insurgents or Al Qaeda. Both the argument that the substance might have been intended for use in a radiological weapon, or 'dirty bomb', and the argument that it was intended for use in an 'initiator' in a 'suitcase nuke' were, McGregor cogently argued, implausible - not least because they ignored basic scientific and technological problems.
Among the declarations obtained by Scaramella from Litvinenko in January 2004, there was one3 in which it was claimed that a member of the Solntsevskaya mafia group had testified that he had smuggled a 'nuclear suitcase' from Moscow to Zurich in 1994. In other documentation we obtained, the outlines of the picture we glimpsed in the earlier diary were fleshed out. This involved claims about the use by the Russian security services of organised crime - in the shape of the notorious Ukranian mobster Semyon Mogilevich, who has been linked to the Solntsevskaya, and the Camorra - in a conspiracy to equip Al Qaeda with nuclear or radiological weapons.
In making clear that Scaramella and Litvinenko had been engaged in disseminating propaganda directed at the Russian security services, based upon claims directly analogous to those McGregor criticises, this evidence puts the arguments of his article in a quite different light. In relation to propaganda operations, what matters is not whether a given claim is scientifically plausible - but whether the target audience can be persuaded to believe it. And given that polonium-210 is a substance which can plausibly be represented as having a role either in an 'initiator' for a 'suitcase nuke', or a radiological weapon, the possibility that its presence in London may have been related to allegations about nefarious plots involving these would seem at least worth investigating.
To say this does not involve making a prejudgement as to the nature of the nefarious plots which might have been involved. In principle, polonium could have been smuggled into London to validate the kind of scenarios which Scaramella used in the denunciations which led to his indictment for calumny. Equally, it could have been that the kind of accusations made against Litvinenko after his death by the Russian security services were already being prepared before it, and that the polonium was smuggled to make these credible. And indeed, different kinds of propaganda operations could have got tangled up.
A critical point, however, is that once one postulates that polonium could have been smuggled as a 'prop' in a disinformation operation, and takes into account the difficulties of handling the substance safely, it becomes all too easy to imagine how someone who was either involved in or had contact with such an operation could have accidentally ingested the substance. What however remains to be explained is how the possibility of suicide could be deemed to be a real one, in particular given that if someone wanted to kill themselves, one would expect them to choose a less painful method of doing so. But here, I think, one needs to look more closely at the history of what Lugovoi has claimed about the circumstances of Litvinenko's poisoning.
Momentum from Moscow?
Another reason for believing that the possibility that Litvinenko's death was accident or suicide should be taken seriously is that, if in fact the conventional wisdom according to which there is clear evidence establishing Lugovoi's guilt was well-founded, the last thing one would expect would be that he would be eager to see the inquest resumed. In fact however a body of evidence suggests that, contrary to how things have been portrayed in the British media, the momentum for the resumption of the inquest may have come from Moscow - and in particular, from Lugovoi.
On 11 September 2011, as the British Prime Minister David Cameron was about to hold meetings with the Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev, and the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, Lugovoi gave an interview to the Telegraph. In this he claimed that a legal challenge that would force the British Government to make public the full extent of the evidence against him was being put together by lawyers he had retained in London.
On 18 September 2011, a cryptic short report in the Sunday Express reported that the inquest was due to resume the following month after Cameron had failed to persuade Medvedev to hand over Lugovoi. It quoted the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, suggesting that officers of the organisation should attend, and that, as the paper put it, 'certain information could be aired at the inquest.' On 2 October, Lord Macdonald, who headed the CPS when the extradition request was submitted, gave an interview to the Sunday Times, in which he justified the request with the claim that Litvinenko's death had 'all the hallmarks of a state directed execution.' On this basis, he suggested it would be appropriate if the coroner who conducted the preliminary proceedings, Dr Andrew Reid, stood aside in favour of a senior judge.
The immediate adjournment of the inquest following its opening on 30 November 2006, a week after Litvinenko died, was reported at the time to be 'to allow detectives to carry out further inquiries into his apparent poisoning.' In the FAQs section on the - invaluable - inquest website, it is suggested that the inquest 'was generally adjourned for nearly 5 years while there was thought to be a prospect of criminal proceedings being brought.' However, when having concluded their investigation Scotland Yard handed over the file to the CPS on 31 January 2007, the BBC reported that the chances of Lugovoi being extradited were thought to be 'slim' - and also that the police did not know, and probably would never know 'who ultimately ordered the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.'
Precisely on what basis Lord Macdonald believes that he is justified in claiming that Litvinenko's death was a 'state directed execution' remains obscure: the inquest will, hopefully, clarify it. Be that as it may, if this is really what the British officials who were responsible for the decision to continue to postpone the inquest believed, it is difficult to see how they could have seriously anticipated that the representatives of the Russian state would willingly surrender the agent of their own assassination plot to face trial in Britain. The notion that it was only when Medvedev turned down Cameron's request that the single central obstacle preventing the British authorities resuming the inquest was removed seems questionable, to say the least.
Further compounding the puzzles is the fact that ever since the extradition request was submitted, it has been a recurrent complaint of the Russian authorities - as was brought out in a seminal article by the veteran American investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein in the New York Sun in March 2008 - that it was not supported by serious evidence establishing that there was a case for Lugovoi to answer. Attempts to get the British authorities to provide more information - including, critically, the autopsy report - have, both the Russian authorities and Lugovoi have repeatedly contended, got nowhere.
His status of 'interested person' at the inquest means that Lugovoi is now in a position to obtain what he was supposedly seeking through the legal challenge to which he referred in the 11 September interview - access to the evidence supposed to incriminate him - without having to surrender himself for trial in Britain. And moreover, he will have his case, and such evidence as he wants to produce in support of it, presented by top British lawyers. Ironically perhaps, the lawyers representing Lugovoi come from the same well-known human rights chambers Matrix to which Lord Macdonald belongs. In a long interview with the Russia Today channel on 20 December last year, Lugovoi appeared eminently happy with these developments. And he claimed that while his lawyers had called for an open inquest, those for the British Government, Scotland Yard, and the CPS had resisted 'because they don't want the documents in the case to be made public.'
The suggestion that the inquest should involve a kind of trial of the Russian government on charges of pioneering nuclear terrorism was effectively adopted by Dr Reid at the first pre-inquest review on 13 October 2011. Following along the lines recommended by Lord Macdonald, the High Court judge Sir Richard Owen was appointed in July to conduct the inquest. At the second pre-inquest review, on 20 September, he appeared to follow Dr Reid in endorsing the suggestion that the inquest would necessarily have to explore the 'state directed execution' claim.
However, in the third pre-inquest review, on 2 November, Sir Robert made it clear that having read more of the evidence he had decided that it was inappropriate to prejudge issues about the proper scope of his investigation. Accordingly, the question of the 'possible culpability' of the Russian state is being treated as a theory which may, or may not, be ruled within the scope of the inquest - as also is the 'possible culpability' of the British state. Argument on these questions from counsel for the various 'interested persons' - who of course include Litvinenko's widow Marina, and his long-term patron the fugitive oligarch Boris Berezovsky, as well as Lugovoi - will be heard at the 13-14 December hearing. Subsequent to the initial hearing, which was closed, hearings have been open, as Lugovoi - and Marina Litvinenko - wanted, and full transcripts of the proceedings are published on the website.
'Insulting suggestions' - about 'incautious handling'?
At the 13-14 December hearing it may also become clearer precisely how counsel for Lugovoi will develop the counter-attack against the accusations against him. Certain key themes, however, are already apparent. In the Summary of Preliminary Decision he issued following the initial pre-inquest review, which is available on the inquest website, Dr Reid - quite fairly, if perhaps with a suggestion of surprise - summarised these. Both Lugovoi and his associate Dmitri Kovtun - now, apparently, also accused by the British authorities - 'appear to contend that they are victims of contamination rather than the authors of it,' Dr Reid noted in his Summary. Among the theories they advanced as to how Litvinenko died, he went on to say, was 'the possibility of self-administration, deliberately or otherwise, by Mr Litvinenko.'
In his response, the counsel for Litvinenko's widow Marina said that the inquest 'must dispel the insulting suggestions of suicide and the involvement of the British security services that are being raised by Mr Lugovoi as a smokescreen to hide his guilt.'
In an interview in Izvestiya not long after his extradition was requested, Lugovoi claimed that 'British intelligence must have known whether Litvinenko's death was accidental, a result of handling polonium incautiously.' The argument about 'self-administration' is, quite clearly, simply a development of this claim about 'incautious handling' which Lugovoi and the Russian investigators have made on numerous occasions over the past years. As was demonstrated in a diary reviewing the publicly available evidence back in May 2008, the notion that these claims by Lugovoi could be dismissed out of hand as 'a smokescreen to hide his guilt' has been a central obstacle to serious investigation of the affair in Britain.
That a good deal of what Lugovoi has said about his involvement with Litvinenko is indeed a 'smokescreen' seems clear enough. However, there is no warrant whatsoever for simply jumping to the conclusion that what he seeks to hide is having murdered Litvinenko. And indeed, the hypothesis that polonium was smuggled into London in connection with some kind of propaganda operation can provide an economical explanation both of what Lugovoi's suggestion about Litvinenko 'handling polonium incautiously' might imply - and why the formulation is as vague as it is. In the 20 December interview, some clarification was provided, in that the interviewer put it to Lugovoi that the Russian investigators believed that Litvinenko had been poisoned due to an 'improper handling' of polonium which happened when he and Kovtun were present - a suggestion which Lugovoi endorsed.
A critical fact here is that a very peculiar property of polonium-210 is that, because it is an intense emitter of the heavy alpha particles, if a container enclosing the substance is opened, tiny amounts of the substance are liable to be 'kicked out'. A further implication of this property is that a sample of sufficient size will heat and put pressure on a container in which it is enclosed, so that leaks can result. Taken together with the fact that polonium is acutely toxic if ingested, these properties make it extremely dangerous to handle. In itself, this is one of a range of reasons why the notion that it would be deliberately chosen as an assassination weapon is not particularly plausible - while the possible of accidental contamination is everpresent if a container enclosing the substance is being handled by people who, for one reason or another, do not take proper precautions.
It is in fact less than entirely clear that without positing one of these two kinds of leak the version of how Litvinenko died endorsed by Lord Macdonald - which appears to be based upon the contention that Lugovoi deliberately inserted polonium into his victim's tea in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in the late afternoon of 1 November 2006 - can be sustained. After all, if a vial of polonium had been supplied to Lugovoi by the Russian security services for use as a murder weapon, unless you postulate some kind of leak it is not immediately obvious why contamination should have been found anywhere except in the teacup and teapot, and inside Litvinenko's body. And it is certainly not obvious why Lugovoi and Kovtun should have been leaving extensive contamination both before and after they, supposedly, murdered Litvinenko.
As regards the scenario at which Lugovoi and his counsel appear to be hinting, a critical fact is that it has to have involved some action by Litvinenko whose significance is ambiguous. It does not seem very likely that the suggestion is that he was carrying around a leaking - and presumably extremely hot - container enclosing polonium. A far more plausible interpretation is that the supposed 'self-administration' is held to involve Litvinenko having opened a container. In claiming that they were 'victims of contamination rather than the authors of it', meanwhile, Lugovoi and Kovtun are implicitly suggesting that one at least one occasion on which Litvinenko did this they were sufficiently close for a significant amount of the polonium which was 'kicked out' to fall on them, causing them to begin to leave trails of contamination.
Suppose then that a container enclosing polonium had been brought to a meeting at which Litvinenko, Lugovoi and Kovtun and also others were present. Suppose - purely hypothetically - that Litvinenko wanted either to persuade some of those others of the existence of the kind of smuggling operation in which Scaramella claimed Selva was involved, or that an attempt was being made to frame him and his Chechen associates as nuclear smugglers. Obviously, if one simply produces a container, and claims that it has polonium inside it, one risks a sceptical response. However, microgram-sized samples of polonium have the very distinctive property of giving out a blue glow. So an extremely effective way of demonstrating that one actually had a sample of polonium might be to open a container.
To do this might be perfectly natural, if one was not aware of the danger that particles might be 'kicked out' and contaminate oneself and others present - and in so doing causing a potentially fatal health hazard to those in close proximity, and also, quite possibly, leading to their leaving trails of radioactive contamination elsewhere. If one was properly aware of the properties of polonium, and despite this opened a container enclosing the substance, then doing so could well constitute a 'self-administration' which had been done 'deliberately'. If in fact Litvinenko opened a container in full knowledge of the possible consequences, at the least he would have had to have been extraordinarily reckless, while the suggestion that he was actively suicidal would not be self-evidently foolish.
But by the same token, if he Litvinenko - or indeed anybody else - opened a container either because they were totally ignorant of the properties of polonium, or had a partial knowledge which did not include the properties which made the action so dangerous, what would be involved would have been an accident.
By the same token, if somebody had deliberately acted in such a way as to increase the chances of Litvinenko - or anybody else - opening a container, in the hope that he or others might ingest the substance, what might be involved might be suicide or accident, but also murder and attempted murder. And one can easily imagine a range of different types of deliberate action which could have been involved. Direct encouragement to open a container would obviously be one. Supplying the substance could be another. And, last but hardly least, misleading others about the properties of the substance, either by withholding information about its peculiar properties, or by supplying selective or inaccurate information, could have been done with murderous intent.
A surfeit of 'smokescreens'?
In fact, all along the Russian investigators have claimed that they were investigating the murder of Litvinenko and the attempted murder of Kovtun - a significant change being that it was only in November last year that Lugovoi was reclassified from witness to victim. It is a matter of some importance that there is no reason to suppose that this suggestion contradicts Lugovoi's claim about 'incautious handling' by Litvinenko.
Likewise, it in no way contradicts the claim made by the Russian investigators to Epstein that all the radiation traces provided in the report accompanying the request for Lugovoi's extradition could be explained by a leak 'by design or accident' at a meeting attended by him, Litvinenko and Kovtun at the private security company Erinys International on 16 October 2006. The implicit claim, again, was clear, although Epstein missed it: that the trail of radioactive contamination began with a container being opened by Litvinenko, and this could have been done with awareness of the possible consequences, or without such awareness.
It is a matter of some moment that claims by Lugovoi and the Russian investigators should not be dismissed on the basis of accusations of incoherence which reflect a failure either to contemplate alternatives to the hypothesis that the polonium was smuggled into London to be used in an assassination, or to reflect on the implications of the peculiar properties of the substance. That said, the fact that claims can be coherent does not establish that they are true - or, in itself, refute the suggestion that they are a 'smokescreen'. Obviously, the claim about the supposed leak at Erinys would seem to imply that, if it is true, both Lugovoi and the Russian investigators could provide an account of what happened at that meeting, and so exonerate both him and the Russian authorities.
However, if one reflects further on the implications of the claims that Lugovoi and the Russian investigators have made, one can see that implicit in these is the possibility that - if in fact he is hinting at the truth - a large number of diverse people may feel the need to put up 'smokescreens'. Making melodramatic accusations about murder plots may be a convenient means of doing this - and not simply for Lugovoi and elements in the Russian security services.
It is not easy to imagine scenarios in which Lugovoi and Kovtun were close enough to Litvinenko when he opened a container to be extensively contaminated, without postulating that they were involved in, or connected with, or at the very least knowledgeable about the smuggling of an extremely dangerous radioactive substance. If moreover the scenario suggested involves Litvinenko opening a container enclosing polonium at the offices of Erinys International - a company whose interesting history was discussed in a diary in June 2008 - it would certainly seem possible that Lugovoi might not want to say more about what had happened than was absolutely necessary. Moreover, it is also eminently possible that, even if his need to exculpate himself made him prepared to be candid, others would want to hold him back.
Any serious attempt to assess the nature of the scenario at which Lugovoi and those representing him may be hinting, accordingly, tends to have ambiguous implications. Specifically, it suggests that some of the most compelling counters which he - and Kovtun - could make to the charge that they deliberately murdered Litvinenko could have been very difficult for them to make, and may be difficult for them to make at the inquest. Compounding the problem is the evident fact that, given the scale of the radiation traces they appear to have left, the argument that these were the result of Litvinenko opening a container enclosing polonium in their presence would clearly be more cogent, if it was suggested that, in addition to the supposed event at the meeting at Erinys, he had done so on at least one further occasion.
The more cogent they want to make their defence in relation to the radiation trail, it may well be, the more Lugovoi and Kovtun may need to incriminate themselves in relation to the polonium smuggling operation.
As was noted in the June 2008 diary, the history of Erinys and its then associated company Titon International - with both of which, at the time, a former director of British Special Forces, Major General John Holmes, DSO OBE MC, was involved - is at the least compatible with the possibility that in its dealings with Litvinenko it was acting on behalf of the British security services. And that history also hardly renders it beyond the bounds of possibility that it might have been a place where Litvinenko both made claims about a polonium smuggling operation, and opened a container to demonstrate that it really did contain the substance. And here one comes back to what counsel for Marina Litvinenko described as the 'insulting' suggestion about 'the involvement of the British security services'. The fact that Lugovoi suggested these might have been involved in the deliberate murder of Litvinenko has served to divert attention from the more credible - but still explosive - suggestion that they must have known whether he had accidentally poisoned himself.
The clear implication would seem to be at the time Litvinenko developed symptoms, the British security services were already aware that the likely cause was polonium poisoning. In this case the generally accepted history, according to which a protracted investigation only identified polonium as the toxin which killed Litvinenko immediately prior to his death, would itself be a 'smokescreen', generated by a kind of carefully orchestrated charade.
An abrupt volte-face.
The suggestion that the claim about Litvinenko's involvement with MI6 could be dismissed out of court, repeatedly made by his associates and British officials over the preceding five years, was in fact abandoned by his widow in an abrupt volte-face only two days after the 13 October 2011 hearing, when she suggest that in fact he had worked for both that organisation and MI5. Also of interest here are remarks made by Marina Litvinenko after that hearing. The inquest, she suggested, would be 'about polonium, who brought it and who allowed it to be brought.' In fact, as was demonstrated in the May 2008 diary, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the publicly available evidence does not establish either that Lugovoi and Kovtun brought the polonium, or that the Russian state was complicit in its supply.
Equally, however, the publicly available evidence is compatible with both possibilities. And an ironic corollary of Lugovoi's suggestion that MI6 must have known whether Litvinenko had died due to 'incautious handling' of polonium was that, if it is in fact true, the organisation is likely to have had information about how that substance was brought to London, from where, and for what reason that it is not in a position to make public. Some at least of this information might - but might not - have come from Erinys. It might be completely accurate - but then, given that MI6 were taken in by crudely forged documents purporting to show that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Niger, one cannot discount the possibility that the organisation has once again got into difficulties as a result of an uncritical attitude to claims made by people telling it what it is predisposed to believe.
Certainly, the subsequent history hardly shows that the suggestion made by Lugovoi in his 20 December 2011 Russia Today interview that the British authorities were not enthusiastic about having to disclose key evidence is without foundation. Following the volte-face by Marina Litvinenko, Dr Reid ordered last January that MI6 and MI5 should hand over documentation relating to their alleged relationship with Litvinenko. At the third pre-inquest review, on 2 November, it was disclosed that the first materials were handed over in August, that critical departments and agencies had so far handed over nothing, and that the process of disclosure to 'interested persons' envisaged was, to say the least, gradual.
The fact that the Scotland Yard report on Litvinenko's death was not released to 'interested persons' until 5 October - almost a year after the first pre-inquest review - and the first batch of supporting material, including the Litvinenko interview transcript, only released on 26 November, hardly suggests confidence about the implications of having the full truth come out. Taken together with the fact that extensive redaction appears to be envisaged, these disclosures reinforce suspicions that from the start a large 'smokescreen' was put up by British officialdom.
At the hearing on 13 October 2011, counsel for Berezovsky called the suggestions that Litvinenko's might have been accident or suicide 'remarkable' and 'offensive'. The coroner, he suggested, should consider 'whether it can be right for anybody to use these proceedings to make allegations when they are not prepared to return to face proceedings on a charge of murder.' Ever since the submission of the request for Lugovoi's extradition, the presentation of the British justice system as obviously impartial - by contrast to the Russian - has been used to suggest that his refusal to submit to trial is prima facie evidence of guilt. And likewise, the refusal of the Russian authorities to extradite him has been presented as reason to suspect them of complicity in Lugovoi's - supposed - assassination of Litvinenko.
The concession by Marina Litvinenko of at least part of Lugovoi's claims about the relationship of her husband to MI6, compounded by her suggestion that he worked for MI5, raises major questions about this presentation of the British justice system. The organisation which was put in charge of the investigation into Litvinenko's death, Counter Terrorism Command, according to the Scotland Yard website, 'engages with a range of partners to prevent terrorist related activity, including the British Security Service and Secret Intelligence Service.'
Obviously it is appropriate - indeed, absolutely imperative - that close liaison between these organisations should take place. But in the case of Litvinenko, it appears that the effect may have been that MI5 and MI6 have been in a position to influence the investigation of an employee, with the relationship with the employee being mendaciously denied, and quite possibly having aspects both organisations may have strong reasons to want to keep hidden. And confidence in the integrity of the investigation by Counter Terrorism Command is hardly enhanced by the fact that the volte-face by Marina Litvinenko strongly suggests that the attempts that were made to explain away both the apparent tardiness of the police in taking an interest in the case, and the lack of initial interest on the part of his associates, are likely to be disinformation.
The history of investigations of events in which the conduct of British state agencies is open to question by members of what used to be called 'the great and the good' is a mixed one, in which the degree of impartiality displayed has greatly varied. It did not give great grounds for confidence that, in the interview in which he suggested that Litvinenko's death had 'all the hallmarks of a state directed execution', Lord Macdonald appeared to regard the inquiry conducted by Lord Hutton into the death of Dr David Kelly as a model. It has not uncommonly been claimed that the conclusions of this investigation were excessively indulgent towards the failures of the British intelligence services over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and excessively critical of the BBC over the report that the claims were made about these were 'sexed up'.
That said, absolutely nothing whatsoever so far in the conduct of proceedings by Sir Robert Owen, or by the Counsel to the Inquest, Hugh Davies, suggests that they take the latter's insistence, echoing Dr Reid, on the vital importance of the inquest being both 'full and fearless' with anything less than complete seriousness. However, they and their colleagues in the inquest team face formidable problems.
A leak at Erinys?
A good illustration relates to the questions raised by the claim about the supposed leak 'by design or accident' at Erinys. An obvious means of getting a clearer view of how seriously the claim about 'accident or suicide' should be taken, right at the outset of the inquest, would be to probe both Lugovoi and those involved at Erinys on this claim. In fact, as a result of the attempts which the current management of the company have made to distance themselves from Litvinenko, we have evidence from the British side reinforcing the suggestion by Epstein that Tim Reilly, a specialist in oil and gas geopolitics, may have been involved in dealings with Litvinenko, as well as Major General John Holmes.
It would seem that a sensible course of action might be to probe them, as well as Lugovoi, about what happened at the 16 October 2006 meeting. However, whether such probing would open up matters which British officials or indeed Russian officials prefer to keep hidden, and whether, if this is the case, these officials are in a position to make serious investigation impossible, remain open questions.
As regards Lugovoi, it would seem that it is very much in his interest - and in that of those elements in the Russian political elite who see the inquest as likely to work in their favour - to supply at least enough information to make sure that the lines of investigation they want to see pursued have to be pursued. How far in the direction of candour that imperative may or may not lead however seems very much an open question. The history of the claim that the visible radiation trail begins with a leak at the 16 October 2006 meeting at Erinys is of particular interest. In the May 2008 diary, a press conference for British journalists on 29 August 2007, at which Lugovoi made this claim was discussed, and evidence from the British side supporting it presented.
In fact, although this was never reported in the British media, back in December 2006 Lugovoi had pointed to this meeting as the source of his contamination in an interview with the Russian paper Kommersant, and Kovtun had followed him in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel. In the initial press conference on 31 May 2007 in which they responded to the request for Lugovoi's extradition, and the Izvestiya interview in which he made the argument about 'incautious handling' of polonium by Litvinenko, however, Erinys was left out of the story. Meanwhile, in two editions broadcast by the Vesti Nedeli programme last April, an attempt was made to suggest that all radiation traces apparently left by Lugovoi prior to 27 October 2007 are fabrications.
Minute analysis of press coverage can obviously be tedious to read - as it can be tedious to do. However it can point towards significant conclusions. The fact that a quite coherent argument which Lugovoi and Kovtun made against the claim that the visible radiation trail provides decisive evidence of their guilt has never been reported in the mainstream British media, as well as indicating how journalistic standards have collapsed, if anything suggests that it should be taken more seriously rather than less. The fact that after a few early mentions, Erinys and Titon are barely referred to in the British coverage gives rise to suspicions that this could reflect something more than journalistic incompetence.
At the same time, the picture that emerges on the Russian side is of a conflict between the obvious need to counter the claim that the radiation trail incriminates Lugovoi - and the Russian state - and inhibitions about candour about the dealings of Lugovoi and Kovtun with Erinys. Rather than there being some kind of monolithic 'party line', it seems likely that different people and different groups have different views about how the appropriate way to handle the situation. Accordingly, one cannot rule out the possibility that Lugovoi will think it appropriate to make dramatic claims, about the meeting at Erinys and other matters. But equally he could well obfuscate, and simply rely on the fact that the obligations of disclosure now imposed upon the British authorities are likely to produce information he can use to his advantage. Here, redactions could very well represent information Lugovoi could use to his advantage.
A central difficulty he has faced, however, has been the lack of a context in which the claim about 'incautious handling' makes sense. The evidence from the calumny cases against Scaramella, we contend, provides just such a context. The outlines of the supposed plot involving Mogilevich and the Camorra to equip al Qaeda with a nuclear or radiological weapons capability were already clear in wiretaps of conversations involving Scaramella and the head of the 'Mitrokhin Commission' summarised in the request to use these submitted by the prosecutors in the initial aggravated calumny case to the Italian Senate in February 2007. This was discussed in the exchanges of comments following the May 2008 diary, and again in the December 2008 one. Following up the trail which these wiretaps opened up has taken us a long time and much painstaking work. But it is difficult to imagine that both the British and Russian intelligence services have not been aware of this aspect all along.
The fact that the Italian dimension of the Litvinenko mystery has never been publicised, accordingly, may well indicate that it raises questions which a whole range of people see themselves as having a strong interest in not seeing investigated. If this is so, the truth about how Litvinenko died may not easily emerge from the dialectic of claim and counter-claim at the inquest. A real possibility is that the contending parties in a propaganda war which has gone on ever since the story of Litvinenko's poisoning first broke may well devote considerable ingenuity to exploiting the proceedings to sway the conflict in their direction, while at the same time having a disguised common interest in keeping crucial elements of the affair obscure. And if this is the case, the already formidable difficulties involved in conducting a 'full and fearless' investigation into Litvinenko' may be greatly compounded.
And, of course, another implication of all this is that it may be that the transcript of what Litvinenko - supposedly - said to the British police is not appreciably more reliable as evidence than the interview with the BBC Russian Service in which he incriminated Scaramella. Given the very long delays involved in producing the documentary evidence which Lugovoi has been looking for, it is not possible absolutely to take for granted, prior to the close examination of evidence, that it has not been doctored. Moreover, a corollary of our hypothesis that polonium may have been being smuggled to substantiate a disinformation operation is that those in the know may not have wanted to be fully candid in interviews recorded by the police.
UPDATE: Two links have been changed and a comment added to clarify those links.
UPDATE 2013.01.02: Minor corrections made.
- As both the BBC Russian Service interview, and the early reports on Chechen websites, are critical and widely ignored evidence, it may be appropriate to say a bit more about how they can be accessed. The video by the American media consultant William Dunkerley to which we have linked provides the key parts of the interview. A full text is however available on pages 44-6 of the April 2007 study The Litvinenko File by Martin Sixsmith.
The story was in fact originally broken on two sites: the Chechenpress site, which was a regular outlet for Litvinenko, and was associated with his close collaborator Akhmed Zakayev, and the Kavkaz Center site. The reports on the first site are no longer available. However, the whole sequence of reports on the Kavkaz Center site, from the time the story was first broken on 11 November, through to its first appearance in the mainstream British media on 19 November, remain accessible. These appear to recycle information from the Chechenpress reports.
In addition to the initial report, the later reports are critical as evidence. They can be accessed by putting ‘Litvinenko’ into the search facility on the Kavkaz Center site. As new material on Litvinenko comes up, the order of pages changes. However, at the moment, the stories from 11-19 November are here and here.
Ironically, although William Dunkerley’s In discussion of the BBC Russian Service interview should certainly be read, he makes what seems to us the mistaken assumption that Litvinenko’s professions to suspect Scaramella should be taken at face value. In our view, this leads to very major misreadings of what is likely to have been going on in the days immediately following Litvinenko’s developing symptoms.
Another critical point about the Kavkaz Center reports is the reiterated suggestion that the story of Litvinenko’s poisoning is being deliberately suppressed in the mainstream Western media.↑
- The analysis of the December 2008 diary, and two earlier diaries from June and May that year, is drawn upon - and revised - in this diary. The links, in the same reverse date order, are:
Not quite the 'perfect fix'?
'Flex players' and the 'forward strategy' ...
Murder in a Teapot?
The associate of Litvinenko whose claims were discussed in the December 2008 diary, the former KGB operative Yuri Shvets, had a long-term contact by the name of Karon von Gerhke. In that diary, material posted by her on a BBC blog was used, although at that stage it was simply hearsay, precisely because it meshed with other publicly available evidence. Subsequently, however, she got in touch, and provided not simply the documentary evidence confirming the claims discussed in that diary, but a great deal of other extremely significant material. One particularly important aspect to which she drew attention was the fact that while no credible publicly available evidence has ever been produced of links between Lugovoi and the Russian security services, evidence about his close links to Berezovsky's long-term partner, the Georgian oligarch Arkadi 'Badri' Patarkatsishvili, has been ignored. An initial attempt at using some of her evidence about the disputes over his estate which followed Patarkatsishvili's sudden death of a heart attack in February 2008, which are centrally relevant to the Litvinenko mystery, was made in two diaries in June and July 2009, A falling out of thieves? and How to rescue a rat.↑
- Historical Archives of the Senate of the Italian Republic, Mitrokhin Commission Archives, Document 341.2, pages 115-116. ECPP Intelligence Platform document 0112 AI in date 9 January 2004.
Document 341.2 consists of the documentation deposited by the ECCP with the International Maritime Organization in London on 24 July 2004, as discussed in our previous diary Scaramella Condemned for Aggravated Calumny in Rimini. ↑