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Litvinenko's final frame-up?

by de Gondi Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 04:40:04 AM EST

By David Habakkuk in London and David Loepp in Rome.

In London on 13-14 December preparations for the inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko reach a crucial stage, when the key question of which of the claims about how he came to ingest the rare radiological isotope polonium-210 should be deemed worthy of investigation will be confronted at the fourth pre-inquest review.  Among the candidates for consideration is the 'possible involvement' of Litvinenko's Italian associate Mario Scaramella, whose conviction in Rimini on charges of 'aggravated calumny' last month we discussed in our previous diary.

In an interview on the BBC Russian Service on 11 November 2006 Litvinenko endorsed suggestions made on obscure websites linked to the Chechen insurgents when they broke the story of his poisoning earlier the same day, that the likely culprit was Scaramella1.  A diary in December 2008 exposed as disinformation an attempt by an associate of Litvinenko to explain away the incrimination of Scaramella, and to claim that he actually pointed the finger of suspicion at Andrei Lugovoi, the figure whom the British police have accused of committing the supposed murder.  This is only one of a whole series of attempts by the dead man's associates to claim that he incriminated Lugovoi, none of which has been supported by anything more than uncorroborated hearsay2.

This makes it of particular interest that the various 'interested persons' at the inquest - among them Lugovoi - will by now be in possession of a transcript of what, supposedly, Litvinenko told the police.  Without wanting to give hostages to fortune, it seems to us highly unlikely that it will show him incriminating Scaramella.  However, that does not make what Litvinenko claimed when the story of his poisoning was broken irrelevant.  The evidence from the recently concluded aggravated calumny case against Scaramella, together with other evidence discussed in our previous diary, establishes that he and Litvinenko had a record of framing people with bogus accusations of involvement in nefarious plots orchestrated by the Russian security services.

In the initial reports incriminating Scaramella, it was suggested that he had been the instrument of just such a plot.  Particularly given the peculiar implausibility of the notion of his Italian associate as a Russian hit man, it seems overwhelmingly probable that this was the last, and most bizarre of Litvinenko's frame-ups.  If however one asks why one partner in crime might have chosen to frame another, a natural possible interpretation is that he did not want to be candid about what he thought had have happened to him.  And this, of course, would fit in quite well with the claim made by Lugovoi's lawyers that Litvinenko might not have been murdered at all - that his death might have been either an accident or suicide.

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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.



  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.



Display:
In an interview on the BBC Russian Service on 11 November 2006 Litvinenko endorsed suggestions made on obscure websites linked to the Chechen insurgents when they broke the story of his poisoning earlier the same day, that the likely culprit was Scaramella.

Is there a transcript of the video somewhere? This seems a very important piece of evidence.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 04:19:46 AM EST
Extracts of the BBC interview are included in William Dunkerley's video.

We'll get back to you concerning the complete interview and its transcript. Most everything of significance in this case is not available on the web. It consists of plain footwork in the material world.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 05:31:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The BBC Russian Service interview is certainly extremely important evidence, so important that we - or rather I, as the mistake was mine - should certainly have taken more trouble to make it as accessible as possible.  The link on the word `interview' takes one through to a piece by the American media consultant William Dunkerley, at the bottom of which there is a link to a video, which reproduces key parts of the interview, with translations.  The direct link is here.

A full transcript of the interview is on pages 44-6 of the April 2007 study The Litvinenko File by Martin Sixsmith.  However, I do not think that the version given by Dunkerley leaves out anything important.

As to the second link, I erroneously linked through again to the Dunkerley piece.

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 did us a great service by making the BBC Russian Service interview available on the net, like Sixsmith he took it at face value:  concluding that at the time he gave it, Litvinenko suspected Scaramella.  This is a mistake which is much easier to make, if one has not looked closely at the Kavkaz Center reports.  In our view, it leads to very major misreadings of what is likely to have been going on in the days immediately following Litvinenko's developing symptoms.

As was noted by `eternalcityblues' in the initial diary on this site, the claim being made on the Kavkaz Center was, essentially, that Scaramella was a double agent on behalf of the FSB, luring an unsuspecting Litvinenko to the Itsu sushi bar with promises of information about Politkovskaya, and there attempting to assassinate him.  As `eternalcityblues' established, even a cursory look at the evidence about Scaramella's activities in Italy made it clear that this was wildly improbable.  With the benefit of the evidence we now have, it seems clear that what was at issue was a frame-up.

A recurrent theme of the Kavkaz Center reports, meanwhile, is that the story of Litvinenko's poisoning is being deliberately kept out of the mainstream media.  And indeed, the evidence does appear to suggest that while Litvinenko and Zakayev wanted the story broken, practically nobody else did.  Against the background of the Italian evidence one can see all kinds of reasons why many people might not have wanted to see the story broken, and even more, any publicity given to the activities in which Litvinenko had been engaged with Scaramella.  What reinforces the suspicion is that the initial reports were picked up in the mainstream Russian media - see, for example, this report in Kommersant from 13 November 2006.

In fact, as the initial ET thread also makes very clear, almost as soon as the story was broken in the mainstream British media on 19 November, Gordievsky and Goldfarb shifted the focus of suspicion from Scaramella to Lugovoi - who had not even been mentioned publicly by Litvinenko or anyone else for almost three weeks after the date of the supposed assassination.  This suggests that there was something in the nature of his dealings with Lugovoi which both Litvinenko and others were reluctant to see made public.

Seen in context, then, the evidence from the BBC Russian Service interview actually fits quite well with the hypothesis you put forward - perhaps jokingly - in the initial thread, when you said you were `tending towards the hypothesis of self-assassination.' If you postulate `self-administration' arising from a smuggling operation designed to substantiate some kind of propaganda scenario, a possible explanation of the extremely bizarre way the story of Litvinenko's poisoning was broken becomes available.  At the very least, it would seem that the possibility that Litvinenko's death was not murder at all merits serious investigation by the inquest.

If indeed, as the conventional wisdom has it, Litvinenko had no contact with polonium until the dastardly Lugovoi slipped it into his tea in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in the late afternoon of 1 November 2006, one would have expected the story of his poisoning to be broken quite differently.  One would not expect to see Litvinenko framing Scaramella, and the British police and the supposed victim's associates giving no sign whatsoever of the least interest in the case for days afterwards.  Least of all would one have expected Goldfarb and Berezovsky to be convinced that the only possible explanation was food poisoning:  which really is patently absurd, as well as a gross libel on the Itsu, whose sushi really is very good.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 07:56:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Huh, thanks, now I see the BBC interview was in that 2006 diary. I nearly forgot the details on the Scaramella meeting.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 10:31:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That initial ET diary, and the subsequent discussion, really were terribly good. Looking back, it is striking how many of the elements which now appear to be critical in the story are already touched on in it. Among them is the bizarre reinvention of Scaramella.  At the outset, the information he was supposed to have brought to the meeting at the Itsu only related to Polikovskaya -- and was presented as a bait.  Subsequently, the notion that he brought warnings about plots to assassinate both himself and Litvinenko was introduced.  By the time the BBC `Panorama' programme gave its version on 22 January 2007, these warnings were treated as reliable, and a key to the mystery - as they also were in Sixmith's Litvinenko File study, published the following April.  The fact that Scaramella had been arrested on Christmas Eve 2006, on aggravated calumny charges relating to allegations very similar to those supposedly contained in the e-mails, appears simply not to have been noticed by the BBC journalists, or Sixsmith.
by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 10:47:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is the change of the story on what Scaramella showed Litvinenko.

Litvinenko's own words via the 2006 diary (with the original diarist's emphasis replaced by mine):

"I ordered lunch but he ate nothing. He appeared to be very nervous. He handed me a four-page document which he said he wanted me to read right away. It contained a list of names of people, including FSB officers, who were purported to be connected with the journalist's murder.

"The document was an e-mail but it was not an official document. I couldn't understand why he had to come all the way to London to give it to me. He could have e-mailed it to me."

So Litvinenko spoke about a list of perpetrators, and didn't understand why Scaramella thought it important to show it in person. But here is how the BBC presented the story after Scaramella's twists:

BBC NEWS | Programmes | Panorama | How to poison a spy: Transcript

MARIO SCARAMELLA
Spy Investigator
I received the weeks before November 1st several messages from a source mentioning a growing alarm, a growing risk, and Litvinenko was mentioned several times.

[...]

SWEENEY: In return Scaramella wanted to warn his friend that he'd received a death list with both their names on it.

SCARAMELLA: The email was the reasons why I contacted him.

So now the list became one of targets. One could hypothetise that there have been two lists, but Litvinenko's failure to mention it and his wondering about the point of the meeting contradict that.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 11:35:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Seen in context, then, the evidence from the BBC Russian Service interview actually fits quite well with the hypothesis you put forward - perhaps jokingly - in the initial thread, when you said you were `tending towards the hypothesis of self-assassination.'

For the record: reading the 2006 discussion again, the "self-assassination" I meant was the Camorra attack on Scaramella in Naples in March 2004, not Litvinenko's death.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 10:40:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If indeed, as the conventional wisdom has it, Litvinenko had no contact with polonium until the dastardly Lugovoi slipped it into his tea in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in the late afternoon of 1 November 2006, one would have expected the story of his poisoning to be broken quite differently.  One would not expect to see Litvinenko framing Scaramella

I don't follow here. Wasn't the sequence of events on 1 November 2006 that (1) Litvinenko met Lugovoi and Kovtun, (2) Litvinenko met Scaramella who handed over some document on Politovskaya, (3) Litvinenko returned home and immediately felt ill?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 10:47:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The sequence changed.

At the outset - 11-19 November - the finger of suspicion was pointed at the meeting with Scaramella at the Itsu.  This was still the case when the story broke in the MSM on 19 November - as in the Sunday Times report by David Leppard with which `eternalcityblues' led off the initial diary.

On 20-21 November, Gordievsky and Goldfarb shift the focus of suspicion onto Lugovoi.  However, the meeting at which Litvinenko is supposed to have been poisoned is unequivocally placed before the meeting at the Itsu, and according to Goldfarb involves Lugovoi and a mysterious Russian, unknown to Litvinenko, called `Vladimir'.

On 24 November, Lugovoi appears, and says, yes I did meet Litvinenko on 1 November, but I was accompanied by Kovtun, who is called Dmitri and whom Litvinenko already knew.  This is covered at the end of the initial ET thread - but the crucial fact that the meeting Lugovoi described, in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel, occurred after the meeting at the Itsu is not mentioned.

What then happens is like something of 1984.  Key associates of Litvinenko - including Goldfarb, but not Gordievsky, change their story, so that they are now claiming that the dead man pointed the finger at the Pine Bar meeting. And this is the version the police adopt. At the same time, claims about the evidence of the radiation trail are adjusted, in an effort to sustain the unsustainable claim that Litvinenko had no contact with polonium prior to the Pine Bar meeting.

There are really only two possible interpretations of what I call the `Orwellian transformations' in the claims made both about what Litvinenko said and about the radiation trail.  One is that none of his associates knew anything about the Pine Bar meeting - the other, that some at least knew, but both wanted to hide what had happened there, and thought Lugovoi would too.  Neither interpretation meshes easily with the conventional wisdom about how Litvinenko died.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 11:12:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently (1) and (2) happened in the opposite order. I was relying on what Gordievsky told (quoted in a comment to the 2006 diary), but Gordievsky possibly referred to the meeting two weeks earlier:

BBC NEWS | Programmes | Panorama | How to poison a spy: Transcript

Parkes Hotel - Knightsbridge

Two weeks before, on October the 16th, staying at the Parks Hotel in Knightsbridge, Andrei Lugovoi, once a KGB officer, now a millionaire, and his friend Dimitri Kovtun, also ex-KGB. Two rooms at the hotel are later tested for Polonium. The result? Contaminated. The Polonium trail begins.

ITSU - Piccadilly

During this earlier trip Lugovoi and Kovtun meet Litvinenko for lunch in his usual place, the Itsu sushi bar in Piccadilly. The restaurant, contaminated, but not at the same seats which Scaramella and Litvinenko would use two weeks later. Could this have been the first attempt to kill him?

The Park Lane Hotel - Mayfair

October the 25th, Lugovoi returns to London and checks in at the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel. He meets Litvinenko two or three times during this trip. One hotel room at the hotel is left a radioactive mess. Today not just one room, but a whole section of the 8th floor corridor are still boarded up. Was this a second botched attempt? On October 28th Lugovoi flies back to Russia on British Airways flight GBNWX. And you've guessed it, at least one seat on the plane, contaminated. On the same day Kovtun arrives in Hamburg and sees his children, a toddler and a baby who live with his ex-wife. And they are contaminated. Lugovoi and Kovtun next meet with Litvinenko on the day he's poisoned, November the 1st.

Millennium Hotel - Mayfair

4:30 pm and the Pine Bar, the Millennium Hotel, just an hour after the sushi bar. This is when the Polonium trail gets really hot. Lugovoi and Kovtun are drinking with a third Russian, Vyacheslav Sokolenko. Business was done for the day, and they were relaxing ahead of the game. Litvinenko doesn't touch alcohol, but he'll always have a cuppa.



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 11:15:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Completing the radiological trail:

PROFESSOR NICK PRIEST
Radiation Scientist
If he was contaminated in this way then when he drank it all around his lips and mouth would have been contaminated with radioactivity. There would also be a lot of it left in the cup. So he might have wiped his mouth with his hand like this, which people do. Then this becomes heavily contaminated. He could then put the hand back onto the table, so that you start a contamination trail.

SWEENEY: And the contamination trail at the Pine Bar is astounding. The cup that contained the tea, contaminated. The seven bar staff at the hotel who took the cup away, washed it, wiped it, set it out for other guests, contaminated. The Pine Bar itself, contaminated and still closed two and a half months on. The contamination itself isn't lethal, but long term risks are not known. Lugovoi and Kovtun go to the match. Seats at the Arsenal, contaminated.

Arsenal Stadium - North London

Everything points to not one, but multiple attempts to kill Litvinenko. No-one's been arrested, but the Polonium trail has made Lugovoi and Kovtun prime suspects. After Litvinenko fell sick they flew to Moscow. After Litvinenko died so did Scotland Yard. Safe and sound in Moscow Lugovoi and Kovtun protested their innocence.



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 11:25:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Epstein article adds this starting point to the radiological trail:

The Specter That Haunts the Death of Litvinenko - The New York Sun

When Mr. Lugovoi flew from Moscow to London on October 15 on Transaero Airlines, no radiation traces were found on his plane. It was only after he had met with Litvinenko at Erinys International on October 16 that traces were found on the British Airways planes on which he later flew, suggesting to the Russian investigators that the trail began in London and then went to Moscow. They also found that in London the trail 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."

It's possible though that there was no Polonium trail before because there was no improper handling of the Polonium container before that meeting. But whatever happened on 16 October, the eventual lethal dose and the teacup cleaning staff and the other contamination at the Pine Bar on 1 October seem to support a second contamination event that day.

However, a crucial difference between the Epstein and Panorama timelines I see is the place of the 16 October meeting: Epstein places it at Erinys International, Panorama at the ITSU. It's possible that there have been two meetings that day, but neither source mentions both. Can this be cleared up from any third source?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 12:29:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It can be.  One crucial report appeared in the Sunday Times on 3 December 2006, and another in the same paper on 10 December.

In the first, Lugovoi gives his timeline for 16 October:  after flying in to Heathrow on a plane operated by the Russian carrier Transaero, he and Kovtun went with Litvinenko to Erinys.  After the meeting, they ate at the Itsu.  Nobody to my knowledge has queried the claim that the meeting at the Itsu came after the meeting at Erinys.

What is however left out of the 3 December Sunday Times story is the critical fact that on 30 November a Transaero plane flew into Heathrow, was inspected, and declared free of contamination.  It would appear far more likely that this is the plane which brought Lugovoi and Kovtun in to London on 16 October, rather than the plane which took the pair back to Moscow on 18 October, which was also operated by Transaero.  But this is a matter the inquest can easily check.

Nobody has ever suggested that Lugovoi and Kovtun visited Erinys except on 16 October.  If then the British evidence turns out to support the claim they and the Russian investigators have made that they were clear of contamination when they arrived in London, it would seem probable that one of two things must be true.  Either the contamination at Erinys does,as Lugovoi has repeatedly claimed, derive from some incident at the 16 October meeting - or someone else left the contamination there.  Both possibilities create major problems for the conventionally accepted version of how Litvinenko died.

Another feature of the 3 December report which is critical is that it is suggested that Litvinenko visited Berezovsky's office to copy the famous e-mails from Scaramella immediately following the meeting at the Itsu, and left contamination on the photocopier.

The 10 December report, which followed the discovery of extensive contamination in the Pine Bar, shows the focus of suspicion being moved from the supposed meeting involving Lugovoi and Kovtun before the meeting at the Itsu, to the meeting with Lugovoi and Kovtun after it.

It also shows the beginning of the adjustment of the claims about the radiation trail.  So the claims about contamination on Scaramella are revised.  However, both the contamination at the Itsu, and the contamination on the photocopier in Berezovsky's office, were incompatible with the claim Litvinenko was first contaminated in the Pine Bar:  a fact none of the highly-paid Sunday Times journalists were professional enough to point out.

It was only subsequently that it was claimed that the contamination at the Itsu dated from the 16 October visit by Lugovoi, Kovtun and Litvinenko.  And even then the contamination on the photocopier remained as an unexplained anomaly.  If in fact Litvinenko was not leaving contamination at the Itsu on 1 November, but was leaving contamination on the photocopier in Berezovsky's office immediately afterwards, then the finger of suspicion should have been directed at Berezovsky.

In Sixsmith's study, there is a flat-out contradiction, with Litvinenko's use of the photocopier being placed before the Pine Bar meeting on one page, and after it on another.  The timeline was not finally `sorted out' until Alan Cowell's August 2008 book The Terminal Spy, when the use of the photocopier was placed after the meeting in the Pine Bar.  In fact, given the problems with the claims about the e-mails, which you discuss, the more likely explanation is that the whole notion of Litvinenko copying the e-mails is a fabrication.

The problem with the claims made by the Russian investigators to Epstein, as you rightly point out, is that it is not clear that a single incident is going to be able to explain all the radiation traces associated with events on 1 November.  Notice however a very interesting fact.  In the 10 December report, there is mention of contamination in a teacup - but no mention of a teapot.  This is also the case with the Panorama programme, broadcast on 22 January 2007.

In the May 2008, in which a good deal of this ground was covered, it was noted that the report of contamination in a teapot only appears in an ABC report on 26 January, when it is suggested that the teapot had been identified in the second week of December.  However, in the Sixsmith study, it was suggested that the teapot had been identified at the outset, along with the teacup.

A teapot is an enclosed space.  A teacup is not.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Wed Dec 12th, 2012 at 07:26:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can see the structure of the novel. In the first chapter, he's on his deathbed, perhaps being interviewed by his future coroner. Subsequent chapters are eye-of-god narrations of various versions of what happened, according to unreliable witnesses.

But I don't think I can handle it. I suggest Umberto Eco, or Martin Amis.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 07:30:12 AM EST
Among other authors that fit your description of narrations of various versions of what happened, according to unreliable witnesses, I would suggest Akiro Kurosawa's Rashomon which, fittingly, means "The door of the defensive wall."
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 07:54:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For those who have seen the film-- or its American Western version-- the title is extraordinary because the various narrators take refuge from the rain under the door which is the only thing left standing. The defensive walls have been destroyed.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 08:02:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You put your finger on a key point about this whole bizarre affair.

If ever there was a case of `unreliable witnesses', it is this.  If one exposes claims made by any of the major protagonists - in particular Litvinenko - to close analysis, very many of them emerge as unreliable.

However, the whole basis of the approach taken by the Western MSM has been that one can approach this story on the basis that some witnesses are absolutely reliable, and some absolutely unreliable.  Those classed as reliable are commonly either people who were genuinely dissidents - Alex Goldfarb or Vladimir Bukovsky - or belong to a class one might call `repentant Chekists':  Gordievsky, Yuri Shvets, Oleg Kalugin, Vladimir Rezun (aka `Viktor Suvorov'), Boris Volodarsky, Litvinenko himself.

Claims made by members of either class are simply taken on trust - an example being the report in the Times on 20 November, in which Gordievsky shifted the focus of suspicion from Scaramella to Lugovoi, and accused Putin of instigating the supposed murder.  No evidence was provided, nor was any asked for, before an individual - Lugovoi - and the head of a foreign state - Putin - were accused of pioneering nuclear terrorism.

By the same token, it is simply assumed that Lugovoi is an absolutely disingenuous witness, and that there is no need even accurately to report what he has said in his own defence.

Why precisely the MSM in Britain is determined to interpret a complex story of intrigue as a Manichean drama in which `good guys' always tell the truth, and `bad guys' never, is a critical question.  Whatever the explanation, however, the result is that a great deal of the coverage of the Litvinenko mystery verges on the inane.  The fact that Gordievsky, Shvets, `Suvorov' and Bukovsky all turn out to have been implicated in Scaramella's disinformation schemes brings the bizarreness of the situation into sharp relief.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 11:55:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see that there's necessarily anything sinister in the "Manichean drama" frame adopted by the media. Plausibly, it's just a cultural meme overlaid by journalistic laziness. We grew up in a culture where Russia + Spies = James Bond, no ambiguity about who's wearing the black hats. Sure, there is a minority "John Le Carré" strand, where things are a bit more complicated, but that sells fewer newspapers.

As for the "news black-out" on the Scaramella libel case. It might seem sinister that this isn't being reported : after all, there are spies, radioactive suitcases etc., all pretty exciting. But unfortunately it doesn't fit the meme (who's wearing the black hats here?) and it's so complicated that I can imagine an honest journalist looking at it, realising it will take him days to merely understand the available evidence, and that he won't be able to distill it into an honest short article that thousands of people would take the trouble to read.

Back to Litvinenko : the media frame having been established long ago, I'm sure there are plenty of journalists who realise it's not that simple; but lack the resources or influence to write, and get published, a lengthy article full of complex explanations and the bold conclusion : "Well, actually, we don't know what's going on at all!"

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Dec 12th, 2012 at 04:17:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was rather troubled, and even frankly suspicious, about the apparent lack of sex in the case. But :

The Specter That Haunts the Death of Litvinenko - The New York Sun

Litvinenko certainly could have been contaminated well before his meeting with Mr. Scaramella. Several nights earlier, he had gone to the Hey Joey club in Mayfair. According to its manager, Litvinenko was seated in the VIP lap-dancing cubicle that later tested positive for Polonium-210.

It's a bit thin, but it's a start.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Dec 12th, 2012 at 05:15:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary.

I wonder about the possible source of polonium as I heard in the Arafat affair, that it is quite difficult to produce and so the possible sources are limited.

by stevesim on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 03:10:26 PM EST
Arafat and Litvinenko would be strange bed fellows. Since the hidden premise is that the Soviet Union/Russia has the exclusive rights on eliminating people with radioactive substances, one wonders what motive they would have-- or anyone would have for that matter-- in killing an aged and sicken man under seige in Ramallah.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 04:32:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not sure the Russians have a monopoly on polonium though.
by stevesim on Tue Dec 11th, 2012 at 04:39:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, the tobacco industry also produces it. And there have been rumors of an accident with it in Israel several decades ago.
by gk (g k quattro due due sette "at" gmail.com) on Wed Dec 12th, 2012 at 02:41:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
where Litvinenko knowingly took part in manipulating polonium (or in manipulating anything at all which he knew to be radioactive) would seem, to me, to suffer from a fatal weakness.

(Sorry if this is a naïve line of inquiry, I've come late to the party)

He was hospitalised, and misdiagnosed with thallium poisoning. The radioactivity and/or polonium was only detected a couple of days before his death.

I don't know whether an earlier diagnosis could have saved him. But (and whatever he might have been trying to conceal, at risk to his own life) I find it implausible that he wouldn't have put the doctors on the trail of radioactivity, if he had had reason to suspect it.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Dec 12th, 2012 at 05:31:43 AM EST
A central implication of the `accident or suicide' claim is that, if it is true, the conventional wisdom according to which polonium was only identified immediately prior to Litvinenko's death is a charade:  that MI6 must have known that polonium was the likely toxin from the time they first learnt about his being taken ill.  

This may be false, but could be true.  It is difficult to continue simply dismissing such suggestions from Lugovoi, given that his claim that Litvinenko worked for MI6 was contemptuously repudiated for years, before being abruptly conceded by his widow in October 2011.  

In this connection, a cable from the U.S. Paris Embassy disclosed by WikiLeaks, which reports a conversation between the Russian special presidential representative Anatoliy Safonov and U.S. ambassador-at-large Henry Crumpton on 7 December 2006, is of interest.

The Guardian report opens:

Russia was tracking the assassins of dissident spy Alexander Litvinenko before he was poisoned but was warned off by Britain, which said the situation was "under control", according to claims made in a leaked US diplomatic cable.

What the cable actually said was:

Safonov claimed that Russian authorities in London had known about and followed individuals moving radioactive substances into the city but were told by the British that they were under control before the poisoning took place.

This illustrates my point about the problems of Manichean perspectives.  The Guardian simply assumes that the only reason why polonium could have been being smuggled into London is to assassinate Litvinenko, and accordingly sees fit to attribute to Safonov an assertion he never made - which it then goes on to dismiss as ridiculous.

All we know is that Safonov claimed that the Russian authorities in London knew about a nuclear smuggling operation and told the British.  Again, this may be false, but it could be true.  The claim would, obviously, fit in very well with the possible scenarios for how the polonium came to be smuggled into London which arise out of the evidence from Italy.  What Safonov suggests happened is what one might well expect, if either the Russians had got wind of an operation designed to frame them as nuclear smugglers, or had staged an operation designed to frame Litvinenko and his Chechen associates.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Wed Dec 12th, 2012 at 08:15:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So, people are smuggling radioactive material through London, and are being tracked by both the FSB and MI6?

One of the parties is perhaps selling it to the other... this would surely be Lugovi to Litvinenko, rather than the other way round : polonium, with its short half-life, has to be fresh to be of much use.

What would it be for? Not for triggering a home-made thermonuclear bomb, that really doesn't seem too probable technologically. If it's for a dirty bomb, or some sort of terrorist contamination stunt, that's more plausible, but who would want it, and why would Litvinenko be working with them? At some stage, some sort of motive is needed to build a plausible narrative.

So the frame idea is the most plausible one. And both sides are bluffing and trying to draw out the other party in order to trap them. Lugovi and his pal are, in one scenario, working for the FSB and are offering to supply Litvinenko with polonium to pass on to his Chechen friends. The idea is that it's a sting operation, once he's bought the package then they tip off the British authorities, and Litvinenko is busted and destroyed as an irritant. What's Litvinenko's game? Unless he's barking mad, he has no use for the polonium, but perhaps wants to trap the guys and hand them over to the British authorities, with whom he has a working relationship.

And these guys are clowning around with polonium. If the hypothesis is that they unscrew the lid to prove that it's the real shit -- look, it glows -- one has to believe that they know next to nothing about its dangers. One is reminded of a Woody Allen film where someone shows him a kilo of cocaine, look it's worth X thousand dollars, and Woody sneezes and blows it all over the room.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Dec 12th, 2012 at 10:49:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A further element one needs to add in is that while no credible evidence has been presented in the British media whatsoever that Lugovoi was an FSB agent, his close relationship with Berezovsky's long-term business partner Arkadi `Badri' Patarkatsishvili has been ignored.  The comments on this at the beginning and end of the press conference in which Lugovoi responded to the CPS request for his extradition are likely to be critical to understanding what happened.

At the end of the initial European Tribune discussion, a commenter pointed to the link between Lugovoi and Patarkatsishvili - and also to the latter's role in the `Rose Revolution' in his native Georgia.  But by late 2006, while Berezovsky was still very actively championing `colour revolutions', that in Georgia had blown up in Patarkatsishvili's face, as his relations with Saakashvili had collapsed.  

We also know that Putin had attempted to split the partners when he and Berezovsky fell out.  It may well be the attempt was renewed, exploiting the tensions between Patarkatsishvili and Saakashvili, and Lugovoi was an intermediary.  It is of some moment that Lugovoi is ethnic Russian, and would have been likely to have become vitriolically hostile to the `Rose Revolution' when it emerged that Saakashvili was determined on an all-out challenge to Moscow.

Most traces of polonium can be removed by careful washing and showering.  While one cannot make confident statements until there is more evidence about the radiation trail, it appears eminently likely that the radiation traces that Lugovoi left establish that he was unaware of the properties of polonium.  The British Embassy apparently claimed to Luke Harding of the Guardian that when he visited there on 23 November the chair he sat on was heavily contaminated - although the fact that in one report Harding suggested it had been burned, and in another locked in a room in the Embassy, means that one cannot take this as hard fact.  The inability of British reporters even to remember what they claimed a few months before, let alone what other people have, commonly beggars belief.

If in fact Lugovoi was unaware of the properties of polonium, and there had been the kind of it would not be at all surprising, if indeed there had been the kind of incident or incidents the `suicide or accident' claim implies, to find him ending up genuinely baffled by the question of what Litvinenko might or might not have known.  Another element here is that his repeated suggestion that he and Kovtun were deliberately contaminated to make it possible to incriminate them and the Russian authorities may not actually simply be disinformation.  If in fact Patarkatsishvili was playing a complex double game, which seems at least possible, then Litvinenko might well have regarded Lugovoi as a traitor.

Evidence on these matters is circumstantial, but there is a good deal of it.  There would be a great deal more if journalists in the MSM had bothered to report what Lugovoi said, and follow up the leads he gave.

A preliminary attempt to look at the complexities of the relationship between Patarkatsishvili and Berezovsky, and how Lugovoi might have fitted into the picture, was made in diaries put up in June and July 2009.  These drew very heavily on information from Karon von Gerhke, who was responsible for introducing us to this whole critical - but acutely complex - aspect of the Litvinenko mystery.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Wed Dec 12th, 2012 at 12:30:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is difficult to continue simply dismissing such suggestions from Lugovoi, given that his claim that Litvinenko worked for MI6 was contemptuously repudiated for years, before being abruptly conceded by his widow in October 2011.  
Evening Standard: Alexander Litvinenko was 'paid M16 agent' as files say Russia 'has case to answer on poisoning' (13 December 2012)
Murdered ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko worked as a paid agent for the British security service MI6, it was sensationally claimed today.

He was also employed by Spanish intelligence investigating links between the  Kremlin and Russian organised crime, a pre-inquest hearing was told.

The claims were made as a lawyer for the inquest declared that the Russian state had a case to answer over the dissident's death at a London hospital in 2006.



I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 14th, 2012 at 04:50:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As we said, the claim is old music, therefore not sensational. Nor are the claims concerning Spain new.

We will certainly discuss Marina Litvinenko's submission that are the source of this "sensational" claim. The submission was discussed during the hearings yesterday. Off hand, Marina Litvinenko supports the unsubstantiated claims made by her husband -- and many ex-Soviet bloc exiles in London --that Russia is a mafia state that actively uses organized crime to further its supposed aims.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Dec 14th, 2012 at 06:04:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
in the written submissions from Berezhovsky, Lugovoy and Marina Litvinenko (or rather, from their respective lawyers), concerning which scenarii should be examined by the inquest.

  • Shorter Berezhovsky : he affirms that the only evidence or allegations implicating him in Litvinenko's death come from Lugovoy. He affirms that Lugovoy is a criminal on the run; and that legal precedent indicates that testimony from a criminal on the run is not admissible, therefore the judge must throw out the Berezhovsky scenario. A self-evident crock of shit.

  • Shorter Marina : she favours the investigation of the "Putin did it" and "Russian mafia did it" scenarios, arguing that the two are indistinguishable; she argues against the pursuit of the Berezhovsky scenario; she argues against the "MI6 did it" scenario, but concedes that it must be considered, if another interested party (i.e. Lugovoy) insists on it, and that consideration of this, or of any liability of the British state for failing to protect her husband (as an MI6 agent) would require a "Article 2 Middleton inquest" (enhanced inquest?).

  • Shorter Lugovoy : "Raison d'état" (judicial restraint) can not be invoked to refuse to examine any scenario; the judge may not rule out any scenario based on "non-disclosed material", i.e. any evidence (implicitly, MI6 investigations) which the judge wants to use to exclude any line of inquiry, i.e. British scenario, would need to be communicated to interested parties. Unsurprisingly, he is in favour of investigating the Berezhovsky scenario; he doesn't want the "Spanish Mafia" (surprising characterisation) scenario ruled out; he is in favour of investigating the British and Russian scenarii, and wants to see the evidence.

On balance, this is going to be fun.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Dec 14th, 2012 at 09:46:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
in the Counsel to the Inquest's submission, there is a discussion of whether a jury is required for the inquest. Although the council argues against a jury, it seems to me that one is required, on the grounds of a work-related "accident, poisoning or disease".

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Dec 14th, 2012 at 10:34:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
informs the judge that he shouldn't listen to anyone else, if he wants to exclude any particular line of inquiry (hint hint British scenario) he should just go right ahead and do it, because he's the boss.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Dec 14th, 2012 at 11:25:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A central implication of the `accident or suicide' claim is that, if it is true, the conventional wisdom according to which polonium was only identified immediately prior to Litvinenko's death is a charade:  that MI6 must have known that polonium was the likely toxin from the time they first learnt about his being taken ill.

There may have been a mistake of the identity of the substance. Both polonium and radioactive thallium can be produced in nuclear reactors. If they are made in the same plant it may not be too hard for someone with access to facility but limited knowledge to steal the wrong radioactive substance.

For examply a metal trader got a large dose of radiation by buing something highly radioactive as osmium and keeping it his pocket.

by Jute on Tue Dec 18th, 2012 at 06:56:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by sidd on Thu Dec 13th, 2012 at 01:41:03 PM EST


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