by de Gondi
Wed Dec 5th, 2012 at 03:24:15 AM EST
By David Loepp in Rome and Rimini, and David Habakkuk in London
Last Friday Mario Scaramella was found guilty of the criminal offence of aggravated calumny in a Rimini court. He was the Italian associate of the late Alexander Litvinenko, who died in a London hospital on 23 November 2006, apparently as a result of ingesting the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210.
Mr. Scaramella has been sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment, and his victim, Alvaro Selva, a prominent public figure in the Republic of San Marino, awarded damages of 40,000. In 2005 Scaramella denounced Selva to judicial authorities in Rimini, claiming that he was a key player in an international nuclear smuggling operation, allegations he repeated in January 2006 to authorities in Bologna.
The verdict in Rimini follows a similar verdict in an earlier aggravated calumny case, in relation to the supposed involvement of a former FSB-operative called Oleksandr Talik in what proved to be a fabricated assassination plot, in relation to which Scaramella was sentenced to four years in 2008, after making a plea bargain.
It comes as preparations for the resumption of the inquest into the death of Litvinenko move towards a critical stage in London. At the fourth pre-inquest review, to be held on 13-14 December, the question of which of the many claims and counter-claims about how he died are to be considered worthy of investigation is to be confronted.
Both in making the accusations against Selva, and those against Talik, Scaramella drew heavily on material supplied by his Russian associate - who was also actively involved in disseminating the claims against Talik. Given the nature of the accusations involved, the evidence from the two cases would appear extremely relevant to the inquest into Litvinenko's death.
front-paged by afew
In Italian law aggravated calumny is a criminal offense in which an individual falsely denounces someone to judicial authorities, or to any authority under obligation to refer to these, knowing the allegations to be false, and with malice. Penalties are in proportion to the severity of the calumny. Its victim may associate himself with the criminal prosecution, to seek redress and damages - as Selva did.
The case drew no attention in the international press despite the fact that Litvinenko was implicated in the elaborate scheme concocted by Scaramella of which the calumnies against Selva were part, and the exploitation of his role by the defense. Claims based on Litvinenko's supposed authority were alleged to have induced Scaramella to believe in good faith that Alvaro Selva had a major role in the supposed nuclear trafficking operations.
Among the items allegedly smuggled in these operations were bars of highly enriched uranium, missile components including guidance systems, and Boeviye Radioactivniye Vescestva (BRV) - the Russian phrase, used by Scaramella, that means Radioactive Combat Material1. Two documents presenting testimony from Litvinenko had been used to give credibility to this scenario, but the defence was not able to produce any evidence that he had mentioned either Selva or the Republic of San Marino other than de relato hearsay.
The trial is of particular interest since it opens a window onto a case of international intrigue involving a large number of players, most notably Litvinenko and his Russian exile circle in London. The background to the action is the history of the so-called Mitrokhin Commission in Italy, and the political climate fostered by Berlusconi's legislative majority and his hold on the media between 2001 and 2006.
The Mitrokhin Commission had been instituted to investigate alleged improprieties on the part of the previous center-left governments in handling the dossier of handwritten notes of documents relating to KGB activities accumulated by Vassily Mitrokhin when he was an archivist for the organisation in the late Seventies. The Commission was rapidly transformed into a continuation of previous joint parliamentary commissions from 1988 to 2001 which had been set up to investigate political terrorism in Italy from the Sixties through to the Eighties, and why those responsible for the incidents in question had not been fully identified.
These committees had often been deadlocked by the conflict between conspiracy theories of the left and right, neither of which had much to contribute to unfolding what had actually happened. The last of these commissions, known as the Pellegrino Commission, produced no final conclusions.
With the Mitrokhin Commission, what had been a minority rightwing interpretation of Italy's troubled past became the dominant narrative. The controversy surrounding the handling of the Mitrokhin material by the centre-left governments of Romano Prodi and Massimo d'Alema originally broke when the Forza Italia party of Silvio Berlusconi was in opposition in the late Nineties. But in 2001 Berlusconi returned as Prime Minister, so that by the time the Mitrokhin Commission was set up the following year, in an ironic reversal of the normal practice in relation to such investigations in Western democracies, it was investigating allegations of misconduct by opposition figures, rather than those in power.
The `Team B' narrative
The narrative of recent Italian history which the Commission sought to reinforce rested heavily on some of the more extravagant interpretations of Soviet strategy put forward in the United States in the late Cold War period by groups such the Committee for the Present Danger. According to a seminal statement of this school of interpretation, the `Team B' exercise conducted in Washington in the mid-1970s, the Soviets were bent on acquiring the capabilities for a decisive nuclear first strike in order to subjugate Western Europe and the rest of the world. Evidence emerging following the retreat and collapse of Soviet power decisively vindicated those analysts who had argued that this interpretation was simply wrong, and that the Soviets had concluded years earlier that it was impossible to fight and win a nuclear war.
A natural extension of the `Team B' pattern of interpretation involved claims about the supposed aggressive use by the Soviets and their allies of communist infiltration and terrorism to weaken the Western enemy's resolve, which were popularized by Michael Ledeen and Claire Sterling. Since the end of the Cold War these conspiracy theories have been updated, so as to present the Russian Federation and the contemporary Russian security services as a principal backer of jihadist terrorism and of `rogue states'. These were recurrent themes of the writings of Litvinenko, as is apparent from the collection of these edited by Pavel Stroilov published in English in 2007 under the title `Allegations', and the collection in Italian edited by his brother Maxim and Luca Salvatori under the title `Perchè mi hanno ucciso' - `Why they have killed me.'
Having always had a preference for action over reflection, Scaramella set out to substantiate this worldview through an elaborate series of interlinked hoaxes. He had been nominated consultant to the Mitrokhin Commission in December 2003, although he had already prepared a document for the commission on alleged Soviet penetration of the European environmentalist movements. His nomination had caused some discussion because one of his initial tasks was to investigate Islamic terrorism, an issue which had become a focus of intense concern after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. As the opposition argued that it was outside the remit of the Commission, two letters of acceptance were prepared. The second of these, dated 18 December 2003, included the following paragraph:
A talent for self-promotion
|Le comunico che l'Ufficio di presidenza integrato dai rappresentanti dei gruppi ha convenuto di integrare l'incarico conferiroLe l'11 dicembre 2003, attribuendoLe altresì il compito di acquisire documenti presso istituzioni e organismi di Paesi occidentali e dell'exUnione sovietica riguardanti presunte relazioni tra PCUS, KGB e altre agenzie di esplorazione estera e organizzazioni italiane terroristiche, nonché di individuare i tratti salienti che hanno caratterizzato l'azione del KGB in Italia.||This is to communicate to you that the office of the President together with representatives of the various groups have decided to integrate the task conferred on you on 11 December 2003, giving you the further task of acquiring documents from institutions and agencies of Western countries and the former Soviet Union concerning alleged relations between the CPSU, the KGB and other agencies of foreign penetration and Italian terrorist organizations, as well as the salient traits that characterized the action of the KGB in Italy.|
A crucial instrument used by Scaramella in elaborating his hoaxes was an intergovernmental organization called the Environmental Crime Prevention Program (ECPP) that he had created some years before. Thanks to what can only be regarded as his extraordinary talent for self-promotion, the ECPP in 2002 received full accreditation as an observer at the consultative meetings of the contracting parties to the 1972 London Convention - a grouping concerned with environmental hazards at sea, linked to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN agency.
In 2007 following Litvinenko's death and the ensuing controversy over Scaramella's role, IMO withdrew the organization's accreditation after an investigation involving other international agencies, as a result of which it was concluded that the ECPP was the "invention of one determined individual." It was recommended that stricter safeguards and vetting processes should be adopted in the future.
The IMO was however not the only agency to pour cold water on Scaramella's invention. During his collaboration with the `Mitrokhin Commission', Scaramella proposed that Italy become a member of the ECPP, so that it would acquire diplomatic status. Following the request, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote two letters to the Mitrokhin Commission president, Senator Paolo Guzzanti, informing him in essence that the organisation did not exist. Scaramella then attacked the ministry and alleged that the ECPP was a sort of top-secret agency directly under the control of the US and Romanian presidents.
The organisation, he claimed, had offices with NASA in Moffet Field, California, the Miass State Rocket Center in the Urals, and in Miami. In strict confidence he asserted that the Miami office possessed a vast archive of documents that had been acquired in the former Soviet Union through secret intelligence operations. Apparently Scaramella felt that his ECPP merited the status of the Manhattan Project, seeing that the U.S. Senate had not been informed of its existence.
In order to lend credibility to his claims Scaramella channelled documents - almost all of a spurious nature- through the Miami office, getting the Italian Consulate there to stamp them to give an appearance of authoritative validation.
A key operation, however, deftly exploited the observer status Scaramella had obtained for the ECPP with the consultative meetings of the contracting parties to the London Convention. Shortly after his appointment as consultant to the Commission, in January 2004, Scaramella and his ECPP team interviewed Litvinenko extensively. Although Scaramella conducted the interviews, all the documents produced in these sessions were signed by members of his team and Litvinenko, so that the involvement of Scaramella himself was obscured.
The documents were then routed to the IMO in London to be presented at an informal meeting there on July 26th, 2004, whose ostensible subject was an investigation of the dumping of radioactive materials in the Mediterranean. Also presented were materials from other sources, including Evgueni Limarev, a paid consultant and friend of Scaramella. The latter attended the meeting in his role as consultant for the Mitrokhin Commission, effectively distancing himself from the ECPP and the documentation produced under its aegis. His associate Andrei Ganchev attended as ECPP representative. The meeting was also attended by the Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, the Soviet-era defectors Oleg Gordievsky and Vladimir Rezun, who writes under the name `Victor Suvorov', and a Florida-based ex-CIA operative called Louis Palumbo. In their role as `discussants', these provided endorsement to claims made by Scaramella and Litvinenko. It appears that the introduction of Scaramella to Litvinenko had been effected by Rezun/`Suvorov' in 2003.
Following the meeting the documentation was requested by the Mitrokhin Commission at the behest of its consultant Scaramella through the Italian Embassy in London. The Head of the Office for the London Convention, René Coenen, who appears to have been remarkably ingenuous, if not indeed actively imprudent, sent out the materials, only to see them sent back because the IMO had not placed its stamp on the documents. The documents were then returned to the Mitrokhin Commission, this time with every single page bearing the IMO stamp, as well as the stamp of the Italian Embassy in London. By channelling information in this way, Scaramella was able to exploit his connections with Litvinenko and others, while appearing to act in conformity with his remit as consultant to the Mitrokhin Commission, which stipulated that he could only gather information from states and international agencies.
The outcome was that the Commission ended up in possession of a series of documents consisting of patently false, wildly improbable or simply unsubstantiated claims, created for the most part in Naples, and garnished with an impressive array of official stamps from different sources which had the effect of lending them an appearance of credibility. A large part of the supporting material deployed by Scaramella in support of his presentation at the 26 July 2004 meeting at the IMO consisted of Litvinenko's extravagant allegations, contained in twelve separate declarations. The fact that this documentation came through the ECPP had been successfully used by Scaramella to lend an appearance of objective third-party legitimacy to his allegations - as had the endorsements by Bukovsky, Gordievsky, Rezun/`Suvorov' and Palumbo.
The primary objective of the exercise was to prove that both the Soviet Union and its allies through their security services, together with their heirs in the FSB and the SVR, the contemporary Russian foreign intelligence service, had been, and still were, actively involved in using and trafficking weapons of mass destruction. Among other claims made at the meeting at the IMO, Scaramella sought to demonstrate that ships containing radiological waste, together with so-called `telemines' had been deliberately sunk in the Mediterranean, so as to be used as maritime `dirty bombs'. And he also claimed that BRV had been supplied to Saddam Hussein's Iraq to be mounted on SCUDs as radiological dispersal weapons (RDW).
In relation to the claims about Italy which were at the heart of the calumnies against Selva, a critical point is that weapons of mass destruction were, supposedly, to be used in a spectacular terrorist act during the national elections, similar to but much worse than the subway bombing in Madrid in 2004.
In pursuit of their sinister schemes the imaginary FSB and SVR agents were supposed to have collaborated extensively with organized crime and Middle Eastern terrorists. Given that the ECPP, Mario Scaramella and the Mitrokhin Commission had "caught on" to the real nature of these plots, assisted by the perspicacity of Litvinenko and Limarev, a further terrorist action was supposedly organized against Scaramella and Senator Guzzanti. Denouncing this last conspiracy, supposedly just as the attack was about to be made, was intended to provide a crucial element of validation for the mythical characterisation of the Cold War by the majority of the Commission, and its interpretation of the post-Cold War world in terms of this.
In the elaboration of this hoax, in which Oleksandr Talik was cast in a key role, Litvinenko played a critical part, sending Scaramella a fax in October 2005 warning about the alleged operation, and subsequently disseminating the allegations in the Ukraine. But it was over these allegations that the pair came unstuck, when the judicial authorities to whom the supposed assassination plot had been denounced saw through it.
The farrago which Scaramella created was elaborated over a three year period (2004-2006) in different parts of Italy. It involved several major interrelated episodes: the "Soviet nuclear torpedoes in the Bay of Naples" hoax coupled with a shoot-out on Mount Vesuvius ostensibly over a stash of Soviet weaponry; the "Rimini-San Marino nuclear traffic" hoax; and the "Bulgarian-produced grenades hoax" in Teramo, which was central to the accusations against Talik.
The Rimini-San Marino nuclear traffic hoax lay at the heart of the edifice, and was of Byzantine complexity. Any reader in danger of finding this complexity utterly unmanageable may take comfort in the fact that the sheer number of players involved, and the tangled nature of the actions and motives of many of them, both real and imaginary, often led both the prosecution and defence in the calumny case against Scaramella to make minor errors.
Alvaro Selva as he leaves the Rimini court house. Mr. Selva declared, " The sentence is fair. I'm not interested in the money as much as the end of a nightmare. It's important that, in the end, the truth came to light. For the moment I'll wait to read the motivations of the sentence to understand the support Scaramella received in San Marino in this affair."
The trial of course focused on whether Alvaro Selva had been knowingly defamed with premeditation and malice and, in this, his reputation has been vindicated by the court's sentence. The background to this was that Selva - an iconoclastic member of the San Marino Communist Party- had been involved in a successful `historic compromise' there with the Christian Democrats, of a kind that proved impossible in Italy as a whole. In 1986-1992, Communists and Christian Democrats governed together. Having left politics, Selva returned in 2004, in a Left coalition making a bid for power - and it was this which led to the conspiracy to discredit him in which Scaramella was involved with some of Selva's opponents in San Marino.
The impact of Scaramella's calumnies on San Marino politics of course cannot be undone - but the smear campaign did eventually boomerang, causing adverse publicity for all those involved.
As for the Rimini-San Marino hoax, its story has not been told. The first indications of what Scaramella - with help from Litvinenko - was attempting emerged in evidence from the initial calumny case against him I produced in response to a diary by David Habakkuk on the Litvinenko affair on this site back in May 2008. Since then the two of us have gathered a great deal of further material, which in addition to illuminating the way the hoaxes worked, raises the possibility that they may be a critical part of the background to how Litvinenko came to ingest polonium. In coming weeks, we will endeavour to put various elements of a very complex story together.
As regards the Rimini-San Marino hoax, cutting a very long story short, it involves three principal plots, each with their own cast of characters. One of these is the plot, already described, to discredit Selva. The second involves a local group of fraudsters intent on a nuclear trafficking scam involving two wooden crates, each allegedly containing five kilos of highly enriched uranium (HEU).
The third plot involves Mario Scaramella and his entourage, with him acting with several different hats on, as the ECPP, as consultant for the Mitrokhin Commission and as candidate consultant for the Republic of San Marino security. It is this third group that superimposes a far more elaborated nuclear trafficking hoax onto the local nuclear scam, and brings it together with propaganda wars relating to claims and counter-claims about `suitcase nukes'. In the process, Scaramella brings the second and third plots together with the first, accusing Alvaro Selva of being one of the principal movers of the illegal nuclear transaction.
Evidence which has come to light as a result of calumny case which concluded on Friday, together with the materials which were deposited with the Mitrokhin Commission, does a great deal to illuminate the contributions made to Scaramella's disinformation activities by Litvinenko - and also, to a lesser extent, by Gordievsky, Rezun/`Suvorov', and Bukovsky. In relation to the question of how Litvinenko died, a critical question is whether elements in these same scenarios were also deployed in other contexts.
Issues for the inquest
After it emerged that Litvinenko had been poisoned with polonium, reports in the Russian press suggested that he could have been smuggling the substance to help his Chechen associates create a radiological weapon - a so-called `dirty bomb'. And a report in Izvestiya on December 1, 2006 suggested that he might have been smuggling the substance in order to create an `initiator' so that a `suitcase nuke' which had been obtained by his Chechen associates could be restored to functionality. Not long after, an American writer called Paul L. Williams, who had been active in disseminating scare stories about nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Al Qaeda, also suggested that the polonium which killed Litvinenko could have been intended for use in an `initiator' to make functional a `suitcase nuke' obtained by jihadists.
The suggestion that the critical missing element required to restore a `suitcase nuke' acquired by jihadists to functionality might be such an `initiator' however, had already been made by Paul L. Williams in a symposium which appeared under the title `Al Qaeda's Nukes' on the noted American conservative website FrontPageMag.com on 27 October 2006. In this symposium, one sees a propaganda battle played out. The deeply ingrained Russophobia of elements on the American right had been one factor in the identification of many with the Chechen insurgents. The fears of jihadists acquiring nuclear weapons which had reached fever pitch after the attack on the World Trade Center, however, led to scenarios in which the Chechens featured as a possible intermediary through which nuclear weapons from the former Soviet or current Russian arsenal might be acquired by jihadists.
Claims that the Chechen insurgents are a likely route through which Al Qaeda might acquire nuclear weapons are accordingly countered in the symposium by claims that the plausible route is through the Russian security services in alliance with organised crime. This was one of the central themes developed by Litvinenko and Scaramella, and the latter's presentation at the July 26th meeting at the IMO, and crucial elements of the supporting materials, were clearly designed to facilitate the development of such scenarios.
In Scaramella's disinformation - and in particular the materials presented at the July 26th 2004 meeting at the IMO, a range of different developments of the `suitcase nukes' theme made up one strand. Another involved suggesting that the Soviets had made major use of radiological weapons. Against this background, the fact that polonium appears to have surfaced as a critical missing element in a `suitcase nuke' in a discussion conducted on an American website at a time when the story of Litvinenko's poisoning was about to break is suggestive. It is also material that polonium could be used in radiological weapons, either on its own, or in conjunction with the BRV which played such a central role in the materials from the July 26th 2004 meeting at the IMO, and in the calumnies against Selva.
At the very least, the hypothesis that the presence of polonium in London in October and November 2006 was related in some way to propaganda battles of which the accusations which led to the two calumny cases against Scaramella were part would seem worth exploring.
- At the July 26th, 2004 meeting at the IMO, which we discuss below, one of the `discussants' asserted that it was Beria and Stalin who had invented BRV. In fact the Americans had already come up with the idea during the Manhattan Project in 1943. In English BRV would correspond to the material used in a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) or a Radiological Dispersal Weapon (RDW). ↑