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I think this certainly is going to be an epic inquest.

At issue are going to be fundamental questions not only about the conduct of the Russian state and security services, but about the capacity and integrity of the British intelligence services, and also the British police.  Also at issue are fundamental questions about the ability of the `Fourth Estate' in Britain to subject claims made by the intelligence services, and the police, to critical examination.

In this regard, it is of interest to look back to a crucial excerpt from the request by Italian prosecutors to use wiretaps of conversations between the head of the `Mitrokhin Commission', Senator Paolo Guzzanti, and Scaramella, in connection with the first aggravated calumny case against the latter.  This excerpt, which David Loepp translated in response to my diary back in May 2008, has turned out to be particularly rich in significance:


3) - 4) - 5) - 6) - 7) - 8) - 9) conversations that took place on number [omissis] on December 1st, 2005, at 16:10:08 # 833, 16:43:40 # 848, 17:13:02 # 856, 17:56:45 # 860, 18:15:48 # 861, 19:56:22 # 867, 20:20:50 # 873, containing precise references to the campaign organized by Scaramella and Litvinenko to support the thesis of a conspiracy to assassinate Guzzanti, attributing the responsibility to TALIK and elements of the Russian mafia, the camorra and Russian and Ukrainian secret services, with the indication of relevant documents acquired by Scaramenlla and sent to Senator Guzzanti, or to be acquired and transmitted. The conversations are of particular relevance if confronted with intercepted conversations in the acts between Litvinenko and Ganchev on one part and between TALIK and his wife on the other, having as their object the same facts albeit their reconstruction appears quite different, as noted in the motivations behind the arrest warrant emitted against Scaramella (Scaramella calls Guzzanti and tells him that at least ten different press agencies in Ukraine have mentioned the assassination attempt against Guzzanti, including the declarations of Litvinenko as referred by him. Litvinenko received dozens of calls from Ukranian reporters and Litvinenko mentioned Talik's name. Guzzanti tells Scaramella that he received a letter in Russian from Litvinenko; Scaramella will send the translation which corresponds to the registration but omitting all references to Mario Scaramella. Guzzanti notes that there is a problem since in the letter Litvinenko asserts that he works for the Commission; Scaramella says that Litvinenko had in precedence undertaken activity concerning nuclear [?] in Italy that they [the commission] had acquired; at the London meeting, official missions, documents countersigned by Bukowsky, Gordievsky, Svorov and Palombo. Conversations intercepted between CUCHMA (he lost the elections against Yushenko) and MOGILEVICH/FSB. SHVEZ, ex-president of the KGB took the material [?] to the USA. Scaramella tells Guzzanti that in Ukraine there is an agency, "the fifth element," probably close to Berezovsky, that follows the work of a commission similar to the Mitrokhin Commission that investigates facts of Soviet Union espionage. This agency had interviewed Litvinenko, and Scaramella sent the article to Guzzanti. In the interview Litvinenko talks about the Ukrainian aspects and also mentions Guzzanti (indicated as Paolo Guzzante), Talik, etc. They study the article together even if it is in Russian or Ukrainian. A passage on Simon Moghilevic and an agreement between the camorra to search for nuclear weapons lost during the Cold War to be consigned to Bin Laden, a revelation made by the Israeli. According to Scaramella the circle closes: camorra, Moghilevic- Russian mafia- services- nuclear bombs in Naples.)

Several points have become clear:

  1.  The `London meeting' with documents `countersigned by Bukowsky, Gordievsky, Svorov and Palombo' is the meeting held at the offices of the IMO on 26 July 2004, which was discussed in the first of our current series of diaries.  This was largely devoted to a presentation by Scaramella designed to demonstrate that the so-called `sistema' composed for former KGB and GRU officers which supposedly controlled Russia uses organised crime to pursue covert agendas directly contradictory to the overt agendas of the Russian state.  This presentation was supported by twelve separate declaration from Litvinenko.  The claims made in the presentation and declarations were indeed largely endorsed by Vladimir Bukovsky, Oleg Gordievsky, Vladimir Rezun (aka `Viktor Suvorov') and Louis Palumbo.

  2.  A central thrust of these claims, and others made later by Scaramella and Litvinenko, was to demonstrate that the `sistema' was a major sponsor of jihadist terrorism, and supporter of `rogue states'.  The keystone of the arch were a variety of changes rung on the `nuclear weapons lost during the Cold War to be consigned to Bin Laden' scenario referred to at the end of the passage from the request by the Italian prosecutors David Loepp translated.  Also important here were attempts directly to link Putin to the notorious Ukrainian mobster Semyon Mogilevich, supposedly a key intermediary in the plot to equip Al Qaeda with nuclear or radiological weapons.

  3.  We already knew from a report from the U.S. Madrid Embassy from January 2010, disclosed by WikiLeaks in December 2010, that the Spanish prosecutor to whom Litvinenko had been feeding information swallowed the general theory of the `sistema' hook, line and sinker:  including the argument about its use to pursue covert agendas.  The comments by counsel for Marina Litvinenko at the 13 December hearing add to the body of circumstantial evidence suggesting that MI6 did also.  As noted in this diary, they suggest that at the time Litvinenko ingested polonium, he and Lugovoi were due to travel to Spain to provide the prosecutor with `evidence' about links between Putin and the mafia, and that are likely to have been doing so at the instigation of MI6.

  4.  Accordingly, a key question becomes how much of the disinformation which we know Litvinenko and Scaramella have developed on the supposed plot by the `sistema' to equip Al Qaeda with nukes was fed to MI6 - and how much they swallowed.

  5.  It is relevant here that in the list of sources for his disinformation operations given by Scaramella to Guzzanti in the above extract we find some of the people who have played a critical role in shaping the conventional wisdom in Britain about how Litvinenko died.  In addition to Gordievsky and Yuri Shvets, whose roles we discussed in this diary, Scaramella himself was presented as an independent and objective source in a BBC `Panorama' programme on 22 January 2007, and in the study The Litvinenko File published by the former BBC Moscow Correspondent Martin Sixsmith in April that year.  The claims by Shvets were recycled in the July 2007 study Londongrad by Mark Hollingsworth and Stewart Lansley.

  6.  It may be of moment here that both MI6 and Sir John Scarlett, at the time head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, gave their imprimatur to the claims about Saddam Hussein having sought uranium from Niger that played a large role in making possible the invasion of Iraq.  One of the more egregious intelligence failures in British history led to probably the catastrophic British foreign policy error since 1945.  The inquiry conducted by Lord Hutton exonerated Scarlett, clearing the way for him to take over as head of MI6.  In heaping the maximum possible amount of blame on the BBC, it had a profoundly demoralising effect on current affairs at the Corporation.
by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Wed Dec 19th, 2012 at 09:33:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At issue are going to be fundamental questions not only about the conduct of the Russian state and security services, but about the capacity and integrity of the British intelligence services, and also the British police.  Also at issue are fundamental questions about the ability of the `Fourth Estate' in Britain to subject claims made by the intelligence services, and the police, to critical examination.

Well - if that's the issue you can probably stop right there.

I know of no evidence suggesting that the various elements of the British establishment are anything other than systemically corrupt.

To date we've had Iraq, Hillsborough, Leveson, phone hacking and the subsequent arrests, the bizarre fall-out from the Jimmy Savile investigation, and a number of other stories I can't be bothered to list - all suggesting that corruption and dishonesty are the default.

So when it comes to the official British account, I wouldn't waste time on it.

Unfortunately that leaves very little to go on in the rest of this case.  

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Dec 19th, 2012 at 11:11:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The `British Establishment' is not monolithic.

In relation to Iraq, comments by John Kampfner, discussing the attempts of Brown and Mandelson to have the Chilcot Inquiry held in private, and in particular the vitriolic opposition from senior military figures, are to the point:

Brown and Mandelson should have anticipated the concern of the military top brass. Many of these figures have long been furious about the government's approach to Iraq. I saw this for myself, in microcosm, in the autumn of 2003. I was visiting an officers' college, as part of my book promotional tour. I decided to tone down my standard introductory remarks in order not to come across as offensive and unpatriotic. I completely misread my audience. They were vituperative, under the cloak of `Chatham House rules', about Blair's massaging of the intelligence, about the lack of military preparedness, the lack of planning for the occupation, amid a general sense that soldiers were being sent to die for party political gain. That is the message Blair has been desperate to avoid being aired in public.

The legacy of doubt left by the Iraq War about the competence and integrity of MI6 and Sir John Scarlett may be relevant to the inquest.

That said, I admit I was initially made suspicious by apparent belief of Lord Macdonald, who headed the Crown Prosecution Service when the extradition of Lugovoi was requested, that the Hutton Inquiry was an appropriate model for the kind of broad inquest he advocated.  So far at least, however, nothing whatsoever in the conduct of the inquest by the High Court judge appointed to run it, Sir Robert Owen, and his team - in particular the Counsel to the inquest, Hugh Davies - has given any reason to suspect that they take their professed commitment to a `full and fearless' inquest with anything less than complete seriousness.  

Moreover, particularly as the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, together with Lugovoi, are going to have `interested person' status, both Litvinenko's associates, and British officials, are going to have much more difficulty getting away with the kind of easy propaganda they have been accustomed to produce.

My more fundamental concern remains that the actual truth about the intrigues which led to Litvinenko's ingestion of polonium is so profoundly embarrassing to many both in Britain and in Russia that they may have a disguised common interest in obscuring key parts of the history.  If it turns out that the heavyweight QCs representing various parties are, in their different ways, simply engaged to continue in more sophisticated form the propaganda wars that have gone on around this affair, then the difficulties facing Counsel to the inquest in elucidating the truth may be formidable.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Wed Dec 19th, 2012 at 12:15:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hope Owen is indeed fearless. I saw two reasons to fear a stitch-up:
  • the fact that a high-court judge, rather than a pathologist or whatever, is heading the inquest (perhaps this is standard, given the legal complexities, but it opens a doubt as to whether he was selected as a "safe pair of hands")
  • his disinclination to accept a jury, despite clear public health and safety grounds.

But his refusal to rule out any scenario (despite special pleading from Berezhovsky and the Met) is encouraging.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 03:46:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would not attach any great significance to the question of the jury.  Nobody -- including Lugovoi's lawyers -- expressed a wish for it.

I think a High Court judge is the appropriate choice.  As to the forensics, in the long interview he gave to Russia Today, broadcast a year ago today, Lugovoi made clear that the Russian investigators had been looking very closely at the scientific aspects.  As his counsel noted at the 13 December hearing, the fact that the relevant evidence is being supplied to the `interested persons' right at the end of the disclosure process may cause problems.  

But - particularly as the Russian investigators are now going to be an `interested person' - I do not think it likely that the inquest can be rushed in a manner that would deny them the opportunity to have British claims carefully analysed by their own scientists and pathologists.  Of course, precisely the fact that this evidence is being made available so late on must inevitably increase the likelihood that questions about its integrity are going to raise their head:  given the need for analysis, one might have expected that it would be disclosed much earlier.  But for precisely that reason, it would seem more likely that if its implications are heavily contested, as seems likely, the outcome will be further delays in the substantive hearings, rather than an attempt to rush the Russian side.

The upshot however is that a judge with extensive criminal experience, used to dealing with forensic evidence, fits the bill much better than a pathologist.  Meanwhile, some critical aspects of this investigation, I suspect, are going to involve the battles between the Russian security services and the Yukos oligarchs - which was certainly part of the background to Litvinenko's activities both in Britain and Spain.  There are, I think, a lot of knotty financial issues involved. Meanwhile, the complex business relations of Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili - which Lugovoi put at the heart of the affair - will also need analysis:  and these also involve knotty financial issues.  Accordingly, it seems appropriate that whoever conducts the business has more experience of civil litigation than a coroner could normally be expected to have.  In terms of his experience, Sir Robert Owen would seem to fit the bill very well.

That said, alarm bells were certainly raised by the fact that in the same interview where he called for a senior judge to be appointed, the former CPS head Lord Macdonald both expressed his belief in the 'state directed execution' theory, and also seemed to regard the Hutton Inquiry as a model.

However, with Lord Hutton there appears to have been reason to suspect that he had been deliberately selected, it has commonly suggested at the initiative of Peter Mandelson, because as a Northern Ireland judge he could be expected to be particularly sympathetic to the security services.  I have seen no parallel suggestion about Sir Robert Owen.

Moreover, ironically, the very successful propaganda operation which has been waged by Litvinenko's associates, and also elements in British intelligence, may turn out to have been double-edged in its effects.  It is generally taken for granted in Britain both that the CPS request for Lugovoi's extradition is backed by compelling evidence, and that his refusal to surrender himself, and the refusal of the British authorities to extradite him, are prima facie evidence of guilt.

It is only when one starts looking at the publicly available evidence that it becomes clear that, if a compelling case was submitted to the CPS, it was not reflected in the tissue of unsubstantiated, contradictory and otherwise problematic claims produced in the public domain.  It is clear that reading the evidence which is not in the public domain, Sir Robert has responded by deciding that it is appropriate, at this stage at least, to keep things as open as possible.

In the end, in an inquiry like this, it is the acuteness and integrity of the figure conducting it which are decisive.  Even people's political views are of secondary relevance.  And having attended the three pre-inquest reviews he has conducted, all I can say is that so far at least Sir Robert's conduct of proceedings has been exemplary.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 07:53:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK jolly good...

Nobody -- including Lugovoi's lawyers -- expressed a wish for it.

I can see why Lugovoi wouldn't want a British jury -- the James Bond stereotypes might take a bit of breaking. That doesn't mean it wouldn't be in the public interest, though. As you say repeatedly, most of the interested parties can be presumed to share an interest in keeping certain things out of the public eye, and a jury arguably makes it harder to sweep things under the carpet.

What's the next step now? Nothing happens till the actual inquest starts, or will there be newsflow in the interim?

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

by eurogreen on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 10:08:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A good question.

I suppose what happens now depends partly upon whether various 'interested persons' see it as being in their interest to anticipate the inquest by putting elements of the case they want to make into the public domain.

They are inhibited by having signed a non-disclosure agreement, which means that they cannot reveal the contents of the materials which are disclosed to them by the British Government.

From Lugovoi's point of view, the natural strategy may well be to wait until the British side has shown its hand before deciding how to play his.  Obviously, the inquest team will be seeking clarifications from him.  

But how far they are in a position to anticipate the kind of process of questioning which will go on in the actual inquest, and try to pin him -- or others -- down on questions of fact at this stage is not clear to me.

Another thing which might change matters would be someone in the MSM decided to attempt to do some serious journalism.  But given that so far most British journalists have simply recycled 'talking points' from the anonymous security sources, figures in the investigation, or associates of Litvinenko,

I would not rate the chances of this happening very highly, in that once people have swallowed disinformation, and made complete assess of themselves by doing so, they are generally profoundly reluctant to admit the fact.

An honourable exception to the generally lamentable standard of British reporting on the Litvinenko mystery, incidentally, is a good article by Mary Dejevsky in the Independent back in May 2008.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 11:21:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The "properly interested parties" have a bunch of information that we don't have. Does a slam-dunk case emerge from this info? That seems unlikely.

The profile of Marina in that Independent article is fascinating. Quite likely, she doesn't know the truth about her late husband's doings. Is she seeking after truth in the inquest, or seeking to protect her husband's good name?

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

by eurogreen on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 12:12:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you look at what Ben Emmerson QC , counsel for Marina Litvinenko, said at the 13 December hearing, it will be evident that it is far from clear that her claims to have been 'out of the loop' on her husband's doings should be accepted.

Associates of Litvinenko -- notably Alex Goldfarb -- have milked the image of the tragic widow, vainly seeking justice, for all it is worth.

Enough has already emerged to establish that the prevalent image of Litvinenko in Britain and the United States has little connection with reality.  We are not yet in a position to gauge quite how much, or how little, relationship the prevalent image of Marina Litvinenko has with reality.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 01:01:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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