Sun Nov 19th, 2006 at 08:43:09 PM EST
UPDATE: See our most recent coverage here and here, with many more links and sources.
The Litvinenko "Poisoned Spy" saga currently animating the UK press and media certainly sounds like vintage Le Carré, however you play it... and the more you explore the story, the stranger it sounds!
For a start, Litvinenko's actual relationship with his "Italian Connection" was nowhere near as tenuously anonymous as the Sunday Times' version of the story is making it sound...
Poisoned: spy who quit Russia for Britain
SCOTLAND YARD is investigating a suspected plot to assassinate a former Russian spy in Britain by poisoning him with thallium, the deadly metal.
Aleksander Litvinenko, who defected to Britain six years ago, is fighting for his life in a London hospital. A toxicology test at Guy's hospital last Thursday confirmed the presence of the odourless, tasteless poison.
In an interview last week at his bedside in the cancer ward of Barnet hospital, where he was being treated under a different name, Litvinenko said he believed it was a murder plot to avenge his defection.
"They probably thought I would be dead from heart failure by the third day," he said. "I do feel very bad. I've never felt like this before -- like my life is hanging on the ropes."
Litvinenko claimed political asylum in 2000 and was granted British citizenship last month. One of the highest profile defectors from the FSB, he is on the wanted list in Moscow where he has made powerful enemies with his criticism of President Vladimir Putin.
Last month Litvinenko received an unexpected e-mail from a man he knew as Mario, an acquaintance he had made in Italy. The Italian said he wanted to meet him in London because he had some important information about the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian investigative journalist who was killed in the lift of her Moscow apartment block.
Litvinenko was a friend of Politkovskaya, one of the Kremlin's most powerful critics, particularly over the war in Chechnya.
"We met at Piccadilly Circus," said Litvinenko. "Mario said he wanted to sit down to talk to me, so I suggested we go to a Japanese restaurant nearby.
"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."
After the meeting the Italian had simply "disappeared", although Litvinenko emphasised that he was not in a position to accuse him of involvement in his poisoning.
So according to the Sunday Times, Litvinenko knew his "Italian connection" simply as Mario, right? Doesn't really know any more than that about him - to Litvinenko, according to the Sunday Times, "Mario" is just some mysterious, archetypically-sinister Italian spook who creeps out of the woodwork with secret docs in one hand, poison in another - kinda like a cross between SISMI hanger-on Rocco Martino in the Niger Yellowcake forgeries story and Lucrezia Borgia?
In the Independent's version of the story, however, "Mario" grows a surname - and he's also somehow acquired a reputation as a Russian secret services agent:
The defector's lunch companion was an Italian information-peddler called Mario Scaramella, who is alleged to have links with Russian intelligence. He is said to have given Mr Litvinenko documents purporting to show that Russian agents were implicated in the murder of the Russian investigative reporter, Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot in Moscow last month.(...)
... which seems to be based on these reports, all of which place the blame for the poisoning squarely on ..."Mario"
Intelligencer close to FSB vice-chief poisoned former Russian security officer at London restaurant
(...) According to Litvinenko, he was contacted by a person, who offered to have a meeting at a restaurant and wanted to hand him over some materials, particularly, on Anna Politkovskaya's murder. After the meeting Litvinenko turned out to be in hospital. Meanwhile, he said he would definitely pass the documents he received from the intelligencer to Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya worked, as soon as he would be released from hospital, Ekho Moskvy says.
The known dissident and human rights activist, Russian defector Litvinenko, was invited to a London restaurant by an Italian citizen, Mario Scaramella, who claimed he had some important information about a recent murder of Politkovskaya, NEWSru.com writes. According to the intelligence, Mario Scaramella is a close associate of the FSB deputy chief Viktor Komogorov and visited the FSB headquarters in Moscow several times. (...)
However - at least according to KavkazCenter (...with apologies for using such unsavoury sources...) which likewise accuses Mario Scaramella of being an FSB agent:
The Moscow newspaper, Moskovsky Komsomolets ("Moscow Young Communist League Member"), that is said to have most close ties with the Russian secret police FSB among all Russian state-controlled media, says in its Wednesday issue that Mr Litvinenko could have been poisoned by the CIA (sic!).
According to a report published in the newspaper (...)Mr Litvinenko is a double agent and recently visited Moscow giving testimonies to Russian police about the murder of an American female journalist of jewish origin in Russia. Menwhile, the FSB is unofficially reported to have killed the woman.
According to the FSB report published today in Moskovsky Komsomolets, Mr Litvinenko was poisoned in a London restaurant by a CIA agent, Mario Scaramella, on November 1, 2006, purportedly in connection with his role as a double agent, the role invented by the FSB in this story to descredit Mr Litvinenko.
As earlier reported by the Chechepress news agency, Mario Scaramella is a FSB agent in Italy and a close friend and business partner of the FSB deputy chief Kolmogorov. The Italian visited several time the FSB headquarters in Moscow.
So apart from being accused on the one hand of being an FSB agent and on the other of working for the CIA, who - in a more mundane sense - is this mysterious figure called Mario Scaramella, and how well did Litvinenko know him?
Well, let's say they were certainly matey enough last April to be working on a joint attempt to finger Italy's current PM Romano Prodi as a former KGB agent!!!
This tidbit is from the site of the UK Independence Party:
Gerard Batten MEP - 60 second speech to the European Parliament - "Romano Prodi" - Strasbourg 3.4.06 03-04-2006
One of my constituents, Alexander Litvinenko, was formerly a Lieutenant Colonel in the Russian Federation's FSB, the successor to the KGB. Mr Litvinenko's exposure of illegal FSB activities forced him to seek political asylum abroad.
Before deciding on a place of refuge he consulted his friend, General Anatoly Trofimov, a former Deputy Chief of the FSB. General Trofimov reportedly said to Mr Litvinenko, "Don't go to Italy, there are many KGB agents among the politicians: Romano Prodi is our man there."
In February 2006 Mr Litvinenko reported this information to Mario Scaramella of the Guzzanti Commission investigating KGB penetration of Italian politics.
So apart from the "Litvinenko and Scaramella claim Romano Prodi was a KGB agent" story - in which Scaramella seems to have been less an "information pedlar" than an "information pedlar's client", what exactly is this "Guzzanti Commission" thingy, and is Mario Scaramella really a member of it?
I checked it out: according to Wikipedia, the "Guzzanti Commission" is another name for the "Mitrokhin Commission":
The "Mitrokhin commission", as it was known, was opened up after KGB agent Vasili Mitrokhin's 1992 defection to the West, and was led by Senator Paolo Guzzanti, a member of Berlusconi's Forza Italia.
...and yes indeed, Mario Scaramella - whom according to Italian press sources is a professor at the University of Naples, and also heads an official-type outfit called the Environmental Crime Prevention Programme - ECPP for short (as Sec. Gen. of which he officially pontificated at various OSCE and Italian Space Agency get-togethers in 2001 - at least one of which was also attended by SISMI agent Marco Mancini of Abu Omar kidnapping fame) - is a prominent Guzzanti-appointed consultant for it.
In fact I think he could be described as its pet consultant on luridly nuclear Soviet misdeeds? - Just look at some of the "info" - in addition of course to "Romano Prodi was a KGB agent" - he's been instrumental in providing:
Uranium to make atom bomb sold to four Italians
BBC International Monitoring/Corriere della Sera
June 12, 2005/June 11, 2005
Rome: "During the month of September 2004 I was approached by an Ukrainian national, whom I know by the name of Sasha, who wanted to sell me a briefcase containing radioactive material, and, more precisely, uranium for military use." Involved is a briefcase containing five kilos of highly enriched uranium, half of which would be enough to build an atomic device, which remained for months in a Rimini garage. A briefcase, however, which eluded investigators, and which managed to get back into the hands of the Ukrainian national, who perhaps is still in Italy. Together with another briefcase having a similar content, and a third believed to conceal a tracking system. The entire kit geared to the assembly of a small tactical atomic bomb.
A mystery story fuelled by information supplied the Rimini police department by a consultant of the Mitrokhin committee, Mario Scaramella, who, acting on behalf of the agency presided over by Paolo Guzzanti, was trying to track illegal funds from the former USSR that had transited through [the Republic of ] San Marino.
Soviet navy `left 20 nuclear warheads in Bay of Naples'
Independent, The (London), Mar 19, 2005
ITALY HAS an unwanted legacy from the Cold War in the form of 20 nuclear warheads on the seabed in the Bay of Naples, left there by the Soviet navy 25 years ago, it has been claimed.
An expert on Soviet-era intelligence, Mario Scaramella, sent a memo confirming the existence of the missiles to Guido Bertolaso, the head of Protezione Civile, Italy's civil defence agency.
"On 10 January 1970," the memo read, "a submarine of the November class detached itself from the Fifth Squadron (Mediterranean) of the Soviet navy with orders ... to place an imprecise number of tactical atomic torpedoes in the Bay of Naples. The submarine was armed with 24 nuclear torpedoes of two different types, for anti-aircraft carrier and anti-submarine use. They were used to mine the area used by the American Seventh Fleet."
Don't really know what to make of all this - way way out of my depth, at this point I'm dizzy.. all this spystuff is spinning round so fast I'm feeling positively "overspun"! - and what is worse, with absolutely no idea what role, if any, Scaramella may have played in the introduction of Thallium into the bloodstream of Boris Berezovsky's favorite ex-KGB agent! However, in the light of Prof. Scaramella's Italian career I somehow doubt whether "Mario" should really be classed as a "Russian" agent? A high-profile, right-of-centre "university professor"/"security expert" (choose one) and prolific Mitrokhin-commission consultant on the more lurid zones of alleged KGB/Soviet misdeeds... on excellent terms with Senator Paolo Guzzanti of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party... does seem a somewhat improbable figure to get pinned with the role of Putin's latest undercover hitman?