Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Litvinenko Mystery Thriller: A Primer of Conspiracy Theories

On November 23, 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-KGB officer exiled in London, died of Polonium-210 poisoning. The possible crime scenes, including the offices, restaurants, hotels , cars, and airplanes tainted by the rare radioactive isotope , were badly compromised by the three week delay in examining them. The Coroner's Report still has not been released, so there is no official cause of death. The lack of evidence has given rise to a rich proliferation of conspiracy theories that deserves a taxonomy.
I. The Poisoned Sushi Theory

Proponent: Alexander Litvinenko

Thesis: Litvinenko had been poisoned by thallium, a rat poison, in the Itsu Sushi restaurant on November 1 while dining with Mario Scaramella.
Selling points:
*** Litvinenko had sharp stomach pains on November 1st after eating Sushi with Mario Scaramella
*** It was not Thallium but Polonium 210 that poisoned Litvinenko
*** Litvinenko’s Russian associates got contaminated before Litvinenko got to the Sushi restaurant.
Status: DOA

II. The Spiked Tea Theory

Proponent: Scotland Yard

Thesis: Tea served to Litvinenko at the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel on November 1st 2001 was spiked with Polonium 210 by his Russian associate Andrei Lugovoi.
Selling points:
*** Witnesses saw Litvinenko in the Pine Bar with his Russian associates
*** A hotel tea pot tested positive for Polonium 210
*** A November 1st bus ticket (found among Litvinenko’s effects) did not test positive for Polonium 210, suggesting Litvinenko had been Polonium-free shortly before going to the Pine Bar.
*** A waiter at the Pine Bar, Norberto Andrade, recalls being distracted by others at Litvinenko's table and this distraction might have provided the opportunity in the crowded bar to poison his tea.

*** Polonium 210 is not an efficient assassination weapon. Not only is it expensive, slow-acting, and difficult to obtain, but it is a tell-tale poison, traceable back to its source.
*** The tea pot was cycled through a dishwasher for weeks before the police tested it. It is therefore difficult to fit into a chain of evidence.
*** The absence of Polonium on a ticket does not really prove that Litvinenko was free of polonium contamination. It only suggests that it was not on the hand he used to handle the ticket.
*** The inability of a waiter to see what happened is only evidence that he is not a witness to what happened.
*** The autopsy showed that Litvinenko was exposed to Polonium 210 on more than one occasion, so there is no way to exclude the possibility that he contaminated the tea cup.
*** Litvinenko went to the Pine bar at 5 pm on November 1st after he had met Mario Scaramella at the Itsu Sushi for lunch. Scaramella was contaminated. So Litvinenko must have had the Polonium 210 on his person before he went to the Pine Bar.
Status: In abeyance awaiting a British extradition request that has been turned down.

III. The Serial Poisoner Theory

Proponents: autopsy doctors

Thesis: Litvinenko was poisoned twice, first in Mid-October, then again, at the Pine Bar on November 1st
Selling Point:
*** It explains why the post mortem examination shows two different times Litvinenko was exposed to Polonium 210.
*** Polonium can take many weeks, if not months, to kill someone. So how would a murderer know after only 2 weeks that the first dose was not effective ?
*** If Polonium 210 did not work the first time, why not use another poison (or a bullet) in the follow-up assassination attempt.
Status: Awaiting release of the Coroner's Report

IV. Accident Theory

Proponent: Vyacheslav Zharko
Thesis: Litvinenko had come in contact with smuggled Polonium 210 and a speck leaked onto his clothes, possessions or person, and it then fell into his food. According to Vyacheslav Zharko, a Russian official who Litvinenko allegedly helped recruit for British intelligence in 2002, Litvinenko "kept telling me that he needed money badly Possibly, that with the help of [Akhmed] Zakayev and his other Chechen 'friends' he could have got involved in smuggling of radioactive materials, and then - by accident or not - received a lethal dose."
Selling Points:
*** Historic context: All 5 previously known deaths from Polonium poisoning, including Irene Curie, were accidental. (See Follow the Polonium )
*** Litvinenko was in contact with Polonium 210 long before he entered the hospital in November. According to one of his associates in Moscow, material he received from Litvinenko in "the summer" of 2006 proved to be Polonium-tainted. (The date of the Polonium contamination can be determined by spectrographic analysis.) In any case, he was certainly in contact with Polonium 210 in Mid-October.
*** There was an accidental Polonium 210 leak in London in October. Over 100 people were accidentally contaminated by the Polonium 210 including 3 of Litvinenko’s associates. Just because Litvinenko ingested it and died does not mean he was not contaminated by the same accidental spillage that got on his associates.
*** It is not probable that spilled Polonium 210 would get into food or drink.
Retort: Isn't murder by Polonium 210 also improbable?

I. Vladimir Putin

Proponent: Marina Litvinenko ("J'Accuse" in Wall Street Journal).

Thesis: Putin personally ordered an agonizing death for Litvinenko.
Selling points:
***- Litvinenko accused Putin on his death bed
***- Putin had a motive for vengeance: Litvinenko accused Putin of being a pedophile
***- Putin had access to the Sarov facility, where Polonium 210 is manufactured.
***- The leak of Polonium 210 was not necessarily authorized by President Putin. The security of Russia’s nuclear facilities has been breached many times before. Even nuclear suitcase bombs, have been stolen out of them and smuggled into the black market.
II. KGB Veterans

Proponent: Mario Scaramella

Thesis: A shadowy group of KGB veterans called Dignity and Honor had a "hit-list" of people targeted for assassination which had been emailed to Scaramella.
Selling point:
*** At the Itsu Sushi restaurant Scaramella told Litvinenko that both he and Litvinenko were on the hit list .
*** Scaramella was never able to produce the putative list.
*** Litvinenko initially suspected Scaramella of being the poisoner.
*** Scaramella is currently in prison on charges of calumny
III. Rogue FSB Agents
Proponent: MI-6 British Intelligence

Thesis: A rogue unit of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, assassinated Litvinenko without higher authorization. According to the Guardian: "British officials say the perpetrators were probably former Russian security agents, or members of a criminal gang linked to them. They insist there is no evidence of the involvement of the Russian government.
Selling points:
***- Such revenge assassinations are in the hoary tradition of SMERSH ("Death To Spies And Traitors.") killing defectors
***- Litvinenko was in contact with at least two ex-FSB agents in London and according to SMERSH logic, there is no such thing as an "ex" KGB or FSB officer .
***- The FSB had a motive: Litvinenko had accused his former colleague of blowing up 300 Russian civilians in a series of 1999 bombings.
***- Polonium 210 is traceable: So why would even a rogue unit of the FSB chance incriminating itself by using Polonium 210
IV. Andrei Lugovoi

Proponent: Sir Ken Macdonald, head of public prosecutions in Britain

Thesis: Lugovoi, a business associate of Litvinenko, slipped Polonium 210 in his tea on November 1st in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel.
Selling points:
*** Lugovoi had an opportunity, as he met Litvinenko on November 1st, the day he first showed symptoms.
*** Lugovoi had contact with Polonium 210. He, as well as his wife and children, were contaminated .
*** Lugovoi had known Litvinenko in the KGB
*** Lugovoi had visited places, along with Litvinenko, that were contaminated by Polonium 210, which could explain why he tested positive. See Follow The Polonium
*** The Pine Bar was crowded with people when Lugovoi briefly met Litvinenko. As Lugovoi asks, "What kind of idiot poisoner would it take to act in such a primitive way?"
Status: The British extradition request was denied by the Russian government.
V. Putin's Enemies

Proponent: Kirill Pankratov in Live Journal

Thesis: Enemies of Putin used Polonium 210 to kill Litvinenko and ghost a trail that led to Putin.
Selling points:
*** Polonium 210 traces back to Russian nuclear reactors. It is therefore the perfect poison to discredit Putin.
*** Polonium 210 is slow-acting, giving Litvinenko time to denounce Putin.
***- Polonium 210 is almost impossible to obtain.
VI. The Oil Barons in or out of Russia

Proponent: ex-KGB agent Yuri Shvets

Thesis: Litvinenko had to be silenced because he had a dossier on key members of the new Russian nomenclature that stole the oil giant Yukos.
Selling Points:
*** Litvinenko traveled to Israel in October 2006 where it is alleged that he gave information regarding Yukos to Leonid Nevzlin, the former deputy head of Yukos relating to the deaths of former Yukos workers and the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
*** Tens of billions of dollars are at stake
***- The Polonium 210 did not silence Litvinenko. He lived at least 3 weeks after he was poisoned and no dossier emerged.
VII. British 007 Types

Proponent: Andrei Lugovoi

Thesis: Litvinenko was working for MI-6 involved in an espionage operation, along with Berezovsky. He was killed by the British agents when the game got out of control.
Selling Point:
***- Lugovoi claims Litvinenko was offering him money and spy equipment to cooperate in the game.
***- Vyacheslav Zharko, the Russian FSB officer who admitted working for British intelligence between 2003 and 2007, said that Litvinenko and Berezovsky set up his meetings with four British MI6 officers, "This is a long story [of recruitment] and Berezovsky along with the late Litvinenko played the lead roles in it," Zharko. said in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda. "Alexander [Litvinenko] introduced me in turn to a certain Martin Flint, and two more people, who offered me to render them consulting services." If so, Litvinko had been acting as an access agent for MI6 who used consulting service contracts as bait to snare Russian intelligence officers into intelligence traps .
*** British intelligence had no motive to kill Litvinenko.
VIII The Third Man

Proponents: Dissident Alexander Goldfarb, ex-KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky
Thesis: After an earlier attempt to poison Litvinenko in mid-October failed, Moscow sent a professional hitman. Goldfarb explains in Slate: For the November meeting, the handlers sent a professional killer, "the third man." The intermediaries served only to bring the hit man into contact with the target."
Selling point:
Oleg Gordievsky claims that there was a "tall man with Asian features" on a flight from Hamburg on October 31. He was captured by airport surveillance cameras and then vanished without a trace. The passport he used to enter Britain was from a European country, but the investigators were unable to trace him to any hotel or to any flight leaving the country.
The third man vanished without ever leaving a trace he existed.

IX. Litvinenko Killed Himself

Proponents: Lawyer Seth Redniss, Spy Vyacheslav Zharko

Thesis: Litvinenko killed himself by ingesting Polonium 210 in order to become a martyr. He blamed Putin on his deathbed because he knew that the Polonium would trace back to Russia and cause an international incident.
Selling points:
*** Litvinenko was in dire financial straights since Berezovsky had cut him off, according to Vyacheslav Zharko, the Russian whom Litvinenko helped recruit as a British spy.
*** The Chechen separationist declared him a martyr.
*** Polonium 210 would be a very painful (and unsure) way to commit suicide.
***- He initially blamed Scaramella not Putin
*** If he was broke, how did he get the Polonium 210, which was worth millions of euros.
IX. No-One-Did It
See Accident theory (Above)

I. Murder Weapon Theory

Proponent: Boris Berezovsky

Thesis: Polonium 210 was smuggled to London from Russia to kill Litvinenko.
Selling point:
***- Litvineko was fatally contaminated by Polonium 210
***– Polonium 210 is, if not priceless, extremely expensive. Why not use a cheaper poison?
*** Polonium 210 is an inefficient, way to kill someone. It takes weeks, if not months, to kill. Litvinenko lived-- and talked-- for nearly a month.
***- Polonium 210 leaves a trail. Why not use an untraceable poison (or a bullet)?
Retort: His killers wanted him to suffer a painful, lingering death.
Counter-retort: There are cheaper radioactive poisons available in London, such as radium and stronium 90.
II. The Nuclear Black Market Theory
Proponent: TK

Thesis: Polonium 210 was smuggled into London to facilitate a lucrative black market deal with a rogue country, such as Iran, Syria, or North Korea. Polonium 210 is one of the three ingredients needed to build a clandestine nuclear bomb. The other two are a fissile fuel, such as U-235 and Beryllium (which is used in stereo speakers). The Polonium 210 initiates the neutron generators (see diagram above) which sets off the chain reaction.
Selling point:
*** Iran’s putative interest in Polonium 210 in the early 1990s raised US suspicions Iran had a nuclear weapons program underway. Despite reports that Iran was experimenting with it in its Center for New Technology, IAEA inspectors found no evidence that Iran was producing it in its own nuclear reactor. If so, it could have been using smuggled Polonium 210 from Russia that could not be traced back to its equipment.
*** Polonium 210 has a short half-life of 138.3 days, so a rogue nation would need a renewable supply.
Retort: That would be a great business for smugglers.
III. The Dirty Bomb Theory

Proponent: A.J. Strata author of the Strata-Sphere blog

Thesis: Polonium 210 was smuggled into London to provide the radioactive fuel for a so-called dirty bomb. Since it aerosolizes at 55 degrees Centigrade it would contaminate a wide area. In addition to Polonium 210, all that would be needed by the terrorists would be a conventional explosive, such as TNT.
Selling Points:
***- The alpha particles it emits are far less detectable than the gamma particles of other radioactive isotopes, which means the bomb would be far more difficult to detect.
***- British communication intelligence GCHQ intercepted a phone call from Peshawar GCHQ indicating that Al Qaida was actively seeking polonium and Al Qaeda had offered millions of dollars to anyone that could supply them with it.
***- The US imprisoned Jose Padilla on suspicion that he was attempting to build a dirty bomb for Al Qaeda.
***- In 1995, Chechen terrorists experimented with a dirty bomb with the radioactive isotope Cesium-137 , burying it under some leaves in Izmailovsky Park in Moscow and tipping off television reporters. It was quickly found since its gamma rays were easily detected. Polonium 210 would solve that detection problem.
*** Litvinenko and his associates had no known monetary dealings with terrorist groups.
Retort: Litvinenko, who had converted to Islam, was, according to the Chechen website, declared a martyr by the rebel government of Chechnya after his death.
IV. The Bona Fides Theory

Thesis: A sample of Polonium 210 was brought to London by a Russian agent offering his services to British intelligence as proof of his bona fides.
Selling points:
*** A Polonium 210 sample would demonstrate that an agent had access to a Russian nuclear reactor since only four facilities are licensed to handle Polonium 210 in Russia. ( Moscow State University; Techsnabexport, the state-controlled uranium export agency; the Federal Nuclear Center in Samara; and Nuclon, a private company.) As all these licensees are controlled by the Russian government, obtaining Polonium 210 would show that the agent had successfully bribed, blackmailed or otherwise compromised a person in the Russian nuclear industry.
*** Both Lugovoi and Zharko claim that Litvinenko acted as an access agent for the British intelligence service MI-6
*** Litvinenko contacted other Russians with connections to the FSB including Dimitry Kovton and Vyacheslav Sokolenko,
*** If British intelligence knew about such an intelligence game, why would it risk exposing by extraditing of Lugovoi.
Retort: MI-6 knew extradition request would be rejected.

V. The Disinformation Theory

Proponent: Vladimir Putin

Thesis: The Polonium 210 was smuggled to London by an anti Putin cabal to ghost a radioactive trail that would make it appear that Russia was supplying nuclear bomb components to rogue states.
Selling point:
*** Many of the exiles in touch with Litvinenko in London, including Berezovsky, were dedicated to discrediting the Putin regime in Russia. Berezovsky, who is currently being tried in absentia in Moscow for fraud, has openly declared war on Putin, saying in an interview with the Guardian: "it isn't possible to change this [Putin] regime through democratic means." Disinformation could be an a weapon in this war.
*** The Cabal had no access to Polonium-210.
Retort: You can buy anything in Russia.