Spymania: Did radioactive sushi kill Litvinenko? Update: Litvinenko named Russian agent as suspect

posted at 1:36 pm on November 25, 2006 by Allahpundit

Ace reminded me yesterday that after Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president, was poisoned, some of his Russian enemies dismissed his illness as nothing more than a case of bad sushi. Today the Sun reports that “[p]olice and security services believe the assassin secretly sprayed a mist of radioactive polonium-210 on Mr Litvinenko’s meal at a sushi bar” on November 1.

That doesn’t make sense for two reasons. First, why would they have used a mist instead of solid particles? The mist puts them at greater risk of accidentally ingesting the substance (by inhaling). And assuming it was Russian agents who did it, when would they have applied this mist to his food? The guy he met at the sushi bar wasn’t a Russian but an Italian magistrate named Mario Scaramella. Says the Independent:

[Scaramella] told Mr Litvinenko that he had received a death threat aimed at both of them. They met for 35 minutes in the basement of a branch of Itsu, a sushi restaurant chain. Mr Scaramella said last week that, while he himself drank only water, Mr Litvinenko bought food and drink from a chiller cabinet.

The documents they discussed, seen by The Independent, accused both men of being part of a conspiracy to besmirch the name of the FSB and there was a “necessity to use force” to silence them.

Was Scaramella the assassin and the death-threat documents his alibi? If not, where, precisely, did the Russians intercept Litvinenko’s food?

The other puzzle is the fact that they’ve found traces of polonium in three locations: the sushi bar, Litvinenko’s home, and the hotel bar where he had tea with a former KGB agent on the same day that he met Scaramella. Presumably he carried particles of the polonium on his hands or clothes with him after he was poisoned, which explains how the other locations were contaminated. The problem is, according to nearly all of the reports I’ve read, he met with the Russians at the hotel bar before he went to to the sushi place. See the Beeb’s timeline here or the Sunday Telegraph:

Mr Litvinenko, a fierce critic of Mr Putin, first began to feel ill on November 1, after having tea with two Russians at a central London hotel, followed by lunch at a London sushi bar with an Italian academic.

Or the AP:

On the morning of Nov. 1, the former agent met with another former KGB spy Andrei Lugovoy — who had come to watch the Russian soccer team CSKA Moscow — and two other men he had never met before.

Drinking a cup of tea the men had ordered, Litvinenko discussed a joint business venture and said he was homesick for Russia…

He said he was planning on meeting a contact who claimed to have information about the slaying of his friend, investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya — a death that critics of the Russian government have blamed on state security forces.

That meeting happened the same day in the afternoon at the Itsu Sushi bar near Piccadilly Circus.

Or the Independent, which places him in the hotel bar with the Russians at 10 a.m. and having sushi with Scaramella at 3. Funny thing about that, too: their source for the timing of the first meeting appears to be Lugovoy, the former KGB agent who as of now is the prime suspect. Lugovoy was allegedly accompanied by two other men, including his “business partner,” Dmitri Kovtun. Kovtun finally came forward yesterday to profess his innocence — and in passing claimed that the meeting happened at 4, six hours later than the Independent has it and at a time when Litvinenko was, supposedly, having sushi with Scaramella.

And so we have our first inconsistency.

Whoever poisoned him with this stuff really knew what he was doing, too. According to the Daily Mail, “giving him too much would have caused almost instant death while it took weeks for him to become gravely ill, giving the killer ample chance to escape.” Likewise, from WaPo,

John Henry, a toxicologist who was asked by Litvinenko’s family to look into the case and who examined Litvinenko before his death, said the type of polonium involved is “only found in government-controlled institutions.” In an interview, Henry called polonium 210 an “extraordinary poison” that is lethal in doses so small, “you can lose it on the point of a pin.”

British police are so fearful of further contamination, they might not even autopsy him.

So who did it? According to the Guardian, “MI5 is understood to be deeply sceptical of any suggestion the Kremlin was behind it and Scotland Yard says it has no evidence of this.” That might just be the government’s way of managing an international incident, but some are wondering:

Few were prepared to raise the theory while Mr Litvinenko was fighting for his life, but some said yesterday that he could have poisoned himself to heap blame upon the Russian president.

Litvinenko was himself a former KGB agent, of course, so it’s not unthinkable that he would know how to get his hands on polonium. There’s no evidence that he was suicidal, though, and even in the unlikely event that he did despise Putin so much as to frame him for his own death, would he choose a poison that caused him to linger for weeks in excruciating pain? Even jihadi fanatics opt for the quick-and-painless when it comes to sacrificing themselves for the cause.

Update: Suddenly, all eyes are on Scaramella:

International ‘security consultant’ Mario Scaramella, who joined Litvinenko for the now infamous clandestine meeting in a London sushi bar, headed an organisation which tracked dumped nuclear waste, including Soviet nuclear missiles left over from the Cold War…

Our investigations have established that:

l He has a deep knowledge of nuclear materials and their whereabouts around the globe.

l Although he describes himself as an environmentalist, he has detailed knowledge of the activities of Russian agents.

l Some of the institutions listed on his impressive CV appear to have no record of him, prompting questions about a career involving a large number of posts around the globe.

He denies having murdered Litvinenko. Litvinenko’s family believes him.

Update: The plot thickens:

He named the agent in charge of monitoring him as “Viktor Kirov”. A man called Anatoly V Kirov worked at the Russian embassy in London, where he was listed as a diplomat, until late last year.

He is believed to have left the diplomatic service in October 2005 and returned to Russia. But Litvinenko claimed just days before he died that Kirov was an intelligence agent who continued to target him.

British cops have also found traces of polonium in two hotel rooms where Litvinenko met Lugovoy and Kovtun. What were they doing inside the hotel? I thought they just had a drink at the bar.

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This is too easy.Radioactive sushi and they are not looking at Godzilla? Foolish of them.

bbz123 on November 25, 2006 at 1:47 PM

More reason not to eat sushi Mr BP

Drtuddle on November 25, 2006 at 2:05 PM

All kidding aside, I also read somewhere ( sorry,can’t find a link as yet) that he was also a recent convert to Islam. The possibility of a walking Plutonium poison jihadi is not out of the question,I fear.Regardless,the source of this must be determined, as Putin is not a friend of the US in any way shape or form.

bbz123 on November 25, 2006 at 2:09 PM

I believe he met with someone at his/their place before hand. I was assuming that is where he took the poison.

Ian on November 25, 2006 at 2:12 PM

I wouldn’t put anything past Putin though. Didn’t know this guy was a recent convert to the Religion of Peace. Would be ineresting if that is indeed true.

Catie96706 on November 25, 2006 at 2:36 PM

Good thing the Beeb is looking a how bad they think the CIA is.The KGB will probably get a pass from them.

bbz123 on November 25, 2006 at 2:41 PM

This case is getting ‘curioser and curioser’ by the minute.

I don’t believe the Kremlin, whatever they claim; nor do I find the suicide theory plausible, without more information. This is most curious of all:

Radio station Echo Moskvy reported Friday Litvinenko had converted to Islam shortly before his death.

Litvinenko, it said, had been read the Yasin surah, or prayer, and given Islamic death rites by an imam invited to his hospital bedside.

Ekho, a prominent liberal broadcaster funded by state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom, said Litvinenko would be buried in a Muslim cemetery in London.

Goldfarb, a close associate of Litvinenko in London, said no arrangements for a funeral had been made as post-mortem examinations were continuing.

Entelechy on November 25, 2006 at 3:04 PM

Thanks Mr E, I knew I read that somewhere.

bbz123 on November 25, 2006 at 3:12 PM

that after Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president, was poisoned, some of his Russian enemies dismissed his illness as nothing more than a case of bad sushi

I miss an “allegedly” in there. See, for example, these two blog entries by an actual practicing MD:

http://codeblueblog.blogs.com/codeblueblog/2004/12/csi_medblogs_fr.html
http://codeblueblog.blogs.com/codeblueblog/2004/12/attack_of_the_p.html

Yuschenko’s advisers promised back then to release evidence of his alleged poisoning after the elections, but they never did.

CBB’s theory, by the way, was that Yushchenko is/was a heavy drinker (much like Yeltsin) and thus fell ill due to excessive intoxication.

Niko on November 25, 2006 at 3:30 PM

It makes sense just fine:

First, why would they have used a mist instead of solid particles? The mist puts them at greater risk of accidentally ingesting the substance (by inhaling).

A liquid spray would have been ideal because it could be easily concealed, and quick to use. It could be disguised as a breath freshener or something. It would pose no threat to the user because it would be small and liquid/solid. You wouldn’t have a bunch of polonium vapor flying around in the air, it would all end up on and around the food you sprayed it on. By contrast, delivering solid particles would be a major pain. What would you do, handle highly lethal dust with your bare hands? what if it clumped up on the food and was visible? Polonium is so radioactive it gives off tremendous heat AND it GLOWS. You’d have to dilute it somehow, and putting it in liquid for a spray seems like the logical choice.

Also, the spray container would contain the alpha radiation, whereas handling a raw solid would not. I suppose you could use something like a salt shaker, but how discreet is that?

And assuming it was Russian agents who did it, when would they have applied this mist to his food?

When the sushi order was sitting on the sushi bar just before a waitress would pick it up to take it to the guy’s table, someone sitting closeby at the sushi bar or someone who happened to walk past could discreetly wave their hand over it and spray maybe.

The polonium wasnt necessarily delivered at the sushi place, but it is possible. It would be more likely that it ended up in his tea when he met the russians earlier, since it would have only taken 1 of them to secretly have been working for the KGB.

kaltes on November 25, 2006 at 3:37 PM

OK…let’s review….

The Russians had motive, the target was killed in one of those *STUPID* cartoon super-villain kind of ways — poisonous umbrellas? — he was left *ALIVE* long enough to sing, and the toxin used to trace him was *RADIOACTIVE*, probably with a half-life of a gazillion years.

Why didn’t Putin just rappel down the side of a building in Leicester Square in purple and gold lamme’ spandex supervillian suit, complete with cape, announcing “I’m gonna kill me some Litvinenko”…and kill him with a flame-thrower…after hanging him for *HOURS* over tank of hammerhead sharks…while monologuing…and then retire to the Planet Hollywood to twirl his mustache.

The only thing missing is the bad ’60′s pow-poppa-pow-pow semi-porn soundtrack.

I’m waiting for Austin Powers and Dr. Evil to weigh in on this.

Puritan1648 on November 25, 2006 at 3:54 PM

This is the equivalent of being stoned to death with fist sized diamonds. That just doesn’t happen unless your killer is incredibly powerful and really intends to make a point with your death.

This manner of death is an intentional message to the ‘cognoscenti’:
“Putin, the ‘big bad’ of the KGB is BACK (if he ever left) and will kill you in any of thousands of rare and unpleasant ways if you cross him”.

The idea of suicide in this manner is laughable.

Given that the victim was who he was, I suppose that it is within the realm of possibility that he accidentally poisoned himself with something he was trying to sell or buy , but I REALLY doubt it. If you know enough about how to get it , you surely know enough to not sprinkle it on your food and clothing.

I imagine it is quite possible that analysis of the polonium itself could tell us precisely which nuclear refinery, lab or particle accelerator it came from; If I’m remembering correctly, most of that sort of material can be identified pretty precisely as to source. Do that, and you have what they call in murder investigations ‘a clue’.

LegendHasIt on November 25, 2006 at 4:25 PM

Oh, and by the way, I have a feeling that the sushi angle is just coincidence. If he had it on his clothes or even skin from earlier application they would find traces of it anywhere he sat, worked or dallied.

Spraying it on his food would risk contaminating or even killing many people, including the assasin.

LegendHasIt on November 25, 2006 at 4:32 PM

Well, what happened to my first post? On hold, checking it for spam or cyber-polonium residue?

LegendHasIt on November 25, 2006 at 4:36 PM

How about Litvinenko’s criminal boss, Berezovsky? I think the police should pay him a visit …

MoonbatMedia on November 25, 2006 at 5:02 PM

To not do an autopsy is bizarre in the extreme. It could reveal whether the exposure was through the lungs, injested, or through the skin, eyes, or whatever. It could tell how long ago was the exposure. It could reveal if the exposure was sustained or one dose. It’s almost as if they don’t want to solve this.

pedestrian on November 25, 2006 at 5:12 PM

It’s almost as if they don’t want to solve this.

They don’t.

If they did solve it, then they would then be required to do something about it.

What is Britain going to do, Invade Russia and arrest its leader for dcommissioning a murder?

Nope, much simpler to just sweep it under the rug.

LegendHasIt on November 25, 2006 at 5:26 PM

Thanks Mr E, I knew I read that somewhere.

bbz123 on November 25, 2006 at 3:12 PM

bbz123, I’m a lady not a gent – you’re most welcome.

I also believe there might be European forces in place to never solve this – much easier, even if they know what happened, to claim that they don’t. That might even include the U.S.’s take. They might then be able to ‘threaten’ Putin with something…I doubt that too.

Entelechy on November 25, 2006 at 5:46 PM

Putin is making a point and doesn’t care who knows it.

It takes a very technically sophisticated scientific establishment to produce Polonium, which is very rare, and extracting it from quite a lot of uranium ore yields only a tiny amount of this highly radioactive and very volatile metal which has a helf life of only 138 days, so this stuff was very recently produced.

Not someth9ing you can just stroll on down to Target and pick up, I’d say.

Sam on November 25, 2006 at 6:16 PM

Really,what is anyone going to do about this? Putin just basically told the whole world to take a flying leap and don’t even think about messing with him. He is hoping that the USA can be brought down on his watch,getting in bed with Dinnerjacket just helps them all in that main aim of theirs.

bbz123 on November 25, 2006 at 7:21 PM

Radioactive sushi and they are not looking at Godzilla? Foolish of them.

Oh, they know.

But Godzilla is busy enriching uranium at an undislosed Iranian facility controlled by Halliburton. They can’t afford to blow his cover.

infidel4life on November 25, 2006 at 11:59 PM

I dont think the Brits really really want this solved. They have an incredibly large contingent of expat Russians in London buying up lots of very expensive real estate and football clubs.
The Brits are also in a HUGE ROW with Saudi Arabia right now about “slush fund” corruption and are about to lose a LOT of jobs because of it. They cant afford another country upset with them right now. They dont have the resources and frankly I doubt they have the will to name names.
Not doing an autopsy is just bizarre. It is also cowardly. This whole things scares the bejesus out of me.

labwrs on November 26, 2006 at 12:33 PM

When asked to comment on the death by sushi of the former spy, Russian President Putin was quoted as saying…

Ah, fugu him. And if you’re not careful, fugu you too.

I can’t believe nobody went for the fugu line..

austinnelly on November 26, 2006 at 12:50 PM

Some interesting and baseless speculation: The CIA’s failed attempt to sell Iran faulty nuclear bomb plans was carried out by a Russian former nuclear guy. Connection? A revenge killing, perhaps?

JohnW on November 27, 2006 at 8:28 AM

Sushi would kill anybody, radioactive or not.

rightwingprof on November 27, 2006 at 10:52 AM

Rangel is evidence that if one cannot make it as a pimp, then become a congresspuke.

mcgilvra on November 27, 2006 at 11:50 AM

Pamela of Atlas Shrugs is exploring the possibility Litvineko was trying to frame Putin, that the act was suicide-to-be-a-jihad-martyr act. Here.

The Independent reported that Alexander Litvinenko may have committed suicide in an attempt to discredit Russian President Putin. Police are currently investigating this possibility due to large concentrations of the radioactive poison Polonium 210 in Mr. Litvinenko’s home.

laelaps on November 27, 2006 at 7:14 PM