Spymania: Everything you think you know is might be wrong

Well, not quite everything. Just where, when, and how Litvinenko was poisoned.

First things first, though. Did he really convert to Islam? Sounds like it, but doubt lingers.

Earlier Thursday, Zakayev and Litvinenko’s father, Walter, joined hundreds of Muslims who had gathered at London’s Regent’s Park Mosque for regular daily prayer to attend a memorial service, where the imam recited a funeral prayer…

Walter Litvinenko and Zakayev both insisted the former spy had converted to Islam on his deathbed, although some friends disputed the claim — saying he had merely expressed empathy with Chechen Muslims. Siddiqui said the mosque had been told Litvinenko converted to Islam 10 days before he was admitted to a hospital last month.

Vladimir Bukovsky, a friend and fellow Putin critic, said Litvinenko had asked that his body eventually be moved to Chechnya.

The service at the burial site was nondenominational.

Now to the good stuff. The story all along has been that Litvinenko was dosed on November 1, probably during lunch at the sushi place with Scaramella. Wrong — on both counts, maybe.

As Alexander Litvinenko was buried yesterday investigators revealed that they now suspect that the former Kremlin spy was poisoned in the bar of a luxury London hotel when he met two Russian businessmen…

Michael Clark, of the agency’s radiation protection division, said last night that it was possible that Litvinenko was poisoned by a contaminated cigarette or drink.

A minute quantity of polonium-210 placed in Litvinenko’s glass would explain how he ingested the radioactive poison that led to his agonising death three weeks later.

The vapour that evaporated from the drink would have been inhaled by anyone in the area, with a greater concentration for his Russian companions and staff, who would have been in the bar much longer.

Investigators believe the poison cocktail was likely to have been manufactured in a guest room at the hotel, a short walk away from the US Embassy. Significant traces of polonium-210 were found in a fourth-floor room, which was occupied by a visiting Russian.

Police believe that the killer may have stalked Litvinenko in London that day and had first tried to poison the ex-KGB colonel in a sushi bar. That failed but the poisoner left ample traces of the deadly radioactive isotope in the Piccadilly restaurant.

This assumes, of course, that Litvinenko visited the sushi place before he went to the hotel bar — a point which, so far as I know, has never been settled. But let’s assume it’s true. How do we explain this, tucked away innocuously as an afterthought at the bottom of the same article?

Traces of polonium-210 has been found at Parkes Hotel, Mayfair, it was confirmed last night. It means that radiation has been found at all three hotels where Mr Lugovoy had stayed since flying to London on October 16. The Parkes was the first he stayed at.

The radioactive isotope has also been found at Risc Management, a security firm in Cavendish Place, visited by Litvinenko with Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun on October 17.

There’s radiation at two sites that were patronized by Lugovoy before Litvinenko was poisoned? That’s … important, isn’t it? And rather incriminating?

What about the possibility that Litvinenko wasn’t poisoned on November 1 at all? Apparently it’s now being “explored”:

It is understood that detectives are also exploring whether Mr Litvinenko, 43, who died on 23 November, and Mr Kovtun were attacked before their 1 November meeting and may have been spreading contamination for a number of days.

Mr Kovtun is known to have spent three days in London from 16 October during which time he shared two meals with Mr Litvinenko, who had become a “fixer” for his trips to London. One of the meals was in the same Itsu sushi bar on Piccadilly where Mr Litvinenko ate on 1 November with another man, the Italian security expert Mario Scaramella.

Kovtun was the other man with Lugovoy at the meeting with Litvinenko in the hotel bar on November 1. There were reports today that he’s been hospitalized with radiation poisoning and is in critical condition, and possibly even comatose. The Independent claims that polonium’s been found in his digestive tract. Lugovoy’s lawyer denies that Kovtun is ill, as does a second unnamed source who spoke to CBS. Lugovoy is himself in the hospital right now; his condition is unknown.

And in the latest twist, seven workers at the hotel bar have tested positive for very small amounts of polonium. As you may recall, relatively high levels of polonium were also detected in the bar’s men’s room(?). It sounds like the poisoning must have happened there, probably on November 1, and that Lugovoy and/or Kovtun were involved either in smuggling the material into the UK in late October or they themselves are the assassins. If the meeting in the bar took place before the lunch date at the sushi place, it may be that the dose that hit Litvinenko was so huge that enough of it was left on his person to accidentally contaminate Scaramella with it later on.

Or is there yet another, darker possibility, as A.J. Strata has suggested? I’ll leave you with this, which comes from two guys who have been pushing the Adnan al-Shukrijumah threat for months now. The American Hiroshima is coming, they say, and Alexander Litvinenko might have played a small part in bringing it about. Crazy, yet compelling:

The neutron source or “triggers” of … suitcase nukes are composed of beryllium-9 and polonium-210. When these two elements are combined, the alpha particle is absorbed by the nucleus of the beryllium causing it to decay by emitting a neutron. Such “triggers” were a feature of early nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Soviet stockpiles.

Polonium-210 has a half-life of 138 days, necessitating the replacement of the triggers every six months. For this reason, the suitcase nukes are far from maintenance-free. In addition, the nuclear core of these devices emit a temperature in excess of one hundred degrees Fahrenheit – – further exposing the weapons to oxidation and rust. Small wonder that al Qaeda operatives including Adnan el-Shukrijumah, who are spearheading “the American Hiroshima” have received extensive training in nuclear technology.

Polonium-beryllium triggers are packaged in foil packs about the size of a package of sugar on a restaurant table. When the twin foil packages are crushed, the elements mix and the neutrons are emitted. A courier transporting nuclear triggers could have had a mishap causing the packages to rupture and a trail of contamination to occur.

Polonium-210 is a fine powder, easily aerosolized. Litvinenko could have inhaled the powder, or had a grain or two on his fingers when he ate the sushi.