Friday, November 24, 2006

The Death Of Alexander Litvinenko

Alexander Litvinenko died last night.

He leaves a wife and son. RIP.
Hopefully they won't go without. He had some rich friends.

Perhaps this sad development was not unexpected after the dramatic deterioration that he suffered on Wednesday evening.

His death was the first item on the BBC's 'Breakfast News'. The headline on the dead tree 'Scottish Daily Express' reads' 'Poisoned Russian spy loses fight for life'. A similar headline appears on the dead tree 'Herald'.

One is eerily reminded of how King George V was euthanised so his death could make the morning papers.

But the advent of the Internet and the 24 hour news cycle has meant the time of day at which a story breaks is no longer of any concern to those responsible for news management.

Or shouldn't be, at least.

In his final interview, reported today in 'Times Online', Litvinenko is reported to have said -

"The poisoned Russian spy breathed defiance at the Kremlin as the effects of a mystery cocktail pushed him towards his death last night.

“I want to survive, just to show them,” Alexander Litvinenko said in an exclusive interview given just hours before he died.

Too weak to move his limbs and visibly in great pain, the former Russian intelligence officer suggested that he knew he may not win his struggle against the lethal chemicals destroying his vital organs. But he said the campaign for truth would go on with or without him.

“The bastards got me,” he whispered. “But they won’t get everybody.”

Mr Litvinenko, 43, uttered his last defiant words to Andrei Nekrasov, a friend and film-maker, who had visited him in University College Hospital in London every day this week. Last night Mr Nekrasov described the extraordinary scenes in hospital, where one ward looks like a scene from The Godfather.

“Sasha was a good-looking, physically strong and courageous man,” Mr Nekrasov told The Times. “But the figure who greeted me looked like a survivor from the Nazi concentration camps.”

Moments after he saw his friend pass away, Mr Nekrasov said: “I have been through a few things in Russia and Chechnya, but this is one of the most horrible crimes I have witnessed in my my life.”

“It was sadistic, slow murder. It was perpetrated by somebody incredibly cruel, incredibly heartless. It had no meaning whatsover.”

Although Mr Nekrasov had seen Mr Litvinenko sometimes more than once a day, Tuesday was the last occasion on which his friend could communicate properly. Yet in his final remarks, the former spy remained defiant in his battle against President Putin and the Russian security services.

He also managed a joke at his own expense, suggesting that his poisoning was proof that his campaign against the Kremlin had targeted the right people. “This is what it takes to prove one has been telling the truth,” he said."

The fortitude and presence of mind which Litvinenko would have required to reach the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the KGB did not desert him.

The Times continued,

"Mr Nekrasov revealed that Mr Litvinenko’s British citizenship had come through on the day of a service at Westminster Abbey for Anna Politkovskaya, a friend and critic of the Kremlin murdered in Moscow.

“We discussed the likelihood of another killing. Sasha warned me not to go back to Russia because it was too dangerous,” Mr Nekrasov said. “Very sadly he turned out to be the next victim, attacked in the perceived safety of Central London.”

Last night, Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent who defected to Britain, told Sky News: “It’s very sad news because he was a hero to Russia and a hero to Great Britain. He loved Britain as much as he loved Russia.”

Of course, Litvinenko was reported as saying in 2002 that "Above all, I am a patriot. I believe Russia will rise again and that I will manage to return again to the motherland and Moscow."

Global Challenges Research provides a full obituary.

He was part of the Russian military establishment by birth; his father was a doctor in the gulags.
'The Daily Telegraph's' report on his death notes that 'Mr Litvinenko’s father had flown in from Russia on Tuesday to be with his son as his condition deteriorated.'

One had thought that his condition had deteriorated on Wednesday; however, although this is a difficult time for his family, one would hope that, while he's here, some kind soul from Amnesty International might approach Dr. Litvinenko to enquire as to what, if any, role he played in the gulags' horrors.

His son's relationship with Boris Berezovsky seems to have commenced in 1994, after an attempt on the latter's life in which his driver was killed.

The obituary notes,

"In his book Blowing up Russia: Terror from Within, Litvinenko describes that he had established personal relations with Berezovsky during the investigation of the July 1994 attempt on the businessman. Then they were meeting periodically, and, according to Litvinenko, he did not informed his supervisors about it. It is marked in the book that by the means of Berezovsky, Litvinenko got acquainted with a number of persons from the closest entourage of the first Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Berezovsky also organized Litvinenko’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in July 1998, after the latter was appointed the FSB head. Russian observers and the politicians close to the present Russian regime say that Litvinenko and his closest associates on service had been Berezovsky’s “agents of infulence” in the FSB. According to the same sources, Berezovsky aimed at using this group of servicemen in accrued political fight, first of all, with a purpose of strengthening his influence in the FSB. The specified sources pointed out that Litvinenko and his comrades, in 1996-1998, tried to discredit a number of the high-ranking FSB officers, with an aim of their subsequent replacement by people, loyal to Berezovsky. In the book Blowing up Russia: Terror from Within Litvinenko confirms that he collected compromising information on some high-ranking officers and tried to convey it to the top leadership, in particular, to Putin. But as he said, he did it for the sake of suppression of the criminal activity in the ranks of the FSB.

In November 1998, Litvinenko and four of his colleagues held an unprecedented press conference, having accused the FSB and their direct supervisors, of alleged practice of extrajudicial liquidations and physical pressure upon businessmen and political figures. They declared, in particular, that one year prior to that they had received an order on Berezovsky's elimination. Two years later, one of the closest fellows of Litvinenko and a participant of the abovementioned press conference, Viktor Shebalin, publicly announced that it had been “a planned-in-advance action of Litvinenko, under direction of Boris Berezovsky”. In November 2003, another former colleague of Litvinenko, who also participated in the press conference, Andrey Ponkin, announced that «according to mine, though, unchecked information, Litvinenko had received from Berezovsky one and a half million dollars for the press conference".

Companies alleged to be controlled by Berezovsky own the London houses in which both Litvinenko and Akhmad Zakayev reside.

And of course Lord Tim Bell was handling Litvinenko's PR free of charge -

Berezovsky's relationship with Lord Bell seems longstanding.

After all, he acted on behalf of Berezovsky's Civil Liberties Foundation prior to the G8 summit in St. Petersburg last summer.

This interview that he gave to 'The Independent' on May 2 2005 stated that,

"The hidden hand of Lord Bell of Belgravia, purveyor of PR advice to Rupert Murdoch, intimate of Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, agent of Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko and longtime confidant of Baroness Thatcher, has probably left more fingerprints on modern history than any other current British media figure. "

But Berezovsky's a boastful sort - for example, he's not in the slightest bit bashful about stating his desire to overthrow a friendly foreign power's democratically elected government by force. However the essence of good PR is tact; a quality Berezovsky did not display in an interview published in 'The Observer' on April 27 2003, when he boasted that his "campaign to resist extradition and win political asylum is being masterminded by Conservative politicians and, in particular, the communications guru Lord Tim Bell. Berezovsky says: ‘I have a lot of connections here, not so much with New Labour but with the Conservatives. Lord Bell for example.’

But it might have gone back even further - if one clicks on this link and scrolls down to 'TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE AT THE RUSI IN LONDON ON TUESDAY, 5 MARCH 2002' one sees the e-mail address; the same e-mail address which appears on this press release from March 16 2004 to which I linked yesterday.

Bell-Pottinger is, of course, a vehicle of Lord Bell's.

After Berezovsky stated his desire to overthrow a friendly foreign power's democratically elected government by force, it was truly miraculous that the most toxically Putinophobic of all British newspapers should carry a full page commentary describing him as a 'refugee' and warning of the dangers of 'sending a rich Russian Jew back to the certainty of a kangaroo court, a show trial and quite possibly the rest of his life in a brutal jail' - a not particularly subtle attempt to paint Putin as The Black Hundred's second coming, written by Simon Heffer, one of whose previous attempts at Anglo-Russian diplomacy had included writing that 'President Putin should be put down'.

You'd almost think Berezovsky had a good PR man...

And the chairman of Berezovsky's press conference of March 5 2002 introduced himself as "My name is Richard Tracey, I am the independent chairman of this press conference, the subject matter of it is nothing to do with me but I am here to try to pull together the various strands that make up the story."

Oddly, that name is very similar to the chairman of another press Berezovsky press conference, held on February 19 2004 -

"Yesterday in London, almost below the windows of the residence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Boris Berezovsky gave a long-awaited press conference: "Putin’s Russia. State Terrorism?" Journalists saw a fragment of a documentary film "Assassination of Russia". Those expecting Boris Berezovsky to show the document confirming the FSB’s connection to the bombing of apartment houses in Moscow signed by Vladimir Putin were disappointed. However, in his opinion, the information given in the film is enough to consider Putin an illegitimate president. Kommersant correspondents NATALIA GEVORKYAN and VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA attended the press conference.

The place chosen for the press conference with such a provocative name was the London Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, situated in the very heart of the Whitehall governmental area, practically in front of the British Prime Minister’s residence on Downing Street (although that day Tony Blair was in Australia at a summit of heads of the governments of the British Commonwealth). The oval hall where the press conference took place was full an hour before it began. When the organizer of the event, Boris Berezovsky, appeared in the presidium, the hall was overcrowded. There were about 20 TV cameras (only two Russian channels among them– NTV and the already cut off TV-6). All the periphery of the hall was decorated with stands displaying photos of the ruins of apartment houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk blown up in September 1999, a photo of the blasting assembly from the basement of a Ryazan apartment house and a chronology of events.

Just before the conference began, the hall was joined by Radio Svoboda correspondent Andrei Babitsky, ex-president of NTV Igor Malashenko, writer and historian Yury Felshtinsky and former FSB lieutenant colonel Aleksander Litvinenko, who had got political asylum in Great Britain a year before (Felshtinsky and Litvinenko are the co-authors of the book "The FSB Blows Up Russia" that has recently been published in the USA). The main conferees came in with Boris Berezovsky: RF State Duma deputies Sergei Yushenkov and Yuly Rybakov, former acting director of the Rosconversvzryvtsenter (Explosives) Research Institute Nikita Chekulin, a former resident of the apartment house on Guryanova street, whose mother was killed in September 1999, independent British explosives expert Alan Hatchen and the authors of the film – French documentalists from Transparences Productions company Jean-Charles Deniau and Charles Gazelle. The press conference was conducted by Richard Tracey, a Briton introduced as the "independent chairman". The only representative of official Russia, Shamil Yunusov, second secretary of the Russian Embassy in London, was present on his own private initiative."

One alleges nothing; one suggests nothing; but given Berezovsky's boast of links to the Conservative Party, one can't help but wonder whether the 'Richard Tracey' who chaired these press conferences is the former Conservative Member of Parliament for Kingston & Surbiton.

Berezovsky's documentary on the September 1999 apartment bombings was the first of two; the second was entitled 'Disbelief', and was directed by - guess who? - Andrei Nekrasov.

Nekrasov is sometimes described as 'the Russian Michael Moore', and his film was based on the experiences of two sisters, Tatyana and Alyona Morozova, who lost their mother in the bombings.

Tatyana Morozova spoke at Berezovsky's press conference of February 19 2004. Kommersant, which at that time was owned by Berezovsky, reported her remarks thus -

"Tatyana Morozova in decent English (since 1997 she has lived in the USA) read out something like a statement that she was going to bring an action against the FSB and she wanted to know who had been behind the murder of her mother and hundreds of other people. Her speech gave the impression of a prepared performance and only the questions pronounced without notes at the end – "Why are all the cases classified? Why is everything being concealed?" – sounded sincere."

Alyona Morozova became an aide to Liberal Russia politician MP Sergei Yushenkov - after his assassination in April 2003 she sought asylum in the United States.

Boris Berezovsky was elected leader of the Liberal Russia party two months later - but whether Yushenkov, who addressed the Berezovsky press conference chaired by 'Richard Tracey' in 2002 and who had tangled with Berezovsky, is dead at all is a matter for, well, Russian Bearded Conspiracy Theorists.

So that's Boris got connections to two political parties in two countries - that we know of.

However, this post is titled 'The Death of Alexander Litvinenko'; and it's in relation to a third political party that one must return to topic.

This morning, BBC Breakfast News interviewed Gerard Batten, United Kingdom Independence Party Member of Parliament for London and a friend of Litvinenko's, in relation to his death.

One might be doing Batten a great dis-service, and if so one apologises unreservedly - however, one cannot recall him mentioning the speech he made to the European Parliament on April 3 2006, in which he reported the contents of a conversation that his constituent Litvinenko alleged that he had had with a General Anatoly Trofimov prior to his exile -

"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.

This allegation against a former head of the European Commission is one of the utmost seriousness. It should be thoroughly investigated. The European Parliament should conduct its own investigation".

The speech is available on YouTube.

UKIP is implacably opposed to the European Union, and thus also to the European Commission, which Prodi headed until recently - before ascending to the Italian premiership.

No politician holding Batten's convictions would fail to use such information - but given Litvinenko's closeness to Berezovsky, the idea that he reported this conversation to Batten without Berezovsky's knowledge stretches the bounds of credibility to breaking point.

That's not how these guys work.

Batten also knows Mario Scaramella; how much he knows is another matter.

Does he know of Global Challenges Research's allegation that Scaramella is 'a close associate of the FSB deputy chief Viktor Komogorov and visited the FSB headquarters in Moscow several times'?

Or of Scaramella's allegation that a Soviet submarine containing 20 warheads sank in the Bay of Naples? When the submarine in question, the K-8, really sank in the Bay of Biscay?

Or of his sometime chairmanship of the 'Enviromental Crime Prevention Program', in which capacity he has attended a conference at the NYU School of Law and whose website describes it as -

"a permanent intergovernmental conference aimed at the adoption of international measures for the Environmental Crime prevention and world Environmental Security. Members of the E.C.P.P are United Nations countries who have signed the E.C.P.P statute, which is deposited in care of the Angolan and Samoa Governments and is currently under ratification by our members.

E.C.P.P works with other intergovernmental organizations and in particular with G8, the European Union, Interpol, United Nations International Maritime Organization.

The next ECPP plenary meeting is scheduled for the 15th and 16th of November in New York with the a section on 17th in Lyon and is open to governmental and intergovernmental representatives. "

Sounds fabulous and funky doesn't it?

Scroll down down to 'Contact E.C.C.P. Secretariat'. What e-mail address do you get?

Some secretariat.

It might just be coincidence, but if the 'plenary session' referred to as being held in New York on November 15-16 happened to be that scheduled for the year 2000 then Dr. Scaramella would require to possess the gift of bilocation - on those dates in that year he was attending a conference at NYU School of Law.

He's even been shot at by the Camorra...
Boy, does that bambino get around...
Alexander Litvinenko, a British citizen, is dead.
Some people will do anything for their country.
As a British citizen one is concerned for the welfare of fellow citizens like Tim Bell and Gerard Batten, given the nature of some of the company they seem to keep - no matter how worldly they might feel they are, they might be hanging around people who might be too hard even for them.
One wonders at just what this country has become, when a thug like Boris Berezovsky is able to walk into the halls of power, influence and above all else access on the back of nothing more than a fortune gained by extremely dubious means.
Whatever his loyalties, whatever he did, we owe it to our fellow citizen Alexander Litvinenko to get to the bottom of his death. Though he was not one us for long, we owe him that much - to show him that we're not like the rest of the world, not a place where power and influence is bought and sold; not people governed by 'siloviki' or oligarchs.
That we're Brits. Just like him.
(Update November 24 2006 - my friend and team-mate Dennis Mangan has linked to this post, as has Professor James Hamilton, one half of my favourite economic blogging partnership.
In the (unlikely) event that Professor Hamilton doesn't check his blog stats, he might be interested to know that he has a reader in The Maldives - but that's globalisation for you.
And I can see that I'm going to have to write an e-mail beginning 'Dear Miss Lopez'...
Tonight the BBC has reported that,
"Police probing the death of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko have found above-normal levels of radiation at three locations in London.

Mr Litvinenko's death has been linked to the presence of a "major dose" of radioactive polonium-210 in his body.

Scotland Yard confirmed traces were also found at his home, a sushi bar and a hotel, but the risk to others was said by health experts to be very low...
Officials discussed the issue with the Russian Ambassador, Yuri Fedotov, at a meeting this afternoon, said a spokeswoman...
Officers are looking at CCTV footage and interviewing witnesses, trying to find out who he met around the time he fell ill on 1 November, said Peter Clarke, head of the Counter Terrorism Command which is leading the investigation...
Tests are also being carried out at the two London hospitals where Mr Litvinenko had been treated, University College and the Barnet General, the Health Protection Agency said.

Professor Pat Troop from the HPA told a news conference that the tens of hospital staff who had come into contact with him would be monitored.
She said Mr Litvinenko would have had to either eaten, inhaled or been given the dose of polonium-210 through a wound.

She said the nature of death as an "unprecedented event in the UK".

Roger Cox from the HPA said a large quantity of alpha radiation emitted from polonium-210 had been detected in Mr Litvinenko's urine.

The radiation cannot pass through the skin, and must be ingested or inhaled into the body to cause damage.

He said people who came into contact with Mr Litvinenko's excreta - including sweat - could in theory be affected, but described the risk as "insignificant"....
A post-mortem examination on Mr Litvinenko has not been held yet.

The delay is believed to be over concerns about the health implications for those present at the examination.

The Home Office said anybody concerned should contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647, who have been briefed about the issues.

Meanwhile, the government's civil contingencies committee Cobra has met to discuss the case...
Friends have said Mr Litvinenko was poisoned because of his criticism of Russia.

In a statement dictated before he died at University College Hospital on Thursday, the 43-year-old accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of involvement in his death.

Mr Litvinenko had recently been investigating the murder of his friend, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, another critic of the Putin government.
Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated the Kremlin's earlier dismissal of allegations of involvement in the poisoning as "sheer nonsense".

Mr Putin himself has said Mr Litvinenko's death was a tragedy, but he saw no "definitive proof" it was a "violent death".

Police have been examining two meetings Mr Litvinenko had on 1 November - one at a London hotel with a former KGB agent and another man, and a rendezvous with Italian security consultant Mario Scaramella, at the sushi restaurant in the West End.

Mr Litvinenko, who was granted asylum in the UK in 2000 after complaining of persecution in Russia, fell ill later that day.

In an interview with Friday's Telegraph newspaper, former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi said he had met Mr Litvinenko at the Millennium Hotel but vigorously denied any involvement in the poisoning.

Mr Scaramella, who is involved in an Italian parliamentary inquiry into Russian secret service activity, said they met because he wanted to discuss an e-mail he had received. "
The activation of COBRA, usually British governments' weapon of last response in times of civil emergency (the acronym stands for nothing more dramatic than 'Cabinet Office Briefing Room A'), was probably a knee-jerk response to New Labour's hearing the words 'radioactive' and 'London' in the same sentence.
No particular significance should be read into it.
Although the summoning of the Russian ambassador possibly indicates a slightly elevated level of diplomatic concern, that he has been called in now when the story has been live for nearly a week probably relates more to the revelation that radiation might have been a factor in Litvinenko's death; and as 'radiation' is a bogeyman word in the mob's mind, its introduction demanded that all sides get their backsides covered and their stories straight. One would imagine that today's meeting was a rather civilised affair.
That pathologists are unable to perform post mortems in lead aprons in order to minimise the risk of radiation poisoning was news to me. On the other hand Polonium-210 has a half life of 138 days, meaning that even if Litvinenko's cadaver were left out for the crows it's presence would still be detectable after a reasonable period.
Yet if it was a massive overdose of polonium-210 that killed him, one would have thought that this would have automatically ruled out Lugovoi as a direct murder suspect; after all, presumably he did not have access either to Litvinenko's home or to the sushi bar where the now dead Litvinenko met Super Mario Scaramella.
By the same token Scaramella presumably had no access either to Litvinenko's home or to the hotel where he met Lugovoi.
Of course neither might be ruled out as members of a conspiracy - but that's a slightly different thing from being a poisoner.
Which leaves the question - who did have access to Litvinenko's home? And to the sushi bar? And to the hotel?
Mind you, he didn't own the house... and this is going to keep The Daily Telegraph going for weeks...)


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