Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Spy's downfall was fearlessness, friend says
Sipping coffee at his home in the quiet suburbs of London, Oleg Gordievsky speaks of his friendship with Alexander Litvinenko. He tells me that Litvinenko firmly believed the current Russian government would one day fail and that he would return home to help rebuild a counterintelligence service free of corruption. Gordievsky, himself a KGB defector, says he was instrumental in convincing the British government to offer Litvinenko political asylum from Russia.

Passion and conviction apparently came easy to Litvinenko. He seemed utterly fearless. Gordievsky suggests to me that this might have been his friend's downfall. Even Litvinenko, who knew how powerful his enemies could be, did not believe a hit would be attempted against him as long as he stayed in London.

A great deal of attention is being paid to the meeting Litvinenko had over tea with two Russians at a London hotel the day he became ill. If this proves to be where Litvinenko was poisoned, Gordievsky theorizes the killer or killers knew his habits well.

Gordievsky told me his friend was a man without vices. He didn't smoke nor did he drink. He always tried to meet with people he was unsure of in upscale and busy public places. Gordievsky believes the only way such a potent dose of radioactive poison could be administered was to slip it into Litvinenko's tea during a casual meeting. I emphasize that this is just a theory -- one of hundreds. And it comes from just one figure in a tightly-knit Russian expatriate community that is more than just a little shaken right now.

There are also theories that Litvinenko was collecting information for personal gain. The British newspaper, the Observer, printed a series of interviews with a Russian academic. The article suggests Litvinenko may have turned to blackmail, selling damaging information involving powerful Russian oil interests. But neither his friends nor his family believe that the man who was so set against corruption and took such great personal risks to expose it would ever compromise

It's hard to pin down just how many Russian ex-pats have taken up residence in London, but there seems to be a lot. Prominent members of the community offer guesses that there could be anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 in the United Kingdom, but they don't know for sure. Most keep a low profile, content to find a safe place to live and a job that provides a decent living. A few however, like Alexander Litvinenko, don't disappear into the crowd and live a simple 9-to-5 life.

Litvinenko's friends say he could not rest or stay quiet as long as long as he believed he could bring about change to a Russian government that he viewed as rife with corruption and violence. They say that in life, Litvinenko was a star among the Russian expatriates who want to see an end to the government of Vladimir Putin. In death, they say, his star seems to be shining brighter than ever.
Posted By David Mattingly, CNN Correspondent: 11:08 AM ET
It's interesting to wonder what "covert" suprises our instigating leader(s) have in store for any spies, former employees or other people who cross them.
Posted By Anonymous Carol B., Frederick, MD : 11:52 AM ET
Well, time will probably tell if Mr. Litvinenko's death was caused by the people he believed were responsible. Either way, the bottom line, it was one of the most barbaric ways I've heard of to murder another human being. It was as if the assassin wanted his death to be as cruel and horrific as possible.
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 11:58 AM ET
When this story started playing out, my first thought was that "the Russians did it." In the early days of Law & Order, there were several shows involving the Russian mafia and/or KGB agents. The story lines (supposedly fiction of course)were some of the most gruesome and cruel that the show had used. I thought, yikes, the Italian mafia is a piece of cake compared to these guys. I remembered thinking that we should be very careful dealing with the Russians and that I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them. And that isn't far. All of this was going through my mind as I watched last night's show. Great job of reporting. Now if the Brits can only find the bad guys, everyone can breath easier.
Posted By Anonymous Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 12:24 PM ET
It's disheartening enough as a citizen to learn of your government's betrayal. I can only imagine how Litvinenko and the other defectors felt after learning of the corruption they unknowingly were a part of while they performed their duties for the government. Most of them would like to believe that they're serving for the better good of society in those types of jobs but the reality is they're all puppets. There are many questions such as who is the puppeteer and what motives are they trying to attain?
Posted By Anonymous Missy, Los Angeles, CA : 12:29 PM ET
Hi David~
Isn't karma fasinating? If the Russian government was trying to hush Litvineko by murdering him, then the joke is on them. All of the world who never knew who Litvinenko was, are all of the sudden extremely aware of who he is, what he did, and how he died. I can only imagine that Valdimir Putina and other Russian officials are shaking in their boots! ( from nervousness not cold ) Litvinenko's passion and conviction to free the Russian government of corruption is still alive more than ever. Hopefully, he did not die in vain. David, indeed Litvineko's star seems to be shining brighter in death, shining light on just what he desired to be known. I do feel sympathy for his family. This must be very difficult. Thanks 360 for your help to shed and spread the light from Litvineko's star. Good job!
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 12:38 PM ET
Dear David,

Great coverage of the Alexander Litvinenko story! As I watched the show I developed some further observations and questions regarding the case.

Although it sounds eerily similar to the poisoning of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, has anyone ever committed murder by polonium-210 in the past? Does the creation of polonium-210 carry a signature; can it be traced back to the lab or the technician responsible for creating it? If it was created by a state sponsored lab or a former employee that might be helpful. I also read that Anna Politkovskaya had believed she had been poisoned on her way to report on the Besian School siege.

I was fascinated by the demonstration by Dr. Gupta on last night's program. If polonium can be inhaled as well as ingested, why didn't he need to wear a mask when he was doing the demonstration? Does it need to be in a particular form in order to be inhaled?

The most logical explanation would be that Litvinenko ingested the poison during one of his two meetings on the day he was poisoned; either during tea with the two Russians at the hotel or during lunch with Mario Scaramella at the sushi bar. From what I understand the sushi bar was frequented by Litvinenko so that brings up more possibilities. Inhalation of the poison does not seem as fool proof.

The seemingly random location of small amounts of polonium may or may not help the investigation. It depends on whether or not it was accidental or done deliberately to mislead authorities.

At this point I am not sure if this is more like John le Carre or the "X-Files" (A.D. Skinner was almost killed in a similar fashion)!

I look forward to tonight's show!

Jo Ann
Posted By Anonymous Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 1:13 PM ET
IMHO it is a rather cynical thing to inject here an off-topic speculation that our own government would assassinate former employees.

At the risk of going further off topic...the boss in any situation knows that dismissing a person is usually sufficient to discredit them. Right or wrong, it works, and the co-workers and other close ones will let it happen. No-one stands. "They had it coming".

The Russian spy service historically sees it differently and uses poisons for that.

But I think if we see that same darkness in our own people, it is a false reflection and we're really looking upon our own individual lightlessness. One potentially betrays one's integrity and conviction by making the opportunistic, snarky assertion. These forms of dialogue may be in vogue right now but that doesn't make them OK, civil or fair.

Whatever valid critique we have of our current government, it hasn't descended fully to the cynicism of some of its critics. It does seem to be righting itself or at least changing course.

We should be thankful that our system differs as much as it does from the Russian and others; taking note of its good points so that the leaders make more of those points.
Posted By Anonymous Andrew Fields, Miami FL : 1:13 PM ET
You mean that the more things change the more they stay the same. So the wall came down and the curtain was removed and Bush looked deep in Putin's soul. Ya, right.

I would say that the spotlight has been put on the issues.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista,ar : 1:45 PM ET
Perhaps all of us in this country should do a urine test for polonium-210. Maybe our high cancer rates are directly related to our various nuclear enterprises here in the USA.
Its a fact that the original geiger counters can no longer
be used in this country as we have exceeded the maximum
reading on those devices.
Posted By Anonymous Kate, Bakersfield, CA, USA : 1:56 PM ET
I thought the spy days were over. This complicated story is more intriguing than a novel.
Posted By Anonymous Jess, Paris, KY : 2:09 PM ET
Religious Conversion

Litvinenko's father, Valter, told RFE/RL's Service his son converted to Islam shortly before his death and wished to be buried according to Muslim tradition.

"He told me about his decision two days before he died. He said, 'Papa, I have to talk to you about something serious. I've become a Muslim,'" Walter Litvinenko said.

Valter Litvinenko, who described the conversion as "an important personal decision," said his son had been thinking about becoming a Muslim for some time because of growing disenchantment with the Russian Orthodox Church.

'Personal Matter'

Akhmed Zakayev, the London-exiled Chechen separatist envoy, told RFE/RL that Litvinenko asked him about the possibility of converting in the early days of his illness.

"I told him it was a purely personal matter, that it isn't important to which god we pray as long as we aren't doing ignoble acts," Zakayev said. "And I sort of dropped it. But he over and over again returned to the subject."

Zakayev added that Litvinenko went on to pronounce the shahadah, the fundamental Muslim statement of faith.
Posted By Anonymous Oleg, Seattle WA : 2:20 PM ET
The Chechen allies of Al Qaeda have come out hailing Alexander Litvenenko, who converted to Islam. I find it disturbing is not questioning the nexus of:

(1) a corrupt and vengeful Russian oligarch with ties to Chechen terrorists,

(2) the defection of a KGB/FSB officer to the side of same corrupt oligarch and who also has sided with the Chechen terrorists, (3) the fact the Chechen terrorists are allied with Al Qaeda and have attacked Russia much more severely than the US has been attacked by terrorists, and (4) the presence of a deadly material used in early nuclear bombs (Polonium-210)

These dots connect not to build a picture of a clumsy assassination effort by Putin but point to nuclear weapons material being in the UK in the hands of Chechen sympathizers. Am I the only one who thinks this is a really bad combination? Have we forgotten the Chechen attacks on the Beslan School, the Moscow Theatre, the destruction of apartment buildings, the downing of two commercial airliners? When did people who support terrorists like the Chechen rebels get credibility in the West as innocent victims?
Posted By Anonymous Dina, Bellevue WA : 2:34 PM ET
Hi David,
Is it now the assumption that the US gov't is free and clear of corruption and violence within our borders and abroad? Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Sure, if it looks like a duck and talks like a duck it probably is a duck. But a careful investigation of all sides shows the US acting responsibly versus behaving badly. As an American born Russian and having spent the last ten summers living in Moscow, I'd like to think that the freedoms and trust afforded the US gov't is also granted to the Russians until there is proof to believe otherwise. Take care.
Posted By Anonymous Ilene Ann, Kenilworth, IL : 2:36 PM ET
thanks all for great indepth coverage of this story. Aside from all the information already presented, I can't help wondering how the President feels about Putin's potential involvement. The fact that the man whose heart and soul he befriended, and their following close relationship makes me wonder what possible 'deals', including trade and technology might have been made as Bush was caught up in this personal friendship. Has there been any indepth comment from white house folks - on or off the record?
Posted By Anonymous pamela longwood, FL : 2:57 PM ET
I'm still learning about this man, but it doesn't surprise me that Mr. Litvinenko, if he truly was the honorable and principled man that most people say he was, was fearless. Yes, this may have been his downfall, but people who want to bring about change and justice to the world usually are not the most popular (sad to say), and some are even willing to die for what they believe in. Indeed, they are one of a kind.

As to theories about him collecting information for personal gain, again, if he was as honorable as people say he was, this theory should be taken with a grain of salt. Now that he's dead, these theories will pop up and hopefully it doesn't take away our focus from the real issues.

I wonder, can 360 get an exclusive interview with Mr. Putin? If he truly has nothing to do with this, then he has nothing to hide, right?

Thanks, David, and CNN, for the great reporting. I look forward to the show tonight.
Posted By Anonymous Lilibeth, Edmonds, WA : 3:10 PM ET
The end of the commentary says it best. "In death, they say, his star seems to be shining brighter than ever." No matter how evil or upright, any covert agency is (KGB, CIA, FSB, etc.) they are not dumb. They are also good at what they do.

If they wanted to kill Litvinenko they could have done it a long time ago, a much quieter way. People would not be asking so many questions if he had been gunned down, or even in a car crash or such (being gun downed, like the reporter, opens so many more possibilities since anyone can do it).

I think the only possibility for Russian involvement in this situation is that a rogue agent thought he could impress his superiors by taking out a dissenter. But again that is highly unlikely- I know enough about covert agencies to know very few people have that kind of access and power to do *anything* on their own.

Perhaps it was true he had sunk into blackmail, perhaps it was himself or friends (when you get poisoned you automatically have a lot more credability than before), perhaps it was some Russian patriot who simply didn't like him, etc.

In any case I doubt the case will ever be solved. Almost every lead will go somewhere it can't. Russians won't be expedited, whoever killed him is obviously clever, it just doesn't seem feasible.
Posted By Anonymous James, Spokane WA : 3:18 PM ET
Well, this only proves that no matter how civilize any government claims to be deep down they will always turn to murder and torture to settle their problems. Too bad with our legalized torture, we don't have any moral high ground to criticize anyone.
Posted By Anonymous Nelson, Orlando, FL : 4:04 PM ET
Polonium 210 occurs as:Tellurium (pronounced Te-loor-i-um) sometimes found in its native (elemental) form, but is more often found as the tellurides of gold (calaverite, krennerite, petzite, sylvanite, and others). Tellurium compounds are the only chemical compounds of gold found in nature, but tellurium itself (unlike gold) is also found combined with other elements (in metallic salts). The principal source of tellurium is from anode sludges produced during the electrolytic refining of blister copper. It is a component of dusts from blast furnace refining of lead. Tellurium is produced mainly in the US, Canada, Peru, and Japan.

Commercial-grade tellurium is usually marketed as minus 200-mesh powder but is also available as slabs, ingots, sticks, or lumps. The year-end price for tellurium in 2000 was US$ 14 per pound.

blister copper, lead, semiconductors (found on another website),refineries, Telluride CO, mining, gold,space and thermonuclear electric(?). NASA, Nuclear power plants, paint factories, mining companies, steel mills, trains, ceramics, smelting factories.

Wikipedia, except keywords.
Posted By Anonymous Mandarin, Dallas TX : 7:00 PM ET
In response to James' posting, you say that if the Russian government was involved in the spy's death, they could have shot him for instance rather than poison him. In the same sense, why wouldn't his "friends" or the "Russian patriot" you talk about choose to shoot him if they were to kill him but would rather decide to poison him (with nothing else but Polonium-210)?
The facts in this case reveal that polonium has never been used as a murder weapon before, which suggests that one can use it in order to conceal the cause of death. What interest does the russian government and Putin for that matter have to shoot an agent that has publically turn against FSB and the president. If they eliminated him immediately after he accused the governement of corruption, it would have been clear who had to gain from Litvinenko's death. The fact that a rare, very difficult to identify poison was used proves that the murderer did not want the evidence to point to a murder.
Finally, since this type of poison had to be produced in a nuclear lab, no lay people would have had access to knowledge regarding its nature and function, nor would they had the means to actually produce it.
For a scientist to work on this (this is a complex crime and it does take lots of preparation: research, testing, etc., etc.), they must have had operated under a high authority, in a special setting. Who would you guess might have an access to a nuclear lab?
Posted By Anonymous Ryan, Seattle, Wa : 3:31 PM ET
Ryan - first polonium 210 produced more than 90 years ago without any nuclear lab use, read more, learn more my friend.
Posted By Anonymous Oleg, Bellevue WA : 1:34 PM ET
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