Friday, December 01, 2006

The Million Dollar Question

What exactly is going on here. Who killed Alexander Litvinenko using a radioactive isotope, Polonium 210? It was apparently sprayed on the sushi Litvinenko was eating, but no one knows who did it or why. There are lots of fingers pointing in the direction of one Vladamir Putin, but no one really knows for sure. Heck, it could have been an accident for all we know.

All that is known is that the number of people exposed to isotope continues to grow. Just today, an Italian journalist was confirmed to have been exposed as well:
Italian academic Mario Scaramella has tested positive for the same toxin that killed former Russian spy, Britain's Sky Television News reported Friday.

Scaramella, who was one of the last people to see former Soviet spy Alexander Litvinenko before he fell ill, tested positive for a significant amount of polonium-210, Sky said.

The academic had come from Rome to meet with Litvinenko at a sushi bar in London on Nov. 1 -- the day the former intelligence agent first reported the symptoms that ultimately led to his death at a central London hospital.
Several airliners have been grounded and thousands of people have been contacted in relation to possible contamination. The investigation continues to grow, and authorities around the world are looking at who may have been behind the poisoning along with the motivation to conduct such an attack.

The isotope does not occur naturally, and it takes certain kinds of specialized equipment to produce.

Litvinenko's autopsy is underway in London, and experts are trying to determine the exact cause of death and the examiners were wearing protective clothing and radiation levels were being monitored constantly during the examination. Hot Air has more.

So, who was behind the attack? Rogue elements in the former KGB? That isn't good news, but that's also just one of a whole host of bad actors who might have been behind the attack. Another possibility is that Litvinenko or his companions accidentally poisoned themselves.
Mr. Epstein figures there are two possible ways Litvinenko got poisoned. One is that he was murdered when "someone surreptitiously sprinkled particles of Polonium 210 in his food." The second hypothesis is that it was an accident, in which "the particles leaked out of a faulty container of Polonium 210 that he (or his associates) were carrying."

Mr. Epstein reckons that "a former KGB agent might have a interest in obtaining a smuggled sample of Polonium 210 for a host of reasons, including arranging a sale to an intermediary, establishing the bona fides of someone claiming to have access to a Russian nuclear facility, or investigating the international black market in nuke components." He writes that according to Mario Scaramella, an Italian defense consultant who had lunch with Litvinenko at the Itsu Sushi buffet the day he was poisoned, " Litvinenko's past interests, included the ‘smuggling of nuclear material out of Russia' for the KGB. If true, the possibility that Litvinenko had a vial of Polonium 210 in his possession cannot be precluded."

With any damaged container, Mr. Epstein writes, particles can leak onto clothes,"such as a sleeve or handkerchief, and be ingested. The accident hypothesis would further account the radiation spreading it to multiple locations." He concludes by noting that at this point, "both the murder and accident hypothesis are equally nefarious — and viable." What struck us about the point, aside from the fact that Mr. Epstein is one of the shrewdest analysts around, is that as he begins to sketch the case, this mystery is not merely one of those British crimes we all love to read about in Agatha Christie or Conan Doyle but a situation in real life that provides a window into why the stakes in the Middle East are so high.
The investigators are obviously going to be looking at this case from all angles. I frankly don't know what to make of the whole thing. If you want a good roundup of the basic facts of this case, see here.

Others blogging: AJ Strata, Decision 08, and Ace of Spades.

The Polonium 210 apparently has been traced back to a Russian nuclear power plant. Someone better explain how the material was removed from the facility, because if they could manage to get out this stuff, there's no telling what else might be smuggled out. The current tally of sites that have screened positive include 10 locations in England and five planes.

Allah has updated his coverage to note that one of Litvinenko's relatives has also tested positive. Not good at all.

Lorie Byrd at Wizbang also comments that the FSB is the new KGB. I'd suggest that the old KGB never went away; it was simply renamed and recast.

Make that the wife who tested positive.

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