Litvinenko, a 44-year-old ex-KGB officer who had defected
from Russia to England in 2000 and drew on his experience
to denounce the government of the newly installed President
Vladimir Putin, died in a London hospital on Nov. 23, 2006,
after being exposed to the radioactive isotope Polonium 210.
mysterious circumstances surrounding his death spawned a
full-blown international crisis when Britain demanded that
Russia extradite a Russian citizen allegedly connected to
Russia refused on the grounds that its constitution forbid
extradition, Britain, in reprisals reminiscent of the Cold
War, expelled four Russian diplomats from London. Russia
followed suit, expelling a similar number, and breaking
off its anti-terrorism cooperation with Britain.
the time, the British authorities told the media, "We are
100 percent sure who administered the poison, where and
how." But it released none of the evidence.
despite the popular misconception that the case has been
solved, little, if any, forensic evidence has emerged that
explains how, or even when, Litvinenko was exposed to Polonium 210.
In any poisoning case, the basic evidence includes the autopsy
report, the toxicological analysis and the autopsy slides
of the victim's body. These would probably reveal whether
the victim inhaled the radioactive particles through his
lungs, ingested them in food, or got them directly in his
bloodstream through an open cut. They could also indicate
how many times the exposure occurred.
information, in turn, would be necessary for the coroner
to determine whether the victim had been accidentally exposed
(as was the case in all previous Polonium poisoning cases)
the Litvinenko case, the coroner's report has never been
completed. The crucial autopsy data has been denied not
only to journalists and Litvinenko's family on the grounds
that it is part of an ongoing investigation, but also to
Britain's erstwhile partner in the investigation, Russia.
there may be good reason to keep an autopsy report secret
from the public, keeping it secret from its investigative
partner is mystifying.
when Britain requested that Russia take legal action against
a Russian citizen and extradite him, it refused to supply
the autopsy report. "Without the autopsy report," the Russian
prosecutor said, "we don't even know the cause of death."
British government also classified the hospital records
and refused to allow Russian investigators to speak to the
doctors who treated him for weeks before his death.
medical stone-walling left unanswered why British doctors
repeatedly misdiagnosed Litvinenko, and, despite his symptoms
of radiation exposure, did not test his urine specimens
for alpha as well as gamma radiation, and never gave him
the antidote Dimercaprol, which might have saved his life.
I examined the British police report sent to Moscow in June
2006 in support of its extradition request, I was stunned
to see that without the medical reports, there was an almost
total evidentiary vacuum, at least in terms of conventional evidence.
report cited no eye-witnesses, surveillance videotapes,
fingerprints, Polonium container, or smoking teapot. Instead,
the police report made it clear that the case was based
on radiation traces.
made this kind of unconventional evidence vulnerable to
misinterpretation, if it could be introduced in court at
all, is that almost all the crime scenes at which the radiation
was found were compromised.
of the misdiagnosis, police did not seal off the sites for
several weeks, so it is unknown how much Polonium 210 had
been removed or spread by washing, vacuuming, foot traffic
or other events at various sites. So the different levels
of radiation readings referred to in the police report may
reflect no more than the different conditions that they
were subjected to over many weeks.
even if they were not compromised, the radiation trail leads
back to London on Oct. 16, when Litvinenko met two Russian
businessmen. Since no traces of radiation were found on
the Transaero plane on which they came to London that morning,
but traces were found in restaurants, bars, hotels and offices
that one or more of these three men visited between Oct.
16 and Nov. 3, the only implication that can be drawn from
this radioactive trail is that these three men - or at least
one of them (since they were in contact with each other)
- had been contaminated on Oct. 16 and, unaware of the contamination
on their person or clothes, left traces wherever they went.
was Polonium 210 itself evidence of culpability of any particular
nation. Because it is used as part of the trigger for early-stage
nuclear weapons, its production is a matter of concern for
the International Atomic Energy Agency. The nuclear reactors
of at least 10 countries are not inspected by the IAEA -
including Pakistan, India, Israel, China and North Korea
(which used Polonium 210 to trigger its nuclear bomb in
October 2006). Any of these could have produced Polonium 210.
It could also have been pilfered from the industrial stockpiles
maintained by Russia and the United States, since, according
to the IAEA data base, there were 14 incidents of missing
Polonium 210 between 2004 and 2006 (mainly in the United
States); or from any lab using it for experiments. We simply
do not know its origins or the route by which it was smuggled
vacuum is the state of the evidence today. It had been filled
mainly with guesses, theories and pseudo-facts, much of
it supplied by exiles from the former Soviet Union in London
whose agendas go beyond a strict fidelity to facts.
is desperately needed to rein in this organized flight from
reality is to provide a factual basis for the Litvinenko
case, beginning with the autopsy results.
one thing, this would deprive Russia of an excuse for not
moving ahead with the investigation. Since without Russian
cooperation the investigation is at a standstill, Britain
has nothing to lose by making public the autopsy results.
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