ABC News is reporting that Polonium-210 can be purchased over the internet:
Polonium-210, the radioactive substance that killed former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, is easily available on the Internet, but it could take $1 million to amass a lethal amount, according to leading authorities.
Polonium-210 isotopes are offered online by a number of companies, including United Nuclear of New Mexico. The company sells polonium-210 isotopes for about $69 but says it would take about 15,000 orders, for a total cost of over $1 million, to have a toxic amount.
United Nuclear today posted an online clarification to answer concerns they are selling weapons of assassination.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
Scott Anderson’s article “Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise to Power” is a throwback to the 1990s when ex-KGBmen turned mafioso, private security, or hired hands to execute nefarious plots. It is also a showcase of bygone figures. Once powerful, influential, or at least in the public eye who have since drifted into memory only to be periodically conjured up as partisan weaponry of high politics. You know the names: Boris Berezovsky, Alex Goldfarb, Aleksandr Litvinenko, and Mikhail Trepashkin. The latter serves as the hero of Anderson’s tale. The gatekeeper of a longstanding conspiracy that many Russians know well: The FSB carried out the apartment bombings on Guryanova St. in Moscow that brought down eight floors and killed ninety-four residents in their beds.
It’s been a while since Trepashkin’s name graced an English language publication. He’s spent the last several years serving two stints in the clank. In 2003, he was arrested for illegal arms possession and divulging state secrets (the former charge was eventually dropped, the latter stuck). And then just as he was freed in September 2005, he was scooped up again. He was released in 2007. Four years for likely trumped up charges. Such is what happens when you piss off the wrong people in Russia.
But now Trepashkin has come out of the woodwork to tell his story to Scott Anderson. But the details of the story aren’t really the issue. Anyone who’s familiar with the apartment bombings already knows the in-outs of the incident and the conspiracy theories behind them. Anderson didn’t even have to go to Russia. He could have just watched that horrible Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case documentary and got the story there.
The real story, however, is really the story itself. Indeed, as many Russia watchers discovered last week, Conde Nast, the company that owns GQ in Russia, made an executive decision to not run the story there. According to the NPR report on the matter:
“Conde Nast management has decided that the September issue of U.S. GQ magazine containing Scott Anderson’s article ‘Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise to Power’ should not be distributed in Russia,” Birenz wrote.
He ordered that the article could not be posted to the magazine’s Web site. No copies of the American edition of the magazine could be sent to Russia or shown in any country to Russian government officials, journalists or advertisers. Additionally, the piece could not be published in other Conde Nast magazines abroad, nor publicized in any way.
The story doesn’t even exist on GQ’s English site. The only place you can read the story is on Gawker and a site called Ratafia Currant. So what made Conde Nast pull the plug? Self-censorship? Commercial interests? Or was it a plain PR stunt to bring attention to an article that would most likely be ignored? Who knows. I am more inclined to think the latter.
But the thing I find funny about all of this is Gawker‘s self-appointed mission to translate the article into Russian “as a public service” because “Condé Nast has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent Russians from reading a GQ article criticizing Vladimir Putin.” I mean, really what planet are they from? Um, the Iron Curtain, like, fell eighteen years ago. There isn’t a cloak of darkness over Russia that filers out anything anti-Putin. Take it from me, the Russians don’t need Americans to save them from themselves. The last time that happened, it didn’t work out to well for the Russians.
The truth is that this conspiracy isn’t new by any means. Nor does Anderson shed any new light on it. An internet search will turn up all sorts of versions of it. Hell, even the Russian wikipedia entry on the bombings chronicles the “unofficial versions” of the story. Yet Gawker is all ecstatic that a few Russian sites have picked up their Russian translation. One is a blog on LJ. The other is one of those creepy Russian nationalist forums. Now Russian news outlets have picked up on the story and adding their own conspiracies to explain the conspiracy. But the thing is there might not even be one. According to a statement from Nikolai Uskov, the editor-in-chief of GQ Russia, published in Nezavisimaya gazeta:
It is hard for me to comprehend how this company can prevent the distribution of its own magazine anywhere. What has reverberated on Ekho Moskvy and then repeatedly said on the Internet, is not completely correct: a Russian publisher, like any other media company, is an independent product. We’re not obligated to reprint American material, and moreover receive recommendations not to do so. I have personally not received any prohibitions or directions whatsoever from management about not translating or reprinting this article. But it would also not enter my head to do it. . . . Similar material in the Russian media would appear quite strange today. There is nothing in this article that is sensational.
Basically, the story is old news. And if there is an order to not translate and publish the story, Uskov hasn’t heard of it. That’s rather strange isn’t it?
So is Conde Nast’s act of “self-censorship” merely a back handed way to stir up criticism of Putin and the strangling of the press in Russia? Perhaps. But perhaps as Evgeny Morozov notes, it just might be pure incompetence on Conde Nast’s part and now they are suffering the whiplash of the Streisand Effect. After all, Conde Nast isn’t really getting anything from this but a bunch of negative press. But as they say even bad press is good press.
But the article and the whole stunt surrounding it might just be another opportunity to piss on Putin. Though the piss will come more in a trickle than a hot steady stream. His image among Americans is already so soiled that not even the toughest Tide Stain Release could wash it clean. One more story about a shadowy Putinist plot can’t make things any worse. Nevertheless, the timing is interesting. This week is tenth anniversary of the bombings and a month shy of ten years since Putin became Prime Minister. Digging up the conspiracy is just another reminder that the strongman of Russia might have gotten his power by exploiting a tragedy that was really carried out by his buds in the FSB.
Remember children, conspiracies happen over there in the dark shadowy world of Russia. It’s that whole “‘riddle wrapped up in an enigma” thang. Here in America, we rightfully dismiss our crackpot conspiracy theorists–from the 9/11 Truthers to the tin-foil wearing Trilateral Commission believers and Lyndon La Rouchites–for what they are: nutjobs. But their Slavic equivalents? Nah. Somehow they are bearers of the truth.
By Sean — 12 years ago
Theories about Alexandr Litvinenko’s death continue to swirl around the media. And while most suspect that the “fierce Kremlin critic” was assassinated by Putin or persons connected to him, another less highlighted theory is that Litvinenko might have been caught up in a polonium smuggling ring. This idea isn’t new. Russia Blog reported in December that the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung was “looking into the possibility that radiation poisoning victim Alexander Litvinenko and his associate Dimitry Kovtun were involved in smuggling polonium out of Russia.” “Alongside several other versions behind this crime,” a German police officer told the Berliner Zeitung at the time, “we are seriously considering the possibility that Litvinenko’s death could have been connected to the illegal trade in nuclear materials.” The officer then added that no clear evidence had been uncovered yet.
Now it seems that the polonium plot thickens. Reuters is reporting that Dmity Kovtun, who met with Litvinenko in London on 1 November with Andrei Lugovoy (who happens to be the former head of security for Boris Berezovsky), is going to Germany to talk to investigations about polonium smuggling. November 1 was the same day Litvinenko began complaining about feeling ill. Kovtun, of course, denies any connection to Litvinenko’s death. “Ach, wirklich?” say the Germans.
“Kovtun wants to come to Hamburg to meet with prosecutors, among other things,” attorney Wolfgang Vehlow told Reuters, adding that Kovtun has permanent residency in Germany and considers the northern port city of Hamburg a home.
Vehlow said it was unclear when the trip would happen. Kovtun developed symptoms of radiation poisoning, according to Russian prosecutors, and both he and Lugovoy spent several weeks in hospital after their return to Moscow from London.
There are conflicting reports about Kovtun’s health, but Vehlow said Kovtun was well enough to travel to Germany.
In other developments in the affair, it appears that the Russians and British have concluded a deal that would allow Russian investigators to question Boris Berezovsky. Or so said Deputy Prosecutor-General Alexander Zvyagintsev in an interview with Izvestia. The apparent deal with the Brits didn’t stop Zvyagintsev from rapping Britain for, of all things, bureaucratism. “Unfortunately, too much time is being taken up with technical and procedural questions and I hope they can be resolved faster,” Zvyagintsev complained. Adding, “When last year the English asked us to let them come here we did not insist on the observation of some of the formalities … Do we not have the right to expect similar cooperation?” Um, I don’t know, I distinctly remember the Russians unleashing their own “bureaucratic blitz” to stall the British investigation.
At some point you just have to sit back and appreciate the utter hilarity in all this.
Special thanks to Heribert Schindler from ?????????? ????????? for the German help. See comments section below.
By Sean — 11 years ago
The recent flurry in the comments section over the polonium poisoning of Aleksandr Litvinenko has inspired me to revisit the issue. When I last left the case, it was reveled that Litvinenko was on retainer with MI6. Andrei Lugovoi, Britain’s chief suspect in the crime, was listed as a Duma candidate on the LDPR ticket. Now Deputy Lugovoi’s goal was to get the immunity that comes with the seat. Lugovoi didn’t need it. The Russian Constitution prohibits extradition, and the Russians weren’t looking like their they were going to fold anyway.
Nevertheless, Lugovoi was clearly looking for a little extra krysha in case some behind the scenes deal was hammered out. Zhirinovskii’s LDPR was a good pick. The case is the kinda thing the flamboyant Zhirik loves, and that is despite the fact the LDPR (and all major Russian political parties) are known to sell their Duma seats to the highest bidder. Whether Lugovoi dolled out cash for the privilege of getting one of the forty coveted LDPR seats is unknown. It’s likely that adding Lugovoi to the ticket was a PR move on Zhirik’s part. Not to mention a way to stick it to the Brits.
Here we are in April 2008 and the fascination with the Litvinenko case doesn’t seem to be going away. There is no real reason why it should. The case is just flat out weird. And it’s getting weirder. On April 1, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution urging the Kremlin to aid the British in their investigation. House Resolution 154, authored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lethtinen (R, FL-18th). The resolution is fitting for an April Fool’s joke. With a sliding economy, a war seemingly without end, and litany of other domestic issues, one would think the House has something better to do. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to think so.
Litvinenko’s wife Marina is continuing her efforts to get her husband’s murder solved. And who could blame her given the circumstances and the aftermath of her husband’s death. In a plea published in the London Times, Mrs. Litvinenko is doubtful Lugovoi will ever be extradited, saying “I cannot wait for another ten years for a slim chance that their approach would bear fruit.” Ten years? Try never. She understands this as much as anyone else and instead of urging the British government to issue yet another extradition request, she rather have them open the investigation to the public. “If I cannot get justice,” she writes, “then at least I need the full truth.”
Perhaps. I’m increasingly convinced that the “full truth” will never be revealed in this case. Simply because the “truth” became so blackened by both the British and the Russians as soon as the case became a diplomatic fiasco. So much of the available information has been subject to what Nick Davies calls “flat earth news” i.e. “A story appears to be true. It is widely accepted as true. It becomes a heresy to suggest that it is not true – even if it is riddled with falsehood, distortion and propaganda.”
“Flat earth news” aptly describes the Litvinenko case. The question of who killed him is so mired in duel of diplomatic dick swinging between the “rule of law” British versus shadowy “elements of the Russian government” (the British version) and a conniving Boris Berezovsky and an “imperialist” Britain using the Litvinenko case in a broader effort to undermine Russian sovereignty (the Russian version). Finally, the biggest flat earth notion of all is the canonization of Litvinenko as some sort of dissident martyr. A LexisNexis search for use of “Litvinenko” and “dissident” in the same sentence reveals 597 stories. Even more interesting is that the two words appear only in five articles before his poisoning in November 2006.
Creeping from the mire is a theory that Litvinenko was poisoned by accidentally coming into contact with or being personally involved in a polonium smuggling ring. This is the line Edward Jay Epstein is peddling his article “The Specter that Haunts the Death of Litvinenko” in the New York Sun. Granted, the Sun is, as Marina Litvinenko called it, “a third rate paper.” But Epstein has made the Litvinenko Case a pet project, doing more investigation into it than any other Western journalist. You can find a his thoughts on the case on his blog. The question then is if Epstein’s investigation is so serious and thorough then why publish it in a proto-tabloid like the Sun? I think the answer is simple. Epstein’s take on the Litvinenko Case completely diverges from the accepted narrative you find in every paper that has covered the story. Perhaps, he suggests, the earth isn’t as flat as we think.
Epstein’s article is worth a read. Not so much because he has any concrete evidence linking Litvinenko’s murder to polonium smuggling. In fact, his evidence is no more solid that any other journalists’ account. The article’s value is in his questioning of the accepted and unchallenged assumptions about the British investigation, the chain of events, Litvinenko’s movement around London, the role of Berezovsky, and why no one seems to be concerned about finding out where exactly the polonium came from, especially given the global concern for possible nuclear terrorism. The British criminal indictment of Andrei Lugovoi has obscured the very question of nuclear terrorism. Epstein writes,
In terms of a public relations tactic, it resulted in a brilliant success by putting the blame on Russian stonewalling for the failure to solve the mystery. What it obscured is the elephant-in-the-room that haunts the case: the fact that a crucial component for building an early-stage nuke was smuggled into London in 2006. Was it brought in merely as a murder weapon or as part of a transaction on the international arms market?
This leads him to his own hypothesis:
After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a Polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations.
His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of Polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.
To unlock the mystery, Britain must make available its secret evidence, including the autopsy report, the comprehensive list of places in which radiation was detected, and the surveillance reports of Litvinenko and his associates. If Britain considers it too sensitive for public release, it should be turned over to an international commission of inquiry. The stakes are too high here to leave unresolved the mystery of the smuggled Polonium-210.
The Russian media gleefully jumped all over Epstein’s article. Andrei Lugovoi quickly voiced his agreement with Epstein’s finding in a press conference. “I was pleasantly surprised that a foreign journalist carried out the first independent investigation into the “Litvinenko Case” and made, in my view, the correct conclusions.”
Who knows whether Epstein is right or wrong, or I should say, no more right or wrong than anyone else. But at least he’s stirring the proverbial pot.