Dec 17 2006

Finally, Recognition Of The Polonium Smuggling Theory

Finally even the Times UK is now acknowledging that the amount of Polonium-210 used to kill Litvinenko (now down to only $10 million in value) was way beyond what was necessary for assassination, and are facing the possibility this was a smuggling ring gone bad:

British investigators believe that Alexander Litvinenko’s killers used more than $10 million of polonium-210 to poison him. Preliminary findings from the post mortem examination on the former KGB spy suggest that he was given more than ten times the lethal dose.
Police do not know why the assassins used so much of the polonium-210, and are investigating whether the poison was part of a consignment to be sold on the black market.

They believe that whoever orchestrated the plot knew of its effects, but are unsure whether the massive amount was used to send a message — it made it easier for British scientists to detect — or is evidence of a clumsy operation.

All I can say is it is about time the media stop obsessing with less and less plausible assassination theories and look at the other alternatives. And I don’t say this to hope for vindication, but because the people of London and the UK need to know which threat they are dealing with. If it is was an assassination attempt it would be over. If it is something else it may just be beginning. That is important information to anyone facing dangerous nuclear materials floating around a major city. The amount of material is VERY important because the more that is being shipped around the more people who must be involved, and the less likely this is an assassination (or cheap to pull off).

A British security source said yesterday: “You can’t buy this much off the internet or steal it from a laboratory without raising an alarm so the only two plausible explanations for the source are that it was obtained from a nuclear reactor or very well connected black market smugglers.”

Alexander Goldfarb, a friend of Litvinenko, said: “Only a state-sponsored organisation could obtain such a large amount of polonium-210 without raising suspicion on the international market.”

There are few situations where entire elements of a government go rogue (outside brutal dictatorships which are, by definition, rogue governmemts). And the one situation that makes the most sense is during a coup d’etat. Organizations do go rogue when they are ready to overthrow the government.

What is now clear is authorities are admitting the Polonium-210 came in three shipments:

The first consignment is reported to have arrived in the second part of October. The rest arrived in two further batches but police do not know why the couriers risked smuggling further supplies into Britain when the original amount was sufficent to murder their target.

But look at the miniscule amounts needed to kill Litvinenko and it is easy to realize three shipments are just not needed to kill one man:

Experts reckon that as little as 0.1 micrograms of polonium-210 would be enough to kill — the equivalent of a single aspirin tablet divided into 10 million pieces.

As I pointed out in this earlier post today the only reason to have three installments is to move more than an aspirin’s worth of material. The fact is it would be very tough to measure out 1 millionth (let alone 1/10th of a millionth) of an aspirin – and who would even try? Just drop the whole thing into some tea – right? Why try and deal with one millionth of an apsirin? Another clear indication this was not a deliberate assassination but an accident. One could see Litvinenko accidentallu ingesting or inhaling a speck the size of one millionth of an aspirin.

Let’s be clear about what we are talkin about here. One gram of PO-210 can kill 100 million people, and one still needs to wonder why three trips are required to move one gram? Are we talking three grams – one per each trip into London? That would mean enough to kill 300 million people!. People who wonder why I get tired and frustrated with the ever weakeniing assassination theory need to digest what it means to dismiss this alternative scenario. We could be seeing a sea of dead Litvinenko’s soon, depending on how much PO-210 was travelling through London this October. And I doubt those three installments would only net 3 grams.

37 responses so far

37 Responses to “Finally, Recognition Of The Polonium Smuggling Theory”

  1. kiri says:

    I have major doubts whether these investigations are actually detecting Po-210. Po-210 is an alpha-emitter (and a very weak gamma emitter). But alphas have a track length in air of only 10 cm (4 inches), at most, so a detector has to be very close to the source to see them. Most Geiger counters do not allow an alpha to pass through its window. (An alpha will be stopped by a sheet of newspaper.) Other detectors exist, but few are portable, and there is still this problem of a very short track length. (Since the decay product is stable Pb-206, they are not finding radiation from the daughter.)

    And if they detect alphas, how do they know that they are from Po? There are many alpha emitters, and trace amounts of these elements can come from anywhere.

    Most accounts of Polonium poisoning seem to envisage a bit of a silvery metal. It seems more likely that Po is handled in one of its chemical compounds, say polonium nitrate or one of the chlorides. But chemical compounds of Po decompose rapidly owing to the irradiation.

    Finally, Po has a half-life of only 138 days, so in 18 months, the activity is down to 1/16th (6%) of the original activity. (In 3 years, down to 0.4%). You can’t keep it for years waiting for the right moment.

  2. lostinthedrift says:

    Tempester, exactly. Consider a large batch of Po and its toxicity….a dirty bomb is just one of many possibilities. Frankly, I’d rather not think about it.

  3. Gotta Know says:

    “Russia is not the homeland of the Chechen terrorists. They want to be free of Russia. ”

    I agree Barbara, but Lugovoi and Kovtun live there. I don’t see them participating in the destruction of Moscow.

  4. Lizarde1 says:

    That the Times is starting to take this smuggling idea seriously is good news indeed….though the consequences aren’t so pretty for London.

  5. Lizarde1 says:

    Kovtun questioned again today per itar tass – I guess he’s still alive

  6. clarice says:

    Capt Ed reflects my view today:
    “In an age where nations keep close track of nuclear material for fear of terrorist acquisition, the thought of that much polonium going unnoticed in a black-market transaction stretches credulity. The only way that much could find its way into Litvinenko’s system would be from an entity that produces polonium in bulk. That leaves out all but the nuclear powers, as polonium comes from the nuclear cycle.

    This seems to undercut the notion that Litvinenko dosed himself, either accidentally or for some purpose known only to Litvinenko — and as for the latter, the excruciating nature of his death argues against that anyway. Litvinenko would hardly have spent $10 million on polonium without someone noting the transaction, nor would the Russians have just given it to him, given his dissident status.

    So which nuclear power would have wanted Litvinenko dead? Only Russia. The overkill of so much polonium was meant to send a message, which is that they will spare no expense in eliminating opponents of the Putin regime.”

  7. copydude says:

    Quote: ‘Scotland yard referred to the death as ‘unnatural’ then later labelled it a murder. Means that they found enough evidence to consider it a murder.’

    It can equally mean MI5 wants the story spun that way.

    That’s one of the highly suspicious aspects of this affair. You have muslims, an arch terrorist and nuclear material and yet hardly a newspaper wants to connect the tree.

    Fake terror plots and demonising muslims have been the staple of headlines since the Iraq War started. How is it possible that usual formula is excepted in this case?

    Note also how Goldfarb’s releases have tried to contradict the deathbed conversion to Islam and to suggest that the muslim funeral was a forced intervention.

    MI5, the Government and the British establishment – Baron Bell and Mark Thatcher – are interwoven with the security companies.

    By the way, the story about risking the contaminated casket in the Mosque is wobbly too – it was reportedly lead-lined, airtight and delivered and transported by the Ministry of Defence.

    There’s an awful lot of people who want regime change in Russia around in that contaminated part of London.

  8. clarice says:

    Are you posting this from beautiful downtown Kalingrad?

  9. cathyf says:

    “Not a Polonium expert, but I would suggest that it just may be a bit heavy for an effective dispersal through a public water system.”

    Actually, it disperses quite nicely in a public water system. This would be a pretty poor delivery system, though, since public water systems test for alpha emitters. And they test down to the picocuries-per-liter level. Alpha emitters are pretty common contaminents in well water — if the underlying bedrock contains uranium (yellowcake), then the water will contain uranium and all of the decay-chain daughter products, including polonium.

    The EPA has an absurdly low allowed level of radiation allowed — 5 picocuries/liter. (There are places in the world with levels in drinking water in the low hundreds of picocuries/liter, and no one has ever detected any effects at all on the people drinking the water at those levels.) But ignoring the arguments about absurdity, the point remains that they can and do measure the most minute radiation levels in municipal water systems, and that they test quite regularly. So it seems a poor choice for poison — it’s quite likely that the contamination would get detected right away and the water system shut down.

    Kiri says —
    “I have major doubts whether these investigations are actually detecting Po-210. Po-210 is an alpha-emitter (and a very weak gamma emitter). But alphas have a track length in air of only 10 cm (4 inches), at most, so a detector has to be very close to the source to see them. Most Geiger counters do not allow an alpha to pass through its window. (An alpha will be stopped by a sheet of newspaper.) Other detectors exist, but few are portable, and there is still this problem of a very short track length. (Since the decay product is stable Pb-206, they are not finding radiation from the daughter.)

    And if they detect alphas, how do they know that they are from Po? There are many alpha emitters, and trace amounts of these elements can come from anywhere.”

    Given the descriptions (investigators say that they are finding or not finding specifically polonium, while they are claiming that the levels are not dangerous) I have interpreted that to mean that they are lugging around a multi-channel analyzer (portable enough — a standard windoze tower with a canberra board in it) and what they are seeing is less important than what they are NOT seeing. When you have uranium, the uranium is decaying. It decays into daughter products, which decay further into other daughter products, and one of those is polonium, which decays into lead. Anything which is contaminated by uranium in a way found in nature has a whole characteristic spectrum of decay going on, with the uranium continually undergoing decay into the daughters, which decay into other daughters, until you get down to lead. So when you look at a chunk of yellowcake, or at a pack of cigarettes, or a nuclear-power-plant fuel rod, you look with a multi-channel analyzer, and you see the uranium and all of the daughter products, and each one has a characteristic signature, and the ratios of one to another are how scientists (notably Marie Curie) deduced the laws of nuclear physics.

    So when the investigators say that they found “trace amounts of polonium” here but not there, I interpret that to mean that they are finding polonium BY ITSELF, and that it’s the absence of the uranium and all of the other daughters which tells you that this could only have come from someone chemically isolating the polonium out of a big chunk of uranium. And the only way that you get that big a chunk of uranium is in a fuel rod for a reactor. Or another way of thinking about it — when they say that on this airplane or that car or this apartment they found a smoke-filled-bar quantum of polonium, what they are saying is that they found a smoke-filled-bar quantum of polonium WITHOUT the smoke-filled-bar quantum of uranium to go with it. And the polonium in the absence of uranium tells you that the polonium could not have found its way there through any natural process. Some commenters have wondered if the investigators could be detecting polonium contamination from some natural source like cigarette smoke. Ok, the answer to that is absolutely not — in any natural source of contamination the parent products of the polonium would be all there and detectable and decaying.

  10. AJStrata says:


    Excellent comment. And what should be of note to people (and maybe you will comment on) is how small amounts can be detected – amounts too small to be seen by the human eye but which are deadly.


  11. Enlightened says:

    Oh brother. This “smuggling ring” theory is absurd. This will be my last post on it. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the dreaded dirty PO bombs to start bursting in air.

    First it was worth $50 Million dollars, way too much to waste on an assassination.

    Then it went to $35 Million – still too much to waste on an assassination.

    Then it went to $25 Million – still too much to waste on a an assassination.

    Now it’s only $10 million – and it is a black market ring that wants to kill 300 MILLION people, and no one can decide which terrrorists bought it – Islamic radicals that can get it from Pakistan or Iran alot easier than going all the way to Russia to get it, or Chechen rebels that intend to kill 300 Million people to oust the hated Putin, but let’s send it through London first and foremost.

    In 2 weeks time it will be worth only $1 million dollars.

    And in a month it will be worth exactly what we’ve said from the get go – nothing – because there is no buyer for a substance that no one knew what to do with, until now.

    There will not be any polonium infused dirty bombs exploding in the near future from thsi incident, just as the American Hiroshima we’ve been waiting for for 5 years has not materialized, but there sure as hell will be more murdered Russians getting too close to Putin secrets.

    And we are supposed to believe that two Russian nationals involved in a radioactive black market with the intent to murder millions of people, are safely tucked away in Russia – and the international community is not screaming bloody murder to get their asses to talk.

    Whatever. Carry on.

  12. AJStrata says:


    The value has always been the same, it is the amount Litvinenko ingested that has been moving to smaller and smaller quantities. However, as this amount has become smaller the assassination theory is the one falling apart.

    Right now the amount ingested by Litvinenko is ten millionths of an aspirin. Try cutting an aspirin into ten million chunks. The amount of Polonium equal to a packet of sweetner (Splenda, Equal, etc) is enough to kill 100 million people. That is what you consistenty fail to grasp. The assassin only dropped a fraction of a grain of sugar into Litvinenko\\\’s tea under the assassination theory.

    So why were there THREE shipments of Polonium 210 to get a fraction of a grain of sugar\\\’s worth into the UK? Why is there more Polonium trailed across the UK, Germany and Moscow than in Litvinenko?

    This where the assassination theorists fall down: they cannot grasp the scales of mass we are discussing here.

    Litvinenko was killed by a speck of a speck, and no one has yet explained all the surrounding evidence in light of this fact which just came out yesterday from the autopsy.

  13. Gotta Know says:

    I found an interesting site that has moved me from the “center, leaning towards smuggling” category to the “center, leaning towards assassination” category:

    This site was new to me, but may not be to others. What the site demonstrates is that Litvinenko and Berezovsky were very actively promoting the idea, probably correctly, that Putin’s government was trying to frame the Chechnens in bombing a series of apartments back in 1999. As a result, Putin reacted militarily and won a resounding victory in the election. Berezovsky went so far as to produce a film that purportedly proved that Putin’s Russia was behind the bombings.

    And now Litvinenko was looking at the assassination of the popular Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya.

    So Putin had a motive to remove this enemy. He also had not only the means, but a new law that provided for the assassination of individuals on foreign soil who were enemies of the state, or some such criteria. And since he has only about a year remaining in his term, with uncertain future plans, he may be moving quickly to consolidate his power.

    It is nearly 100% certain that Lugovoi and Kovtun were the perpetrators of whatever kind of crime took place. It is also nearly 100% certain that there was a major accident of some sort. Whoever it was that was transporting Polonium-210 did not know well enough what he (they) was doing and botched the operation.

    As such, why not further botch the operation by using “too much” Polonium? And what is “too much?” It’s a very small fraction of a gram. Perhaps the assassin, if there was one, was given a relatively huge amount, even though that amount was barely visible to the human eye. So, perhaps, not only did the bungling assassin allow the stuff to leak, but also he used too much. Maybe to be sure, or maybe because the amount is so tiny anyway that one can’t help but use too much.

    Such an assassination would explain why Putin or his proxies would send Lugovoi and Kovtun: They knew Litvinenko. They needed someone who could get close to him without raising his suspicions to a prohibitive level. They needed someone who could handle such an assignment. And perhaps it took two or three meetings to get the job done.

    The killers would not have counted on being discovered early on, if at all. What they really needed was to get back to the safety of Russia, which they did. And once there, they could have counted on Russia to refuse extradition. Which is what happened.

    I am still sympathetic, and entirely open-minded to, the smuggling theory. I believe that scenario is all too possible, and god help us if it turns out to be the case. But one nagging problem I have with it is, what is the target? London? No, two of the alledged conspirators not only live there, but also they are exiles, they can’t leave easily. Russia? Moscow? Lugovoi and Kovtun live there, and they seem to have the support of the government, at least so far.

    The Polonium accident was mostly a blessing, but it was also a curse: It complicates the determination of who did it, and why. And I think the alternative of assassination is just as viable as smuggling. This is a world-class whodoneit.

  14. Gotta Know says:

    AJ I just read your most recent comment on the amount of Polonium involved, and I think it complicates yet again the determination of what happened. If you are an assassin, and not only an assassin but one who by definition did not know what he was dealing with, how could you be sure that any of it went into the drink (or whatever), unless you used too much? How could an assassin administer 1/100,000 of an aspirin? How would he be able to tell if such an amount made it into the cup?

    Maybe by carrying around 1/10,000 of a gram…or a thousandth…or a hundredth. Something he could see.

  15. AJStrata says:

    Gotta Know,

    BINGO! You broke the code. You cannot know. And you cannot handle in terms of mixing the material in the UK. So you would put the dose in a liquid or crystal form – pre mixed! You would bring in the amount you need to kill in a Splenda pack or something – ready to offer.

    You would not bring it in over three trips and drop it across multiple hotels, rooms, planes, cars, stadiums and in a form that is not ready to give to Litvinenko. You would not bring 100 times too much because it would be pre-made.

    Now you see why the trail is not that of an assassin.

  16. wiley says:

    Axis article is quite reasonable … much more than the “smuggling” angle where no $ trail exists, no obvious buyer(s), no sound theory on who/how/where it was to be used (especially, when other substances easier to obtain & utilize & impact), etc., etc.

    I’m with Enlightened — sit back & wait … for nothing to happen. It’d be nice if the Brits could prosecute, but I highly suspect not enough info and/or the culprit(s) are safely tucked inside mother Russia.