Dec 21 2006

Marina Litvinenko Speaks Out

Published by at 8:59 am under All General Discussions

The Russian news outlet Kommersant has the chilling recollections of Marina Litvinenko regarding the illness and death of her husband. It is a gruesome reminder of what the wrong material in the wrong hands is capable of doing. And the path to death was a terrible one, that is clear. It is a must read that, for us Americans, sends a shudder regarding medical care in the UK. The fact is Litvinenko was put off by medical services for many days by symptoms that would have landed him in a hospital under observation immediately here in the US.

There are some interestnig segments in the recoillection worth mentioning because thery could reflect on whether Litvinenko suspected what was happening:

On November 1 Sasha and I decided to have a family dinner in honor of the anniversary of our move to England. Sasha came home and didn’t even stop by to see Ahmed [Zakaev], the way he usually does. He went upstairs, checked some information on the internet, and then we had dinner together.

This is a very interesting version of events. Supposedly Litvinenko did talk to Zakaev (the Chechen leader in exile) since he got a ride home with him from his meetings in London. Did he stay over? No, but he definitely talked to him on the ride home. Or did he? And why go out of the way to mention this, except that it would be out of character for Litvinenko to not end his days meeting with Zakaev? Why is she bringing this point up?

And Litvinenko seems to be trying to dismiss his illness to his wife, even after a night of throwing up:

For a little while he looked a bit better, but he didn’t stop throwing up. It was so strange. And he kept trying to make jokes about it. He would come back from the bathroom and say, “Marina, something’s wrong, this is so weird. They’ve just dunked me in the toilet.” Can you imagine?

Once in the hospital the Litvinenkos kept thinking about why this was happening, and occassionally Alexander would mention the Millenium Hotel meeting. But around his wife he would then try and change the subject:

Those two meetings on November 1 that are being talked about so much now, he thought they were kind of strange. Strange because the meeting with Mario [Scaramella, an Italian businessman with whom Alexander Litvinenko met in a sushi bar on November 1] was absolutely inexplicable. Why? Sasha said that Mario had gotten everything he gave him through the internet. So Mario could have sent it all to Sasha by email. Sasha said that Mario was acting oddly, like he was really nervous and confused. The second meeting, with Lugovoi and Kovtun (Russian businessmen Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, whom Litvinenko met in the bar of London’s Millennium Mayfair hotel), immediately struck him as suspicious, but for some reason he chased his suspicions away. I don’t know why. He kept trying to find explanations… Maybe he thought that he would figure it out by himself later and didn’t want to discuss it with me.

We all know Scaramella is a very strange person in this mystery, and easily someone to keep an eye on. But the first thing that jumped out at me was the fact Litvinenko seemed in denial regarding the meeting at the Millenium Hotel. Note that it appears the reporter added the information that this was in the Pine Bar. But chronologically it seems this meeting was after the Scaramella meeting. If there were two meetings with Lugovoi and Kovtun then it is possible Litvinenko was trying to shield his wife from the work he was engaged in. Who knows. But it is interesting when the meeting comes up he continues to be in some kind of denial. Then there is the mystery man who shows up at this business meeting (which I doubt was held in the crowded bar right before the big game)

Kommersant: At that second meeting, the conversation was about the beginning of some kind of joint venture, some kind of business?

Yes. As I understood it, many Russians open businesses in England, and British people have questions for them – who are they, are they really who they say they are. They needed to check some information.

Kommersant: So the conversation was about some kind of consulting?

Absolutely, yes.

Kommersant: And they wanted to work together on it?

As I understood it, yes. I know Lugovoi. Kovtun appeared on the scene about a month before all this happened. I hadn’t heard anything about him before. Sasha did say one thing – that some guy he really didn’t like had turned up with Lugovoi. I can’t say for sure what we were talking about the time, but that was the phrase Sasha used. He said that he hadn’t liked the man because he had said something about how he doesn’t give a damn about anything in life except money.

This is very strange indeed. Sokolenko was with his family when he supposedly ran into the three men at the Pine Bar, so I doubt in the brief contact he had on the way to the game this kind of impression would be left. But again, if there was an earlier meeting and another person showed up, then that would be a different story.

And we can put to rest the notion Lugovoi was not associated with Berezovsky. Not only did Marina know Lugovoi for a long time, she met him once at an event I am sure only close associates of Berezvosky would be attending:

Lugovoi called once on my mobile after Sasha’s death. He left a voicemail saying, “Marina, this is Andrei Lugovoi. Everything that happened strikes me as very strange. I’ll do everything I can to figure it out.” I met Andrei only once, at a birthday party for Boris Abramovich [Berezovsky].

So Lugovoi not only meets with Berezovsky, he attends his parties as well.

But then things get really bizarre. Litvinenko had two poisonous elements in his ssytem – Thallium and Polonium.

So first the diagnosis was thallium, and then polonium?

Yes. His thallium level was three times higher than normal. And polonium… Sasha was checked for radiation, but it turned out later that the machine they had used only checked for gamma radiation coming off the skin. He had alpha radiation, which has a short wavelength [though not as short as that of gamma rays], and it was internal. That kind of radiation only showed up on a special and very complicated urine test.

Thallium is another by-product of Polonium manufacturing from Bismuth:

Subsequently it was reported that traces of thallium are commonly found with polonium: “A tiny amount of thallium, a common impurity in polonium and a poison in its own right, was also found (in Litvinenko’s body fluids). Polonium is typically made by bombarding bismuth-209, a heavy metal similar to antimony, with neutrons to make bismuth-210, which rapidly decays into polonium-210. But bismuth can also decay into thallium-206 — which is why polonium might have traces of thallium as well.”[17] But 206Tl has a very short half life of minutes so it is unlikely that any would have been present by the time is was brought into the UK. It is more likely that stable lead would be found as an impurity in the polonium used.

Well clearly something is not right given this Wikipedia entry and what was seen in Litvinenko’s pathology. The Thallium was showing up days after the poisoning and weeks after entry into the country. This is truly a complexing set of facts. I cannot find Thallium in Polonium decay process that doesn’t last more than a minute and a half. So was this stable Thallium mixed in?

I also find the fact that Litvinenko’s burns showed up in his mucus membranes all over his body a telling clue which indicates to me he inhaled the material as well as ingested it:

Later I was told that not only the mucus membranes in his mouth, but everywhere in his body were horribly inflamed and covered with blisters.

I am sure those with a medical background who read this blog will correct me, but it would seem Litvinenko ran into a cloud of this stuff when he was poisoned. This would explain the cigarette theories which were very prevelant in early reporting. I would expect to see inflammation in all the sweat ducts and eyes if the material was flushing through the bodily fluids, not just the mucus membranes. If I am right, it would seem difficult for this to be a poisoning. And the lack of poisoning to Litvinenko’s family, given days of throwing up before going to the hospital, would seem to also be inconsistent:

Kommersant: Were you tested?

The next day. And we already have the results, with documents certifying that Tolya, Sasha’s father, and other people who were close to him suffered no significant contamination. I am carrying a definite dose of polonium, but for the moment it’s not life-threatening. I can’t feel anything at all. They told me that my risk of getting sick is maybe one percent higher than normal.

I would assume that dealing with his illness the way it was he should have contaminated the place quite a lot. Then there is another aspect of this entire event which I felt was they key problem – the deliberate and overt PR campaign surrounding his illness:

When he told me that he wanted there to be a letter and a photograph, I was appalled. I definitely didn’t want him to be photographed in that state. I said, “Sasha, think about it, you’ll get well and then you’ll have to see these photographs.”

But he wanted to be photographed?

He was certain that both a written document and a photograph were necessary. And now I understand that it was only when the photograph appeared that everyone figured out that something terrible was going on.

This is where the story is inconsistent. Marina says they believed he would survive this ordeal. But clearly the picture and letter were designed to be released after his death. So it seems Litvinenko continued to hide his situation from his wife as he had done for years, not telling her what he was into and what was happening. The PR firm was brought in by Berezovsky, as was Goldfarb. Litvinenko and Berezovsky must have spent precious final moments of Litvinenko’s life planning the whole thing out – the PR campaign, the interviews, the timing.

42 responses so far

42 Responses to “Marina Litvinenko Speaks Out”

  1. Molon Labe says:

    The presence of thallium is critically important.

    It’s almost certain that the polonium was produced by irradiation of bismuth. Further, it’s apparent that the polonium was not chemically extracted from the bismuth after irradiation.

    That is, the material transported was not pure polonium, but irradiated bismuth.

    Natural bismuth is 100% Bi-209. When irradiated with neutrons, it becomes Bi-210.

    The thallium – even though it has a short half-life – is appearing because it is being produced by the alternative decay mode of Bi-210.
    The alternative decay mode produces Tl-206. And even though it has a short half-life, it is effectively being produced continuously because it is in secular equilibrium with its Bi-210 parent.

    Now, there should be some gammas coming off the Tl-206. However, the intensity of the B-210–>Tl-206 decay mode is small (1.3e-4%), and it looks like the subsequent decay of Tl-206 has low intensity gammas (1.3% at 362 keV and 0.005% at 803 keV). So they may not be discernible from background radiation.

    Here’s what I think this tells us:

    1) The operation was crude. There was no chemical separation of the polonium from the bismuth.

    2) The bismuth could have been irradiated in a small materials test reactor. It is routine practice to irradiate materials in these reactors. That is their entire purpose. It would be trivially easy to do this since you would only need access to the lowest level technician in the facility.

    3) It might have been the intent to chemically separate the polonium in London. It might have been this process which contaminated Lutvinenko, et al.

    The question is what kind of gammas come off irradiated bismuth? I will look further into this.

  2. Lizarde1 says:

    does anybody know what they do in chelation therapy – would it do any good if for example Kovton were having it?

  3. copydude says:

    Do bear in mind that a certain PR agency – with an agenda – helps Marina write her ‘chiller diller recollections’.

  4. Molon Labe says:


    I ran an ORIGEN-S calculation decaying 1 gram of Bi-210. After 20 days decay, the amount of thallium present is vanishingly small. It’s 1 billionth the amount of Po-210 that is produced. I doubt that would be detectable as an elevated thallium level.

    Also, the Bi-210 is kicking off a lot of gammas. To go this route, they would be better off waiting for the Bi-210 to decay away. After 120 days, the irradiated material is emitting only 1 gamma (>100 keV) per second per nanogram of Po-210. Undetectable.

  5. crosspatch says:

    Molon Labe:

    I suspect any thallium from bismuth-210 decay might be nearly undetectable. There would be little remaining Bi-210 in the polonium as Bi-210 has a half-life of 5 days. So after 10 days it would be at 1/4 the original amount (which is itself tiny compared to the amount of polonium) of Bi-210 from which to produce the thallium-206. So it would be unlikely that if given a dosage of 10 or even 100 micrograms of polonium-210, one would find “three times” the background thallium some weeks after the exposure considering that the thallium-206 itself has a half-life of 5 minutes. In other words, tap water probably has more measurable thallium in it.

    So lets say after 15 days from initial illness they test for thallium. By that time any remaining bi-210 is 1/8 of the original amount. Considering that about half of that would have excreted immediately, we would really have about 1/16 of the original amount. Considering that only a tiny amount of that will end up as thallium, I find it a bit surprising that it would be found on a toxicology exam.

    BUT you DO raise a very important point:

    If bismuth decay products other than polonium are being found, then yes, it is crudely manufactured raw polonium straight from a reactor. If the thallium being found is a stable isotope, then it is not from bi-210. You can test this by checking and rechecking tissue and urine samples. If it is a bi-210 decay product, the amount of it should decrease at about the same rate as bi-210 decays. So … test for thallium, wait 5 days and test for thallium again. If there is 1/2 the thallium in the second test, there is a good chance it is a decay product of bi-210. If the level is stable, then it isn’t. Very simple to test for and it would have probably been done already.

  6. crosspatch says:

    OOps, you posted while I was composing, but it looks like we both reach the same conclusion … like likely to be noted in a toxicology exam.

  7. crosspatch says:

    Meant … NOT likely to be noted …

  8. the good doctor says:

    In cancer treatments radiation kills the hair follicle cells in 2-3 weeks. This could either be a prolonged dose or a massive dose. In case of a massive dose I think it would have killed him a lot faster.

  9. Molon Labe says:

    I think the whole thallium thing is a red herring. I doubt he had elevated thallium levels at all.

  10. crosspatch says:

    Three times normal background level isn’t a whole lot. He also apparently ate sushi a lot. That could account for his higher level. Thallium builds up in fish. A diet high in fish increase one’s levels of almost all heavy metals depending on the kind of fish one eats.

  11. the good doctor says:

    you would have to eat a ton of fish

  12. Carol_Herman says:

    Scaramella was the “buyer.” And, the “stuff” was touched when he showed up. But what’s more interesting is that no one with a scientific bend is brought in to validate the “purchase.” In other words, it’s like being sold a bottle of scoth. You like the label? And, it looks sealed. So you take it from the shelf. to the cash register counter.

    You bet there are a great many details.

    ONE: A smuggling ring in Europe.

    TWO: Major characters come from russia.

    And, the money? Stolen from russia. WHich is what creates these pockets of “billionaires.”

    The casinos aren’t good enough for them. They play on the world stage.

    And, Italy? For some reason shows up every time something happens, with WMDs. Or volunteers who get captured. So Italy can go in and leave millions with the terrorists (who treated Sgrena so nicely, you wonder why she had to be sprung?)

    And, of course, Amb. Wilson.

    I wonder what Joe and Valerie share when they talk about this stuff? Can they do it with lift eyebrows, alone?

    But an assassination? NO WAY!

    Even the delays to seek treatment shows ya that at first Litvinenko thought he had eaten a bad piece of fish!

    And, when the details emerge? Isn’t the biggest provider of McGuffin’s the PR flak, Goldfarb?

    Well, when it’s made into a movie it will need to be told in 90 minutes.

    I still think it could have occurred because of a “shipping container” accident. Otherwise? You still won’t get any fingerprints.

    Dead bad guys. Could the “goods” have been slipped into Litvinenko’s box? Where’s the body, now?

  13. ivehadit says:

    I have flown to London many times over many years…never heard of an ice fog…Has anyone else? And it is a coincidence that it will remain the entire Christmas holiday…don’t you think?
    Raises lots of red flags to me, Lost.

  14. crosspatch says:

    It is super-chilled water droplets that freeze on anything they touch. It makes huge, beautiful frust crystals on just about anything it touches. Sailors in the North Atlantic and North Sea would be very familiar with it.

  15. lostinthedrift says:

    Sure, but has anyone seriously heard of people getting their flights postponed for 6 days? It seems BA are telling people they can’t travel until after Christmas. Well, it could be a coincidence, but as I said I think they are exaggerating the problem, and they are hopefully disrupting things that are in motion.

  16. AJStrata says:

    Molon Labe,

    Excellent post on the Thallium – I was wondering about that.

    Crosspatch and Molon,

    You both are the chemistry experts here (and we need the Good Doctor for medical advice) but it would seem we have absolutely clear evidence of long term exposure over many weeks culminating in Litvinenko becoming sick on Nov 1. I would like to put a post up regarding the arguments and suspected timelines assuming the material is straight from a reactor (an Iranian reactor I would guess) in the September time frame. The other assumption is the material was not ingested but inhaled. The body may try to do whatever it can to purge itself of poisons and the vomiting may have been just a reflex to the cell damage being done. The reason I think this is because I assume the smugglers tooks some precautions, but inhaling dust size particles is hard to avoid in even the most controlled labs. The inhalation would slow the removal of the material one assumes in the digestive tract and explains the targetting of the mucus membranes.

    His hair fell out maybe one week from his hospital stay (ten days from Nov 1) which could put the initial dose back at Oct 16th. Kovtun\’s timeline appears to show his contamination physically hit around Nov 1.

    My suspicion is the Thallium test is one of those which would give a false reading if it was actually testing the production of Thallium 206 as opposed to the stable presence of Thallium. If the test uses some sort of cummulative target (like a photographic plate detects photons) it would build up a picture of Thalium even though the Thallium is being created and destroyed over a couple of minutes. I suspect this is how the Thallium levels looked higher than they were.

    Crosspatch, I was also wondering why would anyone need to purify the Bismuth-Polonium material to make an effective air borne dirty bomb? My guess is they only need to pulverize or shave the material (I know it is a soft metal so grinding should nor work) into dust size particles that could float for a while on the air in an explosive dispersion.

    It would seem the Bismuth-Polonium nature of the material is why the trail is being easily detected once traces are found. That would be a non-natural signature. I would assume it would also adjust the half-life assessment of utility of the material as a dirty bomb.

    Hope you folks can respond with some comments which I will turn into a post that reflex the thinking of some here at the Strata-Sphere.

    Cheers, AJStrata

  17. Gotta Know says:

    “If bismuth decay products other than polonium are being found, then yes, it is crudely manufactured raw polonium…Very simple to test for and it would have probably been done already. ”

    Crosspatch could this more crude form of polonium be used to trigger a nuclear explosion (such as that created by a suitcase nuke), or would this effectively be useful only as a dirty bomb?

  18. AJStrata says:

    Gotta Know,

    My two cents is the material needed for nuclear triggers must be highly refined. That may be the only good news out of all of this.

  19. Gotta Know says:

    I don’t know, AJ, I think I’d rather suffer a small nuke than a large dirty bomb…Silly to compare but this stuff is terrifying.

    Great work, all, I love watching the logical progression. Completely over my head tho it be.

  20. AJStrata says:

    Gotta Know,

    There is a positive element to a quick death over a prolonged one, that is for sure. And keep asking questions! They make us all think a bit harder and sharpen up our thoughts.