Jan 04 2007

Litvinenko Probably Not Assassinated

check updates at the very end

I have been following the Litvinenko story from day one, and on day one I suspected it was not an assassination but the accidental exposure of a nuclear contraband smuggling effort. As we have watched the case and evidence unfold we have discovered more and more evidence that the case is not an assassination. I think we have finally hit critical mass, and I will get to that in a moment, but here is the summary: while the evidence has been building that this was not an assassination it comes down to basic chemistry. If the authorities do have a lead on the source that created the Poloniumn 210, as is being reported, this was not an assassination. That is because the metallic form required for such a trace could not be handled in the doses we see in Litvinenko as a poison. These two things cannot line up into a coherent picture.

The first indication I detected was the intentional manipulation of this story in the media by Litvinenko and friends. This manipulation began the week before Litvinenko died. At the behest of Oligarch Boris Berezovsky, Litvinenko was teamed with a mouthpiece lawyer (Russian exile Alex Goldfarb) and a internationally reknowned PR firm. These two banded together days before Litvinenko died to take media photo shots and supposedly write a deathbed statement. And then they held onto these propaganda items until Litvinenko died. Not what I would call normal behavior around a dying friend.

Then we learned about this massive, three week long Polonium trail that now involves four hotels, each with multiple contaminated rooms and all tied to trips by Andre Lugovoi, a Russian business associate of Litvinenko’s and Berezovsky’s, to London. The contaminated rooms are linked to Lugovoi and others travelling around the same time, and each time Lugovoi meets at least once, and usually many times, with Litvinenko. The trail now runs through Hamburg Germany, restaurants, offices (Berezovsky’s included), planes and cars as well. This trail is quit large and clearly implies a lot of Polonium needed just to leave the trail. 15 or more people have been poisoned to one degree or another (12 in UK, 2 in Moscow and possibly one Dutch person). More showed signs of surface contamination.

Then it turns out Litvinenko ingested 50-100 times the lethal dose, which is why he died so quickly compared to others who have died from Polonium-210. The amount of Polonium he ingested runs into the tens of millions of dollars in value, begging the question why not use something cheap and easy to access like a .22 bullet or a ricin tipped umbrella? The complexity, risk and cost of this effort seemed way over board for such a marginal and dismissed critic as Litvinenko. Putin was not at risk of anything from Litvinenko’s wild accusations – which went beyond absurd.

Then there was the conflict between the dose and what looks like three rounds of Po-210 smuggling. The amount of Polonium used to kill Litvinenko was equivalent to a small fraction of a grain of salt. All the hotel rooms and all the trips over three weeks make no sense in an assassination attempt that needs a fraction of a grain of salt to do the trick many times over. There is not even a need to have three rounds of smuggling to move enough Po-210 to kill millions of people (the equivalent of a packet of sweetener or sugar), let alone overkill one man.

We finally come the final pivot point – the form of the Po-210 being detected. It is clear Po-210 comes in two basic forms: (1) a metallic form which can be small chunks or particles, or (2) a form where Po-210 is disolved in a salt solution (and possibly even dried to a crystalline form of salt). The salt form is the one optimal for assassination because it is either a liquid or will disolve into a liquid.

But the salt form is complex and dangerous to make and requires a lab for synthesis. So any assassination effort would make the salt form first, and then smuggle it in country, since making it in-country from a metal without detection is just not feasible. Clearly, whatever form the Po-210 took in the trail being left that was not from biological excretions (which would mask the original form) that would be the source form of the material and dictate what use it was intended for. A metallic form would basically rule out an assassination effort.

In this previous post I noted that the trail of Po-210 in the public areas was very different from that found behind closed doors in the rooms. The public trail is one of ‘spots’ which could have been left by either form. But as readers here dissected this news, it became clear two things could not both be true. When Po-210 is disolved into a salt, the production material that was the source of Po-210 that came from bombarding Bismuth in a nuclear process would not disolve with the Po-210 (see the comments on this post for details). It would be lost to varying degrees. The product of nuclear processing is a conglomerate of material after which a purification processing is done to pull out the Po-210. It has been reported in many places (here for example) that the UK AWE lab was able to determine the processing facility of the Po-210. This feat is only plausible if the material was in the metallic form as it comes from the processing.

The metal particulates would make sense with the ‘spots’ found in the Po-210 trail. Small particles of the material would get stuck or even melt into fabrics and other materials. The infamous tea cup would only have material on it after washing if it had seared its way into the ceramic surface somehow. Either way, to be able to trace the Po-210 to the processing facility negates the possibility of a salt solution form. These two things (identity of source and a salt form) are not consistent.

And in reviewing the earlier reporting it is clear that the one large spill in the Millenium Hotel room that happened on either Oct 31st or November 1st, is probably not in a disolved form – i.e., a liquid salt:

The assassins were so bungling that they dropped the polonium on the floor of a London hotel room, a senior government source told The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

The senior government source, who is aware of the discussions of the Cabinet’s emergency committee, Cobra, said the picture of the killers that was emerging was closer to bungling assassins than cool James Bond-type killers.

Clear traces of the radiation were found on the floor of a room, thought to be in the Millennium hotel in central London, the source said, as well as on a light switch in the same room. The traces were so strong that they indicated the actual source of the radiation was present, not a secondary source such as excretions from Mr Litvinenko’s contaminated body.

Emphasis mine. The ‘actual source’ is Po-210 atoms. I would say it would be hard to distinguish Po-210 excreted (disolved in bodily fluids) from Po-210 disolved in a salt solution based on density (strength) alone. In both cases the Po-210 is spread out in the liquid material. So if it was not a secretion I doubt is was any disolved form. A crystal form of salt maybe, but I would still say the strength would be low since the Polonium-210 atoms is bound into the salt crystal structure and still low density. The Po-210 would be like impurities spread through the crystal lattice. So this reporting also seems to indicate contact with the metal form of Po-210, the high density form.

It would seem much of the evidence to date points to the Po-210 being in the much harder to handle and transport metallic form – which is not really useful for an assassination. Relying on clutsy assassins to resolve issues doesn’t make sense given the value of the material involved and the number of people apparently behind this. Why spend all that many and go cheap on the assassin? The metallic form is useful in a dirty or smokey bomb with little processing. While it is optimal for combination with something like Beryllium to create material for a nuclear trigger, we return to the problem that this requires a lots of processing in a modern lab. The salt form would have been the form to smuggle a poison for assassination. But the salt would be created in a lab outside of the UK before being brought in for the assassination itself. And a salt form may not readily be traceable to the processing facility.

Given all of this I think it is safe to assume the Po-210 was in a metallic form and Litvinenko did not die from an assassination effort. I am still concerned that much more Po-210 may be out there somewhere, awaiting an opportunity to fulfill its original intent. Our only hope is it is being held someplace until things cool down. Right now, any Po-210 related attack would not be easily blamed on a Putin or a rogue nation. It would point to people surrounding Litvinenko’s death. It may be because this story is in the news that whatever was going on is suspended for now. I for one would like to hear that authorities have wrapped this up and accounted for all the Po-210.


Oh, and this is the kind of thing that really worries me – the fact the government bureacrats may just not be ready to handle this. The brightest in any field are not always found in the low paying government jobs. Fact of life. Also, their report to HPA confirms something else I feared and that is inhalation is deadlier than ingestion – by about a factor of 20. I have suspected Litvinenko inhaled the material due to his symptoms. Inhalation seems to be deadlier – which would explain why Litvinenko and Kovtun (and I assume others) became deadly ill. They inhaled the material (which eliminates the Pine Bar as the point of poisoning). I still maintain the poisoning was in the Millenium Hotel room were the material hit the floor and caused a cloud of material. It was scooped up Litvinenko using a tea cup that was in the room that came from the Pine Bar. It is the only scenario that fits the evidence.

15 responses so far

15 Responses to “Litvinenko Probably Not Assassinated”

  1. crosspatch says:

    It doesn’t say “deadlier” it says “Inhalation is a far more dangerous exposure route than ingestion, yet the authorities are ignoring inhalation and concentrating on the low probability of ingestion.”

    It says it is a more dangerous exposure route. That can mean many things but from Litvinenko’s symptoms, I believe he ingested it. Mainly from the damage to his gut and apparent lack of damage to his lungs.

    Polonium will cause damage basically like a bad sunburn. If metallic polonium molecules are inhaled, most will be exhaled. Some will stick in the lungs but will simply stay there causing damage to surrounding tissue.

    If eaten, the plonium reacts with hydrochloric acid in the stomach and is absorbed into the bloodstream where it is spread throughout the body to all tissues killing bone marrow, etc.

    If inhaled, most of the polonium will remain in the lungs. Yes, it will be damaging, yes even fatal … but the damage is different and localized.

    If one is exposed to polonium vapor, yes, it can be absorbed into the bloodstream as mercury vapor or lead vapor can be. But as a particle such as very fine dust, the damage will likely remain local to the lungs.

    I am pretty well convinced that Litvinenko died from ingestion orally. The doctors would know that at this point.

  2. AJStrata says:


    The damage to his gut came quickly – as expected. But there was damage to his lungs. Recall Marina saying his final days had serious inflammation of the mucus membranes?

    Agreed, the truth is in the autopsy. But look at Litvinenko’s last picture and that is not what you see in systemic radiation poisoning. That looks isolated. IMHO!

  3. crosspatch says:

    The radiation poisoning would be under the surface of the skin resulting in the hair and bone marrow loss. Also, the lungs have a huge blood supply. I would expect there to be damage to them, but if inhaled, I would expect damage to be limited to the lungs. I wouldn’t expect the systemic damage (bone marrow loss, hair loss). The mucus membranes are quite tender and also have a good blood supply.

    In the case of oral ingestion, the blood would be the primary delivery path of the polonium to the rest of the body. Had he received this massive dose to the lungs, I believe he would not have suffered the other symptoms though he may have actually died sooner due to the death (burning) of lung tissue.

  4. crosspatch says:

    In other words, as soon as metallic polonium contacts the digestive juices, it forms a salt which dissolves and is transported by the blood stream. There are no acids in the lungs and the dust would remain there in a metallic form.

  5. Carol_Herman says:

    So why did Litvinenko “blame” Scaramella?

    Yes. He got sick! And, from that he stretched it to fit what he wanted to believe. Which causes the Red Herring, or the MacGuffin, to appear.

    Litvinenko also thought he was a candidate for a “cure.”

    And, I think it had to be he, who first mentions the possibility of polonium.

    When did the questioning begin?

    Litvinenko never said a word about the “spill.” That information came out when backtracking his movements. And, then the tell-tale signs showed up.

    Again. In bombs, where are they detonated? And, what happens, after? A poof of smoke distributes. But how? What happens, if its indoors, and the sprinkler system is activated, to push “molecules” to the ground?

    And, since idiots were playing with this stuff, it indicates the payments were good. But that doesn’t guarantee the science!

    Now, one other detail. The Oligarch Boris Berezovsky; was at least supplying the money. Expecting more money paid to him, later? How does he feel, now? Given that he KNOWS who packed the shipment. Who had a “dropping accident” with it. And, where everything was going to go to next.

    Is Berezovsky home free?

    It also seems like an “odd” delivery system was being planned. In other words something taking days and weeks. With very little known at the time of exposure. Where’s the “terrorism” in that?

    And, whose being punished for the “handling” of this stuff so that it wasn’t packaged properly? Don’t you think some guys are now on the run?

  6. Carol_Herman says:

    About the only thing that makes sense is if this were planned as a political hit. To take out a government. Not just one person. But as many in the room, as possible.

    It would have to be built to look inoccuous. Like a coffee cart. Or some such setup, people take for granted.

    Then, it would need to be set off on some sort of remote charge.

    And, then? Nothing much happens for a few days. OR weeks. Or months. But a whole government could get taken out.

    What other reason would there be?

    And, would it happen in parliament in England, for instance? Like revisiting Guy Hawks day. Or was it ultimately going to be set up in Congress? (Perhaps when the President arrives to give his State of the Union Address?)

    No other scheme makes sense. And, why would the Oligarch Boris Berezovsky be involved here? Al-Qaeda would certainly go for broke if they could pull this off!

    Instead? So far, one painfully dead smuggler. Who departed without leaving behind anything but MacGuffins to chase.

  7. the good doctor says:

    CP is correct about ingestion to blood to highly vascularized tissues like lungs,liver,mucuous membranes etc. Also on autopsy they can remove segments of bowel and test for any by products or contaminants of ingested polonium.

  8. Lizarde1 says:

    “the size of a speck of dust invisible to the naked eye”(from AJ pdf link above) – amount needed to ingest and have fatal result – Litvinenko had it on his hands and stuck his fingers in his mouth – end of story – nobody put it in anything and gave it to him. And he could also have inhaled some at the same time. I agree that this happened in one of the hotel rooms and not in any public place. Where is the rest of it – a question we all want to know the answer to.

  9. Gotta Know says:

    Now on to the Russian elephant: Who done it, and why.

    Berezovsky certainly seems to be integral to the plot. What is he up to?

    Was he the ringleader, or merely the financier? A financier can remain in the background, perhaps retain a single go-between or at most two or three people who may lead to the plot itself. Berezovsky not only is connected to virtually everyone involved, but also his office is contaminated, and he himself has refused to be tested for polonium exposure. This would argue for a central role in the plot. Additionally, he seems to have the ambition and the gravitas to take on Putin, certainly, and by extension other governments.

    This would suggest that the plot originated with him, or with his inner circle, rather than a scenario by which he would have been recruited for financial or logistical support. From what I have read about Berezovsky, he seems less a terrorist than a militant. It also seems doubtful that the entire operation had the expertise to undertake the design and detonation of a dirty bomb with polonium as its main ingredient. It seems more logical that they were intending the polonium to be used as a trigger, or triggers, for one or more suitcase nukes.

    Nukes for what? I don’t see how detonating a few bombs could lead to a coup in which Berezovsky would be heir to the throne. It seems more likely to me that he was intending to trigger a military response between two or more countries, perhaps by attacking the country he was actually supporting in order to incite a response, eg bomb Israel to trigger a more forceful attack on Iran (not that that fits here).

    It would be interesting to have the input of others who know well Russian politics, the logistics of Russians becoming Israeli citizens, Berezovsky’s links to the Chechnens (if any), etc to develop this angle.

    All speculation, of course. But I think we have plenty of information now, thanks to our host and dedicated commenters, to attemp to sketch out a story line.

  10. Barbara says:

    If the polonium went up in a cloud and some was inhaled then it follows that some got on Litvinenko’s face. All he had to do was lick his lips to ingest the stuff. If it was this small he would not even have known that he did.

  11. Barbara says:

    However, if Bereszovsky’s plans were to hit the US and the UK with dirty bombs what repercussions would there be if it was set up as coming from Putin? This would definitely be an act of war. And Bereszovsky who is in good with both these countries would be backed by both to take over the Russian government in the aftermath of war and both the US and UK would never know who really planned this coup. This would be diabolical.

  12. Lizarde1 says:

    Barbara – yikes – what a story.

  13. Barbara says:


    I have a great imagination. Also I am very cynical.

  14. burtsev says:

    GK wrote: “It seems more likely to me that he was intending to trigger a military response between two or more countries, perhaps by attacking the country he was actually supporting in order to incite a response, eg bomb Israel to trigger a more forceful attack on Iran (not that that fits here).”

    This is a tall order for Berezovsky. Not that he would blink doing this, but he simply cannot organize something of that complexity while in England and, above all, being watched by the Intelligence Service. And Russian services as well. In other words, if a provocation like this was indeed planned, it was became most likely known to both services (and at least to the CIA as well) rather early in the game, if not actually conceived by one of them, possibly even by both. Yes, even that is possible if we view secret services and ruling elites behind them as fragmented, which is certainly the case in Russia. Why the Scotland Yard keeps silent on Litvinenko’s post morten and many other aspects of this case? One plausible explanation reminds me of the Kursk nuclear submarine “accident.” After the pictures of Kursk salvaged body were finally published in Russia, few doubt that she was sunk by the US submarine killer, most likely by accident. But the Russian government could publicly acknowlege this fact precisely because it meant casus belli. Ditto any Wesren government. Let’s say the Brits establish beyond any reasinable doubt that Russsian secret services were involved in a plot to explode a “dirty bomb” in London. Will they declare war on Russia? No way. Putin knows that some elements of Intelligence Service were behind the massacre in Beslan. Not directly, of course, but “flexiblly” and “indirectly,” so to speak, through the Saudis and Pakistanis. What for? Well, they hoped to break the will of the Russian government and force them to negotiate some sort of arrangements with the separatists which would allow Nato to put its foot in Russia’s soft underbelly. But to make this knowledge public was politically unthinkable because it meant either war with Nato or a popular revolt against the Kremlin.

    This is all just a speculation on my part, but it allows us to think in terms of the limits to what can be revealed about this and similar cases. And again I want to remind you Lugovoi’s first public reaction : “I am a victim of some complicated game between British and Russian intelligence services.”

    GK continues: “It would be interesting to have the input of others who know well Russian politics, the logistics of Russians becoming Israeli citizens, Berezovsky’s links to the Chechnens (if any), etc to develop this angle.”

    First of all, let me observe that, as far as I know, Western media have failed even to mention that London is a home for a wealthy and powerful Chechen community since the early 1990s. Their wealth and power came, above all, from the biggest criminal plot in history: the so-called “false aviso” stint when billions of dollars worth of rubles ( trillions of rubles!) were pumped from the Russian banking system by Chechen gangs. Btw, the so-called “Moscow Chechens” are the wealthiest ethnic community in Russia as well. As a result of the “false aviso” affair and having the best strong arms support groups , the Chechen criminals were able to get ahead during the “primary accumulation” period of Russian capitalism and gain control of a number of strategic sectors of Russian economy. From th every beginning of his criminal career Berezovsky was tightly connected to Chechens and when he became the under-secretary of theNational Security Council (that was a part Yeltsin’s payment to B. for his support in the 1996 presidential elections) Checny became the centerpiece in Berezovsky’s bidf for more power and money. It is widely belived, for instance, that Basaev invaded Dagestan in 1999 on B’s behest. He was also very active in the Chechen kidnapping business, playing the role of a mediator between the warlords and the Russian government and a philanthropist, giving money for ransom. It is established fact that he financed Basayev. In my opinion, the Chechens are much more likely candidates for a “dirty bomb” scenario than Berezovsky, though some kind of collaboration is also thinkable. Remember that Chechens were also active in the Al-Kaeda movement, they are some of the best fighters they have. They are also deeply involved in international narco traffic, which means all kind of informal contacts with intelligence services arouind the world. They experimented with chemical warfare since th esecond Chechen war at the latest, and rumors about a “dirty bomb” plot have been widely circulated by both Russian and Chechen spinmasters.

    As to Israeli citizenship. Berezovsky used to have it. There was a scandal when it became known that the new under-secretary national security council was Israeli cirizen. Even for the thouroughly Zionized “Russian”elite in the Kremlin it was a bit scandalous. At first, B. denied this fact, but soon had to announce that he cancelled his Israeli citizenship when he was appointed. B., of course, has nothing to do with Israel in spiritualand cultural sense. He is thoroughly Russianized and must be terribly bored and uhappy living in the West.

  15. mariposa says:

    “This is a tall order for Berezovsky. Not that he would blink doing this, but he simply cannot organize something of that complexity while in England and, above all, being watched by the Intelligence Service. And Russian services as well.”

    What? You didn’t know Berezovsky’s really Dr. No?