Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Blowback on the Back Burner

"…the analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”

President Barack Obama’s well-known use of this sporting metaphor, in the course of a discussion about emerging Islamist extremist groups such as IS/Daesh, provides an important insight into his approach to foreign policy. Just as a game of basketball must generally speaking have a ‘winner’, so in the Obama worldview, opportunities to demonstrate US political and military pre-eminence have always tended to override less eye-catching endeavours, like mediating peace agreements. As an example one could cite his (albeit subsidiary) role in the ill-advised removal of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya; and nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in Syria, where his administration has inflexibly pursued a similar ‘regime change’ policy since his first statement that “…the time has come for President Assad to step aside” in August 2011.

Before the current turmoil, the ancient core of Aleppo, continuously inhabited since at least the second half of the third millennium BC, featured nine medieval gateways. One of these, Bab al-Nasr (‘Gate of Victory’) gave its name to a busy commercial quarter in the east of the city. In a strange irony, this district was the subject of the master's thesis in urban planning of Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian hijacker who gained particular notoriety in the wake of 9/11. Although Atta’s thesis was never put into the public domain, it appears essentially to have been an argument for turning back the clock to an era before the advent of western architectural techniques. The only part of the work which attracted significant media attention was its dedication:

"My prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death belong to Allah, Lord of the worlds"

The word ‘Nasr’ is also found in the former name, Jabhat al-Nusra (‘Victory Front’) of the jihadist organisation now calling itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of the Levant) which controls much of eastern Aleppo, including Bab al-Nasr. Al-Nusra’s re-branding came in July of this year, along with a solemn disavowal of its affiliation to al-Qaeda. However, taking into account that this relaunch coincided with US-Russia talks on possible coordination of strikes against known terror groups, together with the fact that a senior member of al-Qaeda’s leadership took part in the ceremony, and the knowledge that Gulf emirate Qatar has long made this dissociation a condition for sponsoring the group's continued struggle against Assad, no one regards the split as anything other than a self-serving artifice.

In other words though, the patronage this group enjoys from Qatar, as with similar arrangements between other Sunni-majority states (Saudi Arabia, Turkey etc) and their various opposition clients in Syria, not only prolongs Syria’s agony, but certainly does not serve western interests. Past experience of arming and funding Islamic militants, most infamously Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s, provides very clear lessons about the danger of ‘blowback’; uncontrollable fallout from overt and covert military action overseas. Besides 9/11, further incidences include the London bombings of July 2005 and the Paris attacks in November last year.

The city of Deir ez-Zour, 286km east of Aleppo, was where Jabhat al-Nusra had its headquarters from 2012 until 2014, when it was displaced by IS/Daesh. Damascus however retained control of a military base on the outskirts, supplied by air from more secure government-held areas further west. On 17 September of this year, this base came under sustained aerial bombardment (lasting about an hour) from the air-forces of the US, UK, Australia and Denmark, killing between 80 and 106 Syrian troops and leaving over a hundred wounded. The official line from the defence ministries of the countries involved (none of whom is legally entitled to undertake military operations in Syria) was that this bombing was a “mistake”. Rather like Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda’s ‘divorce of convenience’ however, before accepting this narrative at face value it’s worth trying to get a clearer picture of the immediate context.

On 10 September, after 16 hours of talks, Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov announced that they had agreed a ceasefire, to come into effect two days later. But Kerry added a caveat which, with hindsight, seems remarkably candid:

“No one is building this based on trust. It is based on oversight, compliance, mutual interest. This is an opportunity, and not more than that until it becomes a reality.”

Some details of the agreement were kept under wraps, but are now known to have obliged Washington to disengage the so-called moderate opposition (a term even Lavrov was prepared to use) from known terrorist groups. If the ceasefire had held for a week and adequate progress had been made as it were in ‘detoxifying’ the opposition, the agreement called for the commencement of joint US-Russian air operations against hard-line Islamist groups such as al-Nusra and Daesh. The “accidental” bombing of Deir ez-Zour came less than 48 hours before this part of the agreement was due to be put into effect.

As Philip Gordon (from 2013-15 White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf Region) put it later that month

“With the U.S.-Russia cease-fire agreement, the Obama administration offered Putin a way forward that from a Russian perspective could only have been described as a clean win. If fully implemented, the agreement would have prevented regime change in Damascus — a major Putin redline — for the foreseeable future; boosted Russia’s position as a major power in the Middle East; facilitated military and intelligence cooperation with the United States against terrorist groups; diminished a costly conflict; and secured Russia’s Mediterranean base. From Moscow’s perspective, that would not be a bad day’s work.” 

But of course this explains with absolute clarity why many in the West could never regard it as a viable settlement. If Russia was going to take on the mantle of ‘winner’, the United States and its allies, including numerous Sunni Muslim-majority states in the region, must necessarily have occupied the role of ‘losers’.

The Kerry-Lavrov deal of 10 September was mortally wounded by the US, UK, Australian and Danish bombing of Deir ez-Zour a week later. Two days after that, the horrific attack on a UN aid convoy (responsibility for which was immediately pinned on Russia or the Syrian government, in spite of the presence of forces on the ground with a vital stake in consigning the ceasefire to history), was the coup de grace. Western policy has since reverted to the status quo ante; arming, supplying and training so-called moderate rebels while trying to curb the influence of more thinly disguised terror groups. Since Russia’s intervention in September 2015, descriptions of Syria’s insurgency as a ‘revolution’ have become increasingly muted. Bereft of ideas but unwilling to countenance anything that might look like “defeat”, in callous disregard for the interests of ordinary Syrians the West's policy seems to be above all to keep Assad's opponents occupied within Syria, rather than directing their attention towards western targets.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Russia's bad rap

Праведник спасается от беды, а вместо него попадает в нее нечестивый (Притчи 11:8)[1]

‘Susannah’ was the codename given to an ill-fated ‘false flag’ intelligence operation which took place in Egypt in July 1954. A team of agents provocateurs made up of locally-born Jews and Israeli nationals was assigned the task of planting bombs in Egyptian, US and British-owned cultural centres such as cinemas and libraries. While the danger to civilians was minimised (by ensuring the explosives detonated after the target premises had closed), the operational objective – to inflict damage on Cairo’s relations with Washington and London by creating a climate of violence and instability - was nonetheless malevolent and disreputable. Exposed by a double agent, several suspects were rounded up; two committed suicide in custody, two were executed, others received lengthy prison sentences. The plot caused significant political turmoil in Jerusalem, manifested by the resignation of Defence Minister Pinhas Lavon in February 1955, though official denials of responsibility continued for decades afterwards. Only in March 2005 were the surviving members of the spy ring finally accorded state recognition for their efforts, in a ceremony conducted by the now disgraced Israeli president, Moshe Katsav.[2]

Below are excerpts from the Wikipedia article on the ‘Hindawi affair’:

“On the morning of 17 April 1986, at Heathrow Airport in London, Israeli security guards working for El Al airlines found 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb) of Semtex explosives in the bag of Anne-Marie Murphy, a five-month pregnant Irishwoman attempting to fly on a flight with 375 fellow passengers to Tel Aviv. In addition, a functioning calculator in the bag was found to be a timed triggering device. She claimed to be unaware of the contents, and that she had been given the bag by her fiancé, Nezar Hindawi, a Jordanian. Murphy maintained that Hindawi had sent her on the flight for the purpose of meeting his parents before marriage. A manhunt ensued, resulting in Hindawi's arrest the following day after he surrendered to police. Hindawi was found guilty by a British court in the Old Bailey and received 45 years imprisonment, believed to be the longest determinate, or fixed, criminal sentence in British history.
During the trial [in October 1986] Hindawi retracted his confession and claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy, probably by Israeli agents. He claimed that the police forced him to sign the statements attributed to him unread, threatened to hand him over to Mossad and told him that his parents were also arrested in London.
In attempting to construct a credible defence for his client, Hindawi's legal counsel proposed an alternative interpretation of events during the trial, suggesting that Hindawi was being manipulated by Israeli intelligence, which wished to damage and embarrass the Syrian government. The jury was unconvinced by this version of events, and subsequent appeal judges have dismissed such interpretations as entirely lacking in evidence.

After the court found Hindawi guilty, the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher broke off diplomatic relations with Syria. Following this the United States and Canada recalled their ambassadors from Syria.”

Until it was tampered with in September 2013, the section headed ‘Allegations of Mossad involvement’ read as follows:

“On 10 November 1986, the French prime minister Jacques Chirac said in interview with the Washington Times, that German chancellor Kohl and foreign minister Genscher both believed that "the Hindawi plot was a provocation designed to embarrass Syria and destabilize the Assad regime ... 'by' ... people probably connected to Israeli Mossad". Chirac added that he tended to believe it himself.[3]

In his interview with Time magazine on 20 October 1986, Syrian president Hafez al-Assad alleged that the Israeli intelligence agency planned the Hindawi operation.

Patrick Seale[4] writes that the Hindawi family (from the Jordanian village of Baqura) had a history of connection to Mossad. Hindawi's father was a cook for the Jordanian embassy in London, he was revealed by Jordanians as a Mossad agent, tried in absentia in Jordan, sentenced to death, but escaped his sentence by staying in Britain. Jordanian sources revealed to Seale that Hindawi himself worked for money for several foreign intelligence services, including Mossad.

According to Seale, sources in Syrian intelligence told him that they "had fallen into Israeli trap" and were penetrated and manipulated by Mossad to smear Syria with terrorism and isolate it internationally. Colonel Mufid Akkur, whom Hindawi named in court, was arrested in Damascus on suspicion of working for Israel.[5]

Speculation of Mossad involvement is however contradicted by considerable evidence of Syrian sponsorship, including Hindawi's statements on interrogation, correspondence intercepted by the authorities after his arrest, the testimony of other captured terrorists, and the support provided by Syrian Arab Airlines. The Syrian government's claim that the Mossad replaced originally innocent luggage with the bomb is refuted by the discovery of hair belonging to Hindawi trapped under the tape used to attach the explosive to the bag.”[6]

In the December 1986 edition of ‘Washington Report on Middle East Affairs’, in an article entitled ‘Hafez Al-Assad—Too Clever By Half’, Richard H. Curtiss asked:

“El Al Flight: What Were Syria's Motives?

There are a few Americans, many of whom have telephoned this publication in the past two weeks, who think Assad got a bad rap when a British court convicted Nezar Hindawi of trying to blow up an El Al airplane between London and Tel Aviv. The British Government said Hindawi was linked by intercepted messages to the chief of Syria's air force intelligence and the Syrian Ambassador in London. The evidence introduced in court, these skeptics point out, was a suitcase containing explosives and a timing device handed over to the British by an Israeli security agent. Mossad is capable of switching suitcases and, for that matter, of faking telephone calls and coded messages to and from Syria's London embassy that could be intercepted by the British, the skeptics note. They ask what possible benefit there would be to the Syrian government in blowing up 375 innocent civilians—200 of them US citizens—in mid-air, an action that would irretrievably disgrace Syria if it were caught, and which it therefore could never admit to, even if it were not.
The benefit, these skeptics say, is only to Israel, which is deeply concerned about Syrian ground-to-air and ground-to-ground missiles, and looking for western backing for an attack against them.”

All of which surely begs the question: if the 'Lavon affair' (as it became known), in conjunction with just a fraction of Mossad’s myriad other clandestine activities, had been common knowledge in Britain in 1986, isn’t it reasonable to assume that Nezar Hindawi’s defence case would have been taken more seriously?

[1] The righteous person is rescued from trouble, and it falls on the wicked instead (Proverbs 11:8)
[2] Convicted in 2010 and sentenced to 7 years in prison for rape, sexual harassment, committing an indecent act while using force, harassing a witness and obstruction of justice.
[3] Seale: ‘Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East’, 1993 p.249
[4] Patrick Abram Seale, b. May 1930, d. April 2014. Respected Belfast-born British journalist and author of ‘Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East’; ‘Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire’; and ‘The Struggle for Arab Independence: Riad el-Solh and the Makers of the Modern Middle East’.
[5] Seale 1993 pp.250-252
[6] "Terrorism: The Syrian Connection" by Daniel Pipes, originally published in The National Interest, Spring 1989

All Berezovsky got was this lousy T-shirt

Polonium 210 -CSKA- London, Hamburg, To Be Continued
CSKA Moscow Nuclear Death is Knocking Your Door”

This ‘fashion statement’ is imprinted on a T-shirt which, in July 2010, was purportedly sent to Boris Berezovsky by Andrei Lugovoy, one of the two Russians suspected of poisoning Alexander Litvinenko.

“On any view,”

…intones Sir Robert Owen, whose Public Inquiry findings were published on 21 January this year,

“…it demonstrates that Mr Lugovoy approved of Mr Litvinenko’s murder. It was also, clearly, a threat to Mr Berezovsky. Further than that, the T-shirt could be seen as an admission by Mr Lugovoy that he had poisoned Mr Litvinenko, made at a time when he was confident that he would never be extradited from Russia, and wished to taunt Mr Berezovsky with that fact. Alternatively, it could, perhaps, be seen as an extraordinarily tasteless joke.”(Litvinenko Inquiry report, 8.125)

On any view, Sir Robert? Must we therefore assume that as far as his intellectual faculties were concerned, Lugovoy was at so mystifying a disadvantage, not only would he send this message to his most vociferous accuser, but – eschewing their common native language – for the sake of the cameras, he would write it in the language of the country which sought to put him in the dock? Surely, surely something as crudely obvious as its ‘deliberate mistake’ could not help to convince anyone that this was a ‘genuine article’? Are we supposed to be impressed by the fact that, whoever was the true fashion designer, they correctly identified Lugovoy’s favourite football team? In recorded history, is there a single instance of a crime suspect who combined this degree of outright stupidity, with this much determination to parade said stupidity in front of a worldwide media audience? On any view?
   According to Owen’s report, Lugovoy gave his T-shirt to an acquaintance called Raphael Filinov, asking him to take it to Berezovsky. This provenance was attested to by the latter’s personal aide, Israeli-Russian lawyer Michael Cotlick:

“Mr Cotlick said that he was aware that Mr Filinov had a personal relationship with Mr Lugovoy. He said that he had “no doubt whatsoever” that Mr Lugovoy had himself handed the T-shirt to Mr Filinov, in order for him to give it to Mr Berezovsky.”(8.124)

Leaving garment manufacturing to one side for the time being, however. Elsewhere in his report (8.132), Owen scrutinises the results of a lie detector test conducted on Andrei Lugovoy in April 2012, by fully qualified British father and son team Bruce and Tristam Burgess:

“Bruce Burgess, who took the lead role in conducting the test, announced the result to Mr Lugovoy in the following words, “I can tell you the result was conclusive, you were telling the truth, no deception indicated.””

On the advice of a Professor Bull, Sir Robert finds fault with the way this test was conducted; he thinks it possible Lugovoy took ‘countermeasures’ to defeat the test; he calls Bruce Burgess’s integrity into question over a past transgression; he even casts doubt on whether the result did in fact indicate that Lugovoy was telling the truth.

“In consequence,”

…says Sir Robert at Part 8.134,

“I do not feel able to place any weight at all on the outcome of the test.”

Of course, this was his prerogative. However, isn’t it fair to contrast his dismissive attitude on this matter, with his uncritical embrace of the authenticity of the T-shirt? Moreover, isn’t it legitimate to ask why the same person who sent Berezovsky the unusual CSKA away strip, would risk taking a lie detector test at all? And while we’re back on the subject of designer clothing – with reference to their story about how the T-shirt came into Boris Berezovsky’s possession, would Michael Cotlick and/or Raphael Filinov be prepared to submit themselves to lie detector tests?
“I found Mr. Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes. At times the evidence which he gave was deliberately dishonest; sometimes he was clearly making his evidence up as he went along”[1]

[1] Mrs Justice Gloster, Berezovsky v Abramovich, 31 August 2012
The following text is from ‘The Fugitive’ – Part 1 of a BBC documentary series ‘Russian Godfathers’, directed by Patrick Forbes and narrated by Ian Holm, first broadcast in the autumn of 2005.[1]

“Boris Berezovsky now lives in Britain, with houses [and palaces] for him and his family dotted around the Home Counties. Two years ago he won political asylum here, claiming his life was in constant danger from Russian secret agents. He employs a team of ex-Foreign Legion veterans to guard him round the clock.”

Anyone with a passing interest in Russia at that time knows that in reality, Putin’s government would scarcely even have dreamt of risking the diplomatic furore accompanying a state-sanctioned assassination, in any western country, far less Britain or the United States. For well over a decade, Moscow had been negotiating the terms for membership of the World Trade Organisation; Litvinenko’s death in the following year probably in fact put Russia’s final accession back by several years (it took place in 2012). Berezovsky knew very well that as far as Russian secret agents were concerned, his expensive security arrangements served as a means of ‘keeping up appearances’ – important from the point of view retaining British government support.

There is still [i.e. in 2005] an Interpol warrant out for Berezovsky’s arrest; he can only fly to Israel – as a Jew, he still holds citizenship there. Anywhere other than Britain or Israel, and he’s in trouble… In this gilded cage, how should Boris fill the days? Why – plot, of course. Working out a plan to topple Putin, and take Boris back to the throne of Russia… Boris’s key lieutenant is Alex Goldfarb, a famous Soviet dissident. In the 80s he fled Russia for America and a lifetime of intrigue.”

A. Goldfarb: “I got involved with Boris when I realised that he was happening to be on the right side. He is the guy who is prepared to put his money where his mouth is. It happened when he was targeted by Putin as the number one sacrificial lamb[2] in this drive against the oligarchs.”

“The first plank of Berezovsky’s strategy – a concerted attempt to blacken Putin’s reputation in the West, while positioning Boris as the new found friend of democracy and freedom. Today, behind closed doors, he’s addressing a private gathering of EU policymakers…”

[1] In a Guardian review of this series entitled ‘What a carve-up’, dated 03 December 2005, Andrew Mueller wrote: “Putin, able to see matters rather straighter than Yeltsin, realised two crucial things about the oligarchs: that they were potentially more powerful than him, and that they were about as popular with your average Russian as a man idly burning bundles of £50 notes outside an orphanage.”
[2] Boris Berezovsky – “sacrificial lamb”. For most people, the sudden ironic surge provoked by this extraordinary metaphor will die away almost as quickly as it registers. Specialists however will seize on it as evidence for the existence of entirely new fields of research.
   On 21 January 2016, the day of publication of the findings of Sir Robert Owen’s Public Inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, BBC2’s Newsnight featured a report in which correspondent Richard Watson asked;

“Who murdered Alexander Litvinenko, and why?”

Элементарно, дорогой Ватсон.[1]

   The bold text which follows is a full transcript of Watson’s earlier Newsnight report on the same subject, first broadcast on 27 July 2015 and currently available on You Tube under the title ‘Alexander Litvinenko’s murder: The Inside Story’.

Lord Ken Macdonald QC: “This was not some random killing. This was a killing with a very clear purpose, and it was a killing with some state involvement.”

In May 2007 it was Lord Macdonald, as Director of Public Prosecutions, who took the decision to charge Andrei Lugovoy with Litvinenko’s murder and begin extradition proceedings against him. Clearly therefore (and this is amply confirmed by later comments in the same report), the ‘state’ to which Macdonald is referring is Russia. Yet the Public Inquiry chaired by Sir Robert Owen was not due to reach any conclusions until six months later. So much for the ‘presumption of innocence’. No less pointed was the following statement, issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry on the day Owen published his findings:

“The UK is creating a dangerous precedent: They use their internal legal mechanisms to promote a politically motivated and non-transparent inquiry with a predetermined outcome, all of which is a travesty for a so-called objective judicial investigation and [is] a made-to-order politicised farce.”

Marina Litvinenko: “I just promised to Sasha; one day, people will know truth about him.”

The object of this rebuttal of Sir Robert Owen’s findings is to aid in the realisation of this laudable aim.

[1] Elementary, my dear Watson. 
Watson: “The 1st November 2006.”

For a significant number of people in both the UK and Russia, the easiest way to bring this day to mind is to recall the Champions League game which took place that evening, between Arsenal and CSKA Moscow. Unusually, Sir Robert Owen’s report contains a factual error in Part 6, paragraph 225 – he describes “Tuesday 31 October 2006” as being “two days before a Champions League football match between Arsenal and CSKA Moscow”. As all football fans know, Champions League games never take place on Thursdays; only on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Owen is more reliable however, when at Part 6.228 he names the people relevant to the Inquiry who attended this game:

“The core of the group was Mr Lugovoy’s family – himself, his wife Svetlana, his two daughters Galina and Tatiana, who were 19 and 20 respectively, and his eight year old son Igor. Also in the group were Tatiana’s boyfriend, Maxim Begak, and a business partner of Mr Lugovoy named Mr Sokolenko.”
6.229: “[…] Whilst in London the group (with the exception of Mr Begak) stayed at the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair. They all flew home together on Friday 3 November.”
6.230: “[…] DI Mascall referred to evidence that Mr Lugovoy had made arrangements to obtain tickets for the football match from Mr Shuppe, Mr Berezovsky’s son in law, in September 2006.”

Oddly, Berezovsky’s name is completely absent from both of Richard Watson’s extended Newsnight reports (the first being 20 minutes long, the second 8 minutes). Putting it bluntly, this is like making a programme about Sherlock Holmes, and specifically The Final Problem, without mentioning Professor Moriarty. The analogy is not as far-fetched as one might think. According to Wikipedia, Berezovsky was…

“…a doctor of technical sciences, and author of… academic papers and studies such as ‘Binary relations in multi-criteria optimizations’ and ‘Multi-criteria optimization: mathematical aspects’.”

In Conan Doyle’s story, it is said of Moriarty that…

“At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise upon the binomial theorem which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it, he won the mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities”.

Sir Robert Owen doesn’t make the same omission, though he does rather gloss over Mrs Justice Gloster’s 2012 judgment (as quoted on page 1). Exiled in London since 2000, Berezovsky yearned one day to return to the Russian political arena, but he understood more clearly than most that in politics, reputation is everything. It seems reasonable to suppose therefore that the 2012 judgement, leading as it did to his being labelled ‘the disgraced oligarch Boris Berezovsky’, was a contributory factor in his suicide in March 2013.

According to Wikipedia:

“After Berezovsky's death, a spokesman for President Putin reported that he had sent a letter to the Russian president, asking for permission to return to Russia and seeking "forgiveness for his mistakes." Some of Berezovsky's associates doubted the letter's existence, claiming that it was out of character. However, his girlfriend at the time, Katerina Sabirova, later confirmed in an interview that he did in fact send the letter:
"I said that they will publish it and you will look bad. And that it won’t help. He answered that it was all the same to him, that in any case all sins were blamed on him and that this was his only chance."
It was claimed by anonymous sources that rival Roman Abramovich delivered the letter to Putin personally, having received an apology from Berezovsky himself. Both Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, and Abramovich's spokesman alluded to the letter being passed by a "certain person", but did not go into details due to the personal nature of the issue.”

Watson: “Alexander Litvinenko caught on CCTV, on his way to a meeting with two former Russian spies at the upmarket Millennium Hotel in central London.”

A factual inaccuracy on Watson’s part - according to Sir Robert Owen’s report, only one of the two Russians, Andrei Lugovoy, was a former member of the KGB. Having known Lugovoy since childhood, Dmitri Kovtun served in the Soviet then Russian army and was posted to Germany. He deserted in early 1992 however, travelling with his then wife to Hamburg and claiming asylum.  

“He [Litvinenko] thought he was among friends.”

By the standards of the often unsavoury circles in which all three of them moved, he was among friends. Indeed both Lugovoy and Litvinenko (in his police interview of 18 November) testified that they had more than one friendly telephone conversation, after the poisoning. In the same interview though, it’s true that Litvinenko confirms he was deliberately trying to keep the two Russians in the dark as to any suspicion which might fall on them, so as to leave open the possibility of luring them back to London. One other thing to note; of the two Russians, he was inclined to be more suspicious of Dmitri Kovtun, primarily because he didn’t know him (as witnessed by his thinking his first name was ‘Vadim’ rather than ‘Dmitri’). He therefore assumed incorrectly that either then or in the past he must have worked for the KGB and/or FSB.

“22 days later, he was dead. It was perhaps the most audacious murder on British soil ever, a crime that shocked the world. We followed the evidence at the public inquiry into his murder, interviewing all the key witnesses in this extraordinary story, and revisiting the key locations.

Alexander Litvinenko was the Russian spy who turned against his old paymasters.”

There is more than a hint of euphemism about this, but no need to labour the point.
Watson: “A man steeped in the shady, sometimes disreputable world of intelligence. He used to work for the KGB at a high level…”

A somewhat lazy conflation of the (Soviet) KGB, in which the young Litvinenko did not hold any senior post, and its various successor agencies including the FSB. In passing, it may be mentioned that in August 1991, Vladimir Putin resigned definitively from the KGB in reaction to and on the second day of the abortive putsch against Gorbachev:

“As soon as the coup began, I immediately decided which side I was on.”[1]

Litvinenko though, having remained within the Soviet/Russian security apparatus throughout the early 90s, was promoted in 1997 to deputy head of a section (eight to ten officers) of the FSB Department for the Investigation and Prevention of Organised Crime. Also important to note however, was that in this role he moonlighted as head of security for – you guessed it – Boris Berezovsky. Officially this was illegal, but Russia’s cash-strapped public sector tended to turn a blind eye in those days. It was an excellent arrangement for Berezovsky, as well as for Litvinenko:

Russian TV journalist Andrey Kondrashov: “[Berezovsky] made all of his money by sticking to the one rule that he set for himself in the 90s – stay close to the authorities… I have no doubt that he fled the country because he feared prosecution[2] not political persecution, as he once said. Putin’s declared principle that oligarchs should be kept at a distance from the authorities disabled the mechanism that made it possible for him to make money, by maintaining close links with the government.”
From ‘The Life and Death of Boris Berezovsky’, Russia Today documentary, first broadcast April 2013.

Litvinenko is understood originally to have fallen out with his FSB superiors over his exposure of what he alleged was a serious intention to assassinate Boris Berezovsky. For the purposes of the Inquiry, Marina Litvinenko testified that this amounted to…

“an unequivocal instruction to commit an act of murder by his superior” (3.46),

…though Owen makes clear that she had to be, as it were, ‘persuaded’ that this was in reality her recollection.

“…but was granted asylum in Britain in 2000.”

Boris Berezovsky financed the arrangements for Litvinenko and his family to flee Russia and reach London; Alexander Goldfarb attended to the details. This being an offence under British law, Goldfarb (a US citizen) was subsequently banned from visiting Britain for one year.[3]

Marina L: “He was very loyal to this country [i.e. Britain], and he was very happy to be here.”

Watson: “Six years later, on 1st November, just after he’d become a British citizen…”

Litvinenko was granted full British citizenship on 13 October 2006. As noted by Sir Robert Owen, this appears to have instilled in him a false sense that his personal security situation was improved.

“…he met two former colleagues from Russia’s intelligence world in the Pine Bar at the Millennium Hotel.”

To reiterate: Owen’s report makes clear that Kovtun was never in fact part of ‘Russia’s intelligence world’, but was an old friend of Lugovoy. The latter appears to have been trying to find some work for him. Furthermore, it seems they both (like a lot of Russians) got a kick out of visiting London. As to whether Kovtun was really likely, deliberately, to have got himself mixed up in an intrigue like this, in the words of his ex-wife, Marina Wall:

"“I looked on the internet and found out Litvinenko is supposed to have been poisoned with thallium. I then read that Litvinenko had met two businessmen in a hotel. They are said to have been Lugovoy and Dmitry. My first thought was that I found this ridiculous and absurd. When I read that an agent was involved and then my husband, I could never imagine that. I mainly took care of our living expenses and dealt with all financial matters. He didn’t even have an account.”

When asked whether Mr Kovtun was skilled technically, for example with regard to computers, Marina Wall stated:

“I had to do everything. I had to set up the letters on the computer. He was not able to do this. Dmitry was no handyman. He could not even bang a nail into the wall. Finally, I would like to say that it is beyond my power of imagination that Dmitry is an agent or a member of the secret service. I really cannot believe that for the life of me.”" (Litvinenko Inquiry 6.40)

With Lugovoy and his family visiting London to watch that evening’s Champions League clash between Arsenal and CSKA Moscow, Kovtun appears to have decided at short notice to fly out from Hamburg for the opportunity to tag along, in spite of not having a ticket.

“Here he is [CCTV footage of Litvinenko on London street] leaving the meeting. Two days later he was admitted to his local hospital, vomiting and in great pain.”

[1] R. Sakwa, Putin: Russia's Choice (London, Routledge, 2004) p. 11
[2] For crimes including money laundering, embezzlement etc, though he was also widely suspected of murder.
[3] Alex Goldfarb with Marina Litvinenko, Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB, The Free Press, 2007.
Peter Clarke, head of counter-terrorism, 2006: “Well, a colleague came into my office and explained that in hospital in north London there was a man who was telling a quite extraordinary story. He was saying that he was a former member of a Russian intelligence agency, and that he believed he had been poisoned by some of his former colleagues.”

The Inquiry Report makes clear that this is something of an over-simplification (cf. 3.135-6). In his police interviews and when confiding to friends and journalists, Litvinenko consistently ascribed possible responsibility for his poisoning not only or even chiefly to Lugovoy/Kovtun, but to an Italian lawyer called Mario Scaramella. Litvinenko met him for lunch at a sushi bar called ‘Itsu’ just half an hour or so before the better-known meeting with Lugovoy and Kovtun in the Millennium Hotel. Scaramella had been working as a consultant to the Mitrokhin Commission, instituted by Silvio Berlusconi to investigate links between senior Italian politicians (i.e. Berlusconi’s political opponents) and the KGB. These sorts of matters spilled over into post-Soviet politics and organised crime, so Litvinenko became one of Scaramella’s most highly-prized sources of information. The Commission was headed by an Italian senator called Paulo Guzzanti, whose 10 pages of evidence to the Inquiry can be found on the website. He states that in his view...

“...Alexander Litvinenko exposed himself to danger as a direct consequence of providing information to the Mitrokhin Commission. At the end of 2005 or early 2006 Alexander Litvinenko delivered a video tape…[in whose ten minute recorded statement] he said that when he decided to leave Russia in 2000 he spoke to his mentor and superior General Anatoly Trofimov, who advised him not to go to Germany or Italy because the KGB networks connected to the top level of Italian politics were still very much alive and active in those countries. Alexander Litvinenko went on to explain that Anatoly Trofimov had told him that Romano Prodi (President of the European Commission at that time) was said within KGB circles to be "Our man", the implication being that he was an agent of influence for the KGB. The term "Our man" later became Romano Prodi’s nickname in Italy. The implications of the account that Litvinenko gave in this videotape recorded statement are clear and would have made himself an enemy of both Romano Prodi and the KGB.”

No less illuminating, is the full...

“Transcript of Interview with Alexander Litvinenko and David Leppard from the Sunday Times newspaper.

[Dated on or around 17-11-2006. The resulting article by David Leppard appeared on 19-11-2006]

Persons present: Alexander Litvinenko, Alexander Goldfarb (friend/translator), Marina (wife) and David Leppard (journalist).

Question: If you just start by telling me the circumstances of meeting.

AL: So, I want to say straight away that I am not accusing this Italian of anything. And I am not suspecting him. I am just telling you the circumstances of that day. On the 28th of October an e-mail came on my computer from him saying that he wants to come to London to meet me. My brother lives in Italy. I phoned my brother and I tell him, you contact him and find out, you ask him. But in the e-mail he said that he would come on the 10th- 11th.

Goldfarb: You don’t need so many details.

[Why not?]

AL: No, you, say, say this... So my brother called him and then he called me. He said, but he is not saying anything that would make sense. He said, don’t call me. And then the following day after my brother’s call he arrived. He called me at home and said, let’s meet up in the old place. We had met previously in Piccadilly Circus. At 4 o’clock we arranged. I came there, he was there already. No, no, when I came he was not there yet but then he came right after. He says, let’s go and eat somewhere. Let’s go and sit somewhere. I say, all right, let’s go. We went into one of the restaurants; he, for the first time since I first went out for lunch with him, did not order anything for himself.

Q: Which restaurant is this?

AL: I am not going to answer. He only took some drink, that’s it.

Q: And what was this man talking about?

AL: So, we sat down, he was somehow frightened, nervous, I had never seen him like that before. He says I am going to give you some papers now. (He opened... ?) I say, let’s eat first. No, no, you do this first. He opened some big envelope, got 4 sheets of paper out of it, they were folded like this, he unfolded them and gave them to me. I just folded them and put them in my bag. I looked at them, they were in English, I don’t understand it very well, so I say, I will look at them at home and then I will tell you. And then I put them in my bag and say, let’s start eating. He says, no, you tell me now. I pulled these papers out again and opened them. Yes, why I opened these papers again, because he said, you know, there are people there who killed [Anna] Politkovskaya. What do you think, are they dangerous people, can they kill me? So I took them again and looked. I say, you know, I need to check.

Goldfarb: So there supposedly were some numbers of Russians.

Q: So there was a list of names on this document.

Goldfarb: Yes, including some list of names.

AL: So, I again put those papers back. But the most interesting thing is that he had received these documents by e-mail. Then he says, let’s eat quickly and go. He could have forwarded them to me by e-mail. So he says, let’s eat quickly and go. So, I had my food, he had his drink, and we went. He ran away, disappeared. You know, I did not understand why he had come. We did not discuss anything whatsoever. In those papers in that envelope there isn’t anything at all.

Q: And what was the provenance, was it an official document?

AL: It is a list of names, somebody wrote it by hand. Something about Berezovsky, about me. Yes, and he also gave me an interview with Pablo Kasanio which had been published.

Q: So this document was not an official document, it was a document written by anybody, it had no important information. Of course, it had information about the death of...

Goldfarb: Only you don’t need to give so many details.

[What is wrong with ‘giving so many details’?]

OK, let’s...

Q: Carry on. OK. So, can you tell me, he says he does not suspect the Italian.

AL: I cannot suspect him.

Q: But all of this sounds very suspicious.

AL: It is strange. It looked very, very strange.

Goldfarb: But you said you had bumped into some Russian as well.

AL: Well, in the street, (an older man? - not clear).

Goldfarb: Oh, I see.

Q: Does he think he has been poisoned?

AL: I think I have been poisoned. And I think doctors think the same.

Q: And does he think he was poisoned during this lunch?

AL: I don’t know. They have such resources. I know that their finances are unlimited now. I wrote about this in my book that the laboratories producing poisons are functioning, I spoke to them and they said poisons were used actively. Russian special services nowadays are actively using poisons.
Nurse enters the room and interrupts the conversation.
Goldfarb: Sasha does not want to accuse the Italian, especially as there are means of poisoning not related to food.

AL: Of course.

Goldfarb: It can be coincidence.

[What is Goldfarb’s agenda?]

AL: Of course. It is a very severe accusation of a person. I don’t even want the name of this Italian to be mentioned.

Q: We won’t mention his name. We can’t mention his name. So it may be a coincidence. Or it may be the Italian was involved in helping other people to identify where he was. Does he think that?

Goldfarb: No, he thinks the Italian maybe has nothing to do with it at all.[?] Or maybe they could locate him through the Italian.”

Judging by his performance during the above interview, Goldfarb might also have preferred to have had a way of steering the direction in which Lauren Veevers took the following article, ‘The Litvinenko murder: Scaramella - The Italian Connection’, which appeared in The Independent on 03 December 2006:

“Mr Litvinenko accused Mr Scaramella of poisoning him from the day he first fell ill: as the Italian told me, his name was all over Russian and Chechen websites as the main suspect in the poisoning of the former FSB agent long before the story hit the British press. Mr Litvinenko retained his suspicion right up to his death.[1] Speaking of the Itsu meeting, he said: "Mario didn't want anything, he gave me the email printouts ... I said to myself, he could have sent these emails by computer. But instead he wanted to come [all the way to London from Italy] and give them to me in person: why, and why in such a hurry? He was very nervous.””

   As discussed briefly in Owen’s report (and elsewhere in Veever’s article), at the end of November 2006, Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) scientists discovered that a urine sample from Mario Scaramella showed dangerous levels of radioactive contamination – he was admitted to hospital and stayed for nearly a week, though without any signs of illness. Potentially, this was a very serious departure from the script; assuming the Polonium-210 was administered by Lugovoy and Kovtun, there is no way Scaramella could have been contaminated. So it was just as well for Sir Robert and his team that an expert witness called Dr Harrison provided evidence, to the effect that Italians (owing to their diet) have higher background levels of Polonium-210 than other nationalities. Meanwhile, one of the tables at the Itsu restaurant was also found to be contaminated, but Owen states that it was not the table at which the Litvinenko and Scaramella had sat,

“…according to the evidence of Mr Scaramella”. (6.101)

That’s alright then, except – wasn’t there something a little bit, as it were, ‘eyebrow-raising’ about Scaramella’s behaviour that day? In any case though, as Owen points out, the contamination may have resulted from a meeting which took place at the same restaurant in the previous month, between Litvinenko, Lugovoy and Kovtun.

Watson: “The former KGB man was transferred to University College Hospital in central London for intensive care, with a police escort.”

Marina Litvinenko: “…and I met Metropolitan Police, and what was very important, Sasha was able to talk, and they started to interview him.”

Watson: “So this was now an investigation into an attempted murder?”

Marina L: “Yes.”

Watson: “His white cell blood count was catastrophically low.”

Prof Amit Nathwani, UCL Cancer Institute: “He was brought to us with symptoms and signs of bone marrow failure.”

[1] For instance in the police interview of 18 November cited above, although he said he wanted Lugovoy and Kovtun to think they were in the clear, Litvinenko did not disavow any of the suspicion he had previously expressed about Scaramella, saying: “Only these three people can poison me. Mario, Vadim [sic] and Andrei.” And in his final interview on 20 November: "I think that those people who I have reported, who I was meeting, who I was eating with, especially on the 1st, all without exception, I think... I cannot blame these people directly because I have no proof. But I think that all these people are significant witnesses in this case."