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23 January 2016


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snitching in versus snitching out


Checked via Google books.

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

What TTG and you wrote set me thinking about the ambiguities of mockery, which is a matter of some interest to me. On further reflection they occurred to me that it bore very directly on the Litvinenko mystery.

It has long been my view that the notion that well-functioning institutions can be built purely on the basis of individuals acting on motives of 'rational' self-interest is, much of the time, not only false but extraordinarily dangerous.

Commonly, for institutions to function really well requires an element of what, for want of a better word, I will call reverence – as well as some elements of fear. And notions of reverence are commonly bound up with notions of honour.

Here, military institutions, which have to demand that people are prepared to sacrifice 'rational' self-interest, are actually only an extreme case.

Conceptions of honour, of very different kinds, are central to very many activities. There is a culture of honour among 'clerks' which goes back to the Latin 'grammarian'. There is certainly such a culture among among engineers. Bizarre as it may sound, there are cultures of 'honour' among journalists and television current affairs people – or at least, used to be.

(Such cultures can be very complex. Digressing for a moment, the 'Sharpe' series on television had at its centre the song 'Over the Hills and Far Away', which since it first broke surface following Blenheim has been endlessly reworked.

The recruiting sergeant is one of the most ambivalent figures in British culture. In the reworking by John Tams, 'There's forty shillings on the drum, for those who'll volunteer to come/To 'list and fight the foe today/Over the hills and far away.'

See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_WoKrRycvQ

So who is the recruiting sergeant? A demonic figure, tempting young men to go and get themselves killed – and leave their girlfriends husbandless – or someone, in himself, holding the promise not simply of a life of adventure in faraway lands, but also, that it is possible to be a man of 'honour', without needing to have birth or breeding, or to be 'respectable'?

The ambivalence was always there, and has not gone yet.)

What, you may ask, has this to do with the Litvinenko Inquiry?

Part of the answer is that there are claims to 'reverence' which are justified, in which case mockery can be destructive and corrosive – and claims which are not, in which case mockery is appropriate.

Without wanting to romanticise the past, there is reason for concern about the weakening of many different kinds of culture of honour, both in the United States and in Britain. And it seems to me that we are, in both countries, as it were, trading on the 'moral capital' of the past, and expecting a 'reverence' which is no longer accorded, because we don't deserve it.

As regards 'New Labour' – and I knew some significant figures in it quite well – conceptions of honour have, for most of them, little meaning: they are out of date. But in some ways more alarming is the fact that, whatever its constructive elements, the 'Thatcher Revolution' seems effectively to have completed the destruction of such concepts among significant elements of what would once have been regarded as the 'officer class'.

All this is part of the complex process by which élites in Britain came to identify whole-heartedly with the 'Borgist' consensus.

The extent to which this identification blew up in the faces of 'New Labour' was in part the result of the fact that Dr David Kelly, who had actually played a not insignificant role in sustaining the 'Borgist' consensus over Iraq WMD, had a sense of honour.

As a result, he finally could not swallow the extent to which intelligence was being distorted in order to inveigle us into helping making it possible for the Bush Administration to invade Iraq – and send British 'squaddies' to 'fight the foe today' in futile wars.

(The extent of the disillusion this produced is well reflected in a modern reworking of 'The Recruiting Sergeant', by a band called 'The Levellers'. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ns1q-DOF5gI .)

The 'New Labour' people wriggled out of their problem by having the inquiry into Dr Kelly's death conducted by Lord Hutton, a pompous ass of a Northern Ireland judge. It has been frequently suggested his appointment was the work of my sometime colleague Peter – now Lord – Mandelson.

When I knew him, Mandelson was an amiable enough closet queen, who patently had very great organisational abilities. He was, however, a creature not greatly endowed with imagination, and no more capable of understanding any kind of culture of honour – including that of Labour traditionalists – than a baboon is of writing.

As a result of Hutton's ludicrous report, John, now Sir John, Scarlett, who as head of the JIC had been instrumental in lying both Britain and the United States into war, was allowed to take over as head of MI6.

Not surprisingly, this organisation then proceeded to perpetrate a series of further 'f-ups', some of which rather clearly led to the Litvinenko shambles.

What I cannot understand in all this is the role of Lord Ken Macdonald, who as Director of Public Prosecutions was instrumental in the request for the extradition of Lugovoi. Although his appointment was controversial – he was accused of being a Blair 'crony' – he appears to have done and said a lot of sensible – indeed one might say 'honourable' – things.

In an interview he gave to David Leppard of the 'Sunday Times' in October 2011, however, the following paragraph appears:

'Calling for a full hearing, similar to that conducted into the death of David Kelly, the defence scientist, Macdonald said: "Because of the possibility that a foreign government may have been complicit in this murder, very serious consideration should be given to drafting in a senior judicial figure to conduct the inquest."'

(See http://grani.ru/blogs/free/entries/191923.html .)

If this was indeed what Lord Macdonald wanted was for the inquest into the death of Litvinenko to be a rerun of the Hutton fiasco, he clearly should feel satisfied. Indeed, one might say that in applying 'whitewash' to MI6, Sir Robert Owen makes Lord Hutton look like a 'piker', to use an American term.

And I am in a position to say this, as I have supplied a great deal of evidence to Owen's team which establishes beyond reasonable doubt that the conventional wisdom about how Litvinenko died is BS. Moreover, it appears to be BS which has taken root as the result of 'information operations' by associates of Berezovsky operating in cahoots with MI6.

So both Sir Robert Owen and Lord Macdonald seem to be assuming that key elements of the British system – including the notion of a judiciary which was at least relatively independent, and a 'Fourth Estate' that did not simply act as stenographers for the security services – still merit reverence. But their own actions are helping destroy any reason why any half-way decent person should agree with them.

In this situation, mockery seems an appropriate response – indeed, it may be the only one which holds out any hope of jolting these people out of the narcissistic fantasy world into which they have locked themselves.

David Habakkuk


I regret that the proof-reading of my responses on this thread has not been as thorough as it might have been. The notion that he, Lugovoi and Kovtun 'ate the Itsu bar' is mildly comic – I of course meant 'ate at' – but the quotation from Litvinenko's letter to the 'Mitrokhin Commission' is so important that I really should not have been sloppy.

It was, of course, Mogilevich, not Putin, who was the 'arm dealer'. And it is this suggestion that leads naturally on to the claim that, at a time when 'all his actions' were controlled by the FSB, and he was under Putin's personal 'krysha' and being hid by the Russian leader, Mogilevich sold weapons to Al Qaeda and 'tried to get a mini nuclear bomb' for them.

Also, I left out the complete date, which is December 1, 2005. Actually, this is of particular interest, not least because we know from other evidence – a tiny fragment of a mass of material made available by me to the Inquiry and not used by them – that at precisely this point some of what Litvinenko claimed to the 'Mitrokhin Commission' was being disseminated in 'information wars' in the Ukraine.

At precisely this point, moreover, Scaramella was about to go on a trip to meet people of importance in Washington, in part on Berezovsky's behalf.

A curious element of the situation is that any half-way competent news team ought to have been able to find out all this information not very long after the story of Litvinenko's poisoning first broke.

Before going into television current affairs, I had the benefit of a couple of years being knocked into some sort of shape as a journalist on the foreign desk of the 'Financial Times' by a legendary news editor, Alain Cass.

Dealing often with subjects about which his knowledge was of necessity sketchy, Cass had an extraordinary ability rapidly to grasp the significance of material coming off the agency tapes, work out what questions needed to be asked about it, and activate his reporters.

Lacking similar gifts, I was in awe of him – and something of his instruction rubbed off.

Had Cass been in charge of a newsdesk when the Litvinenko story broke, I have no doubt, he would very rapidly have been on the 'phone to the paper's correspondent in Rome, saying: 'check out this Scaramella – and I mean check out.'

To my regret, I did not have a news team – or even a couple of competent television researchers – at my command when I became interested in the Litvinenko mystery. However, Google can work wonders, and some quick searches led me to some reports on Scaramella done after the Litvinenko story broke by someone who posted under the name 'de Gondi' on the 'European Tribune' site.

He had already come to my notice through his involvement at the Italian end of the – very successful – transnational internet investigation into the Niger uranium forgeries.

So when in May 2008 I put up a post of my own on that site about the Litvinenko mystery, under the title 'Murder in a Teapot?', part of my purpose was to reactivate his interest.

(See http://www.eurotrib.com/user/djhabakkuk/diary .)

This paid off, in spades. In a comment on my piece, 'de Gondi' – actually Mr David Loepp – linked to the request by Italian prosecutors to use wiretaps of conversations between Scaramella and Senator Paolo Guzzanti, head of the 'Mitrokhin Commission', in support of what turned out to be the first of two prosecutions of Litvinenko's collaborator for 'aggravated calumny'.

The request, dated 27 January 2007, was 'hiding in plain sight' on the website of the Italian Senate then, and still is.

(See http://www.senato.it/service/PDF/PDFServer?tipo=BGT&id=253804 .)

Any half-way competent news team ought to have been able to find it much more rapidly than I did. Although the request was turned down, it contains summaries of the conversations the prosecutors wanted to use. A key part was translated, within hours, by David Loepp. It reads:

3) - 4) - 5) - 6) - 7) - 8) - 9) conversations that took place on number [omissis] on December 1st, 2005, at 16:10:08 # 833, 16:43:40 # 848, 17:13:02 # 856, 17:56:45 # 860, 18:15:48 # 861, 19:56:22 # 867, 20:20:50 # 873, containing precise references to the campaign organized by Scaramella and Litvinenko to support the thesis of a conspiracy to assassinate Guzzanti, attributing the responsibility to TALIK and elements of the Russian mafia, the camorra and Russian and Ukrainian secret services, with the indication of relevant documents acquired by Scaramenlla and sent to Senator Guzzanti, or to be acquired and transmitted. The conversations are of particular relevance if confronted with intercepted conversations in the acts between Litvinenko and Ganchev on one part and between TALIK and his wife on the other, having as their object the same facts albeit their reconstruction appears quite different, as noted in the motivations behind the arrest warrant emitted against Scaramella (Scaramella calls Guzzanti and tells him that at least ten different press agencies in Ukraine have mentioned the assassination attempt against Guzzanti, including the declarations of Litvinenko as referred by him. Litvinenko received dozens of calls from Ukranian reporters and Litvinenko mentioned Talik's name. Guzzanti tells Scaramella that he received a letter in Russian from Litvinenko; Scaramella will send the translation which corresponds to the registration but omitting all references to Mario Scaramella. Guzzanti notes that there is a problem since in the letter Litvinenko asserts that he works for the Commission; Scaramella says that Litvinenko had in precedence undertaken activity concerning nuclear [?] in Italy that they [the commission] had acquired; at the London meeting, official missions, documents countersigned by Bukowsky, Gordievsky, Svorov and Palombo. Conversations intercepted between CUCHMA (he lost the elections against Yushenko) and MOGILEVICH/FSB. SHVEZ, ex-president of the KGB took the material [?] to the USA. Scaramella tells Guzzanti that in Ukraine there is an agency, "the fifth element," probably close to Berezovsky, that follows the work of a commission similar to the Mitrokhin Commission that investigates facts of Soviet Union espionage. This agency had interviewed Litvinenko, and Scaramella sent the article to Guzzanti. In the interview Litvinenko talks about the Ukrainian aspects and also mentions Guzzanti (indicated as Paolo Guzzante), Talik, etc. They study the article together even if it is in Russian or Ukrainian. A passage on Simon Moghilevic and an agreement between the camorra to search for nuclear weapons lost during the Cold War to be consigned to Bin Laden, a revelation made by the Israeli. According to Scaramella the circle closes: camorra, Moghilevic- Russian mafia- services- nuclear bombs in Naples.)'

So there we had it. Very many of the people who had been presented as reliable sources on the life and death of Alexander Litvinenko turned out to be prominently involved with him in an extraordinary series of 'information operations', a key purpose of which was to link the Russian security services to supposed nefarious activities involving WMD, terrorists, and 'rogue states'.

As well as Litvinenko and Scaramella, Yuri Shvets, Vladimir Bukovsky, Oleg Gordievsky, and Vladimir Rezun/aka 'Viktor Suvorov' were clearly involved in such activities – as became amply clear when Mr Loepp obtained documentation from the 'London meeting' referred to in the wiretapped conversation.

Earlier, I tried to bring out the absurdity of the conventional wisdom about how Litvinenko died by harking back to the 'Pink Panther' films. Perhaps as regards Scaramella et al, one should speak of a 'Keystone Cops' style of 'information operations'.

By the time the Italian had finished with it, a brief reference in an IAEA document to the possible loss of a nuclear torpedo from a Soviet submarine in an accident in the Bay of Naples in January 1970 had become the deliberate laying of a nuclear minefield by the Soviets. This was simply an ingenious variant of the rubbish about 'suitcase nukes' deliberately prepositioned by the Soviets in the United States which had caused near-hysteria among some circles in the U.S. and elsewhere.

From this Soviet minefield, moreover, Mogilevich had supposedly tried, with the help of the Camorra, to recover a nuclear weapon and hand it over to Al Qaeda – all the while acting as the agent of Putin.

Meanwhile, by the time Scaramella had finished with them, the notorious 'toxic ships' sunk in the Mediterranean, which had been the focus of a major scandal, had become radiological weapons deliberately prepositioned by the Soviets: Bukovsky, Gordievsky, and Suvorov/Rezun all collaborated in disseminating this tripe.

How variants of this kind of nonsense led to the second 'aggravated calumny' case against Scaramella is discussed by Mr Loepp and myself in our 5 December 2012 'European Tribune' post 'Scaramella Condemned for Aggravated Calumny in Rimini.'

(See http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2012/12/4/191342/931 .)

If you read further in the 'Senate' document, you will find references to the trip to Washington on which Scaramella was soon to depart at the time of the conversations from which I have quoted. Some time after our May 2008 diary was posted, I came across a reference to precisely this visit in comments precipitated by a blog post by the diplomatic and defence editor of the BBC 'Newsnight' programme, Mark Urban.

It was immediately apparent to me that the author of these comments, who used the name 'timelythoughts', was actually an American lady called Karon von Gerhke, and that her contact, whom she described as 'Berezovsky's disinformation specialist', was the same Yuri Shvets who is referred to as 'Shvez' in the Senate report.

The claims she made about the activities of Shvets, and in particular about the e-mails he had sent her at the time the Litvinenko story was breaking, were explosive.

I failed to make contact with her, so it seemed sensible once again to, as it were, go on a trawl. In December 2008 I put up a post on 'European Tribune' under the title 'Not quite the ''perfect fix''?', which examined Karon's comments, putting them together with material from Mr Loepp. As a result, she got in contact.

(See http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2008/12/3/105927/737 .)

In addition to checking out and confirming her information about Litvinenko and Shvets, I was able to confirm her claim that it had been requested and supplied to Catherine Belton, formerly of the 'Moscow Times', by then with the 'FT'.

As it happened, Mark Urban himself had confirmed the claim by Karon that her information had been investigated by his colleague Richard Watson – and despite this, the BBC 'Panorama' programme went on to present Scaramella as a reliable, and indeed key witness (LOL!)

Although I came to disagree strongly with Karon von Gerhke on some matters to do with how evidence should be interpreted, and handled, I have never had any doubt about the critical importance of her material: or indeed, about her integrity and her courage, to both of which I pay tribute.

The fact that her material has been ignored at the BBC and FT, clearly deliberately suppressed by SO15, and then ignored at the Inquiry, is a major scandal. And it is even more of a scandal that Litvinenko's collaborators in his 'Keystone Cops' 'information operations' have again been presented as reliable witnesses at the Inquiry. But this is hardly surprising, given that there is strong reason to suspect that these operations were practised in collusion with MI6.

David Habakkuk

Bryn P,

There is a very useful summary of the evidence relating to the question of how the polonium entered Litvinenko's system in an article in 'Chemistry World' yesterday.

(See http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2016/01/litvinenko-inquiry-unveils-scientific-sleuths-heart-investigation .)

However, this does not dispose of the issues I raised.

As the report notes, 'the inquiry chairman, Robert Owen, concluded that Lugovoy and Kovtun, both former KGB spies, intentionally poisoned Litvinenko by putting the radioisotope in the teapot.'

Leaving aside the fact that neither Lugovoy nor Kovtun were 'former KGB spies', this begs rather a lot of questions.

The first mention of the teapot is in a report on ABC News, actually initially posted on 26 January 2007, by Brian Ross and Maddy Sauer.

It opens:

'British officials say police have cracked the murder-by-poison case of former spy Alexander Litvinenko, including the discovery of a "hot" teapot at London's Millennium Hotel with an off-the-charts reading for Polonium-210, the radioactive material used in the killing.

'A senior official tells ABC News the "hot" teapot remained in use at the hotel for several weeks after Litvinenko's death before being tested in the second week of December. The official said investigators were embarrassed at the oversight.

'The official says investigators have concluded, based on forensic evidence and intelligence reports, that the murder was a "state-sponsored" assassination orchestrated by Russian security services.'

(See http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/01/it_was_in_the_t.html .)

In the transcripts of an interview supposedly recorded by Detective Inspector Brent Hyatt with Litvinenko on 19 November 2006, there is a graphic description of tea being poured in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel, out of a teapot which was 'silver, in colour, not silver, the legs .. expensive metal.'

(See http://static.guim.co.uk/ni/1422623294923/Alexander-Litvinenko-Inquir.pdf .)

If you look at the list of items received for testing at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, the teapot is listed as arriving on 16 December. I won't go into the elaborate gyrations used to explain away the fact that teapot tested – like all used in the Pine Bar – was the kind of standard ceramic one commonly used for green tea, and not silver in colour with silver legs.

More significantly, the first mention of any teacup from the Millennium arriving at Aldermaston is also on 16 December.

(See https://www.litvinenkoinquiry.org/files/2015/04/INQ007478wb.pdf .)

Curious then, isn't it, that a report in the 'Telegraph' dated 9 December – a full week earlier – is headlined: 'Traces of spy poison found in cup in hotel.'

It opens:

'The Millennium Hotel in London emerged as the most likely site for the poisoning of the Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko last night after it was revealed that a cup had been found containing traces of the radioactive substance which killed him.'

(See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1536411/Traces-of-spy-poison-found-in-cup-at-hotel.html .)

So, according to the 'evidence' presented to the Inquiry, and accepted by Sir Robert Owen, Counter Terrorism Command had the strongest possible reason to believe before Litvinenko died that he had been poisoned by tea poured into a teacup from a teapot in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel.

However, they did not send any teacup or teapot to Aldermaston until almost a month later, having been quite happy to expose those drinking tea at the hotel to the risks of radioactive contamination in the meantime.

By some mysterious process – perhaps they use a Ouija Board – Counter Terrorism Command had somehow divined, a week prior to the teacup and teapot being tested, that there had been polonium in the former, and announced the fact to the public.

For some mysterious reason, however, they failed to make any mention of the teapot for a further six weeks.

The teapot however, from then on, was presented as conclusive evidence that the contamination in the Pine Bar could only derive from a deliberate attempt to assassinate Litvinenko when he met Lugovoi and Kovtun there.

If 'evidence' which supposedly clinches a case will not stand critical examination, the natural conclusion is that the case is hokum.

I won't say 'I rest my case', but perhaps you get what I mean.

Incidentally, Brian Ross had been one of the chief disseminators of the anthrax scare stories which did a great deal to generate the climate of hysteria which made the catastrophic invasion of Iraq possible.

And not long after he revealed the supposedly clinching evidence about the 'off-the-charts' reading on the teapot, as the invaluable Glenn Greenwald explained in an April 2007 piece on 'Salon', he was hard at work disseminating scare stories about an imminent Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons.

(See http://www.salon.com/2007/04/09/abc_anthrax/ .)

And the whole of the British and American MSM simply follows Sir Richard Owen in recycling 'Borgist' CYA propaganda. Stenographers, not journalists.

Patrick Armstrong

Lots of bigger targets than he in the UK -- Gordievskiy lives and breaths today and he was probably the second-biggest Chekist to defect ever. The biggest Orlov died in his bed.

Patrick Armstrong

Gotta ask you this. We know, because VVP said so, that BAB wrote 2 letters to VVP. VVP hasn't said what's in them. What's your guess David?
At a minimum he has to have said sorry for all those years of trying to overthrow you but surely it's reasonable to expect something about Litvinenko and/or Politkovskaya. After all he's trying to get VVP to let him back into Russia now he's lost all his money.

David Habakkuk


That is a very interesting question indeed, and one which has puzzled me for some considerable time.

I wish I could give you direct response. But if I am to hasard an answer, I need to approach the question by a circuitous route.

By trade, I was a generalist current affairs producer – in a long-ago world where such people were not all merely 'stenographers'. It wasn't my job to be expert in anything. It was important to be able to judge who had genuine expertise, and who didn't.

Among other things, I learnt to be cautious about generalising. One can find academics with stellar reputations, who really do live up to them – others, who may come from the same departments and universities, who turn out on inspection to be charlatans and need a kind of 'government health warning'.

I did acquire a tendency strongly to value what one might call 'local knowledge' – if one is trying to make sense of wars in the Middle East, listen to military Arabists. A conviction I also came to was that far too many journalists and current affairs people tend to look at societies, and institutions, from the top down, and as it were, through the reverse end of a telescope.

In the 'Eighties and 'Nineties, the British broadcasting industry was 'reformed', largely on the basis of ideas from theoretical economists and management consultants comprehensively ignorant about how it actually operated. None of them had ever 'pitched' for a commission, or worked with a film crew – or knew how to get information out of those who had.

That was part of the slippery slope which has created a situation in which television current affairs people have indeed become stenographers – and, listening to their output on the Litvinenko mystery, I have sometimes thought that the BBC ought to be called 'the Berezovsky Broadcasting Corporation.'

Against this background, when it became apparent that the Russian 'reformers' proposed to take advise from the 'Harvard Institute for International Development', I expected a shambles.

Ironically, perhaps, something which Oxford University does very well these days is mafia studies. They have two splendid Italians, Diego Gambetta and Federico Varese.

And their work provides a sophisticated exposition of what is after all a commonsense view – that simply smashing a command system into small pieces, at the same time as a vast military, intelligence, and internal security apparatus was subject to headlong demobilisation, was a recipe for a criminalised economy.

It was in the wake of this happening that I first came across your writings, which, in keeping with my preference for 'local knowledge', I have followed ever since.

Having known some important 'New Labour' figures – such as were involved in the early stages of the Litvinenko mystery – quite well, it has long seemed to me that part of their inability to make sense of the Middle East, or the post-Soviet space, has to do with lack of 'local knowledge' of these areas. However, often they seemed to find it difficult to make any sense of what was happening in, say, London Docklands – at issue is not simply lack of 'local knowledge' of other places, but of basic 'horse sense' about some of the murkier aspects of human existence.

Perhaps ironically, Americans have, in their own culture, materials that may have some relevance. A favourite novel of mine is 'Red Harvest', Dashiell Hammett's portrayal of a mining town where the local magnate has brought in mobsters to break a strike, and feuding gangs are now running riot. His detective restores some kind of order by ruthless 'divide and rule' tactics – in the process, as he himself remarks, becoming 'blood simple'.

There are some matters where the ways one wants to 'read' VVP are of secondary relevance. One can interpret him as a combination of mafioso and 'Chekist', hell-bent on self-enrichment and dreaming of a new Stalinist terror. One can see him as a principled patriot, bringing his country back from the brink of what could have been irretrievable collapse and dissolution.

Which interpretation I think closer to the truth may be evident. However, in either case, in the conditions prevailing in St. Petersburg when he was deputy mayor there, and in the country generally after he began his ascent through his appointment as head of the FSB to the Presidency, Putin would inevitably have had – like Hammett's detective – to have had many compromising contacts and used compromised methods.

But one then comes to the – frankly surreal – element of Western responses, very evident in the Litvinenko mystery. That the oligarch opponents with whom Putin fell out – first Berezovsky and then Khodorkovsky – had compromising contacts and used compromised methods is rather evident. But somehow, figures associated with them are routinely treated as though they models of integrity whose veracity can be accepted without question.

It is rather as though Western journalists had wandered into the world of 'Red Harvest', and were absolutely determined to believe that they were in that of 'The Lord of the Rings'. So Litvinenko and his merry bunch of fellow disinformation-peddlers – Goldfarb, Gordievsky, Scaramella, Shvets, 'Suvorov'/Rezun, et al – are treated as though they were some kind of 'Fellowship of the Ring', gallantly battling against the new 'Dark Lord' in Mordor.

(In this situation, all that a Balrog has to do is to put on a pair of fake pointed ears, and everyone will take him for an elf.)

As to the tactics used by Litvinenko and his associates, the Inquiry has suppressed a vast amount of information – but produced some interesting material, parts of which are new. And a key feature of the 'modus operandi' of Litvinenko and his associates comes into sharp focus. This is to take an area where those accused have enough they genuinely want to hide to make effective denial difficult, and to exploit that fact to make preposterous accusations.

In so doing, they are able to exploit the fact that their audience desperately wants to believe what they say.

In the initial press conference where he responded to the request for his extradition, Lugovoi claimed that 'Litvinenko used to say that all of them, there, in Great Britain, are idiots, that they believe in everything that we say is happening in Russia.' I have no means of knowing whether Litvinenko in fact said this, but it actually seems to me quite likely – not least because the contempt is patently well-deserved.

When one reads everyone taking seriously the famous accusations in the e-mails which were the – supposed – occasion of Scaramella being in London on 1 November 2006, it is indeed difficult to suppress a sense of the surreal. Quite clearly, he had other reasons for being in London – and at the time, he was on the verge of being charged with 'aggravated calumny' by Italian prosecutors for making parallel accusations.

Both this first set of charges, and the second subsequent ones, were directly related to the attempts of Litvinenko, Scaramella and their associates to counter the repeated contention made by Putin and his associates that the West and Russia had a common interest in countering jihadist terrorism.

Although it may be difficult for a rather dim judge like Sir Robert Owen to grasp, both jihadist terrorism and WMD proliferation are major security threats to the West. It really is not helpful if an MI6 agent such as we now know Litvinenko to have been to have engaged in peddling ludicrous scenarios according to which the demonic Putin, in collaboration with the mobster Semyon Mogilevich, was attempting to supply Al Qaida with a nuclear or radiological weapons capability.

At the time this was happening, moreover, the foolishness of the Western assumption that it was prudent to as it were 'bet on' figures like Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky ought to have been becoming apparent.

The fact that – as has also come into public view at the inquest – prime targets of the Litvinenko/Shvets 'information operations' were Igor Sechin and Viktor Ivanov was not accidental. These were those centrally involved in the expropriation both of Yukos and of Aeroflot.

Although there is a lot here that needs to be clarified, my reading of what was happening at this time was that elements in the Russian security services were indeed engaging in the kind of manoeuvres practised by Dashiell Hammett's detective.

They were trying to break up the concentrations of money in the hands of Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky which were used to fund the oligarchs' offensives against Putin – in the former case, by exploiting the frustrations of his partner Patarkatsishvili. These were not intrigues which anyone involved wanted publicised.

In relation to Patarkatsishvili, however, there is a lot of reason to suppose that the 'divide and rule' strategies of Russian intelligence worked – and that Lugovoi was key intermediary. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that, rather than attempting to assassinate Litvinenko, which was obviously nonsense, one possible outcome which elements in the Russian security services had in mind was that he could be brought back 'onside'.

What then happened? After Patarkatsishvili's unexpected death in February 2008, some bizarre lawsuits broke out. The likely truth here, I think, is that Berezovsky was at least partly in the right – and that he had a genuine claim to a significant share of assets to which Patarkatsishvili appeared entitled, but could not prove it.

And then there followed the case against Abramovich. The judgement against him by Mrs Justice Gloster in August 2012 was a multiple blow for Berezovsky. In part, this was for concrete material reasons – it destroyed any prospects of recouping his fortunes by getting money from Abramovich, while also destroying his case against Patarkatsishvili's widow.

But there was more to it than that. A capacity for obsessive hatred, in particular against those he saw as having betrayed him, was a central part of Berezovsky's personality. Earlier, it had been directed against Putin, who he saw as being his creation who had, as it were, got 'uppity', and so needed to be destroyed. It had been turned against Abramovich, who had accepted Putin's terms, and was now in clover both in Russia and Britain.

And, in lesser measure, it was directed against Lugovoi, who had been a conduit for the siren songs of Russian intelligence directed at Patarkatsishvili: 'you chose to go with Berezovsky, rather than following Abramovich, and where has it got you? But it is still not too late.'

All these targets were now out of reach of Beresovsky's revenge. But there was now a new target – who might not be – the British. Those whom he thought he had served loyally, and on whom he had relied, had turned on him: not only leaving him penniless, but treating him to a fine exhibition of sanctimonious British superciliousness. If his blood had boiled, I would not be surprised. And, for once, I would have some sympathy for him.

So, at precisely the time that the British authorities were pushed into resuming the Litvinenko inquest, Berezovsky was becoming a loose canon. And if he was a loose canon for the British, he was also one for other forces, which had found him useful, but also found it convenient to have MI6 handle him, so that their own involvement was disguised.

It seems to me that matters may have been crystallised by the deadline given to Berezovsky to supply a 'witness statement' to the Inquest, as it then was. He died before he could do so.

We know that in the preceding period he had made the overtures to VVP to which you refer. And this brings me to what would have been in the letter.

My guess is that the letter itself would very likely have avoided concrete commitments which, in one way or another, could have been publicised. It might also have included references to past events, which it would have been difficult for Putin to make public without embarrassment.

For this and other reasons, it would have left Putin in a quandary. A great deal of his strategy had all along been based upon the idea of isolating the 'irreconcileables' – Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky – by bringing others onside. So if one of the 'irreconcileables' intimates he might come back onside, how should you treat it?

Should you welcome it, on the grounds that if you make the right terms you may defuse a great deal of the campaign against you? Or should you be cautious, on the basis that this is a scorpion that can sting in any direction?

The decision was, however, taken out of his hands, by Berezovsky's death.

Was this suicide, or murder? I do not know. All I do know is that, if it was murder, it was not the Russian security services that were responsible. That said, I would not put MI6 among the likely suspects. I think that, time and again, they have got into games they do not really understand and are too dangerous for them – as indeed Lugovoi was implying with his remarks about the British all being idiots.

As regards Sir Robert Owen, he seems to me triumphantly to vindicate Lugovoi's remark. The man really is a pompous. He out-Hutton's Lord Hutton.

David Habakkuk


One further interesting development which bears upon this whole affair.

In recent weeks, a great deal of media attention has been devoted to the case of Robert Levinson, who disappeared on the Iranian island of Kish in March 2007. His family had been hoping that in the aftermath of the nuclear deal he would be released by the Iranians, whom they believe to be still holding him.

In December 2013, Philip Giraldi wrote a piece in the 'American Conservative', entitled 'Where is Robert Levinson?' discussing the new evidence that he had in fact been on a – reportedly rogue and certain reckless – mission organised by elements in the CIA. And he also pointed out that given the nature of his activities, there were many besides the Iranian authorities who might have had an interest in abducting him.

(For the piece, see http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/where-is-robert-levinson/ .)

I posted a comment on this piece, which seems worth reproducing:

'A sideline which may be relevant: Levinson was an associate of Yuri Shvets, the former KGB officer who processed the famous tapes of the former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma supposedly recorded by Major Melnichenko for Boris Berezovsky.

'After Alexander Litvinenko died of polonium poisoning in London in November 2006, Shvets was wheeled out, probably with the collaboration of MI6, to produce a cock-and-bull story about his having been assassinated in revenge for a ''due diligence'' dossier the two men had produced on an influential Kremlin insider.

'When this account was first elaborated, in a documentary presented by Tom Mangold on BBC Radio on 16 December 2006, Levinson was presented as a witness in support of the claims by Shvets. This was also the case when the story was recycled in the April 2007 study ''The Litvinenko File'' by the former BBC Moscow Correspondent Martin Sixsmith.

(See http://polonium-affair.livejournal.com/13514.html )

'However, by then MI6 appear to have shifted from disinformation presented by Shvets to disinformation presented by Litvinenko’s Italian collaborator Mario Scaramella.

'If indeed Levinson was on Kish attempting to dig up dirt on Rafsanjani, there might be significant parallels and overlaps between what he was doing and the ''information operations'' in which Shvets, Litvinenko and Scaramella were engaged.

Actually, this brings me on to a critical point about the Litvinenko mystery which I have not discussed in these comments – although I have in materials submitted to the Inquiry.

It actually needs to be seen against the background of conflicts in the American – and British – intelligence communities during the 'Eighties. On the American side of this, the archive of articles by the former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman on the 'Consortium News' website is useful.

(See https://consortiumnews.com/2015/10/27/a-close-call-on-doomsday/ .)

In a recent article entitled 'A Close Call on Doomsday', Goodman recalls the 'Able Archer' affair of 1983. As he notes, Robert Gates, then Deputy Director of the CIA, dismissed the possibility that when NATO conducted a – highly realistic – nuclear war plans exercise, Soviet leaders might believe that they were actually preparing a nuclear 'first strike' as 'risible'.

As Goodman notes, on 25 October the 'Washington Post' reported on a recently-published U.S. intelligence review from 1990, that argued that Gates had been completely wrong: Soviet leaders in 1983 had believed the Reagan administration was using a mobilisation exercise to prepare a surprise nuclear attack.

Unfortunately I am not sufficiently 'up to speed' on current arguments about 'Able Archer' to be clear as to whether the review was putting matters too starkly. It is however quite clear that as an analyst of Soviet policy Gates was simply incompetent.

Some of the reasons for his error are worth bringing out. Those who became 'neoconservatives' – in line of descent from Senator Henry 'Scoop' Jackson and the NSC 68 paper of April 1950 – believed that late Soviet professions of interest in nuclear disarmament were a cunning deception ploy. In their view, it concealed a continuing aspiration to build the capabilities to fight and win a nuclear war by means of a pre-emptive strike.

By the early 'Eighties, the combined efforts of the American scholar-diplomat Ambassador Raymond Garthoff and – to give him his Royal Navy title – Commander Michael MccGwire, who had been that organisation's leading expert on its Soviet counterpart, had established that this was hogwash. The Soviets had decisively abandoned strategies of nuclear pre-emption by the mid-Seventies. The re-emphasis on the conventional 'blitzkrieg' on the Central Front was a result of this.

On this basis, by mid-1987 MccGwire and Garthoff were already anticipating the possibility of a radical shift towards a defensive strategy in Central Europe by the Soviets.

(See http://www.ucis.pitt.edu/nceeer/1987-800-05-McGwire.pdf .)

A central point is quite simple. For decades NATO agonised about how to establish the 'credibility' of Western threats of first-use – which essentially meant that persuading the Russians that, under certain circumstances, we would behave like suicidal lunatics.

The implicit assumption was that the Soviets were aware that the only contingency in which such threats could be implemented was when they were wondering whether or not to succumb to the temptation to swallow more of Europe. As in fact Soviet contingency planning for war had nothing to do with any aspiration to territorial expansion, and they thought Western leaders knew this, their interpretations of our strategies commonly mirror-imaged ours of theirs.

Talk of 'containment' and 'deterrence', in a common Soviet perception, was a cunning attempt to conceal behind defensive protestations was what was actually a strategy of 'compellence'. Within this intellectual framework, there were two possible ways of interpreting Western attempts to improve the 'credibility of deterrence'.

The more natural one was to say – these people are only pretending to be prepared to act suicidally, in order to intimidate us. However, there was always the alternative possibility, which came into focus at the time of 'Able Archer' – perhaps they really are suicidally insane? And at that point, there really was a possibility of things running out of control.

A second critical issue in the debates of the 'Eighties was the extent of the involvement of the 'evil empire' in terrorism.

Also on the Melvin Goodman thread on 'Consortium News' is a republished post from 1997 by Robert Parry, who runs the site, on the destruction in the Reagan years of the analytical section of the CIA – out of which, incidentally, Garthoff came. As Parry writes, clearly drawing on Goodman:

'To make Reagan's apocalyptic vision stick – to blame Moscow for the world's terrorism, Yellow Rain chemical warfare in Indochina, the Pope assassination attempt and virtually all revolutionary movements in the Third World – Reagan and his CIA Director William J. Casey set out to purge the CIA analytical division of those who wouldn't toe the party line, those who saw the Soviet Union as a declining empire still interested in detente with the West.'

If you look at the versions of the 'suitcase nuke' scare which were being recycled on a symposium on the prominent neoconservative website FrontPageMag.com entitled 'Al Qaeda's Nukes' on 27 October 2006, a number of things become glaringly apparent.

It is clear that a significant element in the 'suitcase nuke' scare was directly linked to the BS about the Soviets still preparing for a pre-emptive nuclear strike, which resulted in the uncritical acceptance of the unutterable BS from the GRU defector Stanislav Lunev about prepositioned nukes in the U.S.

Furthermore what look like echoes of 'information operations' are clearly visible in the symposium. One version, in which the danger of nuclear terrorism is supposed to lie primarily in materials supplied by or through the Chechen insurgents and associated mafias to Al Qaeda, is opposed to another, according to which the key danger is in links between that organisation and former and current members of the Russian security services.

Moreover, what is quite clearly a polonium-beryllium initiator – see the reference to the short half-life – is unambiguously identified as the key element required to make such a 'suitcase nuke' functional.

(see http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=1857 .)

And one is asked to believe by Sir Robert Owen – who has been sent a mass of relevant material on the whole history of the 'suitcase nukes' scare by me – that the presence of polonium in London at precisely the time the FrontPageMag.com symposium appeared was due to its selection as an assassination weapon. And this, he tells us, was, 'probably' with Putin's approval. LOL.

What Berezovsky's 'information operations' people were doing were playing to the hysterias of the Reagan years. It was critical for them to counter the 'realpolitik' argument that the West and Russia had significant common interests in combating jihadist terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

To do this, they elaborated the vision of the Russian security services, in collaboration with organised crime, being the masterminds of global terrorism, and attempting to supply Al Qaeda with a nuclear or radiological weapons capability.

However, there was another area which these attempts could 'mesh' naturally with neoconservative agendas. If it could be credibly alleged that the Russian security services and forces linked to them were supplying 'rogue states' with WMD, it would be possible to kill two birds with one stone, in that besides discrediting the former it could help provide various form of 'casus belli' against the latter.

What makes this whole area difficult is that very odd things were clearly happening in the period of collapse following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Separating out fact from fiction is not easy, even in a relatively straightforward case like the activities of General Anatoly Kuntsevich in supplying chemical weapons to Syria.

(See http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/israel-prepares-plans-to-neutralize-syrian-chemical-weapons-a-847203.html .)

Sometimes, they appear impenetrably murky, as in the affair of the sale of Ukrainian KHH-55 cruise missiles to Iran in 2001.

(See http://left.ru/burtsev/ops/novyiregion.phtml .)

Here, however, one comes back to Shvets. It was material from the Melnichenko tapes which was supposed to demonstrate that Ukrainian President Kuchma had sold the Kolchuga passive detection system to Iraq. But it is now clear that the material was edited. Likewise, the material produced at the Inquiry supposed to establish close personal links between Mogilevich and Putin, which was critical to the claims that the latter was involved in supplying Al Qaeda with nukes, was clearly edited.

The second 'Fifth Element' site, on which Shvets disseminated his material in Ukraine, was taken down shortly after the Litvinenko story broke. It was reported to me by a source of whose integrity I have no doubt whatsoever that claims about the sale of a nuclear 'choke' – whatever that is – to Iran had featured in an article on the site.

The claim that the article had not only existed, but had been put in the hands of he 'Moscow Times' correspondent Catherine Belton, now with the 'Financial Times', was confirmed to me in an e-mail from the latter back in February 2010.

Given that the time when Levinson disappeared was precisely that when neocon efforts against Syria and Iran were being stepped up, in the wake of the failure of the attempt to destroy Hizbullah the previous year, the link to Shvets raises the question of whether his Iran mission had something to do with attempts to create a 'casus belli'.

As to British end, it is material that the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, was a signatory of the Statement of Principles of an organisation called The Henry Jackson Society. That I have come to realise is a reliable guide the intellectual and moral qualities of those now running MI6 – the British equivalents of Robert Gates.

(For more on the Society, see


David Habakkuk


One further piece of sloppiness, which was actually in the original post.

I referred to the bus which is now supposed to have been tested and shown to be free of polonium contamination as a 274, and the bus on which he was earlier reported to have travelled as a 174.

The correct numbers are 234 and 134. This is not material in relation to the point about the story changing. Both 234 and tube, and 134 bus right into central London, are perfectly natural ways for Litvinenko to have travelled into central London, and it would be wildly unlikely that he did not use an Oyster Card, which would have left an clear record.

The critical point is that the changes in the claims made about this journey create the strongest posssible prima facie case that crucial evidence has, quite simply been forged. And I can prove that materials suggesting this were repeatedly brought to the attention of the Inquiry team by myself, in memoranda which it is claimed were read.

David Habakkuk

Bryn P,

I am afraid that, on further checking, this gets worse.

A critical feature of the scientific 'evidence', as is accurately brought out in the 'Chemistry World' article, is the claim that the Health Protection Agency were able to establish that the polonium was swallowed rather than inhaled.

I have been trying to work out whether I should regard the HPA as being any more reliable than Aldermaston.

Let me cite just one piece of evidence suggesting that it would be unwise to do so.

A critical question all along has been whether Litvinenko's Italian associate Mario Scaramella was contaminated with polonium. Given that his encounter with Litvinenko at the Itsu sushi bar unambiguously preceded the latter's meeting with Lugovoi and Kovtun in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel, if Scaramella had ingested polonium then the case against the pair is called radically into question.

From a 10 December 2006 report in the 'Sunday Times' entitled 'Buried in lead in Londongrad.'

It is headed: 'They told me I had ten times the fatal dose', and runs as follows:

'Nine days ago Mario Scaramella was enjoying a stroll in the grounds of the Ashdown Park hotel in East Sussex when he was summoned to his room by a Scotland Yard detective. It was the first farcical act in an English-style commedia del’arte, writes Jon Ungoed-Thomas.

'The self-styled Italian investigator and academic was in a good mood, despite the death of his friend Alexander Litvinenko and the suspicion that had fallen on him after his meeting with the Russian defector at a London sushi bar.

'After three days of police interviews it was clear that he had been eliminated from the inquiry. And, as he told friends, he was living “in a castle” and being treated like a prince.

'However, the view from his room started to make him anxious. Police vans and an ambulance were pulling up. He saw health officials carrying masks and anti-contamination equipment. At the main entrance, the hotel was being sealed off from the outside world.

'Moments later a sombre-faced group of detectives and officials from the Health Protection Agency entered his room. Their news left him aghast. “They told me they had done some tests and I had a significant amount of contamination of polonium in my body,” Scaramella recalled. “I had read the papers and I knew what a ‘significant’ amount meant. I was going to die.”

'He was put in an ambulance and rushed to University College hospital in London where he was put an isolation room, with three police officers on guard. His alarm mounted as masked nuclear experts from the Ministry of Defence checked his body for radiation.

'Doctors admitted the prognosis was grim. “I was told I had about a 10th of the amount of polonium in my body compared to the amount that killed Alexander. It was still 10 times the lethal dose,” Scaramella said.

'Health officials in Italy were alerted. According to Scaramella, a school that his children attended was shut down and even a court that he attended was closed. His family was summoned from Italy and his wife Francesca, his parents and brother were soon by his bedside. With tears and anguish, Scaramella began to make his last will.

'There was just one hitch. Scaramella did not seem unwell. In fact, he seemed to be in rather good health.

'Sipping a glass of sparkling mineral water in a Mayfair hotel this weekend, he was again in high spirits and recounting how he lived to tell the tale of his “fatal” dose of polonium-210.

'On Saturday, he said, the doctors told him that the amount of polonium in his body may have been overestimated. It was more likely a 20th of the amount that had killed Litvinenko.

'Later that day doctors came back with blood tests. They were baffled: the poison seemed to have had no effects on his white and red cell counts. It suggested there was no immediate risk, although he might still suffer the long-term effects of radiation poisoning. It was suggested that he should perhaps “keep out of the sun” in the future.

'Early last week the last act of the comedy unfolded as the results of another test on his urine came through. His health records state: “Mr Scaramella has been well during his admission and all his investigations — blood tests and chest x-ray — have been within normal limits.”

'In other words, there was no sign that he had ever been poisoned. “I don’t know what happened with the first test,” he said. “But one of the tests has got to be wrong and I’m showing no signs of illness. Maybe they used Litvinenko’s sample.”

'Scaramella is to stay in London for two weeks for the results of other tests. It is possible that he was never contaminated with polonium at all or that he was contamined with just a small amount.

'His experiences raise questions about the reliabilty of the tests that have been conducted since the death of Litvinenko. “I am not superman,” said Scaramella. “I can’t have 10 times the fatal dose of polonium without any effects on my health. I’m confident it was a big mistake.”'

(See http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/article177266.ece .)

Note here, first, that it is suggested that the analysis from the HPA changed not once, but twice. At the start, the tests were supposed to show that he had ingested a dose of a size which would very likely have killed him, except very much more slowly than Litvinenko.

It was then suggested that the amount in question was not seriously threatening to his health – but still would have unambiguously indicated that he had contact with polonium either directly, or through someone who had: probably Litvinenko.

At the end of the report, it was suggested that he had not ingested polonium at all – but somehow the possibility that he had ingested a small quantity was left open.

Earlier on this thread I suggested that a 'Pink Panther' film was an appropriate model for how it was supposed that Lugovoi and Kovtun had carried out the assassination.

I am afraid according to conventional wisdom, the Health Protection Agency were practitioners of what might be called the 'Keystone Cops' school of forensic analysis.

At the start they massively overestimate the dose – perhaps, according to Scaramella, because they haven't mastered the basic laboratory discipline of keeping different samples separate. Then they do a retest, and come up with another result. However, apparently this is also wrong, and another test suggests yet another result – without totally foreclosing the possibility that the second was right.

If this accurately represents the degree of competence of the relevant analysts at the HPA, it would in any case be unclear that any evidence they produced would be worth very much.

Again, however, incompetence is not the most plausible explanation.
What we are seeing here are three different scenarios, which correspond to three different versions of when Litvinenko was supposedly deliberately poisoned. The first arose out of his own suggestion, when he first broke the story, that he believed he had been poisoned at the Itsu by Scaramella.

This was patent disinformation, but it dropped the Berezovsky group and MI6 right in it. One response was to try to suggest that someone other than Scaramella had poisoned Litvinenko at the Itsu – and had tried to poison the Italian at the same time.

They then replaced this by the suggestion that Litvinenko had been poisoned a meeting involving Lugovoi and a mysterious Russian prior to the meeting at the Itsu. Hence the slight contamination scenario, which would correspond to what could be expected if an already contaminated Litvinenko had hugged Scaramella when they met.

Finally, however, they settled on the Pine Bar meeting as the preferred location. At that point, the HPA had to maintain that Scaramella was not contaminated at all.

Clearly, no reliance can be based upon any tests carried out by that organisation, any more than tests carried out by Aldermaston, unless it can be shown that they can be corroborated by evidence which is rather more solid.

As I noted in my earlier comment, the timeline which makes sense is that provided by 'Izvestiya'. Much of the rest of the article is patent disinformation. What remains unclear is whether it was disinformation exploiting a trap which Berezovsky, Litvinenko, and probably MI6 had dug for themselves, or a trap which had been set for them.

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