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  1. #1
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    Default The Curious Case of Alexander Litvinenko

    The death of Alexander Litvinenko from radioactive poisoning in London in 2006 is a curious affair. A public enquiry that has just ended has not really told us anything we did not know before, although evidence from MI6 was held in secret so we may never know just how involved Litvinenko was with British intelligence, or what he did or did not do for them. Unfortunately he made a lot of allegations about the FSB (formerly KGB) and Vladimir Putin (for example that he is a paedophile) which either have not been or cannot be verified, but it is beyond doubt that he was killed as a result of the Polonium 210 that was put in his tea by two former associates in the FSB, both of whom deny it. The important fact is that in Russia it is not possible to obtain Poloniium 210 at the level required to kill someone in a supermarket or a chemist shop, it had to have come from the military, and one also assumes that it is difficult -impossible?- to take radioactive materials through security in airports, not sure how that works.

    But what this raises, if the Russian state sanctioned its use, is the theoretical possibility that the murder of Alexander Litvinenko was, in effect, a nuclear attack on the UK -not a state attacking a state, but a state attacking an individual. I don't know where that leaves deterrence as a doctrine, but a retaliation in kind by the UK does not seem either likely or desirable -but should the murder be classed as a 'nuclear attack' given that Polonium 210 is used to make nuclear weapons?

    There is a wikipedia on Litvinenko here-
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Litvinenko


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  2. #2
    Senior Member Gold Poster Laphroaig's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Curious Case of Alexander Litvinenko

    Short answer, no it shouldn't be classed as a "nuclear attack" although the issue of how the Polonium was obtained/sanctioned is a worrying one.

    As an aside, the point you make about taking radioactive materials through airport security is an interesting one. I've never given it any thought before, but Radium and Tritium (both used in illuminating watch dials) are radioactive, yet presumably millions of watches pass through security scans every day without triggering any alarms. Does make you wonder what the settings/sensitivity of the detectors are.


    Last edited by Laphroaig; 08-02-2015 at 11:33 AM.

  3. #3
    Hung Angel Platinum Poster trish's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Curious Case of Alexander Litvinenko

    Watch dials used to be painted with radium and given a final coat of white phosphorous. White phosphorous is not radioactive. However, when exposed to light it undergoes a number of chemical reactions with oxygen and hydrogen to cause it to glow for a short while. Exposing it to the continuous radiation (like that emitted by radium) would cause it to glow continuously. Watches dials no longer are painted with radium or other radioactive substances, which is why modern watches don’t glow all through the night.

    Still, I’m not at all certain the TSA is set up to detect radioactivity. It X-rays your suitcases, it X-rays you and it runs you through a metal detector. That’s all I’m aware of.

    I thought Litvinenko was stuck with polonium tipped dart shot from clever umbrella gun. I must be thinking of someone else. What’s curious is why would the Soviets use such a self-identifying poison.

    I agree with Laphroaig, it’s not an example of a nuclear attack, though it has all the earmarks of a State attacking a individual legally within the borders of another nation.


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    "...I no longer believe that people's secrets are defined and communicable, or their feelings full-blown and easy to recognize."_Alice Munro, Chaddeleys and Flemings.

    "...the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way". _Judge Holden, Cormac McCarthy's, BLOOD MERIDIAN.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: The Curious Case of Alexander Litvinenko

    I think the umbrella dart was used to target someone with ricin. I can't recall who it was but it was a decade or so earlier if I'm right. I think the authorities believe Litvinenko ingested the Polonium.


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  5. #5
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    Default Re: The Curious Case of Alexander Litvinenko

    If the Russians really are crazy enough to plan and carry out an assassination with nuclear material and it was a centrally made decision, I agree retaliation is not a good idea. I'm not sure what is though.



  6. #6
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    Default Re: The Curious Case of Alexander Litvinenko

    Quote Originally Posted by trish View Post
    I thought Litvinenko was stuck with polonium tipped dart shot from clever umbrella gun. I must be thinking of someone else. What’s curious is why would the Soviets use such a self-identifying poison.
    The Bulgarian dissident who worked for the BBC World Service, Georgi Markov was the man killed with a Ricin dart in 1978 -
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgi_Markov



  7. #7
    5 Star Poster sukumvit boy's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Curious Case of Alexander Litvinenko

    Love this thread , thanks all
    Geez , great mini tutorial on watch dials , thanks trish. You pressed all my science trivia buttons
    Stavros may remember that I posted some information on the Litvinenko murder on an earlier discussion about Putin and the murders of at least 6 other dissidents including journalist Anna Politkovskaya .
    Polonium 210 has a short half-life of only 138 days , and although highly radioactive , not very practical for power generation ,such as aboard spacecraft . Short half life radioisotopes are widely used in medicine and are routinely shipped and handled in lead-aluminum containers. So it doesn't necessarily need to be carried by an airline passenger. Polonium 210 is used in the paper industry ,not medicine ,but very rare and ,the key point of the inquiry,almost certainly from a nuclear facility.

    http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/Is...olonium210.asp

    http://www.businessinsider.com/here-...t-years-2015-2

    http://www.chemicool.com/elements/polonium.html



  8. #8
    5 Star Poster sukumvit boy's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Curious Case of Alexander Litvinenko

    Deadly old watches and 'The Radium Girls'.
    http://elginwatches.org/help/luminous_dials.html


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    Last edited by sukumvit boy; 08-05-2015 at 05:29 AM.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: The Curious Case of Alexander Litvinenko

    Quote Originally Posted by sukumvit boy View Post
    Love this thread , thanks all
    Geez , great mini tutorial on watch dials , thanks trish. You pressed all my science trivia buttons
    Stavros may remember that I posted some information on the Litvinenko murder on an earlier discussion about Putin and the murders of at least 6 other dissidents including journalist Anna Politkovskaya .
    Polonium 210 has a short half-life of only 138 days , and although highly radioactive , not very practical for power generation ,such as aboard spacecraft . Short half life radioisotopes are widely used in medicine and are routinely shipped and handled in lead-aluminum containers. So it doesn't necessarily need to be carried by an airline passenger. Polonium 210 is used in the paper industry ,not medicine ,but very rare and ,the key point of the inquiry,almost certainly from a nuclear facility.
    Thanks for the interesting post, and apologies that I do not recall the posts you made on the murders of Putin's opponents. What that raises is the most curious issue, why, since most of Putin's enemies/critics in the link you offered, were shot dead, was Polonium 210 used as a murder weapon? I have an interesting book on the case written by the New York Times journalist Alan S. Cowell -The Terminal Spy (200-eight) where he quotes a Russian 'Kremlinologist', Stanislas Belkovsky
    ' "Polonium is just a demonstration. It's like a visiting card left at the scene of the crime...Polonium was used to show it was the secret services...If the FSB were really involved, they would have used another tool" '; and he then cites a 'former British intelligence official' who told him ' "if he had been murdered professionally by the FSB, I don't think we would know he had been murdered"' (all from Chapter 14, page 406)

    -But although the medical teams treating Litvinenko deduced that he was being killed from the inside by radiation poisoning it seems clear that the people who murdered him did not believe the cause of death would be made at all, and that Litvinenko's strange death would not have been exposed as murder but possibly explained as an auto-immune collapse similar to but not derived from AIDS.

    The first diagnosis of radiation poisoning as the cause of Litvinenko's illness was made on the 16th of November when it was believed he had been poisoned by Thallium, and this also initiated the criminal investigation into his death which took place on the 23rd (see Cowell on this in Chapter 11 from page 265 onwards). As a result of what Litvinenko managed to tell the police before he died, their follow up inspections of the places where Litvinenko said he met Lugovoi and Kovtun were revealed to have traces of radiation, but Polonium 210 was only identified by atomic scientists at the Aldermaston research centre on the day Litvinenko died in the final batch of urine samples from him that they had to work with and which they treated with exceptional care -otherwise the cause of death might never have been known. This was not revealed publicly until after Litvinenko's death because of the political implications, which Cowell describes as 'the ultimate threat, the nightmare that had stalked the Cold War and its buildup of nuclear arsenals'. Added to which came the question -where did the Polonium come from?

    According to Cowell, the old Soviet nuclear facility at Sarov was the place where the Polonium was manufactured, and it is estimated that the amount of Polonium used to kill Litvinenko would have cost 'a few thousand dollars', as the material can be produced in bulk and it is not incredibly expensive to do so, although when you set the cost of Polonium against the cost of buying a gun, even on the black market in London it seems an unusually expensive and elaborate a way to kill someone, after all, both Lugovoi and Kovtun knew Litvinenko; they could have arranged a meeting somewhere, and sat in the lobby of their hotel while a third or fourth person abducted him, bumped him off and buried him in a field far away, never to be seen or heard of again. And so on. It is possible that the Polonium was placed into a small vial which would not have been detected in security at airports, although Cowell says that Russia it is transported in lead containers so I am still not sure how it was transported.

    The most puzzling thing is why such a high risk form of radiation poisoning was used at all, even if the aim was to kill someone without the cause being discovered, which suggests a cock-up, rather in the way that the bomb on Pan-Am 103 was supposed to explode when the aeroplane was flying over the Atlantic, not Lockerbie in Scotland.


    Last edited by Stavros; 08-05-2015 at 12:33 PM.

  10. #10
    5 Star Poster sukumvit boy's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Curious Case of Alexander Litvinenko

    Two prior attempts to kill him failed.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-30994242



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