Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Vladimir Polon

A few days ago I posted on the folly of buying the new Eurofighter to defend ourselves against attack by the Russians. Has all this changed with the apparent murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London?

After faffing around with stories about Thallium, it has become clear that he was killed by ingesting the radioactive substance Putinium 210. Media speculation has it that his assasination was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Polon. Is this likely to be true?

The Russians have a history of murdering dissidents in London. Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian, was killed during the Cold War by a ricin injection from an umbrella tip.

Funny how these conspiracy theories have a hematological flavor. Ricin, the poison derived from the Caster oil plant, is employed as an anti-cancer agent. Ricin is one of the ribosome inactivating proteins which inhibit protein synthesis by enymatically interfering with the binding of the 60s microsomal subunit to elongation factor 2 (which I wrote about in Lancet 1983 i:512). Despite the many attempts to use ricin as a warhead for immune guided missiles, killing Russian dissidents seems to be the only practical use. Now we have the Russain dissident apparently killed by radioactivity which among other things wipes out the bone marrow.

Like most commentators in the MSM I have obtained most of the following information from Wikpedia.

Polonium was discovered by Marie Curie in 1897 while investigating the cause of pitchblende radioactivity. She named it after her homeland of Poland (Latin: Polonia,) then under foreign domination (by the Russians among others) in the hope of making a political point.

In 1934 an experiment showed that when natural 209Bi is bombarded with neutrons, 210Bi, the parent of polonium, is created. Polonium may now be made in milligram amounts in this procedure which uses high neutron fluxes found in nuclear reactors. Only about 100 grams (three and half ounces) is believed to be produced each year, making polonium exceedingly rare. Since it is also very heavy, three an half ounces is very small beer indeed.

210Po is the most available isotope. It is an alpha emitter with a half-life of just over 138 days. A milligram of 210Po emits as many alpha particles as 5 grams of radium. A great deal of energy is released by its decay with half a gram quickly reaching a temperature above 900 °F. Because it emits many alpha particles, which are stopped within a very short distance in dense media and release their energy, 210Po has been used as a lightweight heat source to power thermoelectric cells in artificial satellites.

Polonium dissolves readily in dilute acids, and it is easily vaporized. 50% of a sample is vaporized in air in 45 hours at 131°F. Hence the worry in London that others might have been exposed by inhaling the vapor.
Polonium is a highly radioactive and toxic element and is very difficult to handle. Even in microgram amounts, handling 210Po is extremely dangerous, requiring specialized equipment and strict handling procedures. Alpha particles emitted by polonium will damage organic tissue easily if polonium is ingested, inhaled, or absorbed (though they do not penetrate the skin and hence are not hazardous if the polonium is outside the body).

To produce a potentially lethal radiation dose of 10 sieverts, if ingested, requires just 0.12 micrograms (millionths of a gram) of 210Po (about 525 microcuries of radioactivity). A cube of pure 210Po about the size of a written period (full stop, if you are English) would still be 3400 times the lethal dose. The maximum allowable body burden for ingested polonium is only 1,100 becquerels (0.03 microcurie), which is equivalent to a particle weighing only 6.8 × 10 to the power of -12 gram. Weight for weight, polonium is approximately 2.5 × 10 to the power of 11 (250 billion) times as toxic as hydrogen cyanide. The maximum permissible concentration for airborne soluble polonium compounds is about 7,500 Bq/cu m (2 × 10 to the power of -11 ┬ÁCi/ cc). The biological halflife of polonium in humans is 30 to 50 days.

What is it used for?

  1. When it is mixed or alloyed with beryllium, polonium can be a neutron source: beryllium releases a neutron upon absorption of an alpha particle that is supplied by 210Po. It has been used in this capacity as a neutron trigger for nuclear weapons. Other uses include:
  2. Devices that eliminate static charges in textile mills and other places. However, beta sources are more commonly used and are less dangerous.
  3. Brushes that remove accumulated dust from photographic films. The polonium used in these brushes is sealed and controlled thus minimizing radiation hazards.
  4. As 210Po, a lightweight heat source to power thermoelectric cells.

Alexander Litvinenko became a KGB agent in 1986 and in 1988 was drafted into military intelligence. From 1989 to 1991 he served in counter-intelligence. In 1991, he was promoted to the Central Staff of the MB-FSK-FSB, specialising in counter-terrorist activities and infiltration of organized crime. In 1997, he was again promoted to the Department for the Analysis of Criminal Organizations of the Russian FSB with the title of senior operational officer and deputy head of the Seventh Section.
In 1998, Litvinenko claimed his superiors had ordered the killing of Boris Berezovsky, a Russian businessman who then held the high government post of Secretary of the Security Council and was close to President Boris Yeltsin; Berezovsky later fled to the UK. Litvinenko claims that he was dismissed from the FSB, and then arrested twice on charges which were dropped after he had spent time in Moscow prisons.

In 1999 he was arrested on counts of abusing duties during the anti-terrorist campaign in Kostroma. He was released a month later upon signing a written undertaking not to leave the country. Using his acquired freedom, Litvinenko fled before he could face the trial. He made his way without a passport to Turkey, where he joined his wife Marina and their son Anatoly, who had entered Turkey on tourist visas. On 1 November 2000, they immigrated to the United Kingdom, claiming political asylum, and in October 2006 he became a British citizen. In London he was employed by Berezovsky, and judging from his movements (which can be traced by a trail of radioactivity) he lived high on the hog. He has extensively criticized President Vladimir Putin, particularly his position on Chechnya.

He alleged that agents from the FSB co-ordinated the 1999 apartment block bombings in Russia that killed more than 300 people. Russian officials blamed the explosions on Chechen separatists. In December 2003 Litvinenko alleged that Vladimir Putin during his time at FSB was personally involved in organized crime.

Earlier that year he alleged that two of the Chechen terrorists involved in the 2002 Moscow theater siege were working for the FSB, and that the agency manipulated rebels into staging the attack. He claimed that the FSB got its agents out before the final attack.

In April 2006, a British MEP for London, Gerard Batten (UKIP), cited allegations by Litvinenko that Romano Prodi, the Italian Centre-Left leader (now Prime Minister) and former President of the European Commission, had been the KGB's "man in Italy". He told the European Parliament that Litvinenko had been informed by FSB deputy chief, General Anatoly Trofimov (who was shot dead in Moscow in 2005) that "Romano Prodi is our man (in Italy)". Among Litvinenko's most serious claims is that Prodi assisted in the protection of KGB operatives allegedly involved in the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981.

In July 2006, an article written by Litvinenko alleged that Putin was a paedophile.

The papers are hinting that Putin is to blame, but as a reader of detective stories I am sensitized to the most obvious suspect being the killer. There have certainly been a series of suspicious deaths among Russian dissidents, of whom Anna Politkovskaya was the most recent until Litvinenko. We are hearing today on the News that a former Russian prime minister is ill in Moscow and that poisoning is suspected.

We have to ask the question, "What would Putin gain by having a critic killed in such a public way?" If he just wanted him disposed of, why not make it look like an accident or suicide? Was he just flexing his muscles knowing that with Europe dependent on Russian oil, he is untouchable?

Granted, Polonium210 is very difficult to get hold of and to handle, suggesting that a Government was involved. But perhaps Litvinenko was just a rather sophisticated suicide bomber (even perhaps an involuntary one); the point is not the death but the propaganda. Comrade Berezovsky might well be resourceful enough, brazen enough and callous enough to try something like that.

4 comments:

Exiled in mainstream said...

The plot thickens - A Berezovsky type figure looks increasingly likely.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1962759,00.html

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