May 31 2007
Update: The news is coming out fast and furious this morning. Kovtun is confirming Litvinenko bragged about his association with Chechen terrorists. – end upate
The one angle of this story which was barely reported on and never followed up is whether Po-210 was ever discovered in Turkey. Very few probably recall or know that Turkey was one of the countries where people were tested for Po-210 regarding Litvinenko’s death. The strange thing is no one has reported on what the results of the tests were. I assume no news means no Po-210 detected. But Turkey plays in this story very much because of the fact it is a gateway to the Middle East and a lot of nuclear smuggling has gone through the country via the Caspian Sea. I posted on these possible connections here.
This makes it all the more surprising the early media stories, and a lot of them overall, decided to not make public some of the more intriguing claims made by Lugovoi and Kovtun. Thankfully one news organization did:
In the beginning of the news conference, Lugovoi announced that Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky living in exile in the UK and ex-FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko were recruited by the British intelligence, which made it easier for them to obtain political asylum and UK citizenship. Besides, according to Kovtun, having a British passport, Litvinenko repeatedly visited Pankissi Gorge in Georgia. In Turkey, he, under an instruction of one of militants leader Ahmed Zakayev met representatives of illegal militant groups.
Georgia is another common trade route for nuclear contraband, and the Pankisi Gorge is a well known terrorist trouble spot not unlike the Northern Provinces of Pakistan:
Due to the gorgeâ€™s geographic location and unstable weather conditions, it has always been difficult to control on-going illegal activities, even during the Soviet era. Since 1999, Pankisi Gorge has been home to 7,000 Chechen refugees, who crossed the border after the second Chechen war started in 1999. This influx of refugees further complicated the task of Georgian law enforcement agencies, since distinguishing refugees from Chechen rebels or other terrorists is extremely difficult. Criminal activities have increased in the past four years, with drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and kidnapping the most frequently committed crimes.
However, in the fall of 2001, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze acknowledged the possibility that Chechen commander Ruslan Gelayev could have been hiding in the region. This acknowledgement was followed by a statement from Georgian Security Minister Valeriy Khaburdzania pointing out that an unspecified number of Jordanian and Saudi citizens allegedly planning an attack in Russia had been apprehended in the Pankisi Gorge. In the meantime, U.S. intelligence also acknowledged that Arab militants and other fighters from Afghanistan had been seen in the Pankisi Gorge. According to Philip Remler, then acting U.S. ambassador in Georgia, al-Qaiâ€™da and Taliban fighters had scattered across the Caucasus, and some of them were hiding in the Pankisi Gorge and were in contact with Al-Khattab, an Arab terrorist with connections to Usama bin Laden.
The gorge has one paved road in and out. Not exactly a garden spot for vacationers. If Lugovoi is correct, Litvinenko was meeting with some very dangerous people there as well as in Turkey. How Lugovoi knows this would be an interesting bit of information. But Lugovoi was in London something like 12-14 times in 2005 and 2006, many times meeting with Litvinenko and Berezovsky. So it is clear Litvinenko had opportunities to discuss his exploits in the region. If so Lugovoi would seem to be still holding back details.
What worries me is the man with at least two exposure to the Po-210, used in older nuclear bomb triggers and useful as a dirty bomb core, has now been connected to Bin Laden associates. As I have said many times, I would much rather this be a case of assassination than a smuggling operation accidentally exposed and killing the smuggler. One cannot forget the first people to commemorate Litvinenko were the Chechen Rebels who annointed him a martyr! The Chechens are the only terrorists to plant a dirty nuclear bomb in a major Western city. That makes them more experienced than any others in this area. And one of our readers tipped us off to a story from 2005 about a man named “Sasha”, associated with one Scaramella, peddling nuclear material in Italy in 2004. The coincidence that this Sasha is the same Sasha who dies 2 years later of exposure to Po-210 is a bit of a stretch – but who knows.
What is a concern is the tunnel vision regarding this case. Litvinenko apparently visited a region which just recently as this year had reports of Uranium trafficking to Islamic Terrorists:
On Thursday, Tbilisi said it had detained a Russian citizen who tried to sell highly enriched uranium to law enforcement officials posing as radical Islamists. Moscow said Georgia was trying to make political capital out of the case.
I find it quite telling only one news organization seems to have carried the part of the Lugovoi-Kovtun presser that makes a connection between Litvinenko and al Qaeda (or al Qaeda like organizations). What is even more disturbing – and telling – is the British response (from the first link above):
â€œThe Litvinenko case is a criminal one, it is not an issue of intelligenceâ€¦ We expect official and constructive response (to the request to extradite Lugovoi â€” REGNUM),â€ said a spokesman for the UK embassy in response, who preferred not to be identified.
Is this denial, tunnel vision, cover up or an honest assessment? Who knows. But recall one thing we here in the US learned about 9-11. We missed all the warning signs from the first World Trade Center attack by being fixated on law enforcement and not considering the broader ramifications and future dangers. I cannot help but feel history is repeating itself on this case.