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Former Spy Poisoned By Radiation In UK 432

An anonymous reader writes "BBC new is reporting the death of the ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko with a major dose of radioactive polonium-210. But nobody knows how it got there. Suspicions have fallen upon the Russian security services (who deny involvement). The task of the pathologists now is to unpick what really killed him and how it was administered. Quite what techniques they will use to solve this puzzle is unclear." From the article: "A post-mortem examination on Mr Litvinenko has not been held yet. The delay is believed to be over concerns about the health implications for those present at the examination. But Roger Cox from the HPA said a large quantity of alpha radiation emitted from polonium-210 had been detected in Mr Litvinenko's urine."
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Former Spy Poisoned By Radiation In UK

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  • by 8127972 ( 73495 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:39PM (#16978240)
    ......found this curious comment:

    "Mr Putin himself has said Mr Litvinenko's death was a tragedy, but he saw no "definitive proof" it was a "violent death"."

    Clearly the term "violent death" has a different definition in Russian than it does in English.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:50PM (#16978336)
      Or more likely, he's just not being honest.

      Mr Putin himself has said Mr Litvinenko's death was a tragedy

      Mr. Litvinenko was apparantly more than your average former KGB agent - he's accused [] Putin of pedophilia, among other things. Even if Putin weren't behind this poisoning (which he almost certainly is), he probably wouldn't consider Mr. Litvinenko's death a tragedy at all.

      Isn't it strange how Putin's most vocal critics [] inside Russia are just dropping like flies...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:55PM (#16978370)
      This was said before the postmortem and before Po poisoning was officially confirmed.

      Before that the UK medics went through a list of at least 3-4 different hypothesis each of which proved to be loads of bull. Tallium, radioactive Tallium, strange objects in his intestines, etc you name it.

      So at the point where Putin said it nothing was known yet. I have not heard what he said in Russian so it is also quite likely that some nuances have been lost in translation (like a "yet" at the end of the sentence).

      As far as you noticing that his idea of violent death differs from our idea of violent death that is a definite. He would not have had his past job if this was not so.

      It is quite interesting that AFAIK this is the first high profile poisoning with radioactive substance. Considering the guaranteed lethality and obvious ineptitude of the medics in diagnosing it I am surprised that this does not happen more often. Actually, probably it does, but using much smaller doses which end up in effects indistinguishable from cancer. If the dose was a small fraction of what he got he would have died quietly from leukemia 6 months from now. Whoever killed him wanted to make a point and also wanted the fingers to be pointed at the usual suspects.

      Which makes me on a second thought post anonymously :-)
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rbanffy ( 584143 )
        As far as killing him of leukemia 6 months from now, this would not be enough to contain any information he migh have - 6 months is time enough to write a biography.

        If this is a case of silencing him because he was about to disclose something really nasty, why not run over him with a truck or hit him with a falling brick or, even better, making him vanish without a trace? That's nothing a boat and a pair of cement shoes couldn't achieve. Although it's unclear if anyone was ever murdered with cement shoes, I
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gmuslera ( 3436 )
      Even for me that dont speak english natively, that could not apply for my "violent death" definition. Falling from a building (ok, hitting the floor after) is violent death, like being hit by a car, or a bullet in the head. But a somewhat slow, maybe taking days death because poison, starving, thirst or whatever dont fall in my category.

      Now, also what he could mean is that there are not conclusive evidence to tell if was he was killed, or it was accidental (touching dust/old things from work/whatever and

      • by Marcos Eliziario ( 969923 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @08:20PM (#16979588) Homepage Journal
        Look for photos of person sick with acute radioative poisoning. You'll agree that's pretty violent.
        • Chernobyl victims (Score:3, Interesting)

          by drgonzo59 ( 747139 )
          Yes, I have heart of people visiting the "liquidators"(people who were sent to clean up the mess) from Chernobyl. Some had gotten so much radiation, that they got cooked alive -- their flesh had lost all feeling was just coming off the bone like you see on an overdone turkey. Pretty sick, doctors just prescribed wine and vodka and waited for them to die. All my mom's plants on the balcony turned yellow, I wonder if my children would have to heads...
    • by lawpoop ( 604919 )
      I think in this context, Putin means "was murdered by someone" as opposed to "died by accident".
    • by saikou ( 211301 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @10:23PM (#16980520) Homepage
      I believe in this case Mr Putin used term "nasilstvennaya smert'" which basically means someone else killed that person. While "nasilstvennaya" has the same root as "nasilie" = violence, the meaning is "forced upon someone" versus "estestvennaya" (which would mean "natural causes" i.e. old age or an illness). Means of inflicting premature death could be violet (hacked with a saw) or not-so-violent (sleeping pills poisoning) but in both cases it would be an "unnatural cause of death"/"nasilstvennaya smert'".
      Of course it's way more fun to use "violent" in articles, as it paints Russian President as a fierce person who doesn't think that deaths not involving excessive violence are worthy of an investigation.

      Frankly I personally don't know what to think about this whole story. It's some sort of James Bond in real life. If it was really an evil plot, why did they use highly exotic means? Why not just shoot him during "robbery" or "accidentally" run him over with a car? To give him enough time to make an accusation? Did perpetrators they take into account his hate toward Russian government and simply used him for their own purposes? Or they knew we'd think that and reality is even more twisted? I don't think he'd do it on purpose -- sacrificing one's life is a very high price for a political statement to make.
      So my only option is to wait for the final results of the autopsy and then hope that source of the radioactive material will be found quickly, to prevent any other radiation poisonings.
  • by Phanatic1a ( 413374 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:39PM (#16978242)
    Shades of Georgi Markov [], a Soviet expatriate/dissident who was also assassinated in London. He was stabbed in the leg with a special spring-loaded umbrella that subcutaneously injected a metal pellet contaminated with ricin. They didn't even find the pellet until he was already dead, and it took some work to find out just what had killed him.

    I wonder how they got the polonium into him. For a death this rapid, he'd pretty much have had to ingest it.
    • by meshko ( 413657 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:43PM (#16978280) Homepage
      a Soviet expatriate/dissident
      For a death this rapid, he'd pretty much have had to ingest it.
      Three weeks is nto that rapid.
      • by Phanatic1a ( 413374 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:59PM (#16978418)
        It is for a death from radiological causes. To kill someone in mere days requires obscenely high doses of radiation, we're talking prompt-criticality accidents. Slotin took 2100 rems in an instant, enough to noticeably heat the air in the room, and he still lasted for 9 days.
        • by ahillen ( 45680 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:26PM (#16978650)
          It is for a death from radiological causes. To kill someone in mere days requires obscenely high doses of radiation,

          But as far as I understand it, it is not claimed that he died from the radiation, but from the fact that Polonium is also very toxic.

          • by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @07:19PM (#16979074)
            Polonium is horribly toxic BECAUSE of its unbelieveably high radioactivity rate. It is a radiotoxicity not a chemical toxicity. I'm sure Po also posesses chemical (heavy metal) toxicity properties as well but you would be stone dead from the radiotoxicity alone of a tiny dose LONG before any heavy metal toxicity was an issue. I don't think people are appreciating just how radiotoxic it actually is, for instance a mere tenth of a milligram [] of Po-210 would give you a dose hundreds of times greater than Louis Slotin had.
        • by kravlor ( 597242 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @09:05PM (#16979934) Homepage

          The problem is that Po-210 is a potent alpha emitter []. Since these guys are kicking off 5 MeV alphas, you will get a huge dose localized to a few cm from the parent nucleus. In the digestive system, you'll quickly tear things apart, killing the stem cells of the intestinal tract. It gets worse if absorbed into the bloodstream and the bone marrow.

          While I'm not a toxicologist, I am a nuclear physicist; one of the foremost rules of radiation safety is to avoid ingesting alpha sources (or any other source, for God's sake) for precisely this reason. FWIW, alpha sources are one of the safer things to work with, for exactly the same reason that they're so bad for you if ingested: a few cm of shielding is sufficient to stop the penetrating alpha particles.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Chicane-UK ( 455253 )
      Not sure if its mentioned in TFA (have to admit I didn't look) but the reports from the BBC this week, about his poisoning (and before his death) stated that he'd met two men for lunch at a Sushi bar and began to feel seriously ill a few hours after eating there.

      Not sure if they would be able to put polonium into sushi without him realising? Not even sure what it is or how large a dose you'd need to kill someone! :|
    • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:44PM (#16978290)
      for polonium to kill you with alpha radiation, it would have to be ingested. The real question is what seasonings they use to cover up the taste. Of course it is british cuisine we are talking about. So they may never know.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by thue ( 121682 )
        The real question is what seasonings they use to cover up the taste

        For the curious, Thallium is odorless and tasteless []. I guess animals just don't evolve receptors for substances not usually found in nature.
      • by CmdrGravy ( 645153 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:04PM (#16978460) Homepage
        Yes. Sushi stalwart cornerstone of British cusine since time immemorial.
      • to cover up most dishes: Curry. I had so much curry as a child I now need it to survive. Mmmm, kidney pie.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        While funny it probably isn't a real problem.
        From the wikipedia the "safe" body load of Po210 is a massive 6.8*10^-12 grams.
        I doubt that you would have to ingest very much of it to kill you.
    • Mr. Litvinenko fell ill after having lunch at a sushi restaraunt with one Mario Scaramella (now hiding in fear of his life somewhere, according to,,13509-2462 162,00.html []. There are also reports he had tea with a Russian friend before going to lunch. So ingestion isn't exactly far-fetched.
    • by cmd ( 56100 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @09:48PM (#16980248)
      New York Times []:
      Mr. Litvinenko, 43, a prominent opponent of the Kremlin, was hospitalized earlier this month. He said that he fell ill after having lunch at a sushi restaurant with a man who said he had information about the killing of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who had made her name as a critic of the government's policies in Chechnya.

      I read another article in which Litvinenko suspected the poison was in the tea served to him.

      Also, Litvinenko and Putin have a long history:
      New York Times []: (from the archives, paid registration required)

      November 21, 1998
      Report of Plot to Kill Tycoon Leads Yeltsin to Call Inquiry

      President Boris N. Yeltsin ordered an inquiry today into spectacular charges leveled earlier this week -- so far without evidence -- that Russia's equivalent of the F.B.I. plotted to kill one of the country's most influential tycoons.

      The tycoon is Boris A. Berezovsky, an oil magnate and director of Russia's biggest television network, who was a leading supporter of Mr. Yeltsin during the last presidential campaign in 1996.

      Mr. Berezovsky, who is still alive, released a letter last week asserting that the Federal Security Service, a spinoff of the old Soviet K.G.B. that is responsible for domestic law enforcement, plotted last winter to murder him.

      On Tuesday the source of Mr. Berezovsky's information, a Security Service colonel named Aleksandr Litvinenko, called a news conference to elaborate on the accusation and warn that a rogue element was running wild within the agency.


      The list of very prominent people who once opposed Putin and suffered extremely nasty reversals of fortune is growing conspicuously long:

      • Life sentence to a Siberian gulag [Mikhail Khodorkovsky]
      • Slow, painful, and irreversible death from radiation poisoning [Litvinenko]
      • Execution (hitman style) on one's doorstep [Anna Politkovskaya]
      • Execution leaving a soccer game [Andrei Kozlov]
      • Execution at one's dacha [Enver Ziganshin]
      • Dioxin poisoning (nearly fatal) [Viktor A. Yushchenko]

      Ironically, an interview of Litvinenko from December 15 2004 included this prophetic quote:

      "The view inside our agency was that poison is just a weapon, like a pistol," said Alexander V. Litvinenko, who served in the K.G.B. and its Russian successor, the Federal Security Service, from 1988 to 1999 and now lives in London. "It's not seen that way in the West, but it was just viewed as an ordinary tool."
  • examination (Score:5, Informative)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:42PM (#16978270) Homepage

    The delay is believed to be over concerns about the health implications for those present at the examination.
    If they're concerned, they're too ignorant about science to be qualified to do the exam. The rule of thumb is that alpas are stopped by air. Even if the guy's body fluids got on you, the alphas wouldn't get through your epidermis -- and I assume people doing autopsies are going to be wearing latex gloves, a mask, etc., since they don't want to get exposed to AIDS, etc.

  • Worried, me? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sane? ( 179855 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:45PM (#16978294)

    Hands up who's not worried by this?

    Lots of talk of what Al Qaeda might do, but these are the people with their hands on thousands of nukes, much of the energy supplies and they are now poisoning people with radioactive isotopes because they say they are scheming murdering psychopaths [].

    Do we really need another bunch of homicidal f*ckwits in the world?

    • Sounds like a teaser for the local news.

      Did you know that your hallway closet could become a prison? That a simple length of wire from an ordinary household lamp could be used as a garotte? That a trained killer could use a kitchen knife, not to chop vegetables for a family meal, but as a deadly weapon? Find out more on WFUD's special report: Deadly Domestic Dangers, tonight at 10, right after "24."
    • Re:Worried, me? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:32PM (#16978716) Homepage
      I've come to the conclusion that the American illuminati hated the Russians because they were too alike, too close in methodology and goals, to the Americans. Now that all the ideology is stripped away, there really isn't much difference between the Bushes+the CIA and Putin+the KGB. Except that the Russians are so much better at the nasty stuff, as they aren't hampered by thinking of themselves as morally superior.

      The ex-KGB boys used a poison that is produced at the rate of 10 grams per year worldwide. They didn't do it to be clever. They did it to send a message that they did it, there's nothing that can stop them, and when you fuck with Putin and the New Russian Order and you get a creative agonizing death.

      Putin was behind it. So again with the reporter a few months ago. Protest, die.

      Now that we know that our "ally" is putting the finishing trim on his capitalist dictatorship, how will our millionaire media airheads and our millionaire government respond? Do I hear crickets?
      • Re:Worried, me? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DrVomact ( 726065 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @09:32PM (#16980132) Journal
        Putin was behind it.

        You know this for a fact? How?

        Certainly, it's possible...but there's no proof. Moreover, I fail to see how Litvinenko's very public death would benefit Putin. The old KGB apparat splintered into many pieces after the demise of the USSR. Some of them work for the present Russian government, some are self-employed, and some work for...other organizations. It's possible that Litvinenko's poking around was getting close to someone in the "Russian Mafia" who had the means to pull this off, or the motive may be something as banal as a personal grudge held by an ex-subordinate. Litvinenko certainly flouted one of the basic rules for enjoying a long life: avoid making enemies whenever possible. He not only had many enemies—his enemies were dangerous.

        It does seem likely to me that Litvinenko's death can be attributed to the ex-KGB, if for no other reason than that they are one of the few organizations that would have had quantities of exotic poisons stashed away. The problem is which faction or members of the ex-KGB might be responsible. Russian mafia? Rogue clique within the present Russian secret police org? An old boy (or a whole pissed-off department of the defunct KGB) pulling in some favors and activating connections to finally get even? Insufficient facts, I'm afraid.

        You might want to pick up Litvinenko's book: Blowing up Russia : Terror from Within [].

    • Re:Worried, me? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Saturday November 25, 2006 @12:13PM (#16984422) Journal
      Russia is not your ally. Has never really been, except maybe for a short period in early 90's. Definitely not after the Kosovo war.

      I can tell you that when 9/11 happened, the overwhelming feeling over here was "yankees got what they deserved". I remember the results of the polls published soon afterwards showed the same reaction on the large scale. It was really scary. It seems that the hatred towards America and the West in general was so deeply indoctrinated to everyone in the USSR that it didn't took much for it to surface again.

      What's worse, in the last few years, there has been a large-scale Westernophobia campaign coming from the government. They're telling us about how morally corrupt European countries and the U.S. are, denouncing Western liberalism (that's social liberalism - freedom of religion/speech/press etc - not economical) which is "morally harmful" and "destabilizing society", and then go ahead to tell how superior Russia is in going our own "special" way - reminds you of something going on in some other parts of the world mayhap, say, Iran, or North Korea? Oh, apparently we also need some special kind of democracy for our country - "sovereign democracy" is the official term for it - somehow distinct from the evil and corrupting Western democracy.

      The worst part of it is that most people here seem to support this political course. So, yes, you should be worried about this. But there's nothing you can really do - we've got nukes, and lots of them too. And nuclear subs. And other nasty stuff like biochem weapons. And people shall willingly take the arms and fight against NATO forces if it ever comes to a war to "defend the country against foreign aggression" (and with it, the corrupt regime).

      So your leaders will keep smiling to Mr.Putin, and they will always be good friends, and Russia will always be just a special kind of democracy, absolutely unlike Iran or NK.

  • by 0jjjjjjjjjj0 ( 1024211 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @05:47PM (#16978310) Homepage Journal
    It will be interesting to see how this investigation concludes. Some dismiss a lot of what comes out at these press conferences as simple 'nutbag syndrome', however well-founded their claims may be. See, from the article ...

    As the conference drew to a close, a heckler interrupted saying he was from Ukraine and had also been the victim of poisoning.

    He's been labelled a heckler, when he may well have a genuine issue at hand. The same thing, perhaps a little more dramatic, happened at a press conference regarding the demise of the Kursk [].

    On 18 August, Nadezhda Tylik mother of Kursk submariner Lt. Sergei Tylik, produced an intense emotional outburst in the middle of an in-progress news briefing about Kursk's fate. After attempts to quiet her failed, a nurse injected her with a sedative and she was removed from the room, incapacitated. The event, caught on film, caused further criticism of the government's response to both the disaster, and how the government handled public criticism of said response.

    When Russia (yes, even modern-day Russia) gets its hands near an investigation, the result is usually indeterminate or irrelevant, never indisputable.

  • by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:01PM (#16978432)
    Other than in nuclear weapons?
    • Wikipedia says research has been made to see if it could be used to heat spacecraft. Also:

      When it is mixed or alloyed with beryllium, polonium can be a neutron source. Other uses include:

      * This element has also been used in devices that eliminate static charges in textile mills and other places. However, beta sources are more commonly used and are less dangerous.
      * It is used on brushes that remove accumulated dust from photographic films. The poloniu

    • Ok here's a creepy thought.

            What if this guy blaming Putin is a red herring and that ACTUALLY he managed to get his hands on radioactive material and managed to smuggle it and sell it to someone...sort of like the drug couriers who swallow condoms full of cocaine or heroin, and have an unfortunate accident. Scary eh?
      • What if this guy blaming Putin is a red herring and that ACTUALLY he managed to get his hands on radioactive material and managed to smuggle it and sell it to someone...

        If he was dying, don't you think he'd have dropped a hint so that doctors might be able to treat him? If he was truly a self-serving criminal, he'd likely value his life over protecting his "associates."


        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Dunbal ( 464142 )
          If he was dying, don't you think he'd have dropped a hint so that doctors might be able to treat him?

          You can't save a patient that has this level of radiation poisoning. Impossible. Maybe he knew it, so he decided to play for the maximum political advantage. If people can fly aircraft into buildings, they can do this. Anyway it's just a creepy thought, probably not true at all - where would he get it? It will be interesting to see what the cause of the radiation is at the sushi bar. So
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by udderly ( 890305 ) *
        What if rogue clowns from some other planet drove their flying space armadillo to the UK, abducted this guy and used an anal probe to implant the polonium in his ass?

        Seriously, have you never heard of Occam's Razor?
    • by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:17PM (#16978570) Homepage Journal
      Surely I'm not the only one to immediately look up the element on the Wooden Periodic Table Table []?
      Antistatic brush.
      These brushes, which you can still buy today (2002) are made for brushing static charge off of photographic negatives. The radiation from the polonium element (which must be replaced every year or so because the half life is only 138 days) ionizes the air around the brush, making it conductive and carrying away the static charge.
      Later, while I was in Boston to receive the Ig Nobel Prize for the wooden periodic table, I purchased a brand new brush with a full charge of polonium. That's why this sample is classified as having about 20% actual polonium: It's an average figure assuming I buy a new one every few years (they are fairly cheap).

      Sounds like all our Russian "friends" needed to do was to visit the local camera store's going-out-of-business sale.
      • by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @07:06PM (#16978962)
        I know you're making a joke but this isn't as far fetched as I bet you think it is....It COULD have been done that way. The CEDE for ingested polonium [] (comitted efective dose equivalent) is an astounding 2,000 mREM/microcurie or 2,000 REM/millicurie (a lethal dose of radiation to 50% of people is only ~500 rem). He would need to ingest only .5-1 millicurie of Po-210 to get a lethal dose and each anti-static brush contains how much Po? .2-.5 millicuries per brush apparently.... I'm not saying that's how it happened, I'm sure the KGB has access to far larger amounts of Po that they would have used but it does give an idea of just how incredibly tiny an amount is needed to do harm. Even a THOUSAND TIMES the lethal dose of .5 mCi would be a mere tenth of a milligram.
        • by rkww ( 675767 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @08:48PM (#16979806)

          Even a THOUSAND TIMES the lethal dose of .5 mCi would be a mere tenth of a milligram.

          At 9196 kg/m^3 [] ~= 9 mg / mm^3, that's about a hundredth of a cubic millimeter, assuming it was given in elemental form.

          The sheer quantity of alpha radiation it produces also explains why it's used in satellites - "The power density of polonium [] is unique and made it attractive as a power source. One pound of polonium-210 occupies a volume of approximately 3 cubic inches and produces heat at the rate of 3.6 x 10^8 British Thermal Units (BTUs) per minute or about 64 kilowatts of electric power."

    • You can actually buy small amounts of the stuff OTC, in the form of a "Staticmaster" brush for removing dust from film negatives or other sensitive surfaces. []

      The alpha particles emitted from the source ionize the surrounding air, and neutralize any electrostatic charge holding dust particles to a surface.
  • by Jugalator ( 259273 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:01PM (#16978436) Journal
    I don't understand why of all things, they were using Polonium-210 to kill him. Since that's not exactly something you buy over the counter, wouldn't there be "better" ways of killing him by poisoning without drawing as much attention? Only about 100 grams of Polonium, any isotope, is estimated to be produced yearly and it's extremely rare in nature. It's hard to imagine a better way of drawing attention to the government.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bigberk ( 547360 )

      It's hard to imagine a better way of drawing attention to the government.

      Maybe that's the point of it: a message to others thinking of disgracing the state, "who do you THINK could use this to poison him, of course it's us". Kind of a classy (in a twisted psycho way) to do a state execution before the world's eyes That being said, I take anything in the media with a grain of salt. The west (incl UK) isn't exactly friendly to Russia. They would probably rather make it sound like a Russian hit given a chance

    • by Goaway ( 82658 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:17PM (#16978566) Homepage
      Not over the counter, but how about on the internet []? Only $69!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This makes it bloody clear that someone with some real power (how else to get the stuff) wanted this person death AND succeeded. It sends a message. Cross us and you die and we don't give a shit who knows. You can kill someone to send the victim a message OR to everyone else who is aware of the killing.

      Offcourse it might just as well be a setup. Someone who wants to make it look like it was Putin.

      Frankly I don't know enough about the guy to make a guess wich one is the case but the use of an obvious method

  • Polonium (Score:5, Informative)

    by no-body ( 127863 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:10PM (#16978518)
    Polonium-210 is very dangerous to handle in even milligram or microgram amounts, and special equipment and strict control is necessary. Damage arises from the complete absorption of the energy of the alpha particle into tissue.

    The maximum permissible body burden for ingested polonium is only 0.03 microcuries, which represents a particle weighing only 6.8 x 10-12 g. Weight for weight it is about 2.5 x 1011 times as toxic as hydrocyanic acid. The maximum allowable concentration for soluble polonium compounds in air is about 2 x 10-11 microcuries/cm3.

    From: there []

    Soluble in acidic environment.
    Apparently he was repeatedly invited by by an unkown russian person to drink tea....
    A little sourness in tea with a few milligram of metal dissolved.

  • by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:13PM (#16978532)
    He wasn't poisoned by radiation in the UK, he was poisoned in the UK by radiation.

    The former implies that it was the radiation present in the UK that poisoned him; the latter makes it clear that he happened to be in the UK when he was poisoned by radiation.
  • A couple of things are really, really strange.
    First, if SVR/FSB wanted the death to look accidental, why would they use such deliberate method? Polonium poisoning just screams of a well-funded agency doing the job. Not covert at all. The only explanation is that they wanted it to be obvious, as a lesson to other guys. Then they might just admit "yeah, we did it", but they are denying everything.
    Second, why it took so long for British to recognize obvious symptoms of radiation sickness? Nobody tried to check
    • Gosh yes, a geiger counter ! I bet they never thought of that, if I were you I'd get the first flight out the UK and apply for the job as Chief Lord High Sargent Major Of All Inspectors, they'll offer you the job for sure once they realise how talented you are.
    • Re:I am surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Xest ( 935314 ) * on Friday November 24, 2006 @07:17PM (#16979062)
      They did try a Geiger counter but it wouldn't detect alpha radiation. As alpha radiation poisoning is so uncommon and unheard of it wasn't an obvious option, also as alpha radiation wouldn't even escape out of his body through his organs and skin the only way to detect it was if traces of it left his body through other methods - i.e. his urine which is where they eventually found it.
  • I've been wondering why his symptoms sounded so much like acute radiation poisoning since I first heard about this, and I don't even have any medical background. In a really suspicious case like this, one would think it would be obvious to test for radioactivity early on. It would have been really easy and completely non-invasive. Geiger counters sensitive enough to detect something like this are easy to come by, and hospitals have plenty of film badge dosimeters, etc. for ensuring the safety of radiomedici
  • I can't believe no one has said this. If this were a Dan Brown novel, the big mystical secret that it would take a university-trained "symbologist" to decipher is that the true culprit, the maleficent agent behind the poisoning was, not Russia, but ... (wait for it) ... Poland!
  • Polonium 210? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Enrique1218 ( 603187 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @06:46PM (#16978804) Journal
    I could have thought of 200 better ways to off someone discretely just by watching the Sopranos or The Wire. With all the poisons in the world, they pick an exotic and rare poison yet whose symptoms are ubiquitous and unique. What is the cover story? He moonlights as a nuclear technician? I think the spies have watch too many James Bond films. It would have been better to have taken him to an abandon house, clipped him, and then pour lye over him to removed the evidence. Or here is a better thought, stop doing bad things. Russia should try to be more civil and stop offing dissidents and take a more American approach- brand them unpatriotic.
  • []

    there's not much mention of these 'three objects' that they've found inside him.

    i'm no expert - maybe they're not important? -- but i'm sure they'll get to find out when they do the post mortem.
  • by TheOriginalRevdoc ( 765542 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @07:41PM (#16979250) Journal
    I've seen a few posts here asking "why use such an obvious method of killing someone?"

    The answer is: it's very, very far from obvious. The mere fact that it's taken so long to work out what the poison was indicates how subtle Polonium poisoning is.

    1. Based on the Wikipedia entry for Polonium, the dosage required is incredibly small. We're not talking milligrams, here; we're talking micrograms, or less. Just detecting such a tiny quantity distributed throughout the victim's body is going to be incredibly hard.

    2. The poison won't produce discernable radiation outside the victim's body, either, because alpha radiation is so readily absorbed by tissue. (That's also what makes it such a good poison, of course.)

    3. The thing with poisons is that you have to actually look for them. Polonium is such an unlikely poison - given its rarity and inherent handling hazards - that even considering it is far-fetched. The fact that the victim's urine contained helium was the only clue the pathologists had, and I think they deserve a huge amount of credit for getting from that result to polonium as the cause.
  • The real question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CptPicard ( 680154 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @07:59PM (#16979406)
    What truly puzzles me here is why exactly any secret service such as the FSB would be stupid enough to poison some Kremlin critic with a really hard to acquire substance such as Polonium. It should be assumed that the British WILL find out what killed Litvinenko, and when it is something as obscure as Polonium, it's got to be the Russians. You're practically implicating yourself by being too good at what you do.

    The guy is far more valuable to his cause as a confirmed martyr than some loud-mouthed expat living in Britain. If I were Putin, I probably wouldn't bother, and if I wanted to bother, I would want it to look like a traffic accident or a random mugging. The tinfoil hat guy in me actually is willing to believe this was a CIA job that wants to implicate the FSB. Let's face it, if you want to make Russia look bad, this is what you'd do.

    Unless, of course, I REALLY wanted to make a point of Russia's reach, but in that case, Putin's guys are simply miscalculating...
  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @08:35PM (#16979700) Homepage Journal
    Russia's current president is an ex kgb president. he is a thug, as well as the big-money who is now running the country are mobs, mafia and thugs, who are suppressing russian people and being harmful not only to russian citizens and to the world.

    i see russia more dangerous than north korea while mafia placed presidents/governments, especially ones with kgb or such background at the helm.
  • by ElephanTS ( 624421 ) on Friday November 24, 2006 @11:20PM (#16980952)

    The Kremlin Pedophile

    By Alexander Litvinenko

    A few days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin walked from the Big Kremlin Palace to his Residence. At one of the Kremlin squares, the president stopped to chat with the tourists. Among them was a boy aged 4 or 5.

    'What is your name?' Putin asked.

    'Nikita,' the boy replied.

    Putin kneed, lifted the boy's T-shirt and kissed his stomach.

    The world public is shocked. Nobody can understand why the Russian president did such a strange thing as kissing the stomach of an unfamiliar small boy.

    The explanation may be found if we look carefully at the so-called "blank spots" in Putin's biography.

    After graduating from the Andropov Institute, which prepares officers for the KGB intelligence service, Putin was not accepted into the foreign intelligence. Instead, he was sent to a junior position in KGB Leningrad Directorate. This was a very unusual twist for a career of an Andropov Institute's graduate with fluent German. Why did that happen with Putin?

    Because, shortly before his graduation, his bosses learned that Putin was a pedophile. So say some people who knew Putin as a student at the Institute.

    The Institute officials feared to report this to their own superiors, which would cause an unpleasant investigation. They decided it was easier just to avoid sending Putin abroad under some pretext. Such a solution is not unusual for the secret services.

    Many years later, when Putin became the FSB director and was preparing for presidency, he began to seek and destroy any compromising materials collected against him by the secret services over earlier years. It was not difficult, provided he himself was the FSB director. Among other things, Putin found videotapes in the FSB Internal Security Directorate, which showed him having sex with some underage boys.

    Interestingly, the video was recorded in the same conspiratorial flat in Polyanka Street in Moscow where Russian Prosecutor-General Yuri Skuratov was secretly video-taped with two prostitutes. Later, in the famous scandal, Putin (on Roman Abramovich's instructions) blackmailed Skuratov with these tapes and tried to persuade the Prosecutor-General to resign. In that conversation, Putin mentioned to Skuratov that he himself was also secretly video-taped making sex at the same bed. (But of course, he did not tell it was pedophilia rather than normal sex.) Later, Skuratov wrote about this in his book Variant Drakona.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kestasjk ( 933987 )
      Is there any evidence for anything other than the part where he kissed the 5 year old's stomach?
  • by MrSteveSD ( 801820 ) on Saturday November 25, 2006 @12:08AM (#16981304)
    The Russian government has often assassinated enemies with stupidly obvious methods like exotic poisons delivered through micro-machines pellets. The whole point of killing with these methods is to send a signal and leave little doubt who was responsible.

    However, killing him has probably backfired since more people know about the FSB bombing allegations ( mbings#FSB_involvement) than before. The allegations seem quite credible. It's very much like a 911 conspiracy, i.e. Stage a terrorist outrage as an excuse to start a war. However, unlike 911 conspiracies, you find that you are not rolling your eyes with this one.
  • Dissappointing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AaronLawrence ( 600990 ) * on Saturday November 25, 2006 @06:43AM (#16982864)
    After heading for a democracy, Russia is falling back into old ways. When I was there one woman earnestly asked me what I thought of Putin, and: "He is a strong leader isn't he"? Perhaps there is something in the Russian pysche that wants a strong leader more than a moral leader.

    Their treatment of Georgia and other nearby states is not good lately, and this suggests that there are powerful and nasty organisations still calling shots there.

    Please, Russians, don't go down the same road again!

The absent ones are always at fault.