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December 18, 2006
The $10 Million Man

In the speculation surrounding the death of Alexander Litvinenko, people keep coming back to the central fact: the assassination method. The poison used eliminates all but the most powerful suspects, and not just because of its relative rarity. As the Times of London points out, the amount of polonium used would cost its assassins millions of dollars:

British investigators believe that Alexander Litvinenko’s killers used more than $10 million of polonium-210 to poison him. Preliminary findings from the post mortem examination on the former KGB spy suggest that he was given more than ten times the lethal dose.

Police do not know why the assassins used so much of the polonium-210, and are investigating whether the poison was part of a consignment to be sold on the black market.

They believe that whoever orchestrated the plot knew of its effects, but are unsure whether the massive amount was used to send a message — it made it easier for British scientists to detect — or is evidence of a clumsy operation.

A British security source said yesterday: “You can’t buy this much off the internet or steal it from a laboratory without raising an alarm so the only two plausible explanations for the source are that it was obtained from a nuclear reactor or very well connected black market smugglers.”

In an age where nations keep close track of nuclear material for fear of terrorist acquisition, the thought of that much polonium going unnoticed in a black-market transaction stretches credulity. The only way that much could find its way into Litvinenko's system would be from an entity that produces polonium in bulk. That leaves out all but the nuclear powers, as polonium comes from the nuclear cycle.

This seems to undercut the notion that Litvinenko dosed himself, either accidentally or for some purpose known only to Litvinenko -- and as for the latter, the excruciating nature of his death argues against that anyway. Litvinenko would hardly have spent $10 million on polonium without someone noting the transaction, nor would the Russians have just given it to him, given his dissident status.

So which nuclear power would have wanted Litvinenko dead? Only Russia. The overkill of so much polonium was meant to send a message, which is that they will spare no expense in eliminating opponents of the Putin regime.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 18, 2006 4:57 AM

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