Case Study: FSB Poisons High-Value Target?

Glenn McGovern

On November 1, 2006, Former FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) Colonel Alexander Litvinenko left his residence around 11:00 A.M. He caught the bus to the East Finchley tube station where he then took the train for a twenty-minute ride into London.

On his agenda was a meeting with former KGB colleague Andrei Lugovoi, at the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a potential new business venture. After that, Litvinenko had scheduled a 3:00 meeting with a Mario Scaramella at a sushi restaurant in Piccadilly. This meeting had been confirmed only that morning and was for the purpose of discussing the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. She had been a staunch critic of Russian President Putin, whom Litvinenko believed had ordered her assassination.

At some point around noon, he arrived at room 441. It was during this meeting that an ambush was sprung. A tasteless and odorless poison was administered to Litvinenko via a cup of tea.1 The tea was laced with a poison Five million times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide.2 With no ill effects, at shortly before 3:00 P.M., he departed for the meeting with Scaramella, only to return at around 4:30 P.M. to the hotel’s Pine Bar. There Litvinenko met again with Ludovoi and Kovtun. The meeting was short and the three men soon went their separate ways with Litvinenko eventually getting home at 7:30 P.M. At 11:00 P.M. that evening, the ingested toxin began to noticeably take effect.3 The toxin would complete its deadly work twenty-two days later on November 23, 2006 at approximately twenty minutes after eleven in the evening. At that instant, history would document the rst known case of a radiological element being used in a targeted killing. On November 3rd, Andrei Lugovoi departed England flying directly to Moscow.

The use of poison to assassinate is a very subtle tactic. A deadly unknown substance administered covertly to kill the individual from the inside. Some affect quickly, some drag out a death while some mimic a natural death. Its method of delivery is also discreet: a mist in the face, a liquid poured into a drink or injected into the skin, a gel rubbed into an article of clothing or on a door handle. Regardless of form of delivery or path of death, all allow the assassin to strike their target, even if at the height of day in the presence of numerous witnesses or even protective details. Many will be ignorant, as is often times the victim, that they have been attacked.

If the killing goes as planned, then the victim may be presumed to have passed due to natural causes, or at worst is labeled “cause unknown.” It is precisely this reason that makes investigating and researching such attacks di­ cult at best. It is only through assassination failures that methods of operation are learned. A perfect example of this occurred in the Ricin based killing of Georgi Markov. Had he not survived long enough to tell authorities of the umbrella incident, the Ricin capsule might never have been discovered. Further, this could possibly have caused Vladimir Kostov to remain ignorant to the fact that an attempt by similar means had been made against him.

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