Politics & Policy

The Kremlin Murders

James Jesus Angelton on Alexander Litvinenko.

“Well you’re the obvious guy, uh, spirit, to ask about this stuff, because you spent most of your career watching the KGB didn’t you?”

It was rhetorical, needless to say. I had finally connected with the shade of the late James Jesus Angleton after several dropped communications via the ouija board, and now that I had him I wanted to find out what he thought about the melodramatic death of former KGB agent (or FSB…whatever) Alexander Litvinenko in London. Ian Fleming couldn’t have invented a wilder story.

JJA: Sure I did, and this is right out of the good old days.

ML: It seems to me more like a lousy movie than the good old days.

JJA: Heh, well, they have a lot in common. I agree it looks like SMERSH, but after all Fleming got a lot of his themes from MI 5 and MI 6, so there you go. Espionage and murder can be pretty theatrical, after all.

ML: You agree that it looks like the Russians did it, don’t you?

JJA: It would require an act of religious faith to believe anything else.

ML: Okay, you say that to me. But how would you prepare an analysis for President Bush? After all, he’s invested a lot in a personal relationship with Putin, as Blair has, and as Secretary Rice has. If the Kremlin is back in the business of silencing critics just because of what they say and write, it will be hard for that relationship to continue. So you’d better be convincing.

JJA: There are patterns, very convincing patterns. And then there’s the widely ignored fact that, just last summer, Putin changed Russian law so that this sort of thing is actually legal.

ML: What? I haven’t seen that in print anywhere.

JJA: Have a look at the letters column in the London Times on the 11th of July, just as the G8 Summit was getting ready to start in Russia. Vladimir Bukovsky and Oleg Gordievsky wrote a letter, and you’d better pay attention when those guys talk.

ML: Yes, I know Bukovsky well. He was one of the bravest anti-Soviet dissidents, spent over a decade in the Gulag, underwent torture with chemical agents, and somehow emerged stronger than ever. Gordievsky I think I met once; he was the KGB’s man in London until he defected. They both know a lot, and they have friends in Russia who know even more.

JJA: There you go. Good sources, good men. Anyway, they pointed out that a new law had just been rushed through the duma that permitted the use of the secret services as “death squads” to eliminate “extremists” anywhere in the world. And then a law on “extremism” was amended so that anyone who says or writes something “libelous” about Putin’s government…

ML: Good grief. So according to Russian law…

JJA: According to Russian law, anyone who criticizes Putin can be killed. And that letter was quite prophetic, because they wrote that “a stage is set for any critic of Putin’s here (that is, in England), especially those campaigning against Russian genocide in Chechnya, to have an appointment with a poison-tipped umbrella…”

ML: Yeah, except that it wasn’t an umbrella this time. It was a very rare radioactive substance, discovered by Marie Curie and named after her native country.

JJA: Yeah, Polonium.

ML: How did they know what dose to use? I shudder to think they had tested it on humans.

JJA: Perhaps they did. They’re very methodical, after all, my old adversaries. They would have wanted to be quite sure they would succeed, and I think they had a pretty high confidence level.

ML: So you think they tested it.

JJA: Here’s an article from Le Monde on November 25, bylined Moscow, written by Marie Jego, entitled “The Poisons of the Kremlin.” She says that a Russian parliamentarian who had been snooping into the peculiar bombings in Russia in 1999, the ones that justified Putin’s massive attack on Chechnya, came down with terrible headaches in June 2003. A week later he was in the hospital, and his symptoms sound just like Litvinenko’s: “Hair loss…drop in the number of white blood cells, cardiac problems…

ML: Wow.

JJA: Yeah, wow indeed. Don’t forget poor Victor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian who campaigned for president on an anti-Russian platform. Litvinenko himself wrote that the FSB had reactivated its poison laboratories, and Yushchenko seems to have been a guinea pig for those labs. As was one of the Chechnyan leaders, who was apparently poisoned by something in a letter he received. And of course there’s the pattern of killing any journalist, of whatever nationality, who gets too close to Putin’s activities. There was that guy from Forbes

ML: Paul Klebnikov, gunned down, murder never solved.

JJA: And then there was Litvinenko’s friend, Anna Politkovskaya.

ML: She had written the most damning exposes of Russian policy in Chechnya, and had survived what she claimed was an attempt to poison her on an airplane flight.

JJA: And so she was shot to death in her apartment building on a meaningful date.

ML: Really? Do tell…

JJA: Putin’s birthday.

ML: Next thing you’ll tell me that Litvinenko was poisoned on an auspicious date.

JJA: It seems to have been the anniversary of his flight from Russia.

ML: You must be kidding.

JJA: Me? Joke about the files? Not bloody likely…

I knew I’d made a mistake as soon as “kidding” came out of my mouth. I almost got burned by an eruption of sparks from the ouija, but after a torrent of static and fragments of words unsuitable for a family blog, I got him to calm down for another minute.

JJA: Some of these damn policymakers should listen more carefully to Natan Sharansky, you know.

ML: I thought they did. Bush had him as a guest of honor in the Oval Office.

JJA: Yeah, he let him in the room, but he didn’t pay attention.

ML: You mean Sharansky’s insistence that you cannot possibly have a meaningful peace with leaders who oppress, kill, and torture their own people.

JJA: Exactly. Those leaders will always hate America and always try to destroy us.

ML: So you agree with Bukovsky and Gordievsky that the other G8 leaders should have either cancelled the summit or demanded that Putin revoke his license to kill his critics.

JJA: Damn right. And somebody ought to tell Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton that it is utterly unrealistic to talk about peace with the likes of Assad and Khamenei, who are the Middle East versions of Putin.

ML: Good luck with that one. In a few days everyone will have forgotten about Litvinenko and everything will be business as usual.

JJA: I don’t know about that. There seems to be a hit list, including some of your friends in England (Bukovsky and Gordievsky, of course, and that former KGB colonel who writes under the pen name of Victor Suvarov) and at least one in Italy.

ML: Yes, good old Paolo Guzzanti, from Naples. I hope they’ve got decent security.

JJA: Let’s hope. Meanwhile, I think you’d better expand your own wish list.

ML: Wish list? What wish list?

JJA: The regimes you wish “faster, please.” HOHO.

And he was gone.

 Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


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