The London Observer & The London Daily Mail – 2006-11-27 00:14:50
Spy Death Linked to Nuclear Thefts
Mark Townsend, Antony Barnett and Tom Parfitt / Observer
LONDON (November 26, 2006) — An investigation was under way last night into Russia’s black market trade in radioactive materials amid concern that significant quantities of polonium 210, the substance that killed former spy Alexander Litvinenko, are being stolen from poorly protected Russian nuclear sites.
As British police drew up a list of witnesses for questioning over the death, experts warned that thefts from nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union were a major problem.
A senior source at the United Nations nuclear inspectorate, the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Observer he had no doubt that the killing of Litvinenko was an ‘organised operation’ which bore all the hallmarks of a foreign intelligence agency. The expert in radioactive materials said the ability to obtain polonium 210 and the knowledge needed to use it to kill Litvinenko meant that the attack could not have been carried out by a ‘lone assassin’.
Suggestions that the death may have involved some form of state sponsorship were being investigated by MI5 and MI6 who are looking at theories that foreign agents may have been behind the death of Litvinenko. Scotland Yard has asked the Kremlin for help with its inquiries, though Russia has dismissed any involvement in the death as ‘absurd’. Litvinenko received British citizenship this month.
A senior British security source said they were providing the police with material in ‘hostile intelligence agencies’ operating in the UK, including those from Russia. He said: ‘Russia has never really decreased its activity in the UK from the end of the Cold War.’
Privately, however, there is deep scepticism in Whitehall about whether the Putin administration would be willing to risk a crisis in British-Russian relations by directly authorising an assassination of a British citizen on British soil, particularly using a method that might involve other Britons being contaminated. The two countries are currently engaged in delicate negotiations over energy security.
More than anything, the death of the London-based former KGB spy has placed Russia’s still thriving trade in radioactive material under scrutiny. ‘From the terrorism threat standpoint, these cases are of little concern but they show security vulnerabilities at facilities,’ said an IAEA spokesman.
One of the few figures available, on a database compiled by researchers at Stanford University in the US, revealed that about 40kg of weapons-usable uranium and plutonium were stolen from poorly protected nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union between 1991 and 2002. Although the IAEA has no confirmation of polonium finding its way into the underground trade, there have been several unconfirmed reports of thefts.
In 1993 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reported that 10kg of polonium had disappeared from the Sarov, which produces the rare radioactive material and is described as Russia’s own version of Los Alamos, the US government’s nuclear research base in New Mexico.
Globally there have been more than 300 cases during the past four years where individuals have been caught trying to smuggle radioactive material. In 2005 there were 103 confirmed incidents of trafficking and other unauthorised activities involving nuclear and radioactive materials, many involving Russia.
In one incident, in the remote west of former Soviet Georgia, a group of woodsmen found two capsules of the material which was emitting heat in a forest. They used them to keep warm at night but soon developed acute radiation sickness. The capsules turned out to be the highly radioactive strontium 90 core of a nuclear generator from a long abandoned aircraft navigation beacon.
Meanwhile in Britain, Cobra, No 10’s crisis committee, met again yesterday to discuss emerging findings in the police investigation and in public health.
The Foreign Office held a meeting on Friday with the Russian ambassador to request full co-operation from the Russian government in the police investigation, including making witnesses available. Officials from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Aldermaston, Berkshire, and Porton Down, the government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, were trying last night to track down the precise source of the polonium 210 that killed Litvinenko.
No date has been set for a post mortem examination on Litvinenko until a risk assessment is carried out to see if it is safe to perform the procedure, and if so, what precautions would be necessary.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006
Exclusive: Sushi Bar Man is Nuclear Waste Expert
Glen Owen & Nick Pisa / Daily Mail
LONDON (November 26, 2006) — The last person to meet Alexander Litvinenko before he succumbed to the agonising effects of radioactive poisoning is a self-professed expert in nuclear materials.
International ‘security consultant’ Mario Scaramella, who joined Litvinenko for the now infamous clandestine meeting in a London sushi bar, headed an organisation which tracked dumped nuclear waste, including Soviet nuclear missiles left over from the Cold War.
Litvinenko, an ex-KGB agent who became a trenchant critic of President Putin’s Russia, fell ill after the sushi lunch – as exclusively revealed by The Mail on Sunday last week – and died 22 days later from poisoning by Polonium, a radioactive substance derived from uranium.
Yesterday other customers of the sushi restaurant answered an appeal by health agencies for them to undergo medical checks. Some 200 worried members of the public came forward, also including customers of a Mayfair bar where Litvinenko held another meeting on the day he was poisoned.
Sources revealed last night that renegade Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky had also been checked for radiation. His car, in which he ferried the stricken Litvinenko to hospital, was also tested. It was further disclosed that the tycoon has been interviewed twice by police investigating Litvinenko’s death, but not as a suspect.
Prof Scaramella has strongly denied any involvement in the murder and Litvinenko’s family, who blame President Putin, say they do not question his loyalty. Having given an interview to The Mail on Sunday earlier in the week, Prof Scaramella yesterday said he was unwilling to say any more because he was ‘co-operating with the authorities’. Earlier, he had acknowledged that ‘something very strange is going on’.
Our investigations have established that:
• He has a deep knowledge of nuclear materials and their whereabouts around the globe.
• Although he describes himself as an environmentalist, he has detailed knowledge of the activities of Russian agents.
• Some of the institutions listed on his impressive CV appear to have no record of him, prompting questions about a career involving a large number of posts around the globe.
Prof Scaramella agreed to meet us in his home city of Naples to respond to allegations circulating on the internet that he was an intelligence agent in the pay of several secret services.
Arriving in the lobby of a hotel flanked by two bodyguards, he produced a professional-looking dossier detailing his career.
As the meeting progressed, Prof Scaramella denied he had links to any secret services and became irritated. “You are sounding like the police,’ he said. “Do not use this information against me.”
Prof Scaramella’s knowledge of atomic materials is clear, however. The Mail on Sunday has discovered that in June last year Italian police launched an investigation into an alleged plot to smuggle uranium into the country after being tipped off by Prof Scaramella.
He told officers that the uranium was hidden in a suitcase and had originated from an undisclosed country in the former Soviet Union. Within just 24 hours, police in Rimini made four arrests.
At the time all Prof Scaramella would say was: “I was investigating the activities of former KGB activities in San Marino <[>a tiny independent republic near Rimini]
“I was also looking into the trafficking of arms from the former Soviet Union and possible links with Italian terrorist groups. During this I was passed a document that said there were former KGB men in San Marino looking at selling nuclear military material.
“I told the police that 10kg of uranium was hidden in a suitcase and on its way to Italy on June 2; and on June 2 the arrests were made and the uranium found. It was enriched uranium 90 per cent capable of making a small atomic bomb. Also an electronic target device was seized.”
The uranium plot came a year after Prof Scaramella announced that he had information that 20 nuclear warheads had been lost by a Soviet submarine in the Bay of Naples.
Prof Scaramella told the Mitrokhin Commission, which investigated KGB activities in Italy, that he had been passed the information from Russian intelligence sources.
Scaramella told The Mail on Sunday that his career began in his hometown of Naples, where he qualified as a solicitor in 1995. He set up his own company, and started specialising in environmental law.
In 1996, Prof Scaramella, who is unmarried with two children, says he started work as a professor of environmental law at Externado University in Bogota, Colombia, before moving the following year to the University of Nuestra Senora del Rosario, also in Bogota. At the same time, between 1996 and 2000, he also held a post specialising in environmental crime at the University of Naples.
Between 2000 and 2002, Prof Scaramella was secretary general of a little-known organisation named the Environmental Crime Prevention Programme. The ECPP describes itself as an organisation which ‘provides environmental protection and security through technology on a global basis’.
It has offices at the Fucino Space Centre in Italy to deploy ‘aerial surveillance to detect environmental crimes in Eastern and Southern Europe’.
On its website, the ECPP described itself as a ‘permanent intergovernmental conference’ with a secretariat in Naples and rotating presidencies held by countries such as Angola and Samoa.
None of the contact details listed for the organisation on its website work. When Prof Scaramella was asked where the group’s head office was he said there wasn’t one – you had to contact the general secretary, who currently was a Professor Papadopoulos from California’s San Jose university.
A Dr Perikles Papadopoulos — listed as an assistant secretary general of the organisation — could not be reached. And last night, neither the campaign group Greenpeace, nor the Environment Investigation Agency, which campaigns against environmental destruction, could recall working with the organisation.
In 2003 he made the jump from environmental expert to KGB specialist when he was appointed as a consultant to the Mitrokhin commission. It was that work which put him into contact with Litvinenko and led to the sushi lunch, which he says he arranged to discuss a ‘death list’ which named both him and Litvinenko.
Prof Scaramella explained that Professor Papadopoulos was key to his appointment on to the Italian parliamentary commission, facilitating a meeting in London with Italian legal officials setting up the inquiry.
Italy was a nest of CIA and KGB agents during the Cold War: Washington regarded the socialist-leaning country as the West European country most susceptible to influence from Moscow.
Vasili Mitrokhin was a senior archivist for Russia’s foreign intelligence service. His records of the period have led to inquiries across the globe, including the UK. One of the conclusions of the Italian inquiry was that the former Soviet Union was behind the assassination attempt on the late Pope John Paul II in 1981.
Prof Scaramella explained that he had been approached by the commission because his career had given him a passing connection to Russia. “My work involved a lot of Soviet issues – the dumping of radioactive waste, which can be detected from space, and the loss of nuclear devices,’ he said.
“I said to them, “I am not an expert on security services, only nuclear waste.” But the commission said they wanted people from outside to investigate. So in 2003 I looked at the operations of the KGB and Eastern bloc countries on Italian soil, including the funding of Italian journalists by the KGB.”
In 2004, Prof Scaramella also led an investigation on the illegal dumping of waste by the mafia in an Italian lake. Despite being only a civilian environmental consultant, he led two armed police agents to a villa where the suspects lived. They were greeted by a hail of bullets. One mafioso was arrested, and an arms cache seized.
Scaramella also told us that he also found time in 1999 to become a visiting scientist at Stanford University in California, and was made director of a university Nato programme which involved visiting Lithuania.
In 2002, at the same time as he says he was completing his duties for the ECPP, he also started a school of national security in Colombia to train local police. The same year, he says he was also based for four months at Greenwich University in London, again working on environmental law.
It is hard to corroborate details of Scaramella’s career.
A spokesman at the University of Naples said last night: “There is no record of a Professor Mario Scaramella working here. He may well have been hired internally as an independent working within one of the faculties but our system has no record of him.”
And Dr Maria Scaramella, a namesake at the university, said: “I used to get all this post for him but I could never actually find him. He was supposed to have an office on the third floor but I was never able to find it. He was supposed to have some sort of European funding for research but I never knew exactly what.”
A spokesman for Greenwich University also said they had no record of him on its books.
None of the American or Colombian universities responded to messages asking whether Prof Scaramella had worked for them.
Internet discussion forums have buzzed with theories about Prof Scaramella this week – the most damaging claiming that he is a secret service operative with split loyalties who uses a range of political and business interests as a front for his activities. But he insisted: “I have never been to any security service headquarters or met any acting officers.”
Prof Scaramella says he struck up an association with Litvinenko during his work for the Mitrokhin Commission, and they had met several times before in the Itsu restaurant to discuss intelligence matters.
He claimed that tip-off from Litvinenko had helped to foil a bizarre assassination attempt last year on Paolo Guzzanti, an Italian senator who headed the Mitrokhin inquiry. It led to the arrest of six Ukrainians who were said to have been trying to smuggle grenades into the country hidden inside hollowed-out Bibles.
“He was my friend – that is why he gave me this,’ he said, brandishing a picture of Litvinenko training as a young KGB officer.
Even Prof Scaramella’s father, Amedeo, was perplexed about his son’s career. “I think it’s best you talk to Mario,’ he said. “I don’t really want to say anything. He divides his time between Naples and Rome and he also spends a lot of time overseas. I don’t ask too many questions.”
Prof Scaramella said: “I am not willing to say anything else. I am co-operating with the authorities. If you want any information ask Scotland Yard.”
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