Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.
Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.
Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.
After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.