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Tinker Barber Soldier Spy

plus minus 48 degrees wobble

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

excuse me, are you a whistle-blower?

When my old man went to meet his maker on 31st of January, 1995, he didn't kick the bucket the usual way. His property was disposed of just before that. Neither did he consent to the sale nor did he receive the proceeds. He was then expired ASAP to put a lid on the wrongdoings.

I was around to witness the fraud and expiration as they unfolded. Before I could figure out how to put a handle on the situation, the shit hit the fan at full throttle. The shit has stuck with the fan ever since.

'Incentives needed to draw out genuine whistle-blowers in Singapore?' Better to gun for regime change. Without which it'll simply be barking up the wrong tree. Until then, only foolhardy steam engines need apply.

ST Aug 19 2006
By Azrin Asmani

Who's a genuine whistle-blower and who's just a troublemaker with an axe to grind? That question was the hot talking point among corporate governance experts yesterday.

The issue was central to a panel discussion involving lawyers, auditors and corporate forensic specialists aimed at devising ways to protect staff who blow the lid on wrongdoings in their companies.

Staying anonymous was seen as providing a certain amount of protection for whistle-blowers against the risk of losing their job or even defamatory lawsuits from their employers as a result of their allegations.

But while that may solve the problem on one level, the experts felt that anonymous complaints could hinder implicating the real wrongdoers, especially those at top management.

"If such cases go to court, and even if there's valid truth behind the allegations, we aren't able to call the anonymous whistle-blower as witness," said Mr Cavinder Bull, a partner at Drew & Napier.

He agreed with the other panelists that having the right "incentives" in place should generate the "right type" of whistle-blowers - those who would speak up truthfully.

Such incentives include measures to protect the identity of the whistle-blowers and the confidentiality of their information.

"Truth is the best defense against defamation," Mr Bull added.

Yesterday's discussion was co-organized by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and business journal Smart Investor.

Entitled 'How do we protect whistle-blowers in the absence of legislation?' the discussion was made relevant, given that more companies in Singapore are formalizing whistle-blowing programs.

Corporate whistle-blowing has become a hot topic recently after a spate of corporate scandals, both here and overseas. The most notable one was at energy trader Enron in the United States, where a whistle-blower in 2001 shed light on massive fraud at the firm.

Apart from providing incentives, most participants yesterday also believed in putting in place penalties to weed out complaints made by those with an axe to grind.

But as Mr John Lim, a strong proponent of corporate governance here noted, companies should have the right resources to investigate allegations made by employees.

Mr Lim, the president of the Singapore Institute of Directors, suggested that firms hire more auditors with forensic skills, rather than channel complaints to departments ill-equipped to handle such cases, a failing widely observed in Singapore.

"They are able to do cursory investigations, but may not be able to go further," he said.

However, panelist Peter Coleman, from Deloitte & Touché Financial Advisory Services, believed that such work should be done by external experts who are better equipped.

Mr Coleman, the director of the firm's forensic services section, related instances in which employees were more comfortable lodging complaints with or highlighting possible fraud to outsiders than to those within their company for fear of being ostracized.

Mr Chad Olsen, of corporate forensic specialists Hill & Associates, concluded: "Whistle-blowing is not a new concept. The issue is how we manage it, without the legislative backing, while protecting the interests of both the employee and the employer."

Steven Irvine
Finance Asia
Oct 4, 2006

The market was shocked on Friday when Morgan Stanley announced that its Asia economist, Andy Xie, had resigned.

With Morgan Stanley’s bonus period only two months away, it looked like a very strange time for the Shanghai-born Xie to leave the firm.

The Hong Kong rumor mill quickly began speculating as to why Xie had left. Attentions have focused on an email that Xie penned on September 18.

I participated in the panels on Commodity (sic) and China-India and in some obligatory dinner parties. On Friday night the Singapore prime minister invited the speakers at the meeting that the Singapore government organized. Trichet, Larry Summers, Paul Volker (sic) Chuck Price, the finance ministers of ASEAN countries were there. No government official from China was there ... guess I was there to make it look like China was represented.

The dinner was turned into an Oprah with PM Lee Hsien Loong (sic) at the center. The topic was on the future of globalization. People fawned on him like a prince. Of course, he is. There are two reigning princes in the world that the Davos crowd kisses up to, Jordan and Singapore. The Davos crowd are Republican on economic issues and democratic on social issues. Somehow they manage to put aside their moral misgivings and kiss up to Lee Hsien Loong and Abdullah.

I tried to find out why Singapore was chosen to host the conference. Nobody knew. Some thought it was a strange choice because Singapore was so far from any action or the hot topic of China and India. Mumbai or Shanghai would have been a lot more appropriate. ASEAN has been a failure. Its GDP in nominal dollar terms has not changed for 10 years. Singapore’s per capita income has not changed either at $25,000. China’s GDP in dollar terms has tripled during the same period.

I thought the questioners were competing with each other to praise Singapore as the success story of globalization. Actually, Singapore’s success came mainly from being the money laundering center for corrupt Indonesian businessmen and government officials. Indonesia has no money. So Singapore isn’t doing well. To sustain its economy, Singapore is building casinos to attract corrupt money from China.

These western people didn’t know what they were talking about. Aside from the nauseating pleasantries some useful information came out of it. Trichet sounded very bullish on euro-zone economy (sic). He noted that euro-zone was catching up with the US in growth rate (sic) and talked about further gain in 2007. His tone was much more bullish than our house view. As Japan is surprising on the downside, I don't see how the rise of euro-yen could be stopped.

Larry Summers and Paul Volker (sic) were very worried about the US economy. As you probably know, Alan Greenspan is talking the same way. At the CLSA conference last week, he talked like one of his critics. There is fear of a US collapse. Many Americans think that an RMB reval (sic) would save the US. This is just a dream, in my view.

Most were worried about the future of globalization due to income inequality. As average workers in the west are not seeing wage increase (sic), they may vote against globalization. I thought that they were understating the benefit from cheap consumer goods. However, as inflation comes back, it does diminish the benefits for western consumers.

No-one was worried about the growth outlook for China and India. The Indian Planning Minister was very bullish, talking about 9% forever.

My sense is that policymakers are relaxed (sic) about the short-term economic outlook but anticipate a US collapse at some point. Americans think that RMB reval could save the US. So they would keep pressuring China."

Andy Xie
Morgan Stanley

Observer News Service
By Tom Parfitt

In a killing that sent shock waves across Russia, Anna Politkovskaya, the courageous journalist who did most to uncover the Kremlin's dirty war in Chechnya, was assassinated in her Moscow apartment building on Saturday. Her body was found slumped in an elevator next to a Makarov pistol and four casings.

Politkovskaya, 48, was a constant critic of the Kremlin and her murder will throw suspicion on the security services and the pro-Moscow regime that now holds sway in Chechnya. The London Observer is reporting that she was half way through writing a book which, according to her agent, included her theories on why the Russian state wanted her dead. Last night, about 70 journalists gathered at cordons outside the entrance hall to Politkovskaya's white granite apartment block in central Moscow. The city's chief prosecutor rushed to the scene.

A tall, elegant figure with wire-grey hair and black clothes, she was recognized across the world for her principled stand against two brutal wars prosecuted by Moscow in Chechnya, which left hundreds of thousands dead, injured or missing. Her death comes two days after one of her most hated opponents, pro-Moscow Prime Minister of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, celebrated his 30th birthday, and on the day of Vladimir Putin's 57th birthday, prompting speculation that one of her enemies may have served up the assassination as a present. Yulia Latynina, a newspaper commentator, said: 'All her publications of the last few months were about Kadyrov. Politkovskaya hated him. And two days ago was his birthday. From here can only be one motive.'

There seemed little doubt her death was connected with her writing. 'I believe that this was a political assassination. She was a bold woman, who had many enemies,' said veteran rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Oleg Orlov, head of the Russian human rights centre Memorial, said: 'We are all shocked by what has happened. Obviously, this is an attempt to shut up an honest and independent journalist. She had been threatened repeatedly. It is a serious loss for civil society, journalism, and Russia as a whole.'

Politkovskaya's enemies had threatened her with death on numerous occasions and she claimed to have survived a poisoning attempt. Last night police were hunting a thin, young man in a baseball cap seen close the scene of the murder, which took place at about 4.30pm local time.

While her critics accused her of being partisan in her reports on the brutality of Russian federal forces, Politkovskaya did not hold back from criticizing the Chechen rebels, who resorted to increasingly brutal terror attacks in recent years. Her specialty, however, was exposing the horror, corruption and chaos wrought on civilian victims of the first war in Chechnya from 1994 to 1996 and the one that followed from 2000 onwards.

Her articles for the bi-weekly Novaya Gazeta won numerous awards and she wrote two books about Chechnya, A Dirty War and A Small Corner of Hell - plus a highly critical political biography of President Vladimir Putin. She also wrote several dispatches for The Observer's sister paper, the Guardian.

During the Beslan school siege in 2004 she tried to travel to southern Russia to negotiate with the rebels holding the school, but mysteriously fell ill, leading her to suspect she had been poisoned to prevent an intervention that could have embarrassed the Kremlin. As the second Chechen war turned from a full scale conflict into skirmishing between rebels and pro-Moscow forces, Politkovskaya turned her ire on the former rebel who became Prime Minister this year, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Peter Preston, former chairman of the International Press Institute, and a British media commentator, said: 'Anna was already a legend wherever journalists met to praise the bravest and the best, for her coverage of Chechnya. It was, and is, one of the most dangerous assignments anywhere and her readiness to expose excesses on both sides made her the most famous Russian reporter of the era, a reproach to the authorities who tried to muzzle her.'

Channel News Asia
October 7, 2006

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that responsible journalism will help improve the lives of people.

Mr Lee was speaking at the 7th Asian-European Editors' Forum.

Citing Japan, Mr Lee said that it has been very successful at improving people's lives without an aggressive media.

He said: "Their approach is different from the Western one but it suits Japan's culture and circumstances and has contributed to Japan's success. As with the political system, in the media too, each country will have to evolve its own model of the media that works for it."

Mr Lee said that even in this Internet age, there will still be a role for serious journalism.

That's because people still want information sources which are reliable and insightful.

Using Singapore as an example, Mr Lee said that the government manages the Internet with a light touch but still applies the same defamation and sedition laws to it.

And the government is mindful of the increasing impact of the new and changing technology.

Mr Lee said: "Our position will evolve as we feel our way forward, but we do not believe that we should just drift with the tide. We still need anchor points that reflect our values, our vulnerabilities and our ambitions.

"The media in Singapore must adapt to these changes, do their best to stay relevant and continue to contribute constructively to nation building."

As economies develop, Mr Lee emphasized the need for good governance.

Mr Lee added that as new generations come of age, they will want to have more say in their countries' affairs.

"Leaders must be able to respond creatively to this new situation and political systems must evolve to remain effective. Each country, including Singapore, will have to make changes in its own way and strike its own point of balance, taking into account its unique circumstances," he said.

Mr Lee said Asian countries face major challenges despite the positive economic outlook.

But groupings like ASEAN and the Asia-Europe Summit Meetings can help establish greater relations and encourage dialogues.

Mr Lee said: "ASEAN aims to be the centre of these networks of cooperation both within Asia, between Asia and Europe, as well as the Pacific with the US. But to play this role, ASEAN must also be a strong and cohesive organization, able to partner China and India effectively."

Mr Lee was addressing some 40 international editors from countries like China and France.

When asked during a question and answer session about Temasek Holdings' deal with ShinCorp, Mr Lee said it was a commercial decision which also reflected Singapore's confidence in Thailand's economy.

He added that Temasek complied with the rules and requirements of Thailand when inking the deal.

On Mr Lee wanting to build a more open society, a German editor asked why that was not reflected in Singapore's treatment towards civil society organizations during the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Meetings here recently.

Mr Lee said Singapore allows views to be articulated, at the same time, ensuring a stable and honest political system.

He explained why certain civil society representatives were barred from entering Singapore, citing one who had run-ins with the law in other countries.

He said: "There was one chap who had broken into the World Bank offices in Washington and stolen confidential documents and had gone to Seattle and broken some other laws. And he had every intention of coming here to do no good.

"Why should I allow him in? So we said, these, we have to vet one by one. It became an issue so we said, 'all right, if you vouch for them, I'll let most of them in but these last 5, I want to make absolutely sure they're not going to cause trouble here'. I think that's quite reasonable.

"I don't mind anybody coming to have a dialogue, debate, conversation. But I don't see why I should have a riot as happened in Prague in 2000 or in Hong Kong in 2005, last year, at the WTO Meeting. That's not democracy."

Times Online
May 13, 2005
By Vanora Bennett

There's something very un-English about murderers who dispatch their victims too flamboyantly. Louis Untermeyer expressed British puzzlement when faced with showy foreign killers perfectly in the lines:

Although the Borgias
Were rather gorgeous
They liked the absurder
Kind of murder.

That's why people in this country find stories about the KGB so extraordinary. The sheer swaggering theatricality of the kind of killings the Soviet secret police were said to favor, beggars the average English person's belief. Tell an Englishman that an assassin might choose to kill someone innocently waiting for a London bus by jabbing him with an umbrella tip containing a pellet of the rare and virtually untraceable poison ricin, and the Englishman's first reaction will be to laugh in disbelief. Why bother with such elaborate cloak-and-dagger tactics? If you want to bump someone off, why not just push him under the bus?

Yet, however much it sticks in English gullets, that is exactly the way the KGB did behave. Ricin was used in the James Bond-style murder in London in 1978 of the Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov. He was jabbed with a poisoned umbrella tip while waiting for a bus on London Bridge, and died four days later. The KGB was blamed.

Anyone who thinks the secret police learned to behave better after the Soviet Union disintegrated - and the Soviet KGB was reformed and renamed the Russian FSB - will definitely want to gasp and stretch their eyes at almost everything a more recent arrival in London has been saying since he got here.

Alexander Litvinenko came to the British capital five years ago. He's a fair-haired man of about 40 with quiet ways and watchful eyes. He has a wife and a son coming up to his teens. They've all lived unobtrusively in a leafy bit of suburban London since leaving Moscow.

But I am not at liberty to reveal precisely which leafy bit of London Mr Litvinenko lives in. He believes that might endanger his life. His contact details change often; his mobile number went dead last summer after someone pushed a pram containing Molotov cocktails at his front door. Until recently, Mr Litvinenko was a lieutenant-colonel in the Russian secret police. He claims to know some of the darkest secrets of his country's recent past, from the era when the FSB was run by one Vladimir Putin, who later become the Russian president. And the spy in hiding fears he will be silenced.

Mr Litvinenko first made headlines in Russia in 1998, when he blew the whistle on an order he says he received from his FSB superiors to assassinate the unpopular but powerful tycoon Boris Berezovsky. After a black comedy of institutional reaction - he was fired, arrested on unrelated charges of mistreating a detainee, acquitted, re-arrested on similar charges, re-acquitted, re-arrested a third time, and only cleared his name in court thanks to a photographic memory which allowed him to prove exactly where he was at any given time - he was whisked off to Britain where he won political asylum.

While still at the FSB, Mr Litvinenko says his job was corruption-busting. But, he says, he kept finding it inside his own office - generals hand in glove with drug-runners; colonels running racketeers. All his investigations were fruitless because they ultimately led to federal ministries. His attempt to spill the beans to Putin himself - and get the boss to crack down on an organization running riot - was not a success. He was fired within weeks.

Luckily for him, Mr Berezovsky quickly fell out with President Putin and also fled to London, where he too now has political asylum. Mr Berezovsky spends his time here denouncing the Russian president for bringing the histrionic methods of murder traditionally favored by the KGB into the modern Kremlin. The billionaire finances a coterie of dissidents whose stories lend weight to his version of events, including Mr Litvinenko and the Chechen separatist Akhmed Zakayev.

So Alexander Litvinenko pops up at press conferences, at parties for anti-Putin journalists, and last week, at the Oxford Union with Mr Zakayev. He looks restrained, speaks quietly and wears neat tweed jackets. But his every revelation is designed to show that the FSB, Putin's almer mater, is behind just as many cloak-and-dagger horrors as the KGB ever was.

His biggest revelation centred on the conspiracy theory that the FSB was involved in a string of bombing attacks that levelled apartment buildings across Russia in the autumn of 1999. The theory has it that these bombings, which Russian authorities blamed on Chechen separatists, were used to galvanize public support for the invasion of Chechnya and win Mr Putin the presidency.

President Putin has dismissed the allegation that the bombings were organized by the FSB, under his own command, as "delirious nonsense". But the FSB was annoyed enough about Mr Litvinenko's book, "The FSB Blows Up Russia", to seize a shipment of 4,400 of them in Moscow at the end of 2003 in what it called an effort to protect state secrets.

It was hair-raising stuff, at least in principle. But in practice, outside the overheated rooms where the kind of people gather who have lived in Russia and come to take KGB horror stories seriously (including, I have to admit, myself), it never really gained a foothold in the British popular imagination. It was just too exotic for anyone from the comparatively gentle streets of London. Perhaps partly because the FSB has omitted to take a poisoned umbrella to Mr Litvinenko, his revelations have turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.

I thought he'd gone quiet for a while but last week I found him at it again - this time announcing that the FSB had been behind a bizarre bloodletting in ex-Soviet Armenia in 1999, when gunmen burst into parliament and shot eight of the most prominent politicians in the land.

I'm no longer in phone contact with Alexander Litvinenko. But his emails go on coming thick and fast - musings on the causes of the Chechen conflict or patriotism, snippets from Chechen press, or bitter comparisons between Putin's Russia and Nazis, all topped with quotes from Russian literature in neat italics.

Mr Litvinenko must be frustrated to discover that he's brought his extraordinary revelations to a land where people can't bring themselves to believe in the absurder kind of murder (except if it is committed between the covers of an Agatha Christie novel).

Like many immigrants, there's clearly a part of him that can't let go of his past at home, even a past and a home as horrifying as he says Russia is if you're in the FSB, or come to its attention. But he's an intelligent man. Give him another five years to assimilate, and who knows?

He may yet come to be pleased to have become part of a society that operates through an endless round of TV dinners, PTA meetings and uneventful outings to Tescos, and whose definition of freedom is the freedom to feel safe while snoozing through the news.

Kansas City Star
December 10, 2006
By Charles Krauthammer

The poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, renegade Russian spy and fierce critic of Vladimir Putin’s government, is everywhere being called a mystery.

There is dark speculation about unnamed "rogue elements", either in the Russian secret services or amongst ultranationalists, acting independently of the government.

Well, you can believe in indeterminacy. Or you can believe the testimony delivered on the only reliable lie detector ever invented - the deathbed - by the victim himself. Litvinenko directly accused Putin of killing him.

Litvinenko knew more about his circumstances than anyone else. And on their deathbeds, people don’t lie.

In science, there is a principle called Occam’s razor. When presented with competing theories for explaining a natural phenomenon, one adopts the least elaborate. You don’t need a convoluted device to explain Litvinenko’s demise.

Do you think Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who was investigating the war in Chechnya, was shot dead in her elevator by rogue elements?

Opponents of Putin have been falling like flies. True, Litvinenko’s murder will never be traced directly to Putin; no matter how dogged the British police investigation. State-sponsored assassinations are almost never traceable to the source.

Moreover, Russia has a long and distinguished history of state-sponsored assassination, of which the ice-pick murder of Trotsky was but the most notorious. Does anyone believe that Pope John Paul II, then shaking the foundations of the Soviet empire, was shot by a crazed Turk acting on behalf of only Bulgaria?

If we were not mourning a brave man who has just died a horrible death, one would almost have to admire the Russians, not just for the audacity, but for technique in Litvinenko’s polonium-210 murder. Assassination by poisoning evokes the great classical era of raison d’etat rub-outs by the Borgias and the Medicis. But the futurist twist of the first reported radiological assassination in history, to quote Peter D. Zimmerman in The Wall Street Journal, adds an element of the baroque, of which a world-class thug outfit such as the KGB (now given new initials) should be proud.

Some say that the Litvinenko murder was so obvious, so bold, and so messy that it could not have possibly been the KGB.

But that’s the beauty of it. Do it obvious, do it brazenly, and count on those too-clever-by-half Westerners to find that exonerating.

The other reason for making it obvious and brazen is to send a message. This is a warning to all the future Litvinenkos of what awaits them if they continue to go after the Russian government.

Some people say that the KGB would not have gone to such great lengths to get so small a fry as Litvinenko. Well, he might have been a small fry but his investigations were not. He was looking into the Kremlin roots of Politkovskaya’s shooting. And Litvinenko claimed that the Russian government itself blew up apartment buildings in Moscow in 1999, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, in order to blame it on the Chechens and provoke the second Chechen war.

But even Litvinenko’s personal smallness serves the KGB’s purposes precisely. If they go to such lengths and such messiness and such risks to kill someone as small as Litvinenko, then no critic of the Putin dictatorship is safe.

Los Angeles Times
December 10, 2006

The radioactive poisoning death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko is mushrooming into a tale of intrigue that is both mesmerizing and confusing in equal measure. But the cloak-and-dagger theatrics threaten to obscure an urgent danger at the story's heart - journalists in President Vladimir V. Putin's Russia are increasingly being attacked and killed.

The latest Litvinenko news is the stuff of a John Le Carre novel: Two Russian businessmen, one of them a former KGB colonel, and an Italian investigator - all of whom who met with Litvinenko just before he fell ill - have also suffered poisoning from polonium-210.

Traces of the material were also found in employees of the London bar where Litvinenko and the Russians met, and on aircraft that flew between Moscow and London. Meanwhile, former Russian Prime Minister Yegor T. Gaidar fell severely ill in Dublin and also claims to have been poisoned, though not with polonium and, he insists, not by the Kremlin.

We may never find out whodunit or who ordered it done, but we know what Litvinenko was investigating at the time of his death: the killing of decorated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who had been exposing alleged Russian misdeeds in Chechnya.

Were the killings of Politkovskaya and Litvinenko isolated incidents, the Kremlin's protests that it suffers most from the bad international publicity would be more worthy of sympathy. But Politkovskaya was at least the 21st Russian journalist to be killed since Putin was elected in 2000, according to Reporters Without Borders. Two others have disappeared and are presumed dead, and there have been 320 assaults.

This would be alarming in any country, but it comes during a period in which the Russian government has nationalized private TV stations that had been critical of the regime, backed the takeover of independent media by political allies, arrested media executives or forced them into exile, and repeatedly brought criminal charges against journalists. The human rights group Freedom House ranks Russia as simply "not free" when it comes to the media.

The result has been de facto impunity for those who would enforce public silence - be they corrupt government officials, sleazy businessmen, gangsters or others who fear exposure or debate. That some news outlets have accepted payment to print or withhold sensitive information in the anarchic post-Soviet marketplace certainly complicates the picture.

But the pattern of censorship, intimidation and deadly violence against the Kremlin's fiercest critics makes it increasingly difficult to give Putin the benefit of the doubt.

Politkovskaya, one of the bravest reporters of her generation, was gunned down on October 7 in what many suspect was a contract killing. She is the third journalist from her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta - one of the last Russian publications that dares do investigative reporting - to die.

Last month, two other Novaya Gazeta reporters received death threats; one was investigating Politkovskaya's slaying. While the newspaper's staff risks their lives to shed light on the inner workings of Putin's Russia, the West has a moral obligation to insist that the Russian government protect them.

December 10, 2006

Russia Today TV, Moscow’s English-language satellite television channel, reported that Russian government officials are considering filing libel suits against international journalists over their reporting on the poisoning death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

Shortly before he died in London from radiation poisoning in late November, Litvinenko, who was a strong critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, accused him of ordering his assassination. Putin and other Russian officials strongly denied any prior knowledge of a plot to kill Litvinenko.

According to a report posted late Friday on the Russia Today TV web-site, the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Media is gathering publications worldwide to be studied for libelous and offensive comments against Russia in their coverage of the Litvinenko’s case.

Russia Today TV reported that the Russian government intends to file law suits for libel against international media if there is evidence of journalistic misconduct.

In a Voice of America interview shortly before he was poisoned by a radioactive substance polonium-210, former Russian spy Litvinenko had accused President Putin of ordering the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya to silence her and intimidate other independent journalists. She had been killed by an unknown assailant in Moscow in early October.

The Russian government’s warnings aimed at international journalists follow President Putin’s largely successful efforts to bring major media outlets in Russia under government control and to limit media criticism of his policies.

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based non-governmental organization, has called Mr. Putin one of the world’s top "Predators of Press Freedom".

President Putin, on his part, insists he is a strong supporter of democracy and press freedom. In a speech to Russian television broadcasters in late November 2006, Putin said that the development of Russian state and society would be unthinkable without independent media, without the possibility of listening to different points of view, and without television.

Polonium-210 (Po210) was originally called Radium F when the Curies discovered it.

It is highly radioactive with alpha decay, so much so that the metal container used to hold it becomes hot to the touch. It has been used as a heat source in satellites. You had better hope the container has a good tight seal because Po210 is a very fine dust, and as the alpha decay gives the dust particles a static electric charge, it has the tendency to creep out of its container, even through a screw thread. Much like Tinker Bell sprinkling magic pixie dust, whosoever handles it is likely to spread it all over themselves, all over wherever they go, and whomever they come in contact with. Po210 is a substance that can easily become an aerosol. God forbid that they should break-wind. It will be like Godzilla belch-blasting Tokyo.

Alpha radiation is not normally dangerous as even paper is thick enough to block it. But if the dust particles enter the system, Po210 is so radioactive that it will immediately start to kill any cells it comes into contact with. It has a half life of 138 days, long enough for even a fraction of a gram to do its work. Po210 decays into Pb206, which is stable and would be undetectable, given that any resident of an industrial society has accumulated lead from petrol, paint and other sources.

The presence of Thallium isotopes suggests that this batch was made in a reactor, probably by bombarding Bismuth with neutrons. It might be possible for someone with access to a research reactor, say a post-doc student, to make a small amount, but usually management of a reactor is so tight the management would need to be aware of it. More than a gram or so of Po210 will glow in the dark with blue Cherenkov radiation, and that tends to draw attention to it.

An interesting possibility is that the dose could have been inhaled as Radon-222 (Rn222) gas. With a half life of 3.8 days, this decays into a series of very short lived daughter products, each of which is quite radioactive. After less than seven days, the Rn222 gas would only exist in the body as Po210, but there would be no Thallium, just Bismuth and Lead isotopes.


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