Investigation Widens in Death of Former Spy The mystery surrounding the murder of a former Russian spy is growing more complicated. Investigators have found radiation at a dozen sites in Britain and aboard five planes. Daniel McGrory, reporter with the Times of London, talks with Madeleine Brand about the latest developments.
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Investigation Widens in Death of Former Spy

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Investigation Widens in Death of Former Spy

Investigation Widens in Death of Former Spy

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The poisoning in Britain of a former Russian spy has become even more mysterious. Alexander Litvinenko died from radiation poisoning one week ago. Now traces of radiation have been found at a dozen sites in Britain, and five airplanes are being investigated for possible contamination.

Daniel McGrory is a reporter for the Times of London and he joins me now.

And Daniel, first, tell us more about where this radiation was found.

Mr. DANIEL McGRORY (The Times of London): The curious thing is that as each day passes, more of this Polonium 210, this radioactive isotope, appears to be turning up in London at various locations. Now it's stretched to aircraft, as you say. The police are joking that this Christmas they expect to find more Polonium 210 in the West End of London than they do cocaine at parties. So people are becoming perplexed, and they're becoming a little worried.

BRAND: A little worried? Some 33,000 passengers have reportedly had contact with those airplanes.

Mr. McGRORY: Well, a lot of experts now are saying that perhaps the government had been a little too overzealous in frightening people. Yes, you're right: 33,000 people have flown on these various aircraft. At the moment, only two have definitely shown any signs of this Polonium 210. They are being extra cautious, as I say, and they are offering people medical checks if they want it.

The reality is that not one single person, including the medics and including the family who were in close proximity with Alexander Litvinenko after the moment that he died, have shown any signs of exposure. So the possibility that a member of the public sitting on an aircraft seat, being in the same restaurant, being in the same hotel as Mr. Litvinenko, the possibility of any of them being contaminated by Polonium 210 is remote in the extreme.

BRAND: Okay, so meanwhile, a formal inquest is underway until Litvinenko's death. Three pathologists, I understand, are participating. Don't we know?

Mr. McGRORY: Hard to know how they will all going to fit in this tiny little room they're going to use tomorrow, but yes, you're right. One is for the official inquest. The second has been appointed by the coroner, just in case, and they stress this, there is a murder investigation, because as you know, Madeleine, curiously, the police here will still not use the word murder. And the third pathologist is being appointed by the family so that they can be sure of independent scrutiny.

BRAND: And then could a hypothesis come out as to how this happened, out of this inquest?

Mr. McGRORY: Well, one of the key things they're looking for in the inquest is to find out what else may well have been in Mr. Litvinenko's body, other elements, such as thallium or bismuth. It may give them a much clearer picture of where this radioactive isotope came from.

The betting is at the moment still, it has come from a nuclear installation, probably a reactor of some sort. But they stress, the authorities, that the Russians have a perfectly legitimate scientific market where they export Polonium 210 and other important elements like that around the world. And you understand, eight grams a month go to American scientific institutions, and remember that less than a pinhead amount can kill.

BRAND: Another Russian has fallen ill. This is former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, the man behind Russia's early market reforms. He fell ill while on a book tour in Ireland, and the word poisoning has been mentioned.

Mr. McGRORY: It has, curiously. There is actually a direct link. I supposed we should be very careful here legally with the Litvinenko inquiry. That is this, is that Mr. Litvinenko, on November the 1st, when he fell ill and when it's believed he was poisoned, was in contact with a Russian colleague from his days in the KGB. That Russian colleague used to be Mr. Gaidar's personal protection officer, his bodyguard when he was prime minister. So there is a direct link there between the two men. Perhaps we shouldn't name him just in case of legal problems.

BRAND: And has it been confirmed at all that he was poisoned?

Mr. McGRORY: No. This is only a doctor for the moment saying that they see no natural reason for this condition. The fact that it's come at the height of these investigations into Mr. Litvinenko has made everybody acutely aware of Mr. Gaidar's condition. That the fact is, to put it in perspective, Alexander Litvinenko is the only man on Earth who appears to have been killed and died of the acute effects of alpha radiation. So the authorities here really are groping around in the dark a little bit. To use the word unprecedented is putting it mildly.

BRAND: Daniel McGrory is a reporter for The Times of London. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. McGRORY: Thank you.

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