The Stuff That Poisoned That Spy In London

My national security and international relations blogs have been abuzz lately with the latest information about the Alexander Litvinenko poisoning. To be honest, I really haven’t been paying that much attention. A former spy and outspoken critic of the Moscow government get’s killed in a unique and spectacular fashion that could have been used in a James Bond novel? *yawn*

Don’t get me wrong. I do feel for this guy’s family and friends but I can’t get that worked up about international misdeeds at the level of one guy.

Sure, the Moscow government wanted him to keep quiet. Sure, Putin has taken the former Soviet Union back to the good old days of censored press, repression and Stalin. Sure, Russia has and is involved in a basically unreported war in Chechnya. Sure, this IS a unique, major international mea culpa, an ‘OOPs’ of the highest international magnitude. The British government will have to issue an official smack-down, Moscow will send out an official Sgt. Schultz (from Hogan’s Hero’s) to say ‘I know NOTTIG! Absolutely NOOOOTTIG!’ End of official story – let the conspiracy theories begin.

Thus, I wasn’t going to write anything about this. That was until the story took a really weird twist to the area of creationists, online nuclear internet dealings and UFO’s. Then the story became something I just can’t resist.

You see Kathryn Cramer, after doing a great explaination about Polonium (Po-210, the substance used to convey poor Mr. Litvinenko into the afterlife), first reported (actually passed on the information from the Guardian) that there might be connections to the illicit trade in nuclear materials. Then she spent last week looking into how to make Po-210. She’s looked at New Scientist, online reports about the Purification of Black Bismuth from Polonium and the possible use of a semiconductor plan to purify a sample using zone refining. She also found out that Polonium is really important to creationists. (Like I said this story has gotten weird.)

In the process she got rather disconcerted about all the hits to her blog about where to buy Polonium. (Will I start getting those now?)

Then Jane Vaynman, at ArmsControlWonk, went on to ask the vital question about “What’s Polonium-210 and where do I get some?” In addition to some of the information Kathryn covered she also quotes the Observer (UK) in saying

Such material, it is believed by experts, could only have come from the massive nuclear structures of the old Soviet Union where, during the collapse of the empire, security was often sacrificed. Polonium can only be gained from such reprocessing plants or equally complex nuclear research plants. You cannot buy this stuff from local criminals.

The rest of her post follows the ‘we know how, we know where, now all we need is a motive’ investigation. She starts down the long path of the many, many conspiracy theories that will grow and flourish on the Intertubes for the next weeks and years. I predict GW and The Big Dick will be implicated by December. Wanna bet?

But the person who gets my award for best investigative blogging is Noah Shachtman at DefenseTech. He is the one that found the absolute gem.

The radioactive material that killed a former Russian spy in Britain can be bought on the Internet for $69.

Polonium-210, which experts say is many times more deadly than cyanide, can be bought legally through United Nuclear Scientific Supplies, a mail-order company that sells through the Web, based in Sandia Park, N.M. Chemcial companies sell the Polonium-210 legally for industrial use, such as removing static electricity from machinery. United Nuclear claims that it’s “currently the only legal Alpha source available without a license.”

The type of Polonium-210 sold emits alpha radiation, which can’t penetrate the skin, but is deadly if swallowed, depending on the amount ingested. The Polonium available on United Nuclear’s site can be purchased without a license because the level of radioactivity, 0.1 microcurie, does not pose a danger, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

But United Nuclear has a story. I’ll just let Noah say it.

United Nuclear is run by Bob Lazar, who, some 20 years ago, claimed to have worked on alien spaceships on a secret military base in Nevada… [That’d be Area 51 –ed.]

So, in two weeks we go from James Bond, to creationism to UFOs. How cool is that!

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