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Sunday, December 10, 2006

THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE HEAT

I am just surprised no one, thus far, has used this headline to refer to the Litvinenko affair. The poor guy has been buried in a special coffin to prevent radiation leakage. His is a very hot body.

This strange story takes you easily back to the Cold War years and all the cloak-and-dagger affairs the two superpowers carried on all over the world. With a little help from their friends, indeed, being those the Mossad, the Bulgarian secret services, the French Deuxieme Bureau, the Stasi, and a whole bunch of others more or less recognized shady operators.

The poisoning of Litvinenko has all the trappings of a KGB operation, now taken over by the FSB, as the intelligence services of the Russian Federation are now known. Old habits die hard.

Somehow, however, the British have decided this is just a crime, not a crime of state. Readier to admit the affair more as an embarrassment for the Putin government than his doing, they have obtained full cooperation from the Russian authorities.

The use of such a sophisticated killing method, poisoning with a rare radioactive isotope such as polonium-210 is, at least, convoluted in its development. Looks like the killers wanted a gradual progression towards death for some unknown reason. Killing anyone is a relatively easy matter: gunshot, knife, cyanide poisoning or just a gentle shove in a tube station platform just before the train enters the station… Quick and neat. Now is a mess and the polonium has left a trail all the way from the London hospital where Litvinenko died to several toilets in London restaiurants and hotels, at least 14 British Airlines planes, a Schleswig-Holstein home in Germany, and even Moscow.

Litvinenko had ample time to talk to the authorities and the press, getting all the publicity he could ever wanted. Is it a matter of clumsiness in the part of the killers or is just the intended effect? Indeed, a good script for a spy movie.
Reality often outsmarts fiction: John Le Carre, eat your heart out.

What calls my attention in this story is the radioactive part. Living within a 45 minutes car ride from three nuclear power plants (the fourth, “Vandellos I”, a Chernobyl era old chugging contraption that almost blew up some 15 years ago, is in a never-ending process of being dismantled) keeps me very sensible to nuclear energy and its effects on the human body.

It also seems almost forgotten the ominous fact that the nuclear arsenals of the superpowers (and Russia is still one) hold enough megatons to blow up the entire planet 100 times over. We seem to only shiver a little when somebody announces that so-called rogue states such us North Korea o Iran are about to build atomic bombs, as if the thousands of warheads already existing were not likely to blow up at the whim of one government or another.
Some time ago I was about to join the “Doctors Against Nuclear War” association, just when they got the Nobel Peace price. In an “ex post facto” sensation I felt it was not worth to join anymore. A sort of a “mission accomplished” feeling. Perhaps we need an association of “Doctors against Nuclear Peace”, or “Against Nuclear Energy Of Any Type”

Not that I do not recognized the many good uses of radioactivity, particularly the uses in Nuclear Medicine and radiotherapy, but I keep wondering if the world would not be a better place had the Curie espouses decided to get into cheese making or founded a winery in Alsace, instead of messing around with nuclear isotopes. And if Albert Einstein had used his marvelous relativistic mind to write poetry instead.

May be the next time around. If there is one.

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