Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bad Habits From the Cold War

Are assassinations of dissidents a holdover of the Cold War – era Soviet Union? Or is it just a bad habit that’s extremely hard to break.

By: Ringo Bones

The news on Alexander Litvinenko’s assassination using polonium210 in London triggers déjà vu to us folks old enough to live in the shadow of the Cold War. During 1978, an almost similar event occurred in London. The Bulgarian Georgi Markov, one of the staunchest critics of the Soviet State at that time was poisoned using an umbrella equipped with a pneumatic pellet shooting mechanism that fires a 1.7 mm diameter pelet laced with ricin (a toxic protein found in castor beans) injector. Markov survived his agonizingly painful ordeal when a doctor tried an unproven procedure, removed the then unknown ricin pellet from his wound. The BBC and Germany’s DW-TV was the first news agencies to cover the said incident. Unluckily, Litvinenko’s case was so rare that doctors were at a loss as to what to do. It was only a few days later that the investigators knew the cause of his death. Rumors are abound that the secret apparatus of the former Soviet Union used to smuggle radioactive substances into the U. S. Embassy in Moscow, supposedly to kill American V. I. P. s softly.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there had been well - documented incidents where radioactive substances are used for murder. Near the end of 1993, Russian “Mafia” assassins allegedly planted gamma-ray-emitting pellets in the secluded workspace of a businessman in Moscow. He died within a few months of exposure. There have been more than half a dozen similar cases that’s been reported in Russia since then.

Is polonium going to be the active ingredient of those “dirty bombs” that “terrorists” are supposedly planning to deploy? That will be tough because most experts will point out that polonium has a half-life of about 139 days, which means it has a nasty habit of vanishing over time. Even though that only minute amounts of polonium are needed to kill an individual, most of what is produced commercially only amounts to a few grams per batch of production. And that’s enough to satisfy most legitimate uses of the element throughout the entire industrialized world. So if you want to procure substantial quantities of polonium for your evil needs. Either you have your own nuclear reactor designed to produce radioisotopes or you regularly rub shoulders with the powers-that-be that regulate the nuclear industry that they would look the other way every time you would do an evil deed. Isn’t it sad that when the fruits of modern technology are misused, it’s always used to maintain an oppressive status - quo.

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