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The Tentacle


December 8, 2006

Out-Bonding Bond

Roy Meachum

'Tis true as you've heard: the new James Bond is a governmental hit man. After all that's why the 007. Missing are all those Smersh dirty ways to the Soviet's enemies.

Real life is now providing what the movies no longer can.

Ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko died in London of radiation poisoning. The Brits have identified the poison: polonium 210. But they have little idea how it was introduced into the system of the former Russian colonel. Investigators have tromped around a luxury hotel, a tony restaurant, an expensive office and a luxury sushi bar. You can gather spying pays somewhat more than minimum wages.

We have been told the likely assassin was Andrei Lugovoy, who made the transition with the victim to the post-communist secret agency FSB that took over from the old NKVD. It seems that ever since I've heard about the tsars' past realm the supreme police force has been known simply by initials.

There was the MVD for a while; in all supposedly the communists changed names for their secret police more frequently than they might have changed socks. There were the Cheka and the Okhrana, but I never understood what was behind the strange words. Legend has them murderers and sadists, whose talents were adopted by the Red establishment when it took over.

Russian President Vladimir Putin belonged to the KGB, which established the infamous Gulag system. He remains central in the conspiracy stories about Mr. Litvinenko, who named Mr. Putin on his deathbed.

In any event, the Russian president was around in the secret police's hierarchy when various critics of Moscow met similarly weird deaths.

Sometimes the deeds were committed by Soviet satellites. Pope John Paul II was the target of an infamous Turkish shooter - and in St. Peter's Square; he was supposedly on the payroll of the Bulgarians. Presumably they could not find a Polish assassin willing to shoot down the first Polish pope in history.

Also in London, a Kremlin critic suffered an umbrella puncture on a leg that left a mortal substance behind.

As I said, the tradition is well established in history. Criticize the government and Russian agents will measure you for a coffin.

This is the 21st century and Moscow must, for public relation purposes, promise full cooperation; in reality the promise fell short. British investigators who arrived in Moscow Monday were instantly met with terms and conditions. They were not allowed to interrogate Mr. Lugovoy because he was in the hospital; this confuses me because I thought he was in a London clinic, which he entered after making bold and resolute statements about having knowledge of the man who slipped the polonium 210 to the ex-colonel.

The Kremlin meanwhile has opened a second front, warning that the very inquiry itself is damaging relations between Russia and Britain; presumably that's because Mr. Putin figures in the speculation. In the old days Joseph Stalin ignored rumors and truths about his secret agents' involvement in deadly plots.

But this is a new era, heralded by an eight-page supplement in The Washington Post the other day. Obviously delivered fully printed out, its writing and editing were turgid and downright dull. But Moscow made its point in headlines that proclaimed Europe's dependency on Russian oil and gas. Subtlety has never been a quality of the Kremlin's secret police.

In this chilled run-up to a post-election Christmas, when nothing really new is happening on the horizon. This column offers a spy tale to titillate readers who otherwise might find themselves bored between trips to the stores



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