Late Saturday, 18 days after a purported poisoning attack on a Russian defector in London, all of a sudden, if having received a common command, Western mainstream media started reporting on the story about the poisoning of a Russian defector in London on November 1, 2006. The reason of a delay in coverage was not explained by anybody although previous total media silence seems to be a more interesting story than the poisoning.
According to a report from the AP, London police have confirmed they are investigating the suspected poisoning of a former Russian spy who has accused his ex-colleagues of involvement in terrorism and assassinations.
Several British newspapers reported that Col. Alexander Litvinenko, 43, has been hospitalized since Nov. 1 with symptoms of near-fatal poisoning.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard confirmed to The Associated Press on Saturday that its detectives were trying to identify what was in his system - and who put it there.
A police spokeswoman refused to go into details for Reuters but said: "Officers from the Specialist Crime Directorate are investigating a suspicious poisoning. No arrests have been made. Inquiries are continuing." She said: "His condition is serious but stable."
The Sunday Times reported that Litvinenko has suffered damage to his kidneys and bone marrow, is vomiting regularly and has lost his hair.
The newspaper said it interviewed him at his bedside in a London hospital, where he was registered under a false name. It said he fell ill after having a meal with an Italian man who claimed to have information on the killing of an American investigative female journalist, who was gunned down on Oct. 7 outside her Moscow apartment building. Her attackers have not been found, the AP reported.
In an article by Sunday Times, published under an ambigous title "Poisoned: spy who quit Russia for Britain", the editor David Leppard writes:
Aleksander Litvinenko, who defected to Britain six years ago, is fighting for his life in a London hospital. A toxicology test at Guy's hospital last Thursday confirmed the presence of the odourless, tasteless poison.
A medical report obtained by The Sunday Times shows that he has three times the maximum limit in his body, a potentially fatal dose. It is as yet unclear how the poison was administered, but on the day he became ill his family say he had a meal with a mysterious Italian contact.
Scotland Yard detectives have been liaising with consultants at Barnet hospital, north London, who have been treating Litvinenko since the poisoning on November 1, the anniversary of his defection.
A police spokesman confirmed an inquiry had been launched last week: "The Specialist Crime Directorate are investigating a suspicious poisoning."
Supplies of thallium in Britain are highly restricted and cases of poisoning are extremely rare. One gram is enough to kill even the fittest of men and Litvinenko, 43, has all the symptoms of the poison, which can be diagnosed only after at least two weeks.
He has kidney damage, is constantly vomiting and has lost all his hair. He has also suffered severe damage to his bone marrow and an almost total loss of white blood cells which are vital to the immune system.
Doctors say these latter symptoms could suggest the presence of a second unknown agent in a potentially lethal "cocktail".
In an interview last week at his bedside in the cancer ward of Barnet hospital, where he was being treated under a different name, Litvinenko said he believed it was a murder plot to avenge his defection (The interview was never published, note by KC).
"They probably thought I would be dead from heart failure by the third day," he said. "I do feel very bad. I've never felt like this before - like my life is hanging on the ropes."
"We met at Piccadilly Circus," said Litvinenko. "Mario said he wanted to sit down to talk to me, so I suggested we go to a Japanese restaurant nearby.
Last month Litvinenko received an unexpected e-mail from a man he knew as Mario, an acquaintance he had made in Italy. The Italian said he wanted to meet him in London because he had some important information about the murder of an American journalist who was killed in the lift of her Moscow apartment block.
"I ordered lunch but he ate nothing. He appeared to be very nervous. He handed me a four-page document which he said he wanted me to read right away. It contained a list of names of people, including FSB officers, who were purported to be connected with the journalist's murder.
"The document was an e-mail but it was not an official document. I couldn't understand why he had to come all the way to London to give it to me. He could have e-mailed it to me."
After the meeting the Italian had simply "disappeared", although Litvinenko emphasised that he was not in a position to accuse him of involvement in his poisoning.
That night Litvinenko became violently ill. His wife Marina, 44, said: "At first I thought it was just a bug but then he started vomiting. But it wasn't normal vomiting."
She said her husband is a fit man who often runs three miles a day. He had no previous record of medical problems. He was admitted to Barnet hospital on the third day. Nine days ago, his condition suddenly deteriorated and he lost all his hair. Doctors say Litvinenko has not eaten for 18 days and is receiving what little nourishment he can take via an intravenous drip.
Russian and East European agents have a history of using poisons to attack their enemies. Markov was poisoned with ricin and died three days later.
More recently Victor Yuschenko suffered facial disfigurement after being poisoned with suspected dioxin as he campaigned for the presidency of Ukraine.
Litvinenko, a specialist in fighting organised crime, came to prominence in 1998 after he accused the Russian authorities of trying to kill Boris Berezovsky, a tycoon close to Boris Yeltsin, who was then president.
He claims he was drummed out of the spy agency and subjected to harassment to punish him for speaking out. He was arrested twice on what he says were trumped up charges. Although he was acquitted, he spent months in Moscow prisons.
In 2000 he was arrested for a third time on charges of faking evidence in an investigation. Friends told him he was unlikely to escape lightly under the Putin regime.
Litvinenko decided to flee before he was arrested. Stripped by the authorities of his passport, he ended up in Turkey where he joined Marina and their son Anatoly, who had flown from Moscow on tourist visas. They came to Britain and claimed asylum. He has been a thorn in Moscow's side ever since.
Marina said she was hoping to find a bone marrow donor to save her husband's life.
Doctors have moved him to another hospital offering more specialized treatment and police have taken his family into protective custody", the Sunday Times says.
In an article under an even more ambiguous title "Poisoning of Russian agent raises fears of UK vendetta", The Observer writes:
"Defector Alexander Litvinenko is said to be fighting for his life under armed guard in hospital in the culmination of a bizarre case bearing more resemblance to the plot of a James Bond movie than to everyday life in the capital.
The British capital has recently become a fashionable haunt of Russian emigres, many of them extremely wealthy. However, alongside the influx of oligarchs have come several leading exiles regarded with suspicion in Moscow, triggering concerns that the violent vendettas that have plagued their homeland could be pursued on British streets.
There is no suggestion that the restaurant, the respected venue Itsu, was involved and friends said his guest may have been a genuine contact whose meeting with him was exploited by unknown opponents.
The 39-year-old former colonel in the Federal Security Bureau, formerly better known as the KGB, was taken ill at the beginning of November. He was initially treated in Barnet hospital, north London, before being moved and reports last night suggested tests had confirmed the presence of the poison thallium, a colorless and odorless liquid often used to kill rats. He is said to have ingested a potentially fatal dose; his condition is said to be 'serious but stable', The Observer said.
All together 28 mainstream English-language newspapers and agencies reported simultaneously the defector's story on Saturday night after keeping a total mum for 18 days.