FBI Joins Investigation of Poisoned Spy

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 30, 2006; 5:33 PM

LONDON -- The FBI is joining the British probe into the poisoning death of a Kremlin critic, the agency announced Thursday as investigators found traces of radiation at a dozen sites in Britain and a former Russian prime minister reported symptoms consistent with poisoning.

British authorities requested the involvement of the FBI, agency spokesman Richard Kolko said. FBI experts in weapons of mass destruction will assist with some of the scientific analysis, he said.

There is no suspected link to the U.S. in an investigation that extends to five airliners and locations from London to Moscow. Russian officials said radiation levels were normal on two suspect Russian jets and appealed to British officials for information on how to test Russians who traveled aboard the two British Airways planes on which radiation has so far been detected.

Yegor Gaidar, who served briefly as prime minister in the 1990s under Russian President Boris Yeltsin, vomited and then fainted during a conference in Ireland on Nov. 24, a day after ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko died of radiation poisoning. Doctors treating Gaidar in Moscow believe he was also poisoned, said his spokesman, Valery Natarov.

While Litvinenko was a fierce critic of the Kremlin who during his waning hours blamed President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning, Gaidar, one of the leaders of a liberal opposition party, is a figure with little influence in today's Russia whose moderate criticism of the Kremlin has focused on economic issues.

Gaidar's illness has added strands to a growing web of speculation in Russia over the death of Litvinenko and the Oct. 7 killing of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya. Some critics see the hand of hard-liners in the country's ruling elite, while Kremlin backers have suggested a murder plot by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky to blacken the government's reputation.

Andrei Lugovoy, another former KGB spy who met with Litvinenko on the day he fell ill, served as Gaidar's bodyguard at one point. But there was no other immediate link with Litvinenko, who was poisoned by a rare radioactive element called polonium-210.

The former Russian prime minister's daughter, Maria, said Putin had called her father on the phone to inquire about his health and wish him a smooth recovery.

Gaidar, 50, was feeling better Thursday, according to Natarov. "His condition is stable and improving. Doctors say there is no threat to his life at the moment."

An autopsy on Litvinenko was to be conducted Friday. Since he became sick a month ago, the story behind the former spy's poisoning has riveted the world with twists and turns like that out of a James Bond film.

The planes were searched because Litvinenko said before he died that a group of Russian contacts who met with him on Nov. 1, the day he later fell ill, had traveled to London from Moscow.

Polonium is lethal when swallowed, with the power to destroy the human body's DNA. But because it doesn't penetrate the skin, it is easy to transport _ even across national borders.

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