Poisoned Russian Had Sought Entry to U.S., Book Says

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 10, 2007

LONDON -- Before Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian intelligence agent fatally poisoned in London last year, sought asylum in Britain, he first tried to flee to the United States, according to a new book that also offers fresh details of his uneasy life and relationship with the former KGB agent now accused of murdering him.

According to "Death of a Dissident," written by Litvinenko's friend Alex Goldfarb and his widow, Marina, to be published Tuesday by Free Press, Litvinenko nearly won a new life in the United States when he fled Russia in 2000. But at the last minute, he was told that officials in Washington had "changed their mind" and would not give him a visa. Litvinenko then fled to Britain, where he was killed in November at age 43, poisoned with a lethal dose of the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210.

The book recounts that in late October 2000, Goldfarb, a former Russian biologist who had become a U.S. citizen, flew from New York to Turkey, where Litvinenko had gone with his wife and their 6-year-old son, Anatoly, after they fled Russia. Goldfarb took them to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, where Litvinenko was questioned for four hours by a man identified only as Mark, who Litvinenko believed was an American intelligence agent. Litvinenko was then told to go back to his hotel to await the decision from Washington as to whether he would be given the visa he needed to enter the United States.

Litvinenko had many foes in Russia, especially after he publicly accused some of his superiors in the Federal Security Service, a successor agency to the KGB, of planning assassinations, including apartment building bombings in 1999 that resulted in hundreds of deaths.

As Litvinenko waited for Goldfarb's cellphone to ring with news from the U.S. Embassy, he spotted a man he believed was a Russian agent watching him. After pretending to go up to their hotel rooms, Litvinenko, his family and Goldfarb got into a car and sped to Istanbul, more than 200 miles away. Goldfarb said he turned off his cellphone "because I was afraid that we could be tracked somehow."

When Goldfarb switched on his phone and finally talked to Mark, who had left many messages, he said: "Good news, pal, we're taking them. Twenty minutes, we'll pick them up."

But then Goldfarb told him they were in Istanbul.

"Istanbul? Why in the world did you go there?"

"Someone was watching at the hotel, so we ran."

"I see. Well, that's a complication. Is anyone watching you now?"

"I don't think so."

"Okay, keep your phone on. I'll get back to you."

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