Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Plumbers With Diplomatic Passports

The Times reports that two Russian spies masquerading as 'plumbers' produced diplomatic passports after being caught trying to install surveillance equipment at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Scotland Yard warns Britons at risk after Russian ‘spies’ caught at Davos

By Philip Aldrick  - The Times

Bill Browder was warned by Scotland Yard that he was at risk from the Russians - MICHAEL LECKIE/ THE TIMES

Russian agents are alleged to have tried to infiltrate the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos, in an incident that raised security fears among the British authorities.

Two Russians claiming to be plumbers produced diplomatic passports during a routine check by local police in August. Swiss officials suspected they were spies who planned to install surveillance equipment.

President Trump of the US and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, are among 3,000 of the world’s rich and powerful who are meeting at the Swiss town this week.

The Swiss authorities informed Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism branch. Last week, Scotland Yard got in touch with Bill Browder, a hedge fund manager and opponent of Russia’s President Putin, to warn that he was at risk.

The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting is an attractive target for spies as political leaders and senior business executives gather in one place. President Trump has brought a large entourage, including his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to his father-in-law, as well as Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary. Sajid Javid, the chancellor, is among those from Britain attending.

The story broke in Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. Switzerland’s cantonal and federal police confirmed to The Times that two Russians had been checked. They were allowed to return home.

The alleged agents were suspected of trying to install surveillance equipment in the hotels and chalets taken by official delegations during the meetings in January. By putting it in early, it is thought it would be less likely they would draw attention. They claimed to have been helping prepare the Russian delegation’s official site for the event, known as the Russia House on the Davos promenade.

Switzerland is jumpy about the Russian presence. Its intelligence agency claimed in 2018 that one in four Russian diplomats based in the country was a spy.

If the alleged agents had intended to target Mr Browder, an American who holds a British passport, it would not be the first time. President Putin has issued several Interpol red notices to have him extradited to Russia and he has been described as Mr Putin’s enemy number one.

Mr Browder has successfully campaigned to have sanctions and travel bans imposed on senior Russian officials allegedly linked to corruption and murder. The US, Britain, Canada, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have imposed the restrictions he has championed. The EU and Australia are close to pushing similar policies through.

Scotland Yard contacted Mr Browder last Friday to warn that he faced a possible security threat. The Swiss are believed to have stepped up his personal protection.

Speaking in Davos, Mr Browder said: “It is both terrifying that the Russians are doing this but it also shows that my campaign for sanctions is hitting a nerve and I’m not going to back down.”

He later told CNBC: “Putin is an absolute cancer on Russia. He is a terrible thing for the country. He has completely and absolutely stripped the country of its natural resources for the benefit of a very small number of people.”

President Putin has not attended Davos for more than a decade and has sent only a small team to promote the country from Russia House on the Davos promenade.

Anita Senti, the cantonal police press officer, said: “The Graubunden cantonal police subjected two Russian citizens to a person check in Davos in August 2019.”

Stanislaw Smirnow, press attache of the Russian embassy in Bern, has described the story as an attempt to undermine Swiss-Russian relations.

Scotland Yard declined to comment.

Corbyn's Politics Stink (16/03/18)

Jeremy Corbyn seems desperate to deflect attention away from President Putin with his latest theory that 'Mafia-like groups' could have been behind the chemical attack on a former Russian spy, his daughter and a police officer who went to their aid. 

Now I don't know what evidence the Labour leader has to support such a theory and, of course, we all have to be careful not to instigate unsubstantiated allegations against minority groups, even Mafia-like groups.

But the point that Jeremy Corbyn is missing is that the 'modus operandi' here is very similar to what happened back in 2006 when Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent, was poisoned with the use of radioactive Polonium.

Litvinenko fell mortally shorty after meeting two active Russian agents in London who fled the country straight after their meeting. 

Traces of radioactive Polonium were found in the hotel where the three men met, but President Putin and his henchmen indignantly rejected any involvement of the Russian Government.

Indeed the Russians mocked and ridiculed the whole idea, as they are doing now over the attack in Salisbury, even though the weight of the evidence pointed at the Kremlin.

Apart from Litvinenko's dying testimony and other powerful scientific evidence the basic questions was who would have access to radioactive Polonium other than a major state institution?

The same is true of the military grade nerve agent (Novichok) manufactures by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and inherited later by the Russian Federation and Vladimir Putin.

A judge-led public inquiry found that Alexander Litvinenko was in all ikelihood murdered by the Russian state, but instead of cooperating with the inquiry Putin made the key suspect (Andrei Lugovoi) a Russian MP and minor celebrity.

In other words, Jeremy Corbyn is crafting his position on Russia to suit his 'leftist' politics which include, for example, his weasel words about the cowardly 9/11 attack on America, the shooting dead of Osama bin Laden by American special forces and the drone strike which killed the IS supporter 'Jihadi John' responsible for sadistically beheading and murdering UK and other western hostages.

All of which leads me to conclude that Jeremy Corbyn is unfit for high office.

Jeremy Corbyn says Russian mafia could have carried out Salisbury poisoning

By Kevin Schofield - Politics Home

Jeremy Corbyn has suggested that "Russian mafia-like groups" living in Britain could have been behind the poisoning of a former double agent.

Jeremy Corbyn says the UK should not 'rush ahead of the evidence' - Credit: PA Images

The Labour leader also warned the Government not to "rush way ahead of the evidence" by assuming that the Kremlin sanctioned the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury.

Mr Corbyn's remarks, in an article for The Guardian, appeared to row back on comments he made yesterday afternoon when he said "all the evidence points towards" Russia being to blame for what happened.

Jeremy Corbyn says Russia 'appears to be' responsible for Salisbury nerve agent attack

Emily Thornberry defies Jeremy Corbyn and says Russia must 'face the consequences' for spy attack

Jeremy Corbyn spokesman says WMD row shows Russia may not be behind spy poisoning

They are also likely to further infuriate Labour MPs who have criticised the party leader for not explicitly blaming Vladimir Putin's regime for the poisoning, which has also left a police officer seriously ill.

In his article, Mr Corbyn said: "Theresa May was right on Monday to identify two possibilities for the source of the attack in Salisbury, given that the nerve agent used has been identified as of original Russian manufacture.

"Either this was a crime authored by the Russian state; or that state has allowed these deadly toxins to slip out of the control it has an obligation to exercise. If the latter, a connection to Russian mafia-like groups that have been allowed to gain a toehold in Britain cannot be excluded."

He also said: "The use of military nerve agents on the streets of Britain is barbaric and beyond reckless. This horrific event demands first of all the most thorough and painstaking criminal investigation, conducted by our police and security services.

"They have a right to expect full support in their work, just as the public should also be able to expect calm heads and a measured response from their political leaders. To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security."

Mr Corbyn also warned against a "McCarthyite intolerance of dissent" of anyone who suggests a cautious approach to handling the crisis.

"Instead, Britain needs to uphold its laws and its values without reservation," he said. "And those should be allied to a foreign policy that uses every opportunity to reduce tensions and conflict wherever possible."

But Labour MP John Woodcock, who has criticised Mr Corbyn's approach to the Salisbury attack, said: "There is much in this piece which is troubling, not least the strange reference to McCarthy-ism.

"Jeremy Corbyn is not a powerless victim, he is a man who seeks to lead our country at a time when it has been shown to be under significant threat."

Safe Havens (16 July 2013)

While the former American spook, Eric Snowden, is thinking about seeking political asylum in Russia I wonder if he might like to raise the curious case of Alexander Litvinenko - with his new comrades and friends.

Now I'm sure that Alexander Litvinenko became a useful source of information to British intelligence handlers - a 'spy' in the very broadest sense of that word - but in no way could he have been regarded as an on-going threat to Russian security.

Yet he was murdered by consuming radioactive Polonium shortly after taking tea with two former Russian intelligence agents in a London hotel - an act which could only have been organised by a very sophisticated state machine with a motive to kill a Russian defector.

So Russia looks like a very unpromising place for an American spy to call his new home from home - although this is a very murky world where things are not necessarily as reliable or believable as they would first appear.

Andrei Lugovoi has since become a Russian MP, of course, which makes it unlawful for the Russian authorities even to consider extraditing him to the UK - where he is wanted for questioning in connection with a cowardly and vile murder plot.

Here's a little history of the Litvinenko case which I came across on the BBC web site - I can't say I'm surprised that the Government has decided not to proceed with a public inquiry.

Because what would that tell us other than it is almost certainly the case that Russia and its intelligence services - were responsible for Alexander Litvinenko's untimely and unnatural death. 

The Litvinenko case

  • 1 Nov 2006 - Alexander Litvinenko has tea with former agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun in London
  • 4 Nov 2006 - After three days of vomiting he is admitted to hospital, and dies 22 days later. His death is attributed to radiation poisoning
  • May 2007 - The UK decides Mr Lugovoi should be charged with the murder of Mr Litvinenko. He denies any involvement but says Mr Litvinenko was a British spy
  • 5 Jul 2007 - Russia officially refuses to extradite Mr Lugovoi, prompting a diplomatic row
  • 20 Sept 2012 - Pre-inquest review hears that Russia's links to the death will be probed
  • May-June 2013 - Inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death delayed as coroner decides a public inquiry would be preferable

Russia in the Dock (23/07/18)

In November 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent, met with two former colleagues, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, in London.

A few days later he was admitted into hospital suffering from poisoning, but not just any old poisoning because somehow he had ingested radioactive Polonium 210 which finally killed him 22 days later - with the poison being traced back to a teapot in the London hotel where he had shared a cup of tea with his fellow countrymen from Russia.

Suspicious, damning even, or what?

Because it's not everyone, of course, who has ready access to a highly volatile, dangerous radioactive isotope and the ability to administer such a deadly substance to an 'enemy' they intended to kill, without being anywhere near the scene of the crime when their deadly deed finally came to light. 

So it's great news that Marina Litvinenko has been granted the public inquiry that her husband's terrible murder deserves, as explained in the following report from the BBC.  

Killer Evidence (14/02/15)

Image result for fingerprints + images

The Guardian reports on the killer evidence unveiled at the public inquiry into the vile murder of Russian exile Alexander Litvinenko.

The fact that traces of radioactive Polonium were found in the hotels rooms used by Andrei Lugovoi and Dimitry Kovtun and the airline seats on which the pair made their escape from London is incontrovertible evidence if you ask me, of their responsibility for this crime.

At the start of the inquiry the Russian President, Valdimir Putin, was described as a common criminal masquerading as a head of state and that now seems to be a very fair statement with the evidence about Lugovoi's and Kovtun's radioactive 'fingerprint'.

Because there is no way that this murder could have been committed without support from the highest levels of the Russian Government.           

Litvinenko killers left radiation trail across London, inquiry told

Two men accused of poisoning Russian were noticeable because of their jewellery and ‘comical’ dress sense, says London hotel manager
Alexander Litvinenko in hospital in London in 2006. Photograph: Natasja Weitsz/Getty Images

By Luke Harding - The Guardian

The two Russians who allegedly poisoned Alexander Litvinenko left a massive trail of radiation in “multiple locations” across London, and were immediately noticeable because of their ex “excessive” jewellery and “comical” dress sense, the inquiry into his murder has heard.

Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun flew from Moscow to London on 16 October 2006. They checked into the Best Western hotel on Shaftesbury Avenue, the inquiry heard. They are accused of trying to poison Litvinenko for the first time later that day – and of succeeding two weeks later when they slipped radioactive polonium into his tea.

Giving evidence, the hotel’s manager, Goran Krgo, said he spotted Lugovoi and Kovtun the moment they arrived. “I remember these guests quite vividly,” he told the inquiry on Wednesday. Asked to elaborate, he said: “We found them to be quite comical on account of how they were dressed and the excessive jewellery they were wearing.”

Krgo said he advised the two men to go to a nearby cafe since their rooms weren’t ready. They came back and checked in, reappearing in the lobby half an hour later, having swapped casual clothes for business gear.

“Kovtun was wearing a silver polyester suit and Lugovoi a dark grey check. They had colourful ties. We were laughing. The girl working behind the desk was amused and making comments.”

Krgo added: “The colours didn’t match. The suits were either too big or too small. They didn’t look like people used to wearing suits. They looked more like a donkey with a saddle.”

Det Insp Craig Mascall of the Metropolitan police said forensic experts later found large quantities of polonium in both Lugovoi and Kovtun’s hotel rooms. In Lugovoi’s room, 107, the highest reading came from the bathroom plughole, leading to the suspicion he may have thrown the polonium away. Polonium was also found in Kovtun’s room, 308, on a chair and coat-hanger.

Later that afternoon, the pair met Litvinenko in the fourth-floor boardroom of Erinys, an oil and gas exploration company, in Mayfair. Experts found “substantial contamination” here too, on chairs and a green fabric cover. On one corner of the table there was “full scale deflection” – an off-the-scale reading of alpha radiation.

The inquiry was told that there was no indication Litvinenko had been contaminated before his meeting with Lugovoi and Kovtun. The three men went for a meal at the Itsu sushi bar in Piccadilly, where polonium was also detected. Litvinenko threw up once that evening but survived this first botched assassination attempt, the inquiry heard.

More polonium was found in Pescatori, an Italian restaurant where Lugovoi and Kovtun ate that evening, clocking up a bill of £214.20. They had dinner with Alexander Shadrin, a Russian emigre.

They rounded off the night with a visit to Dar Marrakesh, a Moroccan restaurant. Polonium even turned up on the shisha pipe which Lugovoi smoked on its terrace.

Call records showed that hours after trying to murder Litvinenko Lugovoi called “female A”, a woman whom he had “met informally” during one of numerous trips in 2006 to London. “Female A” declined to see him, Mascall said.

The following morning, Lugovoi and Kovtun left their hotel a day early and checked into the Parkes Hotel in Knightsbridge. Polonium was found in their new rooms.

The inquiry also heard that the Russian authorities deliberately blocked an attempt by British experts to examine the two aircraft used by Lugovoi and Kovtun to fly to and from London on 16 and 18 October 2006. The pair flew with the Russian carrier Transaero. Russia’s public health minister, Gennady Onischenko, assured the British embassy in Moscow that no radiation contamination was found on either plane.

Experts, however, managed to test the second London-Moscow plane at Heathrow airport. They discovered polonium traces on the seats – 26E and 26F – where Kovtun and Luovoi had been sitting. The Russian authorities then cancelled a scheduled flight to London of the other plane. It has since never come back to UK airspace.

A photograph taken by UK border police was released to the inquiry, showing Lugovoi and Kovtun arriving at Gatwick airport on 16 October.

Giving evidence, Det Con Spencer Scott said he stopped both men at immigration control. He said: “I thought they were of interest.”

He questioned them for 20 minutes. “They were very evasive as to why they were going to the UK,” he said, adding they “gave one-word answers”.

Scott said he let them enter the country after confirming that their business meeting was genuine. “I was given advice I should allow them to go through,” he said.