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  • GCHQ and European spy agencies worked together on mass surveillance

    Edward Snowden papers unmask close technical cooperation and loose alliance between British, German, French, Spanish and Swedish spy agencies

    The German, French, Spanish and Swedish intelligence services have all developed methods of mass surveillance of internet and phone traffic over the past five years in close partnership with Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency.

    The bulk monitoring is carried out through direct taps into fibre optic cables and the development of covert relationships with telecommunications companies. A loose but growing eavesdropping alliance has allowed intelligence agencies from one country to cultivate ties with corporations from another to facilitate the trawling of the web, according to GCHQ documents leaked by the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

    The files also make clear that GCHQ played a leading role in advising its European counterparts how to work around national laws intended to restrict the surveillance power of intelligence agencies.

    The German, French and Spanish governments have reacted angrily to reports based on National Security Agency (NSA) files leaked by Snowden since June, revealing the interception of communications by tens of millions of their citizens each month. US intelligence officials have insisted the mass monitoring was carried out by the security agencies in the countries involved and shared with the US.

    The US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, suggested to Congress on Tuesday that European governments’ professed outrage at the reports was at least partly hypocritical. “Some of this reminds me of the classic movie Casablanca: ‘My God, there’s gambling going on here,’ ” he said.

    Sweden, which passed a law in 2008 allowing its intelligence agency to monitor cross-border email and phone communications without a court order, has been relatively muted in its response.

    The German government, however, has expressed disbelief and fury at the revelations from the Snowden documents, including the fact that the NSA monitored Angela Merkel’s mobile phone calls.

    After the Guardian revealed the existence of GCHQ’s Tempora programme, in which the electronic intelligence agency tapped directly into the transatlantic fibre optic cables to carry out bulk surveillance, the German justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, said it sounded “like a Hollywood nightmare”, and warned the UK government that free and democratic societies could not flourish when states shielded their actions in “a veil of secrecy”.

    ‘Huge potential’

    However, in a country-by-country survey of its European partners, GCHQ officials expressed admiration for the technical capabilities of German intelligence to do the same thing. The survey in 2008, when Tempora was being tested, said the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), had “huge technological potential and good access to the heart of the internet – they are already seeing some bearers running at 40Gbps and 100Gbps”.

    Bearers is the GCHQ term for the fibre optic cables, and gigabits per second (Gbps) measures the speed at which data runs through them. Four years after that report, GCHQ was still only able to monitor 10 Gbps cables, but looked forward to tap new 100 Gbps bearers eventually. Hence the admiration for the BND.

    The document also makes clear that British intelligence agencies were helping their German counterparts change or bypass laws that restricted their ability to use their advanced surveillance technology. “We have been assisting the BND (along with SIS [Secret Intelligence Service] and Security Service) in making the case for reform or reinterpretation of the very restrictive interception legislation in Germany,” it says.

    The country-by-country survey, which in places reads somewhat like a school report, also hands out high marks to the GCHQ’s French partner, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE). But in this case it is suggested that the DGSE’s comparative advantage is its relationship with an unnamed telecommunications company, a relationship GCHQ hoped to leverage for its own operations.

    “DGSE are a highly motivated, technically competent partner, who have shown great willingness to engage on IP [internet protocol] issues, and to work with GCHQ on a “cooperate and share” basis.”

    Noting that the Cheltenham-based electronic intelligence agency had trained DGSE technicians on “multi-disciplinary internet operations”, the document says: “We have made contact with the DGSE’s main industry partner, who has some innovative approaches to some internet challenges, raising the potential for GCHQ to make use of this company in the protocol development arena.”

    GCHQ went on to host a major conference with its French partner on joint internet-monitoring initiatives in March 2009 and four months later reported on shared efforts on what had become by then GCHQ’s biggest challenge – continuing to carry out bulk surveillance, despite the spread of commercial online encryption, by breaking that encryption.

    “Very friendly crypt meeting with DGSE in July,” British officials reported. The French were “clearly very keen to provide presentations on their work which included cipher detection in high-speed bearers. [GCHQ’s] challenge is to ensure that we have enough UK capability to support a longer term crypt relationship.”

    Fresh opportunities

    In the case of the Spanish intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Centre (CNI), the key to mass internet surveillance, at least back in 2008, was the Spaniards’ ties to a British telecommunications company (again unnamed. Corporate relations are among the most strictly guarded secrets in the intelligence community). That was giving them “fresh opportunities and uncovering some surprising results.

    “GCHQ has not yet engaged with CNI formally on IP exploitation, but the CNI have been making great strides through their relationship with a UK commercial partner. GCHQ and the commercial partner have been able to coordinate their approach. The commercial partner has provided the CNI some equipment whilst keeping us informed, enabling us to invite the CNI across for IP-focused discussions this autumn,” the report said. It concluded that GCHQ “have found a very capable counterpart in CNI, particularly in the field of Covert Internet Ops”.

    GCHQ was clearly delighted in 2008 when the Swedish parliament passed a bitterly contested law allowing the country’s National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) to conduct Tempora-like operations on fibre optic cables. The British agency also claimed some credit for the success.

    “FRA have obtained a … probe to use as a test-bed and we expect them to make rapid progress in IP exploitation following the law change,” the country assessment said. “GCHQ has already provided a lot of advice and guidance on these issues and we are standing by to assist the FRA further once they have developed a plan for taking the work forwards.”

    The following year, GCHQ held a conference with its Swedish counterpart “for discussions on the implications of the new legislation being rolled out” and hailed as “a success in Sweden” the news that FRA “have finally found a pragmatic solution to enable release of intelligence to SAEPO [the internal Swedish security service.]”

    GCHQ also maintains strong relations with the two main Dutch intelligence agencies, the external MIVD and the internal security service, the AIVD.

    “Both agencies are small, by UK standards, but are technically competent and highly motivated,” British officials reported. Once again, GCHQ was on hand in 2008 for help in dealing with legal constraints. “The AIVD have just completed a review of how they intend to tackle the challenges posed by the internet – GCHQ has provided input and advice to this report,” the country assessment said.

    “The Dutch have some legislative issues that they need to work through before their legal environment would allow them to operate in the way that GCHQ does. We are providing legal advice on how we have tackled some of these issues to Dutch lawyers.”

    European allies

    In the score-card of European allies, it appears to be the Italians who come off the worse. GCHQ expresses frustration with the internal friction between Italian agencies and the legal limits on their activities.

    “GCHQ has had some CT [counter-terrorism] and internet-focused discussions with both the foreign intelligence agency (AISE) and the security service (AISI), but has found the Italian intelligence community to be fractured and unable/unwilling to cooperate with one another,” the report said.

    A follow-up bulletin six months later noted that GCHQ was “awaiting a response from AISI on a recent proposal for cooperation – the Italians had seemed keen, but legal obstacles may have been hindering their ability to commit.”

    It is clear from the Snowden documents that GCHQ has become Europe’s intelligence hub in the internet age, and not just because of its success in creating a legally permissive environment for its operations. Britain’s location as the European gateway for many transatlantic cables, and its privileged relationship with the NSA has made GCHQ an essential partner for European agencies. The documents show British officials frequently lobbying the NSA on sharing of data with the Europeans and haggling over its security classification so it can be more widely disseminated. In the intelligence world, far more than it managed in diplomacy, Britain has made itself an indispensable bridge between America and Europe’s spies.

    Julian Borger
    The Guardian, Friday 1 November 2013 17.02 GMT

    Find this story at 1 November 2013

    © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

    NSA spy row: France and Spain ‘shared phone data’ with US

    Spain and France’s intelligence agencies carried out collection of phone records and shared them with NSA, agency says

    European intelligence agencies and not American spies were responsible for the mass collection of phone records which sparked outrage in France and Spain, the US has claimed.

    General Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency, said reports that the US had collected millions of Spanish and French phone records were “absolutely false”.

    “To be perfectly clear, this is not information that we collected on European citizens,” Gen Alexander said when asked about the reports, which were based on classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor.

    Shortly before the NSA chief appeared before a Congressional committee, US officials briefed the Wall Street Journal that in fact Spain and France’s own intelligence agencies had carried out the surveillance and then shared their findings with the NSA.

    The anonymous officials claimed that the monitored calls were not even made within Spanish and French borders and could be surveillance carried on outside of Europe.
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    In an aggressive rebuttal of the reports in the French paper Le Monde and the Spanish El Mundo, Gen Alexander said “they and the person who stole the classified data [Mr Snowden] do not understand what they were looking at” when they published slides from an NSA document.

    The US push back came as President Barack Obama was said to be on the verge of ordering a halt to spying on the heads of allied governments.

    The White House said it was looking at all US spy activities in the wake of leaks by Mr Snowden but was putting a “special emphasis on whether we have the appropriate posture when it comes to heads of state”.

    Mr Obama was reported to have already halted eavesdropping at UN’s headquarters in New York.

    German officials said that while the White House’s public statements had become more conciliatory there remained deep wariness and that little progress had been made behind closed doors in formalising an American commitment to curb spying.

    “An agreement that you feel might be broken at any time is not worth very much,” one diplomat told The Telegraph.

    “We need to re-establish trust and then come to some kind of understanding comparable to the [no spy agreement] the US has with other English speaking countries.”

    Despite the relatively close US-German relations, the White House is reluctant to be drawn into any formal agreement and especially resistant to demands that a no-spy deal be expanded to cover all 28 EU member states.

    Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission and EU justice commissioner, warned that the spying row could spill over and damage talks on a free-trade agreement between the EU and US.

    “Friends and partners do not spy on each other,” she said in a speech in Washington. “For ambitious and complex negotiations to succeed there needs to be trust among the negotiating partners. It is urgent and essential that our US partners take clear action to rebuild trust.”

    A spokesman for the US trade negotiators said it would be “unfortunate to let these issues – however important – distract us” from reaching a deal vital to freeing up transatlantic trade worth $3.3 billion dollars (£2bn) a day.

    James Clapper, America’s top national intelligence, told a Congressional hearing yesterday the US does not “spy indiscriminately on the citizens of any country”.

    “We do not spy on anyone except for valid foreign intelligence purposes, and we only work within the law,” Mr Clapper said. “To be sure on occasions we’ve made mistakes, some quite significant, but these are usually caused by human error or technical problems.”

    Pressure from European leaders was added to as some of the US intelligence community’s key Congressional allies balked at the scale of surveillance on friendly governments.

    Dianne Feinstein, the chair of powerful Senate intelligence committee, said she was “totally opposed” to tapping allied leaders and called for a wide-ranging Senate review of the activities of US spy agencies.

    “I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers,” she said.

    John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the house and a traditional hawk on national security, said US spy policy was “imbalanced” and backed calls for a review.

    Mr Boehner has previously been a staunch advocate of the NSA and faced down a July rebellion by libertarian Republicans who tried to pass a law significantly curbing the agency’s power.

    By Raf Sanchez, Peter Foster in Washington

    8:35PM GMT 29 Oct 2013

    Find this story at 29 October 2013

    © Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2013

    ‘We didn’t spy on the Europeans, their OWN governments did’, says NSA (but still no apology for tapping German chancellor Merkel’s phone)

    Gen. Keith Alexander, the National Security Agency director, says foreign governments spied on their own people and shared data with the U.S.
    The NSA had been accused of snooping on 130.5 million phone calls in France and Spain, and keeping computerized records
    Sen. Dianne Feinstein said newspapers in Europe ‘got it all wrong’

    Alexander’s denial will fall heavily on the fugitive leaker Edward Snowden and his journalist cohorts, whom the NSA chief said ‘did not understand what they were looking at’
    The National Security Agency’s director flatly denied as ‘completely false’ claims that U.S. intelligence agencies monitored tens of millions of phone calls in France and Spain during a month-long period beginning in late 2012.

    Gen. Keith Alexander contradicted the news reports that said his NSA had collected data about the calls and stored it as part of a wide-ranging surveillance program, saying that the journalists who wrote them misinterpreted documents stolen by the fugitive leaker Edward Snowden.

    And a key Democratic senator added that European papers that leveled the allegations ‘got it all wrong’ with respect to at least two countries – saying that it was those nations’ intelligence services that collected the data and shared it with their U.S. counterparts as part of the global war on terror.

    Protests: (Left to right) NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis, NSA Director General Keith Alexander and DNI James Clapper look on as a protestor disrupts the Capitol Hill hearing

    National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander testified Tuesday that the governments of France and Spain conducted surveillance on their own citizens’ phone conversations, and then shared the intelligence data with the U.S.

    On Monday newspapers in three countries published computer-screen images, reportedly provided by Snowden, showing what appeared to be data hoovered up by the United States from European citizens’ phone calls.

    But Alexander testified in a House Intelligence Committee hearing that ‘those screenshots that show – or lead people to believe – that we, the NSA, or the U.S., collect that information is false.’

    ‘The assertions by reporters in France, Spain and Italy that NSA collected tens of millions of phone calls are completely false,’ Alexander said.

    According to the French newspaper Le Monde and the Spanish daily El Mundo, the NSA had collected the records of at least 70 million phone calls in France and another 60.5 million in Spain between December and January.

    Italy’s L’Espresso magazine also alleged, with help from Snowden, that the U.S. was engaged in persistent monitoring of Italy’s telecommunications networks.

    General Alexander denied it all.

    ‘To be perfectly clear, this is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations.’

    Reporters, he added, ‘cite as evidence screen shots of the results of a web tool used for data management purposes, but both they and the person who stole the classified data did not understand what they were looking at.’

    President Barack Obama said he is instituting a complete review of U.S. intelligence procedures in the wake of stinging allegations that the NSA has been peeping on foreign leaders through their phones and email accounts

    California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that ‘the papers got it all wrong on the two programs, France and Germany.’

    ‘This was not the United States collecting on France and Germany. This was France and Germany collecting. And it had nothing to do with their citizens, it had to do with collecting in NATO areas of war, like Afghanistan.’

    Feinstein on Monday called for a complete review of all the U.S. intelligence community’s spying programs, saying that ‘Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing.’

    In the weekend’s other intelligence bombshell, the U.S. stood accused of snooping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone and spying on Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s private emails.

    But Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the committee that spying on foreign leaders is nothing new.

    ‘That’s a hardy perennial,’ he said, ‘and as long as I’ve been in the intelligence business, 50 years, leadership intentions, in whatever form that’s expressed, is kind of a basic tenet of what we are to collect and analyze.’

    ‘It’s one of the first things I learned in intel school in 1963,’ he assured the members of Congress, saying that the U.S. routinely spies on foreign leaders to ascertain their intentions, ‘no matter what level you’re talking about. That can be military leaders as well.’

    Clapper hinted that committee members had been briefed on such programs, saying that in cases where the NSA is surveilling foreign leaders, ‘that should be reported to the committee … in considerable detail’ as a ‘significant’ intelligence activity over which Congress has oversight.’

    He added that ‘we do only what the policymakers, writ large, have actually asked us to do.’

    Republican committee chair Mike Rogers of Michigan began the hearing by acknowledging that ‘every nation collects foreign intelligence’ and ‘that is not unique to the United States’.

    Clapper pleaded with the panel to think carefully before restricting the government’s ability to collect foreign intelligence, warning that they would be ‘incurring greater risks’ from overseas adversaries.

    Gen. Alexander dispensed with his prepared statement and spoke ‘from the heart,’ saying that his agency would rather ‘take the beatings’ from reporters and the public ‘than … give up a program’ that would prevent a future attack on the nation.

    The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday afternoon that other U.S. officials had confirmed Alexander’s version of events, and that the electronic spying in France and Spain was carried out by those nations’ governments.

    The resulting phone records, they said, were then shared with the NSA as part of a program aimed at keeping U.S. military personnel and civilians safe in areas of military conflict.

    None of the nations involved would speak to the Journal about their own level of involvement in a scandal that initially touched only the U.S., but which now promises to embroil intelligence services on a global scale.

    By David Martosko, U.s. Political Editor

    PUBLISHED: 21:45 GMT, 29 October 2013 | UPDATED: 10:59 GMT, 30 October 2013

    Find this story at 29 October 2013

    © Associated Newspapers Ltd


    Family of slain Spanish teen demand inquiry of far-right killer

    The family of a teenager whose murder by a far-right commando rocked Spain in 1980 called Friday for an official inquiry after a newspaper reported that her killer has worked for police as an advisor since his release from jail.

    Yolanda Gonzalez, a 19-year-old Socialist Party activist who had appeared in photographs at the head of student protest marches, was shot two times in the head at close range in a field near Madrid by a far-right commando who suspected her of belonging to the armed Basque separatist group ETA.

    Gonzalez’s murder shocked Spain, which at the time was going through a tumultuous transition to democracy following the death of right-wing dictator General Francisco Franco.

    The man who shot Gonzalez, Emilio Hellin Moro, a former member of the Grup 41 commando with ties to the far-right party Fuerza Nueva, changed his name to Luis Enrique Hellin after he was released from jail in 1996 after serving 14 years of a 43-year jail sentence, top-selling newspaper El Pais reported last month.

    According to the left-leaning paper, the 63-year-old expert on IT-related criminal investigations secured contracts under the changed name with Spain’s security forces, acting for years as an advisor to Spain’s top court and proving training courses to police on how to carry out electronic eavesdropping and comb computers and cellphones for evidence.

    Agence France-PresseMarch 8, 2013 17:30

    Find this story at 8 March 2013
    Copyright 2013 GlobalPost

    Gordievsky: Russia has as many spies in Britain now as the USSR ever did

    KGB’s former spy chief in Britain says he has no regrets about betraying the Soviet Union as he likens Putin to Mussolini

    Oleg Gordievsky says he is the only agent to defect from the KGB in the 1980s to survive. ‘I was supposed to die,’ he says. Photograph: Steve Pyke

    Three decades ago, Oleg Gordievsky was dramatically smuggled out of the Soviet Union in the boot of a diplomatic car. A strident figure of a man, he passed to the British vital details of Moscow’s espionage operation in London.

    These days, Gordievsky is a shadow of his former self. He walks with a stick and is stooped, following an episode five years ago in which he says he was poisoned. But though diminished, Gordievsky remains combative and critical of his homeland.

    Intriguingly, as Britain and Russia embark on something of a mini-thaw this week with top-level bilateral talks in London, Gordievsky warned that Moscow was operating just as many spies in the UK as it did during the cold war.

    Gordievsky, 74, claims a large number of Vladimir Putin’s agents are based at the Russian embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens. As well as career officers, the embassy runs a network of “informers”, who are not officially employed, Gordievsky said, but regularly pass on useful information. They include a famous oligarch.

    “There are 37 KGB men in London at the moment. Another 14 work for GRU [Russian military intelligence],” Gordievsky told the Guardian. How did he know? “From my contacts,” he said enigmatically, hinting at sources inside British intelligence.

    Gordievsky began helping British intelligence in 1974. From 1982-85 he was stationed at the Soviet embassy in London. He was even designated rezident, the KGB’s chief in Britain. Back then, the KGB’s goal was to cultivate leftwing and trade union contacts, and to acquire British military and Nato secrets. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the KGB was divided into the SVR and FSB, Russia’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies. Vladimir Putin is the FSB’s former boss.

    According to Gordievsky, Putin’s foreign intelligence field officers fulfil similar roles to their KGB predecessors. In these days of capitalism, however, they also want sensitive commercial information of use to Moscow. And they keep tabs on the growing band of Russian dissidents and businessmen who fall out with the Kremlin and decamp to London – a source of continuing Anglo-Russian tension.

    Former KGB agents, including Putin, now occupy senior roles in Russia’s murky power structures. Many are now billionaires. Gordievsky, meanwhile, was sentenced to death in absentia; the order has never been rescinded. (Under the KGB’s unforgiving code, a traitor is always a traitor, and deserves the ultimate punishment.) Gordievsky noted wryly: “I’m the only KGB defector from the 1980s who has survived. I was supposed to die.”

    In 2008, however, Gordievsky claims he was poisoned in the UK. He declined to say precisely what happened. But the alleged incident has taken a visible toll on his health. Physically, he is a shadow of the once-vigorous man who briefed Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan on the Soviet leadership. Mentally, he is sharp and often acerbic.

    Gordievsky said he had no regrets about betraying the KGB. He remains a passionate fan of Britain; he reads the Spectator and writes for the Literary Review. “Everything here is divine, compared to Russia,” he said. In 2007 the Queen awarded him the CMG “for services to the security of the UK”.

    Gordievsky says he first “dreamed” of living in London after the 20th party congress in 1956, when Khrushchev launched his famous denunciation of Stalin. There is, he insists, nothing in Russia that he misses.

    Gordievsky has little contact with his two grown-up daughters, Maria and Anna, or his ex-wife Leila. When he escaped to Britain his family remained behind in Russia, and were only allowed to join him six years later following lobbying from Thatcher. The marriage did not survive this long separation. Gordievsky’s long-term companion is a British woman, whom he met in the 1990s.

    A bright pupil, with a flair for languages, Gordievsky joined the KGB because it offered a rare chance to live abroad. In 1961 Gordievsky – then a student – was in East Berlin when the wall went up. “It was an open secret in the Soviet embassy. I was lying in my bed and heard the tanks going past in the street outside,” he recalls.

    In 1968, when he was working as a KGB spy in Copenhagen, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. Gordievsky was already disillusioned with the Soviet system; from this point he decided to conspire against it.

    It was not until 1974 that he began his career as a double agent in Denmark. Gordievsky met “Dick”, a British agent. After Denmark Gordievsky was sent to Britain, to the delight of MI5. In London he warned that the politburo erroneously believed the west was planning a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. In 1985, the KGB grew suspicious and summoned him home. He was interrogated, drugged and accused of being a traitor. He managed to get word to his British handlers, who smuggled him across the Finnish border in the boot of a diplomatic car, an incident recalled in his gripping autobiography, Next Stop Execution.

    Gordievsky is scathing about the Soviet Union’s leadership. “Leonid Brezhnev was nothing special. Gorbachev was uneducated and not especially intelligent,” he sniffed. What about Putin?

    “Abscheulich,” he replied, using the German word for abominable and loathsome. (Gordievsky speaks fluent German, as well as Swedish, Danish and English, which he learned last.) By contrast, he praises William Hague. “I used to like him a lot. He was sharp.”

    Asked whether he thought there was any prospect of democratic change in Russia – an idea nurtured by anti-Kremlin street protests in 2010 and 2011 – he replied: “What a naive question!”

    He added gloomily: “Everything that has happened indicates the opposite direction.” He likens post-communist Russia under Putin to Mussolini’s Italy. Theoretically, he suggested, he might return to Moscow if there were a democratic government – but there is little prospect of that.

    It is an open question how effective Russia’s modern spying operation really is. In 2010, 10 Russian agents, including the glamorous Anna Chapman, were caught in the US, and swapped for a Russian scientist convicted of working for Washington. Gordievsky is familiar with these kind of “deep-cover” operations. He began his espionage career in the KGB’s second directorate, which was responsible for running “illegals” – agents with false biographies planted abroad. Many felt Russia’s blundering espionage ring was more of a joke than a threat to US security.

    Gordievsky, however, said it would be unwise to be complacent about Moscow’s intelligence activities. He mentions George Blake – a British spy who was a double agent for Moscow. In 1966 Blake escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison and defected to the Soviet Union. Blake’s and Gordievsky’s careers mirror each other: Gordievsky lives on a civil service pension in the home counties; Blake on a KGB pension in Moscow. Reaching for a sip of his beer, Gordievsky described the treacherous Blake as “effective”. He added: “You only need one spy to be effective.”

    Gordievsky said he was convinced that Putin was behind the 2006 assassination of his friend Alexander Litvinenko, who had defected to Britain in 2000. In December it emerged that Litvinenko had been working for the British and Spanish secret services at the time of his death. An inquest into Litvinenko’s murder will take place later this year.

    Controversially, the foreign secretary, William Hague, wants to keep the government’s Litvinenko files secret – to appease Moscow, according to critics.

    Luke Harding
    guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 March 2013 17.07 GMT

    Find this story at 11 March 2013
    © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

    Spying claims against top British diplomat threaten Anglo-Russian détente

    As William Hague and Philip Hammond prepare to meet their Russian counterparts in London this week, Jason Lewis reveals how a very suspicious spying slur is threatening to derail the reconciliation.
    Denis Keefe, right, in the Caucasus, at Black Cliff Lake

    To the outside world he is the epitome of diplomatic decorum: polite, softly spoken, with razor-sharp intellect. He has friends all over eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where he has a record of distinguished service on behalf of Britain, and is known for his keen ear for choral music and love of sailing.

    Having joined the Foreign Office 30 years ago, straight out of Cambridge, he has earned a reputation for his brilliant mind and as an unfailingly safe pair of hands.

    And yet to the astonishment of those who know him, Denis Keefe, the respected deputy ambassador to Russia, has for the past few months been trailed by a bizarre cloud of rumours and intrigue straight out of a Jason Bourne film.

    Wherever Mr Keefe goes outside Moscow, he runs the risk of being accosted by Russian journalists and accused of being a spy.

    Regional news reports froth with insinuations that he is something far more subversive than a diplomat, and has been sent by Britain to ferret out information and undermine the government of President Vladimir Putin.
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    British officials have tried to play down official anger at the hounding of Mr Keefe, which The Sunday Telegraph is reporting for the first time in Britain.

    But the accusations, described by diplomatic sources as “an unprecedented attack on a very senior diplomat”, threaten to cast a shadow over a meeting this week in London designed to “reset” the thorny relationship between Britain and Russia.

    William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, will meet their Russian counterparts for a “strategic dialogue” intended to look beyond a series of angry rows that have hampered cooperation between the two countries.

    They include the recent decision to grant asylum in Britain to Andrei Borodin, a billionaire former Russian banker accused by Moscow of fraud, Russia’s attempts to hinder investigations into the poisoning in London of the former spy Alexander Litvinenko, and the beginning this week of the posthumous “show trial” of the late Sergei Magnitsky.

    Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who worked for a London-based hedge fund, uncovered what is thought to be the largest tax fraud ever committed in Russia, but on reporting it was himself imprisoned, and later died in custody, aged 37.

    The allegations against Mr Keefe are being seen in some circles as a deliberate attempt to discredit British officials in Moscow and to undermine efforts to improve relations with Russia.

    Last month, the career diplomat, who speaks six languages including fluent Russian, was confronted by a Russian journalist, who demanded: “They say you are a spy for MI6 – tell us, does James Bond exist?”

    Evidently irritated, Mr Keefe, 54, replied: “I don’t think this is a serious matter or that it has anything to do with me.”

    Another reporter pressed him on his alleged MI6 status: “Can you give a straightforward answer to this question? Do you confirm or deny it?” He was quoted as replying: “Please. This is not a serious question. Please …”

    Mr Keefe, a father of six who lists his interests as singing, sailing, walking and learning languages, was also questioned about his links to Russian opposition figures.

    One of his first diplomatic postings, on joining the Foreign Office in 1982, was to Prague. Before the 1989 Velvet Revolution, he made friends with opponents of the one-party state, including Vaclav Havel. He later returned to help the newly democratic Czech Republic prepare to join Nato and the European Union.

    He was also ambassador to Georgia during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, and several reports used that against him – accusing him of becoming involved in the dispute over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. One report said he “actively advocated Georgia’s accession to Nato and urged speedy modernisation of its army, presenting Russia as a direct threat to the former Soviet republic”.

    Neither episode endeared him to hardliners in the Putin regime and the incidents appear calculated to undermine him. A Siberian television channel, NTN-4, devoted a two-and-a-half minute slot to alleging that a former spy had listed Mr Keefe “as an officer of the secret intelligence service”. It stated that “in MI6, like in our intelligence services, there is no such thing as a former officer”.

    The presenter questioned whether it was wise to invite Mr Keefe — “an intelligence service officer of a foreign country” — to Akademgorodok, a university town which is the hub of Russia’s cutting edge science and nuclear research.

    In December, Mr Keefe faced a similar attack on a visit to the Ural Mountains to award diplomas to Open University graduates. One report bluntly stated: “Denis Keefe can be described as an undercover spy with his diplomatic position serving as a smoke screen.”

    A news website warned students, officials and teachers to be wary in case Mr Keefe tried to “recruit” them. “A person well-versed in recruiting agents like Denis Keefe, bearing in mind his serious diplomatic experience, could easily catch in his net the immature soul of a graduate or a participant in Britain’s Open University programme,” it said.

    “And you don’t need a codebreaker to work out what that could lead to.”

    Diplomatic sources have told The Sunday Telegraph that the continuing allegations, which appeared to stem from a discredited list of MI6 agents posted online in 2005, were “ridiculous”.

    They come after painstaking efforts to rebuild Anglo-Russian relations, following the Litvinenko poisoning in London in 2006.

    An inquest into his death will open on May 1, but his murder led to a series of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions. The then British ambassador, Anthony Brenton, was subjected to a four-month campaign of harassment, with members of a pro-Kremlin youth group interrupting his speeches, stalking him at weekends and banging fists on his diplomatic Jaguar.

    In an embarrassing revelation, British agents were caught red-handed using a transmitter hidden inside a fake rock, planted on a Moscow street, so spies could pass them secrets.

    At the same time, Russian police raided offices of the British Council, claiming that the body – which promotes British culture abroad – had violated Russian laws, including tax regulation.

    “It is a cultural, not a political institution and we strongly reject any attempt to link it to Russia’s failure to cooperate with our efforts to bring the murderer of Alexander Litvinenko to justice,” said a Foreign Office spokesman at the time.

    Leading British companies, including BP, faced problems operating in Russia, which had a negative effect on trade for both countries. More than 600 UK companies are active in Russia and Russian firms account for about a quarter of foreign share flotations on the London Stock Exchange.

    Two years ago, David Cameron signed a series of trade deals and a symbolic memorandum on cooperation, and this week’s meeting in London was seen as an important “incremental step” towards restoring relations with the Russians.

    But the timing of the attacks on Mr Keefe, coupled with continuing pressure to extradite the main suspects in the murder of Mr Litvinenko, a British citizen, provide an uncomfortable backdrop. On Saturday night Whitehall sources insisted that difficult issues, including the murder, would “not be left outside the room” at this week’s meeting.

    Nataliya Magnitskaya, mother of Sergei Magnitsky, grieves over her son ‘s body

    But MI6 was again accused last week of being at the centre of another anti-Russian conspiracy – this time in connection with Monday’s opening of the trial of Magnitsky.

    He is charged with defrauding the Russian state, along with the British-based millionaire businessman Bill Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital Management, which employed Magnitsky. Mr Browder has declined to go to Moscow for the trial.

    A widely viewed television documentary in Russia last week accused the two men of being part of an MI6 conspiracy to undermine the Russian government.

    An investment fund auditor, Magnitsky said he had uncovered a £150 million tax fraud involving Russian government officials, but was then arrested himself on accusations of fraud.

    He died in prison in 2009, having been denied visits from his family, forced into increasingly squalid cells, and ultimately contracting pancreatitis. Despite repeated requests, he was refused medical assistance and died, having been put in a straitjacket and showing signs of beatings. The case has become a rallying call for critics of Mr Putin’s regime, who accuse the state of a campaign of intimidation against political opponents.

    German Gorbuntsov was gunned down, Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned, Andrei Borodin was granted asylum

    By Jason Lewis, Investigations Editor

    9:00PM GMT 09 Mar 2013

    Find this story at 9 March 2013

    © Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2013

    UK ambassador’s protest at Georgia TV hoax; Mr Keefe has asked that the TV station broadcast a correction

    The British ambassador to Georgia has complained about footage of him used in a TV hoax about a Russian invasion.

    There was panic in Georgia on Saturday after a TV report that Russian tanks had invaded the capital and the country’s president was dead.

    It included footage of ambassador Denis Keefe, which was edited to make it look like he was talking about the invasion.

    Mr Keefe has asked the TV station to make it clear he knew nothing about the “irresponsible” programme.

    The TV station – pro-government Imedi TV – said the aim had been to show how events might unfold if the president were killed. It later apologised.

    Networks overwhelmed

    It used archive footage of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia and imagined how opposition figures might seize power after an assassination of President Mikhail Saakashvili.

    But many Georgians believed it to be a real news report – mobile phone networks were overwhelmed with calls and many people rushed on to the streets.

    Mr Keefe, footage of whom was included in the report, has complained about the programme on the British Embassy in Georgia’s website.
    I consider Imedi TV’s misuse of this footage to be a discourtesy to me as ambassador of the United Kingdom in Georgia

    Denis Keefe

    Georgians question un-reality TV

    He said the use of archive footage of him speaking about “real events completely unrelated to the subject of the programme was deeply misleading”.

    He also complained that there had been a suggestion that the president of Georgia and the British prime minister had spoken about the “non-existent events described”.

    “I wish to make clear that neither I, nor the UK government had any involvement in or foreknowledge of an irresponsible programme that unnecessarily caused deep concern amongst the Georgian public,” Mr Keefe said.

    “I consider Imedi TV’s misuse of this footage to be a discourtesy to me as ambassador of the United Kingdom in Georgia, reflecting badly on Georgia’s reputation for responsible and independent media.”

    Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

    Find this story at 16 March 2010

    BBC © 2013

    UK requests Lugovoi extradition A formal extradition request has been made to Russia by the UK, for the ex-KGB agent wanted over Alexander Litvinenko’s murder.

    It follows the recommendation by the UK director of public prosecutions that Andrei Lugovoi be tried for the crime.

    Mr Lugovoi denies the charges, and the Kremlin says Russia’s constitution does not allow it to hand him over.

    Former KGB officer Mr Litvinenko died in London in 2006 after exposure to the radioactive isotope polonium-210.

    The British embassy in Moscow has confirmed that the formal extradition request has been handed over, and the Russian prosecutor’s office has confirmed that the documents have been received.

    Attack ‘victim’

    Mr Lugovoi maintained last week that he was innocent and described himself as a “victim not a perpetrator of a radiation attack” while in London. He has called the charges “politically motivated”.

    Mr Lugovoi met Mr Litvinenko on the day he fell ill.

    Polonium-210 was found in a string of places Mr Lugovoi visited in London, but he has insisted he is a witness not a suspect.

    The UK’s director of public prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald said Mr Lugovoi should be extradited to stand trial for the murder of Mr Litvinenko by “deliberate poisoning”.

    But the Kremlin maintains Russia’s constitution does not allow it to hand over Mr Lugovoi, a position reaffirmed by the country’s justice minister Vladimir Ustinov last week.

    “The Russian constitution will stay inviolable and it will be observed to the full,” the news agency Itar-Tass quoted him as saying.

    Published: 2007/05/28 15:56:55 GMT

    Find this story at 28 May 2007

    © BBC 2013

    Alexander Litvinenko murder suspect to avoid taking part in inquest

    Andrei Lugovoy said he had ‘lost all faith in the opportunity of an unbiased investigation in Britain’

    A former KGB officer suspected of murdering Alexander Litvinenko has announced he will not take part in the coroner’s inquest due to take place later this year and attacked the British police and courts as “politically motivated”.

    Andrei Lugovoy, now a politician in Russia, told a hastily assembled press conference that he had lost faith in British justice and said he would take no further steps to clear his name.

    It emerged last year that at the time of his death in 2006, after being poisoned with radioactive polonium, Mr Litvinenko had been a paid agent for MI6 and was dealt with by a handler known as “Martin”.

    The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has asked for unspecified evidence relating to the case to be heard in secret for national security reasons. The move has been opposed by Mr Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, but last month the coroner, Sir Robert Owen, ruled that he would hold a hearing behind closed doors to see the Government’s evidence. The inquest is due to formally open on 1 May.

    Russia has refused to extradite Mr Lugovoy, who is wanted by the Metropolitan Police in connection with the killing of Mr Litvinenko, who died after an agonising ordeal in hospital. Doctors diagnosed his condition as polonium poisoning just before he died.

    Mr Lugovoy said: “I lost all faith in the opportunity of an unbiased investigation in Britain. It’s not clear how I can defend myself and oppose arguments that are not going to be made public. Who will evaluate the truthfulness of secret facts?”

    During the press conference, he held up a Scotland Yard report to the coroner, which he said had been provided to him by British authorities under a non-disclosure agreement. He said the few facts contained in the report proved his version of events, claiming it established that the polonium trail led from London back to Moscow, rather than the other way round. He said the rest was a mix of “politically motivated rumours and gossip” designed to smear him and Russia.

    Shaun Walker


    Tuesday 12 March 2013

    Find this story at 12 March 2013

    © independent.co.uk

    In blow to inquest, key suspect in Russian spy murder refuses to cooperate

    Andrei Lugovoi, who is now an elected official in Russia, says he won’t talk even by video to British investigators about the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London just over six years ago.

    During a Tuesday press conference in Moscow, KGB-officer-turned-parliamentarian Andrei Lugovoi holds papers about the 2006 poisoning of former Russian agent turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London that he said he got from Scotland Yard,

    The murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London just over six years ago, using what must be the world’s most exotic poison, radioactive polonium 210, has never been solved and remains the subject of conflicting narratives and still-deepening intrigue over who may have killed him and why.
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    Now it appears that a British public inquest that aimed to find definitive answers to those questions, slated to open in May, may have virtually no chance of getting to the bottom of it.

    On Tuesday, the main suspect in the case, Russian KGB-officer-turned-parliamentarian Andrei Lugovoi, said he will not travel to Britain to give testimony or even provide evidence via video link.

    RECOMMENDED: Do you know anything about Russia? A quiz.

    “I have come to the conclusion that the British authorities will not give me an opportunity to prove my innocence and that I will not be able to find justice in Great Britain,” Mr. Lugovoi told a Moscow press conference.

    “I have definitely lost my faith in the possibility of an unbiased investigation of this case in Great Britain. I have to state that I am withdrawing from the coroner’s investigation and will no longer participate in it,” he said.

    No one denies that Lugovoi and his business partner Dmitry Kovtun met with Litvinenko in a London bar on the day he fell ill. British investigators later established that Litvinenko’s teacup at that meeting was contaminated with polonium-210, and thus was almost certainly the murder weapon. Traces of polonium, a substance that’s almost impossible to obtain except by governments, were later found in Mr. Kovtun’s apartment in Germany and on the clothes of both Kovtun and Lugovoi.

    Britain demanded at the time that Lugovoi be returned to London to stand trial for murder. But Russia refused, saying the Russian Constitution prohibits the extradition of Russian citizens. Lugovoi was subsequently elected to the State Duma on the ticket of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, where he is still a member enjoying parliamentary immunity.

    The upcoming inquest, where witnesses must testify under oath, has been regarded as the last chance to unravel all the conflicting stories and perhaps arrive at the truth.

    But its prospects for success have already been under doubt due to the British government’s efforts to limit access to sensitive materials about the case which some critics claim it is doing as part of a deal with Russia aimed at improving ties between the two countries.

    But, until today, Lugovoi had insisted that he was ready to cooperate with the investigation. And Russian authorities have repeatedly said they too want to see the truth revealed.
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    The murder of Mr. Litvinenko led to a prolonged chill in Russian-British relations which has only recently begun to abate.

    The main suspicion in the West all along has been that Litvinenko was killed on the order of Russian authorities because he had publicly disclosed secrets of the FSB security service and then defected to Britain in 2000, where he continued to make dark and sweeping allegations against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government.

    A good deal of the evidence since dredged up by Western investigative journalists points to Russia — if not the Kremlin directly — as the source of the polonium that killed him and probably the motive for doing so as well.

    The Russians have countered with various theories, including that Litvinenko may have been murdered by his sponsor and friend, renegade Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, in a plot to blame Russia for poisoning an outspoken critic and blacken the reputation of Mr. Putin.

    Lugovoi has argued that Litvinenko must have obtained the polonium on his own, and either killed himself with it or was murdered by someone else. Last year Lugovoi took a lie detector test in Moscow, widely covered by Russian media, which reportedly upheld his claim of noninvolvement in Litvinenko’s death.

    Complicating the picture are persistent allegations that, after receiving asylum in Britain in 2001, Litvinenko went to work for the British intelligence service MI6, providing information about the FSB and the activities of the Russian mafia.

    Though Litvinenko’s widow earlier denied that her husband had been working for British secret services, her lawyer recently told the Kremlin-funded RT network that “at the time of his death Litvinenko had been for a number of years a regular and paid agent and employee of MI6 with a dedicated handler whose pseudonym was Martin.”

    By Fred Weir, Correspondent / March 12, 2013

    Find this story at 12 March 2013

    © The Christian Science Monitor

    Alexander Litvinenko coroner to hold closed hearing on evidence

    A coroner is to hold a private hearing to decide if an inquest into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko should hear secret evidence from the intelligence services.

    Lawyers for the dissident’s widow, Marina, will be excluded from the special session.

    27 February 2013

    Find this 27 February 2013

    © 2012 Evening Standard Limited

    Litvinenko Lawyer Accuses U.K., Russia of Cover-Up

    LONDON — A lawyer for the family of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko accused the British and Russian governments Tuesday of trying to stymie a long-delayed inquest into his poisoning death.

    Litvinenko, a Russian intelligence agent turned Kremlin critic, died in London in November 2006 after drinking tea laced with the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210.

    The allegations of a cover-up came at a London court hearing where British media organizations challenged a government bid to hold parts of the inquest in secret for security reasons. In Britain, inquests are held to determine the facts whenever someone dies violently, unexpectedly or in disputed circumstances.

    Ben Emmerson, the lawyer for Litvinenko’s widow Marina, said the government’s quest for secrecy was delaying proceedings and suggested that foreign policy — namely trade relations — could be at the heart of the matter.

    “We know nothing about why these applications are being made, and we are dancing in the dark,” he told coroner Robert Owen. “This is beginning to look like you’re being steamrollered by two states acting in collaboration with each other.”

    Lawyers for Litvinenko’s family say that at the time of his death he was working for the British intelligence services, and Britain accuses two Russians of the killing. Moscow authorities have refused to extradite them for trial.

    British government lawyer Neil Sheldon said “the disclosure of the material in question would pose a real risk to the public interest.”

    Emmerson, who said the inquest is “shaping up to be a stain on British justice,” called the government’s arguments for secrecy absurd.

    Alex Bailin, the lawyer representing prominent British media organizations, insisted that at the very least the government must clarify what issues are at stake and what harm they could cause.

    Failing to do so, he said, “would have the very serious effect of undermining the public’s confidence in this inquest.”

    26 February 2013 | Issue 5077
    The Associated Press

    Find this story at 26 February 2013


    © Copyright 1992-2013. The Moscow Times

    Foreign Office bid to guard secrets at Alexander Litvinenko inquest

    The public may be excluded from part of a pre-inquest hearing into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

    A coroner was today considering an application from the government to keep some information secret at the forthcoming inquest.

    Mr Litvinenko died at a London hospital in November 2006, three weeks after drinking tea which had been poisoned with the radioactive isotope polonium-210.

    26 February 2013

    Find this story at 26 February 2013

    © 2012 Evening Standard Limited

    Litvinenko inquest: newspapers launch challenge over withholding of evidence

    Media groups including Guardian will challenge government over attempt to conceal sensitive documents

    Alexander Litvinenko pictured shortly before his death in 2006. Photograph: Natasja Weitsz/Getty Images

    Media groups will on Tuesday challenge what they describe as a “deeply troubling” attempt by the government to withhold evidence from the inquest into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

    The Guardian, the BBC, the Financial Times and other newspapers are challenging a submission by the foreign secretary, William Hague, to conceal sensitive documents. Hague argues the material could harm “national security”, as well as the UK’s “international relations”.

    The government has refused to say what evidence it wants to hide. But it is likely to deal with revelations made at a hearing in December that at the time of his poisoning in November 2006 Litvinenko was actively working for the British secret services.

    Litvinenko was also a “paid agent” of the Spanish security services. MI6 encouraged him to supply information to the Spanish about Russian mafia activities, and alleged links between top organised criminals and the Kremlin, the hearing was told.

    Litvinenko travelled to Spain in 2006 and met his MI6 handler, “Martin”, shortly before his fateful encounter with Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, the two men accused of killing him. The inquest – scheduled to begin in May – will hear claims that the pair were part of a “Russian state” plot to murder Litvinenko using radioactive polonium.

    The fact that Litvinenko – a former Russian spy – was working for MI6 raises embarrassing questions as to whether British intelligence should have done more to protect him. Litvinenko had a dedicated phone to contact “Martin” and received regular payments to his bank account from MI6 and Madrid, it emerged in December.

    In making their submission to the coroner, Sir Robert Owen, on Tuesday, the media groups will seek to argue that Hague’s attempt to withhold evidence could undermine public confidence in the inquest. Currently the media – as well as Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, and son, Anatoly, – are “completely in the dark” over what material the FCO seeks to exclude.

    The media groups will seek to persuade the coroner that the government has also failed to explain what “harm” the release of the information might cause. Nor has it properly considered “lesser measures”, such as redaction, which would allow some disclosure of sensitive documents, or the possibility of closed sessions.

    Alex Bailin QC, the lawyer acting for the Guardian, will argue that “the public and media are faced with a situation where a public inquest into a death … may have large amounts of highly relevant evidence excluded from consideration by the inquest. Such a prospect is deeply troubling.”

    There are grave public concerns that allegations of “state-sponsored assassination” on the streets of London require “maximum openness”. Additionally, the inquest is likely to be the only judicial forum where evidence will be heard, since the Kremlin has refused to extradite Lugovoi and Kovtun.

    Speaking on Monday, Litvinenko’s friend Alex Goldfarb said the foreign secretary appeared unwilling to offend Russia’s “vindictive” president. Goldfarb told the Guardian: “I recognise that Mr Hague has a well-founded interest not to rock the boat with [Vladimir] Putin. He’s afraid. He’s afraid Putin will not vote the way he wants in the UN or squeeze Britain’s interests.”

    He added: “The inquest is a balance between the interests of international relations and justice. The bottom line is how far do you compromise with your own justice and decency, and the benefits from doing business with arrogant, murderous and dictatorial foreign states?”

    Goldfarb said forensic evidence and reports from Scotland Yard had already been disclosed to interested parties. But he said he was worried the government wanted to keep secret highly sensitive documents showing links between Russian mobsters in Spain and “Putin’s inner circle”. “That’s what Sasha [Litvinenko] was up to,” Goldfarb said.

    An FCO spokesperson said: “The government has made an application to the court for public interest immunity in line with its duty to protect national security and the coroner is responsible for deciding that application based on the overall public interest.”

    Owen is due to hear submissions from the media at a hearing in the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday. He has previously indicated that he wants the inquest to be as open and broad as possible.

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    © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

    Alexander Litvinenko murder: British evidence ‘shows Russia involved’

    Hearing ahead of full inquest also hears Litvinenko was working for MI6 when he was poisoned with polonium-210

    Alexander Litvinenki died in a London hospital in November 2006, three weeks after drinking poisoned tea. Photograph: Natasja Weitsz/Getty Images

    The government’s evidence relating to the death of Alexander Litvinenko amounts to a “prima facie case” that he was murdered by the Russian government, the coroner investigating his death has been told.

    The former KGB officer was a paid MI6 agent at the time of his death in 2006, a pre-inquest hearing also heard, and was also working for the Spanish secret services supplying intelligence on Russian state involvement in organised crime.

    Litvinenko died in a London hospital in November 2006, three weeks after drinking tea which had been poisoned with the radioactive isotope polonium-210.

    The director of public prosecutions announced in May 2007 that it would seek to charge Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB officer, with murder, prompting a diplomatic crisis between the UK and Russia, which refused a request for Lugovoi’s extradition. Britain expelled four Russian diplomats, which was met by a tit-for-tat expulsion of four British embassy staff from Moscow. Lugovoi denies murder.

    At a preliminary hearing on Thursday in advance of the full inquest into Litvinenko’s death, Hugh Davies, counsel to the inquest, said an assessment of government documents “does establish a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko”.

    Separately, a lawyer representing the dead man’s widow, Marina, told the coroner, Sir Robert Owen, that Litvinenko had been “a paid agent and employee of MI6” at the time of his death, who was also, at the instigation of British intelligence, working for the Spanish secret service.

    “The information that he was involved [in] providing to the Spanish … involved organised crime, that’s the Russian mafia activities in Spain and more widely,” Ben Emmerson QC told the hearing.

    Emmerson said the inquest would hear evidence that the murdered man had a dedicated MI6 handler who used the pseudonym Martin.

    While he was dying in hospital, Emmerson said, Litvinenko had given Martin’s number to a Metropolitan police officer and, without disclosing his MI6 connection, suggested the police follow up the connection. He said Litvinenko had also had a dedicated phone that he used only for phoning Martin.

    “Martin will no doubt be a witness in this inquiry, once his identity has been made known to you,” Emmerson told the coroner.

    The inquest would also hear evidence that Lugovoi had been working with Litvinenko in supplying intelligence to Spain, the lawyer said, adding that the murdered man had also had a separate phone used only for his contact with the other Russian.

    While he was dying in hospital, Litvinenko had phoned Lugovoi on this phone to tell him he was unwell and would be unable to join him on a planned trip to Spain, Emmerson said. The purpose of the trip was for both men to deliver intelligence about Russian mafia links to the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin.

    So advanced were the arrangements for the trip that the conversation “descended to the level of discussing hotels”, Emmerson said.

    The case against Lugovoi centres on a meeting he and another Russian, Dmitry Kovtun, had with Litvinenko at the Palm bar at the Millennium hotel in Mayfair on 1 November 2006. It is alleged that Litvinenko’s tea was poisoned with the polonium-210 at that meeting. Kovtun also denies involvement.

    At the instigation of MI6, Emmerson said, Litvinenko had been supplying information to a Spanish prosecutor, José Grinda González, under the supervision of a separate Spanish handler who used the pseudonym Uri.

    Emmerson cited a US embassy cable published in the 2010 Wikileaks disclosures that detailed a briefing given by Grinda González on 13 January 2010 to US officials in Madrid. At that meeting, the lawyer said, the prosecutor had quoted intelligence from Litvinenko that Russian security and intelligence services “control organised crime in Russia”.

    “Grinda stated that he believes this thesis is accurate,” the lawyer quoted.

    He said that payments from both the British and Spanish secret services had been deposited directly into the joint account Litvinenko shared with his wife.

    Contrary to Davies’s submission, Emmerson said the inquest should consider whether the British government had been culpable in failing to protect Litvinenko, arguing that “the very fact of a relationship between Mr Litvinenko and his employers MI6” placed a duty on the government to ensure his safety when asking him to undertake “dangerous operations”.

    “It’s an inevitable inference from all of the evidence that prior to his death MI6 had carried out a detailed risk assessment and that risk assessment must in due course be disclosed.”

    Neil Garnham QC, counsel for the Home Office, representing MI6, said the government would not comment on claims that Litvinenko was a British agent. “It is central to Mrs Litvinenko’s case that her husband was an employee of the British intelligence services. That is something about which I cannot or will not comment. I can neither confirm or deny it.”

    The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation has indicated that it would like to be formally designated an “interested party” in the inquest, which would give it the right to make submissions to the coroner and appoint lawyers to cross examine witnesses.

    Esther Addley
    The Guardian, Thursday 13 December 2012 19.00 GMT

    Find this story at 13 December 2012

    © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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