From Russia With Secrets
What will he expose?
MOSCOW--Last Wednesday, an odd foursome--one American and a Russian married couple with a 6-year-old son, who looked like they had been traveling for weeks--asked to speak to the police at London's Heathrow Airport. Six hours later, the Russians, temporary British papers in hand, left the airport for an unidentified location, taking with them some of the darkest secrets of their country's recent past.
The Russian man was Alexander Litvinenko, 37, a former lieutenant colonel in the FSB, Russia's secret police. He first made headlines two years ago, when he blew the whistle on an order he says he received to assassinate tycoon Boris Berezovsky. He was fired and soon arrested on charges of mistreating a detainee. He was acquitted and immediately rearrested on similar charges, only to be cleared again. A new case was then started against him.
Litvinenko managed to clear his name in court--a most unusual event in Russia--thanks to his photographic memory, which allowed him to prove exactly where he was at any given time. It is precisely his memory that makes him fear for his life now. "He has been warned that he should never have opened his mouth about the agency," says Alex Goldfarb, a former Russian dissident, now a U.S. citizen, who helped get the Litvinenkos to London. "Now the people who used to be his supervisors at the FSB are in power. These are the new times, when Russians will again be asking for asylum because the authorities are using the law enforcement system to punish anyone who dares criticize them."
Sound just like the old times? Not quite. What Litvinenko knows about is the new Russia. He worked in the organized-crime department. He has said that all of his investigations were fruitless because they ultimately led to key federal ministries. He says he knows a great deal about corruption among FSB leadership.
The real bombshell Litvinenko may drop concerns last year's apartment bombings in Moscow, which killed over 300 people and sparked the second Chechen war. People close to the case say he can prove what has been rumored: that the bombings were organized by the FSB, which was then headed by the man who is now Russia's president, Vladimir Putin.
This story appears in the November 13, 2000 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.