Russian President Vladimir Putin accused from beyond the grave

January 24, 2015 1:19 pm

American spies secretly intercepted communications between those
involved in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and provided the key
evidence that he was killed in a Russian-backed “state execution”, The Telegraph can disclose.
The
National Security Agency (NSA) obtained electronic communications
between key individuals in London and Moscow from the time that the
former spy was poisoned with radioactive material in central London. The
evidence was passed to the British authorities.
A source
familiar with the investigation confirmed the existence of American
“intelligence material”. They said it would have been “inadmissible” in
court, but that the British authorities were “confident that this was a
state execution”.
The disclosure comes ahead of the start of the
public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death in 2006, which will see hearings,
many of which will be held in secret, carried out over a nine-week
period in the High Court from Tuesday.

The existence of the American intelligence material offers the
first proof that the Russian state was involved in the murder of the
dissident and explains why senior British politicians have been so
confident in publicly blaming the Kremlin for the murder.
It is revealed as part of a Telegraph
investigation which also unearthed an audio recording appearing to
capture Litvinenko giving a detailed account of his investigations into
links between Vladimir Putin and one of the world’s most dangerous
criminals.
The tape will reignite claims that Litvinenko could
have been killed as a result of investigative work he carried out in a
series of European countries after leaving Russia.
These claims
are likely to be played out in the High Court as the Litvinenko Inquiry,
chaired by Sir Robert Owen, a former high court judge, conducts its
hearings.
Last year Sir Robert said that he had seen “prima facie” evidence that the Russia state was involved in the murder.
It is likely that the NSA intelligence formed part of the evidence that Sir Robert was given.
The
disclosure of the material is likely to be put pressure on the British
government’s relationship with the Kremlin and will renew calls for the
UK to toughen its stance.
The start of the inquiry comes after
years of campaigning by Marina Litvinenko, the widow of the former KGB
spy, for an official verdict on his death.
Mrs Litvinenko has
applied to the NSA to disclose telephone intercepts, and says that “all
information” should be disclosed to Sir Robert.
Litvinenko was
poisoned in November 2006 during a meeting at a Mayfair hotel. He died
three weeks later. Tests revealed that he ingested a rare isotope,
polonium 210, which is hard to detect.
British prosecutors want
two men, Andrei Lugovoy and Dimitri Kovtun, both of whom are former KGB
bodyguards, to face murder charges over the murder.
Mr Lugovoy,
now a Russian MP, and Mr Kovton, have always maintained their innocence
and Moscow have said that they cannot be extradited under Russian law.
An international warrant has been issued for their arrest if they ever leave Russia.
Last
October Marina Litvinenko filed a Freedom of Information request to the
NSA through an intermediary asking for “NSA intercepts of telephone
communications of Mr Andrei Lugovoy and Mr Dimitry Kovtun from London,
UK, in the period October 15 to November 1 2006.”
The application stated that the material was “to be used as evidence in the [public] inquiry hearings.”
Paul
Blaskowski, a senior NSA official, responded in a letter that it could
not comment on the “existence or non-existence” of the transcripts
because such material had “to be kept secret in the interest of national
defence or foreign relations.”
He said the spy agency was also
empowered “to protect certain information concerning its activities” by
withholding if from public disclosure.
Joel Brenner, who was
Inspector General of NSA at the time of Litvinenko’s murder, said that
the “co-operation between the UK and US government on signals
intelligence is extremely close and probably without parallel”.
The public inquiry was ordered by Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary, last year.
It replaces an ongoing inquest and one of its key purposes will be to examine whether the Russian state was behind the killing.
The government had previously resisted calls for an inquiry, citing the need in part to “protect international relations.”
But
Sir Robert, who had also acted as coroner at the inquest, said that he
could not conduct a “fair and fearless” investigation because the
government had refused to release certain information.
This is
thought to be intelligence material relating to the involvement of
Russia in the case and of Litvinenko’s work as an informant to MI6.
Sir
Robert said last July that “sensitive” government evidence over the
poisoning would now heard in closed sessions of the public inquiry.
The possible involvement of the Russian government in the murder would be of “central importance to my investigation”, he said.
According
to information that came out during the inquest, Litvinenko had been
working for MI6 for several years during his time in London.
As
part of this, Litvinenko also began assisting the Spanish security
services. It is understood that his work in Spain involved investigating
organised crime networks.
Litvinenko’s work in Spain, as well as
in Italy and Georgia, after leaving Russia and the KGB, has given rise
to competing theories about who might have been behind his death.
Joel
Brenner, who was Inspector General of NSA at the time of Litvinenko’s
murder, said that the “co-operation between the UK and US government on
signals intelligence is extremely close and probably without parallel”.

Former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko pictured before his death at University College Hospital in central London.
The public inquiry was ordered by Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary, last year.
It replaces an ongoing inquest and one of its key purposes will be to examine whether the Russian state was behind the killing.
The government had previously resisted calls for an inquiry, citing the need in part to “protect international relations.”
But
Sir Robert, who had also acted as coroner at the inquest, said that he
could not conduct a “fair and fearless” investigation because the
government had refused to release certain information.
This is
thought to be intelligence material relating to the involvement of
Russia in the case and of Litvinenko’s work as an informant to MI6.
Sir
Robert said last July that “sensitive” government evidence over the
poisoning would now heard in closed sessions of the public inquiry.
The possible involvement of the Russian government in the murder would be of “central importance to my investigation”, he said.
According
to information that came out during the inquest, Litvinenko had been
working for MI6 for several years during his time in London.
As
part of this, Litvinenko also began assisting the Spanish security
services. It is understood that his work in Spain involved investigating
organised crime networks.
Litvinenko’s work in Spain, as well as
in Italy and Georgia, after leaving Russia and the KGB, has given rise
to competing theories about who might have been behind his death.

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