Friday, November 24, 2006

today : I enter the murky world of international espionage

The last days and death of Alexander Litvinenko have been sad. Anyone dying is, really. But the media furore has been typical of lots of stories recently that have displayed similarities.

Earlier this week the assassination of Pierre Gemayel was reported as
'prominent critic of Syria assassinated'. The implication placed inside the headline being that it was the Syrians wot did it. That might well be the case, but I doubt the journalists and newsreader reporting this could provide evidence and sources to back up this assumption.

Similarly, Mr Litvinenko's condition was described as a definite case of poisoning by Thalium. I am reading between the lines here and thinking that Thalium poisoning is a traditional KGB way of offing people, and that someone, somewhere has either planted the story or made assumptions that almost immediately became the truth. It now turns out that it wasn't Thalium, but something else. And actually don't we have a coroner to decide the cause of death in this country? A connection was instantly made to the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. In fact, it appears most of the information surrounding this case was provided by Litvinenko's friends, and eagerly gobbled up by the media, who palpably became excited to be reporting on what feels like a real life episode of Spooks or 24. The media became desperate to run with the story. Spies and shady assassinations are so glamorous ( and for some reason the Sushi bar connections adds something to this glamour. I am guessing it is a Sushi bar know well by journalists, making them feel closer to the story). All the while acting surprised that an ex-KGB officer has ended up dead. I always thought that possible death was something you signed up to when you joined a spy service.

But as yet there is no evidence that Litvinenko was killed by the FSB, neither is there hard evidence that Putin's cronies offed Anna Politkovskaya.

I am not saying that neither might not turn out to be true. But nobody questions the motives of figures such as Boris Berezovsky, another Russian exile, or former Chechen commander Akhmed Zakayev - who all seem reasonably high profile and plugged into the network of media that are reporting the story. Who is investigating their agenda? We know from watching TV and films that not everybody is as they seem. Murk can obfuscate both ways (and almost invariably does). I'm not saying these people are operating on a shady agenda, only wondering if this question has been asked.

24 hour news has created an instant tabloid approach to news reporting. Misbah Rana was kidnapped by her father to be forced into marriage until proved otherwise, MMR causes autism until proved otherwise, Litvinenko was killed by the FSB using Thalium until proved otherwise (Gregory House, of course, would have found out what it really was). In the old days such things were pursued by the Insight team or on TV the World in Action or Panorama team. These days Newsnight might task someone to unpick the murky threads of such a story and separate the real truths from the myths, assumptions, insider briefings and gossip. Weeks, months or sometimes years went by whilst committed and professional journalists found the meat and potatoes of a story and then wrote about it. 24 hour news is Turkey Twizzlers and instant mash by comparison.

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