Double standard: Disparate reactions in radioactive poisoning
It isn’t very often that we come across news of a radioactive poisoning, let alone a state-sponsored one, but in the past few months we’ve had no less than two – and, more significantly, two completely different reactions from the “mainstream” media and Western governments (or do I repeat myself?).
The first such alleged poisoning was the death of Alexander Litvinenko, whose supposed status as a prominent Russian “dissident” set him up as the perfect candidate for a KGB-style “hit.” Or so the public relations campaign unleashed by Russian oligarch-gangster Boris Berezovsky would have us believe.
There are several problems with this scenario, however, not the least of which is the question: instead of poisoning him with $10 million worth of polonium, a rare radioactive substance – after traipsing all over London and half of Europe, spilling it and leaving a radioactive trail in hotel rooms, private homes, offices, and airliners – why didn’t they just put a bullet in the back of his head?
Even if they had resorted to such mundane measures, however, another question arises: why bother? The truth of the matter is that hardly anyone in Russia ever heard of Litvinenko – and if they had it is unlikely that either his political views or his activities on behalf of Berezovsky would have put him in good stead with the Russian people.
In spite of the tremendous puff-job being done on him – apparently no less than two Hollywood studios are competing to come out with the first movie about the Litvinenko affair, one of which stars Johnny Depp – Litvinenko was hardly a “dissident” on the level of, say, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. His kooky ideas – that the KGB is really behind al-Qaeda, and plotted the 9/11 terrorist attacks – compromising allegiances (aside from being a paid employee of Berezovsky’s, he regularly palled around with Chechen terrorists), and dubious moral character (shortly before his death, he announced to an interviewer that he was planning to blackmail several prominent Russian business figures and politicians) belie the posthumous portrait of him as a saintly martyr to the cause of freedom and democracy in Russia.
In short, Litvinenko opposed Putin but hardly represented a credible threat to the Russian president. There was simply no reason for the Russians to assassinate him, and too many reasons – aside from his relative unimportance – not to. After all, Litvinenko was a British citizen who died on British soil: for the Russians to have offed him, in this context, would amount to an open declaration of war.
It makes no sense to assume that Putin or anyone in a position of authority in Russia pulled off this messy alleged assassination, yet the Western media rushed – nay, stampeded – to validate this improbable scenario. The British tabloids were awash in breathless accounts of past KGB hits, from the assassination of Leon Trotsky (the neocons never got over that one) to the elaborate poisonings carried out by the Russian secret service in the past. The American media followed suit. Invariably, the very different case of Viktor Yushchenko was raised, which has never been solved to this day – and which the Ukrainian authorities seem to have mysteriously dropped from their list of active investigations.
On the Litvinenko and Yushchenko incidents, I have expressed my doubts about the semi-official narratives, which point to alleged Russian perfidy. This crude attempt to characterize the Russian government as run by serial poisoners evokes the old familiar Cold War imagery that portrayed the Russians as invariably sinister: it also depends on the reputation of the Stalin-era KGB, which has little if anything to do with the present-day FSB. So I won’t go too deeply into these questions here, except to note that there is much more evidence regarding another incident of possible state-sponsored assassination, by means of radioactive poisoning, of a prominent person on his native soil.
The Stratfor intelligence analysis Web site reports that the sudden death of Ardeshir Hassanpour, perhaps Iran’s leading nuclear scientist, was not an accident. Radio Farda, the U.S. government-run Iranian language network, gave the cause of death as radiation-related, although the details, as Stratfor noted, were “murky.” Much less murky, however, is this: “Stratfor sources close to Israeli intelligence have revealed, however, that Hassanpour was in fact a Mossad target.” According to Stratfor, this case of state-sponsored “radioactive poisoning” is part of a psychological warfare campaign conducted as an adjunct to Israel’s larger military-political strategy against Tehran.
Oddly, the Iranians, instead of touting the news far and wide as evidence of Israeli ruthlessness and warlike behavior, denied that the Mossad had anything to do with Hassanpour’s death, which they attributed to “fumes from a faulty gas fire in sleep.” The claim that the Mossad got him, they say, is just Israeli propaganda. In reality, they claim, the Mossad has no way to get into Iran.
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or guffaw.
There was no comment from the Israelis: not even a denial, at least so far.
Two cases of radioactive poisoning, two instances of possible state-sponsored terrorism, two assassinations with a political-ideological objective – so how come we have two completely different Western reactions to these very similar events?
The Litvinenko “assassination” – which could just as easily have been a case of a failed smuggling operation – was covered, and is still being covered, with wall-to-wall articles, and even two movies-in-the-making. The murder of Hassanpour, on the other hand, was only covered with an article in the Times of London, and by a few relatively obscure venues: I have yet to see a single major American media outlet, aside from UPI and a brief piece on the Fox News Web site, report this story. Hassanpour’s cruel death will never be the subject of a Hollywood movie – unless, of course, the Mossad agents are played as heroic world-savers, racing against the clock to put a mad Iranian scientist out of business for good and prevent the mad mullahs from blowing up the world.
The Litvinenko affair, according to the version peddled in the Western media, dramatizes a narrative that both journalists and Western government officials have a whole lot invested in: they’ve largely swallowed the neocon-Cheney line that Russia is backsliding into authoritarianism, and that Putin – characterized as a neo-Soviet reincarnation of Stalin – represents a threat to the West. That’s why the media is so willing to overlook the logical inconsistencies in the “Putin did it” theory, and, fueled by plenty of press releases from the Berezovsky organization, continues to point an accusing finger at Moscow without a single iota of solid evidence.
The Hassanpour affair has none of these advantages: instead, it represents a risk to both reporters and government officials, inviting retaliation from the Israel lobby. I can just hear Abe Foxman denouncing such news reports as having been excerpted from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, targeting Jews with a classic anti-Semitic trope. As for expecting any Western government to denounce Israeli state terrorism – forget it. They’d sooner ignore than interfere with the activities of the Mossad – even if they take place on Western soil. Just ask Mordechai Vanunu. Or Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron.
This strange double standard is made doubly weird by Putin’s probable innocence and the Mossad’s all-too-likely guilt. Apparently it’s okay to smear the Russians as ruthless assassins as long as there’s next to no evidence. Yet the truth about Israel’s trained killers, unleashed abroad, can only be talked about in whispers.
As I’ve been saying for quite some time now, it’s a Bizarro World we live in, where up is down, hypocrisy is integrity, and truth is just a matter of inventing an absorbing narrative. It doesn’t even have to be a convincing storyline: it only has to be entertaining, in the sense that it flatters our egos and allows us to pose as the heroic defenders of Western civilization against the Threat of the Moment, be it Putin or “Islamo-fascism.”