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The Terminal Spy: A True Story of Espionage, Betrayal and Murderby Alan S. Cowell
Synopses & Reviews
LOS ANGELES TIMES
'The Terminal Spy: A True Story of Espionage, Betrayal, and Murder' by Alan S. Cowell
A foreign correspondent analyzes the poisoning death of dissident Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko.
By Tim Rutten
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 16, 2008
WHEN veteran foreign correspondent Alan S. Cowell turned his superb newspaper coverage of dissident Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko's bizarre 2006 murder into a book, he knew he was writing a real-life post-Cold War thriller rich in implication.
His title and subtitles, The Terminal Spy: A True Story of Espionage, Betrayal, and Murder — The First Act of Nuclear Terrorism and the New Cold War, suggest just how rich. It's hard to imagine, however, that even Cowell could have foreseen this complex tale's urgently prophetic dimension, since it's a story that repeatedly leads back to Vladimir Putin, shedding important light on the Russian strongman's exercise of power and on his attitude toward the West. As the Georgian crisis grinds on, understanding Putin and his brand of statecraft are matters of more than passing interest.
Cowell, a longtime correspondent for the New York Times, was reporting from the paper's London bureau when the Litvinenko story broke. The Russian had begun a lifetime involvement in intrigue as a counterintelligence agent in the Soviet KGB. After the fall of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, he entered the domestic branch of the FSB, successor agency to the KGB, joining an organized crime unit. Like many a Russian with an eye for the main chance in that wild west interlude, Litvinenko attached himself to one ofthe emerging oligarchs fattening like carrion birds on the chaotic and corrupt privatization of former state resources — in his case, Boris Berezovsky.
At one point, Litvinenko intervened to keep his patron from being framed by elements of state security for the murder of a television commentator at a station Berezovsky owned. The mogul fled the country and Litvinenko became a whistle-blower, alleging widespread misconduct and corruption in the FSB, which had him jailed for his trouble. Upon his release, Litvinenko joined Berezovsky and a growing number of Russians in London exile. There, he continued an obsession with Putin and what Litvinenko correctly saw as a reemerging Russian authoritarianism with its roots in the security services — in other words, a creeping coup by elements of the old KGB.
While denouncing Putin in interviews with journalists and filmmakers, Litvinenko worked at putting together a private security business. It was in that connection that he joined another former KGB man, Andrei Lugovoi — who was visiting from Moscow — for drinks at London's popular Millennium Hotel bar. Litvinenko took a few sips of green tea with honey. Three weeks later, after a stunning and agonizing illness, he was dead.
Cowell employs meticulous reporting and numerous interviews with participants to re-create the hotel meeting, but best of all is his recap of the gripping forensic investigation that showed Litvinenko had been poisoned with a minute trace of a rare but deadly radioactive isotope, polonium-210. Investigation showed the substance probably was sprayed into the teapot from which the murdered man was served. Cowell has a CSI-worthy eye for forensic exposition, as i
Discusses the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, a critic of Putin's Russia, including the unusual method by which he was poisoned and the political conspiracies behind the murder.
Alan S. Cowell was the London bureau chief of the New York Times when the events narrated in this book reached their climax. Previously, Cowell served as a correspondent for Reuters and the New York Times in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. He has been based in twelve capitals and reported the news from around ninety countries and territories. Cowell is married and has three children. He is now based in Paris.
About the Author
As a foreign correspondent, ALAN S. COWELL received the George Polk Award and the Nathaniel Nash Award and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of South Africa. He lives in London.
Table of Contents
Broken homes, broken empire — Poor man, rich man — Acolytes — Renegade — War stories — From Russia with stealth — Siloviki — Gilded exiles — Crown protection — A rolodex to die for — Poison and PR — Invisible assassin — The polonium trail — Hit men or fall-guys? — Putin's doppelg
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