J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hunting the KGB Killers: The Litvinenko Case on Acorn TV

He was a British subject, assassinated on British soil, by a foreign power, employing the most radioactive substance known to man. Wars have been started over lesser provocations. It is inconceivable an operation of that magnitude could be executed without the direct consent of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. The mere acquisition of Polonium 210 would require coordination at the highest levels of government. Yet, we can confidently ascribe responsibility to Putin and his henchmen, because Litvinenko himself worked with Scotland Yard to solve his own murder during his final hours. The high stakes investigation and Russian’s attempts to cover-up the truth are conclusively revealed in the documentary-special, Hunting the KGB Killers, directed by Chris Malone, which starts streaming on Acorn TV tomorrow.

Litvinenko has been closely linked with Chechen dissidents, but his real role in the FSB (the renamed KGB) is often conveniently overlooked. According to Litvinenko (whose credibility has been tragically established beyond reasonable doubt), he was promoted to a secret division of the FSB responsible for assassinating the Kremlin’s political and economic rivals. Obviously, it is still in business. Ill-advisedly, Litvinenko had called a meeting with the newly elected Putin, hoping the president would halt such abuses. Instead, he had to defect to the UK with his wife Marina and their son Anatoly, who address Litvinenko’s assassination on-camera for the first time in KGB Killers.

Lead investigator DI Brian Tarpey takes viewers through his inquiry, step-by-step, starting with a meeting with an unnamed MI5 agent, who turned out to be Litvinenko’s handler. With his identity confirmed, the dying Litvinenko willingly submitted to a “living autopsy” to determine the agent of his poisoning. When Polonium-210 was determined to be the cause of his impending death, it unleashed a hard target search through the London establishments he frequented, as well as a very real public health scare. Tarpey’s team even journeyed to Russia, where they were stonewalled and also poisoned with more benign gastrointestinal bacteria.

Although its running time clocks in just under an hour, KGB Killers is packed with stunning information. Frankly, it is an outrage that the world is not more outraged over this crime. Russian apologists and stooges have used a lot of disinformation and red herrings to distract the western media from the fundamental issues. This was a British subject, who was cooperating with western intelligence and law enforcement agencies to expose Russian crime syndicates linked to Putin and his oligarch cronies.

The respect Tarpey and his colleagues have for Litvinenko comes through loud and clear. The details on their dogged pursuit of the murderers, Anjdrey Lugovoy (now a member of Russia’s parliament and hence immune from prosecution) and Dmitri Kovtun, is also highly instructive. Although the iconic photo of the emaciated Litvinenko is often shown during KGB Killers, Malone also uses dramatic re-enactments of the whistle-blower’s final days. Documentary purists might have mixed feelings on such a strategy, but it must be conceded Andrew Byron (a bit-player in Wonder Woman) is an eerie dead-ringer for Litvinenko. Eddie Marsan’s narration is also totally professional and gives the film some name-recognition (if star-power is too strong a term).

KGB Killers is a seamless chronicle that will shock viewers with the full magnitude and viciousness of the FSB’s crimes under Putin. Yet, it also keeps the human element in perspective through the memories of the surviving Litvinenkos and the Scotland Yard investigators. It is a film all Americans should watch, starting with the president.

Let’s be honest, the West’s triumph over Communism during the Cold War was also the greatest political victory in the history of the right/left divide. Yet, Trump seems determined to retroactively sabotage that victory, by openly courting the Soviets’ successor in spirit and oppressive practice. He is not just compromising American national security. He is also jeopardizing the legacy of the American conservative movement. Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, and Barry Goldwater must be weeping bitter tears in their graves.

To get a sense of who Putin really is, Hunting the KGB Killers is very highly recommended when it launches on Acorn TV tomorrow (8/14).

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