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Masha Gessen: The Woman Without a Clue

Masha Gessen proves yet once more that she’s almost as unstable as the radioactive isotope that she so greatly esteems


This post first appeared on Russia Insider


Recently, Russia Insider posted an exclusive video detailing some little-published facts about the Litvinenko case. Masha Gessen is a chief proponent of the “Putin-Dun-It” theory, with little to no evidence to support her claim.  Gessen is a known prevaricator to people in the know, but the Western press keeps her on call due to her anti-Putin stance.

Gessen’s most recent escapade was featured in the New York Times, in which she expressed her hope that Moscow would be blockaded by truckers in a bid to unseat Putin. Angry mobs worked out so well for the French, as we all know. No revolution is in the works, so she will have to hang out in her cozy New York home until called upon to lead her people in a revolt against tyranny.

It would be one thing if Masha Gessen were another one of these “Russia analyst” hacks who pollute mainstream media with their delusional hogwash, but her influence over the Western narrative vis-a-vis Russia has had a far more sinister impact. Everyone in the West “knows” Putin had former FSB agent Aleksandr Litvinenko poisoned to shut him up.

Facts Be Damned

In her expose, Putin: The Man Without a Face, Gessen directly blames Putin for the death of Litvinenko. Her evidence? Due to various treaties and international agreements, Russia owns all of the polonium-210.

Gessen, bless her heart, isn't a physicist, and for that matter, neither am I.  But I do know unscientific poppycock when I see it.

Polonium is a highly radioactive element; all of its isotopes are radioactive. It is not at all difficult to produce the isotope known as 210. You go in your bathroom and bombard polonium with bismuth neutrons and voila. Okay, maybe by “bathroom,” I mean “nuclear reactor.” Anyone with access to a nuclear facility can produce Po-210.  It is suspected as the cause of the death of Yassir Arafat, so unless Gessen wants to use the same logic to suggest that Vladimir Putin is somehow also responsible for the death of Arafat, Gessen might want to walk back the assertion that the Kremlin had to be the culprit behind the Litvinenko poisoning because Russia is somehow hoarding polonium-210. The truth is that about 100 grams of Po-210 are legally produced every year, mostly, but not entirely, in Russia.

Even if Russia was the only country entitled to produce Po-210, why would it matter? All the assassins I know definitely get their polonium-210 through legal and proper channels. Someone looking to make a dirty bomb could acquire it on the black market if they were willing to pay the premium price.

Po-210 is actually the easiest to acquire of all of polonium’s isotopes. Russia does not have exclusive rights to produce or even utilize polonium-210. Polonium-210 is definitely needed to make a nuclear weapon, but there are other practical uses for the substance. Industrial polonium-210 is less harmful than the fresh-out-of-the reactor variety, but it is still radioactive. However, it has been used for quite a while for various manufacturing  purposes, including but not limited to: nuclear reactors, oil production, small satellites, synthetic fibers, sheet plastics, rolling paper, and removing static from photographic film. It’s also found in cigarettes. Phosphate fertilizer, used in industrial farming, has been found to contain particles of polonium-210.

Despite the risks due to its unstable molecular structure, It can be safely handled if done so properly. Most of the time, glass and even plastic will provide a barrier between a human and polonium-210. If you are, say, smuggling it and your vial breaks and an aerosol finds its way into your respiratory tract, then you have some problems. Litvinenko’s associate, Dmitri Kovtun, apologized for bringing traces of polonium into Germany, and was being investigated by German authorities in 2006 for illegally handling radioactive material.

Breaking bad propagandists

 

Pants On Fire

As reported by the excellent blog Moon of Alabama, Gessen pitched a fit on the set of a radio show because one of the other guests, Anna Arutunyan, was identified by the hosts as a “Russian-American journalist” whom Gessen claimed had at one point worked for Russia Today. Gessen’s assertion was that working for Russia Today meant that Arutunyan was a “state propaganda agent” and not a journalist -- conveniently forgetting that Gessen herself had worked for the U.S. government agency Radio Liberty. It turned out that Gessen’s protests were for naught -- Arutunyan had never worked for RT and is actually a Putin critic:

“Since Masha Gessen decided to bring this up, I need to clarify some of her incorrect claims: I have never worked for RT. I have never worked for Voice of Russia. The quotes about Pussy Riot that she ascribes to me actually belong to Anton Fedyashin (all of which can be Googled). I worked at The Moscow News for ten years, until Dmitry Kiselyov took over RIA Novosti and work there became impossible due to my critical reporting. As I understand, Gessen was informed of who would be on the show well in advance."

Arutunyan and Moon of Alabama are not the only journalists who have taken Gessen to task. Mark Adomanis of Forbes wrote a detailed article reporting all of the factual inaccuracies in a Gessen piece about Russian demographic trends.

Given Gessen’s difficult relationship with facts, it’s not really surprising that this decidedly integrity- and science-challenged journo would want to jump on the Putin-killed-Litvinenko bandwagon. However instead of providing her readers with a cogent argument and some solid evidence linking Putin to the crime, she instead claims that Putin has exclusive access to a radioactive isotope found in your average Vietnamese sweatshop. It would be one thing if Gessen could offer us some valid, intelligent critiques of Kremlin policies, but as it stands now, most of her output is based on spurious accusations and outright fabrications.

On second thought, I don’t think she’s completely devoid of good ideas. Perhaps we can shelve her Moscow blockade proposal in the event of a zombie plague outbreak in Russia.

 

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