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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Poison Plot: The Killing of a Spy; Who Was Alexander Litvinenko?; Leaked Rumsfeld Memo Stirs Controversy

Aired December 4, 2006 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
So, is the United States turning to a mass murderer for help in Iraq? That's one question tonight. The other hinges on a killing so bizarre and a death so horrifying, people around the world can't help but wonder: Did the Russian government use a radioactive murder weapon to poison a former spy?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: It turned this man into this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You really want somebody to suffer terribly before dying, that's one thing you could do.

ANNOUNCER: A former spy nuked from within. But who did it, and how? Tonight: The investigation is growing, the fallout spreading. We will take you inside.

Who had a motive? And did they work here?

ANDREI NEKRASOV, FRIEND OF ALEXANDER LITVINENKO: I think he thought that a lot of people have reasons to go after him.

ANNOUNCER: Kremlin intrigue, all of the way to the top -- we will sort conspiracy theory from fact.

Who was Alexander Litvinenko? For the first time, hear from the man who knew him best, his father.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360: "Poison Plot: The Killing of a Spy."

Here now, Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States, and watching around the world on CNN International.

No matter where you're watching, there is a Cold War chill in the air. Whether it was forces in the Kremlin, Russian mobsters, or persons yet unknown, the killing of Alexander Litvinenko certainly saw to that. Nobody does what somebody did to him without making a point, and making the hair on the back of your neck stand up. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX GOLDFARB, LITVINENKO FAMILY SPOKESPERSON: It was a terrible sight. He was turning from a healthy 44-year-old into a kind of a ghost, an old man, after like chemotherapy, like cancer patients. And it was terrible to see someone who is burned from the inside with this radioactivity, as if he was in a -- in a -- in ground zero of Chernobyl.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Burned from the inside -- tonight, exclusive insight from the people who knew the former spy-turned-dissident-turned-martyr -- that, and new details emerging from the investigation in London, Moscow, and around the world.

We will get to all of that, but, first, another sad milestone in the Iraq war. American deaths there have now passed 2,900. Four service members were killed when a Marine helicopter crashed over the weekend, bringing to total to 2,904.

Meantime, today, at the White House, President Bush told a top Shia leader that more needs to be done to rein in the sectarian violence. But Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim's mere presence is stirring controversy. He leads the largest Shia political faction in Iraq, which, in turn, has a militia suspected of murdering thousands of Sunnis.

More than 100 bodies were discovered this weekend alone -- more than 100. On Wednesday, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group comes out with its report. We will be in Washington for that. And, with all that's happening, or about to happen, the leak of a memo from Donald Rumsfeld -- Remember him? -- well, it is causing an uproar tonight.

With that, here's CNN's Jamie McIntyre.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Iraq was sliding further into chaos, just before the November election, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent one of his famous snowflakes, a terse, to-the-point memo that falls from the sky, to the White House, calling for, in his words, a major adjustment in U.S. strategy.

In fact, Rumsfeld quoted from his secret missive later that week, right after he had been asked to step down.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It is clear that, in phase two of this, it has not been going well enough or fast enough.

MCINTYRE: In the memo, Rumsfeld ruminated about, but stopped short of recommending, some radical ideas, which he called illustrative options, such as having U.S. troops only patrol where they are welcome and withholding aid from violent areas of Iraq, the kind of tough-love approach advocated by some of Rumsfeld's political adversaries.

In fact, one suggestion seemed like a line right out of a press release from Democrat and vocal critic John Murtha: "Begin modest withdrawals, taking our hand off the bicycle seat," Rumsfeld called it, "so Iraqis have to pull up their socks, step up."

On "The Today Show," Congressman Murtha told NBC's Matt Lauer he felt vindicated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, that's exactly what I said a year ago. And I said, we couldn't win it militarily. And I said, they -- they have been mischaracterizing and misstating this war for the last two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: This was not the glass-half-full Rumsfeld that people were used to seeing opening the Pentagon briefing with broadsides against what he called overly negative press coverage. And it has critics fuming that Rumsfeld was either in denial or deliberately disingenuous.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It basically says, the primary architect of the war now knows we're losing and headed for defeat, unless things change radically.

MCINTYRE: But, to his supporters, Rumsfeld's memo, perhaps his last snowflake, was classic Rumsfeld, always questioning and looking for fresh ideas.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I always thought the idea that Secretary Rumsfeld did not listen to others or did not welcome different people's ideas a -- a bad rap.

MCINTYRE: Advocates of a major change in Iraq strategy take heart in the idea that, if Rumsfeld had an epiphany, then, maybe President Bush will too. But some suggest the memo wasn't simply a belated realization, but a calculated move to protect his legacy.

MICHELE FLOURNOY, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: One possibility is that he doesn't want -- didn't want to go down in the history books as someone who never got it, someone who really didn't understand what was happening.

MCINTYRE (on camera): Will Rumsfeld's lame-duck views impact the next moves in Iraq? Well, his aides are suggesting that his thinking may have influenced the Iraq Study Group, who recommendations come out later this week. But it's also possible that Rumsfeld, seeing which way the commission members were leaning, cleverly beat them to the punch.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, safe to say, whatever the ISG recommends, and whether or not the president takes any of or all of the advice, time is running short.

Iraq's prime minister says his armed forces will be able to take over security responsibilities by next June, optimistic, perhaps. If you ask the Iraqi people, though, you get a different timeline. For the first time, a majority says, Americans should leave now. And that's not all they're saying.

CNN's Nic Robertson is listening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This weekend, a triple bombing in the heart of Baghdad, 51 dead, and more than 90 injured, horrific, and attacks like this more common than ever before.

A new survey conducted by Iraqi pollsters shows, the daily violence is escalating Iraqi demands that U.S. troops leave. More than half the 2,000 Iraqis surveyed said they want all U.S. troops out now. And almost half the remainder want a withdrawal to begin immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The percentage of who oppose the presence of U.S. forces is increasing. And you know that is not good for the U.S. military.

ROBERTSON: Members of the independent survey team, trained by the U.S. State Department, fear insurgent or militia attack, and agreed to talk only if we hide their identity. They have been conducting surveys here for three years. Even they are surprised so many want U.S. troops out.

(on camera): That the situation will improve if the U.S. troops withdraw immediately?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, immediately.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): But that's not all. In this poll of Sunnis and Shias, in both mixed and divided communities, 19 out of every 20 people say security was better under Saddam Hussein.

Nine in 10 people say they feel danger whenever they see American soldiers. And two-thirds say they will feel safer when U.S. troops have left the country. The big-picture response, according to the pollsters, U.S. troops are part of the problem, not the solution, and they want a change in U.S. policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Most of the people in our survey hope for a new policy in Iraq.

ROBERTSON: Although this survey was commissioned by Iraq's government, the results have also been sent to the State Department, and reveal what many U.S. officials have long believed: Fixing the economy could help stop the violence.

The best way to disarm insurgents, the Iraqis said, was to offer them jobs. Perhaps less surprising, given the worsening security, Iraqis are beginning to question their own democratic choices. Half say they wouldn't vote for the same party again. And two of every three say they have no confidence in the current government. Survey officials say the poll has a margin of error of just over 3 percentage points.

(on camera): The polling was conducted right after the U.S. midterm elections, at the beginning of November. And what the survey team says unites Iraqis more than anything else is their hope that Democrats will use their new power to shape a new policy for Iraq.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: More now from Michael Gordon, chief military correspondent for "The New York Times," who broke the Rumsfeld memo story and many others. He's also the author, along with retired General Bernard Trainor, of "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq," a remarkable work.

Michael Gordon joins us now from Washington.

Michael, thanks for being with us again.

What -- what do you make of -- of this memo, leaked to you, that -- that Rumsfeld called for this major adjustment in strategy in Iraq just days before the election? How does that match with what he was saying publicly about the war?

MICHAEL GORDON, CHIEF MILITARY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, in certain respects, it doesn't match very well.

I mean, he was pretty dismissive of the critics who challenged the -- the strategy and the conduct of the war. He tended to dismiss them as naysayers. And now what we know is, at the very time he was rebuffing some of the critics, he himself shared some of the same doubts.

COOPER: It -- it seems like many people in this administration, in the days leading up to this most recent election, were saying one thing publicly, but -- but, privately, it seemed, at least in memos, to -- to be a different story. You have -- you have Dick Cheney saying, you know, full speed ahead, and -- and that things are going remarkably well, or surprisingly well. I forgot the exact terms he used.

I mean, George Bush was talking about keeping Rumsfeld, wanting Rumsfeld to stay on the end, when we know he was already interviewing a replacement for him. I mean, is -- is that -- is that common? Is that just expected, that the people will say one thing, but, behind the scenes, something else is going on?

GORDON: Well, there was also the example of Steve Hadley, the national security adviser, because the White House was expressing confidence in Prime Minister Maliki, at the same time it had grave doubts about him, according to the Hadley memo.

But I think what happened is, they tend to project an optimistic face, a positive face, both as -- well, to protect their own policy, and to keep the critics at bay, and keep their doubts secret. There is some consistency, though. I mean, Secretary Rumsfeld never favored sending a lot of troops to Iraq. Remember, he rebuffed General Shinseki, when Shinseki said several hundred thousand troops were needed.

He was always looking for a way to get in and out fairly quickly. And, in the memo, when he put forth his -- his so-called new ideas, in a way, they reflect his old policy predilections. He was looking for a way to minimize the number of American forces in Iraq, like many of the Democrats.

COOPER: Well, that -- of all the things he suggests, all the possibilities, he never once, in this memo, suggests more troops.

GORDON: Well, he -- he has sort of two categories, what he calls above the line, which are the options he thinks merit serious consideration, and below the line, that he doesn't like so much.

And the below-the-line options include more troops. But it's clear that he's talking about consolidating bases, withdrawing forces, maybe moving them to different parts of Iraq. There's a lot of similarity, ironically, between some of his ideas and some of the ideas that, for example, Senator Levin, the Democrat from Michigan, have proposed.

COOPER: Are you surprised that, after being in charge of the war for so long -- I mean, Rumsfeld had 21 options for Iraq outlined in this thing -- that he doesn't -- didn't seem to have a clearer, more concise strategy?

I mean, is this memo a reflection that he's, at this point, kind of conceding things aren't going well, but he doesn't really have a clear idea of where to go? Or is he just presenting the -- the president with options?

GORDON: No, I think there's something to what you say, Anderson. I think that I was surprised that, after a war that has lasted more than three years, the person who was one of the architects of the strategy, who has a very large staff, that he would present a memo that was essentially a laundry list of ideas.

I would have thought that there would be more of a fully developed strategy. Also, in this very memo, he recommends that the White House sort of lower public expectations for might -- what might happen in Iraq. He says, go minimalist, you know, so that, whatever happens, it won't be perceived as a defeat. And I saw that as an indication that he didn't have a whole lot of confidence about the White House ability to come up with an effective plan B.

COOPER: What -- I mean, a lot of people are leaking stuff to you. What is your sense about how the White House is going to handle this Baker commission report that's coming out?

GORDON: Well, the Baker commission report is, I think, very much what the White House says, an input. I don't necessarily think they're going to be holding to all of the recommendations.

For example, it's widely expected that the Baker commission report will recommend direct dialogue with Iran, and -- and perhaps Syria. And I -- and the White House has already signaled that it doesn't see that as a particularly productive course.

So, I think it's an input into the process, but I don't think it's going to necessarily determine what the White House is doing. They have their own review that they're conducting right away. And Mr. Rumsfeld's memo, and -- and the Hadley memo are inputs into the administration's ongoing review.

COOPER: And -- and, just briefly, because they're -- they're screaming that we have got to go, but I got to ask you this question.

When you saw the president in Jordan basically dismiss the idea of any kind of pullout, do you think he really means that, or is that just politics? Is he just, as you said, putting on a -- a front, a -- you know, an optimistic front, when, in truth, behind the scenes, they're really talking about something else?

GORDON: I think there's a recognition that we can't withdraw forces entirely very quickly.

And, by the way, it's not his view alone. Some critics of the war, such as General Zinni, the former Marine commander, have also independently arrived at this view.

COOPER: Michael Gordon, appreciate your reporting. Thanks for being on.

In a moment, our special report, "Poison Plot: The Killing of a Spy" -- coming up, all the angles.

First, Randi Kaye joins us with a "360 Bulletin" and some of the other stories we're following tonight -- Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. Good to see you.

John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., is resigning, amid opposition in the Senate to his confirmation. Bolton will step down when his temporary appointment expires in January. His confirmation has been blocked by Senate Democrats and some Republicans for several months. Then thousand acres of land have been destroyed in a California wildfire. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Ventura County, where the fire has burned for two days. At least five homes have been destroyed.

In Missouri, at least 19 people have died, after a storm hit late last week. Snow, ice and freezing temperatures downed power lines and toppled trees. Hundreds of people without power have been told it will be several days before electricity can be restored. Temperatures across much of the region have hovered below freezing the past few days, hampering cleanup efforts.

And three members of a San Francisco family missing for more than a week have been found alive. A helicopter spotted Kati Kim and her two young daughters in a remote area of Oregon. Rescuers are still looking for Mr. Kim, who took off on foot just two days ago to get help. The family was heading home from a vacation, when they disappeared -- a lot of people very happy to hear that news, but still very concerned about Mr. Kim.

COOPER: Yes, it's such a bizarre story.

Thanks, Randi.

It is a whodunit straight out of a Cold War spy novel, except it's not fiction -- coming up, our 360 special report, "Poison Plot: The Killing of a Spy," how Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy, who became one of the Kremlin's biggest critics, spent his final days. Retracing his footsteps, we are, and looking for clues.

Plus: the exotic murder weapon -- a radioactive poison that guaranteed the victim would suffer an excruciating death. One man, one friend of his, described it as burning from the inside. 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta explains how doctors cracked the medical mystery.

And we will hear from one of Litvinenko's closest friends. He was one of the last people to talk to him and was at his bedside when he died -- ahead, why he thinks fingerprints from Russia's Secret Service agents are all over this murder -- when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're going to be looking in-depth now at the death of a former Russian spy. The story gets more mysterious every day.

The gruesome poisoning of -- of Alexander Litvinenko has opened a window on to a world that stretches back to the Cold War, and beyond. John Le Carre couldn't have come up with a more tangled storyline. It is filled with spies and sinister plots, intrigue and -- and betrayal, lots of betrayal -- at its center, a potent nuclear weapon invisible to the human eye.

As we said at the top of the program, the investigation into the bizarre poisoning is widening right now. We have had producers and reporters on the ground in London all weekend, working all the angles.

We begin with the big picture and an overview of Litvinenko's last days.

Here's CNN's David Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At first, he was a spy. Then, he became a whistle-blower, turning on his own agency. It was a decision that cost Alexander Litvinenko his job, sent him to prison, and, finally, caused him to flee into exile.

He found asylum in London, but could not leave his dangerous work behind. He continued to seek out sensitive information, claiming to expose corrupt practices in his former Russian agency.

(on camera): Did he believe the day was coming that someone might try to take his life?

ANDREI NEKRASOV, FRIEND OF ALEXANDER LITVINENKO: Yes, might. I think he thought that a lot of people have reasons to go after him.

MATTINGLY: And, on November 1, his worst fears came true. He arranged for a series of clandestine meetings, one of them right here at the Millennium Hotel in London's wealthy Mayfair district.

(voice-over): Litvinenko said he met with two Russians for tea, one a former KGB officer, the other a private security specialist from Moscow. They sat in the bar and talked for only about 20 minutes.

According to one of the Russians at the meeting, they were discussing ways to become go-betweens for companies trying to do business in and out of Russia.

(on camera): Litvinenko's next meeting was just a few blocks away, here in the bustling Piccadilly section of London. It was right here, at this sushi bar. It's all boarded up and guarded now, because of the investigation.

But, when it was open, Litvinenko was a regular. A waitress says he would come in with wearing expensive suits, and seemed to be carrying a lot of cash. He had a favorite table on the first floor, where he always dined alone.

(voice-over): But, on this day, Litvinenko was having lunch with someone who had information that was literally a matter of life and death.

(on camera): Did you, at this lunch, warn him that you and he were on some kind of a -- a hit list?

MARIO SCARAMELLA, EXPOSED TO POLONIUM 210: We discussed some papers I received with alarming fact, issues. And we discussed the -- such papers together.

MATTINGLY: Italian Mario Scaramella is an independent security expert who warned Litvinenko that they were now both on a hit list circulated by the Russian mob. We now know the warning came too late. Within hours, Litvinenko became seriously ill, and his condition deteriorated by the day. He immediately suspected he had been poisoned, but was determined to recover.

NEKRASOV: He said: I must survive, not to sort of let them to dance on my grave, so to speak.

MATTINGLY: Friends, like filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, and others, however, watched helplessly, as some unknown substance attacked his vital organs. The robust and handsome ex-spy fell into a world of unrelenting pain.

For weeks, doctors grappled to find the cause. A radioactive substance was suspected. And Litvinenko came to his own conclusions.

NEKRASOV: That's what he said, you know? They got me. You know, the bastards, they got me.

And I think that may be an -- that was an expression of -- of him losing hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're sorry to announce that Alexander Litvinenko died at University College Hospital at 9:21 on the 23rd of November, 2006.

MATTINGLY: In his final hours of consciousness, the ex-KGB officer wanted the world to hear his suspicions. While others suspected the Russian mob, he believed the order to kill him came from somewhere else. And, on his deathbed, he left a final statement, giving a name.

ALEX GOLDFARB, LITVINENKO FAMILY SPOKESPERSON: You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protests from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.

MATTINGLY: The next day, the Russian leader cautioned investigators to not jump to conclusions.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I hope that -- that British authorities would not contribute to instigation of political scandals. Has nothing to do with reality.

MATTINGLY: But, as Russian authorities pledged cooperation, British health officials revealed, Litvinenko was killed by a highly lethal radioactive substance called polonium 210. And then came the chilling realization, that thousands more could possibly have been exposed.

JOHN REID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: Police have now confirmed that traces of polonium 210 have been found at certain locations.

MATTINGLY: Radioactive traces turned up in 12 places, including Litvinenko's London home, the hotel and restaurant he visited before coming ill, and British Airways jets, jets that carried 33,000 people on 221 flights around the time Litvinenko was poisoned, the largest number of those flights between London and Moscow.

GOLDFARB: We still believe that this is the murder, vicious murder, perpetrated by the agents of Russian intelligence service.

MATTINGLY: But, while there is a clear trail to follow, no one can say where it will lead. Alexander Litvinenko's slow death seemed cruel and calculated. It took him three weeks to die. And his last act of defiance was to refuse to die quietly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: David joins us now, live in London.

David, the investigation is now focusing in Russia?

MATTINGLY: That's right.

A team of investigators from the U.K. have assembled in Moscow. They are looking for evidence there. And they say they will continue to follow this case wherever any of the leads might take them.

COOPER: David, appreciate that.

The rumors are, of course, running wild in this case on who may have carried out the killing -- coming up, a look at some of the theories and the facts, what we know -- plus, 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta on what polonium 210 does to the human body. The details are not pretty.

You're watching a special edition of 360, "Poison Plot."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, as the investigation into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko widens, the mystery only deepens.

The victim is a man with his own dark past. The list of people with reasons to kill him appears to be pretty long. The facts are thin right now, rumors abundant. About the only thing certain in this case is the murder weapon that was used to kill Mr. Litvinenko. And, at first, that was a mystery as well.

Here's 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At first, he just feels ill, checks into a hospital. He grows weaker. It could be the flu, an infection, even cancer. But something is different. He's in excruciating pain. And he is deteriorating, dying, right in front of his doctors.

DR. JOHN HENRY, TOXICOLOGIST: I didn't go into a -- a sort of a -- a clear-cut investigative mode straightaway. And he just had a clinical illness. But, then, as it progressed, everybody began to think more seriously about this man.

GUPTA: They scratch their heads. They think thallium, a heavy metal, and rat poison, and even Geiger tests.

But all tests are negative -- 20 days later, a blip on a laboratory computer screen. The toxicologist finds radioactive poisoning. But he shows no rashes, no burns, none of the typical signs of severe radiation. Somehow, the radioactive poison is already inside him.

DR. JOHN HENRY, ST. MARY'S HOSPITAL, LONDON: It is not the kind of test or the kind of confirmation that you would get in a hospital laboratory. It's the kind of thing that has to be done in a very specialized laboratory.

GUPTA: In 22 days Alexander Litvinenko went from living and breathing to dead. The now known cause, polonium 210. It's a naturally occurring radioactive material that can be found in trace amounts virtually anywhere: in soil, in rocks, even in our own bodies.

(on camera) Polonium 210 can be devastating if inhaled or ingested. As you can see I'm in this laboratory wearing really no protective gear. In fact, your skin can protect your against polonium in and of itself.

I'm going to put these gloves on just for an added player of protection and take you over to this laboratory over here. Take a look at this piece of plastic. This is a piece of plastic that has actually been irradiated.

You're not going to believe what's happened to it. I'm going to show you here in just a moment.

(voice-over) When toxicologists realized the amount of polonium 210 in Litvinenko's body, it set off alarm bells.

DR. CHAM DALLAS, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA TOXICOLOGIST: Alexander Litvinenko died in a relatively short period of time after exposure to that polonium 210. That tells me that he got a very large dose.

GUPTA: And in a large dose is when polonium 210 becomes deadly.

DALLAS: The production of polonium is going to be in very limited number of locations.

GUPTA: Pure, larger amounts of the substance are typically generated with the use of a nuclear reactor. And it's not a substance that patients with symptoms of illness are regularly screened for, but it will show up in urine tests.

(on camera) Without a doubt, he had polonium 210?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, without a doubt.

GUPTA: But the problem in finding it is you have to know what you're look for. But because it hasn't been used as a poison, it's not typically the first suspect when a patient presents with symptoms.

HENRY: I think everybody was shocked. They were really take aback because nobody expected this particular substance to be what caused the poisoning and what killed him.

GUPTA: Think of that radiation blasting microscopic holes throughout your body, wreaking havoc, mutating everything, including your DNA. Instant cancer.

(on camera) Now, back to that piece of plastic. If you look at this piece of plastic it looks absolutely solid. But again, it's been radiated. So has a piece of plastic in here at the bottom of this beaker.

Look what happens when I turn on -- pour in some water here. It comes straight through. There are tons of holes in that filter, just like there would be in your small intestine if it also got radiated.

Does this surprise you at all, using polonium 210 as a murder weapon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's shocking. But I guess if you think about it, it's -- if you really want somebody to suffer terribly before dying, that's, I guess, one thing you could do.

GUPTA (voice-over): You can't see it, smell it, taste it. So the assassin could transport it in a vial or in a plastic bag. Handling it is that simple. But the damage inside the body is devastatingly irreversible.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, his death was gruesome. The pictures shown around the world, he was better known in death than in life. But who was Alexander Litvinenko and what had he done to make so many powerful enemies? We're going to have that again.

We'll also hear from one of the people who knew him better than anybody, Alex Goldfarb, Litvinenko's friend, one of the many voices calling for justice when this special edition of 360, "Poison Plot: The Killing of a Spy", continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We continue our look at the death of Alexander Litvinenko. His family and friends called him Sasha. Tonight, a 360 exclusive. We hear from his father, Walter, who had a feeling that something wasn't right with his son. He sat down with David Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How did you find out that something was wrong with your son?

WALTER LITVINENKO, FATHER (through translator): This last strike on him, they did it on my birthday. All my kids called me on that day, but Sasha didn't. And I immediately felt that there was trouble. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Coming up, we'll have more from David's interview with Alexander Litvinenko's father and his quest for justice. That's ahead.

The son he now mourns wasn't always a critic of the Kremlin. Alexander Litvinenko's life had as many twists and turns as the mystery that now surrounds his death. His journey from spy to dissident adds yet another layer of intrigue to the case. It also explains why a lot of people may have wanted to see him dead.

Once again, here's CNN's David Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): In the risk-filled world of Russian whistle-blowers, Alexander Litvinenko was a star. Starting as a young officer in the KGB, he would rise through the counterintelligence ranks of the Russian federal security service, the FSB, where he investigated corruption and the Russian mob.

But in 1998 he turned on his own agency, publicly claiming FSB superiors ordered him to kill the influential Russian billionaire, Boris Berezovsky. To go public was seen as an unforgivable act of betrayal for the Kremlin.

AKMAN NAKAYEV, FRIEND OF LITVINENKO (through translator): Putin several times has said there is no such thing as an ex-KGB agent. But Alexander Litvinenko proved that there are people out there that can overcome themselves and take the path of righteousness.

MATTINGLY: People close to him say Litvinenko was on a crusade to rid Russian security of corruption. He ended up in prison until charges were dropped. But by then it was clear he needed to leave Russia.

ALEXANDER GOLDFARB, FRIEND OF LITVINENKO: He was obviously on the run and he -- his life was in danger. There was no question about it.

MATTINGLY: Russian expatriate Alex Goldfarb was among influential exiles who helped Litvinenko find political asylum in London. According to friends, Boris Berezovsky himself, now an exile living in London, gave him a home and supported him financially.

And Litvinenko used his new freedom to become a high-profile thorn in the side of Russian intelligence. He wrote two inflammatory books. He accused his former agency of masterminding the 1998 apartment bombing in Moscow, all allegations the Kremlin has denied.

(on camera) Friends describe Alexander Litvinenko as a man without vices. They say he firmly believed that the current government of Russia would fail. And he would one day return home to help rebuild Russian counterintelligence without the corruption. (voice-over) The British newspaper "The Observer" printed a series of interviews with a Russian academic. The article suggested Litvinenko may have turned to blackmail, selling damaging information involving powerful Russian oil interests.

But neither his friends nor his family would believe that the man who was so set against corruption would ever compromise.

WILL GEDDES, SECURITY EXPERT: Bearing in mind his experience and his extensive time within the KGB and then the FSB, he would have been a very useful asset for anybody who was operating on a commercial level within Russia.

MATTINGLY: Security expert Will Geddes, however, says Litvinenko was known to pursue sensitive information throughout expatriate circles in London and did so at his own risk.

(on camera) How risky could this business be for someone who was in it?

GEDDES: The risks are endemically high. And operating in countries like Russia, that information could also cost your life.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): On his death bed, Alexander Litvinenko accused Vladimir Putin of engineering his demise. But as his secretive life in the U.K. comes to light, who killed Alexander Litvinenko and why becomes more of a mystery every day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: David joins us now live from London again.

David, how are his wife and son doing?

MATTINGLY: They are doing as best they can. The family is angry. They're absolutely devastated by this. Litvinenko's wife actually having some contamination that she had to deal with. The doctors checked her out. She does not have any radiation poisoning symptoms at this time.

But today would have been Litvinenko's 44th birthday, just one other -- one more emotional blow that the family's having to deal with right now.

COOPER: Indeed. The investigation moving now to Moscow. Investigators are heading there. David, thanks.

A closer look at the last days of Alexander Litvinenko coming up. I'll talk to one of his friends, Alexander Goldfarb. You saw him a moment ago. He says he knows why the former spy was silenced.

Plus, under intense public pressure, British police are investigating the murder. No suspects yet. Plenty of finger pointing, however. The theories when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Winston Churchill once called Russia, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. That pretty much sums up the murder case now facing Scotland Yard.

So far, evidence is scarce but the motives and the theories are not.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): In the new James Bond film "Casino Royale", 007 is poisoned. He survived. Life isn't like the movies. Alexander Litvinenko, of course, did not.

HENRY: Polonium is an incredibly poisonous poison. It is 100,000 million times more toxic than cyanide.

COOPER: The Associated Press reports that a friend of Litvinenko's was interviewed by British agents and the FBI near Washington, D.C. And he named someone he believes to be a suspect.

There was a cast of intriguing characters in Litvinenko's life. There's the president, the billionaire, the Italian security expert.

Let's begin with one of the most powerful men in the world, Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader and an ex-KGB operative himself. In a letter Litvinenko reportedly wrote from his death bed he pointed the finger at Putin. The statement was read outside the hospital.

GOLDFARB: You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howls of protest from around world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done.

COOPER: When he defected Litvinenko became a vocal critic of Putin. He was certain the Kremlin ordered the murder of Ann Politkovskaya, a journalist shot execution style.

Litvinenko also thought the Russian government was connected to a series of residential bombings in 1999 that killed hundreds. Russia blamed the attacks on Chechen rebels. The president calls the accusations against him ridiculous.

British police are now in Moscow to interview witnesses, increasing speculation that the poison originated there and prompting Russian to warn that good relations between the two countries are suffering.

And then there's the oil tycoon, Boris Berezovsky. The friend of the ex-spy, he made a fortune in Russia and, facing corruption charges, fled to England. He was also a vocal critic of Putin.

And in early November, Litvinenko met the Italian security expert, Mario Scaramella, at this London sushi bar. Scaramella says he warned him that both their names was on a Russian mob hit list. Hours later, Litvinenko turned violently ill. Now Scaramella has tested positive for the toxin, which only adds to the intrigue. DALLAS: The only reason I can think of that somebody would want to use such a rare and easily traceable element is that they would want someone to know that they were using it. They would want to make a political statement or some kind of bold statement.

COOPER: Whatever the outcome, each day since the agent's death only brings more and more intrigue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, Alexander Litvinenko's family and friends have their theories, as well. Tonight we're going to continue to bring you their thoughts, two big interviews coming up. More from Alex Goldfarb, who was with Litvinenko in his final days and turned over important letters to investigators as they attempted to track down the killer. We're going to hear what he thinks, coming up.

Plus, a 360 exclusive, Litvinenko's father, Walter, speaks out about his son's work and his untimely death when "Poison Plot: The Killing of a Spy" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOLDFARB: You may succeed in silencing me, but that silence comes with a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That's Litvinenko's own words, written from his hospital bed before he died and accusing Russian president Vladimir Putin of having ties to the poison plot. It was read by Alex Goldfarb, a friend of the former spy. I spoke with Mr. Goldfarb earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Who do you think killed Alexander Litvinenko?

GOLDFARB: Well, obviously, it is the agents of the Russian secret service.

COOPER: Why would they want him dead?

GOLDFARB: Well, he was one of the most hated -- probably the most hated person for the Russian secret services for several reasons.

No. 1 is that he was a defector and probably the only one in the past decade, at least in the public domain, which is humiliating enough. Another is that he authored the book which alleged that it was the Russian secret services that arranged those apartment bombings.

COOPER: There were a series of apartment bombing in Moscow.

GOLDFARB: In 1999.

COOPER: Which was blamed on Chechen terrorists. And his allegation was that it was, in fact, the Russian secret service to...

GOLDFARB: To start the war and help Putin get in power.

COOPER: I want to read you something that has been put out, published in some state-dominated press in Russia. They are having a theory that Litvinenko killed himself in order to turn people against Putin.

And here's what one analyst who has ties to the Kremlin said. I just want to read you what he said. He said, "Litvinenko was nobody, and none of his allegations against Putin had any credibility. So who could have benefited from killing him? Well, it's evident that Putin's enemies have already reaped a harvest of anti-Putin P.R. from this event."

GOLDFARB: Well, this is sheer nonsense. And it's a classic disinformation campaign in the style of the old sort of (ph) KGB.

COOPER: You saw him in his final days. What were his final days like?

GOLDFARB: It was a terrible sight. He was turning from a healthy 44-year-old into a kind of a ghost, an old man after like chemotherapy, like a cancer patient. And it was terrible to see someone who's burned from the inside with this radioactivity as if he was in a ground zero of Chernobyl.

He said this is what it takes to be believed, for example, because for six years he was trying to tell the world that we're dealing with a regime which is ruthless and barbaric. And that's what he said in that statement, and nobody believed him. I didn't believe him, even though I also understood something about Russia. And it turned out to be the case.

COOPER: Do you think Russia -- the Russian authorities say they're going to cooperate. Do you believe they will?

GOLDFARB: No, Alexander's father yesterday, I heard him talking to someone. He said, "If Putin gives up those who killed my son, I will publicly apologize to him. But if he doesn't I will consider him an accomplice, because he knows who those guys are."

And in that sense, I hope they will cooperate, because they lost all the benefit of the doubt of the world, this government.

COOPER: People are very focused on this, on what happened, and following very closely sort of like a murder mystery and a spy mystery. You think it has implications beyond that. I mean, what is so important about this? Why does it matter?

GOLDFARB: Well, if Alexander was an Iranian, nobody would be even -- be surprised. This is what you expect of Iranians to do it to their dissidents. If he was a Canadian, everybody would say that I am crazy, saying those things. Russia is somewhere in between. And it's drifting from the Canadian model to the Iranian model.

And it is very important that the west recognizes before it is too late. This country is drifting into a kind of a policy state which will become a threat to the world. And if we fail to recognize it now, it will be to our own peril. And this is probably one of the last wake-up calls.

COOPER: Alex, we appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

GOLDFARB: You're welcome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Alex Goldfarb.

Coming up, a father's anger, a father's pain. Walter Litvinenko speaks out, only on 360.

Also, Russia's history of answering political dissent with deadly force. The question tonight, of course: is history repeating itself?

And we're going to look at poison through the years. Why it is a weapon of choice. We're going to look at some unforgettable cases when "Poison Plot: The Killing of a Spy" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Only on 360, the father of Alexander Litvinenko speaks out when our special report continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, the killing of a spy. New voices, new evidence, exclusive interviews, with eyes on the Kremlin and traces of nuclear poison turning up far and wide.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: It turned this man into this.

GOLDFARB: You really want somebody to suffer badly before they die, that's what you do.

ANNOUNCER: A former spy, nuked from within. But who did it and how? Tonight, the investigation is growing. The fallout is spreading. We'll take you inside.

Who had a motive? And did they work here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that a lot of people have reasons to harm him.

ANNOUNCER: Kremlin intrigue. All the way to the top. We'll sort conspiracy theory from fact.

Who was Alexander Litvinenko? For the first time, hear from the man who knew him best, his father.

Across the country and around the world, this is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "Poison Plot: The Killing of a Spy". Here now, Anderson Cooper.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, it is a terrible way to die: every vital organ almost cooked from inside. Alexander Litvinenko was a youthful 43 when someone slipped him a lethal dose of polonium 210. Three agonizing weeks later, he was dead.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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