Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Arafat may have been poisoned by polonium
November 6, 2013 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned by polonium, like Russian Litvinenko before him.
posted by mgrrl (90 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously: Unsupported Polonium
posted by andoatnp at 11:02 AM on November 6, 2013


In the previous thread on this, didn't we try to figure out how many cigarettes Arafat would have to smoke to inhale that much polonium? Wouldn't he have had to smoke like 18 packs a second? All I'm saying is that if anyone sees his widow suddenly trade in a few million Marlboro Miles for the kickass jet ski and Kool beach towel, that could be a way for her to cover up the surveillance cameras and then make a quick escape. Keeping an eye on the survivors is the first thing they teach in mystery story writing class. Just sayin'
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:06 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


DAMN YOU MADAM CURIE!
posted by klangklangston at 11:21 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is my shocked radioactive face.
posted by localroger at 11:25 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Its on the front page of al-jazeera Arabic right now.

http://www.aljazeera.net/news/pages/d8055cee-6ec4-4443-8ec7-9c5d66f4525c
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:28 AM on November 6, 2013


Arafat. Leader of the PLO. Assassinated? I won't hold my breath waiting for the perpetrators to be tried, but they could have been men and shot the bastard. Poisoning the old man was cowardly.
posted by three blind mice at 11:30 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember when he first died, a mycologist friend on LJ had posited a theory that he had been poisoned by a specific type of mushroom, which, apparently has symptoms similar to what Arafat had been dealing with before his death. He didn't really posit more than that (i.e. who was behind it, etc...)

Pollonium is a whole other interesting story, no? Or is it pollonium a fairly common radioactive substance?
posted by symbioid at 11:33 AM on November 6, 2013


Full 108 report on Al-Jazeera.
posted by Thing at 11:35 AM on November 6, 2013


Dov Weissglass, a former aide to Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister at the time of Arafat's death, also denied Israeli involvement. "To the best of my knowledge, we had no hand in this,"
posted by Riton at 11:37 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


hmm, pollonium hermanium, apparently ...
so - looking on wiki, I see this:

"(the actual LD50 for 210Po is less than 1 microgram for an average adult "

How the fuck do you even transport that without completely fucking shit up? I don't even... Like one slip and you have a hugely high probability of being dead.
posted by symbioid at 11:38 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing about maybe Israeli involvement is that the government wasn't exactly subtle in its killing of Sheikh Yassin a few months earlier. So why bother being so with Yasser Arafat?
posted by Thing at 11:38 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and why would the Israeli's want Arafat to die? He gave them everything they ever wanted.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


they could have been men and shot the bastard. Poisoning the old man was cowardly.

Why is poisoning someone to death more cowardly than shooting them? Also, what does that have to do with being a man? I am sort of confused by these TV ethics
posted by threeants at 11:42 AM on November 6, 2013 [33 favorites]


Why is poisoning someone to death more cowardly than shooting them? Also, what does that have to do with being a man? I am sort of confused by these TV ethics

Its like you've never seen a Dirty Harry movie.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:46 AM on November 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


"(the actual LD50 for 210Po is less than 1 microgram for an average adult "

How the fuck do you even transport that without completely fucking shit up? I don't even... Like one slip and you have a hugely high probability of being dead.


I believe I read in a previous article about this that that's how they tracked down what happened in the case of a previous killing with polonium, because it leaves traces everywhere during transport and when it's used, even with careful precautions.
posted by limeonaire at 11:47 AM on November 6, 2013


By 2004 Arafat wasn't exactly Cobra Commander. Who would want to go all KGB on him by then?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:50 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


A few interesting facts from this fascinating article on Litvinenko's polonium poisoning:

"Weight-for-weight, polonium-210 is around 250,000 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide"

"[Polonium] is far from easily available. The amount ingested by Litvinenko is thought to have been less than a microgram — a speck of dust. It was a tiny amount, but many times more than needed to kill him. Because polonium-210 has such a short half-life [138 days], that much of the substance would have to have been newly created. Which means whoever killed Litvinenko had access to a nuclear reactor. "

"Only about 100 grams of polonium are manufactured each year, and just three countries are known to produce it reliably: Israel, the United States and Russia."

Not that I'm pointing any fingers.
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 11:50 AM on November 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


Didja ever buy a "magic lint brush"? They're full of polonium.

NYT, 03 Dec 2006:
Solving the nuclear whodunit [death of Alexander Litvinenko] is complicat[ed by] the relative ubiquity of polonium 210, the highly radioactive substance found in Mr. Litvinenko’s body. . . . public and private inquiries have shown that it proliferated quite widely during the nuclear era, of late as an industrial commodity.

“You can get it all over the place,” said William Happer, a physicist at Princeton who has advised the United States government on nuclear forensics. “And it’s a terrible way to go.”

Today, polonium 210 can show up in everything from atom bombs, to antistatic brushes to cigarette smoke, though in the last case only minute quantities are involved.

[. . . ]

Commercially, Web sites and companies sell many products based on polonium 210, with labels warning of health dangers. By some estimates, a lethal dose might cost as little as $22.50, plus tax. “Radiation from polonium is dangerous if the solid material is ingested or inhaled,” warns the label of an antistatic brush. “Keep away from children.”

[. . . ]

Though dangerous when breathed, injected or ingested, the material is harmless outside the human body. Skin or paper can stop its rays cold.

Industrial companies found polonium 210 to be ideal for making static eliminators that remove dust from film, lenses and laboratory balances, as well as paper and textile plants. Its rays produce an electric charge on nearby air. Bits of dust with static attract the charged air, which neutralizes them. Once free of static, the dust is easy to blow or brush away.

Manufacturers of antistatic devices take great pains to make the polonium hard to remove. Even so, Dr. Zimmerman of King’s College said it could be done with “careful lab work,” which he declined to describe.
posted by Herodios at 11:58 AM on November 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


I remember my father had an anti-static camera lens brush that was radioactive- probably was polonium. Yeesh.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 12:05 PM on November 6, 2013


There's a fundamental problem with the polonium-poisoning theory, which is that Arafat's symptoms were not consistent with it. Anyway.

I haven't seen the actual report, but the bit Teh Guardian quotes says the results moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210. Look at the bit I highlighted. Evidently that wasn't enough to sell papers, so they got someone to sex it up by saying
It's what killed him. Now we need to find out who was holding the gun at that time, adding: I would point to him being given a fatal dose. I don't think there's any doubt at all.
All that when the original report could only find "moderate" support!
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:09 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I remember correctly, back when Litvinenko was poisoned scientists were actually able to use the samples to pinpoint the likely nuclear reactor the polonium came from. I wonder if that same kind of analysis will be possible here.
posted by rosswald at 12:15 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wasn't a forensic analysis able to trace the source of Litvinenko's poison to a specific nuclear reactor in Russia? I'd be curious to see if the same analysis was or could be done with Arafat's poison, to see if it could be traced in the same way. It wouldn't identify secret reactors in Israel, but it might help identify or filter potential suspects elsewhere.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:17 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jinx Blaze :)
posted by rosswald at 12:19 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


"May Have Been" is not news. "Might Have Been" is innuendo. Just give us the facts, preferably with citations.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:23 PM on November 6, 2013


There's a fundamental problem with the polonium-poisoning theory, which is that Arafat's symptoms were not consistent with it.

How so?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:25 PM on November 6, 2013


Also, FTA,

"David Barclay, a British forensic scientist who had studied the report, told al-Jazeera: "The report contains strong evidence, in my view conclusive evidence, that there's at least 18 times the level of polonium in Arafat's exhumed body than there should be.""
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:26 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Arafat was very religious in the use of his lint brush, obviously. That and smoking his 18 packs of cigarettes a minute.
posted by Thing at 12:28 PM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


All that when the original report could only find "moderate" support!

On a scale of 1 to 6, the Swiss report's (p 69) "moderate" support is a 5.
posted by lowest east side at 12:29 PM on November 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


"May Have Been" is not news. "Might Have Been" is innuendo. Just give us the facts, preferably with citations.

Well, then, it's status as news or not depends on who's doing the reporting, I guess. MSNBC is reporting this story as follows, placing the emphasis on the claims of Arafat's widow:
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was murdered with polonium: widow PARIS - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned to death in 2004 with radioactive polonium, his widow Suha said on Wednesday after receiving the results of Swiss forensic tests on her husband's corpse.
So before we go putting too much energy into treating specific accounts of this news event (or nonevent) as if those accounts themselves contained all the evidence necessary to confirm or refute the factual claims, let's be clear that no one entity's reporting is responsible for this story, and that textual analysis probably isn't going to be sufficient to settle the factual claims (if it ever were).

Since people don't seem to apply skepticism to claims that come from forensics labs consistently, it's curious that this particular forensic result is sparking so much skepticism based on the indirect reporting rather than any details contained in the results.

Why do people take sides on issues like this anyway? What's the point? Why does everyone think it's their job to evaluate forensics results in this case but not necessarily in others? Who cares. I'm sure all the criticisms of the lab work might apply just as well to Litvinenko's case or other cases in which it's broadly accepted polonium poisoning took place. There are fallible and corruptible people involved at every stage of everything we do or see reported. What's the big deal? Not like this would make or break Israel's moral standing in the world. We already know Israel's done worse. What's the point in debating this one way or the other?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:33 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Also, I should have said, it's not even clear that Israel would be implicated if poisoning were proven--maybe some Russian arms dealer did it, or the CIA did it, or who knows. I mean, it's not all that unlikely a controversial world leader might be assassinated is it? It seems to me no one really gains anything by positing this as too unlikely or implausible to be true, so the predispositions people seem to have toward one view or another are fascinating.)
posted by saulgoodman at 12:39 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's not even clear that Israel would be implicated if poisoning were proven

Well, with the vigor with which the rabid pro-Israel side and Israeli officials are denying that Arafat was poisoned, I suspect that maybe they do have something to do with the poisoning.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:41 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


So far the most 'rabid' comment in this thread is yours.
posted by rosswald at 12:44 PM on November 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I thought he died of AIDS? His actual cause of death was kept secret, and I always assumed it was because it was scandalous. If he had died of radiation poisoning, the Palestinians would have had no reason to keep it secret, and every incentive to publicize it and blame it on Israel. However, AIDS is so strongly associated with homosexuality in the public mind (whether rightly or wrongly, and don't get on my case for this statement) and homosexuality is so strongly condemned in the Muslim world, that there would be very good reason to keep it secret. It would have been a huge scandal.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:48 PM on November 6, 2013


Well, then, it's status as news or not depends on who's doing the reporting, I guess.

Who and how, of course. Life is short. Putting the headline in the subjunctive for me at least is an invitation to ignore what follows.

Why do people take sides on issues like this anyway?

Because Middle East, of course.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:51 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be symbolic for Israel to kill him with a "nuclear weapon". The Israeli nukes are the black hole of Middle East politics, a giant gravity well around which all other politics rotates but which no one talks about.
posted by stbalbach at 12:53 PM on November 6, 2013


[Guys, let's maybe talk about the specifics of this specific thing as a thing worth discussing if it's worth discussing and skip the standard argument-about-Israel-by-proxy routine. There's a whole lotta of fighty older thread about I/P that you can go read if you're in the mood for that.]
posted by cortex at 12:54 PM on November 6, 2013


I thought he died of AIDS? His actual cause of death was kept secret, and I always assumed it was because it was scandalous. If he had died of radiation poisoning, the Palestinians would have had no reason to keep it secret, and every incentive to publicize it and blame it on Israel. However, AIDS is so strongly associated with homosexuality in the public mind (whether rightly or wrongly, and don't get on my case for this statement) and homosexuality is so strongly condemned in the Muslim world, that there would be very good reason to keep it secret. It would have been a huge scandal.

No, that's just propaganda. Pretty weak freshmen stuff at that. You can guarantee that anybody who repeats such a claim earnestly is not doing so in good faith.
posted by Thing at 1:01 PM on November 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I read the Swiss conclusion of "moderate support" as "we didn't actually see it happen, but you wanna tell me how the fuck else that lead-210 got into his body, dude?"

It would be nice if journalists could read more than one paragraph of the actual report instead of directly quoting people who are emotionally and/or politically invested in the outcome.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:02 PM on November 6, 2013


I thought he died of AIDS?

Maybe he died from drinking polonium-laced HIV. Nobody would have seen that coming.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:18 PM on November 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm sure all the criticisms of the lab work might apply just as well to Litvinenko's case or other cases in which it's broadly accepted polonium poisoning took place.

In the Litvinenko case, the activity levels detected where pretty huge for this kind of analysis: it was possible to trace his movements after the poisoning by the residual activity he left in things he touched, and his hotel suite bathroom was closed off for some years for the Po-210 to die down (cheaper and safer than gutting the fixtures for decontamination). It doesn't get more unambiguous than that, and was glaringly obvious after they figured out what to look for. To my knowledge there hasn't been another case of polonium poisoning - except maybe for legitimate accidents where there never was any doubt about the cause of death.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:35 PM on November 6, 2013


his hotel suite bathroom was closed off for some years for the Po-210 to die down

210Po is an alpha emitter that has a half-life of 138.4 days
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:39 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, I know.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:50 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Arafat died of old age; that is the victory condition of life. He was not assassinated.

I know he had his enemies, but not everything has to be the work of a secret cabal.

If you want to really honor the man, don't go off on a conspiracy theory snipe hunt and instead concentrate on the ideals of peace between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

I know he had his imperfections, but so did Washington and Gandhi. It does not make him any less a hero.
posted by Renoroc at 1:52 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heh, here's some info on the decontamination they did after the Litvinenko case: it doesn't actually mention closing off the bathrooms, which means either my brain made it up (I am almost certain I heard about it at a conference in Spain a couple of years ago), or it was an additional CYA measure by the hotel that didn't make the report.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:58 PM on November 6, 2013



I know he had his imperfections,


Quite the understatement. This was one of the most thoroughly vile sacks of protoplasm ever to pollute the earth with their presence. Lots of people want to honor the abstraction of "founding leader of the arabist derived Palestinian nationalist movement." Nobody wants to honor Yasser Arafat. Nobody who ever dealt with him ever retained any compunctions against killing him. Some people stayed alive only because it was impolitic to kill them. Now it appears Arafat might not even have merited that consideration.
posted by ocschwar at 2:07 PM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned by polonium, like Russian Litvinenko before him.

I think your chronology is backwards: According to Wikipedia, Arafat died on 11 November 2004, and Litvinenko on 23 November 2006.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 2:08 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


If Arafat was assassinated, I don't see what would have been in it for Israel. The timing and MO doesn't fit.

Many revolutionary figures are done in by their own near-allies.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:15 PM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's funny how easily even commenting on topics reported by mainstream news outlets these days can apparently warrant warnings not to "go off on conspiracy theory snipe hunts."

I can understand when people start talking "conspiracy theory cabal booga-booga" in response to people discussing things they claim to somehow be reading between the lines of news accounts and headlines, but how does commenting on mainstream news reports that flatly assert certain claims have anything to do with "conspiracy theorizing"? Is the idea that even thinking or talking about certain subjects--even if on the basis of widely reported factual evidence--is so dangerous it needs to be stigmatized? Lexical drift has certainly been working at hyper-speed when it comes to that mercurial phenomenon known as the conspiracy theory, if so. If MSNBC, The Guardian, and all the rest are conspiracy theorists, who isn't a conspiracy theorist? That term hardly seems to mean anything more, in casual usage, than being a way to quickly dismiss (even shame away) the concerns of anyone who believes people sometimes actually do get away with planning and accomplishing bad things in secret for reasons. Seems the implication is that truly balanced people with good critical thinking skills know implicitly that no one in history has ever pulled the wool over on anyone, much less and gotten away with it.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:22 PM on November 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Wow, I assumed the everyday anti-static brushes used some mild isotope of polonium, and this 1-gram-could-theoretically-kill-10-million-people polonium must be some different, much nastier isotope.

Nope. Same isotope.

Well, at least enough decades have passed to encompass quite a few of those 140-day half-lives since those good old days of WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING?!?
posted by anonymisc at 2:24 PM on November 6, 2013


lowest east side wrote: On a scale of 1 to 6, the Swiss report's (p 69) "moderate" support is a 5.

Only sort-of: the lowest possible level of support is 4 and any lower level would mean that the proposition was contradicted.

Their scale runs from "our results strongly support" [the proposition that] "the death was not caused by polonium-210 poisoning" to "our results strongly support" [the proposition that] "the death was caused by polonium-210 poisoning". So a result of 1-3 would be negative; a result of 4 would be "slightly"; and a result of 6 would be "strongly". It's worth noting that this was only one of three investigations: the French one has not yet been released, and the Russian one [translation] apparently didn't find any polonium.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:28 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I say we dig up Arafat's record collection and see how dusty it is. And any secret Dusty Springfield should set off alarms, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:29 PM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Swiss scientists were commissioned by Suha Arafat so they are not completely objective.

An autopsy done immediately after death would have nipped all of this nonsense in the bud. But for whatever reason, the French did not want this to happen.
posted by Renoroc at 2:30 PM on November 6, 2013


I say we dig up Arafat's record collection and see how dusty it is. And any secret Dusty Springfield should set off alarms, as far as I'm concerned.

You might dismiss my claim as that of a rabid Zionist, but the truth will out and I will be vindicated:

Arafat liked Nickelback.
posted by ocschwar at 2:53 PM on November 6, 2013


The Swiss were hired by Suha Arafat, but on the other hand were prepared to put their name to a report that they knew would give many people a strong motive to ruin their careers. The desire to satisfy their client seems rather paltry weighed against that. Regarding the lack of an autopsy in 2004, there's a quote on AJ from Nabil Shaath:
"[T]he question really then was how to continue, how to move on, and that is really the question that needed to be tackled at the time.

“We felt that going into an autopsy would really make it very difficult for the people and very difficult for the memory of Arafat and would turn what is a martyrdom case into a police criminal case.

“Really, people were not really ready, at least in our mind, for turning this into a criminal police case."
Really the Swiss investigators are about the most objective people you could ask for. The Russian agency doing a parallel investigation has to be discounted to some extent due to being an organ of the same state that most people believe is responsible for killing Litvinenko in the same way at a time when no one suspected that Arafat was poisoned with Po-210.

It seems suspicious to me that after decades in which Po-210 poisoning was feasible but unknown and almost uncommented upon, that two groups would independently hit upon the same method within a span of two years. Then again, why would either the FSB or Mossad possibly want to murder both Arafat and Litvinenko?
posted by topynate at 3:03 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


symbioid: hmm, pollonium hermanium, apparently ...

Aha! He was assassinated by Gustavus Fringus!

(Or that's what Walterius Albus wants you to believe....)
posted by tzikeh at 3:11 PM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's easy to see why Russia wanted Litvinenko dead. He was a muckraking journalist.

I'm honestly confused as to what Israel would have gained from Arafat's death at the time. I'm not being coy; I really am honestly confused as to what the practical advantage would have been.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:18 PM on November 6, 2013


Wow, I assumed the everyday anti-static brushes used some mild isotope of polonium, and this 1-gram-could-theoretically-kill-10-million-people polonium must be some different, much nastier isotope.

Nope. Same isotope.


So, I suppose you have some other bright idea for getting this lint off my slacks?
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:28 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm by no means convinced that Israel was behind Arafat's death, but its worth noting that Israel had no compelling geopolitical interest in tracking down, say, Adolf Eichmann. It's possible that there's some sort of warped principle of "you don't get to die in your sleep" involved on the part of the Israeli security services.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:30 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Sticherbeast, my question is more why Russia would have wanted Arafat dead, or why Israel would have wanted Litvinenko dead. Because if they were both murdered by different countries, the coincidence of them independently using the same method within two years of each other would itself be remarkable.

As for theories of motivation: Arafat was single-handedly preventing Hamas from breaking with Fatah. Many people wanted that to change - as it did two years later.
posted by topynate at 3:33 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's easy to see why Russia wanted Litvinenko dead. He was a muckraking journalist.

I'm honestly confused as to what Israel would have gained from Arafat's death at the time. I'm not being coy; I really am honestly confused as to what the practical advantage would have been.


This is partly the thing: Israel would neither really need to kill Arafat, nor certainly not in that way. But I think the point of the comment is that neither Russia nor Israel alone would want both Litvinenko and Arafat dead. So unless they both figured they could use the same method at the roughly same time, you have to think of reasons why Russia wanted to kill Arafat. I'm not knowledgeable enough to answer that question.
posted by Thing at 3:35 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Snap!
posted by Thing at 3:35 PM on November 6, 2013


Or you might say that these are very marginal results, performed after a long period of time, and without the benefit of, e.g., samples from an autopsy. As the authors themselves do. And I don't feel like digging the reference up again, but Arafat's own doctor said his symptom's weren't consistent with radiation poisoning.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:07 PM on November 6, 2013


Because if they were both murdered by different countries, the coincidence of them independently using the same method within two years of each other would itself be remarkable.
posted by topynate


Unless of course polonium poisoning is far more common than is widely known, and these two cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
posted by rosswald at 4:12 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing about Israel is that just two years previous they had come this|close to completely destroying the Arafat compound (largely built with international monies, e.g. US aid surrounding the Dayton Accords, mind you) and yet stopped surgically short of doing so, demonstrating that they certainly could have ground every last brick to dust had they wanted to. Yet politically it remained expedient to keep him alive.

It's really hard to work out the cui bono, though. Russia's major interest in the region, then, was and remains Syria, although a secondary interest at the time in subtly propping up Iraq was not to be ruled out. It's hard to see how either of those is advanced by the death of Arafat. If anything, him being alive kept Israel busy. He was also a convenient bete noire that served the political interests of the Sharon government as long as he was alive (see above). It's especially hard to see how Israel, accustomed to exploiting an overwhelming conventional military advantage, would feel the need for skulduggery in this case.

I mean, you start to imagine rabbit holes to go down where any of the objectively likely parties mentioned earlier could have done it not for their own direct interests but as a quid pro quo to another party, and then you're basically imagining a black box of competing interests and potential collaborations into which you can project nearly anything.
posted by dhartung at 4:25 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


If he had died of radiation poisoning, the Palestinians would have had no reason to keep it secret, and every incentive to publicize it and blame it on Israel.

Well, many of them, including Arafat's wife, did blame Israel, loudly and repeatedly. But until the Russians poisoned Litvinenko with it in 2006 - two years after Arafat died - there was never a known case of Polonium 210 poisoning. There was no reason to test Arafat's body for a substance that was, at the time, a basically unknown poison. If he was, in fact, poisoned with Polonium by Israel, it was a brilliantly-executed poisoning, and it's basically only because of what Russia did two years later that anyone even thought to check for it. (Also reminds me of the Russian poisoning of Yushchenko with a dioxin for which a test had only been developed a few months prior, and which was not well known.)
posted by Dasein at 4:27 PM on November 6, 2013


israel doing this just doesn't make sense to me - if they had wanted him, they could have and would have gotten him years before

russia? - i can't think of why they would bother

the u s? - i can't think of why they would bother, either

remember that arafat was a known actor with predictable potential for trouble or the lack of it - why replace him with someone - or several actors - who might be much more disruptive - which is pretty much what did happen, in part

i'd look at his political rivals - i doubt anyone helped them as an officially sanctioned act, but who knows what a rogue agent might do? - and if one person can think of polonium poisoning, surely someone else can without the help of a rogue agent - maybe someone who figured out how one could get it out of one of those static brushes

if we can come up with that idea, surely someone else could
posted by pyramid termite at 5:36 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Major suspects:
Iran and Syria motivated by a goal of weakening Fatah and strengthening Hamas as part of the larger effort to confront the US. See also Rafik Harriri.
USA -- the Bush administration saw Arafat as a barrier to peace and part of the problem. Cheney is pretty evil.
Various Palestinian political factions -- many wanted him gone. The lack of an autopsy and obstruction of Suha's efforts seems pretty damning.
posted by humanfont at 6:06 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Arafat and Hisbollah were very much at odds when he died, I've read, and Fatah was its primary competitor, and as we see from its pivotal role in propping up Assad, Hisbollah has done the Russians great service lately-- and I doubt that relationship is a recent one.
posted by jamjam at 6:19 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, at least enough decades have passed to encompass quite a few of those 140-day half-lives since those good old days of WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING?!?

As long as you're not nomming on your lint brush it's fine. The alpha decay is completely blocked by your epidermis. Even if you did manage to eat the thing the polonium would be the least of your problems.
posted by Valued Customer at 6:21 PM on November 6, 2013


Herodios: Manufacturers of antistatic devices take great pains to make the polonium hard to remove. Even so, Dr. Zimmerman of King’s College said it could be done with “careful lab work,” which he declined to describe.

Burn below 250 degrees C will be a good start. Then you'll have the Po concentrated in the ash.

(Do not do this!)
posted by IAmBroom at 6:49 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why is poisoning someone to death more cowardly than shooting them? Also, what does that have to do with being a man? I am sort of confused by these TV ethics

I would not be surprised to see a remake of Ghost Dog called Ghost Warrigul where the main character follows the Klingon code of honour on the streets of a major U.S. city.

This was one of the most thoroughly vile sacks of protoplasm ever to pollute the earth with their presence.

Unfortunately if all such persons were in a room it would be rather crowded. The Wall Streeters among them would probably take a secret elevator to a room above the main party room.
posted by juiceCake at 7:33 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I actually suspected Nabil Shaath. He is a very ruthless man and was instrumental in blocking an autopsy at the time of Arafat's death.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:50 PM on November 6, 2013


Cool page about things that contain polonium (nothing to do with YA's case)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:51 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing that makes Po-210 such a great spy poison is that it's essentially a pure alpha-radiation source. Alpha particles are big and heavy and strongly interacting: put the source inside of you and the alphas stop by careening through your cells like out-of-control tractor trailers; put the source in a paper envelope and all the careening happens inside the paper, you are totally safe. There's a very soft gamma ray from one decay out of 100,000. And the decay product is a stable isotope of lead, lead-206. Probably if you had a big pile of polonium-210, like a teaspoonful, you couldn't detect the radiation from a foot away with a standard radiation meter.

The thing that is shocking here is that the analysis was done on remains exhumed after Arafat had been dead eight years --- more than twenty half-lives for Po-210. The fact that lead-210 and polonium-210 are both children of a radon gas chain, and that the body was in a concrete mausoleum, makes it very hard to put a limit on the natural background of these isotopes. I admit that I'm only halfway through the full report, but the further I read the squishier the case for poisoning becomes.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:57 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


remember that arafat was a known actor with predictable potential for trouble or the lack of it - why replace him with someone - or several actors - who might be much more disruptive - which is pretty much what did happen, in part

People in charge of getting rid of the "bad guys" often are pretty single-minded and don't think things through. It's a man thing, sadly. I mean we just kiied the head of the Pakistani Taliban and screwed up the Pakistanis' chances for peace talks. The danger of replacing a known (bad) actor with less predictable actors doesn't seem to get considered in foreign policy as much as I'd hope.

Not saying that's what happened here. Just that states often do totally stupid things without any rational reasons. Instead leaders are pretty egotistical and like to feel like the top dog who can't be dissed without consequences.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:59 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The fact that lead-210 and polonium-210 are both children of a radon gas chain, and that the body was in a concrete mausoleum, makes it very hard to put a limit on the natural background of these isotopes."

Once he was dead, wouldn't he have stopped accumulating radiation?
posted by klangklangston at 1:22 PM on November 7, 2013


At the time of his death, Arafat was effectively confined to the Mukata in Ramallah and had been for the previous two years. He was only attended by his staff and confidantes, and his power and authority were at their lowest ebb. I don't think that he was murdered: he was a sick old man, and men like this die all the time. None the less, if he were to have been murdered it would have been for ambition (he was a master at nipping rivals in the bud), revenge (for the aforementioned bud-nippings), or for political reasons (he was a spoke in the gears of the peace process). All of these reasons come together in the persons who fought for power after his death, but the idea that they would have thought of or had access to polonium is a bit far-fetched.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:26 PM on November 7, 2013


Once he was dead, wouldn't he have stopped accumulating radiation?

Smoking is a tough habit to kick.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:55 PM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm by no means convinced that Israel was behind Arafat's death, but its worth noting that Israel had no compelling geopolitical interest in tracking down, say, Adolf Eichmann. It's possible that there's some sort of warped principle of "you don't get to die in your sleep" involved on the part of the Israeli security services.

Right, but Eichmann was publicly tried. Israel likes making public statements. I don't put secret poisoning past any country, but the secrecy, especially in combination with the timing, just doesn't feel like Israel's style.

Anything's possible, of course.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:11 PM on November 7, 2013


"Smoking is a tough habit to kick."

Especially at 18 packs per second! He might have died from going cold turkey!
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 PM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Once he was dead, wouldn't he have stopped accumulating radiation?

Not necessarily if it's from Radon, it's continually emitted from the ground since it's a noble gas - the decay products are not, and they deposit on the surface. It's a common source of contamination in this kind of measurement, since a bit of Radon-derived Po-210 from yesterday may be tricky to distinguish from the remains of tons of Po-210 from 10 years ago, but there is also important smoking lulz to consider.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:13 AM on November 8, 2013


Yeah, but Po-210's radiation can't penetrate the skin, and these were internal tissue samples. My understanding with radon is that you have to breathe it in to get poisoned. Being dead, there's a lower chance of that happening.
posted by klangklangston at 8:25 AM on November 8, 2013


However, according to this British scientist, you'll get some intake of polonium as lead leaches into the corpse, so maybe I'm wrong about that.
posted by klangklangston at 9:41 AM on November 8, 2013


My understanding with radon is that you have to breathe it in to get poisoned.

The point is not that he was poisoned due to radon (or smoking, or whatever): it's that there is enough naturally occurring Po-210 going around due to these sources to make the extrapolation from a few mBq being detected today to several MBq having been administered 30 half-lives earlier look pretty suspect.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:55 PM on November 8, 2013


Yeah, because having a more recent source would complicate extrapolating backwards based on halflives, gotcha.
posted by klangklangston at 1:12 PM on November 8, 2013


Once he was dead, wouldn't he have stopped accumulating radiation?
This is true for carbon-14, since most of your body's carbon is bound up in covalent bonds but gets cycled in and out as you breathe and eat. I think --- I'm not sure --- that the radon may have penetrate somewhat into the remains and decay there. Certainly that's much less of a health risk for a living person than inhalation, so I don't know that it's been studied enough that there's a good model for the radon-daughter deposition into Arafat's remains.

The report is very suggestive. They had access to some personal effects --- a bloodstained hat, a used toothbrush, dirty underpants. These things seems to have extra activity in the remaining bodily fluids, consistent with a model that the body would have kept the polonium in circulation rather than depositing it in bone. However when Arafat was resumed, most of his soft tissue was gone, and in his remains the bone was more activated than the soft tissue. The nuance of the conclusion is nicely done: given these data it would be irresponsible to conclude that Arafat was poisoned; however given these data it would also be irresponsible to conclude that Arafat was not poisoned. It's really a mystery.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 10:59 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


In that case, I propose that he was poisoned, but died of (unexplained) natural causes before the poison could kill him.
posted by anonymisc at 11:05 PM on November 8, 2013


Documentary about the investigation in to the potential poisoning from Al-Jazeera. Has some interesting details about the Russian results. Oh, and makes the Palestinian Authority look as guilty as hell.
posted by Thing at 12:11 PM on November 11, 2013


Coming Soon Abu Al-Hamlet: Prince of Palestine
Cast
Hamlet: Marwan Barghouti
Claudius: Mahmoud Abas / Abu Mazen
Gertrude: Suha Arafat
Arafat's Ghost: Arafat
Polonium: ????
Ophelia: Saeb Erekat
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: Yitzak Rabin and Ariel Sharon
posted by humanfont at 5:35 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


French investigators ‘rule out’ poisoning in death of Yasser Arafat - The Independent
posted by Thing at 9:16 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older Woody Allen Making Love: a supercut...  |  In Canada, poppy pins are worn... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments