Many known or suspected executive action cases in the post-war period have involved the use of poison rather than guns or explosives. It is conceivable that the Soviets tend to favor poisons because murders can be accomplished more surreptitiously in this manner and in some instances without leaving easily recognizable traces of foul play. Drugs are also used to incapacitate a person temporarily for abduction purposes, as reportedly happened in the Trushnovich case and in the kidnapping of another NTS member, Valeri P. Tremmel, from Linz, Austria in June 1954. There are, however, many unknown, uncontrollable factors in the use of poisons and drugs which limit and often preclude their usage. Probably the most important is the narrow span between a dose that will cause disability and one that will cause death. Dosages vary from one individual to another depending on weight, state of health, and how the poison enters the body. The type used obviously is determined by the result desired. It is no problem to cause death, but often difficult to control dosage successfully when the objective is to incapacitate an individual only temporarily.
There appears to be no consistency in the use of poisons by Soviet intelligence to cause disability or death, or in the repetitious use of any one drug. Chemicals which have been used in cases known or suspected to be Soviet-instigated include arsenic, potassium cyanide, scopolamine, and thallium. Other likely substances are atropine, barbiturates, chloral hydrate, paraldehyde and Warfarin. Combinations of two or more substances may also be used, which further complicates diagnosis and tracing.
One well-publicized poisoning case involved the defector Nikolay Khokhlov. Khokhlov suffered a sudden and severe illness while attending an anti-Communist meeting in Frankfurt, Germany in September 1957. A positive diagnosis was precluded by the initial treatment given him at a German hospital, but there was evidence of his having been poisoned by a thallium derivative of arsenic and/or other chemical agents, and a strong possibility that the poison had been administered at RIS instigation. Khokhlov himself believed, and allegedly had supporting medical opinion, that he had been poisoned by radio-activated thallium. He believed that the poison was of Russian origin because it was such a complicated substance that it was difficult to analyze and had been carefully prepared to leave virtually no trace. A unique mechanism for administering poison was described by a knowledgeable source as a pneumatically operated poison ice "atomizer" which leaves no wound or other evidence of the cause of death. The equipment and techniques used in the poisoning of Rebet and Bandera are treated below in some detail as examples of the most recent and sophisticated methods in use by the KGB.
In November 1961 a Soviet intelligence officer, Bogdan Stashinskiy, surrendered to the West German police, stating that he had, acting under official orders, assassinated two individuals during the previous few years: Lev Rebet, a Ukrainian emigrr6 writer, and Stepan Bandera, a leader of the Ukrainian Nationalist movement. In both cases, a similar type of weapon had been used: a gun which fired vaporized poison which killed almost instantly upon being inhaled. The properties of the killing agent were such that, until the defection of the assassin, both victims were officially believed to have died from heart attacks. In the case of Bandera, however, there was some unconfirmed suspicion of potassium cyanide poisoning, although there was insufficient evidence to prove it.
The Weapon: The weapon used to assassinate Rebet was a light-weight aluminum cylinder, 15 to 18 cm. long and approximately 3 cm in diameter, weighing about 200 grams. The cylinder was divided into three separate chambers, one of which contained liquid poison sealed hermetically into a plastic-type ampoule container under low pressure. (At normal temperatures the poison would evaporate, disappearing without trace in about two minutes.) The three components could be assembled by means of a thread which allowed one part to screw into the other. The first component was the poison ampoule portion, the front end of which had a fine metallic screen. The poison ampoule fitted solidly against the walls of the metal cylinder. The center component contained a piston and a piston arm which extended into the third or activating component. The latter contained a spring-mounted activating arm which, when drawn back, armed the weapon. The releasing arm was appended to the third component at an angle, and was attached to the activating arm by means of a releasing catch. A small safety arm permitted the weapon to be placed in the safety position. The third component also contained a few grams of powder.
The maximum effective range of the weapon was about one-half meter; at one and one-half meters the effect of the vapors would be questionable; and at two and one-half meters, the vapors would be totally ineffective. (The assassin was instructed to fire the weapon only inches from the face.)
The weapon was activated as follows: The activating arm was pulled back and the safety released. The weapon was then activated. It was held in the palm of the hand in such a fashion that it fired when the user pressed the releasing arm towards the activating arm. The releasing arm, when pressed, acted upon the releasing catch, permitting the spring-held activating arm to fly forward against the small charge of powder. The exploding powder (which made a noise approximating the sound of a loud handclap with the hands cupped) drove the piston arm forward, causing the piston to strike against the poison ampoule. The poison was thus driven out through the fine screen in the form of a liquid spray.
The weapon used for the second assassination was similar, except that it was double-barreled. Each barrel contained a charge of poison similar to that contained in the single-barreled weapon. The two barrels could be discharged separately, or together as a unit. Thus, in the event the first charge did not kill the victim, a second attempt could be made. The two barrels were welded together, and the weapon had two releasing arms, two releasing catches, two safeties, and two activating arms. The effect of the poison was the same.
Utilization of the Weapon: For maximum effective results it is recommended that the liquid poison be shot directly into the face of the victim, in order to introduce the vapors most quickly into the respiratory system. Since the vapors rise upward very rapidly, the poison is still effective when aimed at the chest; conceivably, this would give sufficient time to allow the victim time to scream.
Effects of the Poison: The effect of the poisonous vapors is such that the arteries which feed blood to the brain become paralyzed almost immediately. Absence of blood in the brain precipitates a normal paralysis of the brain or a heart attack, as a result of which the victim dies. The victim is clinically dead within one and one-half minutes after inhaling these poisonous vapors. After about five minutes the effect of the poison wears off entirely, permitting the arteries to return to their normal condition, leaving no trace of the killing agent which precipitated the paralysis or the heart attack.
Allegedly, no foreign matter can be discovered in the body or on the clothes of the victim, no matter how thorough an autopsy or examination. The liquid spray can be seen as it leaves the nose of the weapon, however, and droplets can also be seen on the face of the victim.
Stashinskiy claimed that before using the weapon on his first victim, he tested it on a dog. He fired the gun directly into the dog's face, holding his hand approximately one and one-half feet from its nose. Almost immediately after the liquid spray had hit its face, the dog rolled over, without making any sound whatever. It continued to writhe for almost three minutes, however. Stashinskiy was told that the poison affected a human much sooner, causing death within one and one-half minutes.
Safety Precautions for the User: Stashinskiy was told that neither the poisonous liquid nor the fatal fumes affected any portion of the body other than the respiratory system, and that, since it could not enter the body through the skin or the pores, one could safely place his hands into a pail of the poison. Inasmuch as the weapon was held at arm's length when fired and the liquid spray ejected forward in a conical pattern, the user, under normal conditions, is safe from the effects of the poisonous vapors. Nevertheless, as an extra precaution, Stashinskiy was provided with counteractive agents to use if he so desired.
Concealment Methods: For transportation, the weapon was transported hermetically sealed in a container, and inserted between sausages in a can which was itself hermetically sealed. It was suggested to Stashinskiy that he should carry the weapon to the site of the planned assassination wrapped in a light newspaper, in which he had torn a small hole to enable him to reach the safety quickly just before using the weapon.
Method of Attack: In the first assignment, Stashinskiy observed Rebet debarking from a streetcar at about 0930 hours. Observing that the victim was heading for his office, the assassin preceded him into the building and climbed the circular staircase to the first floor. On hearing Rebet's footsteps on the staircase, Stashinskiy turned and started walking down, keeping to the left, and carrying the weapon, wrapped in newspaper, in his right hand. The two met about halfway between the two floors. Firing directly into Rebet's face from a distance of approximately one-half meter, Stashinskiy continued walking downstairs without even breaking his pace. The victim lurched silently forward and fell on the staircase. While still in the building, Stashinskiy shook off the liquid drops from the weapon and put it in the breast pocket of his suit. (A laboratory examination of the suit later revealed nothing of significance.) Although he had no reason to believe that he had inhaled the poisonous fumes, he used the counteractive measures provided. He later disposed of the murder weapon in a shallow canal in the city.
In carrying out his second mission, Stashinskiy used a similar approach. Having previously abandoned an attempt to corner Bandera in the latter's garage, the assassin gained entry to the victim's apartment house by reproducing a key which he had observed being used in the front door lock. On the day of the assassination, having seen Bandera drive into his driveway, Stashinskiy let himself into the apartment building and waited. Bandera, carrying several packages of fruit and vegetables in his right hand, entered the front door with the aid of a key which was on a key ring together with other keys. As he was attempting to disengage the key from the lock, Stashinskiy moved away from the elevator, where he had been standing, toward the front door. The weapon was in his hand with the safety released. As he walked past the victim, who was still trying to extricate the key from the lock, the assassin took the door handle with his left hand, as if to assist Bandera, asking him "Doesn't it work?" By this time, Bandera had succeeded in pulling the key out of the lock. Almost at the instant he replied "Yes, it works," Stashinskiy fired both barrels simultaneously into his face at almost point-blank range. Seeing the victim lurch backward and to the side, the assassin walked out of the apartment building and closed the front door. Although he (lid not wait to see Bandera drop to the ground, Stashinskiy is certain that, contrary to press reports, the man did not scream or otherwise call for help. Stashinskiy later threw the murder weapon into the same canal in which he had discarded the first weapon.
Although the press reported that Bandera had been attacked physically before he was poisoned, Stashinskiy insisted that he had used no force, since it had not been necessary to do so. Some newspapers also reported that Bandera had died of potassium cyanide poisoning. Stashinskiy claimed that he was told, and believes, that the chemical was not potassium cyanide, since (1) he thinks that substance could not have been introduced into the body by the method employed, and (2) he believes the RIS would have no reason to deceive him on this matter, especially since he had to be provided with counteractive precautions. Stashinskiy claimed that one of his Soviet contacts was pleased to learn that the police suspected potassium cyanide, as this allegedly indicated that the true cause of the victim's death was not evident.
Tuesday, 10 July 2007