Who shall I say is calling?
who in your merry merry month of May,
who by very slow decay
and who shall I say is calling? - Leonard Cohen
I've always been a little worried for California. For one thing, there's its propensity for both natural disasters and the other kind, too, like Enron and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And there's the big, black bullseye taped to its back by the hypocritical right, which absurdly demonizes the state for harbouring pockets of some of America's last ghettos of liberalism. But ever since Jeb Bush joked during a cabinet meeting, one month after Schwarzenegger's bizarre ascension, that the people of San Francisco may be endangered and "That's probably good news for the country" (adding, over the laughter, "Did I just say that out loud?") I've been more worried than usual. California is just too inviting a stage for a synthetic terror event for us not to witness a Ground Zero West.
Before 9/11, I never gave much thought to the health and welfare of prominent scientists. I would have, if I had known the string of mysterious deaths which struck Britain's "star wars" physicists in the 1980s. (See "Did 22 British SDI Researchers really ALL Commit Suicide?") But I didn't know that, as most people still don't know, because as I said, that was before 9/11, and the world still made a naive kind of sense to me. Now, after so many microbiologists have gone to early graves, I know different. I may still be wrong about a lot of things, but at least I know enough now to say that I was certainly wrong then.
So the murder of San Francisco radiologist Robert Lull should raise the threat level on both counts.
I see a reward is now on offer, which must mean the investigation is not going well and the trail may already have gone cold. A reward was also offered in the January murder of Dr Jeong Im, and the only recent development in that case is the promise of security lights in the parking garage in which the microbiologist was stabbed to death, where he was found stuffed in the trunk of his burning car.
As for the motive to the Lull's murder, "gisgaia" has already posted some important dots suitable for connecting on the RI discussion board here. And I agree: "the fact that he was working on hemorrhagic intestinal disorders may be a very big dot," especially when considering the work of others on the death list, and that "most of the now, 44 [and counting] scientists who met their demise since 9/11/01...is [that] all were expert in emerging infectious diseases especially Ebola, Mad Cow, HIV.” Lull had been set to present his latest findings on the effects of altered flu viruses in the treatment of cancers at next month's Society of Nuclear Medicine's Annual Meeting in Toronto.
Speaking of 9/11, on its third anniversary Lull spoke on the subject "Is Nuclear Terrorism Possible?" This is from the newsletter account of the event, published in the UCSF's Department of Radiology newsletter:
Lull also brought a different level of insight, having served in the military and as medical consultant at Inter- service Nuclear Weapons School at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M. Attempts to smuggle nuclear weapons and materials have occurred, Lull said, citing incidents in Munich and Prague. More frighteningly, the now deceased General Alex Lebed said in a 2000 "60 Minutes" interview that Russia "can't account for or locate approximately 135 suitcase size' 1 KT fission nuclear weapons of the munitions type." These misplaced weapons fueled Lull's imagination.
Reading Lebed's name brought a lot back. (Here, by the way, is an archive of his claims re suitcase nukes.) The "now deceased General" was instrumental in ending, at least for a while, the War in Chechnya, and for a time was the figure to watch jockeying for power in the post-Yeltsin era. (He finished third in the 1996 presidential election, and was likely to run again.) He'd been elected governor of Russia's Krasnoyarsk region in 1998 and made enemies of its mafia. After Lebed died in a helicopter crash, parliamentarian Alexei Arbatov said it might have been orchestrated by his foes.
And remembering Lebed's death recalled another helicopter crash which received even less press. Here's the story, from last August 7:
Death threats before crash
A lawyer for a Russian oil giant who died in a mystery helicopter crash had told friends he had received death threats, The Western Mail can reveal.
It is believed Stephen Curtis, a former Welsh university student, had been targeted by the Russian secret service shortly before his death earlier this year.
Mr Curtis, who was left in control of crisis-hit Russian oil firm Yukos after the jailing of its boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is also thought to have contacted British intelligence agencies before he died.... Reports in the Russian media say he offered information in return for protection from the Russian investigation.
Lawyer Robert Amsterdam, who is representing Yukos shareholders under arrest in Russia, said, "The timing of the crash could not have been worse for the company.
"If someone had planned to do something, this would have been the time that would have been chosen."
Stephen Curtis has nothing to do with Robert Lull, except both may have died on account of the above-the-law headhunting practiced by global Intelligence agencies. Most people who read the newspaper and consider themselves informed would say this only happens in the movies, or maybe only in other countries, or perhaps only to bad guys who have it coming. But it happens, and here - wherever "here" is - and to good people and innocents whose deaths are worth more than their lives.
I don't know who killed Robert Lull, or Jeong Im, or what drove Philip Shue to his death. I don't know if Lebed was murdered, or Curtis, or why John Kokal had a great fall. I know there is such a thing as random violence, and that suicides and accidents do happen. But I also know that the hidden hand of earthly power is that of a serial killer who never weighs the consequence of getting caught, because he never is.
Remember the film noir DOA? A man's been poisoned, and with his last hours he tries to solve his own murder. I feel sometimes that's what we're doing. We might not have been literally been poisoned, although we might have been, but I have a growing sense, one I think is broadly shared, that time is running out for us to catch our killers. Whether it's by radiation, or a helicopter crash, or an emerging virus, or a knife in a doorway or parking garage, justice makes demands of us, even if it can't spare us.
If the blog's daily visitor from the Centers for Disease Control has a strong lead, please consider sharing with the group.
And who by brave assent,
who by accident,
who in mortal chains,
who in power,
and who shall I say is calling?