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  • When they came to get the once-indispensable spy, Isaiah Oggins, it wasn't any different

  • from the many other people who'd beendisappearedby the Soviet government.

  • There wasn't any warning...

  • One day he just didn't return home.

  • Oggins' family would never see him again and it would be years until they discovered

  • he'd died as part of a depraved experiment.

  • One day in May, 1947, Oggins was taken to Laboratory One, otherwise known asKamera”,

  • orThe Cellin English.

  • You are sick,” government doctors told Oggins, offering him an unmarked, unidentifiable

  • pill.

  • Oggins knew he would never survive the Soviet secret police, but perhaps if he cooperated

  • a pill was surely better than a gunshot to the back of the head.

  • Oggins consumed his bitter pill, which was the poison often used on poison darts called

  • curae.

  • Within seconds he was paralyzedconscious, but paralyzed.

  • He was locked in... lying on the laboratory bed, completely helpless and immobilized.

  • He could hear, see, and smell everything around him- most frighteningly of all, he could feel

  • everything the doctors might do to him.

  • And then there was darkness.

  • The experiment had been a success.

  • The Soviet doctors were pleased with the efficiency of this poison, and their dear leader, one

  • Joseph Stalin, soon got word that his once brilliant spy was no longer of any concern.

  • That was The Cell, the secret research laboratory of the Soviet Secret Policeand those who

  • went in, didn't come out.

  • The patients were nothing more than lab rats.

  • In Stalin's mind, these former loyal government officials, military leaders, and spies now

  • served the greater good as guinea pigs for his secret medical experiments.

  • Stalin and his comrades were obsessed with poisons.

  • Those killer compounds could take people to the abyss, and when they had the right compound,

  • death came fast and the cause of death was difficult to ascertain.

  • The perfect tool for clandestine murder- especially for kilings in places people might ask a lot

  • of questions, places like America.

  • As you will see, some remarkable people became victims of The Cell, and while Laboratory

  • One, aka, “Poison laboratory of the Soviet secret services”, might not exist today,

  • the Russian government has not relinquished its fondness of poisons.

  • Make no mistake, The Cell still exists, but under a more formal name in line with modern

  • values.

  • But who was Isaiah Oggins, the man they paralyzed and killed in a matter of minutes?

  • His story mirrors many other people's stories in the darkest days of the Soviet Union, in

  • that one day he just went missing.

  • His wife and child waited for him to come home, but the man was made a ghost on the

  • orders of the perpetually paranoid Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin.

  • Oggins' life story is quite unique since he was actually American, born in the state

  • of Connecticut to Jewish immigrants . In his 20s, he worked as a researcher at Yale

  • University, and it was around that time he joined the Communist Party of America, and

  • not long after he'd begun working for Stalin's intelligence service.

  • So then why would Stalin have him killed?

  • The likely answer is that Oggins simply knew too much.

  • He'd worked around the world spying for Stalin, the Soviets were soon fearful that

  • Oggins might defect and go back to his native USA.

  • So theydisappearedhim, and sent him to the Gulag where he was convicted of treason

  • and espionage.

  • His family protested to the American government, but their words fell of deaf ears.

  • Stalin was too cautious, too unstable, to allow this man who knew too much to return

  • home.

  • Instead, Oggins received a lethal dose of the neurotoxin curare.

  • The Soviets had been researching and working with poisons for a very long time.

  • The first of the poison labs was introduced in 1921, but it was in the late 30s and 40s

  • that the poison program would really flourish.

  • That was the era of a Soviet biochemist named Grigory Mairanovsky, a man who developed poisons

  • and tested them on hundreds, if not thousands of people.

  • He took his orders from the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, an organization abbreviated

  • as NKVD.

  • The NKVD was in simple terms a kind of secret police and under the ruthless Stalin it grew

  • in size.

  • It was a dreaded organization that had eyes and ears on every street in Russia's major

  • cities and across the Soviet Union.

  • It made people disappear in the night, sometimes murdering people on the spot, sometimes shipping

  • them off to the feared prison camps known as gulags.

  • while others were sent to the good doctor's secret lab.

  • Stalin's “Great Purgewould lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and some

  • of those people were political opponents and other so-called dissidents.

  • And The Cell had a prominent role to play, because getting rid of people quietly was

  • often the job of a poisoner.

  • Mairanovsky's life's work was centered around ways of making people die quickly from

  • exposure to poisonous substances.

  • Any man that titles his PHD thesis, "Biological activity of the products of interaction of

  • mustard gas with human skin tissuesis truly someone to be feared.

  • The inhumanity of his work earned him the nickname ofDr. Deathand he was proud

  • of the fact that he didn't use animals to test his poisons on, but human subjects who

  • came from the gulags.

  • These were prisoners who had been declaredenemies of the peopleand so were considered

  • expendable.

  • Mairanovsky was tasked with developing poisons that were odorless and tasteless, poisons

  • that couldn't be detected by their victims.

  • They needed to be fast-acting and create a furious internal breakdown of organs so that

  • the person who'd ingested the poison died quickly.

  • Mairanovsky's poisons of choice were mustard gas, ricin, digitoxin, curare and cyanide.

  • Not all people are built the same, so Mairanovsky had prisoners sent from the gulags of all

  • different shapes and sizes to test the varying effects of these deadly poisons.

  • He tested his poisons on men and women of different ages, telling them that they were

  • sick and needed to be treated with his medicine that would quickly put an end to their suffering.

  • But his piece de resistance was the development of the organic compound, carbylamine choline

  • chloride, a poison he named C2 or K2.

  • When people were given a shot of this, their bodies would literally change as they wilted

  • like dying trees.

  • Witnesses stated that the victims became shorter, and within a few minutes a great calm seemed

  • to settle on their faces.

  • After 15 minutes they were dead.

  • These experiments were all approved by the secret police, with a former chief testifying

  • in court, “I gave orders to Mairanovsky to conduct experiments on people sentenced

  • to the highest measure of punishment, but it was not my idea.”

  • So who's idea was it then?

  • Did these orders come all the way from the very top?

  • The Stalinist era was pervasive with paranoia.

  • Even the most loyal officials were never sure it wouldn't be them getting a knock on the

  • door from the secret police in the dead of night.

  • Fame was no safeguard either, the great Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich was constantly

  • at risk for writing music that might not fit with Stalin's idea of ideal nationalistic

  • compositions.

  • Every night Shostakovich put a suitcase next to his apartment door, just waiting for what

  • he thought was the inevitable, “Hello Mr. Shostakovich, you are coming with us.”

  • But was Stalin himself ultimately a victim of poisoning?

  • When he died in 1953, the autopsy stated he died of a stroke, but some researchers who

  • have looked into his death have come to a different conclusion.

  • They believed that when Stalin sat down to eat one with four of his comrades, his food

  • was laced with warfarin, a blood-thinner that is often used as a rat poison.

  • Thanks to research done in The Cell, it was well-known that this tasteless and colorless

  • anticoagulant could kill a person quickly and leave little trace.

  • And who was present at this final dinner?

  • Only the director of the secret poison lab and chief of the secret police, one Lavrentiy

  • Beria.

  • Had he laced Stalin's food with rat poison?

  • Some reports claim that when Stain collapsed, Beria spat and cursed at him, but when Stalin

  • suddenly gained consciousness, Beria got down on his knees and kissed his hand.

  • Whether he had done the deed or not, a few months later he was executed with a bullet

  • to the brain- someone certainly had reason to want to put Beria away permanently.

  • The Cell was renamed Laboratory 12 and the work of researching and administering poison

  • would go on for many yearswith some even saying the Cell is still open for business,

  • but that's something we'll get around to soon.

  • In the 50s, 60s and 70s, Soviet scientists experimented with more modern ways to get

  • rid of a person in public and make the death look natural.

  • They developed weapons that emit clouds of cyanide that could be sprayed into a person's

  • face.

  • The victim would drop to the floor and the death would look like a heart attack.

  • In 1957, the assassin known as Bohdan Stashynsky used such a weapon to kill the Ukrainian political

  • writer, Lev Rebet.

  • The autopsy ruled that he'd died of natural causes, but years later, after Stashynsky

  • defected from the Soviet Union, he would testify that he'd used a modified gun to explode

  • a hydrogen cyanide capsule into Rebet's face.

  • He said his victim immediately fell against a rickety staircase and died shortly after.

  • Stashynsky used the same device in 1961 to kill the leader of the Ukrainian nationalists,

  • Stepan Bandera.

  • He was approached by Stashynsky on a street in Munich, and soon after getting a facefull

  • of toxic powder was lying on the floor dead.

  • Fast forward a few years and The Cell was focused on experimenting with a highly potent

  • substance called ricin.

  • This poison is made from the castor oil plant and when it's purified, just a tiny amount,

  • no bigger than a few grains of salt, can kill a person.

  • Ricin is deadly if inhaled, injected, or ingested and it can also get into the blood through

  • cuts on the skin or can get into a person's system through the eyes.

  • This poison had been around for years, but in the 1970s the KGB weaponized it.

  • On August 8th in the year 1971, the Russian writer and outspoken critic of Communism,

  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was in a town in southern Russia in line for some food.

  • A KGB agent walked up behind him and pricked him with a needle.

  • The agent left the shop, went over to his boss, and confidently uttered the words, “It's

  • all over.

  • He won't live much longer.”

  • But it wasn't over, because not enough of the poison had entered Solzhenitsyn's body.

  • At the time he had no idea what had happened, but many years later he recalled experiencing

  • a debilitating sickness in that period of his life and realized it was a failed hit,

  • although he said he couldn't remember feeling a prick.

  • What he certainly could remember was the fact that later that morning his shoulder started

  • to hurt.

  • Soon after burn like marks started appearing on his body and when he woke up the next morning

  • much of his body was covered in painful blisters.

  • He was bedridden for the next three months but survived.

  • The outcome wasn't as good for a Bulgarian dissident and writer Georgi Markov.

  • In 1978, he'd long since defected from Communist Bulgaria and was living in London.

  • On 7th September of that year, Markov had just crossed Waterloo Bridge in London and

  • was waiting for a bus to take him to his job at the BBC.

  • Suddenly he felt a sharp prick in his side and wondered if he'd just been stung by

  • an insect.

  • He saw no insect, but did see a man behind him picking up an umbrella from the floor.

  • He thought nothing of it, but when he got to the BBC offices that sting started to hurt

  • a little more.

  • He told his colleagues about the incident, still thinking he'd been stung by something

  • like a wasp.

  • Later that evening he came down with a raging fever and was rushed to hospital, but the

  • doctors could do nothing to save Markov's life.

  • He passed away four days later and the cause of death was discovered to have been ricin

  • poisoning.

  • The forensic pathologist wrote that he found a pellet inside Markov's leg, no bigger

  • than a pinhead.

  • The outer casing of the pellet was made of 90% platinum and 10% iridium, and inside it

  • there were two extremely small cavities.

  • It was in those cavities that he found traces of ricin.

  • A KGB defector later confirmed the assassination and that ricin had been used.

  • In 1991, the world watched as the Soviet Union fell, and did that mean an end to The Cell

  • and the end of the poisoning of people who Russian politicians might have deemed an enemy

  • of the state?

  • The evidence tells us... no.

  • It appears that the Cell and its poison experts just evolved with the new government.

  • In 2004, Viktor Yushchenko was a candidate in the Ukraine Presidential election.

  • During that campaign he suddenly became very sick and was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis.

  • Other symptoms occurred and it seemed as if the man was literally falling apart.

  • His face became disfiguredbloated and covered in ugly pockmarks.

  • He had been poisoned, but with what, doctors didn't immediately know.

  • A British toxicologist said that a chemical pollutant called dioxin was to blame for the

  • eruptions on Yushchenko's face.

  • It was later discovered that the man had ingested 1000 times more dioxin than is usually present

  • in the body.

  • He survived, but not without some scars...

  • He also became President.

  • It turned out that those growths on his face saved him, because had they not appeared and

  • alerted doctors that he had been poisoned, the dioxin may have damaged his vital organs.

  • And the Cell didn't stop there.

  • In the 2000s, Russian journalists and human rights workers were poisoned with mercury.

  • The KGB had long been closed down, but it had been replaced with the FSB, a security

  • department that seems to be just as fond of using poison in assassinations.

  • And even their former members aren't safe!

  • In 2006, an ex-FSB agent named Alexander Litvinenko suddenly fell ill while living in London.

  • Litvinenko had defected from Russia and had blamed many atrocities, including assassinations,

  • on the Russian government.

  • He also started working for Britain's secret services, which no doubt upset Vladimir Putin.

  • Before Litvinenko became ill, he'd been drinking tea in a hotel not far from the U.S.

  • Embassy in London.

  • The poison of choice in this case was polonium-210, a radioactive isotope that is deadly if ingested.

  • The hotel where Litvinenko was drinking his tea was fitted with the latest CCTV technology

  • and the tapes revealed that along with Litvinenko, two other prominent Russians with ties to

  • the government had checked in.

  • Both these men were known to Litvinenko and on the day of deed they were seen by security

  • cameras walking around the hotel and going in and out of the bathrooms.

  • An investigation would later reveal that massive amounts of radiation were found in the bathroom

  • stalls.

  • The traces of polonium these guys had left around the hotel were invisible to the eye,

  • but not to instruments that recorded levels of radiation.

  • Polonium was found on the floor, on bottles of alcohol, on a chopping board, and even

  • on an ice cream scoop.

  • Of course the two men also managed to get some into Litvinenko's teapot.

  • Days after he drank the poisoned tea he started to feel weak and suffered from severe diarrhea