You get a strange feeling reading the different links cited in this article. See if you get the same impressions as the ones I will list. They are only impressions, not necessarily facts, but they do form a pattern.

“Haas ‘was not poisoned.'” The suspicious illness of German tennis star Tommy Hass was thus dismissed after testing in a New York hospital last month. Case closed? Not so fast. This headline far overstates the facts, and the other reports can easily misdirect you as well.

If you missed the original stories summarized in my BNN article of November 11, Haas, who is now ranked number 12 in the world of tennis, became extremely ill on the eve of the final day of the Davis Cup semifinals in Moscow. Player #206 replaced him, and the Germans lost to the Russians. One of the German players reported hearing a bizarre story–from an anonymous source claiming inside knowledge–that Haas had been poisoned by Moscow operatives.

After the toxicology tests, the multiple followup stories left the skimming reader with the impression that poison was ruled out, ergo, the rumors were false. But Haas only relates he was told it had been too long since the incident, and the specialists did not FIND any traces of poison.

There is a big difference between being unable to find something and declaring that it never existed in the first place. Let’s take a closer look at this hastily abandoned story.

(1 ) Discomfort, even fear, seems to ooze from every statement of the people involved.

(2) Most of the articles, primarily from Germany or the U.K., seem to derive from the same source, some using identical words. Nearly all of the stories are brief and lack important details. Variations of the phrase “no longer an issue” keep coming up, like a rehearsed statement.

(3) Even before the charges were investigated, the German Tennis Federation seemed to be in a hurry to get this story finished and behind them. They claimed immediately that there was no reason to even investigate it. For a masterfully dismissive oversimplification of the incident, read German tennis star Michael Stich’s statement which basically states: we got here, we lost, end of story.

(4) The British press seemed to be in a hurry to minimize this story (the violent illness was described as stomach pains) and get it behind them. This is yet another report with the lead paragraph stating outright that blood tests had proven Haas was not poisoned. This is not true. Earlier blood tests had already ruled out a virus, but poisoning was never ruled out, only declared undetectable.

(5) The International Tennis Federation seemed to be in a hurry to get this story behind them. “There will be no further comment on this subject.” (Really? Even if further information develops?)

(6) Tommy Haas, after passionately searching to find out “what is wrong with me” is now strangely apathetic about it. He has quickly accepted the non-explanation of “We-Don’t-Know-But-We-Found-No-Evidence” and seems in a hurry to drop this and get it behind him. Almost all the news reports cited here quote him as saying, “It’s no longer an issue.”

(7) The glute-protecting statements of Russian officials are beyond preposterous. They are downright stupid. (Click here for one sample.) They remind me of the old Monty Python skit where the guy returns a clearly dead parrot to the pet store and is told by the owner that the bird is sleeping or resting his eyes. Their statements are not proof of guilt but do sound like hackneyed PR denials.

From the start, Kremlin sources scoffed about the whole poisoning idea. One even said it was typical of the excuses players make when they lose. (Right. “Dear German Tennis Federation–Please excuse Tommy from the Davis Cup competition. He will not be able to participate, as he was poisoned yesterday by the Kremlin.” Yeah, we’ve all used that old excuse. Next thing, he’ll be telling us the dog ate his homework.)

(8) The anonymous source who started the story is not credible, since he is unknown. The substance of the story, however, is in character for the Putin regime, the old KGB, and the mania for prestige so often displayed by the corrupt governments that the courageous citizens of Russia have had to suffer in recent decades.

It seemed quite possible to me that Tommy Haas could have been stricken by a highly effective poison or bacteria that would leave no traces after several weeks of delay. But I know less about toxicology than I do about tennis.

Toxicology is a far more complex field than most laypersons realize. So I called Dr. Arnold Schecter, internationally recognized as a premier authority on this subject, who was active in discussions with the Viennese medical team that treated Ukrainian candidate Viktor Yuschenko for dioxin poisoning. He was kind enough to give me an impromptu telephone interview.

I asked him only scientific, not political questions. Dr. Schecter was cautious and precise in his answers. “Some chemicals leave the body very quickly.” It is possible, he said, that either (1) the chemicals would be untraceable after several weeks had elapsed, or that (2) they would not be detected simply because–as could easily happen–the patient was not specifically tested for them.

Dr. Schecter made it clear that there are poisons that could do their damage quickly and disappear after a relatively short period of time. Conclusive results are difficult to obtain without highly sophisticated technology and experienced specialists who know exactly what to look for. It would require thorough, motivated people with rare levels of training and experience to track down an unidentified poison.

I searched the web two or three times and never could even find which hospital did the testing or in which city in New York it occurred, much less any of the other information Dr. Schecter told me was crucial. IF the doctors were as disinterested as everyone else seems to be, or if they were pressured to rush it up, the testing could have been a quick formality.

Aside from the fact that an accomplished young athlete suffered for eight solid hours the night before a crucial tennis match, vomiting everything above his toenails, why does this story matter?

This may not be an issue for Tommy Haas anymore, especially if he was threatened with more than poison if he discussed it further. But the incident has implications reflecting on the credibility (and precious prestige) of the current Russian government. It reinforces the validity of charges of previous convenient poisonings of Putin’s antagonists. It reflects on the integrity of professional sports. It may have important implications for the security of the world’s Olympic athletes in 2008.

If no one wants to talk about it, there is no practical way to pursue this from any other angle. That leaves only one option for the international community: Keep an open mind and be wary. This incident is not resolved. It goes well beyond the facts, as two headlines did, to state baldly that “Haas Was Not Poisoned.” We may never know that.

Those who believe there was foul play involved here need to admit: If there are any guilty fingerprints on this incident, they are awfully faint.

Those who believe there was NO foul play need to admit: The timing of this was terribly suspicious. And the Kremlin does not leave guilty fingerprints.

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