48-year-old Paul N. Whelan, a retired US Marine, is charged with spying on Russia. He is being detained in Moscow within Lefortovo prison. Whelan was arrested on December 28 and charged with espionage.
It is unlikely someone like Whelan, who works in security for a global auto parts manufacturer called BorgWarner, is involved with American intelligence services. He does not have contacts and according to former CIA officials like John Sipher, a former member of the CIA’s Clandestine Service who worked from Moscow, Whelan does not fit the profile of an intelligence spy. US spies are not sent without diplomatic protections and put in harm’s way over minor intelligence matters such as that Whelan was caught with. If Whelan is convicted, he could serve up to 20 years in a Russian jail.
Mr. Whelan is a Canadian, British, Irish, and American citizen who holds corresponding passports. Additionally, Whelan constantly traveled to Russia and used social media to befriend Russians, including those associated with the Russian military.
The Kremlin should take into account the willingness of countries such as Britain and the US to stand up for Whelan. Jeremy Hunt, British foreign secretary, expressed concern for Whelan and his family, offering support. He stated the US will lead efforts to free Whelan. A spokesman for the Irish department of foreign affairs and trade said the Irish embassy in Moscow responded to a request for assistance by asking for “consular access” to a detained Irish citizen assumed to be Whelan. The State Department disclosed that the Irish ambassador in Moscow has visited Whelan in prison.
Russia has not released an official statement on Whelan’s arrest. The only report pertaining to the arrest is by Rosbalt, a Russian news agency close to Moscow that quoted an anonymous intelligence source. This source said Whelan was arrested in his hotel room after getting a USB stick containing the names of every employee at a classified security agency. A Russian gave Whelan this flash drive.
This could be a classic case of planting evidence. Kirill Rogov, a Russian political analyst, asked whether Whelan knew what was on the flash drive he received. In a 1986 case, a Moscow correspondent for US News and World Report was given a package from a Russian he considered a friend. This package contained photographs of Russian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Thereafter, the reporter was detained for espionage until he was exchanged for a Soviet scientist detained in the US after gaining knowledge of classified information.
Whelan could have been seized for an exchange with Maria Butina, a Russian who will be jailed in the US for six months. But seeing she will be deported from the US after serving her sentence, Whelan was presumably arrested for different motives. Russia was looking for evidence of the West conspiring against them so Whelan, who is a citizen of four governments hostile toward Russia, could serve their purposes.
Featured image via AP