Russia says it has arrested a US citizen who is spying in his country. Former CIA officers, however, say the American detention is far from having a counterintelligence counterintelligence, most likely a payback for the US arrest of the well-known Russian agent Maria Butina.
In a brief statement on Monday, Russian news agency Tass said that American American Paul Whelan was arrested "in Moscow during a spy mission" and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years. A State Department spokesman said the ministry had "been formally informed about the detention," and requested access to Whelan.
"That was not planned yesterday, it was probably scheduled back after [Butina] was arrested," said Dan Hoffman, a former head of Moscow's CIA station, to The Daily Beast. "They want to scare off future US action against other private citizens."
Butina pleaded guilty last month to act as unregistered agent for Moscow, and signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Justice back channel between Kremlin officials and Republican activists during the 201
If the Kremlin arrested Whelan in response to the arrest of Butina Whitan, they could use their treatment to justify her treatment of Whelan. In September, DOJ lawyers cited the Russian consulates as "interested in their case as a reason to keep them in jail prior to their trial."
"Detained since the hearing In this case, the actions of the Russian Federation and its officials against the Defendants confirmed their relationship with their own government and their value for them, "they wrote. "To date, the Russian government has conducted six consular visits with the defendant."
DOJ lawyers also pointed out that the Russian Foreign Minister had spoken twice with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the Butina case and issued the Kremlin more diplomatic notes in her name than other Russians detained in the US. The lawyers came to the conclusion that their aviation risk was "not hypothetical".
"Vladimir Putin sends a message to his own people: Russia is a besieged fortress, everywhere there is espionage, I am the only one who can defend us," said Hoffman.
A lawmaker from the Russian Duma called on the authorities to arrest Americans in retaliation.
" We would never make a real intelligence officer vulnerable and give Putin a weapon to trade with someone like Ames, Hanssen or Butina. "
– Former CIA officer John Sipher
John Sipher, a former CIA officer who served in Russia, said it was" highly unlikely that [Whelan] because of Risks associated with US intelligence agencies "involved:" In my experience, we would almost never send someone without diplomatic immunity to Russia, given the laxity of Russian laws and the aggressiveness of their espionage machine, we could not afford the safety of an unofficial traveler to guarantee." [1 9659002] Russia's definition of espionage is "extremely flexible and includes all sorts of things that we would not consider illegal in any way," added Sipher.
Russia has previously detained US citizens as a lever against the detention of Russian spies in America. For example, in 1986 the KGB arrested the reporter Nicholas Daniloff in the Soviet Union three days after the FBI arrested Gennady Zakharov, a supposed intelligence officer and employee of the Soviet US Mission in New York.
Federal agents seized Zakharov after allegedly transferring money to a Guyanese representative for classified US Air Force documents. Daniloff wrote in a later memorandum that he knew right away when the KGB, using a Russian friend, wrote maps saying "Secret" that he would end up as a hostage to Zakharov's release. His thinking was forward-looking – the Reagan administration arranged an exchange for him, which turned it down shortly thereafter.
Sipher said that was exactly the situation that the US was trying to avoid.
"We would never make a real intelligence officer vulnerable to the arrest and give Putin a weapon to act against someone like Ames, Hanssen or Butina," he said.
The arrest follows an escalating espionage war between Russia and the West following Moscow's intervention in the 2016 elections and the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The Trump administration has appointed a number of members of the Russian main reconnaissance unit (1965). GRU) and Federal Security Service (FSB) for disseminating disinformation during the 2016 elections, hacking democratic emails, and launching cyberattacks. After Russian GRU officers allegedly tried to assassinate a defector in England with a nerve agent, at least 20 Western countries proposed Russian diplomats in solidarity with the United Kingdom.
Russia responded by boating 60 American diplomats and closing a US Consulate in St. Petersburg.