Breaking: Whelan Gets 16 Years For Espionage In Russia

“This is slimy, greasy, rubbish Russian politics — nothing more, nothing less,” Paul Whelan declared in a Moscow courtroom. It might be more like Let’s Make a Deal, as NBC’s Keir Simmons reports for Today.

Whelan got 16 years of hard labor today for supposedly holding a thumb drive with classified material on it, but the entire caper either paints Whelan as the world’s worst spy — or Moscow desperate to trade Whelan for someone the US presently holds.

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The Russian Foreign Office even has a couple of names on a list for the Americans:

Apparently, the first rule of Moscow Vacation Club is never take a flash drive from an acquaintance. Whelan insists he got set up by an acquaintance who gave him a thumb drive of what Whelan thought were “holiday photos.” The former Marine and now security chief for an auto-parts supplier had his hotel room raided shortly thereafter by the FSB, and the Russian government claims the thumb drive had classified material on it.

If Whelan really was conducting espionage, he’d have to be one of the sloppiest spies ever to have kept that in his possession. Instead, Whelan insists that the Russian government set him up for the sole purpose of “taking political hostages” to force the US to release Russian prisoners. The lack of subtlety in the Foreign Office’s very public suggestions of which prisoners it might swap for Whelan certainly makes Whelan’s suspicions look a lot more credible. Whelan’s attorney Vladimir Zherebenkov told reporters that he’d heard a couple of names more sotto voce:

Zherebenkov said Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot who was arrested in 2010 for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States, and Viktor Bout, a gun runner who inspired the 2005 Hollywood film “Lord of War,” are the names he has heard the Kremlin wants in a trade for Whelan’s release. …

In July, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov suggested the United States should “free Yaroshenko; swap him for an American or Americans who are serving their sentence here,” according to the Interfax news agency.

Ryabkov stopped short of saying Russia would be willing to release Whelan and told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti at the time it would not be right to include Whelan in a swap since he had not yet been tried.

The Russians solved that problem rather neatly, didn’t they?

This might be complicated by Whelan’s citizenship status. He’s presently a citizen of the US, but also the UK, Ireland, and Canada, which is just one of the curiosities of this case. Why did Whelan hold four citizenships? And with that, which country has to make the trade?

The Russians clearly want the prisoners held in the US, but it’s not necessarily incumbent on the US to do so. Another complication might be Whelan’s Marine career, which did not end well; he got a bad-conduct discharge in 2008 for “several charges related to larceny,” according to records reviewed by the Washington Post.

That might make his current position as a corporate security director a little curious too, but it might also solidify any skepticism about Whelan operating as a US spy, too. That kind of track record isn’t a good signal for espionage recruitment, at least not by one’s own side.

The US might also wonder whether they want to incentivize Vladimir Putin’s hostage-taking, too. It looks like they grabbed Whelan for his value in a swap, not for any real espionage threat.

Back in the Cold War days, that would have been met by having the US arrest a valuable Russian asset in retaliation rather than exchanging a previously captured prisoner, as a warning. That might not be a bad strategy now, too, lest Putin start a wholesale hostaging industry to conduct a weird sort of Dunkirk from American prisons.

At any rate, it’s a situation worth watching for its geopolitical consequences. The US ambassador to Russia warned Moscow of that issue this morning:

Speaking on the courthouse steps after the verdict, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan described the case as “a mockery of justice.”

“Is this an impediment? Absolutely,” Sullivan said of the relationship between Moscow and Washington, referencing current affairs as at a “low ebb.”

That’s a warning. Will Putin listen to it?

4 thoughts on “Breaking: Whelan Gets 16 Years For Espionage In Russia

  1. Knowing what’s going on between Russia and the United States, ones military occupations, travels to either country, could leave certain individuals in trouble for being spied on or extra surveillance while in the other country. I’ve been told that I cannot enter Russia as a tourist because of my retired occupation. You might be asked to do things and as a tourist, might be a bad idea. For myself, I would love to see certain things in Russia, but, I’ll just stay out of that country. I’ll stay out of China and never want to see North Korea.

  2. This Pulse Daily News is often leftist in its slant. When a Russian is accused of doing something criminal, it might be a good US government policy to have an agreement with Russia on how this is to be handled that they could reciprocate on as well.
    Let’s examine the case of Konstantin Yaroshenko who is accused of “CONSPIRACY” to smuggle cocaine in the USA? Was he actually caught smuggling cocaine HIMSELF? HE HAS ALREADY SERVED 10 YEARS IN PRISON for this accusation of conspiracy which on average is more than what many connected to the Democratic Party supporting American drug dealers serve! Wow! GOD HELP A RUSSIAN WHO COMES TO THE USA!
    RUSSIA HAS NOT SENT US SICK TOURISTS KNOWING THEY HAVE COVID 19! Maoist China has imprisoned American Pastors and kept them there for no reason AS WELL AS DOING THAT! The treatment Russians get is like the U.S. Democratic Party Congressmen who accused Russia of “COLLUSION” WITH NO
    Russia is the third greatest Super Power on the Planet with the 2nd most powerful military just behind the USA! Truthfully, they are equal in nuclear arms and have a land army that could defeat that of the USA in conventional war with the USA just having a most robust navy which if Russia was seeking to invade us, they would have! We Americans should be working to improve our relationship with Russia especially vs Maoist China that has done way more espionage on many levels NOT EVEN HAVING A NATIONAL SECURITY CONCERN IN THE SPYING THAN RUSSIA HAS!
    This American dude obviously had access to an attorney and fair court system. His U.S. military record would lend itself to the belief THAT HE WAS CAPABLE OF CONSPIRACY TO DO SOMETHING ILLEGAL TOO maybe worse than the Russian as the Russian had a good military record as a pilot I will assume. This shouldn’t be happening to hurt our relationship in the post communist Russia whose nation is much more rightist than we Americans are now AND MUCH MORE CIVILIZED AND RIGHT-WING THAN MAOIST CHINA WHICH GAVE US AMERICANS COVID 19!

  3. Have there been Russian deaths due to COVID 19? If so, I think Russia will be the one to punish China. If not, there may be collusion.

  4. Russians: The scavengers of anything to do with what’s left with living a full enjoyable life. They are the ones with the super market cart of the world, and the shabby clothes, and the tattered taped up footwear that bumble around the world almost every time a cusp of normalcy comes to them…filling their cart with items unbeknownst to anyone but themselves if the’re worth anything. They are the crew that cleans up after a horrendous accident on the freeway, the airliner crash site, downstream from the dam collapse, shuffling through the still smoldering ruins of a structure fire. They are the ones that bestow gloom upon any situation. Russians are the doom of humanity.

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