Politics

Russian Intellegience Claims Detained US Citizen Was Caught ‘Red Handed’

National Prayer Breakfast
Victoria_Borodinova / Pixabay

“He was caught red-handed. He was detained at the moment he was carrying out specific illegal actions in his hotel,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday during a news conference.

Earlier in January Rosbalt.ru quoted an intelligent source on background who claimed United States citizen Paul Whelan was arrested five minutes after receiving a thumb drive containing a list of Russian employees for a secret government agency.

That same source was quoted as saying that Whelan had been spying for ten years, looking for targets he could obtain the intel. The validity of the information has not been confirmed by Value Walk. It’s unlikely United States officials with any information — if these accusations are true, would comment in any compacity on the issue.

Whelan’s family decries the charges, claiming he was in Moscow to attend a wedding. However, it’s unlikely he would disclose any operation sensitive in nature to family members if there is any validity to the charges brought against him.

Whelan, a former United States Marine has been held in detention by the Russian Federal Security Service since December 28th of last year.

Whelan’s Initial Arrest

From our coverage around the time of Whelan’s arrest:

Early this morning the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) released a statement on the arrest of United States (US) citizen Paul Whelan. According to the press release in Russian, Whelan was arrested on December 28th in Moscow. “The investigation department of the Federal Security Service of Russia initiated a criminal case against a US citizen under article 276 [espionage] of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The investigation is underway,” the translated statement read according to numerous outlets.

Reuters reported that Lavrov stated Whelan isn’t being held for a prisoner exchange and United States diplomats will meet with him in the near future. While those claims may be true, Lavrov speaking now comes at an interesting time.

TYT Investigates Reporting On National Prayer Breakfast

From a TYT Investigates article which found ties between the Fellowship Foundation — the organization which runs the National Prayer Breakfast and Russian intelligence agents:

A Christian charity with ties to the National Prayer Breakfast reported unspecified expenses associated with having Russian guests attend the event in 2017 and possibly other years, federal tax documents show. The guests may have included people picked by convicted Russian agent Maria Butina as part of a plan to create back-channel connections with U.S. policy-makers, many of whom attend the breakfast. One leader of the charity appears to match details the FBI has given about an unnamed breakfast organizer who aided Butina. In her plea agreement, Butina admitted to acting as an agent of the Russian government without registering with the Justice Department.

“If I’m a Russian intelligence officer and I’m looking to plug in. There’s a couple of good things that are going to attract my attention about the NRA, the National Prayer Breakfast, y’know [sic], the religious right,” Steve Hall, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) told TYT Investigates in a follow-up piece to the original report.

“The other thing that a Russian intelligence officer would know from having dealt with Americans previously is that any time you have anything to do with an American religious organization, whether it’s a church or whether it’s the Prayer Breakfast, or whether it’s any of these religious things, is they know that the American security services — the FBI, the CIA, and even local law enforcement — are very, very reticent to investigate and to look into those organizations, unless there’s, you know, obvious tax fraud or obvious abuse of their non-profit status,” Hall would later state in the interview.

What Is Really At Play?

Butina admitted to acting as an agent of the Russian government without registering with the Justice Department, as part of her plea agreement — yet there is likely far more to her story.

Part of the text from her plea agreement can be seen below:

In furtherance of the conspiracy, Butina drafted a proposal in March of 2015 titled Description of the Diplomacy Project. In it, Butia downplayed the possibility of influencing U.S. foreign policy toward Russia through official channels, criticizing government unwillingness to compromise. As an alternative, Butina suggested that Russia could use unofficial channels of communication to the same end. Butina then cast herself as a possible unofficial transmitter of communications between Russia and the United States. Further, Butina opined that the circumstances were favorable for building relations with a certain U.S. political party [Republican Party] (hereafter, “Political Party #1”). Butina predicted that the candidate nominated by Political Party #1 would likely win the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Pointing to her recent travel to the United States, her experience, and her attendance at conferences organized by a certain U.S. civil society gun rights organization [National Rifle Association] (hereafter, “Gun Rights Organization”), which Butina posited had influence over Political Party #1, Butina stated she had laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration. For example, Butina listed action she had already taken, including being introduced to leaders of Political Party #1 as an unofficial representative of Russian Offical [Alexander Torshin]. She also identified in her proposal a series of upcoming conferences associated with Political Party #1 that she could attend to further her goal.