Russia Charges US Citizen With Espionage

After he was purportedly arrested while "carrying out an act of espionage", Russia has formally indicted US citizen Paul Whelan, a 48-year-old US Marine and head of global security at autoparts maker BorgWarner, for being a spy, according to a report in Russian news agency Interfax being cited by US media. 

Whelan was arrested by Russia’s security services Dec. 28 while in Moscow on a personal trip. Whelan's Russian lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov, who was appointed to represent him, said earlier Thursday that the American will remain in custody in Moscow until the end of February.


While many US security analysts have speculated that Whelan might be used as a bargaining chip by Moscow to secure the return of Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty to trying to acting on behalf of the Kremlin to infiltrate the NRA to "establish unofficial lines of communication" with Washington, others have pointed out that the charges suggest that Whelan was probably genuinely suspected of espionage.

Here are seven reasons why the allegations against Whelan might be true:

He was in Iraq in 2004 and 2006, started visiting Russia for business and pleasure immediately after (according to his brother) in 2007 which was a year before he was convicted in court martial on charges related to larceny.

He was in Russia to attend a wedding of a former marine to a Russian girl. He arrived on December 22nd and was scheduled to depart on January 6th... a totally normal amount of time to be in town for a wedding.

He joined the marines in 1994 and served until his discharge in 2008. Yet his brother says he has been going there since 07 for business and pleasure.

The U.S. ambassador already visited him in prison, normal citizens do not get that treatment. The US governments response has been consistent with past incidences of spy’s being caught.

The FSB has said little but claims he was caught red handed, which, in past cases of US spies being caught has implied he was caught in the act. There’s thousands of Americans in Russia and thousands of Russians in America. Even if they wanted a bargaining chip for Maria Butina they wouldn’t take a random private citizen, they’d want an equal bargaining chip for a swap. Similar to when Skripal and 3 others got swapped for a group of Russian spies caught in the US. It’s bad PR to try and swap a tourist for your spy that got caught.

“Paul Whelan, his brother said, has been visiting Russia for business and pleasure since 2007, working in corporate security, with automotive industry components firm BorgWarner his most recent employer.” Highly unlikely a 24 year marine who fought in Iraq and was not known to be an intel officer in the marines, or a know background in Russian would be traveling to Russia for work in every job he’s had, while also regularly visiting for pleasure since the moment he left the military.

Bill Browder the US/UK citizen behind the magnitsky act, who Putin’s been trying to arrest/kill for years was always charged on tax evasion, neither the US nor Russia uses spy charges on private citizens/tourist. It’s extremely unlikely you could do something that would be mistakenly interpreted by a foreign government as an act of espionage.

While the exact circumstances surrounding his arrest aren't yet known, one Russian news agency cited by the NYT quoted an unidentified intelligence source on Wednesday who said that Whelan had been arrested during a meeting with a Russian citizen in his room at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow.