Quantcast
Connect with us

Former US Marine held for spying had Russian contacts with military backgrounds

Published

on

Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine held in Moscow on spying charges, had online contact with more than 20 Russians with military backgrounds, an analysis of social media shows.

Russian men with military education or a history of military service make up nearly half of Whelan’s more than 50 friends on VK, a popular Russian social network that resembles Facebook, the analysis by Reuters shows.

ADVERTISEMENT

At least 12 of his friends received military education in Russia, according to open source information, and at least another 11 appear to have completed national service.

In addition, about a fifth of those on Whelan’s list have backgrounds in IT, engineering or civil aviation, a quarter are not connected to the military or technical sectors, and there is no information about the rest.

Whelan’s family says he is innocent and was in Moscow for a wedding when he was arrested last month. The “Free Paul Whelan” Twitter page managed by the family has used the hashtag #JustATourist in one of its posts.

Russian authorities have not given details of his alleged spying, and the FSB security service did not respond immediately to questions on whether Whelan’s online activity was linked to his detention.

Analysis of Whelan’s online activity – including exchanges with Russian friends and content on their own accounts – provides a fuller picture of his contacts than has so far been revealed.

ADVERTISEMENT

Reuters contacted 38 people on Whelan’s VK friend list, almost all men in their 20s.

Whelan, 48, contacted them years ago through pen-pal websites or VK, corresponding occasionally online over the years, five of his contacts told Reuters.

Whelan’s military contacts in Russia are low-level, come from various regions and have served in the army, airborne forces and navy, according to information and pictures posted online.

ADVERTISEMENT

In Russia, men aged between 18 and 27 are conscripted into the military for a year. Enrolment at military academies, which is not mandatory, can lead to a career in the services.

Asked if he was aware of Whelan’s Russian military contacts online, his brother David said: “I didn’t know he had a VK account before last week. But I’m not surprised that he had friends on social media, both Facebook and VK, that had military backgrounds just as he had a military background.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Whelan’s lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, was not available for comment.

The arrest of Whelan, who also holds British citizenship, further strains relations between Moscow and Washington, which have soured over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, economic sanctions and accusations of election meddling.

ONLINE ACTIVITY
The “Free Paul Whelan” Twitter page shows postcards Whelan sent to his sister from Russia in 2015 and 2018.

ADVERTISEMENT

Whelan first posted on his VK page in November 2010 and has since published congratulations on Russian public holidays, military celebrations and other events.

In February 2015, he posted: “In Moscow …” along with a Russian mobile phone number. Calls to it this week went unanswered.

One of Whelan’s friends lists his employer as the Russian Defence Ministry and writes that he studied at the Ryazan Higher Airborne Command School, a military academy.

A picture posted in 2012 shows the friend in a Russian serviceman’s striped vest under a green camouflage jacket.

ADVERTISEMENT

Another 26-year-old Russian posted pictures of himself and classmates at the Naval Cadet Corps, which trains naval officers in St Petersburg.

A man apparently in his 20s posted pictures of himself in a paratrooper’s blue beret and army fatigues bearing the inscription: “Nizhegorodsky Cadet Corps”.

Vadim Izotov said he first interacted with Whelan in 2008 while at the defense ministry’s Military University. He was surprised Whelan had been charged with espionage.

“I understood he had a positive attitude towards Russia, towards our culture. That’s why he traveled here,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

“He communicated with Russian military here because he himself had been a serviceman.”

Lenar Azmukhanov, a 30-year-old from Kazan who attended the Ulyanovsk Higher Military Technical College, said he and Whelan congratulated each other on holidays but their interaction did not go beyond that.

Another friend of Whelan’s, who did not want to be named, said he first had contact with him in 2005 or 2006 on a pen-pal website. They met once in person in 2008.

“As far as I know his trips to Russia were for tourism,” he said. “He had friends in the military, but I, for example, am not one of them.”

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Giles Elgood

ADVERTISEMENT


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

READ IT: House Judiciary Committee releases report defining Trump impeachable offenses

Published

on

On Saturday, the House Judiciary Committee released a report outlining the impeachable acts committed by President Donald Trump.

"Our President holds the ultimate public trust," said the report, titled "Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment," in its introduction. "A President faithful only to himself—who will sell out democracy and national security for his own personal advantage—is a danger to every American. Indeed, he threatens America itself."

The report clarifies the procedures for impeachment, analyzes whether president can be "impeached for abuse of executive powers," and "whether it is preferable to await the next election when a President has sought to corrupt that very same election."

Continue Reading

Facebook

Devin Nunes likely under federal investigation over foreign contacts after Parnas phone call revelation: ex-FBI official

Published

on

On MSNBC's "AM Joy," former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi speculated that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) may already be under FBI investigation for his secret calls with indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas.

"What do you make of the fact that the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, who participated in the Adam Schiff portion of the impeachment hearings, never said anything to anybody about the fact that he was not just the guy who's sitting on the dais, he was involved in some way with one of the players?" asked host Joy Reid.

"Well, it says a lot on two levels," said Figliuzzi. "It says a lot about Devin Nunes as an individual, his ethics, his integrity, and what he's all about. And then on a larger level, it's just a huge, ironic development that we're hearing all of this about — the Republicans are defending allegations that the president lacks integrity and ethics, and they're sitting there overseeing this and they're not recusing themselves, and they're not saying anything about their colleague, Devin Nunes. So, you know, the hypocrisy is loud and clear here. And eventually when the dust clears, Joy, I wouldn't be surprised if ethics investigations and perhaps even criminal investigations really point the finger at Nunes as someone who should have recused himself and is much deeper into this than we know now."

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Trump hammered by ex-intel officials for sucking up to the Saudis after Florida naval base shooting

Published

on

President Donald Trump is taking heat from former U.S. intelligence officials for taking a very soft tone with the Saudi government after Friday’s shooting at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.

Not long after the shooter was identified as a second lieutenant in the Saudi Arabian military, the president tweeted out words of sympathy from the Saudi king after a phonecall, writing, "The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people."

Continue Reading