Paul Whelan: Traveling While Dumb
Paul Whelan: Traveling While Dumb
As you may well know, US citizen Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow last month and charged with espionage for being in possession of a flash drive that allegedly contained a list of employees from a Russian security agency. I had speculated that given the amount of weirdness in this case, Whelan was either a Russian asset or a convenient, useful idiot being held by the Russians who are hoping to exchange him for either Maria Butina or arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Now, I have to wonder if Whelan is one of the dumbest people ever to travel to Russia.
Recently NPR reported that Whelan apparently thought his Russian bud was giving him some touristy stuff on a flash drive. The friend he met on Russian social media.
But Whelan’s attorney, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told reporters Tuesday that Whelan never expected to receive state secrets — but instead had asked the unnamed Russian to put travel images on a flash drive, as he hadn’t been able to open them from an email.
“He was expecting to see on the flash drive some personal information like pictures or videos, something like that, about that person’s previous trips around Russia,” Zherebenkov told reporters, including The Associated Press. “We don’t know how the materials that contain state secrets ended up there.”
Whelan meets random Russian online.
Whelan asks said random Russian to put pictures on a flash drive for him.
Whelan meets said random Russian in his hotel room and receives the flash drive.
I realize the guy was booted from the Marine Corps under a bad conduct discharge, so chartreuse is probably his favorite flavor crayon, but seriously? He’s supposed to be a security professional – the director of global security for an auto parts manufacturer. Can he possibly be this dumb?
He has visited Russia numerous times over the past 10 years. He is reported to have been a Russophile, and as such, he ought to have at least had a modicum of historical knowledge about Russia, about the Soviet Union, about the Russians’ penchant for nabbing Westerners and using them as pawns in tit-for-tat spy games, like they did with journalist Nicholas Daniloff during the Cold War, and about the national security threat that country represents both then and now.
This idiot engaged with random Russians on Russian social media (because no security services anywhere use virtual personas and run virtual operations on social media to entrap citizens of adversarial states) and expected to receive “travel photos and videos.” From a Russian stranger he met online. In Russia.
He only interacted with regular Russians, claims his lawyer.
Whelan is either the most incompetent security chief on the planet, a naive cretin, or a Russian asset who isn’t concerned about his future at Lefortovo prison because he made a deal with the Russians to be their patsy in exchange for one of the Russian scumbags in our custody.
He’s certainly old enough to remember the case of Nick Daniloff, who was arrested by the Russians in 1986 on charges of spying shortly after the US nabbed Russian Gennady Zakharov, as he allegedly gathered classified data in New York while working as a Soviet aide at the UN. Daniloff’s experience was eerily similar, according to his account of his experience in NPR.
Essentially, they arrested me after I had been given some material by a person that I thought was a friend and a source that’s a Russian. Some of that material seemed to be photographs of Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan. And I was carrying this package with me when they arrested me. It was something that they had clearly planned for some time. Now, in the case of Whelan, what it seems to me they’re trying to do is to fabricate a case of espionage against him. They’re pretty good at doing that.
Now, Daniloff was doing his job as a journalist when he accepted the package from his source. He knew the risks.
Whelan has no such excuse.
Security professionals understand the geopolitical situation in adversarial countries, they are familiar with tactics and techniques of our enemies, and they’re naturally a suspicious bunch who tend not to take everything at face value, so they would never trust some schlub they met on Russia’s version of Facebook and allow themselves to be suckered into an espionage charge.
This guy… Nope.
He developed contacts with supposedly “everyday Russians” on Russian social media and hadn’t thought for a moment that his contacts, who claim to be hairdressers and even members of the military, could be Russian intelligence personnel, just waiting to entrap idiot Americans. It’s not like the intelligence community’s assessment about how Russians use covert online personas to manipulate Americans isn’t readily accessible online!
And it’s not like other intelligence services worldwide don’t use online personas to capture terrorist suspects.
This information is readily available on the Internet, and yet Paul Whelan – ostensibly a security professional – not only failed to realize that engaging with strangers on the Internet – especially strangers who hail from a country that’s an adversarial power with a history of entrapping Americans and using them as potential bargaining chips in their spy games against the US – could potentially be dangerous for him, and went as far as to travel to Russia and accept removable media from one of these personas.
Quite the security professional this guy! I hope his company isn’t paying him too much, because they’re wasting their money if they are.
Meanwhile, Russia is quite incensed with our response to its imprisonment of this dumbass. Apparently, former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul hurt poor little Russia’s feelings when he tweeted that Russia was no longer safe for tourists.
I often get asked if it’s safe to travel to Russia as a tourist or student. I always used to say yes, and with enthusiasm. After Whelan arrest, however, I will change my advice.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) January 2, 2019
State media outlet RT immediately wrote a scathing editorial crying about McFaul’s alleged double standard.
“Miraculously, the arrest of one American seems to have changed everything. It is unlikely, however, that McFaul issued similar advice to his Russian friends after the arrest of Russian citizen Maria Butina, who last year was accused of acting as a foreign agent in the United States without proper registration.”
Let’s not forget that Butina has already admitted to the charge and is cooperating with US authorities, while Whelan maintains his innocence, and his only “crime” appears to be that he’s dumber than a stump.
Maybe we should just leave him in Russia. We have enough stupid people here in the States.