Who is Paul Whelan? An innocent Novi man or an American spy?

December 30, 2019, 5:57 AM

The case of Paul Whelan, the Novi man who's been held in a Russian prison for a year on suspicion of spying, gets the most comprehsive look into his story to date, via a deep dive by Francis X. Donnelly in The Detroit News

Paul Whelan (File photo)

If you're wondering how an otherwise unremarkable BorgWarner executive managed to get arrested for espionage, how his case has managed to drag on for so long, how a country seeking warmer relations with a long-time adversary has made so little progress in gaining his release -- there aren't really firm answers in this piece, but Donnelly gets close enough for a reader to draw at least some sketchy conclusions. 

Whelan is called an "avid traveler" with a particular interest in Russia, visiting the country seven times in 12 years. He was there in the fall of 2018 when "a friend, Ilya Yatsenko, gave him a flash drive," according to his family. But no:

Whelan thought it contained photos of a trip the men had taken to Yatsenko’s hometown a year earlier. Actually, it listed names of members of a unit of the Russian Federal Security Service, which replaced part of the KGB.

Hmm. Of course, are Russian sources entirely honest? 

Russia had been suspicious of Whelan since his first visit to the country in 2006 when he expressed interest in meeting intelligence officers, a Russian newspaper Kommersant reported, quoting anonymous sources.

Obviously, impossible to say. U.S. sources were far more skeptical:

They said his poor record in the Marines [Whelan had received a bad-conduct discharge] made him an unlikely candidate for espionage. Also, it would be highly unusual for the CIA to send a spy into Russia without diplomatic protection.

It smells like a setup, said John Sipher, a retired veteran of the CIA’s national clandestine service.

Meanwhile, Whelan's three siblings have dedicated themselves to pressuring the U.S. government to work through diplomatic channels to gain Whelan's release. As for the prisoner himself, he is using his court appearances -- during which he stands in a glass box under armed guard -- to speak out belligerently about his detention:

He has referred to the legal proceedings as garbage, a kangaroo court, a dog and pony show and a Moscow goat rodeo. He might be hoping that he becomes such a public spectacle that the Russians boot him out of the country, say friends. He has certainly captured the attention of the country’s leaders.

Whelan's ordeal was recently made worse when his employer laid him off in a company restructuring. He had been director of global security for BorgWarner.

Read more:  The Detroit News

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