The curious case of Paul Whelan

(Lutz Creative)
(Lutz Creative)

 

The case of Paul Whelan, the former Marine and Michigan resident who has been charged with espionage in Russia, keeps getting stranger and stranger.

A Canadian-born US citizen, Whelan is also apparently a British citizen. Who also happens to carry an Irish passport. Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs describes him as “an Irish citizen,” and like the American and British embassies, has offered him consular assistance.

So, if you’re keeping score, that’s four countries, four separate citizenships, and four passports. Meanwhile, the Russian lawyer working on Whelan’s case, and approved by him, Vladimir Zherebenkov, has been described by human rights activists and prison monitors as likely to have been chosen by the same Federal Security Service (FSB) that arrested him in the first place.

Whelan is security chief for auto parts supplier BorgWarner, and was, according to his family, visiting Russia for a friend’s wedding when he was arrested and charged with spying. In an interview with The Daily Beast, his lawyer stated his objective in handling the case is:

to arrange a trade and bring home “at least one Russian soul.” It’s widely assumed that the intention is to exchange him for Maria Butina, who recently pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent for Moscow and signed a broad cooperation agreementwith the U.S. Justice Department. Prosecutors said she tried to build a back channel between Kremlin officials and Republican operatives during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Such spy-for-spy exchanges are pretty standard stuff. The most recent high-profile example I can come up with dates from 2010, when the Obama Administration exchanged 10 Russian sleeper agents for four Russians who had been convicted and imprisoned for spying on behalf of the United States. In a scene straight out of the movies, the swap took place on a runway at an airport in Vienna.

But is Whelan a spy? Former CIA officers have told the New York Times and other media outlets that they doubt it. US intelligence operatives typically work under some form of diplomatic cover that gives them immunity from prosecution should they be caught.

Most C.I.A. officers work in foreign countries while posing as diplomats, and if caught by a hostile government in an act of espionage, their diplomatic passports ensure they cannot be long detained, and at worst face expulsion.

Former C.I.A. officials who have operated in Moscow said the agency almost never sends officers into Russia without diplomatic protections. The United States, said John Sipher, a former C.I.A. officer who served in Moscow and ran the agency’s Russia operations, would “never leave a real intelligence officer vulnerable to arrest.”

Whelan was in Russia as a private citizen, ostensibly to attend a wedding and show visitors around Moscow. But he was also a regular visitor to the country, dating back to 2006, showing up every six months or so. He had an account on Vkontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, which is unusual for the casual visitor. And his social media contacts include ordinary Russians, but also many others, mostly men, with connections to academies run by the Russian Navy, the Defense Ministry, or the Civil Aviation Authority.

So is Whelan a spy? Beats me. But this case just keeps getting more intriguing by the day.

Honey, where do we keep the waterboard?

torture

From the Dept. of You Can’t Make This Shit Up, the following headline from the Life section of this morning’s Detroit Free Press:

“Try these CIA interrogation tactics in personal situations at home, office”

The Freep’s online version of the article, originally from the Chicago Tribune, has a slightly less horrifying though no less astonishing headline: “CIA interrogation tactics that can be used at home.”

The article is plugging a new book, Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone to Tell All written by former CIA interrogator Paul Houston and co-authors Michael Floyd and Susan Carnicero. In the book:

Houston … isn’t suggesting that you treat your nearest and dearest like threats to national security. But he does say that a modified version of the approach he honed at the CIA can be highly effective.

I’m wondering if Houston and his co-authors mean the kind of tried-and-true methods culled by The Washington Post from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program:

  • Rectal feeding and rectal rehydration for uncooperative subjects;
  • Threatening to harm loved ones, including telling one subject that his mother’s throat would be cut if he failed to provide information;
  • Locking a subject in a coffin-sized confinement box for 266 straight hours;
  • Waterboarding a single subject 183 times;
  • Stripping subjects naked, shackling them in a standing position for as much as 72 straight hours, and dousing them with cold water.

What an invaluable resource for home and office.  Is your teenager hesitant to tell you where he and his buddies went last night? Try rectal rehydration! Do you have a subordinate at the office who can’t explain why he keeps missing his sales quotas? The confinement box works wonders!

Just imagine the bestselling advice book these guys could have written with Adolf Eichmann