Russian media claim CIA spy in the Kremlin is former aide to one-time Russian Ambassador to U.S.
Russian media has reported that the spy may be diplomatic aide Oleg Smolenkov
The CIA mole was extracted from Russia in 2017, U.S. media revealed yesterday
Today the Kremlin said Smolenkov had worked there but was not close to Putin
Reports claimed the decision to extract the spy was taken after Donald Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian officials in 2017.
Intelligence officials fear that the mole who was extracted from Moscow may still be under threat in the United States. – Those fears appear well-founded after another former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in Britain in March last year.
Two Russian assassins smeared the nerve agent Novichok on Skripal’s front door in Salisbury after flying over from Moscow, UK authorities say.
Sergei and his daughter Yulia Skripal were taken seriously ill but both survived.
However, another woman died after she was accidentally exposed to the Soviet-era nerve agent.
Britain accused the Kremlin and its GRU intelligence chiefs of ordering the attack, sparking a wave of diplomatic expulsions.
UK police identified two men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as the hit-men and the government said Putin was ‘ultimately responsible’ for the poisonings.
But Russia’s government has denied all involvement and the two men claimed in a bizarre interview that they were only there to see Salisbury’s cathedral.
Skripal was a Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain.
He was imprisoned in Russia and released as part of a spy swap with the West, which took place in Vienna in 2010.
His current whereabouts are unknown.
In 2006 another former Russian agent, Alexander Litvinenko, was killed by a radioactive poison at a London hotel.
A public inquiry concluded that he had been murdered by Russian intelligence, likely with the approval of President Vladimir Putin.
Similarly, Britain named two suspects but the Kremlin denied everything.
‘His position was not in the category of senior official,’ Peskov said. ‘This position does not call for contacts with the President as such.
‘I don’t know whether he was an agent or not. I can only confirm that he worked for the presidential administration and he was sacked.’
The Kremlin does not know where Smolenkov is now and is not looking for him, the spokesman said.
Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday he had never heard of Smolenkov.
‘I have never seen this man, have never met him, and have never monitored his career or movements,’ Lavrov said.
Mystery has surrounded Lavrov’s Oval Office meeting with Trump in 2017, which caused some alarm about Trump’s use of intelligence. There was concern at the time about the presence of a Russian photographer, employed by a state-run news agency.
Reports Monday said the decision to have the spy spirited out of Moscow was taken after that meeting. But Lavrov said today that nobody had divulged any secrets to him at the meeting with Trump.
U.S. government sources also insist Trump did not disclose secrets, such as the informant’s existence or identity, at any meeting with Russian officials.
Reports in American media say the informant was reluctantly pulled out of Moscow in 2017 over fears for their safety.
The report by Russian newspaper Kommersant which identified Smolenkov said a couple with the same name as the Russian and his wife had bought a property near Washington in 2018.
Smolenkov, who is aged around 50, has worked for Russia’s foreign ministry since the late 1990s.
the educated guess is that based on the fact that his profile matches the U.S. media description of a long-serving official who had risen to a position that brought him close to the center of power.
A top aide of Ushakov dating back to the latter’s years as ambassador in Washington from 1999 to 2008, during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Smolenkov returned to Moscow in 2008 with his boss Ushakov and continued to work on foreign policy.
Then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev awarded him an official rank in the country’s civil service in a presidential decree in 2010.
Discussing Smolenkov’s possible level of access, one intelligence source said: ‘This is serious’.
The agent in question is said to have photographed secrets on Putin’s desk and sent them to his American spy bosses.
According to Russian media, Smolenkov disappeared in Montenegro in June 2017, sparking a murder probe, but Russian officials later found that he was alive and living abroad.
He was said to have been on holiday with his wife Antonina and three children when he vanished. His wife has also worked for the Russian government after graduating from a Moscow university.
His reputed boss, Ushakov, was Russia’s ambassador in Washington from 1999 to 2008 and is now a Putin aide in the Kremlin.
According to a New York Times report, this is the agent who reported that Putin himself had organized Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.
The intelligence they provided also made American officials sure that Putin had ordered the hacking of Democratic emails in 2016.
Extracting him came at a cost as it ‘effectively blinded’ U.S. intelligence to Russia’s tactics ahead of the 2020 election, it is reported.
Today a senior Putin ally, Russian senator Frants Klintsevich, dismissed the claims of a top US Kremlin source as a ‘complete fake’.
He compared it to the story of Max Otto von Stierlitz, the lead character in a popular Russian spy series.
‘The time of Stierlitz is long gone if it ever existed, and there is no way that there could ever be some kind of American informant working inside the Russian government, he said.
‘Of course the whole story is a complete fake, and a badly made up fake, too.
‘We have yet another attempt to discredit Donald Trump by showing him like some kind of an amateur who can break the whole network of US agents with his uncanny moves.’
Little is known about the operation to extract the spy but the Russian reports match the American ones that the mole is now living in Washington under government protection.
A report by CNN yesterday suggested that intelligence chiefs were concerned about the President’s tendency to disclose information without warning.
The decision to remove the source was said to be taken after the 2017 Oval Office meeting – soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.
Intelligence sources have countered that the public and media attention which began before Trump took office was behind the extraction.
There was no evidence that Trump had in fact compromised the agent, they said.
The CIA’s director of public affairs, Brittany Bramell, told CNN: ‘Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence – which he has access to each and every day – drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.’
Trump characteristically responded, by attacking CNN, saying the network was ‘bad for the USA’ and repeating his mantra of ‘fake news’.
Before Trump even took office, the CIA had accused Russia of meddling in the election, sparking speculation about its sources.
At the time NBC reported that diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies had helped the CIA reach its conclusion. – The Washington Post reported that the CIA’s information relied on ‘sourcing deep within the Russian government’.
The spy’s initial refusal to move to America had sparked concern that they might be a double agent. However, those fears were eased when the informant finally agreed to be extracted in 2017.
There are still concerns for the family’s safety in America.
An NBC correspondent visited the man’s Washington home on Monday. The reporter said he was confronted by two men in an SUV to who come racing up to him and queried his mission there.
Last year a former Russian operative who spied for the West, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in an assassination attempt in Britain which UK authorities have blamed on Moscow. Skripal had settled in England after a high-profile spy swap in Vienna in 2010.
Two Russian assassins dispatched from Moscow smeared the nerve agent Novichok on Skripal’s front door in Salisbury, UK authorities say.
Moscow has denied involvement in the assassination attempt which left Skripal and daughter fighting for their lives.
He survived the nerve agent attack but his current whereabouts are unknown.