Any discussion about the imprisoned American has to start with the acknowledgment that he’s about the ONLY thing that Trump and the Kremlin outright disagree about. That alone makes him important and remarkable.
On the surface Michigander Paul Whelan is a guy who is something of a Russophile. Not a crime. At first described as a ‘retired Marine” and “Missing Wedding Guest” the details that have emerged since would point to more ‘disgraced Ex-Marine who maybe even thought he was living in a Tom Clancy novel.’
Weeks after the United States arrested Maria Butina the Russians grabbed up Whelan, allegedly in Moscow to attend a wedding. He disappears in the very last days of December 2018. Then things just got weird fast.
Whelan the Marine
The 30,000 foot view would say that Whelan was a mixed bag as a Marine, but he had never figured on full-time military career when he joined. Maybe he was okay with weekend warrior and a trip to the sandbox once or twice, but Whelan’s original intent was to be a reservist when he joins in 1994.
Never the less for a few months on two occasions (in 04 and 06) he was sent to Iraq where he apparently continued his Military Operations Speciality- as a paper pushing clerk. It’s nothing to laugh at, the Marines need an office staff too. He was sent to a horrible place and it definitely sucked. But he doesn’t seem to be a particularly dangerous guy even in pictures from before he was kicked out of the Corps. Why his time in Iraq was described as ‘a few months’ is hard to say. It was notably not termed “two tours”.
So while he was okay and made Staff Sergeant, in 2004, he really was more Staff than Sergeant. Then comes the downfall.
As a white-collar criminal Whelan outright sucks and gets caught, badly. Rather than come to an arrangement with his creditors he just starts lying about what happened and maybe stirs the pot with a few desperate financial moves. Marines aren’t supposed to do that kind of thing. It probably started around 2006 based on when his actions caught up with him.
It seems he was scheming to get a credit card under false identity or had used someone else’s card without permission. It’s hard to tell. Whether or not the fact he was already on the Russian Government controlled version of Facebook figured in to the conviction is unclear. He was stone cold busted on the fraud charges. There may have been no reason to look further.
It may just be possible he misused his access to USMC personnel files to obtain the questionable social security numbers he was playing around trying to get credit with. It begs the question;”What else did he do before he got caught for this scheme?” Like maybe something the Russians were hanging over him?
The Marine Court-Martial regarded his deeds as Larceny, which is just a fancy way to call someone a thief. It looks like they decided Whelan had made some moral compromises. Most likely he cheated a credit card company out of some money and possibly also ruined someone else’s financial reputation to make his own life easier.
Whatever he was doing demoting him was seen as simply too lenient. So he was tossed out of the Marines despite the fact we were in the middle of 2 wars. Not much of recommendation.
Just weeks into 2008 he gets cashiered out of the USMC, essentially for lying, trying to steal and lacking financial ethics. Sound like anyone we know?
At that moment he joined the ranks of other disgraced Marines like Oliver North.
After the Marines
Too compromised to stay in the service but still saddled with a bunch of debt would make this guy a decent low risk gamble for the Russians, who seem to be skilled at guiding people down an appealing treasonous path. Maybe he unwittingly gets compromised somehow. Not exactly a classic cold war sleeper agent but this is a new Cold War with new rules.
Pure conjecture could be that maybe his debt problems were from gambling and his bookie turned out to be Russian mob? Or could he just be a sex tourist that just doesn’t want to say why they were there?
Whelan was living in his native Michigan and was employed as a security adviser by auto parts giant BorgWarner. Responsibilities might include something like assessing whether anyone was slacking or stealing from the Mega Conglomerate.
Was he already with the BorgWarner Corporation while a Marine? Wouldn’t corporate security seem a bad fit for a confirmed white-collar criminal? Is something up with BorgWarner? Just hiring a guy with a shabby rep for a job that requires some integrity is a head scratcher.
In social media he had a 10 plus year presence on a Russia-specific (so Kremlin controlled) version of a Facebook type service. A strange and naive move for someone who had already gotten in trouble for things involving identity theft. His motives are hard to figure.
Even 13 years ago the idea that you would let the Russians data mine your social media (not that they didn’t get into Facebook itself) is plain old bad judgement and probably bolstered the case against him at his Court-Martial if it came up.
One way or another he ends up an Ex-Marine, unheard of in the culture of the Corps where the motto goes “Once a Marine Always a Marine.” It must’ve been humbling. At this point he’s ripe for the picking in the eyes of the FSB. The Russian Intel service is well known to be an avid recruiter of compromised or desperate people.
While he was no Paul Manafort when it comes to embezzlement his own problems loomed just as large in his life.
An American in Prison
While his family says he went to Russia to attend a wedding the truth is he could also simply have been a sex tourist. It’s not like this doesn’t ever happen, its prevalent enough. We already know Whelan had terrible judgment, so why wouldn’t this be a possibility? While we’re on it; we all know it’s rumored Trump himself supposedly engaged in Sex Tourism when he went to Moscow in 2013. We also know that’s what’s allegedly on the so-called Pee-Tape (if it exists).
For some reason or another the Russians decided it was time to grab Whelan and throw espionage charges that could land him in a Russian Prison for 20 years at him. It could have been for leverage against the US, and his life story won’t help him.
While the Russians have said he’s a spy the administration has denied that. The US position on the case is that Whelan’s a nobody who should be freed.
The Ambassador Himself?!
It’s hard to say whether its simple ineptitude or a sign of true concern by the administration that the Ambassador Huntsman himself was sent to check on this ‘average person’. I’m not sure that sending our most senior person to check on Whelan did anything to minimize his profile or the Kremlin charges. This would seem to be “deputy ambassador” turf. Whether the actual ambassador is the right move or not is hard to say.
We’ve seen the Trump people mishandle and manhandle protocol over and over. Trump himself is always inappropriate. Remember him shoving the president of Montenegro out of the way like a dick in a photo-op? Two years into the Trump chaos its sometimes hard to recall how things went when we had a professional president rather than General Bone Spurs.
The Russians operate on a petty but persistent level. Sending Huntsman himself to the jail to see the guy seems a huge win. They orchestrated an out of the ordinary response and will use it t back up their story. It may have been better to play small ball on this one.
On the surface at this moment it seems it was a possible escalation and error in protocol to send the actual ambassador. Surely if this whole thing is no big deal, why send our number one guy?
Is Whelan s Spy?
While Whelan might be doing some underhanded things it seems unlikely he’s a US asset. His military career is less remarkable than most and his discharge was for trying to commit fraud. Just discrediting and it probably means no AMERICAN intel agency would hire him, at least not openly. He’s a documented liar.
So whose spy is he? A couple of possibilities come to mind but he was most in bed with the Russians.
Could the FSB have compromised him? Or perhaps convinced him he was a very important guy? It would seem more likely than any of our intel agencies using him. Maybe he’s helping the Russian mob steal automatic transmission clutch plates or other materials associated with auto manufacturing. Or maybe he took money to stop investigating theft from BorgWarner.
Cashed Up Agent of Fortune for someone like Turkey or a compromised and dishonest American who the Russians were able to manipulate seems closer to truth than CIA operative. For one thing we probably would never hire a liar who has shifting financial morality to be much more than a pawn
It’s hard to imagine that “Thrown out of the USMC for lying and stealing” was the ‘cover story’ to create a spy. He had too much baggage to be much more than a clerk and he couldn’t be trusted to be a that, so how could he end up a spy?
Slamming him as a thief and kicking him out of the military for being a criminal hardly sounds like the way they would dress up someone recruited out of the Marines for intel work. Why question his honor? Why not just have his records be murky? Whelan would probably have been charged with fighting or something that didn’t involve dishonesty if it were a cover story. At the end of the day our operatives can’t be so despicable we ourselves can’t trust them at all ourselves.
In light of what the Russians say happened they may have set Whelan up. The arrest documents we got today indicate he was ‘arrested in his hotel room five minutes after accepting a flash drive’, and that flashdrive had some classified Russian stuff on it.
This could mean anything really. There’s a lot of reasons to accept a flashdrive. The Russians may have convinced him the info was valuable and he could do some kind of freelance intel operation.
Well this is just going too good for the Russians for them to let him go anytime soon. They’ve dragged our Ambassador to their jail in just days. They may decide this is fun and hold this guy til Butina is released or for 20 years.