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Fmr. Marine Paul Whelan was handed Russian ‘state secrets’ moments before arrest; lawyer says ‘Russian setup’

Flash drive plugged into laptop. (Pexels/Released)
January 22, 2019

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan remains detained in Russia over espionage charges, with his lawyer now claiming he was set up.

Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov alleged in court that Whelan did not know the contents of the flash drive, or that it contained state secrets, and “does not admit guilt,” according to a CNN report on Tuesday.

Whelan thought the flash drive contained “cultural things, a trip to a cathedral, Paul’s holiday…photographs,” Zherebenkov said, according to Radio Free Europe. “Why it turned out that information containing state secrets was on there is still unknown.”

Whelan reportedly traveled to Russia on Dec. 22 to attend the wedding of a former Marine colleague and his Russian bride. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained him on Dec. 28, alleging he was on a “spy mission”

Russian news outlet Rosbalt had claimed that Whelan was “detained red-handed after receiving the media with information containing state secrets.” The “media” in question was reportedly a flash drive containing a list of employees in a secret agency.

The FSB stormed his room at the Metropol Hotel five minutes after the transfer took place, according to Rosbalt’s source.

Rosbalt’s source attests that Whelan used various Russian sites to connect with individuals employed by Russian state agencies. He reportedly pursued Russians over the internet “tracked and selected in advance by American intelligence as individuals who might have access to classified information.”

The Russian government has not released any specific details regarding the espionage charges against Whelan. Espionage carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years in Russia.

Zherebenkov appealed Whelan’s pretrial detention before a Moscow court on Tuesday, calling the detention “unwarranted and excessive.” The court, however, refused to release Whelan on bail. Zherebenkov vowed to appeal the ruling.

Whelan will be held at least until Feb. 28, but that date could be pushed back.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan said embassy representatives would attend the next hearings.

“We are closely following Paul Whelan’s case and continuing to call on Russia to adhere to international law and provide detained U.S. citizens with fast, fair, and transparent judicial processes,” she said.

Whelan was reportedly discharged from the Marine Corps in 2008 after a court-martial conviction of larceny. He served for 14 years and had at least two deployments to Iraq.

He currently works for the Michigan-based automotive company BorgWarner as a global security director.