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Virginia residents question whether their neighbor was a Russian informant

78 Partridge Lane in Stafford, Virginia (Google Maps/Released)
September 14, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

As U.S. and Russian officials cast doubt on the accuracy of U.S. media reports that two years ago the CIA extracted a Russian intelligence asset who allegedly provided top-secret information on President Vladimir Putin, efforts to identify the man led to an estate an hour’s drive southwest of Washington, D.C.

No one answered when an RFE/RL reporter rang the doorbell of 78 Partridge Lane in Stafford, Virginia, listed in public records as being owned by Oleg Smolenkov, the same name given by Kommersant and other Russian media as the alleged informant.

The drapes on the windows of the large home on a leafy cul-de-sac were pulled tight, and only a basketball court was visible in the back.

Homeowners in the neighborhood, described by one resident as full of current and former FBI and military personnel, were unable to positively identify the family that lived at the home.

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One neighbor, who identified himself as Greg Talley and said he lived across the street, told reporters that he knew the family had moved in more than a year ago, and thought they were Russian. He had heard the family left their house late after dark on September 9, but said he did not know where they had gone.

A mail carrier who pulled up and left something in the mailbox said Oleg Smolenkov sounded familiar, but declined to provide his name and gave no further information before driving away.

And Nicole Clements, a former army intelligence officer and neighbor, said there had been no mention of a new Russian neighbor by the homeowners association.

Public records show that the home was purchased on June 4, 2018, by Antonina Smolenkov and Oleg Smokenkov, in what appears to by a typo. In January 2019 the spelling is changed to Oleg Smolenkov, and in March ownership is transferred from Antonina Smolenkov and Oleg Smolenkov to a trust.

By all appearances, it is the same Oleg Smolenkov and family whose name is being tied by Russian media to reports by The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post that the CIA had extracted an individual who had provided information about Putin, including information about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Without identifying the person’s name, the U.S. outlets on September 9 reported that the man was considered a valuable asset for U.S. intelligence, and that while he was not in Putin’s inner circle, he had access to Russian security planning and other classified information.

Unidentified Russian officials told the newspaper Kommersant that the reports were false. A CIA spokeswoman told CNN, the first to report the story, that its report was “misguided speculation.” And U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on September 10 called the reports “inaccurate.”

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But the Russian daily Kommersant reported that the alleged informant may have worked as a high-ranking civil servant in the presidential administration, and earlier, in the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The paper identified the man as Oleg Smolenkov.

Responding to reporters’ questions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that a man by that name had worked in the administration, “but he was fired several years ago.”

Public records from the Russian government administration in 2008 and 2010 show a person by that name employed in Putin’s administration while he was serving as prime minister between 2008 and 2012. In 2010, a Smolenkov was promoted to the relatively high civil-service ranking, under an order signed by then-President Dmitry Medvedev.

Prior to Moscow, a Smolenkov was listed as working as a second secretary at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., according to a personnel listing from the time. The ambassador at that time was Yury Ushakov, who later returned to Moscow and became a deputy chief of staff for Putin and then a foreign-policy adviser.

The Times reported that the CIA sought to move the alleged informant out of Moscow in early 2016 but he declined, citing family concerns. That changed in the first half of 2017, according to the daily, when the Russian agreed.

Smolenkov’s name crops up again in the online news site Daily Storm, which reported that Russian investigators had opened a murder probe after Smolenkov and family vanished while in Montenegro in June 2017.

Kommersant quoted unidentified security officials as saying that the murder investigation was opened and closed several times.

Media have speculated that the same Oleg and Antonina Smolenkov — along with their three children — eventually made it to the United States and U.S. government protection.

Talley said the family that lived across the street from him had moved down from northern Virginia.

One of the children, he believed, went to Mountain View High School right near the house. Talley said he invited the family to join other neighbors in watching the July 4th holiday firework display on the quiet, tree-lined street.

But Talley and Clements expressed disbelief that someone who was allegedly working as a CIA informant would be allowed to live so openly in the United States.

“If he is on our side, why would his handler let him put his house in his own name?” Talley told RFE/RL.