American detained as spy in Russia is Marine veteran Paul Whelan

Russian President Vladimir Putin superimposed into a Russian Flag. Image by Lenny Ghoul.

The American citizen arrested and detained in Russia on the suspicion of being a spy was there for a wedding, his twin brother David told CNN in a statement from the family. They say Paul Whelan, a 48 year-old retired Marine, traveled to Russia on December 22 to attend the wedding of another former Marine and his Russian bride.

Paul had served as a tour guide to the couple and their wedding guests at the Kremlin earlier in the day of the wedding and then failed to show up for the ceremony. When Paul did not arrive for the wedding, his friends filed a missing persons report.

Mr. Whelan’s family found out about his detention after the media reported it on Monday. Whelan’s parents and siblings say, “We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being. His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected.”

“My understanding is that he was responsible for looking at the physical security of sites for his employer, to make sure that things couldn’t be stolen or be broken into,to remove the opportunities for people to have access to things they shouldn’t have access to,” David Whelan told CNN’s Poppy Harlow in a phone interview.

“But it wasn’t cybersecurity. It wasn’t body-guard type of security. It was much more about the physical plant.”


Paul Whelan works for BorgWarner, an auto parts maker based in Michigan. He worked in corporate security for the company since 2017. Kathy Graham, spokeswoman for BorgWarner, says Whelan’s trip to Russia was a private trip taken during the annual company shut down. She added that the company has no facilities in Russia.

Mr. Whelan has traveled extensively and, according to CNN, he spent a two week leave in Russia in 2006 when he was a staff sergeant. That trip was discussed in a Marine Corps article.

David said, “Knowing that he’s not dead, it weirdly really helps. When we couldn’t get ahold of him initially, we were worried, and we are still worried now, but at least we know he is alive.” The family pointed out that Paul being out of contact was very much not his normal behavior when he traveled.

Whelan faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage.

The Whelan family has been in contact with government agencies since Paul’s detention was announced, according to the New York Times. David says that US officials will see Paul within 72 hours of his arrest. “I think there’s really just one goal, which is … to get Paul back home,” David told CNN.

After the FBS, Russia’s Federal Security Service, announced Whelan’s arrest, the State Department released a statement saying, “Russia’s obligations under the Vienna Convention require them to provide consular access. We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it. Due to privacy considerations, we have no additional information to provide at this time.”

While Paul was born in Canada to British parents, the State Department confirms he is an American citizen, CNN reports. The 48 year-old resides in Novi, Michigan and served multiple tours in Iraq as a Marine.

As The News Blender reported on Monday, Whelan’s arrest comes two weeks after Maria Butina, the Russian arrested in July on suspicion of being a foreign agent, pleaded guilty. Tensions remain high between Russia and the US after US intelligence agencies released an assessment of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The New York Times points out that Russia is known to arrest foreign visitors so as to have leverage in negotiations for the release of their own citizens held by foreign nations.

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