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2019-09-11 13:13:571 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency (Image source: Public domain)
This defies the reasoning of everything we know about spies and witness protection. A CIA source who was deep within Russian politics has been missing for the past couple of years and has now been outed by a Russian newspaper as living in the Washington D.C. suburbs with his family under the same name.
Incredibly, this comes up within hours of it being published that an unnamed CIA source who had been a mid-level Russian official with access to Vladimir Putin had confirmed that the Russian president ordered the 2016 election meddling and was then pulled from Russia after the U.S.'s second offer to remove the official.
It has not been confirmed whether this is the same CIA source.
The Russian Kommersant newspaper reported on Tuesday that Oleg Smolenkov, a "missing" employee of the Putin administration, had been spotted in the United States.
It reported that Smolenkov disappeared during a family vacation. They suggested maybe he was the official who was removed by the U.S. in 2017.
Two addresses are shown for Smolenkov in the U.S.: a six-bedroom home in Stafford, Virginia, and the Russian Embassy in Northwest Washington. Diplomatic records show he worked as a "second secretary" in the embassy from at least 2006 until 2008.
Smolenkov worked for Yuri Ushakov, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., from 1999 to 2008. Once in Moscow, he was an aide to Ushakov who has been close to Putin for years. He was Putin's foreign policy adviser when he became prime minister in 2008 and stuck with him when he became president in 2012.
"He's as close to Putin as you can get with respect to foreign policy matters and especially the United States," said a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, who was tight with Ushakov.
"He was ambassador for 10 years in Washington. So he's highly regarded as their country's expert on America" and is in every meeting the Russian president has with a head of state.
The unnamed source who confirmed that Putin had ordered the U.S. election meddling worked for the CIA for more than 10 years and was removed from Russia in May or June of 2017, according to current and former officials.
In the 2018 book "Fear," Bob Woodward wrote that the CIA felt its informant "was in such jeopardy" that they wanted to move them to another country.
"The source refused to leave, apparently out of fear of repercussions against the person's family if the source suddenly left Russia or disappeared."
A person who lives across the street from the Virginia home said that the family moved there earlier this year. Smolenkov, his wife, and children left on Monday evening and haven't been back.
A Washinton Post reporter visited the home on Tuesday morning and noted it seemed to be deserted, with only two black Italian dogs often used as guard dogs there. Drapes were drawn across the windows.
If the family did indeed desert the house, they seem to have done it very quickly, as there were toys and clothing left in the yard, a woman's sweatshirt was left on a patio chair, and there was a full ashtray and two lighters on a table.
A neighbor speaking anonymously said Smolenkov didn't have a job and after moving in said he looked forward to taking care of the house and gardens.
"He said he had a lot of time on his hands," reported the neighbor.
Former senior CIA officer Joseph Augustyn, who ran the National Resettlement Operations Center from 1999 to 2001 said it "boggles my mind" that
Smolenkov would be living in the U.S. without changing his name.
"That said," he added, "we respect the wishes of the particular defector."
"I can see him saying, 'Well, I want to live as normal a life as possible. I don't want to assume a new name, make it difficult on my wife and kids," continued Augustyn. "That's not what the agency would recommend."
A former senior CIA official speaking anonymously said they discourage defectors from using their real name or living near Washington where Russian intelligence frequent.
Former intelligence officials believe Putin knew Kommersant was publishing Smolenkov's name.
"If I'm speculating," said McFaul, "this is obviously to intimidate him and scare him."
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