Paul Whelan, a United States citizen and retired Marine, was arrested in Russia under accusations of spying last week, but his family says that Whelan was only visiting the country for a wedding. The 48-year-old security consultant from Michigan was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service, which released a statement claiming Whelan was arrested “during an espionage operation”
“We are deeply concerned for [Paul’s] safety and well-being,” his brother, David Whelan, said on Twitter. “His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected.”
My brother was detained by the Russian government on Friday as an alleged spy. While the law library + info focus will remain, you may see an increase in off-message topics until we get him safely home. pic.twitter.com/2HIF1UmS1b
— David Whelan (@davidpwhelan) January 1, 2019
According to his brother, Whelan was in the country for a wedding between an American citizen and a Russian woman. Whelan was last seen touring the Kremlin with the bride and groom on Friday, but friends began to worry when he did not show up to the wedding ceremony held later that day. Family said they grew concerned when Whelan was not in contact with them that day, which they say “was very much out of character for him, even when he was traveling.”
The U.S. State Department released a statement saying that they have requested consular access to Whalen but offered no further comment on the arrest. “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,” the statement said.
Whelan is employed as a security consultant with BorgWarner, an auto parts supplier.
“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 of his brother’s job. “But it wasn’t cybersecurity. It wasn’t body-guard type of security. It was much more about the physical plant.”
Many are speculating that Whelan’s arrest is a move by Vladimir Putin to open negotiations to trade him for arrested Russian spy Maria Butina. “This wasn’t planned yesterday. It was probably planned back after [Butina] was arrested,” Dan Hoffman, a former Moscow station chief for the CIA, told The Daily Beast. “They want to deter future U.S. actions against other private citizens.”