Target USA -- Episode 151: David Whelan speaks out about his brother's arrest on espionage charges in Russia
From podcast one coming up in this episode of target USA. On our previous episode. We promised the second half of our interview with F B I Washington field office assistant director in charge. Nancy McNamara, but due to a quickly developing story, we need to change topics. The second half of the MacNamara interview will be presented in the next few weeks. In the meantime, on December twenty eighth 2018, Paul Whalen, or former US marine and citizen of the US disappeared in Russia. Three days later, he turned up in a Russian prison arrested for allegedly committing espionage. What was he doing there? What was the basis for the charges is he a pawn in a political tug of war between the US and Russia? Nobody wants to see a citizen locked up in this way. You know, we're we're ten days past defect that he was allegedly spy. We have no charges officially from the Russian government that detail. Exactly what that means we in which elements of the actor they talking about. And so that it's all very concerning. The the lack of information. In an extensive interview target USA spoke with Huilan's twin brother, David and got answers to all these questions. Some of them may surprise you. But after you, listen, there will be no doubt. Just how serious this situation is coming on. This addition of target USA. National security podcast. From WTO in Washington DC. This is target USA. Russia could render huge arm to this country North Korea's secret missile capable of reaching the whole of the United States dangerous terrorists DC is repeatedly mentioned some place. They would like to see an attack cyber criminal successful America as a target on its back and on this program. We investigate the threats the people behind them, the agencies fighting them and the impact on you. This is target USA be national security podcast. I'm Jay Jay green this program, as you know, is called target USA. And as we always say whether its terrorists anarchist, cybercriminals or nation states America has a target on its back, and we investigate the threats facing the US the people behind them the agencies fighting them and their impact on Americans. Unfortunately, US citizens are often targeted by foreign actress just because they are American that appears to be what happened in the case of Paul Whalen. He went to Moscow from his home in Michigan in late December and hasn't returned yet. Because he's in one of the nastiest prisons on the planet known for cold showers, intense, interogations and extreme isolation. A staple of the Cold War and the KGB he's charged with espionage. Something is family, and the US government says is ridiculous. The way it all happened could easily be and I'm willing to bet eventually will become the storyline for a blockbuster spy movie. So in order to get the answers about what happened. We went to the best source. We could find his twin brother, David. Thank you again. David for joining us and for the benefit of our listeners who may not be familiar with all of the details of the story. Your brother Paul is involved in now he was traveling in Russia in December. And on the twenty eighth of December understand something odd happen catches up on what he was doing there. And what took place on the twenty eighth which you're still dealing with. Now. January ninth twenty nineteen what took place at that time on December twenty second Paul flew into Moscow. He was visiting to participate in a wedding an American friend of his former marine. Like Paul was having a wedding ceremony there and had brought over his American family and has Paul to attend the wedding as well since Paul had been to Russia a few times in the past and to help guide the Americans around the sites to sort of help them to navigate Moscow. So he was in the city. He was doing some sightseeing. He was visiting some friends and participating in this wedding party. And then on the twenty eighth after having participated that morning in it tour of the Kremlin armory with the people who are attending the wedding. He he just disappeared. He didn't attend the wedding which occurred that night and the groom attempted to contact him after the wedding was over. And there was no response from which is extremely uncharacteristic. So the groom reach out to us over the weekend. Let us know that he noted seen him or heard from him since Friday. And so we started looking to find out. What information we could on Monday morning on the twenty eighth? We found. On the thirty first I found that he had been detained. I found a Russian ministry statements aimed at Paul Whalen had been detained for espionage. And it's now been I guess almost ten days since he was detained and about a week since we were able to make contact with him at Lefortovo prison. So now, you learned about the fact that he was missing from his friend and you learn about the Russian arrest of from the Russian statement. How again did you come into that statement? How did you find that statement? I'm a librarian. So I got up first thing in the morning, and I got on the internet and started searching for things like American killed in Moscow American car-crash, Moscow that sort of thing and. Eventually came across. The news wires that were reporting that he had been detained. Would you feel when you saw that? A mixed emotions. Frankly, we were glad I was glad and Italy contacted the rest of my family that he was alive as far as we could tell so that was a positive thing. But then immediately your with the I guess horror is the best word that some member of your family's been detained in Russia on charges that are obviously very serious. And you know, the story about his arrest legendary being in a hotel room with somebody. He was charged with espionage and supposedly was in that hotel room with somebody and came into possession to the possession of a USB stick with classified information regarding people who are or were part of the Russian intelligence or military services. Do believe that story. Do I believe that he was in the possession of it? I could see how that might happen. Do I believe he was probably in trapped into having that in his possession. I think that's much more likely. I don't think Paul would have been the sort of person who would have risked. Espionage or spying in Russia. Even the experts are very careful about that sort of thing in Paul Paul listen to spy he's a tourist. And so even though he's risk-aware from his background in law enforcement and the military. I don't think that he would have willing or knowingly accepted any sort of information that would have caused him to break a law like the espionage act. What do you think he he was essentially railroad at this way? What I've been scratching my head. And we've been surprised by some of the information that's come out about Paul's background. We didn't know about his bad conduct discharge from the marines, for example. And yet each time at a rock is turned over. And we learned something new I saw that the the Russian media peers to be looking at his interest in tea glass holders on the trains, and apparently had a collection of those. You just find something that sounds more and more incredible. That, you know, whoever this person is, and I know him as my brother brother, but obviously there's a lot. I don't know about him. He's he's not a spy it terms of his travel to Russia. There seems to be some concern on your part in terms of what's being reported about it. You know, they're they're been reports that he traveled extensively in Russia. But if I remember correctly, I think you said in a correspondence a couple of days ago today being the ninth of January twenty nineteen that to your knowledge is only been there two or three times. Yes. In fact, we've been able to find a couple more times. But I think it's only still five or six that we've been able to confirm, and we're still looking to see in case he had been there more often. But for me, that's not many or significant when you consider that over the last thirty years, he's traveled extensively to many many different countries to within Europe to our relatives. In the UK. He's been to India. He's been to. I believe he's been to Japan. I know he's been to Korea. So he's he's really traveled very extensively. And so the the focus on his Russian trips and portraying him as some sort of Russophile just scenes very different from the the person I knew or even based on the the activities that he was doing that. I would have considered labeling him. Yeah. There's a lot that confirms in corroborates. What you're saying about your brother, including this development the other day where we learned that he had several different passports, a US passport, a British passport, a Canadian passport Irish. And you know, some have tried to. Some people not very well educated about spying have tried to weave that into this idea that he might have had those passports for those reasons, but the story is very different, isn't it? It is I think he had four passports under four different names and head sort of secreted them in some sort of case, I guess maybe that would be so Jason Bourne spying, but Paul and I were born in Canada to British parents. And so we were born with two passports in two citizenships. My parents had emigrated from Britain and my dad's dad had emigrated from Ireland to Britain. So when Paul emigrated to America, he was able to naturalize he wanted to do that in order to be to work in law enforcement, he naturalized, and he so he got his third citizenship that way, and then when the Irish changed a law that allowed grandchildren to get an Irish passport he thought it would be I think a way to honor his heritage. But there's it's all in his own name. He hasn't done anything peculiar excel. But perhaps to people who only have maybe one pass border or maybe only to to have four maybe seem strange, and it's interesting, David, you mention this because I think it's all somewhere that he and your sister have sort of a friendly competition regarding passports is that true. No. I don't think that's accurate. I've seen the same thing. I think the the word game was used. And I think that that's not the that's not what we meant by it or not what my siblings by it. I think when the law was changed. It was much more of which one of us could get one I between the two of them. But it wasn't that they were trying to get additional passports beyond the four that they were legally allowed to attain and I never looked to to get one myself. And I'm not sure that my brother my other brother did. So I think it's one of the things that it's just a word out of context, we didn't mean to have Paul's interest, or frankly, my sister's interest in citizenship to sound flippant or that it was not a value valuable thing. Do you know, I can imagine your parents. Are probably going through it right now. If if you don't mind me asking just for a little bit of context on how they're doing. I think they're doing amazingly. Well, we seem to for whatever reason be resilient family. I mean, unfortunately this morning, I had a contact from a reporter who said we've heard that police are executing search warrants, and and normally you would just say that's completely ludicrous. But now, I've got a call my parents and ask them, you know, is this happening, and it isn't. But you just so you're in that sort of thing where you're trying to protect them as much as you can from the the stories and the rumors and speculation and also the Frank uncovering of information about their son's life that they didn't know either. While at the same time doing your best to to help Paul into get him back back to the USA now back to Paul. What's your sense of how he's doing? The embassy has had one visit with him. That's all they've been allowed. So far the American embassy, and he sounds like he's as well as he could be considering that he's in detention. I think they've had a medical check of on him just to confirm what his medical condition is. And we were able to receive information and instructions from him from that first meeting, and that was when he requested consular access from these other three countries interestingly spoke yesterday today with Canadians and the British and they say that they have expressed interest in in the process of trying to schedule constant visits with with him. But, you know, interestingly David the word they both used or the words they both used were very concerned, quote, very concerned about your brother. What to your knowledge would be the reason to be very concerned is it because of this, obviously, you know, there's a reason to be concerned because he's he was arrested for something that you believe he didn't do. But is there any reason to believe that his life or his health might be in jeopardy? I don't think there's a concrete reason for it. I'm not saying that I want to suggest that we aren't concerned we are concerned. I think really the reason is not that we think that there's a particular reason that it could happen. But it that we have no details about why he's in there. And so the arbitrariness I think is is why we're all very very concerned about Paul's condition. It's not it's not that we know that he has under particular risk that. But that he's just under a completely arbitrary is. We don't know where whatever. Threat is not quite the word. I mean, but whatever issue he's under whatever cloud. He's underwear. That's where that's coming from. And I think that's the problem is that, you know, expand this past Paul who is obviously some rather odd. Duck assays what I've seen him described as to any American who's traveling to Russia are any British person or Canadian or Irish citizen. Nobody wants to see a citizen locked up in this way. You know, we're we're ten days past the fact that he was alleged allegedly spy, we have no charges officially from the Russian government that detail exactly what that means we in which elements of the espionage act or they talking about. And so that it's all very concerning. The the lack of information. Bencze David Whelan, his brother Paul as in Russian custody. No formal charges have been filed but rushing with authorities claim he's a US spy David says, he thinks it's likely brother was trapped and that he scratching his head about much of what he's heard about the case when we come back. We'll discuss the place his brother is being held which is one of the toughest prisons on the planet and some of the bizarre things taking place behind the scene including him ending up with the Russian speaking lawyer. I think what strange about it is that Paul is in porta and didn't have his glasses. When the American embassy staff met with him. And so they were able to translate a request that Paul could have his glasses and yet Mr. issuer Bianca doesn't speak English. And so it would just seemed to be very strange choice for someone to hire lawyer who doesn't speak his own language. That's coming up when we return. The national security podcast. Imagine the home you've always known sinking into oblivion community away of Virginia island population. Four hundred sixty is being swallowed by the Chesapeake Bay the first full fledged town that's probably going to get lost horizon. America can disaster be stopped. Should it? Be shell the Lord destroy Tien Gier going under the story of Tange ear island available on podcast one. I tunes and at going under podcast dot com. This is a target USA moment episode one the show that started it all. Almost every morning. You're in Washington directorate, national intelligence goes to the White House to brief the president about the threats and the challenges the US face it. It's called the president's daily briefing and Clamper gave us a look at his office at how he gets prepared to do that. But for three and start right away and reading the news clips, and that sort of thing get the car protective detail brings me in. And I start reading the ipad, we have president's daily brief and Clapper who's been gathering intelligence for more than a half century. This what he's seeing now is not good fifty plus years. Don't know time we've been beset by a more diverse array of challenges and crises around the world. Sometimes it all almost makes you long for the house in days of the Cold War and a single all consuming adversaries, so you which we came to understand pretty well. This has been a target USA moment episode number one down LeVine. Relive. I'm Jay Jay green in this his target USA the national security God cast on this episode. We've been talking with David Whelan, his twin brother poll, a former US marine disappeared in Russia on December twenty eighth and he's been telling us how this simply doesn't add up. That is brother is not a spy and their efforts to get him back home. Now, we continue our story with him telling us about where his brother is being held and the possibilities for him being released. One of the things that we've we've heard as well is is that he is in the four Tova prison. What do you know about that prison? I just know what everybody else knows by reputation. It's it appears to be a very nasty place to be. I don't know that I would wish it on my enemy, let alone on my brother right early. So you mentioned some time ago that there might be a chance for your brother to get out of prison on bail of you heard anything about that. No. I've just seen the accounts that were in the press that his lawyer has filed motions on his behalf and that apparently avail motions part of that. But I'm not sure how that would work and considering that we have no information that the deputy foreign minister appears said that there are no charges being laid yet. I guess I don't have high hopes that even if bail is considered that they would grant it because they don't seem to be interested in having any communication about his case. And speaking of communication, I with your lawyer understanding. Based on some communications from you. You had a bit of difficulty communicating with his lawyer. Well, it was a strange situation. And and I think that some of the things I said about Mr Sharon being have been misinterpreted. I don't I'm not I don't know anything about his competence or his ability as a lawyer. So I'm leaving that aside we had understood when we we were in a seventy two hour window between when we learned that he'd been detained on that Monday and Wednesday when the American embassy was able to go and see him. And so during that time, we did what we could understand what the process would be in the process. We understood was that the embassy would proffer a list of recommended not recommended. I'm sorry proffer list of English-speaking lawyers to Paul and that he could then select from that list or make a request to us to help him to to find council. And so we were surprised when the American staff got there and Paul essentially already selected somebody it just seemed very it was unusual. It was not how expected the process to to work. What do you think he did that? Well, I'm still not one hundred percent sure that Paul did Seles. Him. At least, you know, in the way that we expect a again, I don't have any details about that. I think what's strange about it is that Paul was in LaPorta and didn't have his eyeglasses when the American embassy staff met with him. And so they were able to translate a request that Paul could have his glasses and yet Mr. Bianca doesn't speak English. And so it would just seem to be very strange choice for someone to hire lawyer who doesn't speak his own language. You get the sense that that lawyer was appointed. I don't really have any details. Either way. It's it's just it's just one of the many many odd things that have come up in this case what else is in that case that you have come across. Well, I think just the idea of someone like Paul who lives, I think so openly on social media and travel so extensively that he would be selected as someone who could potentially be a spy. The other part of the communications piece there there's been some discussion about the fact or the possibility that he might actually be upon. Do you agree with that idea? You know, it's hard to know. I saw the Kremlin spokesman. I think his name was Mr. peskov speak today or yesterday about how the Russians don't use ponds. And I've seen the the discussion in the press about how he is upon and, you know, I it's really hard to know with Maria Bhuttan is case happening. So recently with the arrest of Mr. Makarenko in north Marietta's. You know, there are a lot of pieces at appear to be in play that could be related, but from our perspective, it's mostly a distraction from trying to focus on Paul and Paul's needs and and getting Paul home. All right. So we've talked quite a bit about the situation and how this all happened. And you know, what what what's what's going on to some degree? So I'd like to hear from you for a little bit about what you would like the public and everyone to know one about your brother about the situation and about what you want done. Well, I think what I want people to know is that Paul obviously has things in his pass it he. Isn't or shouldn't be proud of. But that also he has worked very very hard to reinvent himself multiple times he had reached a point in his life. We're both middle aged for twins in our late forties where he'd he got the kind of lifestyle in the jobs that he wanted. He was doing the sort of work you liked and doing the traveling enjoyed and I think that the the whole spy cast of of Paul Whalen, is is overshadowing the fact that he was just really someone who did work. You liked and traveled a lot. And I think that that that Paul is the Paul that we wish people could see from an from a next steps perspective. I think one of the concerns we have ongoing is there seems to be a lack of information flow from the Russian government. So we I've been asked a number of times about things that I just can't speak to because we don't have any idea secretary Pompeo into last week that once new more about the charges if they weren't appropriate than policy brought home, but I think that even at those levels. There doesn't seem to be this sort of information flow that you would expect. And there have been comments in the press that the Russians would normally have shown their evidence or discuss the case more there's been radio silence on their part too. So I think we would hope that whatever levers of government can be used would start that information flow. So that we can all understand better. Why Paul's in the position he is. Speaking of information flow, have you heard much from the State Department? How often are they in touch with you all regularly? I I would guess even daily Paul has three siblings. And so we've we split the workload. I'm trying to raise his profile and keep his story covered. So that you all can talk about his detention. I've got a my sister is focused on working with contacting congress people in senators and my other brothers dealing with the embassy. And so we are getting regular updates perhaps almost daily updates from people at the embassy in Moscow on either Paul's condition last week or since then. On activity such as contracts with the the other embassies, which the Americans will coordinate and other things like trying to get a power of attorney signed get trying to get the Privacy Act waiver signed things like that. Conditions or medical concerns that you worry about at this point. Not really I think I mean, he's he's a late forties fellow. He's he's probably got ailments. None of which should really cause many medical concern. Yeah. We all do that. I understand if you were at this point to have an opportunity to speak with the Russian government. What would you say to them? Boy, that's a tough one. I mean. Wanna put you in a tough spot. But if you had a message he would like the Russian government to here, and they will I can guarantee you hear this. What would you like for them to hear what what would you like to say? I think I would say that if Paul isn't a pawn in a political game. Then there must be a much clearer reason for him to have been arrested, and I would hope for them to to look at that reason. Either to explain it to us or accept that a mistake was made and do the honorable thing. And let him go like they would let anybody who was charged mistakenly charged with a crime, let him go and allow them to come home, are you and your family considering going there? We are not no we aren't sure about the resources required to defend Paul in criminal court in in Moscow, the cost of lawyers and things like that. And so we're marshalling whatever resources we have right now to do the to the work from the the United States. The extent we can until there comes a point where visit might be might have some value to pulse case. You know, it's interesting you mentioned, you're you're you're in the law business in. I'm sure that is a very very beneficial thing to have right now. How's that help you? Well, I I run one of the biggest law libraries in in Ontario. So I've got access to stuff which has been good. So it's meant that I've been able to get quick access to things like the the appellate decision in his bad conduct discharge to research. The Russian criminal code and the procedural code for criminal courts in Russia to extent that has been translated. You know, it helps me to understand if if people are talking about the espionage act, then I can help to translate some of that for my family where they might otherwise be at sea for the rest of us, and we will just sort of conclude this in a couple of moments for the rest of us the. He was traveling there with some friends and supposed to be a part of of of a wedding party didn't make it to the wedding party. What happened with the rest of the folks that were there that he was there with? As far as I understand, they're fine. We've been in some limited contact with them. And and the groom has been in contact with US embassy in Moscow, and we've just been trying to be very careful with his information to try not identify for his privacy really end as soon I think at one once he's back in the states. We're hoping that he will speak up an either through private channels or publicly validate that Paul was at this wedding merely as a friend merely as tourist and the entire weaving of the the spy persona is is a is a red herring. Anything you want to add that I haven't asked you about that. You think is important. No, I think you've really covered covered where we are. I think until the information released to flow about what Paul's against we're we're hoping that the for governments will keep an eye on Paul and that hopefully behind the scenes things are happening that will help them to come home quickly. Do you believe you're getting enough help from the government here? So far. Yes. I'm I try and focus on a my professional expertise and ice in that other people are using their professional expertise. And that includes the people in the government who are engaged both of the on the legislative side in the executive side where agencies are are focused on Paulin, and we have gotten confirmation or assurances from people like in or Huntsman. And so on that people are engaged in Paul's issue. So I've I've faith that they are doing what they can. And certainly we are confident or comfortable with the sport. We've had from the American embassy. Absolutely. Finally, a message to your brother. What would you say doing right now? I would tell him to stay strong and be patient. And I mean, I know that he understands how serious issue is. And to know that we care about him that will bring them home assumes weekend. Thank you so much. We appreciate it. And we do as as I've told you several times send our thoughts and prayers to you and your family for your brother being in this situation and your family. Situation and the situation and we hope with resolve itself. Very soon. Thank you very much JJ. Appreciate the time to be beauty. David Whelan talking with us about his brother Paul's case. We'll bring you all the details regarding it as they developed and in the process coming up on our next episode of target USA the Russians say Paul Whalen is an undercover spy for the US. But a woman who was a CIA covert agent says he's not spy material, and what the Russians are up to his plain old revenge. Russians are advanced sticking their finger in our eye. They are dairy upset that miss be Tina, the Russian national who has been indicted on charges of interference with the NRA election process, and so forth and is being held in the United States. They they don't like that at all. So this may be their kid for tat Valerie plane, a former CIA. A covert officer says this could be one of the biggest and most provocative developments since the crumbling of the Soviet Union and the so-called end of the Cold War. Absolutely. It's a shot across the Dow. Because again, if you're doing legitimate business in Moscow in Russia, and you can just be pulled off the street as this guy was. That'll shut that down. Right right away. We really are entering in many ways a second Cold War. That's coming up on our next addition as always, thank you. Sincerely for taking your time to listen to us. I really do. Appreciate your support. Please subscribe to our podcast. And if you have an idea some information, you want to share with us about a possible story reach out to us. You can find us on Twitter at t- USA podcast. That's tango. Uniform Sierra alpha podcast. You can communicate with us directly. And we can provide secure communications instructions for you in the process. You can let us know what you think about what we're doing Howard doing. You can reach out directly to me at J green at WTO p dot com. That's the letter j the color green at whiskey Tango. Oscar Papa dot com. J green WTO p dot com. I'm Jay Jay green. This his target USA. The national security podcast. Now, stay tuned for the latest headlines from the Associated Press.