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The US has run out of one of its key sources on the internal functioning of the Kremlin. According to CNN, the CIA had an informant in the environment of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but in 2017 he took it out of Russia for fear that an indiscretion of US President Donald Trump would expose him.
The source information was so important that the then CIA director, John Brennan, excluded his messages from the daily intelligence reports folder for US President Barack Obama and sent them in a separate sealed envelope . The source became the center of attention after major media outlets in the United States began investigating Russia's alleged interference in the U.S. presidential elections in 2016. Trump has claimed he knew nothing about this 'mole' Russian.
CNN has said that it reserves the details about the spy to reduce the risk of identification of that person. But some Russian media such as 'Kommersant' have already given their first and last names. It would be Oleg Smolenkov, an employee of the Presidential Administration, who went on vacation to Montenegro with his family in June 2017 and disappeared without a trace.
The Kremlin, through a spokesman, today described the story as a fantasy "belonging to the Pulp Fiction genre." But he has confirmed that someone with that name worked for them. In 2017, Oleg Smolenkov worked in the Foreign Policy Office of the presidential administration. From that position he passed information to the Americans. For the US to put it safe was complex and delicate. It was on a secret mission in 2017, so far not revealed.
An extraction, or "exfiltration" as intelligence agents call this operation, is an extraordinary resource when an asset is believed to be in immediate danger. Exfiltration is always a loss and even more so in this case: recruiting spies in the Kremlin is extremely difficult due to the effective counterintelligence of Russia.
The final decision to carry out the extraction came shortly after a meeting held in May 2017 in the oval office in which Trump discussed classified and very sensitive intelligence information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the then Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. The information, related to the Islamic State in Syria, had been supplied in that case by Israel.
Various US media have described the mutual distrust between the American president and his intelligence services. In 2018, Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin and took an unusual step: confiscate the interpreter's notes. At that time some voices in the intelligence services again expressed concern that the president has improperly commented on intelligence classified with Russians, according to CNN. For 'The New York Times' , media scrutiny was the only reason for the extraction.
A sleeping agent
A CIA spokesman dismissed the CNN news as "inaccurate." But Smolenkov's story has also appeared on Russian Telegram channels. Moscow has officially confirmed that name exists. Oleg Smolenkov worked in the Kremlin Administration, but was fired several years ago, said presidential spokesman Dimitri Peskov this morning: "His position did not belong to the category of senior officials." According to 'The New York Times', this 'mole' of the CIA was not part of Putin's inner circle. But "I saw [the president] regularly and had access to high-level decision making in the Kremlin." Russian media have questioned the importance of this 'mole'. Some argue that he was not involved in sensitive work, but rather technical: procurement, travel planning and commissions from superiors. "I don't think I could have told Americans anything but rumors," one of the state sources tells the 'Kommersant'.
Smolenkov became a trusted assistant to Yuri Ushakov, an important foreign policy advisor for Putin. Their relationship dates back to Ushakov's years as a Russian ambassador to the US. In 2010, by decree of the then Russian president, Dimitri Medvedev, Oleg Borisovich Smolenkov was assigned the rank of Interim State Advisor of the Russian Third Level Federation.
How did Smolenkov end up working for the US? He could have been recruited during his stay in Washington, after which he was assigned the task of making a career in the Russian government, according to 'The New York Times'. An official withdrew from the SVR, the Russian intelligence service abroad, pointed out this anonymity in statements to the Russian agency RIA Novosti. Smolenkov was recruited while still a "mid-level official." Shortly after recruitment, the man began to rise in the ranks until he secured a position with "access to the highest level of the Kremlin." Smolenkov "was then a 'sleeping agent', of those who can expect a job for years, leading a normal lifestyle," explains the veteran of the SVR, an agency that is characterized precisely by using diplomatic delegations abroad as place to place their undercover agents, although the practice is not exclusive to Russia.
It is proven that Oleg Smolenkov worked in the Russian embassy in the United States and then in the apparatus of the Russian government. His role was crucial in verifying the intervention of the Kremlin in the US elections. But soon he was too exposed and Washington decided to take it out. At first Smolenkov rejected an offer made initially in 2016, citing family problems. The CIA suspected then that the man was a double agent . He then carried out a new verification of all the information he had provided. In 2017, the CIA pressed again for the extraction and this time the 'mole' agreed.
Russian investigators had initially classified the disappearance of Smolenkov, 42, as a murder case after he disappeared with his wife and three children. But the Federal Security Service later discovered that he was alive and living abroad.
According to the NBC, the "informant" lives near Washington today using his own name and is protected by the United States government . 'The Washington Post' has given information on the sale of a property in June 2018, in the city of Stafford (Virginia), worth approximately one million dollars to Oleg Smolenkov and Antonina Smolenkova. And indeed Smolenkov's wife is named Antonina.
There are pictures of the mansion on several websites of local real estate agencies. Its surface is about 760 square meters, with six rooms and six bathrooms. A sweet ending for a spy race truncated by rumors and leaks.
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