Russian media have identified the alleged CIA spy in the Kremlin as an aide to a top diplomat and former ambassador to the U.S.
The mole, who gathered vital information on Vladimir Putin, has been exposed after U.S. media revealed how he was extracted from Moscow in 2017 amid fears for his safety.
Some reports accused President Trump of blowing his cover, but the CIA has fiercely denied this and the finger of blame is now being pointed at media reports in the U.S. for compromising the agent while he was still in Russia.
Russian media, in turn, has reported that the man may be Oleg Smolenkov, an aide of senior diplomat Yury Ushakov, a former ambassador to the U.S.
Smolenkov’s name was put to the Kremlin in a press conference today where Moscow acknowledged he had worked for the government but said he did not have direct access to Vladimir Putin.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov would not say whether Smolenkov was the mole, but said he had been fired in 2016 or 2017. He also said that U.S. media reports read like ‘pulp fiction’.
Russian media have identified the alleged CIA spy in the Kremlin as Oleg Smolenkov, an aide to former ambassador to the U.S Yury Ushakov (pictured)
Reports claimed the decision to remove the spy was taken after Donald Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian officials in 2017 (left, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov; right, ambassador Sergei Kislyak)
Fears for Russian mole after poison attack in Britain
Intelligence officials fear that the mole who was extracted from Moscow may still be under threat in the United States.
Those fears appear well-founded after another Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in Britain in March last year.
Two Russian assassins smeared the nerve agent Novichok on Skripal’s front door in Salisbury after flying over from Moscow, UK authorities say.
Sergei and his daughter Yulia Skripal were taken seriously ill but both survived.
However, another woman died after she was accidentally exposed to the Soviet-era nerve agent.
Skripal was a Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain.
He was imprisoned in Russia and released as part of a spy swap with the West, which took place in Vienna in 2010.
Britain accused the Kremlin and its GRU intelligence chiefs of ordering the attack, sparking a wave of diplomatic expulsions.
UK police identified two men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as the hit-men.
Russia’s government has denied all involvement and the two men claimed in a bizarre interview that they were only there to see Salisbury’s cathedral.
‘His position was not in the category of senior official,’ Peskov said. ‘This position does not call for contacts with the President as such.’
‘I don’t know whether he was an agent or not. I can only confirm that he worked for the presidential administration and he was sacked,’ he said.
Reports in American media say the informant was reluctantly pulled out of Moscow in 2017 over fears they had been exposed.
The report by Russian newspaper Kommersant which identified Smolenkov said a man with the same name had bought a property near Washington in 2018.
Sources said that Smolenkov had been a top aide of Ushakov dating back to the diplomat’s years as ambassador from 1999 to 2008.
Discussing his level of access, one intelligence source said: ‘This is serious’.
According to Russian media, Smolenkov was reported to have disappeared in Montenegro in June 2017, sparking a murder probe, but Russian officials later found that he was alive and living abroad.
The agent in question, whether it was Smolenkov or not, is said to have photographed secrets on Putin’s desk and sent them to his American spy bosses.
According to a New York Times report, this is the agent who reported that Putin himself had organized Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.
The intelligence they provided also made American officials sure that Putin had ordered the hacking of Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.
Officials said the spy was pulled out of Russia amid intense scrutiny of the CIA’s sources on how Vladimir Putin (left) interfered to help Trump (right) win the 2016 election
Little is known about the operation to extract the spy but the Russian reports match the American ones that the mole is now living in Washington under government protection.
Reports yesterday said that the decision to retrieve the source was taken after Trump’s Oval Office meeting with foreign minister Lavrov and the Russian ambassador in 2017.
There was concern at the time about the presence of a Russian photographer, employed by a state-run news agency.
Intelligence chiefs were concerned about the President Trump’s tendency to disclose information without warning, it was claimed.
But intelligence officials told the Times that the public and media attention which began before Trump took office was behind the operation.
There was no evidence that Trump had in fact compromised the agent, they said.
The CIA’s director of public affairs, Brittany Bramell, told CNN: ‘Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence – which he has access to each and every day – drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.’
Plans to extract the source also appear to have been underway well before the Oval Office meeting.
Russia’s former ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak had been under scrutiny for his meetings with Trump campaign officials before the election
Before Trump even took office, the CIA had accused Russia of meddling in the election, sparking speculation about its sources.
At the time NBC reported that diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies had helped the CIA reach its conclusion.
The Washington Post reported that the CIA’s information relied on ‘sourcing deep within the Russian government’.
The spy’s initial refusal to move to America had sparked concern that they might be a double agent.
However, those fears were eased when the informant finally agreed to be extracted in 2017.
There are still concerns for his safety in America.
An NBC correspondent reportedly visited the man’s home, prompting two men in an SUV to come racing up to him and confront him about why he was there.
Last year another Russian who spied for the West, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in an assassination attempt in Britain which UK authorities have blamed on Moscow. Putin has denied involvement.
Skripal had settled in England after a high-profile spy swap in Vienna in 2010. He survived the nerve agent attack but his current whereabouts are unknown.