The American arrested in Russia and accused of being a spy is a former cop and retired Marine, who once described having contacts in law enforcement agencies around the world through his work as a global security chief for private companies
Paul Whelan, 48, of Michigan, is also an avowed Russophile who first visited Moscow over a decade ago, when he made a point of befriending Russian soldiers—calling them on his website “the sneaky Russians who had kept the western world at bay for so long.”
Whelan’s brother, David, confirmed to the Daily Beast on Tuesday that he was the man in custody on espionage charges. In a statement first issued to CNN, David Whelan said the family lost contact with Paul on Dec. 28, “which was very much out of character for him even when he was traveling.”
“We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being. His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected,” the brother said, adding that the family had contacted the State Department and congressional representatives.
The current status line on Whelan’s profile on Russia’s VK social media site reads, “Next stop… Moscow.” The page shows Whelan was last seen by the app at 4:55 p.m Moscow time on Dec. 28, the day of his arrest.
The State Department has not commented on the matter except to say it is aware of the arrest and has requested access to Whelan. “I'm hoping we'll have something from the government tomorrow,” David Whelan said.
The Russian government has offered no evidence that Whelan is a spy. And former CIA officers have told The Daily Beast that his arrest is likely payback for the U.S. prosecution of confessed Russian agent Maria Butina.
Whelan’s currently works as director of global security and investigations for BorgWarner, a large automotive components manufacturer based in Michigan, with 29,000 employees and more than 60 offices and manufacturing facilities located in 18 countries, public records show
Prior to joining BorgWarner, Whelan worked in global security operations for the office staffing firm Kelly Services. A spokesperson for Kelly Services said Whelan left the company in February 2016, but otherwise declined to comment.
But a 2013 deposition in an age discrimination lawsuit filed against Kelly Services provides more detail about Whelan’s time there and background.
From 1988 through 2000 Whelan served as a police officer on the Chelsea, Michigan, force, and as a deputy in the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office.
His military service began in 1990. He was in the Marines, “active duty on reserve,” from 1990 to 2001, the year he joined Kelly Services as an IT project manager. Two years later, in 2003, he took military leave to serve in Iraq, and didn’t return to Kelly Services until 2008.
In 2010 he was made senior manager of global security and operations, a role he described this way:
“I manage investigations. I conduct investigations. I manage personnel. I am in charge of the campus security group. I manage projects that are security based, security related. I handle some purchasing for global security and investigations. Anything electronic, IT-related access, things of that nature.”
Those investigations included, “Theft, fraud, sexual harassment, workplace violence. Anything, really, that impacts Kelly Services as a global company, whether it is in the United States or the countries that I manage. Anything that really impacts our business, our brand, things of that nature.”
His position at Kelly Services put him in frequent contact with a variety of federal agencies.
“Kelly Services is a global company, and we work with federal agencies all the time, whether it is OSAC or the LEGATT at the foreign embassies, or we work with HUD or DEA, FBI, ATF, whomever in the United States. We work with federal agencies in Canada, and what have you, all over the place. So we come in contact with federal agencies and officers all the time.”
In March 2011 his role was expanded to include campus security, which until then had largely been outsourced. The change was a result of several incidents involving the outside security company’s personnel—one of the security guards, for example, went to prison for stalking a former lover using Kelly Services’ phones. Whelan dropped the company and brought in guards from a firm called Whelan Security, At the time of his deposition, Whelen had 10 staffers under him, all direct reports.
Archives of Whelan’s now-defunct personal website include photos of Whelan and fellow troops apparently on deployment to Iraq. From other sources, Whelan appears to have been a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. At his account on VK, a Russian social media app, Whelan posted a photo of himself in Iraq wearing a Marine uniform.
One associate on the social network showed The Daily Beast a picture of a challenge coin Whelan sent him bearing Whelan’s name and rank as a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve. A similar challenge coin found for sale on eBay bearing Whelan’s name identified him as a staff sergeant with Marine Air Control Group 38 with service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Marine Corps quoted Whelan for a 2007 article about a Defense Department leave program for deployed troops to take vacation time. Whelan, the article noted, “spent his two weeks of leave experiencing the post-soviet era of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.” A photo accompany the piece shows Whelan posed in front of St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow.
Whelan also wrote about that first trip to Russia on his website. “Having grown up during the Cold War, it was a dream of mine to visit Russia and meet some of the sneaky Russians who had kept the western world at bay for so long!” he wrote. “I was fortunate enough to meet nice people and had several pleasant excursions throughout the country. … The Russian language is very difficult to learn, but I've been slowly studying and learning from my friends.”
Those friends included “Maxim”, who was then serving in the Russian Army, and “Tovarish” [“Comrade”], a sergeant in the Frontier Guard. Both men were stationed in Moscow. Whelan set up web pages for them on his personal site. Neither man responded to email inquiries from the Daily Beast.
On his VK account, Whelan demonstrated some knowledge of the Russian language. He posted selfies wearing a jersey for FC Spartak Moscow, a soccer team from the capital, offered well wishes on various holidays, and tips for Russian speakers looking for help learning English.
Additional reporting: Kim Dozier