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Former spies say Paul Whelan almost certainly isn’t one of their own. His family says he’s innocent. So why would the Russians grab him? Trade fodder is the popular view among former intelligence officers and Whelan’s own lawyer has floated the possibility. Would the Russians really grab someone on a false pretense just to swap him for one of their spies? Well, the Soviets did exactly that, a few times, including once at the same hotel where Whelan was grabbed.
Frederick Barghoorn: Long before the Federal Security Service (FSB) slapped the cuffs on Whelan at the Metropol hotel in Moscow, where he was attending a wedding, they arrested Yale Professor Frederick Barghoorn there in 1963. A stranger approached Barghoorn, asked if he was an American citizen, and thrust a handful of newspapers into his hands as “almost simultaneously a couple of men grabbed me and took me to an auto,” he said later. President John F. Kennedy raised his case personally with the Soviets and defended his innocence. The Soviets, surprised by the ferocity of the backlash, released him after 16 days.