South Asian Insider
Former US marine charged with spying in Russia, had dozens of military contacts on social media
A U.S. corporate security executive and former Marine who has been jailed in Moscow on spying charges has spent more than a decade cultivating friends and contacts in Russia, both virtual and real.
Paul Whelan sought out friends throughout the country, most often through a social networking site that is similar to Facebook and popular largely in Russia. Several told The Associated Press that the American never seemed sinister, merely someone who was interested in Russia and wanted to be pen pals.
“I know him as a friendly, polite, educated, and easygoing guy,” said one of his contacts, who, like the other Russians interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity because of Whelan’s legal troubles.
Whelan was arrested December 28 while on a two-week visit to the country and has been charged with espionage. The Russian government has so far given no details about the allegations against him, but a close look at his social media history suggests why he might have come to the attention of the Russian security services, regardless of his motives.
He has collected dozens of contacts on the social media site, nearly all of them men, many of whom have at least some connection to the military.
His family back home says he was nothing more than a tourist. In a Washington Post op-ed published Friday, his twin brother, David, urged the US government to pressure Russia to release him.
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