The CIA allegedly carried out the extraction mission amid fears that its asset was in imminent danger of being uncovered.
The Central Intelligence Agency extracted ‘one of its highest-level covert sources’ inside the Russian government in 2017, several Trump administration officials said to have direct knowledge of the situation have told CNN.
According to the anonymous sources, then-CIA director Mike Pompeo had told administration officials that too much information was coming out at the time which risked the discovery of its asset’s identity, leading to a decision to extract him or her from Russia.
One of the sources said the removal of the spy, said to be a Russian national, was the fear that the Trump administration might accidentally expose him or her by mishandling classified intelligence information.
A source also referred to unspecified media speculation about the existence of a Kremlin mole, which the source said intensified the risks of actual moles being discovered. The source did not clarify which media reports they were referring to.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham dismissed CNN’s story, saying the broadcaster’s “reporting is not only incorrect,” but “has the potential to put lives in danger.”
CIA public affairs director Brittany Bramell called the report “false.”
“CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. 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,” Bramell said.
Russia has yet to comment on the story.
CNN said it had withheld ‘several details about the spy to reduce the risk’ of his or her identification. US intelligence officials’ concerns about the mole and other US assets inside Russia go back to the Obama administration, given how long they have been cooperating with the US, one official said.
Syria Intelligence Sharing Claims
The CIA’s alleged move to extract its mole reportedly took place shortly after a May 2017 meeting in Washington between President Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak, with the two sides allegedly discussing classified US intelligence provided by Israel on Daesh (ISIS)* activities in Syria.
Shortly after the meeting, anonymous sources told The Washington Post and other US media that the classified information had been leaked. However, the Trump administration called the story “false,” and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the two sides had only discussed “common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism,” not “sources, methods or military operations.”
US officials and media have repeatedly accused Russia of meddling in the 2016 presidential race, with some even speculating that President Trump himself had ‘colluded’ with the Kremlin. These claims essentially collapsed in April 2019, after special counsel Robert Mueller released a 440 page+ report after a two year investigation, showing that he could find no evidence that anyone from the Trump campaign knowingly colluded with any Russians. According to the Mueller report, Russia’s ‘meddling attempt’ was limited to an alleged Facebook and Twitter trolling campaign.
Late last month, Russian investigators pressed charges against Paul Whelan, a US, Canadian, UK and Irish national who was arrested in Russia last December, accusing him of espionage. The US Embassy in Moscow has called on Russian authorities to release Whelan so that he could go back to the US to receive medical attention. Russian medical staff determined that he was fit to stand trial. If convicted, Whelan could face between 10 and 20 years in prison.
*A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.