The Kremlin says Russian intelligence is probing CIA spy allegations
US media reported that Washington extracted a top-level source from the country in 2017
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that its intelligence services were investigating reports that a former senior official in the presidential administration in Moscow had been acting as a CIA informant.
CNN and the New York Times reported earlier this week that the United States had hastily extracted a top-level CIA source working in the upper echelons of the Kremlin in 2017 over concerns the informant's identity was in jeopardy.
The Kremlin’s spokesperson said on Wednesday the Russian authorities did not know whether the employee who left Russia in June 2017 was a spy, but that the intelligence service was probing the reports.
"I can only state that this employee existed, that he was fired, and that we don't know whether he was a spy or not. This is a question for the intelligence services – they are doing their job," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
According to the New York Times, the CIA’s informer in the Kremlin was a crucial source on all matters related to Russia who became increasingly valued as tensions between Washington and Moscow flared over allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.
The newspaper said the source’s extraction from the Kremlin, following fears that US President Donald Trump could unveil his identity, had left US intelligence officials in the dark on Russia’s efforts to interfere in midterm elections in 2018.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Rybakov on Wednesday dismissed the reports that the mole had handed over evidence of Russian election meddling, describing the claims to the Interfax news agency as lies and slander.
"He couldn't have had any role in so-called meddling because there was no meddling," Mr Ryabkov was quoted as saying.
On Tuesday, the Russian Kommersant newspaper reported that the CIA informant’s name is Oleg Smokenkov who is understood to have fled to Montenegro in 2017 with his wife and children before being relocated to the United States.
Mr Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson confirmed earlier this week that Mr Smolenkov had indeed held a low-ranking role in the Russian presidential administration but said that he was fired several years ago.
The Kremlin spokesperson, adding that Mr Smolenkov did not have direct access to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said "all this US media speculation about who urgently extracted who and saved who from who and so on – this is more the genre of pulp fiction, crime reading, so let's leave it up to them."
Former CIA station chief Brendan Hoffman told Reuters that the informant is now a marked man because Mr Putin cannot risk Russian officials “thinking they can get away with betraying Russia”.
Most recently, Russian GRU agents were accused of attempting to assassinate former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the United Kingdom last year.
Russian columnist Leonid Bershidsky, writing in Bloomberg, said that the New York Times report that the spy’s evacuation left the CIA in the dark as to Russian plans should be a cause for celebration in the Kremlin.
“In that case, the Kremlin isn’t infiltrated by US agents to any significant degree, and it wasn’t even while the prized asset was still toiling undiscovered.”
Updated: September 11, 2019 04:26 PM