RT @ john_sipher Perspective | I was traded for a Russian spy. I know what Paul Whelan is going through. https://t.co/Nf2RMLcUIN
During the Cold War, Lefortovo prison in Moscow — where Russian authorities are detaining American citizen Paul Whelan on espionage charges — seemed a frightening place for political dissidents and foreigners accused of espionage. Isolation, intimidation and torture were the Soviet authorities’ tools of the trade.
I know what Lefortovo was like back then, since I was held there when I was arrested in 1986 in a Russian tit-for-tat operation for the arrest in New York of Gennadi Zakharov, a Soviet physicist working for the United Nations. The FBI had ample evidence of Zakharov’s spying activities, including a receipt for $6,000 he had paid for classified jet engine materials. When the Soviets needed a bargaining chip to trade with U.S. intelligence to get Zakharov back, they grabbed me.
Whelan’s family says he is innocent of the espionage charges. He’s being held in solitary confinement. Russian intelligence officials claim they arrested him after he received a USB drive containing the names of people working in a secret facility, but they haven’t released much more information on his case. Many former Western intelligence officers, though, suspect he was arrested so he could be traded for the release of Maria Butina, a Russian national who pleaded guilty to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate U.S. conservative groups and who has been detained in Washington for five months.
Reports that Whelan’s arrest might have been part of a grand game between intelligence services reminded me of my own ordeal.