Paper Reports 'Details' Of Alleged CIA Informer's Disappearance In Montenegro
By RFE/RL's Balkan Service September 12, 2019
PODGORICA -- A newspaper in Montenegro has published what it says are details of the 2017 disappearance of a former Kremlin official identified in Russian media as a possible CIA informer who fled to the United States.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, meanwhile, said Moscow had sought the help of the international police agency Interpol in locating the man, whose name, according to unconfirmed Russian press reports, is Oleg Smolenkov.
The Montenegrin daily Pobjeda reported on September 12 that Oleg Smolenkov and his wife and children arrived via commercial flight in the resort town of Tivat on June 14, 2017, and that he disappeared, apparently via a private yacht, from the marina there "a few days later."
The report did not cite any Montenegrin officials or government sources, though Pobjeda is reputed to have close ties with the Montenegrin government and security agencies. The newspaper said its account was based on "reliable" information it had obtained.
On September 9, CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post reported that the CIA had extracted an unidentified Russian who had provided intelligence from inside President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The CIA, the State Department, and the White House have said the reports were inaccurate.
"The reporting is so egregious it creates an enormous risk," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on September 10. "The reporting there is factually wrong."
CNN also reported that the decision to move the person out of Russia was fueled by U.S. intelligence concerns that President Donald Trump may have leaked classified information to Russian officials, including during a May 2017 White House meeting.
That was strenuously denied by the White House spokeswoman.
Russian media later reported that the alleged informant was most likely Smolenkov, who was a high-ranking civil servant inside the presidential administration and, earlier, in the Russian Embassy in Washington.
The Russian government confirmed Smolenkov's employment, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 10 that "he was fired several years ago."
The Pobjeda newspaper reported that the arrival of the Smolenkov family into the country in June 2017 -- just weeks after Trump's White House meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Kislyak, then Russia's ambassador in Washington -- had been recorded at the Tivat airport's passport control.
Tivat is a popular vacation destination for Russians, thousands of whom visit the resort each year.
Pobjeda reported that it was unclear whether Smolenkov and his family departed Montenegro at the same time.
A report in the Russian online news site Daily Storm in September 2017 said that Russian investigators had opened a murder probe after Smolenkov and his family purportedly vanished while in Montenegro.
The Russian daily Kommersant on September 10 quoted unidentified security officials as saying that the murder investigation was opened and closed several times.
Public records show that Smolenkov and his wife owned a luxurious home in Stafford, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C. An RFE/RL reporter who visited the home on September 10 found the drapes on the house windows were pulled tight, and only a basketball court was visible in the back. No one answered the door.
Kremlin spokesman Peskov subsequently denied Russian media reports that Smolenkov might have had access to top secret information while he worked for the Russian government.
"Did he have access to information from the security services?" Peskov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying. "No, I cannot confirm that....He worked in the presidential administration, yes, that's true. He was fired, yes, that's true. He was not among the highest-ranking or even high-ranking officials."
Public records from the Russian government administration in 2008 and 2010 show a person named Oleg Smolenkov employed in the administration of Putin, who served as prime minister between 2008 and 2012. In 2010, Smolenkov was promoted to a relatively high civil-service ranking, under an order signed by then-President Dmitry Medvedev.
Smolenkov was listed earlier as working as a second secretary at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., according to a personnel listing from the time. The ambassador at that time was Yury Ushakov, who later returned to Moscow and became a deputy chief of staff for Putin and then a foreign-policy adviser.
The Russian newspaper Vedomosti reported that Smolenkov was the chief adviser to Ushakov in the Kremlin, and a New York Times reporter on September 11 posted a photo on Twitter of a phone listing for Ushakov's team indicating that Smolenkov indeed held that post.
Speaking at a press briefing on September 12, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow had asked Interpol for help in locating Smolenkov in the United States.
"Two years later, the American media tosses information out there that he is on U.S. territory. It goes without saying that this information demands verification through the appropriate procedural norms," she said.
"With that in mind, Interpol was presented with questions regarding the disappearance of a foreign citizen and his presence on the territory of the United States," she added.
She did not say when the query was submitted, and gave no further information.
With reporting by Pobjeda, RIA Novosti, and Kommersant
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|