Ok. Who the hell is Paul Whelan?

Yes, he’s undoubtedly a pawn in a blunt attempt by the Kremlin to get Maria Butina – whose arrest and charges are more about Mueller’s grinding, relentless bureaucratic probe than about real espionage on the part of the Russian woman who by all appearances was a lobbyist with fairly close ties to the Kremlin – exchanged for an American. But as more information dribbles in on Whelan, one has to ask once again:

Who is Paul Whelan?

Let’s summarize the information on him (which are hardly facts at this early stage) that’s in the public domain as of right now:

  • He was born in Ottawa, Ontario to British parents. That would be in Canada, last time I checked. That would mean he has Canadian citizenship by birthright.
  • He moved to Michigan as a child where he seems to have been raised, and then served as a police officer from 1988 to 2000, also in Michigan.
  • He then moved into private business, working for Kelly Services in IT and security before and after his Iraq War stint.
  • He served in Iraq from 2003 to 2008: mostly in administrative duties (as a clerk apparently) and was discharged on charges related to larceny. So, while in Iraq, he reportedly stole and was demoted from sergeant to private and discharged in 2008.
  • After returning to work for Kelly Services after being discharged from the military, he at some point began working for auto parts manufacturer BorgWarner.
  • He has built up contacts with law enforcement in various countries as a result of his work in security for Kelly Services and BorgWarner.
  • He is apparently a Russophile with a friends and contacts in Russia where he was visiting as a private citizen in order to attend a wedding when he was arrested in December.
  • He seems to have both a British passport and an Irish passport through his parents. At the risk of being pedantic, Whelan is of course an Irish surname, so his father might be Irish, and his mother English. Both the British and Irish governments have intervened on his behalf with Britain’s Foreign Secretary publicly accusing Russia of playing “diplomatic chess.”

Here’s an ex-Marine dismissed due to larceny who holds 4 passports, has a history in law enforcement and works in global security for a major auto parts company, who was in Russia and reportedly had a USB drive with a list of Russian intelligence officials on it. If this is a set-up, the FSB chose their target well.

Look, maybe Paul Whelan really is just who he says he is, and that USB drive was planted on him by ruthless FSB thugs who are acting on orders from the Kremlin to get a credible hostage to exchange for Butina.

And even if he did have a list of contacts in Russian intel, what crime did Whelan actually commit?

But on the other hand, it is now clear that Mueller’s heavy-handed arrest of Butina has come with a diplomatic cost that far outweighs any benefits Mueller’s own prosecutors thought that her testimony as a collaborating witness would yield.

Butina was arrested for failing to register as a lobbyist, but the prosecutors have framed that failure as a “conspiracy” to fail to register. Which is a case of inventing crimes as you go along in order to pressure people to try and get the results you’re hoping for. That’s bad prosecutorial practice, and even worse diplomacy.

And Paul Whelan gets to pay the price for Mueller’s prosecutors’ missteps.