The American citizen arrested in Russia over an alleged "espionage operation" is a citizen of at least one other country. British authorities confirmed Thursday that Paul Whelan is a dual national and has requested assistance from British diplomats in Moscow. The 48-year-old former Marine was born in Canada, though his brother David was unable to confirm to the CBC whether he is still a Canadian citizen. Canadian authorities said they were "aware that a Canadian citizen has been arrested in Russia," but declined to provide details. British authorities say they have asked for consular access to Whelan, who is being held in a former KGB prison. He has already been visited by Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador to Russia.
Russian authorities say Whelan, head of global security for a Michigan car parts supplier, was arrested in a Moscow hotel room after receiving a flash drive containing a list of employees of a secret Russian agency. His family and friends say he was in Russia for a wedding. Whelan received a bad-conduct discharge from the Marines in 2008 after being convicted in a court-martial for attempted larceny, and associates find it hard to believe he was involved in espionage, the Washington Post reports. "No intelligence agency would take someone with his record to be a spy," says TJ Sjostrom, an intelligence officer who was in Whelan's unit when it deployed to Iraq in 2006. CNN reports that analysts suspect Russia wants to trade Whelan for convicted Russian agent Maria Butina. (Mike Pompeo says the US will demand Whelan's return if the detention is not appropriate.)