In early January, Russian authorities claimed the American arrested in Moscow over an alleged "espionage operation" received a flash drive containing a list of employees of a secret Russian agency. Now Paul Whelan's attorney says he did indeed receive a drive that held "state secrets," but that the 48-year-old thought its contents were something else entirely, reports CNN: vacation photos. The AP expands upon that, saying Vladimir Zherebenkov explained that Whelan asked an unnamed person to email him some travel-related information on Russia, and that after being unable to download it, he requested that it be put on a flash drive.
"He was expecting to see on the flash drive some personal information like pictures or videos, something like that, about that person's previous trips around Russia," Zherebenkov said to reporters. "We don't know how the materials that contain state secrets ended up there." He says Whelan did not review the contents of the drive prior to his Dec. 28 arrest, and that he "does not admit guilt" in the matter. Zherebenkov's comments came prior to Whelan's pretrial hearing Tuesday, which marked his first public appearance since his arrest. He was denied bail and will continue to be held in the Lefortovo detention center in Moscow until at least Feb. 28. The AP notes that Russia has not said which country Whelan—a former Marine who holds US, Canadian, British, and Irish citizenships—is accused of spying for. (Read more Paul Whelan stories.)