A high-level CIA informant "exfiltrated" from Russia to the US in 2017 had been an American intelligence asset for decades, sources tell the New York Times—and he rejected an earlier attempt to get him out of the country. The sources say the informant—who was recruited long before he had access to top-level Kremlin decision-making—became one of the CIA's most important informants after a series of promotions. But officials decided to get the man out of Russia in 2016 after he provided detailed information on the country's interference in that year's US election. According to the Times' sources, the informant rejected the first offer to extract him from the country, raising fears that he was a double agent. The insiders say the man accepted a second offer following media reports speculating about the CIA's Kremlin sources and now lives in the US with his family.
The extraction may have saved the man's life, officials say, but at the cost of leaving the CIA in the dark about Putin's inner circle—and about further attempts at election interference. CNN reported Monday that the extraction may have been linked to worries about President Trump's handling of classified information, though an official tells the Washington Post that the Obama administration's unusually detailed accusations of Russian interference would have been enough to make the CIA fear for the asset's safety. The Russians "undoubtedly would have been conducting a review as to who within Putin’s inner circle would have had access to the information," the official says. Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported Tuesday that Russian investigators thought the man and his family had been murdered after they disappeared during a vacation in Montenegro—until investigators found out they were "alive and staying in a foreign country." (Read more CIA stories.)