Some of the Russian diplomats expelled from the United States last month may have been tracking Russian dissidents and their families who relocated to the U.S., according to a CNN report. At least one of the dissidents had been given a new identity by the CIA.
Wait, what diplomats?
On March 26, the U.S. government announced that it would expel 60 Russian diplomats and closing the Russian consulate in Seattle. This was part of a worldwide response to the poisoning of a former Russian double agent on British soil. The United Kingdom and 24 other nations including France, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Ukraine also expelled Russian diplomats.
On March 4, former Russian Col. Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with a nerve agent, which was later determined to be Russian-made Novichok. While in the Russian military, Skripal worked for MI6, until he was discovered by the Russian government. He was later traded in a spy swap and sought refuge in England.
British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded that the Russian government explain how its custom-made nerve agent ended up in the United Kingdom. The Russian ambassadors to both England and the United Nations responded by mocking the investigation and even accusing the British government of staging the entire attack.
What did CNN report?
Citing officials who had been briefed on the situation, CNN reported that U.S. intelligence officials believed that some of the recently expelled diplomats were spies who were tracking Russian defectors in the U.S. At least one of these defectors “was part of a CIA program that provided new identities to protect resettled Russians.”
According to a report from Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Russian law was passed “in July 2006 that permits the assassination of ‘enemies of the Russian regime’ who live abroad.” The Senate report noted that “[m]ore than two dozen politicians, journalists, activists, and other critics of Mr. Putin’s regime have died under mysterious or suspicious circumstances in Russia during his time in power.”
— CNN (@CNN) April 25, 2018
On Wednesday, U.S. inspectors broke the locks on the Russian consulate in Seattle and swept the building. After being given a 23-day extension, Russian personnel had until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday to vacate the premises. The Russian government criticized this move as a “break in” and took video footage of the American “intruders.” The Russian embassy later tweeted out the video.
But the State Department disagreed. An official from the State Department said that the Russians were “no longer authorized for use for any diplomatic or consular purposes and no longer enjoys any privileges or immunities, including inviolability, previously made available to it,” according to ABC News.