The CIA mole at the heart of the Kremlin may have been recruited when he was a humble but drink-loving ‘lackey’ at the Russian embassy in Washington, it was claimed Tuesday.
Oleg Smolenkov complained to at least one colleague that he was underpaid, it was reported in Moscow, where he has been widely named as having been the spy agency’s most valuable asset.
Smolenkov, 50, vanished in June 2017 after taking his wife and three children on vacation in Montenegro – prompting Russian authorities to open a murder inquiry.
He left behind a $167,000 Moscow apartment and according to public property records, bought a six-bedroom house in Stafford, Virginia – a suburb south of Washington D.C. and close to the FBI and Marine bases in Quantico – for $925,000 the next year.
On Tuesday the house on a cul-de-sac was deserted and neighbors claimed the family had vanished the previous day, after CNN revealed that the CIA had ordered its most valued asset to be ‘exfiltrated’ from Moscow in May 2017 – and after an NBC correspondent approached the home.
Initial reporting from CNN on Monday described a panic inside the agency after a 2017 Oval Office meeting where Trump sparked fears about what reporters called a casual approach to handling top secret intelligence.
Virginia home: Oleg Smolenkov and his wife Antonia bought this $925,000, six-bedroom home on a cul-de-sac in Stafford, VA, a suburb close to Quantico
No sign of life: The house sits on a large piece of land with a manicured lawn surrounded by forest. A neighbor who declined to be identified confirmed that Russians lived in the home and were nice neighbors, but had left the previous evening.
Former home: Smolenkov fled this two-room Moscow apartment built when Mikhail Gorbachev was the Soviet leader
Dingy: The former home of the Smolenkov family is nine miles north of the Kremlin and a far cry from their Virginia six-bedroom spread
At the door: THis is the entrance to the 17th floor two-room apartment where Smolenkov lived in Moscow
Told not to speak: Misha, a relative of Smolenkov, now lives in the apartment, which apparently now belongs to the vanished ‘source’s’ father-in-law
Trump had met with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and then-ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak.
A photographer employed by a Russian state-run news agency was allowed into the meeting, but no American journalists were permitted to witness it. Reports later described Trump seizing a U.S. translator’s notes to stop them from circulating inside his administration.
By Tuesday the spy saga had flipped around, with The New York Times and other media outlets correcting the timeline to show the CIA had hatched its plan to ‘exfiltrate’ the spy in 2016 – while Trump was running for office.
The U.S. government has not confirmed the identity of Smolenkov as the asset whose exfiltration was ordered by the CIA amid fears he would be exposed.
There were also concerns that Smolenkov, a twice-married aide to a senior former diplomat, may himself have been a double agent when he turned down the first request from the CIA to get out of Russia.
However he took up the second offer, going to Montenegro according to Russian sources, where he, his wife, and three children vanished.
Russian authorities reportedly opened a murder investigation but there were conflicting accounts about how it ended.
Smolenkov lived openly under his own name in Virginia and one account claimed that he had been traced by Kremlin authorities.
In Moscow there was mounting fury Tuesday about the astonishing revelation that the CIA had a source so close to Vladimir Putin that he had photographed documents on the Russian strongman’s desk.
The information was considered too sensitive even for President Barack Obama’s daily intelligence briefing; the CIA sent it to the Oval Office in a separate sealed envelope.
Smolenkov’s name was put to the Kremlin in a press conference where Moscow acknowledged he had worked for the government but said he did not have direct access to Putin.
He had worked in Washington DC in the early 2000s under Yury Ushakov, who was ambassador to the USA from 1998 until 2007 before returning to Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov would not say whether Smolenkov was the mole, but said he had been fired in 2016 or 2017. He also said that U.S. media reports read like ‘pulp fiction’.
‘His position was not in the category of senior official,’ Peskov said. ‘This position does not call for contacts with the President as such.
‘I don’t know whether he was an agent or not. I can only confirm that he worked for the presidential administration and he was sacked.’
The Kremlin does not know where Smolenkov is now and is not looking for him, the spokesman said.
However other sources suggested a plausible reason for Smolenkov to be a target for CIA recruitment.
One said that he complained about being underpaid to at least one colleague.
And according to a former friend Smolenkov ‘drank a bit more than usual. Not that heavily, but a bit higher than norm and often.’
No comment: Vladimir Putin has offered no public statement on the claim a CIA asset photographed documents on his desk
Russian media have identified the alleged CIA spy in the Kremlin as Oleg Smolenkov, an aide to former ambassador to the U.S. Yury Ushakov (pictured in April this year)
Reports claimed the decision to remove the spy was taken after Donald Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian officials in 2017 (left, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov; right, ambassador Sergei Kislyak)
He also knew intimate details of top Russians’ movements when he worked at the embassy.
Fears for Russian mole after poison attack in Britain
Intelligence officials fear that the mole who was extracted from Moscow may still be under threat in the United States.
Those fears appear well-founded after another former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in Britain in March last year.
Two Russian assassins smeared the nerve agent Novichok on Skripal’s front door in Salisbury after flying over from Moscow, UK authorities say.
Sergei and his daughter Yulia Skripal were taken seriously ill but both survived.
However, another woman died after she was accidentally exposed to the Soviet-era nerve agent.
Britain accused the Kremlin and its GRU intelligence chiefs of ordering the attack, sparking a wave of diplomatic expulsions.
UK police identified two men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as the hit-men and the government said Putin was ‘ultimately responsible’ for the poisonings.
But Russia’s government has denied all involvement and the two men claimed in a bizarre interview that they were only there to see Salisbury’s cathedral.
Skripal was a Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain.
He was imprisoned in Russia and released as part of a spy swap with the West, which took place in Vienna in 2010.
His current whereabouts are unknown.
In 2006 another former Russian agent, Alexander Litvinenko, was killed by a radioactive poison at a London hotel.
A public inquiry concluded that he had been murdered by Russian intelligence, likely with the approval of President Vladimir Putin.
Similarly, Britain named two suspects but the Kremlin denied everything.
‘He had a lackey function in the embassy, if I may say so,’ an anonymous diplomatic source told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
‘While working in the embassy, he was involved in the number of household issues, like purchasing of service cars, buying goods for the embassy store and for protocol needs.’
‘Meet the ambassador, meet the ambassador’s wife, bring the car to the desired entrance, make an appointment for the boss with a good dentist.
‘At the same time, Oleg Borisovich (Smolenkov) was a good professional.’
The source said: ‘I have a good idea of how everything works in the USA, but give me the task: to organize, say, a private flight from Moscow to Los Angeles – I don’t even know where to turn.
‘But he knew. The embassy spends a lot of time on servicing working (and sometimes private) visits of ministers, deputies, heads of regions and state corporations and other chiefs.
‘For this, the state has to keep such “Smolenkovs.”‘
At the family’s unfashionable 17-floor former apartment block on Kargopolskaya Street, some nine miles north of the Kremlin, no neighbors admitted to remembering Oleg Smolenkov and his wife Antonina.
The value of their old 11th floor apartment with just two rooms- now occupied by a relative of Antonia’s called Misha – is put at $168,500. It was built in the Gorbachev era.
When DailyMail.com visited the flat, Misha called Oleg’s father-in-law – who now apparently owns it – to ask if he was allowed to speak.
He was firmly told that he was not. In his late 20s, Misha said: ‘I cannot comment. I am not allowed.’
It is known that Oleg had been married to another woman, Regina, when he was posted to the US embassy decade or so ago. His second wife is Antonina.
Antonina’s mother, a dentist who treated diplomats at the Foreign Ministry, boasted about her new son in law who also worked here.
She ‘rejoiced’ at the marriage, said family friends.
In 2013 she shared the joyful news about the birth of her grandchild.
Three years ago, meanwhile, Oleg was remembered for dutifully visiting his mother three or four times a week, bringing her ‘full bags’ of food.
‘And then he disappeared,’ reported Moskovsky Komsomolets.
Now Antonina’s mother organizes help for her husband’s ailing mother.
Respected Russian military expert Alexander Golts branded the revelation of a spy with access to the Kremlin as an ‘horrific failure of counterintelligence’.
He said the exposure of Smolenkov was so appalling that the Russian leadership froze.
‘If a person of such level, roughly speaking equivalent in rank to a major general, disappears with his family without a trace, you needed to raise the alarm among the counterintelligence at this very moment, finding out what happened,’ he said.
‘And I think that everybody understood at this very moment what has happened, brushed it off, and decided to keep silent.
‘And all the decisions, if they were any, were taken at that very moment, two years ago.
‘I do not know, where he was recruited, but most likely in America, in Washington. He had been working at the embassy, under the leadership of current presidential aide on foreign affairs Yury Ushakov.’
However a senior Putin ally, Russian senator Frants Klintsevich, dismissed the claims of a top US Kremlin source as a ‘complete fake’.
He compared it to the story of Max Otto von Stierlitz, the lead character in a popular Russian spy series.
‘The time of Stierlitz is long gone if it ever existed, and there is no way that there could ever be some kind of American informant working inside the Russian government, he said.
‘Of course the whole story is a complete fake, and a badly made up fake, too.
‘We have yet another attempt to discredit Donald Trump by showing him like some kind of an amateur who can break the whole network of US agents with his uncanny moves.’