A spy at the heart of the Kremlin was pulled out of Russia because of CIA leaks and not because President Donald Trump had compromised them, officials have said.
Despite providing vital intelligence from Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, the spy was pulled out of Moscow in 2017 amid fears for their safety.
Plans to extract the source were underway well before Trump sparked alarm over his use of intelligence during an Oval Office meeting with Russian officials in 2017, it has now emerged.
In fact, the spy’s initial refusal to move to America had sparked concern that they might be a double agent.
A report by CNN yesterday suggested that intelligence chiefs were concerned about the President’s tendency to disclose information without warning.
The decision to retrieve the source was taken after the mysterious meeting with foreign minister Lavrov and the Russian ambassador, it was claimed.
But intelligence officials told the New York Times that the public and media attention which began before Trump took office was behind the decision.
There was no evidence that Trump had in fact compromised the agent, they said.
Plans to extract the source were underway well before Trump sparked alarm over his use of intelligence during an Oval Office meeting with Russian officials in 2017 (left, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov; right, ambassador Sergei Kislyak)
Further details have also emerged about the agent’s work in Russia.
According to the Times report, this is the agent who reported that Putin himself had organized Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.
The intelligence they provided also made American officials sure that Putin had ordered the hacking of Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.
However, the spy’s initial refusal to move to America prompted concerns that they might be a double agent.
The agent’s bosses made their first approach in late 2016, but the informant refused.
Counterintelligence officials worried they had switched sides and that the information they had been giving the Americans was therefore wrong.
An audit into the spy’s revelations was carried out, showing that their information from years ago had been accurate, but suspicion still remained.
However, those fears were eased when the informant finally agreed to be extracted in 2017.
Joseph Augustyn, an ex-CIA officer, said spies often found it difficult to move, especially if they had not told their families about their work.
Officials said the spy was pulled out of Russia amid intense scrutiny of the CIA’s sources on how Vladimir Putin (left) interfered to help Trump (right) win the 2016 election
‘There have been times when people have not come out when we strongly suggested that they should,’ he said.
Fears for the spy’s safety had grown amid heavy scrutiny of Russia’s role in interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
Before Trump even took office, the CIA had accused Russia of meddling in the election, sparking speculation about its sources.
At the time NBC reported that diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies had helped the CIA reach its conclusion.
The Washington Post reported that the CIA’s information relied on ‘sourcing deep within the Russian government’.
The agent in question is said to have photographed secrets on Putin’s desk and sent them to his American spy bosses.
The information was apparently too secret even for President Barack Obama’s daily intelligence briefing, but was sent separately in a sealed envelope.
Concerns about Trump’s use of intelligence grew after he met Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Moscow’s ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office in 2017.
There was concern at the time about the presence of a Russian photographer, employed by a state-run news agency.
Russia’s former ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak had been under scrutiny for his meetings with Trump campaign officials before the election
However, that meeting took place in May 2017 and the CIA’s plans to extract their Russian source were already underway by then.
Still, reports say the decision to carry out the extraction was finally made after the Oval Office meeting.
Trump raised concerns again when he met privately with Putin in Hamburg in June 2017.
It was reported at the time that at the end of the meeting Trump took possession of a translator’s notes to stop them getting out.
The same year, when he approved air strikes in Syria, Trump came under criticism for turning his Mar-a-Lago club into an open-air situation room.
The CIA yesterday denied that the President’s intelligence handling had driven the decision. But they did not deny that the operation had taken place.
It is not yet known how the extraction was eventually carried out. It is not even known whether the spy is a man or a woman.
The spy is now reported to be living in Washington under their real name but officials still fear for the agent’s life.
An NBC correspondent reportedly visited the man’s home, prompting two men in an SUV to come racing up to him and confront him about why he was there.
The agent could now be moved elsewhere to protect him.
Last year another Russian who spied for the West, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in an assassination attempt in Britain which UK authorities have blamed on Moscow. Putin has denied involvement.
Skripal had settled in England after a high-profile spy swap in Vienna in 2010. He survived the nerve agent attack but his current whereabouts are unknown.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the report itself ‘has the potential to put lives in danger.’
Trump has responded only by tearing into CNN, saying the network was ‘bad for the USA’ and repeating his refrain of ‘fake news’.