Central Intelligence Agency extricated reported mole inside Kremlin over concerns for their safety

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting at the G20 Summit in June

Enlarge Train President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a assembly on the G20 Summit in June. Getty Images

The alleged agent was not named by United States media but it was claimed the intelligence asset was the highest-level USA source inside Russian Federation, with regular access to President Vladimir Putin.

CNN reported on Monday that the United States had successfully extracted one of its highest-level covert sources inside Russian Federation in 2017.

Reporting by CNN and the New York Times said the source was outside the inner circle of Russian leader President Putin but had regular access to Mr Putin and was even able to photograph documents on the leader's desk.

According to the Post, top US national security officials became concerned about the safety of the Moscow asset after the Obama administration publicly blamed Russian Federation for election interference in the fall 2016.

Those concerns grew in early 2017 after the United States intelligence community released its public report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which said Putin himself ordered the operation.

A high-level intelligence asset - one who provided key information about an attempt to sabotage a U.S. presidential election - is extracted from Russian Federation in the face of potentially grave danger.

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Kommersant found publicly available real estate data showing the 2018 purchase of a northern Virginia property by Oleg and Antonina Smolenkov - names that fully match the reportedly missing Kremlin official and his wife.

An extraction, or "exfiltration" as such an operation is referred to by intelligence officials, is an extraordinary remedy when U.S. intelligence believes an asset is in immediate danger.

"I do not know whether he was an agent or not".

Asked about the matter, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Smolenkov had worked in the Russian presidential administration but had been fired in 2016/17.

"I have never seen this man, have never met him, and have never monitored his career or movements", Lavrov said. Another former senior intelligence official told CNN that Trump "believes they're people who are selling out their country".

Lavrov said on Tuesday that nobody had divulged any secrets to him at the meeting with Trump. He said the conversation had been focused on the need to improve bilateral ties between Washington and Moscow, which have been near post-Cold War lows since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

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Those concerns continued to grow in the period after Trump's Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov.

Trump later defended his actions by asserting that he had "the absolute right" to share information and had done so in order to encourage the Russians to "greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism". Then, "C.I.A. officials ... made the arduous decision in late 2016 to offer to extract the source from Russian Federation". That's true in the sense that ostensibly the CNN story was first and foremost about the fact that the extraction happened.

"As soon as you launch an investigation like that, we know that there is going to be extensive amounts of intelligence that is going to come forward that is nearly impossible to mask", said Clint Watts, a former FBI agent for counter-terrorism.

And in 2006, Russian operatives killed a former intelligence officer, Alexander Litvinenko, in central London by poisoning his tea with radioactive material, according to British investigators. The spokesman also did not specify the reason behind Smolenkov's dismissal.

On the other hand, Price said, the exfiltration would be "a strategic loss for us over time, as we will lose those insights".

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