Whelan, an American Russia arrested for espionage, has been imprisoned in the Lefortovo Prison since the end of December 2018. While the United States – along with Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom, which Whelan is also a citizen of those nations – has been granted Some consular access, two sources tell CNN his visit with US Embassy officials has been severely restricted by the Russian government.
The sources say that the US Embassy staff, in an unusual trait, must not provide information containing real names or anything on paper.
"They can't say names out loud," says one source of CNN.
Whelan does not receive visits from friends or family, the sources say and he has not received any of the more than 1
Whelan may not even discuss why he is there or details about his case. The sources say that US officials have followed the rules so that they do not face additional access restrictions.
"Exceptional" Obstruction Level
Ryan Fahey, a former lawyer who works pro bono on behalf of the family, says the obstruction is "exceptional".
"This is not how it usually works internationally, and not how it should work. We do not do it for them," he told CNN.
Perhaps most disturbing, says Fahey, Whelan has, according to his best, Not officially accused of any crime, his case has not yet been submitted to the Prosecutor's Office, although Russia said it was formally charged Whelan in early January.
"The system works differently from the American system and based on the best information we have they have not yet referred him to the Prosecutor's Office. They are investigating him for espionage. The FSB investigator runs the process, he says. "There have been no formal or public fees, but there is no real way to know. It is difficult to know exactly what is happening. If there is any evidence of a crime, we do not know it."
Another source that works with the family echoed this uncertainty.
"The Russians say they've loaded him. They haven't made it public, so we don't know if it's true or not," they say.
According to Fahey and sources with knowledge of his case, Whelan's Russian lawyer is not one of his choice and has been appointed by the Russian Security Service, FSB. Two of the sources say that lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov does not speak English – a translator is provided during his meetings with Whelan. One tells CNN that Whelan's next meeting with Zherebenkov has not been planned and is not expected to take place until mid-March.
Whelan has not been able to sign a Privacy Act Waiver, which means that the state cannot share information about his case. Following the US's recent consular visit with Whelan, the spokesman for the US Embassy in Moscow expressed concern about Russia's obstruction of the suspension.
"We are very worried about the delay in allowing Mr. Whelan to provide a signed Privacy Act Waiver (PAW). American privacy laws require that a consular officer be licensed by someone before we can release any information about their case and this is done routinely. , "wrote Andrea Kalan on Twitter on February 22, one day after the visit. "In all other cases, we have been able to obtain a signed PAW, but in Whelan's case, the Inquiry Committee does not allow to happen. Why is this case different? Consular access without being able to make true consular support is not proper access."
A state department spokesman said at the time the US had "expressed our concern through diplomatic channels."
On February 22, a Russian court extended Whelan's detention by three months, until the end of May, Russian State News Agency TASS reported. Russia accused Michigan resident and former Marine of carrying out a espionage action. His lawyer told CNN in late January that Whelan was found with "evidence that constitutes state secrets." Before his arrest, Whelan had received a thumb that he thought contained vacation photographs, Zherebenkov said. Whelan did not inspect the flash unit before he was imprisoned and was unaware that it contained classified information, the lawyer said. Sources tell CNN, there has been no independent confirmation that Whelan received such a mini-unit.
Is security kept?
Fahey and the other sources tell CNN that they believe Whelan is being held as security in retaliation for the US arrest of the accused Russian spy Maria Butina.
Russia has made it clear that Butina is being released and has accused the United States of torturing her in prison. The Russian government media has painted a sacred image of Butina and claims that she has become very religious in prison. They say she reads several Christian books a week, has met an Orthodox priest and wants to become a teacher when she returns to Russia.
Whelan's law points out that Butina, unlike the detained American, has improper access to communication and its own lawyer. At the same time, Whelan is isolated through Russia's obstruction, Fahey says.
"The goal is very clear – they are trying to benefit from the US. The problem is, Paul Whelan is no spy," Fahey says.
Whelan's family also denies that he is a spy. Several sources of knowledge of the situation have echoed this requirement. His family says he was in Moscow for a vacation, including a friend's wedding. Two sources confirm that this wedding took place and the groom was the one who reported missing Whelan.
During his internment, Whelan has not been kept in solitary confinement, but sources say his cellan does not speak English. He'll send letters, telling jokes and making references that his family would recognize, so they know it's really him, the sources say. But he is afraid to tell anything about his case or his treatment there, because fear will make the situation worse.
Whelan has not been visited by family or friends or may also receive letters from them.
"He's just got notes that we've sent through their lawyers or verbal communication from consular visits," one of the sources says.
Tuesday was Whelan's 49th birthday, his brother David said. He did not receive the birthday cards they sent him.
CNN's Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.