Russia-US spying: Moscow plays down story of 'extracted agent'

US quietly removed top spy from Russia in 2017

In addition to his fear such foreign intelligence sources will damage his relationship with foreign leaders, Trump has expressed doubts about the credibility of the information they provide.

The Kremlin has played down US media reports that a CIA spy was planted in Russia's presidential administration, before he was extracted in 2017 over concern US President Donald Trump had disclosed intelligence to Russian officials.

It cited unnamed Russian law enforcement officials as saying Moscow had initially opened an investigation into his suspected murder in Montenegro before concluding he was alive and living overseas.

The Kommersant newspaper said he had gone on holiday with his family to Montenegro in 2017 and disappeared, before a man with the same name and a woman with the same name as Mr Smolenkov's wife purchased a house in the U.S. state of Virginia, near Washington DC.

United States network NBC meanwhile claimed to have found a man living in the Washington area who - according to two Federal Bureau of Investigation sources - matched the descriptions of the man in the CNN report. He did not say why. Protecting the source's identity and preserving the appearance of integrity and objectivity in the US intelligence community are both less important to Brennan than scoring political points.

The Kremlin on Tuesday confirmed that an alleged United States spy had worked in Russia's presidential administration.

"We believe. that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities", the statement said.

He could not confirm whether Mr Smolenkov was a spy, but added: "All this USA media speculation about who urgently extracted who and saved who from who and so on - this is more the genre of pulp fiction, crime reading, so let's leave it up to them".

Smolenkov did not have direct access to Putin, Peskov added, declining with a laugh to confirm whether he had been a USA agent or not.

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"I can't confirm that ..."

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

The suspected asset, whom media have described as a former high-ranking Russian official who spied for and ultimately defected to the United States, never worked at the Russian Presidential Affairs Directorate, Yelena Krylova, the directorate's spokesperson, told Interfax. Brennan and Obama kept Clapper in the cloud of unknowing: "James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence who left office at the end of the Obama administration, said he had no knowledge of the decision to conduct an extraction".

Commenting on CNN's reports that the American intelligence "extracted" its "agent" from Russian Federation in 2017 fearing that he would be exposed, Peskov said that this is "pulp fiction" style talk.

It cited some unnamed sources as saying they thought Smolenkov had only done routine work and could not have passed anything more than "two-bit rumours" to the Americans.

Russian reports said Mr Smolenkov had worked for Yury Ushakov, a senior aide to President Putin. This article is based on interviews in recent months with current and former officials who spoke on the condition that their names not be used discussing classified information.

The Moscow informant was instrumental to the C.I.A.'s most explosive conclusion about Russia's interference campaign: that President Vladimir V. Putin ordered and orchestrated it himself.

However, new reporting revealed that not only is Trump not to blame for the spy extraction but also that former President Barack Obama's administration was at least partially culpable.

"I have never seen this man, have never met him, and have never monitored his career or movements", Lavrov said.

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