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‘US spy’ worked in Russian president’s office

Yuri Kadobnov, AFP file picture | The St Basil's Cathedral (right) and the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower (left) in downtown Moscow

The Kremlin on Tuesday said that a former Russian official identified in media reports as a CIA asset inside Russia had worked in Russia’s presidential administration, but denied claims he had had direct access to President Vladimir Putin.

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US media on Monday reported that US intelligence carried out an operation in 2017 to extract a high-level Russian official and CIA asset. According to CNN, the source, who had been providing information for decades, had access to Putin and had sent home pictures of high-level documents on the Russian leader's desk.

Russian daily newspaper Kommersant said on Tuesday the official may have been a man called Oleg Smolenkov. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Smolenkov had worked in the Russian presidential administration but had been fired in 2016-2017. He declined to say whether the man was an agent or not.

According to CNN, the spy was pulled out of Russia in 2017 due to concerns that President Donald Trump and his cabinet could expose the asset due to repeated mishandling of classified intelligence.

The CIA refuted this. Brittany Bramell, the agency's director of public affairs, told CNN: "Misguided speculation that the president's handling of our nation's most sensitive intelligence -- which he has access to each and every day -- drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate."

The agency offered to extract the source in late 2016 but the informant initially refused, citing family issues, the New York Times reported.

This prompted fears that the informant had become a double agent -- but months later the source relented, the Times added.

The man was allegedly key in providing information that led US intelligence to conclude Putin directly orchestrated Russian interference in favor of Trump and against his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, the Times said.

The informant was also directly linked Putin to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, resulting in the release of a flood of embarrassing messages, the newspaper reported.

According to the Times, the agent was the CIA's most valuable Russian asset.

The extraction has "effectively blinded" American intelligence to the Kremlin's inner workings during the 2018 US midterm election, the Times report said, as well as the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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