Whelan is 50 years old and was arrested in a Moscow hotel on December 28, 2018 because according to Russian secret services, the FSB had a USB stick containing confidential information. Whelan, who has the nationality of four different countries (the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland), had been in the Marine Corps until 2008, when he had been discharged for what American newspapers had described as “a case of theft “. He is known to have visited Russia several times in the years leading up to his arrest and had a series of contacts with several well-known people on Vkontakte, the main Russian social network, including several military and former military personnel.
Whelan said he was in Moscow for a wedding, but according to Russian secret services, he got hold of a USB stick containing the list of names of employees of a Russian intelligence agency shortly before. According to Whelan’s attorney, however, his client believed that there were photos of his vacation on the stick. From the first days after his arrest, it had been speculated in the United States that Russia could use Whelan’s arrest (and subsequent conviction) in view of an exchange of prisoners with the United States.