Former U.S. Marine held for spying had Russian contacts with military backgrounds

This odd story has been commented here and all over the net. Some claim the guy was a NOC ('spy' with unofficial cover). But that is unlikely. A NOC would have to have a convincing cover identity. He does not.

Whelan has multiple passports in his own name. A spy would never have multiple passports in the same name. That is a hard thing to explain away if that is discovered by an adversary. Also he was a security chief for an auto-part manufacturer. Most nations that are adversaries to the US do not make a distinction between security officer and intelligence officer. So no NOC would use that as cover. It is said he was court-martialed in the Marines for various financial crimes. Financial trouble is one of the biggest hooks adversary intelligence agencies have against Americans. So choosing that particular misconduct in the military as cover makes little sense.

There are more problems with that scenario, the above are just examples.

It is more likely that Whelan was arrested by the Russians and will be used to trade for some Russia asset that we have. It is a cautionary tale for any American who thinks travelling to Russia is a nifty idea.

Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine held in Moscow on spying charges, had online contact with more than 20 Russians with military backgrounds, an analysis of social media shows.

Russian men with military education or a history of military service make up nearly half of Whelan's more than 50 friends on VK, a popular Russian social network that resembles Facebook, the analysis by Reuters shows.

At least 12 of his friends received military education in Russia, according to open source information, and at least another 11 appear to have completed national service.

In addition, about a fifth of those on Whelan's list have backgrounds in IT, engineering or civil aviation, a quarter are not connected to the military or technical sectors, and there is no information about the rest.

Whelan's family says he is innocent and was in Moscow for a wedding when he was arrested last month. The "Free Paul Whelan" Twitter page managed by the family has used the hashtag #JustATourist in one of its posts.

Russian authorities have not given details of his alleged spying, and the FSB security service did not respond immediately to questions on whether Whelan's online activity was linked to his detention.