Former acting director of the US spy agency, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has rejected recent mainstream media claims that the Russian envoy to Washington is a spy and warned of ushering into a new Cold War with Moscow.
Describing Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak as an intelligent and experienced veteran diplomat, the former deputy chief and briefly acting chief of the CIA, John McLaughlin, reacted to the ongoing US media speculations about Kislyak over recent revelations that the country’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions held talks with the Russian diplomat when he was a senator and adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign before his election into office in November 2016.
"I don't think [Kislyak] is a spy, literally. He is a veteran diplomat, I knew him when he was head of the American Desk in the Foreign Ministry," McLaughlin said during a televised interview with MSNBC news network in response to questions about the media frenzy over Kislyak’s alleged meetings with other members of Trump’s campaign team.
Kislyak has emerged as the centerpiece of a controversy which has so far led to forced resignation of Trump administration’s first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, less than a month after the new president was sworn into office.
Sessions is the second senior administration official caught in the controversy of meeting with Kislyak as lawmakers from the rival Democratic Party, which suffered heavy electoral defeats in the November elections, demand the attorney general’s resignation for failing to reveal his contacts with Kislyak prior to Trump’s inauguration.
The development came as local press reports claimed on Thursday that the US intelligence community regards the Russian diplomat as a “spy” or “spy-recruiter,” without pointing to any evidence of such conduct.
McLaughlin, however, made clear that Kislyak is experienced at collecting information, adding that this is what foreign diplomats ordinarily do.
The former US spy chief – who now serves as a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) -- also cautioned against inflaming a second Cold War with Russia.
"When I was in Russia in October I met with people in both the Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry as part of an academic group. And I came away realizing that we really are close to Cold War Two," said McLaughlin.
He further emphasized, "In truth the President [Trump] has a point when he says we need to think about whether it's possible to have a better relationship with Russia, because when I was there it felt like we are just one mistake away from a shooting war, given the level of tension that you could feel and see in the media."
Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Ministry strongly denied allegations that its envoy to Washington is engaged in spying activities with spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, slamming the press rumors about Kislyak as “media vandalism.”
Zakharova then mockingly said, "Honestly, I have only one question. Is it the rock bottom, which the Western media hit, or is there still somewhere to go?… I will reveal a military secret: diplomats are working, and their work consists of making contacts in the host nation."