Voice of America freelancer’s arrest on suspicion of being Russian spy causes international ripples – Fox News

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A Spanish freelance journalist for Voice of America, the U.S.-funded global media service, was arrested last month in Poland on suspicion of being a Russian spy, causing international ripples as VOA scrambled to “review” his past contributions and press watchdogs howled for his release.

Pablo González, described by the Spanish online newspaper Público as a “journalist specializing in the post-Soviet world and a doctoral candidate at the University of the Basque Country,” was arrested on Feb. 28 by Poland’s Internal Security Agency on charges of spying for GRU, Russia’s foreign military intelligence service. He faces 10 years in prison and the agency said he would be held for three months.

A VOA spokesperson said González had, according to its records, posted only six stories for the agency, the last one in 2021, but he had also contributed to a recent Ukraine segment as a camera operator. He was active on Twitter until his arrest. 

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“González ultimately appears to have submitted six stories to VOA from October 2020 to July 2021,” Director of Public Relations Bridget Ann Serchak told Fox News Digital. “He also provided some camera operator work last month in Ukraine. Given his indirect relationship with VOA, we understand that he never had VOA media accreditation; a press pass from or facilitated by VOA; or even a formal assignment letter.”

She added he had “no direct relationship” with VOA, was never an official employee, and his services were arranged through a third-party company, although the agency notified its security office upon learning of his arrest. His page on the VOA website has been scrubbed. 

Oihana Goiriena, wife of journalist Pablo Gonzalez, shows a picture of her husband on her phone, after he was detained by Polish authorities on espionage charges, in Nabarniz, Spain, March 5, 2022.

Oihana Goiriena, wife of journalist Pablo Gonzalez, shows a picture of her husband on her phone, after he was detained by Polish authorities on espionage charges, in Nabarniz, Spain, March 5, 2022. (REUTERS/Vincent West)

“While VOA is currently unaware of any information that would confirm the allegations against this freelancer, out of an abundance of caution, VOA has removed all of González’ content from its websites and social media accounts and is thoroughly reviewing the stories. VOA will provide any additional details that is able to provide at a future date,” Serchak said.

The Washington Free Beacon reported his six stories were “mostly from the frontlines of the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

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Gonzalez’s wife Oihana Goiriena told Reuters last week she had not heard from her husband since he called to inform her of his arrest and that he was only being charged for being an “inconvenient” journalist.

Michael Pack, who oversaw VOA as the former CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, was warned of severe vetting concerns inside the department when he took over in the final year of the Trump administration, although he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the González situation.

Michael Pack

Michael Pack

Shortly after he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June 2020 – his 2017 nomination by former President Trump was stalled for three years – Pack said the agency learned from the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of “persistent security problems” he said were left unaddressed by previous senior management. The USAGM learned that roughly 1,500 out of 4,000 employees had been improperly vetted and dozens of individuals – Pack estimated 77 to Fox News Digital – were wrongly given clearance levels of “confidential” and above that allowed them access to government system and facilities. 

“A lot of clearances were at different levels,” he said, such as “suitability clearances where it was a matter of them logging into the computers and having access to the buildings, so freelancers frequently had that level of clearance, because they have to log in, post their stories, exchange data …  It depends. It’s clear they had an obligation with anyone working for them to make sure they had a certain level of security clearance. That’s the whole point of working for the federal government.”

It’s unclear if González, who has not been convicted of any crime, was given any sort of security clearance as a freelancer. 

“We are checking and will be in touch when we have something to provide,” Serchak told Fox News Digital.

Pack, a conservative documentarian, said he didn’t enter the position in 2020 expecting to tackle national security issues, but said bureaucrats at the other agencies were so alarmed that he was forced to act.

One employee at the Office of Personnel Management “told me it was the worst security issue she had seen in her many decades of working at OPM. That’s why I was alerted to it,” Pack said.

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President Biden forced Pack to resign shortly after Biden took office in 2021, and Pack has returned to documentary filmmaking.

In addition to producing digital content, VOA broadcasts radio and TV programming around the world. While journalistically independent, it and its fellow outlets under the umbrella of the U.S. Agency for Global Media – Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – historically have used their platforms to promote American values of freedom and democracy.

Gonzalez is also a freelancer, or “stringer,” for Spanish outlets La Sexta and Público. His arrest has triggered outrage among press watchdogs, including Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Project Journalists. According to La Sexta, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares has offered the country’s “consular assistance” to free Gonzalez as it would for any Spaniards held abroad. His arrest has prompted protests in his hometown.

People stand behind a banner reading "Freedom for our neighbor Pablo Gonzalez. Press Freedom", during a demonstration, after Gonzalez was detained by Polish authorities on espionage charges, in Nabarniz, Spain, March 6, 2022. 

People stand behind a banner reading “Freedom for our neighbor Pablo Gonzalez. Press Freedom”, during a demonstration, after Gonzalez was detained by Polish authorities on espionage charges, in Nabarniz, Spain, March 6, 2022.  (REUTERS/Vincent West)

Reached for comment, the Committee to Protect Journalists directed Fox News to Europe representative Attila Mong’s expression of concern over the charges. 

“Polish authorities must guarantee that González has access to proper legal representation and a fair and transparent legal procedure, and ensure he is not sanctioned for his journalistic activities. Reporting is not a crime,” Mong said.

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González had most recently been reporting for Público on Ukrainian refugees flooding into Poland to escape the Russian invasion. He had also been held in Ukraine last month, before the invasion, on suspicion of being a spy, although he was released and “invited to leave the country.” He traveled to Poland to report on the refugee influx before the arrest by Poland’s Internal Security Agency.

“Internal Security Agency officers detained a Spanish citizen of Russian origin on suspicion of espionage,” the agency said in a statement posted on its website. “The man was arrested in Przemyśl on the night of February 27-28, 2022. He heard the accusation of participating in the activities of foreign intelligence against Poland.”

Polish authorities claimed Gonzalez “carried out activities for Russia using his journalistic status” and was able to move freely around Europe and armed conflict zones. It claimed he obtained information for Russia’s secret services that could “have a direct negative impact” on Poland’s security, and added he planed to next travel to Ukraine to continue his activities.

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It added “extensive evidence was secured” without elaborating.

Source URL: https://www.foxnews.com/media/voice-of-america-freelancer-arrest-russian-spy-international

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