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My breakfast with Paul Whelan’s sister | #emailsecurity | #phishing | #ransomware | #hacking | #aihp

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The sister of PAUL WHELAN, an American held hostage in Russia since December 2018, doesn’t think now is the right time to label the country a terrorist state.

“I’m actually for the legislation, but not at this minute,” ELIZABETH WHELAN told NatSec Daily over breakfast Friday, hours before her meeting with President JOE BIDEN. Her fear is that an official designation that’s being pushed by a bipartisan team in Congress would effectively kill talks over Whelan and BRITTNEY GRINER’s return to the United States. Once both were home, though, that’d be the right move.

Elizabeth expressed frustration that neither Sens. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-Conn.) nor LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), the leaders of the Senate bill to name Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, reached out to the Whelan family to convey they had weighed the measure’s effect on the hostages. None of the five lawmakers who introduced a similar bill in the House called, either, she said.

Paul Whelan, a former Marine, was arrested at a Moscow hotel nearly four years ago on charges of espionage — an allegation Paul and his family vigorously deny. After nearly two years of solitary confinement, he was transferred to a forced labor camp from which he can periodically call his parents and receive four care packages a year. He and his family were pleased to see TREVOR REED released from Russian custody in an April prisoner exchange, but frustrated that Paul wasn’t also on the flight home.

Now Paul’s fate seemingly is linked with Griner’s, with the U.S. reportedly offering arms dealer VIKTOR BOUT for the two. Elizabeth wouldn’t speculate about how she’d feel if only Griner came home, as Reed did, but she did say “as Paul’s sister, I do not want to see him left behind again and have urged the U.S. government not to let the Russian Federation do that,” adding that her anger would mostly be directed at Moscow for forcing such a situation.

Elizabeth also didn’t hint at either support or frustration for former Gov. BILL RICHARDSON’s recent trip to Russia, which the State Department denounced as freelancing. She just said she hopes the visit by the seasoned hostage negotiator helped convince the Kremlin to release Paul and Griner.

Elizabeth refused to share what she planned to tell Biden later this afternoon, but NatSec Daily noted that she was powered up with a fruit bowl, scrambled eggs and coffee. She continually brought up policy suggestions for the administration, ones she thinks might hasten Paul’s release and improve U.S. wrongful detainment procedures.

Here’s just one suggestion: move the Office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs from the State Department to the National Security Council. Hostage issues aren’t really diplomacy, she argued; they’re extortion. Putting the weight of the White House behind hostage cases might increase the chances of success, and also might give more resources to those working on the issue than are available at State. She’s passed this idea on to many in government, including national security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN.

Whelan is appreciative of the Biden administration’s efforts to secure Paul’s release. Today’s meeting with Biden shows her that U.S. officials care, even if there’s no real progress to announce — a situation she blames Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN for more than Biden.

But she still feels lost in the sea of bureaucracy and tricky geopolitics — and that’s coming from someone as deeply engaged as she is. “I still don’t yet know how to make the government work for me on this issue,” she said.

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