CIA Agent or English Instructor? Russia and U.S. at Odds Over Incident in Georgia

September 03, 2008

The man whom Russia has accused of being a CIA agent assigned to stir up trouble in Georgia turns out to be an English instructor at a Chinese business school, The Wall Street Journal reported this morning.

Michael Lee White, a U.S. Army veteran and itinerant teacher, says he lost his passport on a 2005 flight from Moscow to New York. Somehow it made its way into the hands of the Russian government, which presented it at a news conference last week. A Russian military spokesman, arguing that the United States had intentionally created the conflict in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, said Mr. White’s passport had been found in an outpost used by Georgian forces during August battles with pro-Russian separatists, the Journal reported.

“I don’t know why the Russian general would say that,” said Mr. White, who was described as living in a “spartan faculty apartment” at the Guangdong University of Business Studies. “I don’t know who would believe it.”

The Central Intelligence Agency, which normally neither confirms not denies the identities of its employees, has said that Mr. White is not one of its agents. And the State Department confirmed that Mr. White reported his passport lost in 2005.

His current passport shows that he was out of the country for most of August, but he says he was in Texas caring for his ailing father. And as one former CIA agent told the Journal, no operative with any intelligence would carry his passport with him in the field.

Mr. White served in the Army as a petroleum-supply specialist. After leaving the service, in 1997, he finished his undergraduate degree and then began teaching English in Asia. He is also working on a book with his father, Philip L. White, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, called Nationality in World History, the Journal reported.

One of the younger Mr. White’s contributions is a chapter called “The Evolution of the Russian National Identity.” —Beth McMurtrie