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The informant next door: A quiet LA life masked Kremlin ties for FBI source accused of lying about Bidens

Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

LOS ANGELES — He rubbed elbows with Russian elites, spoke of an exclusive invite aboard an oligarch's mega-yacht and cozied up to foreign intelligence agencies.

As a valued FBI informant for the last 13 years, Alexander Smirnov hopscotched the globe to sweep up information on powerful figures and illicit activities. Federal agents even authorized him to break the law while doing so.

For much of this time, Smirnov, 43, also lived a quiet, seemingly unremarkable life in the suburbs of Los Angeles with a long-term girlfriend 15 years his senior, calling Calabasas, Woodland Hills and Orange County home.

"They were very, very secretive," a former landlord said. "They packed really, really quick and left. It was weird."

Smirnov's tenure as a confidential source for the FBI ended in spectacular fashion this month, with a grand jury in L.A. charging him with obstructing justice and lying to federal agents.

The lies, according to prosecutors, included an explosive allegation that has been central to Republican efforts to impeach President Joe Biden and bolster Donald Trump's campaign to return to power — that Biden and son Hunter each accepted $5 million in bribes from the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

 

The falsehoods that Smirnov shared with his FBI handler in 2020, coupled with his extensive ties to Kremlin intelligence agencies, have fed into prosecutors' portrayal of him as a walking vector of Russian disinformation.

It is unclear how Smirnov went from being a renter in the San Fernando Valley awash in credit card debt to orbiting the powerful in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere with millions of dollars in his bank accounts.

Federal agents arrested Smirnov Feb. 15 at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas as he was returning from overseas. He had planned to embark on a monthslong international tour and meet with intelligence contacts before the criminal charges thwarted him.

After being released from custody Feb. 20, he was rearrested two days later under a new warrant from U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II, the Los Angeles jurist overseeing the case. Wright suggested that defense attorneys wanted him free "likely to facilitate his absconding from the United States."

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