US passport found in South Ossetia was planted by the Russians

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US passport found in South Ossetia was planted by the Russians

Turns out it might have been planted by the Russian themselves, as the owner lost it on a flight from Moscow to LA in 2005.

Ever heard of Michael Lee White? Chances are that you haven’t. Unless, that is, you happen to watch the Russian TV news, where Michael Lee White has recently played a starring role. Or more specifically his passport has, in a mysterious case that seems to come straight out of the Cold War.

Last Thursday, 28 August, the deputy chief of Russia’s General Staff, Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, held a news conference in Moscow, where he revealed that Russian troops in South Ossetia had found a passport belonging to an American citizen called Michael Lee White. He displayed a copy to assembled journalists, revealing that the passport was issued in Houston in 2001, and that the owner was a resident of Texas born in 1967.

Nogovitsyn said the passport had been recovered in the ruins of a building, in a South Ossetian village called Zemonekozi, that was fiercely defended by Georgian Interior Ministry special forces during the recent Russian-Georgian war. Nogovitsyn said that he had no more information about White's identity or his current whereabouts. But that didn't stop the general from drawing dramatic conclusions. “I do not know why he was there, but it is a fact that he was in the building, among Georgian special forces troops,” Nogovitsyn said.

The revelation has been eagerly publicized by Russia's state-controlled media, and presented as direct evidence of clandestine US involvement in the war. It came on the same day that Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin made sensational claims to CNN, saying he suspected that the war in Georgia was deliberately provoked by someone in the US, in order to help one of the candidates in the US election. “We have serious grounds to think that there were US citizens right in the combat zone,” Putin said. The US State Department immediately dismissed Putin's allegations as “patently false”.

The passport find is evidently meant to be part of these “serious grounds”. But who, in fact, is Michael Lee White? For several days, various internet bloggers have been trying to establish the identity and whereabouts of the mysterious Texan. Information about the real Michael Lee White has slowly been coming to light. And it only adds to the puzzle of how his passport wound up in the hands of the Russian army.

The first clues to his identity came late on Friday night, 29 August, when White's mother Meda phoned into a US radio talk show, Coast to Coast AM. The family also told their story to the local newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, which published a report about the case on Sunday, 31 August.

It turns out that Michael Lee White is actually a a lecturer at the Guangdong University of Business Studies in Guangzhou, China. Previously, White has worked as a teacher in Kazakhstan. He is the son of Philip L. White, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Texas. He served in the US Army between 1992 and 1997, including a stint in Bosnia. Michael Lee White's resume is available on the internet, on a networking site for English teachers in China.

At the time of Nogovitsyn's press conference on 28 August, White was apparently incommunicado, having left Austin in Texas for Hong Kong on 27 August, flying via Los Angeles and Tokyo. His family say they first heard from him again by e-mail on Saturday evening, by which time he had turned up safe and well in Guangzhou.

In comments to the Austin American-Statesman, White claims that he was nowhere near South Ossetia during the Russian-Georgian War. At the time the Russians say he was accompanying Georgian special forces, his family insist that White was in Texas for six weeks caring for his elderly father, and that they can prove it.

So how did the Russian authorities get hold of his passport? White says that he lost his passport in 2005, on a flight from Moscow to New York, and reported it lost or stolen at the time. The loss of the passport in 2005 has been confirmed by the US State Department, according to the Austin American-Statesman. If true, that raises a lot of obvious questions about the Russian army's claims.

True, some internet posters find White's army background suspicious. According to his internet resume, White graduated from Air Assault airborne training school in 1993. But that information, freely accessible on the internet, would also have been available to anyone planning a set-up.

What's clear is that the Russians have made great propaganda play out of the incident. But so far they haven't presented any evidence, other than the passport, to support their claim that White was accompanying Georgian special forces. No doubt the full facts about White's whereabouts during the war will now be thoroughly investigated, as will the fate of his missing passport.
By netchicken: posted on 4-9-2008

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