WNBA player Brittney Griner, who has been imprisoned in Russia for months after being sentenced to nine years behind bars in August 2022, will be exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents have condemned the swap, saying it will “damage the deterrence” against committing crimes against the United States and give others hope that they, too, can land a swap to go back to their homeland.
Officials reportedly told CBS News that the agreement was reached on Thursday, December 1, and was given final approval by President Biden.
Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were joined in the Oval Office by Griner’s wife, Cherelle, for a phone call with the now-former prisoner. Photos of the call were shared on President Biden’s Twitter page, announcing that Griner would be returning.
“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”
The exchange, which reportedly was negotiated in the United Arab Emirates, will still leave ex-Marine Paul Whelan in Russian custody, with talks for his release alleged to continue.
Whelan was convicted in 2020 of spying and sentenced to 16 years in maximum-security prison, despite denying all charges.
The swap for Griner ends a would-be 25-year sentence for arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the Merchant of Death.
Former DEA agents who were involved in the capturing of Bout told CBS News that this exchange could damage the “deterrence and consequences of committing crimes against the United States” now that “killers and criminals” know they can negotiate their way out of long sentences.
Another DEA agent told CBS News that the agreement is “terrible” for the “rule of law” and will reduce the criminal trials to “political stunts.”
One of the agents called operations such as the one that led to the incarceration of Bout as “Herculean,” spanning multiple continents.