CANADA

Igor Gouzenko plays it again

William Lowther October 26 1981
CANADA

Igor Gouzenko plays it again

William Lowther October 26 1981

Igor Gouzenko plays it again

CANADA

William Lowther

The hooded figure of Igor Gouzenko, the Soviet cipher clerk who came into the cold, has sent shivers of suspicion through Ottawa for 36 years. Ever since he first defected with a grab bag of spy secrets, he has been whining about the ones who got away. Though a firstyear journalism student could find him with ease, he still lives in hiding, near Toronto, not daring to show his face, fearing revenge by shot or shell, fire or poison gas. He says over and over—and over—that Canadian counterespionage agents failed to follow up all of his leads and that, as a result, Communist cells are flourishing throughout the country.

The evidence he gave, in top-secret hearings after his defection, remained classified over the decades, and the innuendo had it that the guilty were being protected, that Moscow had found a room at the top.

Last week, after considerable pressure from the Opposition Conservatives, the government declassified the transcript of the 1946 royal commission — ruled over by judges Robert Taschereau and Roy Kellock—that first heard Gouzenko’s evidence after he fled the Soviet Embassy on Charlotte Street to reveal its wholesale espionage. There are 6,000 legalsize pages of testimony (more words than the Bible) loosely tied together with strands of pink ribbon and jammed into four cardboard boxes. They catalogue the treachery of a handful of politicians, civil servants and scientists who sold their country’s secrets for a few hundred dollars to satisfy their idealism and soothe their social consciences. Theirs was a concern bred in the 1920s and ’30s when fascism was beginning its jackbooted march into history and communism was fashionable.

As historians and journalists pored over the mass of paper in the hushed ambience of the Public Archives, they found fascinating details of Soviet spycraft—but no trace of a cover-up or of leads not being followed. Indeed, exactly the opposite. The two judges ruthlessly pilloried witnesses. Those accused of working for the Soviets—20 were charged and 10 convicted—had to name everyone else they knew in government work. A great many obviously innocent people fell under suspicion as the commission resorted to guilt-by-association tactics. If the inquiry had been conducted in public, reputations and careers would have been ruined, and the two judges would have been at the top of Senator Joe McCarthy’s list of favored table companions.

Allan Lawrence, former Conservative solicitor-general, claims the government is still shortchanging the people because it has not declassified the 700odd exhibits presented to the royal commission. But in fact, details of just what most of these exhibits contain are given in the testimony and will likely be released within a few months.

Gouzenko was trained in Moscow and sent to Ottawa in June, 1943. He worked for the military attaché, sending coded messages back to the Soviet Union. And from the messages he learned that his masters were systematically setting up spy rings. As a result, on Sept. 5, 1945, he carefully selected a bundle of the most incriminating cables he had transmitted over the previous two years and sought asylum for himself, his wife, Svetlana, and their children. The war had been over barely a month. The U.S.S.R. and the West were theoretical allies. But here was concrete evidence— with accounts of passwords, letter drops, forged passports and code names—confirming every pin-striped Wall Street capitalist’s worst suspicions about the Soviet Union. Leading Canadians were implicated by name, including MP Fred Rose, members of the National Research Council, assistant registrar of the U.K. high commissioner, Kathleen Willsher, and a number of prominent academics. In addition, Gouzenko brought evidence of spying by British atomic scientist Alan íNunn May. Espionage conevictions followed, All of the Canadians and |British whom Gouzenko zknew by name and was able ito identify as having worked for the Soviets were arrested and charged. But there were at least five others known only by the code names Gina, Galya, Green, Surensen and Golia, who were never found. Kathleen Willsher, who provided the Communists with all sensitive information that passed through her boss’s officeincluding references to the atomic bomb project—was given the code name Elli. And recently, Gouzenko has been claiming in interviews that he told the RCMP during his official debriefing that there existed another agent, also named Elli, stationed in London.

At week’s end British journalist Chapman Pincher called a press conference in London. There, he declared that he had spoken with Gouzenko on the telephone and that he believed the second “Elli” to be the late Sir Roger Hollis, head of Britain’s MI-5 counterintelligence from 1956 to 1965—a claim Pincher had already made in his book Their Trade Is Treachery, published last spring.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told Parliament last March that Sir Roger was investigated in the 1970s but that no proof was found that he had spied for the Soviet Union. Pincher is calling for the investigation to be reopened, however, insisting that when Gouzenko first defected it was Sir Roger whom the British sent to Ottawa to help debrief him. Pincher added that Gouzenko had told him earlier last week that during the 1970s another official from MI-5 visited him and showed him a copy of Sir Roger’s report on the defection. “Gouzenko said to me the other night that if Hollis had written that report, then Hollis was a spy,” Pincher said. “The testimony was a fake.”

Over the years scores of reporters have interviewed the hooded Gouzenko, who continues to imagine reds under every bed. He lives, as he has lived since he first defected, on a government pension, now indexed up to $1,500 a month. He still dresses like the newly arrived emigré’s idea of a North American. In his bottle-green shirt, outrageously patterned blue tie and sober pin-striped suit, he told Maclean ’s that it was Kim Philby who interviewed him for British intelligence after he defected.

“I was interrogated by a spy,” he said. “The liaison between Canadian intelligence and British intelligence was Kim Philby. The reports of my interview that British intelligence showed me in 1972 when they were checking up on KGB infiltration were totally false. I had been made to say such outrageous things that nobody reading my files could have believed that I knew anything about intelligence.” Who really interviewed Gouzenko for the British? Was it Philby, as he told Maclean’s, or Hollis, as he told Pincher? The RCMP declines to say.

James Angleton, the renowned former head of counterintelligence for the CIA, once mused upon a basic problem with defectors: “There comes a time when they can be of no further use. They have given all that they have to give. At that stage they often become morose or depressed. They think that they have been cast aside unfairly and want to regain some position of prominence. It can be very sad.” Gouzenko, it appears, is living proof.

With files from Barbara Amiel.

Barbara Amiel