The Hambleton spy web
When Laval University economist Hugh Hambleton took the stand in London’s venerable Old Bailey courthouse last week, he looked very much the academic on holiday. In a charcoal suit and hornrimmed glasses, his grey hair brushed forward to cover a bald spot, Hambleton showed no signs of nervousness, although his rapid speech and Canadian accent caused the court stenographer to scramble. But the unassuming 60-year-old professor’s testimony sent shock waves through the Western espionage establishment. In the face of charges of spying for the Soviet Union, Hambleton maintained that he was actually a double agent working for both the French and the Canadian governments.
The thunderbolt came on the trial’s third day as Hambleton’s lawyer,
John Lloyd-Eley, was cross-examining a prosecution witness, Scotland Yard’s Special Branch officer, Det.-Supt. Peter Westcott. “Are you aware,” the barrister asked, “that the defence in this case would be that Hugh Hambleton was at all material times a Canadian and French agent who successfully penetrated the Russian espionage organization?” In subsequent testimony Hambleton stated that while he provided material for Soviet agents it was under the direction of a French agent whom he named and a Canadian External Affairs officer whom he referred to only as “Mr. C.”
Relented: Tension in the Old Bailey was palpable when Hambleton was ordered to name his alleged Canadian handler. He balked when Judge Sir Henry Croom-Johnson insisted that he at least write down the name and address of the Canadian intelligence agent who, Hambleton claimed, approved his contacts with the Soviets and in-
structed that the link be maintained. Hambleton at first replied that the Canadian officers who arrested him in 1979 forbade him to identify Canadian intelligence agents. But Hambleton finally relented when the judge sternly ordered disclosure. At that, Hambleton hastily scribbled a name on a piece of paper and handed it to Croom-Johnson.
Hambleton also rebutted the charge of passing classified documents by saying it was “misinformation” doctored by the French agent. At week’s end three RCMP officers flew to London to testify in the case, as the revelations resounded through British legal and security circles. Meanwhile, Canadian officials braced for what promised to be another week of embarrassing and potentially explosive disclosures.
Pending more facts, the Hambleton spy case was a puzzling web of alleged connections and counterclaims. The only certainty last week was that Can-
ada, once again, had landed at the centre of major international intrigue—a feature of West-East relations since Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko’s revelations effectively gave rise to the Cold War in the 1940s. More recently, as the McDonald inquiry into the Royal Canadian Mounted Police delved into operations of the Security Service, the nation has been rivetted by accounts of double agents dealing at night in “safe houses,” their trade names lifted from tombstones.
As details of Hambleton’s career in espionage unfolded like a John LeCarré novel, the sudden, unexpected twist provoked heated questions in the House of Commons in Ottawa, dating back to 1979 when the Q professor’s double life § was first exposed. The I Canadian solicitor gen« eral at the time, Allan I Lawrence, had refused I then to answer questions about Hambleton. But, last week, Lawrence, now Conservative spokesman on security matters and the RCMP, spoke freely in the House and to reporters. As solicitor general, he claimed, he had been awaiting only a legal opinion before prosecuting Hambleton.
Traitors: But the election of 1980 intervened. The Liberals were returned to power, and no charges were laid. “That would not have happened if the Clark government had stayed in office,” Lawrence maintained. “The woods are full of Canadian traitors who have been promoted or pensioned off,” he told Maclean’s. The RCMP Security Service’s argument, he said, “is that you confront them with the goods in the hope that you will get more out of them in private than in public prosecutions.” Lawrence dismissed Hambleton’s claim that he worked as a Canadian agent as ridiculous. “I can’t believe he would be prosecuted in Britain if he was a double agent, considering the close co-operation between our security service and the British,” declared Lawrence. “But, if it turns out to be true, I can assure you that all hell will break loose. It would mean the Canadian security service lied to me. It means Prime Minister [Pierre] Trudeau lied to the Canadian people, and it means Solicitor General Robert Kaplan lied in the Commons.” Kaplan and Trudeau have said that Hambleton was not prosecuted in Canada because the RCMP did not have enough evidence to proceed against him. Later in the week, however, Kaplan allowed that there was new evidence, which three Mounties were taking with them for a surprise appearance in the Old Bailey. “They have direct evidence to give,” said Kaplan.
Kaplan and other government spokesmen refused comment throughout the week on evidence emerging from the Hambleton case, on
the grounds that they did not want to influence a trial in progress in another country. Kaplan, in fact, boasted about a London Times headline that said that the Canadian minister was not giving any details at home on the case. Finally, the Conservative critics agreed to hold their fire until the trial is over, unless there is another large break in the case, which seems to be almost a certainty.
For its part, Ottawa argues that its efforts to deal with spies are hampered by provisions of the 1974 Official Secrets Act, although critics charge that it is too sweeping. Kaplan assured the Commons last week that changes will be made. But Britain is not so encumbered and, as a result, Hambleton, who went to England on vacation in June, ended up in a British jail.
By the time Hambleton was arrested he had been in from the cold for three years. In 1979 he acknowledged in interviews that he was under investigation by the RCMP. He admitted having had contacts with “some Russians” and passing on what he said was widely available economic and political data. “I am sure I have not passed on any secrets,” he said, countering a report in the New York Post that a Russian woman living in New York, Lijana Galeva, had recruited him as part of a spy ring of 30 to 50 agents working in Can-
ada. Hambleton denied receiving $31,000 from Galeva, saying instead that she was his girlfriend and that he had given her several thousand dollars in Rome to help her out of financial difficulties. Besides, he said, she was Yugoslavian, not Russian, and not particularly well disposed toward the Soviet Union. Yet, in November, 1979, the RCMP raided Hambleton’s mother’s home in Ottawa and uncovered a cache of spying paraphernalia—a radio
equipped to receive scrambled messages, a decoding device and specially treated paper. The debate over whether or not to charge Hambleton was under way.
It was still in progress when Hambleton planned a vacation in Europe last spring. He had been to Britain once since the Ottawa raids—to visit Exeter University in 1980—and he had been detained and questioned by British authorities then. As a result, Hambleton consulted the RCMP about the treatment he was likely to receive this time. Although he was warned that he would face a “hostile reception,” he decided to go anyway, planning first to meet his elder son, Ricardo, who was travelling in Europe, then to go to Spain to research a book on King Alphonso XIII. But almost as soon as he landed in England he was arrested and eventually charged with supplying secrets to enemies of Britain.
Back in Canada, Hambleton’s ex-wife let it be known that she thought he had been betrayed by the RCMP. Now living in the Ottawa area under a new name, she says that Insp. Frank Pratt of the RCMP Security Service, who had been working with Hambleton, told him that, although he would have to go through more interviews in Britain, he would not be jailed. “My husband said he felt he was not compromising himself. But he was. He’s in jail now,” she said. But Solicitor General Kaplan last week defended the z RCMP’s warning, cons tending that the advice “ was appropriate in the context of the relationship that the security forces had developed with Hambleton since the 1980 decision not to prosecute him. Some espionage analysts concluded that the advice lent credence to Hambleton’s alleged links with the RCMP Security Service.
Not surprisingly, the RCMP was not forthcoming about its role in Hambleton’s arrest. One high-ranking RCMP source, asked in July whether the force had tipped Scotland Yard to Hambleton’s imminent arrival, replied drolly,
“Perhaps a concerned Canadian citizen passed on certain information.” But, in gloomy Brixton prison, built in 1853 to accommodate 504 prisoners, Hambleton considered himself lucky to at least have his own cell among the 760 inmates. His relative comfort may have served his hosts’ interests—the 260 pages of statements he gave Scotland Yard Special Branch investigators in the prison were at the heart of prosecution evidence given in the Old Bailey last week.
Candid: “This defendant is and was a spy,” declared British Attorney General Sir Michael Havers as he opened the prosecution case. Allegations and charges covering 23 years, from 1956 to 1979, flowed amid Hambleton’s candid commentary on his life and deeds to Special Branch investigators. Havers told the court that Hambleton had admitted to spying over a period of three decades, which included a five-year stint as an economist for NATO in Paris, and that in 1975 he had travelled on a Soviet diplomatic passport to Moscow. There, Hambleton told his interrogators, he had dined with Yuri Andropov, the KGB chief who just last month succeeded Leonid Brezhnev as general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Andropov “offered to finance my expenses” to seek election as an MP in Canada, said Hambleton, but the defendant refused the offer. Before the court was closed for eight hours to hear confidential testimony from NATO officials, Havers maintained that Hambleton had photographed more than 80 NATO files, comprising thousands of pages with security classifications up to the “cosmic” category (disclosure would cause “exceptionally grave damage”) and passed them on to Russians at drops in the Paris subway and elsewhere.
Hambleton has consistently acknowledged that he gave the Soviets material that they had requested by NATO code number. But he always argued that it was harmless information, dealing with economics and oil matters. However, in defence testimony late last week Hambleton maintained, for the first time publicly, that the documents were passed through French security agent Jean Masson, who doctored them by inserting “misinformation.”
Some facts of the case are uncontested. Hambleton has previously acknowledged that his first contacts with the Russians came at a 1950 party in Ottawa hosted by his father, George, a press gallery reporter for The Canadian Press, Canada’s national news service. There, Hambleton was introduced to an employee of the Soviet Embassy, Vladimir Borodin, and the two became friends. Hambleton, who was working at the time for the National Film Board, says the Russian eventually asked him to try to get a job in External Affairs and he refused. But later, when Borodin suggested that he “gather information” for the Russians, Hambleton said that he “had no moral reservations about rejoining the intelligence community.”
His intelligence work previously had been with the French and Canadian forces—coincidentally the nations he cited in his double-agent defence argument—during and immediately following the Second World War. After serving with the French Special Services in North Africa in 1943-44, Hambleton was a security officer for two years, first with the French Resistance forces in Alsace, then with the Canadian Intelligence Corps in Germany. But, in 1956, encouraged by the Soviets, he sought a position in the economic department of NATO, even offering to work for nothing. He was hired in Paris but he testified last week that, in fact, it was the French agent, Masson, who got him the job.
Whatever the source of the encouragement, it was not surprising that Hambleton was hired. His credentials are impeccable. When he joined NATO the Ottawa-born scholar had already graduated from the Khaki University of Canada (1945); the University of Ottawa (1948); received his MA in economics from the University of the Americas in Mexico and a doctorate from the University of Paris (1956). By the time of his arrest in June, among the accomplishments that earned Hambleton a
place in Canadian Who’s Who were: publication of three books; a stint as economic adviser to the government of Peru in 1971; the directorship of a course to evaluate and formulate projects in Haiti (1973-75); the presidency of the Canadian Association of Latin American Studies; and memberships in the Society of St. George, the Royal Yachting Association and the Federación Española de Vela. In the 1982 edition of Canadian Who’s Who, his home was listed as “La Mariposa,” Mijas, Spain.
Hambleton left NATO in 1961 —“to feel freer,” he says—and studied at the University of London, receiving his doctorate in 1964. He joined Laval the same year and became an associate professor of economics in 1968. There, with his then wife Fiorella Anna, whom he met and married in Rome in 1959, and their two sons and daughter, Hambleton lived in a way that would do LeCarré’s reclusive spy, George Smiley, proud. “If he was brilliant at one thing,” Laval economics department Chairman Gerald LeBlanc told Maclean’s, “it was at disguising what he was up to. He didn’t have qny real friends in the department. He didn’t say much—no more than he had to.” Said the concierge at the Pavilion de Köninck at 2455 Chemin Ste-Foy in Quebec City, where Hambleton had a 3Vè-room apartment: “We scarcely knew him. He was very quiet. We had nothing to do with him.” Neighbors recalled that the door was always only partially opened when they knocked at number 208.
Meanwhile, Hambleton recalled in a 1980 interview, he was meeting in the corridors at Laval or in the coffee shop at Quebec’s Château Frontenac hotel with Rudolph Herrmann, a colonel in the Soviet security force, the KGB. “He was a very suspicious fellow,” Hambleton said. “If I picked a restaurant [for a meeting], he would pick another. If I picked a table when we entered, he would insist we move, always scared we were under surveillance.” It was Herrmann who supplied Hambleton with his spy kit but it was also Herrmann who, when he defected in 1980, named Hambleton, among others, as “a longtime and trusted Soviet agent.”
Smuggled: In his own statements to Scotland Yard, Hambleton talked candidly about his Moscow trip and his evening with Andropov. By a circuitous route through Vienna, Hambleton was essentially smuggled into Moscow. He told the Yard interrogators that the Soviets provided him with an apartment and briefed him on various espionage techniques. While in Moscow he had dinner with Andropov, who had “a good grasp of the West” and questioned Hambleton on Western attitudes, the future of the European Community, American youth, anti-Semitism in the U.S. and his views on U.S. defence spending. “I indicated the Common Market was a failure,” Hambleton told the Yard. “I said I thought it [U.S. defence spending] could be considerably increased. The implication was that defence spending in Russia was considerable and could not be increased much further, but it could be in the United States.” Asked by the Special Branch investigators whether he got a medal from Andropov, Hambleton said: “He didn’t give me a medal. He thanked me and said he hoped I would fare well in the world’s trouble spots. I got the feeling he wanted me to exert influence on behalf of Russia rather than spying.”
Hambleton said he felt “a certain excitement, a feeling of camaraderie with the people looking after me.” “You get the feeling you are playing an important role,” he said. Yet, in apparent direct contradiction of that statement, Hambleton testified Friday that he feared for his life while in Moscow and that his “double agent” role would be discovered. “I presume I would have disappeared without a trace,” Hambleton told the Old Bailey. “No one would ever know what happened to me.” And, in earlier testimony last week, Hambleton said his “important role” was simply passing on “doctored” documents supplied to him by Masson. Hambleton’s lawyer, Lloyd-Eley, told the court that the Canadian intelligence service arranged for Masson to handle Hamble-
ton during his NATO job. “He was, although directly responsible to Jean Masson, himself also known to Canadian intelligence at that time and subsequently,” Lloyd-Eley said. If true, the disclosure places Canada on the edge of spying abroad, a practice that Ottawa has officially rejected for the Security Service.
The Hambleton case, whatever its outcome, proved once again that Canada is enmeshed in the international espionage game. With its close ties to the Washington intelligence establishment and to NATO, Canada indeed is a
prime target for spies. Suspicions of Soviet penetration have been so acute— and, on occasion, documented—that Canadian operatives and diplomats repeatedly have been accused of being Soviet agents. The mood of paranoia began with Igor Gouzenko’s charges in 1945 that led to several espionage convictions of Canadians and the imprisonment in the U.S. for four years of the alleged spy Alger Hiss. Later, in the wake of the McCarthy era, Canadian Ambassador Herbert Norman threw himself to his death from a Cairo highrise building—although the government in Ottawa had cleared him of suspicions of disloyalty.
Throughout the 1960s, Lester Pearson’s Liberals reeled under espionage scandals—particu-
larly the case of lowly postal clerk George Victor Spencer— that ultimately led to the Mackenzie royal commission. Like McDonald, a decade later, Mackenzie called for an increasingly civilian service. The Trudeau government partially adopted the notion in appointing former diplomat John Starnes as the first civilian director of the Security Service in 1970. In the end—and before revelations of RCMP misdeeds—Starnes resigned, frustrated by his inability to wrest control from the career Mounties.
Throughout the years of the McDonald probe, there were repeated revelations about Canada’s role in the shadowy espionage world. For one thing, Starnes asserted that the Trudeau government asked the Security Service to go abroad to investigate alleged threats to Canada’s security by agents operating in Quebec. In 1972 the RCMP even suspected one of its own of being a traitor. Leslie James Bennett, a ranking civilian in the Security Service, was interrogated about his dealings with the Soviets. Although Bennett was cleared, the force treated him as an outcast, and Bennett resigned and moved to Australia.
William Stevenson, author of A Man Called Intrepid, which documents the wartime exploits of Sir William Stephenson, believes that all the soulsearching and inquiries have pleased enemy nations. In 1978 Stevenson told the Commons justice committee in Ottawa, “We’re playing into the hands of people who want to discredit security agencies.”
A move was made early in 1978 to head off what Intrepid feared to be already true. Canadian and American counterespionage specialists held a joint conference in Washington and at least one meeting at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Va. The subject at hand was a noticeably increased effort by the Soviets to infiltrate both countries. The CIA told the RCMP that the Soviets were undertaking operations that were virtually “provocations” and that they had “gotten out of hand.” After the conferences, the United States announced that it was greatly increasing its counterespionage force and strongly urged Canada to do the same. An FBI source
told Maclean's last week, “As far as I know, the Canadian increase was minimal.” The problem, he said, is not the RCMP (which is highly regarded) but their facilities and staff. “It’s a question of money. The territory they have to cover is huge. How can they do it on the sort of budget they’re given?” The agent said that the Soviet Union targets Canada because it is well aware of “the holes in the RCMP net”—some of which, according to the RCMP, were created by the chill of the McDonald inquiry into Security Service operations. Commenting on Ottawa’s decision to create a separate civilian intelligence agency, a source in the CIA counterespionage section said: “We don’t see any advantage to this. In fact, counterespionage might suffer.”
One of the United States’ distinguished intelligence operatives, speaking to Maclean 's only on the strict understanding that he would not be named, said he had read the McDonald report that gave rise to the civilian service move and concludes: “It says a lot of silly things. A lot of the theory advanced in it is, in my view, simply erroneous. It’s a very pompous piece of work. Personally, I have always felt that for Canada to try to set up a security service outside the force [RCMP] is a mistake.” As for the Hambleton case, the agent said he did not see how the RCMP could be regarded as being delinquent in any way. “It wasn’t the RCMP that judged on prosecution, it was the solicitor general. My only observation about this Canadian situation is that there are an awful lot of things unresolved.”
At week’s end, as the three RCMP officers flew to London, Hambleton was neither in from,nor out in, the cold. At Laval University, the sixth-floor Room 6459 with the nameplate H.G. Hambleton was locked. In a letter box two floors below, a dozen legal-size brown envelopes and a few white ones were stacked in a box marked Hambleton, H. George. In July, Hambleton’s lawyers contacted the professor’s superior, LeBlanc, and the department approved a six-month unpaid leave of absence. “We have not heard from him or them since,” LeBlanc told Maclean's. “So I guess we will extend it for another six.” After 18 years of working with Hambleton, LeBlanc said: “I don’t think I knew him. My God, the whole thing is bizarre.”
With Anne Beirne in Quebec City, Carol Kennedy and Ted Daly in London, Carol Goar in Ottawa and William Lowther in Washington.