Spy wars with Moscow

MARY JANIGAN July 4 1988

Spy wars with Moscow

MARY JANIGAN July 4 1988

Spy wars with Moscow


The subdued, highly confidential meeting took place on a sweltering summer afternoon in Ottawa. In response to a summons from Alan McLaine, director general of the U.S.S.R. division at external affairs, Soviet Ambassador Alexei Rodionov arrived at the imposing red-brick department complex at 3 p.m. on June 15. During the ensuing 30-minute meeting, McLaine said that Canada had detected several Soviet operations to penetrate its security services and to obtain hightechnology data. Then he handed a memorandum to the ambassador, expelling eight Soviet officials in Canada and banning nine former officials from reentry. He said that Canada would not publicize the expulsions.

That private encounter quickly escalated into a public drama of charges and countercharges. Four days after the Soviets boarded an Aeroflot flight in Montreal for Moscow, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, questioned at a news conference after the Toronto economic sum-

mit, tersely confirmed CBC news reports of the expulsion. Twenty-four hours later, on June 22, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark told the House of Commons that the Soviets “had engaged in unacceptable activities which were a threat to the security of this country.” Almost simultaneously, amid vehement denials, the Soviets expelled two Canadian diplomats from Moscow and banned the return of three others who were already out of the country. On June 23, as the once-warm relationship between the two nations cooled, Canada ousted an additional diplomat and banned another. It also cut the Soviet contingent in Canada to 60 from 63.

Then two days later, on Saturday at 5 p.m. Moscow time, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Alexandr Bessmertnykh summoned Canadian Ambassador Vernon Turner to his eighth-floor office at the ministry. He told Turner that the Soviets were expelling another diplomat, Col. Lawrence Bowen, the military attaché, for engaging “in activities incompatible with his official status.” At the

same time, Bessmertnykh declared seven former diplomats persona non grata and withdrew 25 Soviet members of the Canadian Embassy staff, more than half of the total. Later, in Edmonton, Clark declared: “This is a serious escalation. It is totally unwarranted and it cannot be ignored. The Canadian government is considering its response.” Added external affairs spokesman Paul Frazer: “They are badly wounding our ability to do our job.” External officials said that they were considering three retaliatory options: to expel more Soviets; declare more of them to be persona non grata; or lower even further the quota for Soviet personnel in Canada.

Earlier in the week, Clark said that the Soviets expelled from Canada had been involved in several illegal operations, including an attempt to penetrate the now-defunct RCMP security service and its successor, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Declared Frazer: “We caught their people red-handed.” Maclean's has learned that Soviet agents also tried to bribe and blackmail

Canadian personnel at unspecified locations within the country. A senior CSIS official confirmed that Canada carefully monitored those Soviet activities for several years—so that the Soviets could not obtain classified information. The official said, “The Soviets wanted information on personnel, methodology, trade craft, active cases, penetration to get inside the tribal knowledge.”

Clark also charged that the Soviets wanted to secure “clandestine access to classified information or sensitive technology with commercial or military application.” In Washington last week, intelligence officials told Maclean's that the Soviets were seeking classified data from Paramax Electronics Inc., a Montreal-based firm that is a subsidiary of Unisys Corp. of Detroit. Paramax holds a $1.25-billion contract to design the electronic and combat systems in Canada’s new patrol frigates. The Soviet Union, saddled with outdated computers and hungry for Western technology, apparently wanted that data.

Maclean's has also learned that the timing of the Soviet expulsions hinged upon the defection of a Soviet official, who had been spying on his countrymen for Canada for two years. In his June 22 statement, Clark confirmed that Yuriy Smurov, 51, Soviet translator at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal, had defected with his wife, Margarita, 49, and their 12year-old daughter, Christina. Clark added that Smurov “has been helpful” to Canadian security authorities. A CSIS official confirmed that Smurov wanted to

defect quickly because “he was about to get the call to go back [to Moscow].” Added the official: “His driving motive was that he wanted his family, particularly his daughter, to make a life in the West.”

The defector and his family promptly took shelter at what is known in espionage jargon as a “safe house” that CSIS provided at an undisclosed location. His name disappeared from the doorbell panel at the fashionable highrise apartment building where he had been living with his family in downtown Montreal. Barbara McKnight, the principal of Roslyn school in Westmount, told Maclean's that Smurov called on o. June 13 to announce that 5 his daughter would not 5 be returning to classes.

I Christina did not even have a chance to collect a $25 thirdplace prize that she had just won in a city-wide essay contest on the topic: “If I were a dog in Westmount.”

Once Smurov had been whisked to safety, Mulroney approved the expulsion orders. The resulting memorandum named eight diplomats—two embassy officials from Ottawa, and two ICAO representatives and four consular officials from Montreal. It also banned nine officials, who had once worked in Canada, from future entry: three representatives from the Montreal consulate, two Ottawa embassy officials, two ICAO delegates, a Soviet journalist and a former manager of Aeroflot.

Those expulsions created an embarrassing situation for Moscow. Before last week’s incidents, Canada had banned 42 Russians since 1946. The names of banned diplomats are automatically entered into the computer banks of all 16 members of NATO who then can decide on their admissibility. As a CSIS official said, “The idea is to cripple the KGB’s ability to move agents and to take advantage of their language skills. They will have to fall back upon younger, less experienced people.”

Once the expulsions became public, the Soviets hastily issued fervent denials. At a briefing at Moscow’s Foreign Ministry Press Centre on June 22, spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov denounced the charges as “entirely groundless.” That evening, at 7:40 p.m. Moscow time, a Soviet official called the Canadian Embassy, asking for Turner, who was at a reception at the Kenyan I

Embassy. The unidentified caller announced that the Soviets wanted an immediate meeting. At 9 p.m., Turner and vice-consul Mark Entwhistle joined Bessmertnykh and another official at the Soviet foreign ministry.

During the ensuing 15-minute meeting, Bessmertnykh delivered a memorandum in Russian and an oral translation of that message. He said that the Canadian action was “groundless” and an “unnecessary provocation.” Then he expelled two Canadian diplomats, second secretary Evelyn Puxley and Canadian Forces naval attaché Raymond Steele. The Soviet note cited “activity unacceptable and incompatible with their present status”—which constitutes a veiled reference to espionage. Both officials flew out on June 25. Bessmertnykh also banned three former Canadian diplomats from re-entry: former first secretary John DiGangi, who was posted to the Canadian Embassy in Hungary last summer; consul Anne Leahy; and former air attaché Kenneth Moody. Turner countered, politely but vehemently, that the Canadians were innocent of all accusations.

Less than 24 hours later, Ottawa took the next step in an accelerating diplomatic dance. At 1 p.m. Ottawa time on June 23, McLaine called Ambassador Rodionov to a 15-minute meeting at external affairs. He informed the ambassador that Canada was expelling the embassy’s military attaché, Col. Grigori Stepanovich Roublev, and banning a former second secretary, Sergey Mikhaylovich Kashtanov, who according to Ottawa officials ran espionage operations prior to his departure in 1985.

External Affairs Minister Clark heatedly affirmed Canada’s innocence: “There are no Canadians engaged in improper activities in the Soviet Union.” Twenty-four hours later, the Soviet government newspaper Izvestia retorted that the expelled Canadians had secretly photographed defence installations and entered military facilities, an accusation that Canadian officials denied.

The expulsions cooled the increasingly warm relations between the two nations. Last April, a joint Canada-Soviet skiing expedition reached the North Pole. At the same time, the Soviets signed an agreement to permit the expansion of McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Ltd. into Moscow. Still, Turner cautioned that it was too early to determine the depth of the damage. “Relations have been like a roller coaster, with highs and lows,” he said. “We have now gone into quite a low.” Last week, the relationship had acquired the icy atmosphere of a polar crossing.