FIRST, HE WAS AN anonymous former U.S. secret agent, allegedly hired by the Canadian Alliance to dig up dirt on the Liberals. Then, in subsequent media reports, he became “James,” edging closer to the limelight. Finally, James Leigh stepped out, allowing himself to be photographed in shadowy profile, telling a story of a life of international intrigue and a tale of involvement with the Alliance that party members are feverishly trying to dismiss. Last week, Maclean's World Editor Tom Fennell met with the enigmatic figure at the centre of Stockwell Days latest storm. Fennell’s report:
JAR/IE S LEIGH is a man in search of a friend. “I just want someone to bring me in,” he says, his hand trembling slightly as he lights up yet another du Maurier. “I have a lot to offer.” To prove his point, Leigh, 43, a former American secret agent, tosses a plain brown paper envelope onto the table in a restaurant in London, Ont., where he has agreed to meet with Macleans. Inside are two Revenue Canada documents marked “top secret” that, he says, contain the names of senior executives in a cigarette manufacturing company who allegedly conspired to smuggle tobacco into Canada. “I can get a lot more of these documents for the right person,” he says, pulling his blue sweatshirt over the flesh spilling from the top of his matching track pants. “That’s what I do—-I find out things.”
It was a talent that two Alliance party MPs, Myron Thompson and Darrel Stinson, admired. After meeting with Leigh in Ottawa and in his London home, the MPs, representing the party, offered to pay him $6,500 a month to dig up dirt on the Liberals. The agreement, according to Leigh, a handsome bear of a man who stands six feet, three inches tall and weighs 280 lb., was authorized by Alliance Leader Stockwell Day. But when news of the deal broke last week, Day, Thompson and Stinson turned on Leigh. After first admitting he met with the agent, Day then claimed he was mistaken and the meeting never took place. And Stinson and Thompson said Leigh was never hired. Leigh, though, says he met with Day and has evidence the Alliance may yet regret. “I have a tape recording,” he says, waving his fork for emphasis above a plate of pasta. “Stinson said I had a contract. I asked, was it with him? And he said, ‘No, with the Alliance.’ ”
The spy at the centre of the latest controversy to hit the
Alliance grew up in Montreal, where he says he spent most of his childhood in foster homes. Although his story is difficult to confirm, Leigh says he headed west at the age of 18 to work in the oilfields of Alberta. He eventually made his way to Australia, where he was recruited into the U.S. intelligence service, eventually working for a number of organizations, including the CIA. He has since gone undercover in 65 countries, he claims. “I can get in anywhere,” says Leigh, as one of his bodyguards joins him at the table and orders a coffee. “I’m a chameleon.”
At least some of Leigh’s activities can be documented. He first came to the attention of the Alliance because of his involvement last year with the U.S. department of justice in a major investigation into people-smuggling in the Detroit-Windsor area. Leigh travelled to China’s Fujian province, where he infiltrated a gang smuggling Chinese illegals into North America. As part of the sting, he introduced the smugglers to undercover immigration officers in Detroit who agreed to help move Chinese illegals into the United States through Canada. After identifying the smugglers’ contacts, U.S. and Canadian agents arrested some 14 people. And last December, a U.S. district court judge ruled that because Leigh’s life would be in danger, he did not have to reveal his identity in court.
Fed up with life on the edge, Leigh, who is married to a Korean woman and has two young children, wanted to settle down. He purchased a modest home in London, which he decorated with souvenirs from his trips around the world. Among his prize possessions: a large collection of fossils and a sabre-toothed tiger skull. He soon became known for the red Ferrari he loved to pilot around the sleepy southwest Ontario city. But the agent, who says he even managed to penetrate Communist North Korea on two occasions, quickly grew restless. To ease the boredom, he was soon telling journalists about his collection of secret documents and his desire to work with reporters on difficult stories. “It’s hard,” he says, lighting up another cigarette, “to be just another schmuck after you’ve lived a life like mine.”
4It’s hard to be just another schmuck after you’ve lived a life like mine,’ Leigh says
As Leigh continues to boast about his prowess as a spy, he orders one of his bodyguards to drive by his house and check on his wife. Leigh is deeply worried because he believes Chinese gangs are out to kill him over his involvement in the human-smuggling bust. And because the publicity over the Alliance affair has revealed his location, he has been forced out of his house and into hiding in a London hotel.
Those concerns are temporarily put aside when his BlackBerry wireless e-mail device alerts him to yet more messages, which have been pouring in. They include messages from producers at 60 Minutes, the CBS newsmagazine, and lawyers and journalists from across the country. “Everyone wants a piece of me,” he laments, adjusting the blue ball cap covering his balding head. “But nobody wants to give me anything. They just want to whore me.”
On this day, Leigh’s only allies seem to be his intimidating bodyguards, some belonging to a motorcycle gang. Newspaper articles have been critical of his contacts with the gangs. But Leigh makes no apologies. “I understand them,” he says. “I had a childhood just like them. But I made it and they respect me for it.” He rewards their loyalty. And later, outside, he points to a white Porsche he has given to one of the bodyguards. “I have money,” he insists, climbing into his green Mercedes-Benz, bragging that the Porsche is just one of a string of sports cars he has owned. He is, he adds, about to take de-
livery of another exotic sports car. I m not hurting,” he says, “but what I really want is for someone to hire me.” Journalists are also among Leigh’s close friends, and he feeds them information and even the occasional top-secret document. But for a price. “If you want these papers,” he says, waving the Revenue Canada documents in the air, “then you had better give me something back, like a job.” He is again interrupted by his BlackBerry, alerting him to another e-mail from a journalist. “I wanted to work in the media,” he says, scrolling through the message. “Not with the Alliance.” Thompson and Stinson had good reason to believe the former agent could deliver the goods. Last September, he leaked an RCMP document, code-named Sidewinder, to Stinson. It detailed the operations of Chinese gangs in Canada and was raised in the House of Commons. And on the day newspaper articles broke revealing his alleged deal with the Alliance, Leigh says he was set to leave on his first assignment with video cameras and recording equipment. His target: a hockey tournament in Kingston, Ont., between RCMP officers and Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents. The players, Leigh says, had travelled to Kingston at taxpayers’ expense; using his evidence, he told Macleans, Alliance MPs intended to expose the abuse of government money. He then planned to travel on to Prime Minister Jean Chrétiens Shawinigan, Que., riding to unearth new information on the Grand-Mère affair.
The deal quickly unravelled under the glare of publicity, leaving Leigh bitter. “Stinson and Thompson are burning me,” he said. “We had a deal.” He is particularly angered that Day flip-flopped, claiming he did not know Leigh. He says he has proof that he met Day, as his bodyguard quiedy nods in agreement. “When I walk into a room, people notice me. They don’t forget we met,” he says. “I still have not decided whether I will bring Day down.” Then his brown eyes seem to mist up. “I just want a normal life.” But the spy at the centre of the storm is finding it all but impossible to come in from the cold.
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