I spy... a Russian
The arrest of an alleged Russia spy on Canadian soil has brought espionage out of the shadows. Will it also boost support for one of Ottawa's most controversial post-9/11 policies?
Philippe Gohier, Macleans.ca | Updated Thursday, November 23, 2006, at 14:46 EST
When a man who went under the name Paul William Hampel was arrested at Trudeau airport in Montreal on November 14, few could have predicted it would eventually become such a fitting complement to the release of the latest installment in the James Bond series.
The National Post's Stewart Bell first broke the story on November 16, but few details emerged until a summary of the accusations by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) was released on Tuesday by the Federal Court.
The statement alleges that, although he was issued a Canadian passport, the defendant is not a Canadian citizen - he's a Russian national working for the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (SVR). The SVR, according to CSIS, is the foreign operations component of the Russian Intelligence Services (RIS). Hampel is accused of having operated in Canada over the past decade as what CSIS calls an "SVR illegal," or an "elite Russian intelligence officer ... deployed in particularly sensitive operations."
In other words, a spy.
When Hampel was arrested, he was carrying what the Toronto Star has described as "the signature tools of a 21st century secret agent." Among the items seized: $7,800 in five different currencies, several bank and credit cards, three cellular phones, password-encrypted SIM cards, two digital cameras, a short wave radio and a fake Ontario birth certificate. And he was traveling under the third Canadian passport he had been issued since 1995.
Whatever exactly Hampel was spying on, all the intrigue around him may prove to be the best possible publicity for one of the federal government's most controversial post-9/11 policies.
Hampel's arrest followed the issue of a security certificate, signed by Immigration Minister Monte Solberg and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, that reportedly branded him a threat to Canadian national security. The CB C reported last Thursday that the certificate had authorized the then-unnamed Hampel's arrest "for engaging in espionage, or an act of subversion against a democratic government."
Security certificates have come under significant fire in the past few years, especially those issued in the high-profile cases of Adil Charkaoui and Mohamed Harkat. Both men have since been released under strict bail conditions, but their cases sparked outrage over the issuing of certificates that allow police to detain suspects without charges and without providing them complete access to the evidence against them.
According to the Toronto Star's Thomas Walkom, a vocal critic of federal security policies, Hampel's arrest could ultimately revive sagging public support for the beleaguered security certificate.
"Few Canadians will be outraged by the use of a security certificate in this case," the columnist recently argued. "A good many may find it comforting to be back in the familiar Le Carré world of the Cold War, where spies are spies, Russians are the bad guys and the murkiness of international intrigue is at least comprehensible."
Then again, one of Hampel's lawyers, Stéphane Handfield, seems to think that pushing the security certificate angle will work to his client's advantage.
"The image I have of this process is that the person listed on the certificate is convicted and sentenced, and after that we get around to having a trial," he told the Star.
More broadly, Hampel's arrest certainly appears to lend some credence to CSIS' claim that espionage is still a major threat to Canadian security. In a heavily-censored document obtained and released by the Post, CSIS officials allege that "Although espionage is often thought of as a relic of the Cold War, in reality it has continued, and in many ways intensified, over the past 15 years."
Last weekend, The Globe and Mail reported that Russia "is increasingly sending its eyes and ears abroad to try to close its 20-year technology gap in Western technologies and military systems." Noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin recently declared a new $400-million facility constructed for Russia's intelligence services to be "the best-equipped complex that any intelligence agency in any country has," the Globe suggested that "there could be as many as 100 Russian spies in the United States, another 40 in Britain." In Canada, "CSIS will say only that it is trying to keep its eyes on 150 foreign spies in total."
Meanwhile, the Hampel saga is already prompting calls for changes in Canada-Russia relations.
Contending that "Mr. Putin's Russia seems hurtling back toward old police state politics," and citing in particular allegations that Moscow played a role in the possible assassination attempt on a former KGB agent in Britain and the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the Ottawa Citizen has called - albeit fairly mildly - for Canada to take a stand.
"First, protest," the Citizen instructed in an editorial published Wednesday. "When the Kremlin misbehaves, the West must react strongly. But we must also engage the Russians, to persuade them of the benefit of playing by the rules of international co-operation. Russia is too important strategically to be shunned.
"Russia is not the friend we had hoped it would become when communis m collapsed, but that does not mean that it can't be."