News / Americas

US-Russian Spy Case Raises Alarms in Canada

TEXT SIZE - +
Gary Thomas

The Russian and American spies have been swapped, but the case is far from over.  Security officials continue to evaluate how a Russian network was able to burrow into mainstream society.  The case has raised particular concern in Canada because foreign agents were able to assume Canadian identity.

Old habits seem to die hard.  Fake Canadian identification documents were the hallmark of many Cold War espionage cases, and at least four of the spies recently swapped back to Russia by the United States had either fake Canadian identities or had fraudulently obtained real Canadian identification documents.

Professor Wesley Wark, who teaches intelligence issues at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto, says that is causing considerable soul-searching in Canadian security circles.

"For Canadians, part of the interest in this story is that, of course, a good number of these alleged captured Russian spies - many of whom seem to have confessed and may not be worthy of the label of alleged - many of them had carried or had constructed for themselves false Canadian legends," said Wesley Wark. "And certainly some head-shaking is going on in Canada about how that happened."

In intelligence lingo, a legend is the fictitious identity a spy assumes to burrow into society.  A new fake character is created, but the legend has to be based in fact, which entails getting documentation such as passport and driver's license.

The U.S.-Canadian border is long - 6,400 kilometers - and porous.  Until February 2008, one could cross the border by simply making an oral declaration of citizenship.  Now a passport or government-issued travel I.D. is required.  

Security analyst Fred Burton of the private intelligence firm Stratfor says foreign intelligence agencies and terrorist groups alike prefer Canadian or Irish identification documents because they allow for freer movement.

"Your ability to fly under the radar [escape detection] as a Canadian is much greater than it would be from certain other countries," said Fred Burton. "So you are going to look at this operationally and say, 'I cannot use a Russian because that obviously would ring the FBI bells.  I have a Homeland Security problem now.  I have No-Fly lists.  I have identity issues throughout the United States today.  So what is my path of least resistance?' And as you start looking at that you gravitate towards Canadians, the Irish."

In a case that was a precursor of the recent U.S. one, a man giving the name Paul William Hampel was arrested by Canadian authorities in 2006 with a fake Canadian birth certificate and passport.  He was accused of being a Russian spy.  Despite having no diplomatic status, he was not prosecuted but simply deported.

In some cases spies get real I.D. by getting a real birth certificate, usually of a dead infant.  Many years ago a Soviet spy was caught in Canada copying the names and birthdates of infants from gravestones.

Concern about false Canadian I.D. rose sharply after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, says intelligence expert Wesley Wark.

"We have had persistent concerns in this country, as other countries do, about passport security and the creation of fraudulent identities based on Canadian documentation," he said. "And we have made a lot of effort in the post 9/11 world to prevent that kind of thing happening because the attention was focused on terrorists getting a hold of good, clean Canadian passports and identities, and using them to travel around the world.  But now we see this phenomenon popping up again in espionage."

None of the 9/11 attackers crossed into the U.S. from Canada or had Canadian I.D.  But Ahmed Ressam, convicted in the so-called Millenium Plot to bomb Los Angeles airport in 1999, managed to get a fake Canadian passport even after being denied refugee status in Canada.  And the men, believed to be Israeli agents, who botched the assassination attempt of a Hamas leader in Jordan in 1997 were also carrying fake Canadian passports.

Stratfor's Fred Burton says such use of Canadian I.D. can heighten suspicion of all Canadians.

"These kinds of case set off a firestorm of blowback and meetings to determine whether or not the tables have been turned against you," he said. "If I am sitting now at the intelligence service of the Jordanian G.I.D. [General Intelligence Department], for example, and I am watching all this unfold, I am looking at, 'Hmmm, I wonder how many Canadians I have working here in the Kingdom?  Where are they working?  What are they doing?' So you are calling in your counterintelligence staff and saying, how do we know this is not occurring on our soil?

Late last year, Canadian police broke up a ring manufacturing counterfeit documents, including high-quality fake passports and U.S. residency cards.  Authorities in all countries are trying to crack down on fraudulent passport use by making the document tougher to forge.  But passport forgery remains a big and lucrative business.  The international police agency Interpol reported it had 11 million fake passports in its database as of the end of 2009.  

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Jailed American Aims to Leave Cuba 'Dead or Alive'

In Havana after visiting Alan Gross, attorney Scott Gilbert say his client has lost some vision in his right eye, walks with a limp due to hip problems, has lost a tooth and is 50 kilograms lighter than at the time of his arrest
More

Oldest Living Pro Ballplayer Dead at 102

Conrado Marrero's grandson confirmed the death, which came just two days before the centenarian's 103rd birthday
More

Summit to Protect Oceans Opens

Oceans called fundamental to life
More

Actress Lupita Nyong'o is People's 'Most Beautiful' Woman

Oscar winner, 31, lauded for role in '12 Years A Slave' says she 'never dreamed' she would be praised for her looks and land on cover of weekly magazine
More

Violent Protests Erupt Near Rio's Tourist Attractions

The rioting was sparked after word spread that the body of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, a dancer on Brazil's Globo television network, had been discovered
More

Russia Expels Canadian Diplomat

Reports say first secretary's expulsion in Moscow is in retaliation for deportation of Russian military attache from Russian Embassy in Ottawa
More