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Arts Review: Nest of Spies, by Fabrice de Pierrebourg and Michel Juneau-Katsuya

Hidden somewhere in this messy nest of a book is a bold polemical pamphlet, or maybe, better yet, a PowerPoint briefing, just waiting to be born. The authors, one of whom is a professional journalist (de Pierrebourg), the other a security consultant and former CSIS officer (Juneau-Katsuya), have a legitimate message: There are spies (mostly of the economic variety) under our beds, and we are not very good at worrying about them, or doing anything to mitigate their pesky presence. States such as Russia and China have emerged as major players in the field of post-Cold War economic espionage, quite apart from the private-sector bottom-feeders who are out there in droves.

Canadians and their government would see this reality, according to the authors, if it weren't for cowardly bureaucrats, bungling intelligence types, head-in-sand politicians and the distractions of an unfortunate obsession with terrorism, just because it kills people. In the dream world of the authors, "espionage would be by far our top national security issue."





I wouldn't mind living in such a relatively peaceful dream world, but it doesn't describe reality. I have no doubt that economic and other forms of espionage weigh on the minds of national security officials in Ottawa; so do many other kinds of new and old threats. It's a matter of perspective and of weighing the priorities.

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Moreover, economic espionage is one of those tricky matters that requires not just professional responses from government security agencies, but close co-operation between government watchers and the private sector where much of the spying takes place.

There may be a need for a jeremiad on the topic, but it's a subject that calls for some sophisticated analysis and for some hard-headed policy recommendations. One of the authors' favourites - "put 'em behind bars" - doesn't take us very far, not least because some of the spying that goes on is conducted by foreign officials who enjoy the legal protections of diplomatic status; also because much of the spying, in the economic area, at least, does not involve the theft of "classified" information. It might involve stealing proprietary information, but that is another matter altogether.

In other words, economic espionage operates in a grey zone and is not susceptible to black-and-white treatment. It requires watching, behind-the-scenes diplomatic protests as warranted, and close work between government and targeted firms and communities in Canada. Espionage is not going to go away any time soon, and it can't be stopped, but knowing as much as possible about what is happening under your bed and keeping the monster in its box are good ideas.









When the authors turn from tub-thumping to historical narration to illuminate the espionage threat to Canada, the trouble really begins. The authors acknowledge their limitations in a charming manner, saying that they are neither scientists nor academics. Both true. It does not absolve them from a slipshod way with the facts or give them any licence to concoct conspiracy theories.

There is really no excuse for getting key facts about Canadian intelligence history wrong, especially when you are buttressing your Cassandra-esque warnings with Canadian history.

Igor Gouzenko, the Soviet cipher clerk who defected in Ottawa in 1945 to startle the world with tales of a massive Soviet spy network in the West, did not work for the KGB and did not take documents out of the Soviet embassy in a briefcase (he was not that dumb).

Canadian airliners were not ordered to turn and fly directly north (into an oncoming blizzard of feared Soviet bombers?) during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A government-sponsored think tank, the Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament, named by a recent Russian intelligence defector as a happy hunting ground for secrets to send home to Moscow, did not change its name; it ceased to exist. No Soviet listening base in Montreal existed to capture U.S. presidential telephone calls (hello?). The Canadian Anti-terrorism Act, which the authors decry as a weak law, was not passed in 2003, but in 2001. And so on.

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Some pretty noxious theories are trotted out in this book. The authors can't seem to help themselves. They play with the idea that the Indian government orchestrated the Air India bombing in 1985 and promise that they won't go further "down the road of a conspiracy theory." In the very next paragraph, they do exactly that, with shadowy Indian government plotters out to incriminate the Sikhs and destabilize Canada. As with most conspiracy theories, there is absolutely no evidence for this, and worse still, it makes no sense. But that has never stopped a good conspiracy theory.

In other places, the authors descend to smear tactics, arguing that the famous Soviet goalie from the 1972 summit series, Vladislav Tretiak, was, when he took off the pads, shazam, a Soviet spy. They are nice enough to call this a "hypothesis." They bang on about this for several pages and then take a dip into the playbook of Senator Joseph McCarthy by revealing that they sent a series of questions to the ex-Soviet goalie and now Soviet parliamentarian (hint: He's a member of Putin's United Russia party) offering him a chance to clear his name of the accusation that he worked for the KGB. Tretiak refused to answer these silly questions. Must prove he was KGB through and through.

Juneau-Katsuya takes up other pages in this book to fight a rearguard action in defence of one of the more notorious episodes in intelligence assessment to hit CSIS and the RCMP. While a serving CSIS officer, he was involved in the Sidewinder affair, named after a series of botched intelligence studies written jointly by the RCMP and CSIS that claimed to have found a massive Chinese conspiracy at work in Canada. The project fell apart amid wrangling between the two agencies and was eventually excoriated by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, who found that CSIS did the right thing in deep-sixing the studies. Juneau-Katsuya would prefer to believe that it was all a cover-up.

So much dross buries the valuable bits of this book. There are some, including the narrative of the intelligence effort to recover documents after the Soviet consulate in Montreal burned to the ground in January 1987. The authors are also right to call attention to some of the more egregious examples of Chinese intelligence operations in Canada, many targeted at groups who are feared by Beijing to represent a threat - the Falun Gong, the free Tibet movement and so on.

One last test the authors fail. If you want to judge the merits of a non-fiction book, weigh the conclusions for sense. But who can puzzle out the meaning of the book's concluding paragraph, with its reference to parades and twirling batons and "stepping high." This is supposed to be a metaphor for Canada's place in the world? Pass me a conspiracy theory.

Wesley Wark is an intelligence historian at the University of Toronto.

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