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The man I’m writing about lived in my neighbourhood, in the West end of Edmonton, Alberta. 

Geographically speaking, we were close … a stone’s throw away. Only a tall wooden fence separated his house from mine.

Truth is, we were miles apart. I knew absolutely nothing about him or his wife [both in their 40s] — not their first names, where they worked … or their thoughts on the price of tea in China.

My neighbour probably knew a LOT about me more than I could ever imagine. 

And that’s just what the Canadian Government wanted …


Red Flags

This story goes back a ways.

On a bright sunny day in 2003, the strangest thing happened. Let me tell you about it. I was standing on my deck and my neighbour — whose backyard faced my backyard — was on his deck, some 40 feet away. For a brief moment, our eyes locked … then — for some reason — the man suddenly took off like a bat out of hell.

Zip, right into his house he went. Without a nod or a smile, he slammed the door shut behind him.

My goodness. What was that about?

It was the first time I’d seen the fellow, which was odd because I’d noticed his wife many times. She was often putzing around her backyard or watering her potted plants.

A few months later, I spotted the man again; this time, he was leaning back on a chair on his deck and chatting on a cordless phone.

Guess what? He glanced my way — and bolted! Deja vu all over again.

What the hell was going on? Now, I was really curious.

Other than a sudden attack of diarrhea, the only explanation I could come up with was that the man was in a witness protection program … and he’d been warned that right next door was a news reporter.

Hmmm … could that be it? Is that why he wanted to keep a low profile?

Or … perhaps he worked out of town, came home every three months — and was extremely shy.

I had no clue.

Spy House.jpeg This is a 2019 photo. My digs are in the foreground. The red line shows how close the two houses are. Note: in 2003, there were no tall trees in the backyard. To get a better view, click to enlarge.

 

I was puzzled by all this and tried to make sense of it.

I mentioned it to Fred Lennarson, a respected advisor with the Lubicon Cree of Northern Alberta in their decades-old jurisdictional dispute with the federal government.

The Chicago native — a trained social scientist — did not think for one moment that ‘buddy’ was in a witness protection program. No way. When I described how my neighbour reacted, Lennarson snapped, “That’s a surveillance house!”

“What??? …” I said. “Are. You. Serious? Who are they spying on?”

“YOU! …”


  • Red Flags
  • An Explanation
  • Background: The Talisman Controversy
  • ‘Libel Chill’ … and More
  • Media Coverage – Talisman
  • “My Spy Buddy”
  • Speaking of Whistle-Blowers …
  • Agent Frost Informed About the Suspicious House
  • Another Get-Together with Lennarson
  • Finally. A Face-to-Face Meeting with Frost
  • More Cloak and Dagger Stuff
  • Decked Again – Russian Visa Revoked
  • A Good Trip Anyway
  • Wait. There’s More
  • Tips About Spies and Surveillance
  • A Warning To Reporters
  • The House Today
  • One Final Shot

An Explanation

“I saw the article you wrote on Talisman Energy,” Lennarson explained. “That’s precisely why the government would keep an eye on you. You’re trouble.”

I was stunned. I didn’t buy into what Lennarson was saying because it was so far-fetched. A spy house on a little-known reporter? Give me a break.

How could it be that someone who’s obeying the law and doing their job would be under surveillance … by their own government? Like, how crazy is that?

I shook my head. Lennarson picked up on my disbelief and threw out a challenge. “Don’t believe me?” he asked. “Okay, tell you what … send an email to your ‘spy buddy,’ tell him your next-door neighbour is spying on you — FROM A SURVEILLANCE HOUSE.”

“See what happens …”

Well, I fired off an email … and that’s when shit hit the fan.


Background: The Talisman Controversy

It was the 1990s and Talisman Energy, a Calgary oil and gas company, was operating in Sudan, a poor north African country run by a ruthless government.

There, a bloody civil war was underway between the north and the south — and the Canadian firm was in the thick of it.

Talisman provided hefty oil royalties to the government in Khartoum — which, according to foreign aid organizations and church groups — was using the cash from its Canadian sugar daddy to help buy helicopter gunships.

And to fund death squads.

The North had the money and the muscle, the South had the oil … and dreams of having its own country. There’s a recipe for a revolution if there ever was one.

Click on this link to read the story Lennarson referred to … http://rabble.ca/news/civil-suit-civil-war.


‘Libel Chill’ … and More

The article in rabble.ca — at the time, a fledgling online news organization in downtown Toronto — had been vetted by three lawyers; two in Alberta, one in Ontario. Such was rabble’s fear of publishing stories that put Canada and its energy companies in a bad light.

Financing killers that nail large spikes through the heads of opponents will do it every time.

‘Libel chill’ is a real concern because lawyers aren’t cheap. I can’t speak for most countries but in North America, anybody can sue anyone — over anything. The courts accept all lawsuits, legit and frivolous. Not until years have passed will a judge determine if a lawsuit has merit.

The media had libel chills and a Sudanese woman living in exile in the US had chills period — and it wasn’t because of her winters in Minnesota. I’d gotten in touch with the wife of a rebel leader in South Sudan as I was unable to connect with her husband who was busy fighting a guerrilla war.

We talked about her husband’s position on the issue of foreign oil companies and their staff in South Sudan. If the rebels gained power, would these workers be captured? Held for ransom? Or would they be executed? Curious minds wanted to know.

The lady phoned back within a day or two — and she was some pissed! Her computer had been hacked and wiped clean. She felt that whatever happened was because of our interview.

I believe it was.

The woman then got in touch with a friend of her husband who worked at the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] in Washington. He thought the computer hack was the work of either the US National Security Agency [NSA] or its Canadian counterpart, the Communication Security Establishment [CSE]. 

There. My first known experience with an electronic spy organization.


Media Coverage – Talisman

The spring 2004 edition of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, a glossy magazine published by Ryerson University of Toronto, featured an article about how challenging it was for reporters to cover the Talisman-Sudan story.

Check it out. There’s no need to squint, just click on the article to enlarge it.

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Calgary-based Alberta Views also did a write-up about Talisman and Sudan and how the media was handling the story.

A reference to my involvement is highlighted with a yellow border. Again, click to enlarge.

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 6.42.27 AM.pngAlberta Views – June 2006 – Story by Jeremy Klaszus. In the first pane, a quote is attributed to [Linda] Slobodian, former Sun crime reporter.

“My Spy Buddy”

The agent Lennarson referred to was Mike Frost, a retired spy with the Communication Security Establishment, CSE.

The Canadian intelligence agency monitors phone calls and emails. It specializes in communication matters … plus a discipline known as signals intelligence. Lord, who comes up with these terms?

In any case, all clandestine stuff.

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Canada has a number of spy agencies. The largest [but perhaps the least known] is the CSE which operates out of a sprawling complex in Ottawa known as the “Barn.” You can’t park near that place.

The CSE is a mini version of the powerful US spy organization, the National Security Agency [NSA], the same outfit Edward Snowden brought considerable attention to.

This is straight from Wikipedia … “Snowden was the whistle-blower who copied and leaked highly classified information from the NSA when he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]. His disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance [formerly known as ‘Echelon‘].”

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Edward Snowden, born in North Carolina in 1983. Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Russians granted Snowden asylum. He now lives in a secret location, believed to be in Moscow.


SPEAKING OF WHISTLE-BLOWERS ….

It was agent Mike Frost who helped set up Canada’s spy operation in Moscow in the 1970s. All his intel, he tells me, was promptly handed over to Washington.

You’re surprised, right?

Oh Canada, international errand boy.

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Retired CSE Agent Mike Frost. Photo credit: NBC

In the early 1990s, Mike Frost parted ways with CSE and wrote a best-selling book, Spy World. The tell-all hardcover detailed how his taxpayer-funded employer freely spied on Canadians — all the time.

Search warrants? [muted laughter] Never heard of ’em.

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You’ll find Frost’s book on Amazon. https://www.amazon.ca/SPYWORLD-Mike-Frost/dp/0385254946

According to Parliamentary records, the Communication Security Establishment has files on one in four Canadians. Let that sink in.

It’s hard to believe that every fourth person in Canada is a terrorist, a drug dealer, rapist or a threat to national security. When one considers that children and 80-year-old grandparents are included in the stat, it’s truly amazing.

Mike Frost lived in Ottawa. I interviewed him by phone when I was a reporter for 630 CHED Radio in Edmonton. At the time, CHED billed itself as “Alberta’s Information Superstation.” When it came to radio journalism, we were the runaway leader — a powerhouse, tops in Western Canada.

Why interview a veteran spy? Because the public has a right to know how its money is being spent. In a word, accountability.

Mike Frost had been interviewed by a number of reporters, including some who worked for the big American television networks. He once shared that he held the ‘Canadian record’ for most interviews [3] on CBS’s investigative flagship program, 60 Minutes. 

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Image courtesy of CBS.

Courtesy of YouTube, here’s a short video featuring Mike Frost in an NBC feature on the extent of electronic spying by Washington and Ottawa … https://youtu.be/WIFIH12JHIc.

The piece was done by veteran award-winning reporter Ike Seamans.

The gist of Mike Frost’s grievance about the CSE was that it was a sleazy operation … and that Canadian taxpayers were paying through the nose for snooping that was not only dirty but unlawful.

One morning, I received an urgent call from the retired spy with a frosty message: if anything tragic ever happened to him, he said, it was no accident. Here’s how the agent put it: if his body was discovered in his car in the Rideau Canal, it was not suicide, nor an accident. The man felt strongly that someone was out to kill him.

Frost asked that I keep a record of his call and that I do a story on it if he suddenly perished. I said, “Sure thing.”

The reason he called, he said, was that he had just received a phone call from an unidentified man whose voice he recognized as a former co-worker at CSE. The man had a warning. “You’re going to have an accident, Mike … you’re going to have an accident.” Click. End of call.

Mike Frost was well aware that he wasn’t popular at the Communication Security Establishment. After reading his book, I could understand. He was a big-time whistle-blower.

It was high time for the retired spy to get out of Dodge.

Not long after the death threat, Mike Frost and his wife were on the move to another part of the country. They packed their bags, loaded up a moving truck and pulled out of the nation’s capital … to live a quiet life … in New Brunswick.

Frost later called to give me his new address.

The retired spy never published a second book.


Agent Frost Informed About the Suspicious House

After my chat with Fred Lennarson, I whipped off an urgent email of my own … to Agent Frost.

Lennarson had pointed out — rightfully so — that the Communication Security Establishment would be monitoring Frost’s emails and phone calls.

The retired spy and I had planned to get together that fall to go through the manuscript for his new book. He asked if I could edit his book, and I said sure.

But Frost only wanted to do this in person, never on the phone or by email. I recall him saying that the safest way for us to communicate was to talk “in the middle of a field … on a windy day.”

Frost’s previous book had been edited by Michel Gratton, former Parliamentary reporter — and, later, press secretary to Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

I told Frost that I looked forward to meeting him. But the heart of my email was that I wanted to know if Frost could identify an agent working in a surveillance house kitty-corner to mine. I said I had a photo of the suspect which I’d show him when we met. Perhaps he knew the guy.

In fact, I had NO such photo. I deliberately planted the misinformation to see if Frost’s communication was monitored.

It sure as hell was. Lennarson was right again.

The day after I sent the email, the wife of my mysterious neighbour appeared on her deck holding a watering can. When she noticed me standing on my deck, she didn’t flee like hubby had. However, she did something I hadn’t seen her do before: she sprinted across the deck, bending her head down so I couldn’t see her face.

And I thought the Kardashians were weird.

That same day, Mike Frost’s doorbell rang … he opened the door and there stood a man from CSIS, Canada’s best-known intelligence agency — and he wasn’t peddling Avon products or the Watchtower. The stranger ordered Frost to immediately end his relationship with reporter Byron Christopher.

What did agent do? Mike Frost complied. He fired an urgent email my way, saying we could no longer communicate. So much for the editing assignment. And just like that, a good working relationship vanished. Poof.

Given the sharp tone of Frost’s email, it was probably written for CSIS’ benefit as well. And put it this way, he didn’t have to ‘cc’ them.

The very next day, a large moving truck pulled up to the ‘spy house.’ I watched as workers removed furniture and other belongings.

“Busted,” I thought.

Thank you, Fred Lennarson. I phoned Lennarson with news that the house was being emptied — and to offer him an apology. He laughed and remarked, “Nice country we live in.”

I’m paraphrasing of course. I bet there’s a file at CSE that would have the exact quote.

It took two days to empty the house. Two weeks later, a ‘For Sale’ sign suddenly appeared on the front lawn. ‘For Sale’ signs are normally displayed before people move out, not after the house has been empty for weeks.

I was happy to see them go, and it wasn’t just because of the strange activity. Their cats had been fertilizing my garden.


Another Get-Together With Lennarson

Lennarson and I met at a noisy neighbourhood pub to talk about news events and old times. He was soon on the move as well and he wanted to say good-bye.

I reminded him that somebody had gone to the expense of running a bloody surveillance house in my neighbourhood. Lennarson took a sip of cold beer, studied me for a good 10 seconds, then announced, “Byron, you still sound surprised …”

“Canada protects its status quo,” Lennarson explained, “and both the government and media know their place,” adding, with a shrug, “… and Canadians seem to be okay with that.”

According to Lennarson, Canadians go along with whatever their Government does, even if it’s wrong. The social scientist joked: “How do you get a thousand Canadians out of a swimming pool? You say, ‘please leave the swimming pool.'”


Finally. A Face-to-Face Meeting with Frost

I finally got to meet Mike Frost in person. It happened a few years ago. I was in the Maritimes visiting relatives and friends and I decided to drop around — unannounced — to the last address I had for him. [I will not divulge his address.]

The old agent was not at home. However, his garage door was wide open which suggested he was close by, perhaps out for a walk. I got back in my rental and headed out of town — but not before leaving a hand-written message sticking out of his mailbox.

Keep in mind that Frost had been ordered never to communicate with me ever again.

An hour later, I was in a restaurant in another town when my cell phone rang. Well. It was Mike Frost. “If anyone had bet me a million dollars that Byron Christopher would be at my door today,” he said, “I would have taken the bet! How are you doing?”

Frost explained he’d been out walking his dog when I dropped by his house. “A female dog, a bitch” I interjected. “Yeah. How did you know that?” “I noticed a pink dog leash inside the door.” He laughed. I laughed. But we were faking it because we both knew that spying was nasty business.

We agreed to meet in a few days at a Tim Hortons’ doughnut shop not far from his place. Very Canadian, I know. We set a time: 9:45 am. At 9:45 exactly I was at one of the two tills putting in my order when a stranger walked up, to my left, and placed his order.

It was Mike Frost. With his neatly trimmed beard, good attire and composure, he looked distinguished. Mr. Diplomat here.

I recognized Frost’s voice immediately and he must have recognized mine … but he said not a word. No “Good morning” … nothing. It was like two strangers in a line-up in Toronto.

Frost walked away with his drink. There was no need for me to turn and see where he was sitting. Frost would have his back to the window so he could keep an eye on the doors. It’s an old spy thing.

I walked up to his table. “Agent Frost,” I said, “we finally meet.” The man smiled, stood up and shook my hand. “It’s an honour,” he said.

I wanted to know what went down the day he had sent the ‘dear-John’ email that ended our relationship. He explained that a CSIS agent had ordered him to ‘divorce’ his relationship with reporter Byron Christopher immediately. I said, “Divorce? Mike, I’m not even hitting on you …”

Well, I thought it was funny.

“We had them scared, Byron,” Frost pointed out. I said, “Shit, they had you scared, you shut down completely. I would’ve told them to fuck off.”

Frost and I talked a lot about news reporting and the spy business … why he became a spy [“for King and Country,” he said], his disappointment with CSE, a drinking problem that led to his demotion — and that he and his wife had decided ‘no more interviews’ because they wanted to spend their retirement years in peace.

Well, fair enough.

I found it interesting that much of Frost’s training was not done in Canada nor England but in the United States … at Fort Meade, Maryland — home of the National Security Agency, NSA.

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Headquarters of the National Security Agency [NSA] in Fort Meade, Maryland. Man, look at all those vehicles. According to Agent Frost, much of the complex is underground. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I asked Frost, “How many people here in X-ville know your past?” He replied, “Only one … my pastor.”


More Cloak and Dagger Stuff

In the 1980s, while working as a radio reporter with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC] in Edmonton, I covered a huge story broken by the Edmonton Journal: The U.S. military was testing a new high-tech weapon in Alberta — the cruise missile.

The story was hot stuff and our national desk in Toronto wanted as much information on it as we could get.

The unarmed cruise missiles were being flown from a location in Northern Alberta to the Canadian Air Base at Cold Lake, in the far eastern part of the province.

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A recent photo of the cruise missile. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

At the time, no one seemed to know much about the laser-guided weapons, their size, or what they looked like … and so I put in a call to the military brass in Cold Lake. “Talk to the Americans,” they said. “Sorry, classified information, can’t help you,” the Americans said.

I decided to reach out to the Russians, since cities in the USSR were the intended target of the missiles. Perhaps the Soviet embassy in Ottawa had some intel on them.

I spoke with Alexander [Aleksandr] Podakin, Press Attache at the Russian Embassy, and asked if he had information on the cruise missiles, maybe pictures. He said he did.

Podakin then mailed our newsroom several 8×10″ sharp, colour photos of the cruise missile. I should have asked how his government got his hands on them, just for the hell of it … but I didn’t.

Turns out, the pictures were real. The missiles in those Russian photos were identical to those launched by the Americans in their attacks on Iraq.

I remember clearly the day Podakin’s envelope arrived in our newsroom. Out popped the photos of the cruise missile. We weren’t quite sure what to do with them. I put the pictures in my trusty Samsonite attache case [which I never locked]. The photos promptly vanished. I have no idea who took them.

Alexander Podakin once came to Edmonton on official business. He phoned from the posh Westin Hotel downtown; I hopped on my motorbike and went around to see him.

We decided to do lunch. We walked to a yuppy-type, dimly-lit restaurant, a short distance away, where we sat down at a table for two.

Podakin immediately asked that we switch seats. The Russian wanted to see who was entering the restaurant. He felt he would be followed.

The diplomat spoke at length about his homeland [Ukraine] and how — before being assigned to work at the embassy in Ottawa — he had studied the Canadian news media for five years. The man knew way more about our major media than myself. I was surprised at that. I recall him listing the key owners of CTV.

About an hour into our get-together, Podakin suddenly became agitated. I said, “What’s up?” The Russian shot back, “It’s that man who followed us in … he’s sitting over there by the door.” I turned to see a fellow, mid-30’s perhaps, plain clothes, eating alone at a table.

Oh shit.

Podakin and I soon left the restaurant, but not before my guest walked over to the stranger and glared at him. It was tense. Only a few feet separated them and I thought they might go at it, but nothing happened. Podakin was just blowing off steam.

The man who had been slowly eating by himself for more than an hour looked totally embarrassed … but he said not a word. He didn’t even look up.

The CBC got the tab for our meal. I explained to our financial wizards that I was buttering up a news source.

“I hate that about your country,” Podakin snapped as we made our way across Jasper Avenue, “we [Russian embassy staff] are always being followed in Canada.” I shot back, “So how’s that any different from what happens to Canadians in Moscow?”

The diplomat shared that his travelling in Edmonton was restricted to a 25-mile radius. He conceded the same conditions applied to foreign diplomats in Moscow.

I then phoned a contact at RCMP K Division in Edmonton, explaining what had just happened at the restaurant. I was fishing for information … but also hoping there were no hard feelings. I was told, “The officer was just doing his job …”

End of story.

Funny he should say that. Because that’s the impression I got when I saw the undercover Mountie. He struck me as a decent sort caught up in a conflict that was none of his doing. I felt for the man when the Soviet diplomat became aggressive toward him.

I saw Alexander Podakin once more, this time in Ottawa. Still 1980s. He picked me up at the airport in an embassy vehicle — a Chevrolet sedan, of all things. I said, “What’s with the American car?” I joked, “Why not something posh … like a Lada [a dinky Russian sedan]?” Podakin smiled and weaved his way through traffic as though he had spent his whole life in the capital.

Podakin worked out of the Soviet Press Office at the end of Stewart Street, I recall. It was in one of the rooms there where I recorded a long interview with another Russian diplomat — for a CBC Radio feature on agriculture challenges in the Soviet Union.

I found the Russians to be up-front about their problems, which kind of surprised me. I expected a lot of ducking and diving, but that didn’t happen.

Podakin was a great contact. I once asked for his help in arranging an interview with Виктор Васильевич Тихонов — better known as Viktor Tikhonov — legendary coach of a dominant Soviet hockey team that won 8 world championships and three Olympic gold medals.

CBC Sports in Toronto wanted to score an exclusive interview with Tikhonov, and so I pulled some strings to make it happen. The first string was attached to Alexander Podakin.

Podakin complained that he was “crossing a line” by becoming involved in a sports matter … but he came through just the same. The interview was a go. I was pumped.

I met Tikhonov in his hotel room located close to the Alberta Legislature in downtown Edmonton. On a desk in front of the Russian coach were three bulky TV monitors. Tikhonov was watching VHS tapes of hockey games. He hit pause on his VCR, removed his glasses, we shook hands and the interview began.

On television, Tikhonov came across as a dictatorial coach, shouting at the referee —  and sometimes at his own players. In person, he was somewhat the same … stern. He answered all my questions — with the help of a Russian translator, a sports reporter with state-run Novosti Press.

Tikhonov gave enlightening, straight-ahead answers … which CBC Sports loved. So did the Novosti reporter as he ran a story in his homeland with quotes from the interview.

After all these years, one response from Tikhonov stands out. I wanted to know which was greater … Canadian influence on the Russian game, or Russian influence on our game? “We have influenced your style more than you have ours,” he said.

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Look. He’s smiling. Viktor Tikhonov, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, died in Moscow in 2014. He was 84. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Before Alexander Podakin left Canada, in the mid 1980s, he was interviewed on the CBC’s Fifth Estate, giving the USSR version of how a terrible famine in the Ukraine in 1932 claimed millions of lives. The West claimed the disaster was man-made. Genocide.

Podakin returned to Moscow to work for Novosti. I Googled his name … and the latest I could find on my old contact was that he was reporting for Moscow News. But that was back in 1992. I have no idea where Mr. Podakin is today. He’d be well into his 80s. He may not even be alive.

I recently sent an email to a major news outlet in Moscow inquiring about Podakin’s whereabouts … but haven’t heard back. The silence suggests my letter may have ended up in ‘File 13.’


Decked Again – Russian Visa Revoked

If you thought I had an “in” with the Ruskies, think again.

Any connection I had with the USSR quickly vanished in early June 1986 when my Russian visa was yanked — within just days of flying out of Edmonton to visit three major cities … Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev.

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It was at the Edmonton International Airport where I popped a pile of quarters in a pay phone to return a surprise call our newsroom had gotten from the Russian Ambassador. The man had left an urgent message for me to call.

Mr. Ambassador had some bad news: my visa to enter the USSR had been revoked. I could get as far as the Russian border, he warned, but no further. And I wasn’t to try to sneak in. He said it would cause problems.

I was shocked, angry and, of course, disappointed.

The ambassador — whose name I’ve long forgotten — spoke good English. He shared it was the first time the Russian embassy in Ottawa had issued a visa to enter Russia, only to have it cancelled by Moscow.

No explanation was given.

I suspected that embassy staff were just “following orders.” The world seems to be full of people who know their place.

I’d been decked again — this time by a spook from another intelligence community in a country I wasn’t supposed to enter.

Does the year 1986 ring a bell? On April 26 of that year, an explosion ripped through a nuclear-power plant at Chernobyl, a town north of Kiev. Two people died on the spot … but it’s believed that thousands more perished after being exposed to radiation poisoning.

Kiev was to be one of my stops.

It didn’t take a social scientist to figure out why I was the only one of some 30 tour members to have their visa cancelled.

Maybe the Russians knew something. I don’t know. Truth is, I was hoping to make my way up to Chernobyl so I could file some news reports. Hey, it would have been a big scoop.

I shared my plans with CBC co-worker Anna Maria Tremonti, who went ballistic. Anna Maria pleaded with me to cancel my Russian trip altogether, fearing I’d die from the radiation.

I fired off a postcard to Alexander Podakin at Novosti in Moscow. I was fishing to see if he knew anything about my visa being revoked. If anyone could relate to the goings-on of intelligence-gathering organizations, Podakin could.

Never heard back. Perhaps he, too, was following orders.


A Good Trip Anyway

I got as far as Finland, which was still very nice. It was late spring, the weather was beautiful … and I didn’t have much owing on my VISA card.

I’d lived in Finland for nearly all of 1972, working at the large Wärtsilä shipbuilding yard in the old port city of Turku. While certainly not fluent in the Finnish language, I was somewhat familiar with it … and I knew people living there.

I also got to hang out for a week with friends in West Germany.

So, in spite of the Russian visa being cancelled, the trip wasn’t a complete bust.

I wrote about my return to Finland in the Turun [Turku] Sanomat, which at the time had a circulation of about 300,000. The article was published on Tuesday, 9 October 1986.

The article focused on the changes I’d noticed in the 14 years I was out of the country … and that I missed the place. Don’t bother reading it … none of it will make sense. Finnish is a strange, difficult language. [I had a lot of help with the translation from an English-speaking reporter at the paper.]

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Wait. There’s More …

It’s not quite cloak and dagger — just underhanded — but it’s worth noting that between 2000 and 2005, Edmonton City Police were looking for dirt on me. But the way they did it was wrong, and — thank God — they too were busted.

Mind you, this all happened when my next-door neighbour was running for the hills whenever I spotted him on his deck. Was that all related? I don’t know.

Edmonton Police had hoped to find dirt on me by sifting through a sensitive police database run by the Canadian Police Information Centre [CPIC]. The general public does not have access to CPIC files, only law enforcement-types.

The officers wanted to see if I’d been convicted of a criminal offence. Turns out, I hadn’t … hadn’t even been charged. A CPIC check on Byron Christopher turned up nothing exciting or sexy … perhaps a few speeding and parking tickets, but that would be it.

When it comes to criminal activity, I’ve lived a boring life.

Here’s a March 9, 2006 story in the Edmonton Sun by Max Maudie on those police searches. Click to enlarge.

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Was there a ‘connect’ between the surveillance house and illicit police snooping? I have no idea. Your guess is as good as mine.

An Edmonton constable had his knuckles rapped for the unlawful searches, but that was it. He and his supervisor had “memory losses.” I bet they did.

More details are here in a November 2, 2006 Edmonton Sun story by Brookes Merritt. Click to enlarge.

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One Final Shot

It was November 2010 and I was at the international airport in Toronto, about to board an Air Canada flight to Dallas, Texas.

I’d just signed a contract with a New York publishing company for a book on US fugitive Richard Lee McNair and I was travelling to the States for interviews.

My passport was up to date. My return ticket paid for. I’d signed a contract with a rental car company. In my wallet was a credit card, a debit card … and some cash. And I had an impressive letter of introduction from the head of the publishing company.

I was also shaved and reasonably well-dressed. All set to go.

But hold on …

I watched as passengers ahead of me were quickly processed at the glassed-in booth of a US immigration officer. It only took one minute — if that — and they were on their way. Passport scanned, name checked off … gonzo. “Have a good trip.”

It was now my turn. After my passport was scanned, the officer turned his attention to a computer monitor. He had been alerted to something. The man quickly swivelled in his chair and reached for a phone that was attached to the wall. The man spoke with someone, but I couldn’t hear what was being said. However, I did hear the immigration officer say, “What do we do with him?”

Oh shit.

What do we do with him? Good Lord. Was I on a no-fly list??

Maybe not, but I was on some list. The US officer hung up the phone, handed back my passport, stared for a few seconds … then nodded for the next passenger to approach.

I was free to board.

Thanks CSIS.


Tips About Spies & Surveillance

Some of the following may be old news to you … but it’s still worth a read.

#1: A landline telephone is a LIVE microphone, even if the phone is hung up. Police and spooks can hear everything in a room that has a landline phone. For that very reason, be aware of landline phones in your bedroom. Those intimate moments may not be so private.

#2: ALL emails in Canada are monitored. Certain words in an email will cause correspondence to be flagged and read by a clerk at CSE headquarters in Ottawa. Key words include cocaine, bomb, torture, Iran, ISIS, women’s rights, native rights, rally, demonstration, etc.

There was a time when a professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton would deliberately boobytrap his emails with fake key words just to mess with the CSE. Such was his contempt for the Communication Security Establishment.

#3: CSE agents don’t bother with warrants to do their snooping. So much for rule of law.

#4: The Communication Security Establishment has files on 1 in 4 Canadians. I touched on this earlier.

#5: The Communication Security Establishment is part of a 5-country intelligence-gathering organization called Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance. Besides Canada and the United States, the other countries are Britain, Australia and New Zealand. These spies trade information like we used to trade comic books and sports cards. They spy on each other’s citizens.

#6: CSE agents receive some of their training at the massive NSA complex in Maryland, much of it underground. The NSA hires the best brains, according to Agent Frost who got his training at NSA headquarters.

#7: Diplomatic staff smuggle material in so-called diplomatic bags, which cannot be opened by customs or excise inspectors.

#8: Spy agencies can determine — even from a distance — what you’re typing at your computer. They don’t have to install a small camera in your room, or to bug it. That’s the idea behind a surveillance house.

#9: According to Agent Frost, agents aren’t too worried about home ‘security systems.’ They are easily defeated.

#10: How insidious is the relationship between Big Industry and Big Government? According to Fred Lennarson, there was a time when the brother of the head of CSIS was head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. 

#11: Cover up the tiny camera on your home computer and your tablet. Put a tiny sticker or tape over it. Uncover it to FaceTime, then cover it up again. Don’t make it easy for the spies and hackers to monitor you.

#12: How do you pick out an embassy? Easy. The flag’s a dead giveaway. But so is the assortment of large satellite dishes.


A WARNING TO REPORTERS

Take note of what happened to two Australian journalists in early June 2019 …

Annika Smethhurst of Canberra, national correspondent for the Sunday Mail, had her home raided by no fewer than seven federal police.

Radio 2GB [Sydney] reporter Ben Fordham was also paid a visit.

Sunday Mail editor Andrew Holman of Adelaide described the acts as ‘Gestapo-styled tactics.’ “[They] have no place in a modern democracy,” he says, “nor does intimidation or attempts to silence the public’s right to know.”

News Corp Australia: “The raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths. The raid was outrageous and heavy handed.”

Smethhurst did a story last year on how her country’s electronic spy agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, wanted to broaden its powers to spy on Australian citizens. Here’s the write-up the reporter did on the surprise raid at her home.

The story was published on Sunday, 9 June 2019. Click to enlarge.

IMAG1726.jpeg

[Courtesy of the Advertiser.com.au]

And to the unidentified judge who issued the search warrant: Whose interests are you working for? 


The House Today

DJI_0339.jpeg

The residence [about 15 years on] in a May 2019 photo. The current owners — immigrants from Mexico — knew nothing of the building’s past. My house is to the left, now hidden by tall trees. Only a part of my grey roof is visible. Click to enlarge. Photo courtesy of the Russian Embassy. [just joking]


On a Lighter Note …

t1-385018-image007.jpg

[Credit: cartoonist Dan Piraro] Click to enlarge.


THE AUTHOR

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byron_Christopher

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “The Spies Who Decked Me

  1. Pingback: The Spies Who Decked Me, by Byron Christopher - Easton Spectator

  2. I must say, that you certainly have a very interesting life time of memories! Although, to be honest — it must have been a bit nerve-wracking to be spied on by your neighbours . . .

    Like

  3. This article is certainly a massive eye-opener.

    Although you have written about events that happened quite some time ago it begs the question … in today’s world of huge technological advancement, what are ‘they’ up to today?

    Thank you.

    ps … I think I’ll cancel my landline … just in case I’m the one in four. LOL

    Like

  4. Carefully read — then reread this piece. To say that your experience is chilling would be a gross understatement.

    What is really sad is that in today’s world of blurred right or wrong, there is no recourse for the harm you endured. Just another “little guy” quashed by “Big Brother” — and gonna get worse!!!

    Like

  5. Another interesting piece of your professional and personal history Byron and a good read to boot!

    Your inquisitiveness and observation of the events going on about you and as it turns out of you, brought you into the line of government and political fire. It’s good you came through your career without too much damage! Bravo!

    Like

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