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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arrest of Alleged Spy Has Canada Abuzz

TORONTO -- The man carried crib sheets -- index cards scribbled with reminders of key dates in Canadian history. But he is a real Russian spy, Canadian authorities insist, real enough for them to deem him a threat to national security.

The recent arrest of a man who called himself Paul William Hampel and carried fake identity papers has set Canada abuzz: The old cloak-and-dagger games between Russia and the West are far from over.

Hampel, an apparent alias created with a fabricated birth certificate, appeared last week in the Federal Court of Canada in Montreal in the first step to his deportation to Russia.

Federal authorities said little about him and nothing about his purported spy targets, except to assert he had been undercover in Canada for at least 10 years. The length of that stealth, and the man's apparent ease in operating here and abroad, hearkened back to Soviet moles who lived with false identities for decades during the Cold War.

"If he was already in Canada in 1995 and preparing for this mission, he represents something very unusual,'' said Wesley Wark, a security analyst at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. "He must be part of the first post-Soviet generation" of spies, trained immediately after 1991 and the Soviet breakup.

The idea that Russia, after that collapse, would have no need for an international spy network turned out to be a "post-Cold War illusion," Wark said. President Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB spy, has made little secret of his affection for espionage.

Still, Wark said, it is rare to catch a Russian spy who has operated for so long. And the bare details that have emerged have whetted the interest of aficionados of a good spy tale.

The court papers available indicate that the man, whose true name has not been disclosed, was picked up at Montreal's airport on Nov. 14 carrying his fake birth certificate and passport, about $7,000 in five currencies, three cellular phones and five password-protected SIM data cards to go in them, two digital cameras and a shortwave radio.

The public documents do not say where he was going. But the Canadian media have found a few traces. He had established an "emerging-markets consultancy" in Ireland but listed no income or activity. The landlord of the Montreal apartment listed as his address does not remember him. His most visible trail, oddly, is a collection of scenery photographs from the Balkans that he posted on the Internet and paid to have published in a vanity press book.

The Canadian government calls him a member of the "Russian espionage elites" working for the Foreign Intelligence Service. Using terms popularized by Cold War spy novels, the government claims he was an "illegal" who created a "legend" -- a background history for himself as a Canadian.

"It's called a false flag," said Martin Rudner, head of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. "You get a person to create a Canadian identity -- passport, birth certificate, etc. -- and then deploy him to a third jurisdiction.

"The third jurisdiction may not be willing to disclose anything to a Russian. They may not want to talk to a Russian. But they may be willing to chitchat with a Canadian over a dinner or drink. That's how the process begins," he said.

Rudner sees a variety of attractive targets in Canada: strategies on Afghanistan or Iraq shared with Canada by the United States, defense technologies, oil and gas negotiating positions or even intelligence on the thriving Russian emigre population in Canada.

David Harris, the former chief of strategic planning for Canada's spy agency, considers the arrest evidence of Russia's continued interest in espionage.

"We have known that vigorous intelligence efforts are being made by Russia. If anything, the pace has stepped up," he said. "The old Soviet thirst for economic, development and high-tech secrets has not been entirely slaked."

Perhaps more dangerous, Harris said, is Russia's continuing interest in weapons and military technology that could be passed on to Russian allies, such as Iran.

"I'm very impressed by this" arrest, Harris said. Canada's spy agency "has been able to haul in an unusually big fish."

And what of the scrawled index cards, with reminders of important dates in Canadian history?

"After 10 years, the guy probably didn't need a crib system," Wark said. "It's just a guess, but I would say those dates are a code."