By Stewart Bell & Adrian Humphreys
December 27, 2006
Late in the afternoon on Tuesday, Nov. 14, a trim, middle-aged man
walked into Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Montreal to
catch a flight overseas.
Concealed under his shirt was a travel pouch the size of a postcard that
held a forged Ontario birth certificate identifying him as Paul William
Hampel, age 40, born in Toronto.
The shortwave radio, two digital cameras, three cellphones and $7,800 in
European and North American currencies he carried were meant for an
extended trip to the Balkans. But he had walked into a trap.
Instead of boarding his flight, he was pulled aside and arrested by
Canada Border Service Agency officers working in co-operation with
spy-catchers from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The arrest, approved five days earlier by two federal Cabinet ministers,
was the culmination of a probe by the CSIS counterintelligence branch,
which was convinced the man passing himself off as a Canadian
businessman was actually an elite Russian spy.
For the next six weeks, the highly trained Russian intelligence officer
gave up little about himself as he was held at a detention facility near
Montreal, waiting to be escorted to Moscow.
While he did volunteer his name, it was almost certainly as fake as the
Paul Hampel pseudonym he had adopted after slipping into Canada in the
mid- 1990s to begin his espionage operation.
But his arrest may still prove instructive in the fight against Russia's
resurgent spy program. The electronics he was carrying are no doubt
being carefully dissected for clues of Russian spycraft. And while he
was careful, "Mr. Hampel" left a trail that may shed some light on how
Russian espionage is being conducted by the new wave of intelligence
officers that have entered the business since the demise of the KGB.
"For this reason, he represents a possible gold mine for CSIS," said
Wesley Wark, a University of Toronto intelligence expert and past
president of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence
Experts and officials believe the Russian's mission was not to spy on
Canada, but rather to assume the identity of a Canadian so he could
travel to the Balkans and collect intelligence for the Sluzhba Vneshney
Razvedki, or SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service.
But during the decade he lived a false life in Montreal, "Mr. Hampel"
did damage to Canada as well: He stole the birth certificate number of
an unwitting Ontario man; corrupted the passport system; used fake
credit cards; ran a shell company; exploited the trust of those around
him; and brought suspicion upon Canadian travellers by impersonating one
as he spied.
"This case illustrates once again--as various previous cases running
back into the 1930s have amply demonstrated -- that the Russian
intelligence services value and continue to exploit Canadian cover for
intelligence operations," said Dan Mulvenna, a former RCMP
The Hampel case has its origins in 1991, when the SVR was created to
replace the notorious KGB. Following in the tradition of the KGB, the
SVR planted officers in Russian embassies and consulates, where they
exploited their diplomatic immunity to spy on their host countries.
But embassies are closely watched by counter-espionage agencies such as
CSIS. To get around this, the Russians also deployed what are known as
"illegals," spies who live abroad under false identities, called
A division of SVR called Directorate S trains and dispatches illegals,
whose identities are provided by Russian diplomatic staffers called Line
N officers, who have been known to search Canadian graveyards for
convincing names for their spies.
Not long after its formation, the SVR sent three illegals to Canada --
two to Toronto and one to Montreal. The Toronto pair were married and
called themselves Ian and Laurie Lambert. An SVR Line N officer working
out of the Russian embassy provided support to them, including their
names, which belonged to Canadian children who had died as infants. But
they were caught out when they applied for passports.
CSIS put them under surveillance and about a year later, in 1996, the
"Lamberts, " whose real names were Dmitryn Olshevskiy and Yelena
Olshevskaya, were arrested and deported.
But Mr. Hampel managed to stay under the radar. After entering the
country he worked at low-wage jobs while he built his legend, at one
point listing his occupation as "lifeguard." In 1995, he used a forged
Ontario birth certificate to get a Canadian passport, the first of three
he would obtain.
"He asked me if I would sign as a reference for his passport," said a
Montreal landlord who once rented an apartment to the man. (He is not
being named for his protection.) "I didn't know anything about him. It
was in 2002. I didn't know anything that was going on. I didn't know
anything about the guy."
In 1997, Mr. Hampel launched a company called Emerging Markets Research,
which he registered in Ireland with initial assets of $2.3-million. And
then his travels began.
"I started travelling to that part of Europe in the mid-90s as an
emerging markets analyst, focused on business," he wrote in his
self-published book of photographs, My Beautiful Balkans. He visited
Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro,
Romania and Serbia. If he did any business, there is no record of it. He
did, however, take a lot of photographs.
To acquaintances, he began portraying himself as an amateur photographer
entranced by the beauty of the landscape. From 2001 until 2003, he lived
on and off in a hotel in Belgrade as he amassed his photos for a vanity
book and a Web site, mybeautifulbalkans.com.
"I only knew that he was travelling a lot on his business and that he
was a passionate amateur photographer," said Igor Barandovski, who
worked at the Belgrade photo lab where Mr. Hampel was a regular
On his Web site, he wrote that, "Publishing this photo album is my way
of giving emphasis to a simple point I consider key: For the people who
live in the Balkans, the beauty of their land offers an extra reason to
Based on his photographs, it is apparent he had a tendency to show up in
countries during times of political and ethnic upheaval -- Belgrade
during the overthrow of its president, Skopje during the ethnic Albanian
insurgency, Montenegro during the push for independence.
"Coincidence?" asked David Harris, a former CSIS officer. "If
intelligence is his bag, his form of hiding in plain sight takes us back
to the glory days of other -- far more literate -- journalist- spies,
like Philby and Maugham."
A tip triggered a probe by Canadian counter-intelligence investigators.
CSIS officers scoured the country searching for the man, and finally
found him. Just how they found him remains a closely guarded secret, but
experts have speculated it was probably a combination of informants,
intercepted communications and analysis of passport files.
Mr. Hampel was put under surveillance, but when investigators learned he
was planning to travel again, they decided to move. They brought their
evidence to Stockwell Day, the Public Safety Minister, and Monte
Solberg, the Immigration Minister, who signed a security certificate on
Nov. 9 declaring Mr. Hampel a foreign spy -- the first time Ottawa had
identified anyone that way in a decade.
Unaware he was about to be outed, Mr. Hampel updated his Web site that
weekend, writing that he had decided to begin a new project: a book
about the people of the Balkans to complement his previous book of
landscape photos. "I'll be hoping to have enough material accumulated
over the next two seasons to start thinking about My Beautiful Balkans
Book Tw o ," he wrote.
Three days later, he was arrested.
After the National Post revealed the arrest in an exclusive report,
Russia's ambassador to Ottawa, Georgiy Mamedov, denied he was running a
"spy shop" and said he knew nothing about the matter. One of his staff
dismissed the report the man was Russian as "ridiculous."
The embassy has refused repeated interview requests, but experts said
the ambassador may have been telling the truth when he said he was
unaware of Mr. Hampel. The SVR officers working out of Russia's
diplomatic posts in Canada, however, would have been in on it, and
likely helped him with his fake identity.
Three weeks after the arrest, the man admitted he was Russian and said
he wanted to go home as soon as possible. Federal Court Judge Pierre
Blais upheld the government's case and ordered his deportation.
"In a way, this is somewhat the stuff of spy movies," Mr. Day told the
Post in an interview. "But it is based on reality that some countries
and some of their intelligence people will go to great ends to build
what looks like a foolproof identity.
"And maybe not even to spy in Canada. But if you can build a foolproof
Canadian identity, that would give you quite a bit of movement around
Copyright National Post 2006
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