A question of conscience, even now
Former spy made his choice years ago to join the KGB and while we know few details of his espionage work, it is a decision he should live with
By Pete McMartin
June 9, 2009
Such a nice-looking man.
The baleful eyes. The shock of prematurely white hair. The thoughtful face that doesn't betray an ounce of violence. It could be the face of a poet. One of those terribly soulful Russian poets.
Mikhail Lennikov does not look the part of a KGB spy. He looks . . . mild. His many supporters, and Lennikov himself, would even argue the word “spy” is too strong a noun to describe him: He was an interpreter, a mere clerk, really — a shuffler of papers, not state secrets.
And a reluctant one at that, Lennikov and his supporters insist. He was coerced into joining the KGB, he has said, and feared that any refusal would result in reprisals. His was not a sin of commission so much, they would argue, as one of omission. If he was guilty of anything, it was of being weak.
Of the pertaining facts behind all this, we have only the word of one man: Lennikov. Of his activities while in the Communist Youth League? Of his espionage work while posing as a student and professor? Of the reasons for his being promoted to captain? Of the reasons for his resignation from the KGB in 1988, if indeed it was a resignation?
We have to take Lennikov's word for it. Of the things he learned or the people he spied on we will never know. If his work led to someone's life being ruined, that work will remain safely ensconced in a Moscow file. If he ever learned anything that affected anyone's measure of freedom or led anyone to being jailed will not be learned through a Freedom of Information request. That's the thing about spy-dom. Facts tend to remain murky.
But his supporters and Lennikov make much of his honesty, and the fact that it was he who declared in his 1999 application for permanent residency that he once belonged to the KGB.
But Lennikov came here in 1997 on a student visa, not as an immigrant, and he was issued several temporary extensions on that visa so he might complete his MA and PhD. He was here to go to school, not to make a new life.
And in April 1999, when he originally applied for permanent residency, his application, according to court documents, was refused not because of his KGB background — because that had yet to come to light — but “on the basis he had insufficient points to qualify as a member of the independent skilled working class.”
It was two months later, in June 1999, that his application was reconsidered at Lennikov's request.
“In the course of re-determining the application,” the court documents state, “it came to the attention of the immigration authorities that Mr. Lennikov might be inadmissible to Canada on security grounds as a consequence of his activities with the KGB.”
In other words, it was two years before the federal government discovered it had a former KGB operative within its borders. (Who's dumber? The feds for not knowing, or Lennikov for telling them?) What do you think his chances were of getting a student visa in 1997 if he had exercised his honesty and put “spy” under Work Resume?
And we wouldn't be having this discussion.
As for Lennikov's insistence he feared to say no to the KGB, an e-mail posted to The Sun website from Grigori Khaskin, of Coquitlam, was instructive on that matter:
“I lived in the U.S.S.R for more than 30 years and know from personal experience that it was possible to refuse such an offer. Many people did and accepted the consequences … of course, they would not be allowed to travel abroad. Living with such restrictions was not easy, but the payoff was a clear conscience.”
A clear conscience … it seems so touchingly naive a concept, and so anachronistically heroic in a Cold War kind of way, as opposed to what we are hearing from the Lennikov camp, which, it should be said, most Canadians declare themselves to be in, according to polls. The Lennikovists argue that their man “no longer poses a threat,” to anyone, to use their phrase.
Two things about that argument: It is completely beside the point.
It is morally blinkered.
Mikhail Lennikov made his choice with his conscience years ago. Let him live with it.
Get him out of here.