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Allegation from a Former Spy's Kiss 'n Tell Memoir

Dan Stanton · Former member (retired) of Canada's intelligence and national security community · Posted: May 20, 2020

On March 31, a justice of the Federal Court of Canada overturned Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) appeal decision in the case of a former Russian translator accused of spying on a Canadian disarmament project in Russia over twenty years ago. Elena Crenna was deemed inadmissible to Canada by an immigration adjudicator who sided with a Canada Border Services Agency assessment. The assessment claimed she helped the Russian FSB (security service) to spy on the housing project in the mid-1990s.

In his decision, Justice Henry Brown ordered the case returned to the refugee board for redetermination. He stated that the actions of Elena Crenna in the mid-1990s were not "secret, clandestine, surreptitious or covert" because they were carried out with the full knowledge, consent, and encouragement of her future husband.

David Crenna managed a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation project outside Moscow. Ms. Crenna acted as a translator when she was approached by the FSB (successor to the KGB's Second Chief Directorate), wanting to know what the Canadians were doing. Mr. Crenna gave his future wife his consent to speak to the FSB.

A KGB defector wrote a book claiming - without identifying the Crennas - that the Canadian effort to help build homes for demobilized former soldiers was penetrated by Russian intelligence, and that the program director had been swept up in a" honey trap" espionage scheme. When Ms. Crenna applied for permanent resident status in Canada, after marrying her former employer, she was interviewed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the FBI. Neither agency expressed any concerns. (The CSIS interview would have been one part of the government's assessment of threats to Canada's security vis-à-vis immigration.) Neither CSIS nor the FBI had any concerns about Ms. Crenna.

Not so fast, countered the Canada Border Services Agency, which succeeded in convincing the IRB that Canada had been sent a Mata Hari and that her residency application should be denied. The court justice dismissed the accusation, pointing out that senior officials of Immigration Canada rejected the allegations in the KGB defector's book. Justice Brown further added that "her acts were done with the knowledge and consent of the Canadian in charge. Her actions in answering FSB questions do not even meet the definition of "espionage."

As an investigator with CSIS in the mid to late 1980s, I interviewed many new arrivals from the Soviet Union. Ascertaining contact with the Soviet KGB, and later the FSB, was the purpose of the security interview, part of the Service's advice to Immigration Canada.  In many countries, it is not unusual for some of its citizens to come across the radar of their security and intelligence apparatus, agencies that are hostile to Canada. If an applicant has had direct contact with foreign nationals in their country - Mr. Crenna in this case - it is expected that the FSB would come knocking.  It is a requirement of the FSB's largely defensive mandate to determine what the Canadians are up to in their country.

The salient issues in these cases are the nature of that contact, and - most important - whether the landed immigrant/refugee claimant maintains a relationship. Would they have exploitable access? Do they pose a threat to Canadian security by virtue of that dated relationship? The contact in itself is not a showstopper. (It is not for the government to play 'gotcha'). CSIS would then proffer advice to deny or to proceed with the application, and it should fall to Immigration Canada to make the final decision. If the decision is to deny the claimant, then the assessment brief needs to have facts, not an allegation from a former spy's kiss'n tell memoir. That is how the admissibility assessment process works in Canada. I suspect that it was a slow week at the IRB when the decision was made to push forward and deny admissibility to Ms. Crenna.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Professional Development Institute of the University of Ottawa.


Daniel M. Stanton served for thirty-two years with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, including twelve years as an Executive Manager in operations. Mr. Stanton’s expertise stems from a lengthy career in counterintelligence, counter-proliferation, and counter-terrorism. Mr. Stanton has an honours degree in history and philosophy from Queens University, Kingston, Ontario. 


 

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