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 Whistleblowers Need Protection




Well aware of his value to any Western intelligence agency, Paszkowski decided to barter his skills by offering his services to earn entry to Canada. He was confident the Canadian government would quickly realize the importance of his considerable knowledge of East European intelligence networks. He was prepared to help a government which was not known to have an efficient spy service. Canada was an easy target for East-European intelligence services, which ran agents from there with no major obstacles. It was reasonable to expect, Paszkowski thought, that a fledgling intelligence agency in Canada could use to real advantage the experience of an agent from the other side. It was certainly worth a good try anyway.

Paszkowski knew that all embassies had a security agent on staff, so the Canadians should have someone in theirs who could assess his worth from an intelligence service point of view. He resolved to approach the Canadian Embassy in Rome. He couldn't go to Paris; it was just too risky now with the Foreign Legion on his case.

Crossing the French border illegally did not pose any great difficulty. From Marseilles, he took a train and got off at a small station near the frontier. Under cover of night, he made his way through thick, sharp thorned bushes and after an hour was on the Italian side of the border. Once there, he exchanged his money and bought a train ticket to Rome.

Reaching the Canadian Embassy in Rome, Paszkowski noted a young RCMP officer posted out front. He walked directly up to the young man and tried to explain in German that he wanted to speak to someone from the security service. The RCMP officer, however, understood nothing of what Paszkowski said and sent him to the receptionist. She was a young, friendly-looking woman, who didn't speak German either and asked him to wait. After a few minutes, a chic-looking woman of about sixty appeared and asked in German, "Can I help you?"

Paszkowski, pleased that he could finally communicate with someone replied, "I want to talk to somebody from the intelligence service."

"What is it regarding?" asked the woman.

"I'll tell the person from the intelligence service what it's about," persisted Paszkowski.

The interpreter asked him to wait. Fifteen minutes later, a tall, middle-aged, heavily-built man with dark, short hair entered the room. He shook hands with Paszkowski and asked him to come with him. He signalled the interpreter to follow them.

They went upstairs to a room on the second floor. The man asked Paszkowski to sit down and switched on a tape-recorder. In broken German, he explained that his command of the language was not good enough to carry on a conversation and that was why they would speak through an interpreter. When Paszkowski introduced himself as a Pole, it turned out that the interpreter was Polish herself. From then on, Paszkowski continued in Polish.

I told the RCMP investigator that I was an agent with the Polish Security Service; that I had deserted; hijacked a plane; was jailed in Germany and then escaped; and that I was wanted by Interpol. He listened attentively and took notes from time to time. When I finished, he asked a few questions to clarify certain points in my story.

After two hours of conversation with the security agent through the interpreter, he asked me if I minded if they took my finger prints and a photo so that they could verify my story. I agreed - I didn't mind at all. Another employee of the Embassy came to take me to a room on another floor where he took my finger prints and photo, then escorted me back to the room where the inquiry had taken place. While waiting for the results of the check they were running on me, the interpreter and I chatted, exchanging chatter about the weather in Italy and Italians. She appeared tight-lipped and kept her distance. After half an hour, my interviewer returned carrying a fax copy with my photo on it as well as my personal data and the nature of the crime for which I was wanted by Interpol. In other words, he had confirmation that I had told him the truth.

I could see that his attitude had changed. He seemed more friendly. "I cannot make important decisions by myself," he said. He told me that he would have to wait for instructions from Ottawa where the decision would be made. He then asked me to return the following day at 10:00 a.m. to discuss further details of my case. Seeing that I was uneasy about these arrangements, he assured me that they were not going to call the Italian police to arrest me. "A gentleman's agreement," he called it, extending his hand to shake mine good-bye. As I stood to leave, he told me not to tell anyone about our meeting.

After a night at a cheap hotel, I arrived on time for my appointment at the embassy the next morning. The Polish interpreter was waiting at the Embassy's main entrance and immediately escorted me to a room on the third or fourth floor.

With the man I had spoken to the day before, there was now another man of about 50-years-of-age. My Mountie interviewer greeted me cordially and said he had good news. It could only mean that Ottawa had replied and expressed an interest in me. "There will be some formalities you'll have to go through and it might take several months, but you don't need to worry. We'll assist you throughout the process," he assured me.

The Mountie then surprised me by asking as politely as he could for me to undergo a lie-detector test in order to make sure that I wasn't an East European agent trying to infiltrate the Canadian intelligence service. The request amused me. I wondered how the Canadians could use such an unreliable method to check if I was lying. I could answer in the positive and pass even if they asked me, "Are you Moammar Gadhafi?" However, I went along with the request.

They attached electrodes to my upper body, which were attached to cables going to an adjacent room. The questions came fast, one after the other. "Are you a Polish spy?", "Are you Ryszard Paszkowski?", "Are you a double agent?". The questions were obviously geared to discover if I still worked for the SB. I kept my cool and answered each question calmly. Soon, it was over and I was congratulated for passing the test.

My Mountie took me to another room and we started a conversation through the interpreter. "You've been approved by Ottawa," he said. "We have a new security service agency, CSIS, and you will be working with them. You'll be given a new identity and will have to follow instructions," he continued, "I need not stress that all of this is to remain top secret."

A clerk then entered and handed a file to the Mountie who handed me a few pages to read. The text was in Polish. It was my new biography. He told me to read through it carefully and if I had any reservations about anything to let him know immediately. My new name was Robert Fisher - an odd choice for a Pole. "Not typically Polish," I told him. "It might attract attention that a Polish immigrant with a British name cannot speak a word of English." The Mountie assured me that it wouldn't be a problem and the name though rare in Poland did exist. I hoped they knew what they were doing.

My new life story continued: Born in Krakow on May 5, 1957; a truck driver arrested for participating in the illegal anti-Communist strike organized by a dissident group - Confederation for an Independent Poland. While being escorted to the prosecutor's hearing, I beat up the guard and escaped. Helped by fellow truckers, I left in my truck for the West, where I was smuggled through the borders to Marseilles.

To make the story work, I was to return to France and at the Italian-French border in a place called Ventimiglia give myself into the custody of the Italian border patrol to be directed, as thousands of other East European refugees and immigrants had been, to a refugee camp. There I would file my papers under the new name. It was important as a new CSIS recruit that I go through ordinary immigration channels in order not to arouse suspicions. Robert Fisher was to blend into a nameless, faceless background of refugees. The Canadian government would take care of the rest, making sure that my papers would be processed as quickly as possible. They also told me not to worry about the Italian police taking my finger prints and finding out I was wanted by Interpol. It would be arranged with Italian authorities that they would ignore such findings.

Once in the refugee camp in Italy and having officially applied to immigrate to Canada as Robert Fisher, I would be called twice to the Canadian Embassy in Rome for an interview as all refugees are. The first interview would be conducted by an immigration officer not privy to the whole affair; for him I would be Robert Fisher with my new life story. The second interview would be conducted by the Mounties. They gave me $1000 U.S. to cover my expenses in going to France and back. I signed a receipt for the money. I knew they were serious about me now and were talking to me in good faith. I felt we had a deal.

Paszkowski set off to carry out the agreed-upon plan. He had to return to France so that he could come back to Italy and apply officially for refugee status. He took a train towards France and got off at the border. That night, he went through the same thick bushes he had come through to Italy just a few days earlier. Without incident, he crossed into France and then took a train to a small town near the Mediterranean Sea close to the Italian border. There, in the quiet comfort of a sunny beach, he memorized his new biography, learning the dates, places, names and other details of Robert Fisher by heart. A few days later, he took the train to Turin, Italy. The French did not control documents on out-bound trains; once across the international border, Italian border patrol guards entered the train and asked for passports at the first stop.

Paszkowski sat quietly in his compartment, waiting for the guards to ask for his documents. Soon a young guard appeared before him. "Passporte. Prego!", he snapped. Paszkowski, using body language and German, attempted to say that he had no passport. The guard told him to get off the train and took him to the border station.

Once inside, Paszkowski pronounced the two magic words that would prevent his expulsion from Italy: "Asilo politicco" - political asylum. The official was unhappy to be burdened with the necessary paperwork on a Sunday afternoon. Muttering something in Italian under his breath, he finally began taking down basic personal data. Soon other guards appeared, but they were all unsure what to do with Paszkowski. One of them spoke some German, so Paszkowski in an attempt to be helpful turned to him, suggesting they allow him to continue his journey to a larger city such as Milan or Turin and let the authorities there deal with him. The group seemed to like this idea, but one objected, suggesting Paszkowski return to France and come back on Monday when he wasn't on duty. Ryszard refused even though his captors used everything from polite persuasion to shouting to convince him that going back to France would be in his best interests.

Finally, Paszkowski suggested they arrest him and keep him in the guard house jail until the next day when their replacements would have to deal with him. As tempting as that was, the policy clearly specified they couldn't arrest a person asking for political asylum if there was no other reason for which he could be detained.

A guard asked Paszkowski to get on the train that was about to depart for Milan and he would arrange things with the conductor so no ticket would be required. They left the station and walked to the platform. The train that was supposedly going to Milan had its engine pointed in the opposite direction - back towards France! Paszkowski realized the guards were trying to trick him and place him on the wrong train, thus getting rid of their problem. Standing firmly on the platform, Paszkowski refused to get on the train. The guard who first encountered him was now in a rage, pulling his hair, screaming and stomping his feet. Paszkowski felt like laughing at the entire affair, finding the tantrum especially comical.

"What now?" he wondered as they lead him back to the guards' station. An hour passed and two or three agitated phone calls were made. The group finally gave up and announced that the train to Milan would be arriving shortly and that he could board it. They made him promise that he would not tell the Milan police they had let him go. He was to claim that there was no passport control at the border. Paszkowski promised what they wanted, relieved the entire farce was finished. When the train arrived, he made sure it was going in the right direction before he boarded it. He arrived at Milan that evening and stayed at the train station until the next morning, dozing through the night on a bench.

First thing the next morning, Ryszard went looking for the main police headquarters. In a busy and noisy police station, he stopped a uniformed constable and said he wanted to ask for political asylum and to immigrate to Canada. The officer took him to a colleague, who wrote out a report and took his photo and finger prints. Robert Fisher thus made his first public appearance. Once the formalities were completed, he was told he would have to go to the refugee camp at Latina, sixty kilometres south of Rome, from where he would apply to go to Canada. He was driven to the train station; a ticket was placed in his hand and he was put on the train to Latina.

It was evening when Paszkowski arrived at Latina refugee camp. Walking down the main street, he was about to ask for directions to the refugee camp when he heard Polish being spoken. Two young men rode by on bicycles talking loudly. "Hey guys, do you know the way to the refugee camp?" he called out in Polish, pleased he could communicate with someone at last. The two knew the way; indeed, they were staying there themselves. They jumped off their bikes and led the way on foot, briefing him on camp life, which was anything but peaceful.

Filled with East Europeans and Yugoslavs, rapes, assaults, thefts and fights were daily camp occurrences. Even murder had been reported to the local police, although no suspects were ever arrested and the Italian police rarely bothered to intervene. The law of the jungle was the only code in the camp. The strongest survived, and the weakest lived in fear for their personal safety if not for their worldly possessions.

The refugee camp was located in an old Italian army barracks. People lived in long rows of dilapidated structures divided into small rooms, often with broken windows and missing doors.

Shortly after Paszkowski's arrival, the administration provided him with forms to be filled in with personal information. They also took his finger prints. Paszkowski wasn't afraid of being arrested; after all, he had the assurances of the Canadian government that all would be taken care of. Not without satisfaction, he watched another man in a nearby barracks who had applied under an alias as he was arrested by the Italian police. They discovered through his fingerprints that he was wanted in Austria by Interpol.

The camp administrators distributed visa applications among the newcomers which would then be sent to the respective embassies. Paszkowski filled out his application form providing the well-rehearsed information about Robert Fisher. All he had to do was wait for his papers to go through the regular immigration process. In the meantime, he tried to make the best of refugee camp life. The place was literally falling down, was filthy and noisy, and the refugee claimants were terrorized by a gang of Yugoslavs claiming to be the country's Albanian minority. They exacted the law of the fist and everyone feared them as they were the main perpetrators of crime in the camp.

A few days after Paszkowski's arrival, one of the gang's leaders tried to provoke him into a fight. "Hey you, got a cigarette?" the Albanian asked in Serbo-Croatian, which was easy to understand. Paszkowski, sitting on the doorstep of his barracks and smoking, didn't reply, knowing the man was trying to establish his authority. A number of Albanians backed up the leader and encircled Paszkowski. "Cigaretto," repeated the Albanian, coming right up to Paszkowski and pulling the cigarette out of his mouth.

In a flash, Paszkowski jumped up and delivered two powerful jabs to the Albanian, knocking him to the ground unconscious. The Albanians picked up their leader and quickly disappeared. Paszkowski wiped his bloodied hand and looked around checking for possible retaliation. However, none of the others appeared eager for a beating after seeing what happened to their leader. The incident won Paszkowski respect and prestige among other residents of the camp. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be his friend, knowing the Albanians would then hesitate to touch their possessions.

Paszkowski shared a room with two other Poles who were engaged in the camp's thriving bicycle business. For a small town, Latina was plagued with bicycle thefts. The police, however, always knew where to look for them - in the refugee camp. Paszkowski's two room-mates would steal bicycles in town and bring them to the camp secretly. There, they would repaint and refit them slightly, then sell them for $10 U.S. to other residents. Every second refugee claimant seemed to have a bicycle purchased from the business.

To help pass the time while waiting for their papers to be processed, Paszkowski and his friends would often sit and drink cheap Italian wine. A month after his arrival, he finally received a letter referring him for a medical examination, an important first step in the immigration process. A month later, he was called for the first interview at the Canadian Embassy in Rome. Paszkowski now knew that his Mountie investigator had kept his word and his papers were being fast-tracked.

At the first interview, Paszkowski was met by an older-looking immigration officer to whom he offered his prepared story. The interpreter was the same Polish woman he had met before, who knew the full truth about him. "I hope she is trustworthy," he thought to himself, remembering being sworn to complete secrecy about the deal by the Canadian Intelligence official.

In his written assessment, the Immigration officer concluded: "I'm impressed, if he has done all he says, difficulties will not bother him and I'm inclined to agree that he is a fighter."

Soon after this initial interview, Paszkowski was transferred to the refugee camp south of Rome in Capua. Within a relatively short period, he was called to a second appointment - record time by the standards of the other refugees who reported that it normally took a year to reach this step. Paszkowski again met with his Mountie, as he called him, the architect of the new identity which would allow him into Canada. "How are you?" the man asked, shaking hands. "How is Robert Fisher doing these days," he laughed.

The officer told Paszkowski that the immigration officer who conducted the first interview had not suspected a thing and had approved his application for a Canadian immigration visa. He seemed proud that the invented story was working well, and told Paszkowski that he would soon be on his way to Canada. He briefly outlined what to expect once he arrived there.

His initial life in his new country would be like that of any other new immigrant. Paszkowski was to go to Edmonton where he would enrol in and attend language school; he would be provided with money to pay for his rent and food. In due time, CSIS would send an agent to contact him. The agent would become his handler. The Mountie stressed that no-one but CSIS agents were to know his true identity. Paszkowski nodded. He wasn't going to go around blabbing about being a spy. Did they think he was a fool? He didn't say anything though; the man was trying to be friendly and everything seemed to be working out well.

At the end of the meeting, the Mountie shook hands with Paszkowski and wished him well in his endeavours. "Do good work for your new country," he admonished. "There is no other country like Canada." These words would ring long and loudly in Paszkowski's memory.

Following the interview, Paszkowski returned to the refugee camp in Capua. He waited anxiously, restlessly wandering from room to room, wondering when his final papers would arrive. In the meantime, his refugee hearing took place before the Italian Commission for Refugees. It took only ten minutes for Paszkowski to retell his Robert Fisher story and another ten to answer all the questions put to him by the Commissioners. He was immediately granted political asylum in Italy. Now, Paszkowski noted to himself, "I've got two political asylums, one in West Germany in my own name, and the other in Robert Fisher's name in Italy."

One evening, about two weeks after the second interview at the Canadian Embassy, Paszkowski was in the middle of his nightly wine drinking ritual with camp friends when a messenger from the camp manager arrived and told him to pick up his belongings because he was departing for Canada immediately. It came as a total surprise. So soon? It was an even greater shock to his friends who had spent a year there and were still waiting for final decisions about their own cases.

Excitedly, Paszkowski threw his meagre possessions into a suitcase and almost flew up to the camp manager's office. "Here is a train ticket to Rome," he was told without any unnecessary small talk. "Tomorrow morning you're flying to Canada." Paszkowski was told someone would meet him at the main entrance to the airport in Rome the next morning at 9:00 a.m. and provide him with travel documents and a plane ticket to Canada.

The camp manager himself drove him to the train station, where he boarded the night train to Rome. The following morning, at the main entrance to Rome's Fiumicino Airport, an older gentleman with a short beard handed Paszkowski an envelope after making sure he was Robert Fisher. The other then disappeared into the crowd. Inside were a plane ticket to Edmonton via Toronto and an Italian travel document with the impressive Canadian visa stamped firmly upon it.

A telex from Rome in early August 1986 sent to Immigration headquarters in Hull referring to Robert Fisher says he applied for landed immigrant status on August 24, 1984, was interviewed on October 10th and was issued a visa on November 14, 1984. Clearly, his application was processed in record time by any standards! Other Poles who came to Canada through the same camp said that applications filed with the Canadian Embassy would normally take up to a year or longer to be processed even if all documentation was complete. If it weren't for the RCMP's help, how could a self-described refugee from Poland with a completely non-Polish name and no identification possibly pass through the security screening without raising any doubts or at least taking additional time to process his application?

The Italian authorities who granted Robert Fisher asylum in 1984 and took his finger prints, later issuing him a travel document to come to Canada, must have been aware of his real name and hijacking conviction. If so, it was information they were most likely to share with the Canadian embassy, whose own RCMP security check should have provided the same facts.

In August 1992, the External Affairs department in Ottawa, when inquiring about Paszkowski's travel document which was issued in July 1986 allowing him to travel to Italy, noted in a memo to the Canadian embassy in the Hague: "In spite of concerns by security, our issuing department had no choice but to issue at the time," possibly implying CSIS involvement. It is quite possible that the Immigration staff at the Canadian Embassy in Rome encountered a similar situation: intervention by the RCMP.


Chapter 8

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