Category: Historical Reprints.
Source: Ottawa Citizen December 21, 1977.
A Disillusioned Spy Changes His Country
By Hazel Strouts
Citizen staff writer
“The past is another country.”
Tomas Schuman is a genial be-jeaned 39 with greying hair and glasses.
He works as a graduate teaching assistant at Carleton University where he is studying for an M.A. in journalism. His exams start next week.
He takes those exams although he has been in journalism for most of his working life: but it was a different life.
He had another name, worked in another language, lived in a different country and had a different view of journalism.
Schuman was a Soviet spy.
His official title was information officer for the Novosty Press Agency. But all Novosty agencies are undercover spy operations according to Schuman.
“Every employee, at some point, has to report to the KGB,” he said.
He thinks this is self-evident and is incredulous that some westerners see no connection between Soviet external “correspondents” and the KGB, the Russian secret police.
He is impatient with CBC producer Mark Starowicz, who sold information to an Ottawa-based Soviet journalist, claiming he did not know the man was a spy.
“I don’t understand Starowicz,” he says.
“Either he was a complete idiot or he was working for the KGB.”
In the late 1960s, Schuman worked for the Novosty Press Agency in New Delhi, India. He had studied Southeast Asian languages as a student at Moscow University and was well equipped for the post. He speaks Urdu, Hindi and English as well as Ukrainian and Russian.
His job was not to explain India to Russians but to sell Russia to India. He had to “spread Soviet propaganda,” by corrupting officials, newspaper editors and journalists.
He said he was told to befriend Indian journalists in the local press club and “sound them out.” If they worked for a paper with a large circulation he would report on whether he considered them bribable.
“We would offer free trips to Russia,” with all expenses paid and cash bonuses disguised as “contingency money,” Schuman said.
This was done discreetly. The higher the position of the man to be bribed, the more discretion was used in handing over the bribe, he said.
A Soviet agent might chat with the “subject” during a cocktail party, then press on him an envelope containing rupees.
The agent would say the money was for “emergencies” on the forthcoming trip to the Soviet Union.
The reaction was generally genuine surprise, followed by a decision to laugh the matter off rather than question what the money was actually for, said Schuman. The “subject” knew the trip was all-expenses paid.
Schuman calls this “selective blindness.”
Schuman said his disillusionment with his job was complete when the Delhi agency created a new department specializing in building up dossiers on prominent New Delhi residents. Schuman’s job was to gather information on leading Indian figures to be used for blackmail purposes or to be fed to “native” sources for publication.
The idea, he said, was to whitewash some and blackwash others. Former prime minister Indira Gandhi was a candidate for the whitewash treatment, he said, but he was unable to say which Indians were given the blackening treatment.
Schuman said defection by Soviets in India is difficult because of a Soviet-Indian agreement that all defectors be returned. Schuman defected when “India was full of American hippies.”
These were periodically rounded up by the Indian police and sent back to the United States by the U.S. Embassy.
Schuman tied a bandana round his head, grew a beard, wound chains of beads round his neck and waited to be picked up.
Eventually he had to make his escape by persuading some American journalists to get him to Athens, Greece and there he contacted the U.S. embassy and asked for help.
In 1970, he came to Canada, adopted a new name and experienced more forcefully than most, the truth of the poet’s words:
“The past is another country. They do things differently there.”
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