Kompromat. Compromising Material

In 1970 in the Soviet Union I was offered a bribe which was part of an attempt to collect compromising information,“Kompromat”.
Now, in 2017, the term “Kompromat” is widely known because there is a suspicion that the new United States President has been lured into a “compromising” situation in Moscow.

Based on my experience, I would be very surprised if Kompromat incidents do not continue in today’s Russia.  It is not an elaborate scheme.

You see. The strategy was and is not to immediately act on information —maybe not to act at all—but rather to have recordings available. Just in case it could come in handy some day. You could become a timely pawn in an exchange or your country could be goaded into some position by the information. Perhaps you could be susceptible to personal blackmail.

Here’s my story of how I avoided a Kompromat situation……….
We had been living in London England for six months and decided to return to North America in the summer of 1970 by way of the Soviet Union Trans Siberian Railroad followed by a cargo ship crossing the Pacific Ocean. “Let’s take the long way home home.”

When I was handed my Visa at the Soviet Embassy in London it listed me as “Journalist”.  I had submitted my “Public Relations” profession. The clerk said they had no words or understanding of that term. Who was I to argue!

In London, we had an acquaintance who had frequently traded into the Soviet Union for a major European company.  I told him my concern about my new “Journalist” persona.  I was cautioned immediately about “Kompromat”.

In the most likely scenario I would be put in a position where I could be detained and exchanged or expelled in retaliation for expulsion of a journalist or diplomat from Canada or elsewhere.

Our friend — wise in the ways of Russian practices– explained how he had been tempted once with a sexual situation and had the good sense to avoid that entrapment.  Because I was travelling with a woman companion, there would be no sexual offer to me.  I would likely be offered some information or a news scoop of some sort. His advice. “Do not buy or trade ANYTHING.”

We were also told that most often the sham is readily apparent as there are giant inconsistencies in the behaviour of the person making an approach. At that time, the state would simply engage a citizen with the promise of their being rewarded with extra domestic and holiday travel permissions.

The offers or temptations to us would not come from professional spies. Approaches would be clumsy. Our friend suggested, few Russians had been exposed to the subtleties and intrigue of trickery because during the Soviet years there were few spy films or spy novels in the Soviet Union.

When an offer of newsworthy material happened at a hotel sidewalk cafe in Moscow the script played out exactly as suggested.

…….Enter at a side-walk patio. A cheery man, with a big smile and a question. “Amerikanskaya ?” The couple at a table were fast to reply “Kanadsky”.

With the word “drink” and hand signals of throwing back a neat vodka he sat and we exchanged a few drinks.
As we talked and drank his english vocabulary and usage improved vastly.
He had relatives in the Toronto area.
He taught aeronautics at a University in the Urals and was travelling to his home province in Western Russia for holidays.

I resisted saying any thing about my occupation. We were tourists and had no work intentions. He kept insisting and I finally said, “public relations”. From that admission he finally elicited the fact public relations was a little like journalism.  By that time, I was enjoying the game.

“Ah ha, a journalist”. You and I should have a tête-à-tête.”

The subterfuge was ridiculous. Anyone who knows the common usage of that french phrase in english had certainly been hiding language skills.

In our tête-à-tête he said he had photos of student unrest and killings at his university near Omsk. (The subject would attract any avid journalist. Kent State killings in Ohio had happened about two months earlier). I could have the photos for ten thousand dollars.

How convenient! We were travelling with a declared letter of credit for ten thousand dollars.

I was adamant I am not buying or selling anything.

At his invitation we three went for a walk in a small park across the side street. There was another weak attempt for a sale. I told him “No” and suggested he go and tell “them” I was not a journalist and not buying or selling anything. The man agreed.
Egad. An admission of his “mission”.

I had avoided a compromising situation,  thanks  to the forewarnings from our friend in London, and perhaps with some good-sense from me.

The Russian summer night in the park was peaceful. Families walking hand in hand and a late evening glow in the night sky at eleven o’clock.  We all had ice cream cones from the vendor at the park entrance, and then went back to our respective lodgings

Donald J Alexander

Дон Алехандер , Цанада

 

Pan Northern

Quote

In the 1990s Quebec was seeking Sovereignty after the Meech Lake Accord fell apart.  The Accord had set out to decentralize some powers and recognize Quebec as forming a “distinct society”.    The Ontario government established a Select Committee to find some different ways forward.  I made a presentation called “The Idea of North”.

I had always appreciated the “distinct society” and particularly the Quebec cinema, music and theatre.

Perhaps the “arts” would be fertile peacemaking territory.  Perhaps our shared northerness should be expressed as a common characteristic.   In a presentation, quite unlike others, I celebrated shared northernness and then went on to express the strengths of a pan-Canadian and ultimately a circumpolar northernness.  On an environmental note I spoke of the environmental fragility of the North presaging the frightening warming that’s now taken place.

My presentation became like a theatrical staged event!  It seemed every time I spoke of northern cold or arctic conditions, someone came into the room from the north-facing doors and snow and wind from Georgian bay “whooshed” into the room.  It became a “dramatic” presentation!!

On re-reading the following report from Provincial Hansard, published 25 years ago, I find it informative and particularly want to note that later that year Finland proposed a pan-Arctic Council and it came into being before the century was over.  I still celebrate the vitality of Quebec arts, architecture and “northern spirit”.   Read my two-gage presentation here:    Pan Northern Presentation

Presentation to the Select Committee on Ontario in Confederation Feb 14, 1991

Presentation to the Select Committee on Ontario in Confederation Feb 14, 1991

I appreciated the photography of James Masters and shortly after making the presentation ordered prints of his photography from the Owen Sound Sun Times.  We both liked the flag background, and the profile photo also captured the sense I was feeling at the time. 

Confederation Hearings 02-14-91-0001 (2) Confederation Hearings 02-14-91-0002 (1)

Wiarton Willie Public Relations

Wiarton Willie is one of the prominent Groundhogs relied on for Winter predictions. When I moved from the Bruce Peninsula to the Niagara Peninsula in 1997, I managed to remove some documents from the active Wiarton Willie files and establish the Wiarton Willie Archives in a Burrow in our backyard in central St. Catharines Ontario.

For a few years c1987 to 1991 I had served as a volunteer Public Relations and media relations person for the Wiarton Willie entourage. We were anxious to get more media outlets to pay attention to Willie and to contact us for advance interviews.

Our releases and backgrounders –refreshed each year–had some sly hints on somewhat absurd claims and colour that could be pursued in interview form with our phone bank volunteers:
-We claimed a photo was from a “Playburrow centrefold”; that Willie was an honorary citizen of the recently established Bruce Peninsula National Park, that his powers were due to his birthplace in a nearby field on the 45th parallel midway between equator and north pole, and that Groundhog reports were excluded from the Free Trade agreements being negotiated at that time.. On the free trade file we claimed that the Groundhogs could not tolerate “level playing fields” and insisted on fields of burrows and holes and mounds and uneven topography.

The topics attracted media calls from all over the Americas and broadened our reach and firmly established the preeminence of the Wiarton Willie Feb 2 Groundhog reports.
Major network and independent news outlets pursued the silly subjects and I am sure Fox news was one of the callers insisting it was all an alien plot!

I honour the founding efforts and continuing antics of Mac McKenzie who started it all on a weekend in the 1950s. Later, during his winter sailing excursions in the Caribbean, I was pleased to fill in with writing and concept of this annual postal campaign.  That was a time when postal services were still used to contact media.

Three pages from the campaign are here:Wiarton Willie PR003002

Jane Jacobs: Urban Wisdom

Jane Jacobs and Don Alexander on Jane's porch.  I made an educational video (Jane Jacobs Urban Wisdom, 45 minutes) with selected interview footage I shot over a ten year period.  Jane describes her books and the evolving themes.  A good biographical survey of her many interests  and writings.   A transcription of her voice is printed here.

Jane Jacobs and Don Alexander on Jane’s porch. I made an educational video (Jane Jacobs Urban Wisdom, 40 minutes) with selected interview footage I shot over a ten year period. Jane describes her books and the evolving themes. A good biographical survey of her many interests and writings. A transcription of her voice is printed here.

JANE JACOBS: URBAN WISDOM

Transcription from Jane Jacobs description of her books, writing and research style, as recorded in the educational video “Jane Jacobs: Urban Wisdom” copyright 2002, Don Alexander and Jane Jacobs. The Educational Video, Jane Jacobs Urban Wisdom (40 minutes) is available at
Films for the Humanities and Sciences www.films.com

Introduction
(Jane Jacobs speaks)
Well, I had this idea that the way to find out how cities really should be planned and organized would be to look and see how they worked successfully. Well, how do you find that out? You do it by going directly to the subject matter, to the cities.
And the streets, I thought, were the most important thing in the city. How the streets looked, and how they worked. And I found that what I saw was very complicated. People weren’t just walking around in the city, or riding around in the city with nothing on their minds but where they were going. No, they were doing all kinds of things by the way. They were affecting the safety of the city. They were promoting their causes. The more you watched, the more interesting and amazing connections you saw.

(Narrator Introduction over Programme Title: Jane Jacobs Urban Wisdom)
Jane Jacobs’ writing career spans more than 60 years. Using what she calls a web-way of thinking, her writing and her ideas have influenced our cities and our understanding of economies.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities
(Jane Jacobs speaks)
My first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, I was pretty outraged at what city planners, and designers, and architects, and the politicians, and the developers who supported all these ideas were doing. I thought they were killing cities. They were very rigid. Regimentations– residents should be separated from working places, services and retail things that the population depended upon should be condensed into shopping malls. It was all boring, repetitious, and, as far as I could see, it didn’t work.
So I thought, cities have been around a long time. They have worked reasonably well. And, especially, you can find areas of cities that do work well, socially and economically. That’s what needs to be studied. That’s what needs to be observed. And see what’s important– what do you want out of housing? Or what you want out of shopping? Continue reading