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