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Hunky spy attracts ladies

It started innocently enough with a small fire in the Soviet consulate in downtown Montreal in the winter of 1987. It became a story for me as UPI Bureau Chief when Soviet officials delayed, and in some cases, denied access to Montreal firefighters.

What were they hiding? What I discovered was Soviet economist Boris Balashov, a dead ringer for actor Daniel Craig, the current James Bond. Boris was a fitness fanatic who ran miles — bare chested and in shorts even on frigid winter days — across Mount Royal in downtown Montreal.

Of course, I never found out whether Boris was really a spy, but UPI photographer Michel Pelletier fearlessly climbed a tree on Mount Royal in the winter morning darkness three days in a row until he was finally quick enough to snap a shot of our bionic man whizzing by.

The photo and story received play in newspapers across the U.S. The Soviets were inundated with media questions about their spy operations in North America. And what became of Boris, aside from postal deliveries of envelopes stuffed with ladies’ panties and phone numbers scrawled in lipstick? Well, he received an offer to star in a Hollywood movie, but, unfortunately, his comrades said “nyet,” prompting a transfer back to Moscow.

The Buffalo News / Sunday, February 22, 1987

KGB Uses Canada to Penetrate the U.S.

PHOTO:Michel PelletierBare-chested Boris Balashov jogging in sub-zero weather on Mount Royal in downtown Montreal.

MONTREAL — The Soviet jogger with the bionic biceps drew stares and shivers as he loped along the frigid, snow-slick streets, wearing only a pair of blue silk shorts, ankle socks, black gloves and running shoes.

The sight of bare-chested Boris Balashov, 47, exercisIng in minus 12 Fahrenheit temperatures merits attention, even from winter-weary Canadians.

"I’ve never seen anything like it," said a woman who lives In the downtown Montreal apartment building where Balashov resides. "He looks bullet-proof. Every angle on him Is square. If you hit him with a tank, the tank would crumble. He has the most incredible body."

Balashov, who works as an economist with the Soviet delegation at the International Civil Aviation Organization, studies karate, lifts weights twice a week and jogs shirtless every day, no matter how cold.

Aside from his penchant for jogging in sub-zero temperatures, what makes Balashov newsworthy is that be is part of the Soviet diplomatic mission in Canada which western security experts say Is engaged in highly sophisticated spying aimed at the United States.

Balashov, an open and engaging man, laughed when asked whether he works for the Komltet Gosudarstvennoy Besopasnosti — the Soviet state security police better know by the initials KGB.

"No, I don't work for the KGB," he said. "I have no military background."

When asked whether western security experts are accurate when they say that a high percentage of Soviet diplomats in Canada spy for the KGB, he replied: "Maybe some. I don't know exactly. It's only idle talk."

Western security agents say it Is more than idle talk and that Canada, especially Montreal, is rife with KGB agents.

"The Soviets feel more secure in Canada than in the United States," a contract operator for several Western intelligence services said. "This is where a lot of KGB agents come to get groomed before moving on to more sophisticated espionage and subversive operations in the United States."

The operator, who said he had done numerous jobs worldwide for the CIA in the last 20 years, spoke on condition he not be identified by name.

He described Montreal as "a major center for clandestine KGB activities involving espionage, subversion, terrorist training and communications with enemy agents."

The KGB's primary target is always the United States, he said. "They like Montreal because they can communicate easily with their U.S.-based agents from here. It's very easy for them to cross the border over I-87 using phony identities."

The Soviet sensitivity about their Canadian operation was never so clear as on a wintry day last month when they let their consulate burn rather than admit Montreal firefighters.

The result was a gutted three-story building and a very public suggestion that there was more going on inside than arranging tourist visas.

When the minor electrical fire erupted Jan. 14, consulate officials barred firemen for 15 minutes while they removed documents. When firemen were finally allowed onto the grounds, they attempted to break out some third-floor windows to make way for their hoses — only to find them bricked up from the inside.

And when the firefighters were admitted to the structure, they were still refused access to certain rooms.

Afterward, Soviet embassy official Igor Lobanov blunted questions about spying: "I won't say anything about that."

And the bricked up windows? "Redecoration."

And the documents that were more precious than the building? Shrugged Lobanov: "You know, Western embassies in Moscow don't keep copies of Playboy magazine in their files."

What the West had was a tacit admission of what It has known for years — that the KGB was running a very active operation out of Montreal.

Canadian security sources, for instance, said the third floor of the consulate contained a microwave communications center that maintained contact with agents in the Washington-New York-Boston areas. A rooftop satellite dish concealed in a wooden shed monitored phone calls to and from the U.S. and British consulates and U.S. defense contractors in Montreal.

The bricks in the third-floor windows likely were to block the laser microphones of Canadian agents trying to record Soviet conversations, a Canadian counter-Intelligent specialist said.

Jean-Louis Gagnon, a spokesman for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service — Canada's counterintelligence equivalent of the American FBI — acknowledges Montreal is "an important area" for foreign espionage.

Montreal-area companies do research and build weapons systems for NATO and the U.S. Defense Department.

Of the $145.9 billion in defense contracts signed by Defense in fiscal 1986, $644.6 million went to Canadian companies.

"Those are classified materials that would logically be of interest to those people (KGB)," Gagnon said. "Montreal is an important area for our counterintelligence operations."

One reason the KGB might feel more secure operating out of Canada is CSIS's modest 1985-'86 budget of $82 million and its small number of employees - 1,800. It is not known how many of those are actual counterintelligence agents.

A Canadian External Affairs department official said there are 33 Soviet diplomats in Canada (in Montreal and Ottawa) with about another 30 support staff.

Some diplomats believe Canada is a staging area for KGB operations throughout North America.

Four years ago defector Arkady Shevchenko, former Soviet ambassador and undersecretary to the United Nations, said in an interview that "Canada has never been taken as a minor power (by the Soviets); it is seen as one of the most Important countries of the West .... If they can divide Canada and the United States, it would be considered a great achievement."

Before he came to power two years ago, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said Soviet spies were so thick in Canada that "you and I both stumble into KGB agents in Ottawa every day of the week."

Since 1978, 21 Soviet diplomats have been expelled for their involvement In intelligence activities.