It's a rather small and infamous group, but navy Sub-Lt. Jeffrey
Paul Delisle isn't the first Canadian to be caught spying for the
Russians. He's not even the first one with connections to our province.
Delisle's decision to plead guilty to three espionage charges
brought back memories of a spy story I covered almost 25 years ago.
It was June 1988. At the time, I was a reporter working for the
CBC's The National in St. John's. My phone rang and when I answered, I
received one of those anonymous tips you usually only see in the
movies. The caller said I should get down to the courthouse. A Canadian
had been arrested and charged with being a Soviet spy.
I thought it was a prank call. I mean really - a Russian spy in
Newfoundland? Well, it wasn't a joke and what followed was a spy tale I
won't soon forget.
Stephen Joseph Ratkai, 25, a Canadian who grew up in
Nova Scotia and Hungary, had been caught in an elaborate double-agent
scheme run by the U.S. military.
It started when a U.S. navy lieutenant named Donna Geiger walked
on board a Soviet research vessel in St. John's harbour (those
"research" vessels had long been suspected of doing more spying than
scientific work) and announced she was ready to pass secrets to the
Geiger, who was working at the top secret U-S Naval base in
Argentia, Newfoundland, told the captain she was a disgruntled employee
tired of being passed over in a "male-dominated" navy. Geiger even
brought classified documents to prove she was serious. Two months later
she was told to meet a contact in the parking lot of the Hotel
Newfoundland in St. John's. She met her contact several times,
exhanging information for cash.
Geiger was a double-agent and eventually Stephen Joseph Ratkai was
arrested and charged with espionage. In February 1989, Ratkai pleaded
guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
It's a story that could play a key role in determining how much
time Jeffrey Delisle will spend in jail for his crimes. Lawyers and
judges always look to past cases - precedents - in determining an
appropriate sentence and Ratkai is one of the few Canadians to be
convicted of spying.
There are, of course, substantial differences in the two cases.
Stephen Ratkai was a civilian: by all accounts a troubled young
man looking for some excitement in his life. Sub-Lt. Delisle was a career navy man, someone with top level security clearance, a man our
government trusted with some of its most sensitive secrets. A trust he
willingly violated the day he walked into the Russian embassy looking
for his 40 pieces of silver.
Stephen Ratkai was sentenced to nine years in jail for his
foolhardy actions. It's quite likely Jeffrey Paul Delisle will be
facing a much longer prison term for his.