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The 'justifiable paranoia' of Igor Gouzenko's life in hiding

Even after living for decades in Canada, Igor Gouzenko feared for his safety and took precautions to protect himself.

Former Soviet cipher clerk always took precautions, disguised identity on television

In 1968, Igor Gouzenko speaks to CBC's The Day It Is about the reasons he hides his face from public view. 1:43
Igor Gouzenko still felt the danger of being a defector more than two decades after he walked out of the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa with a cache of stolen documents.

The papers he took with him proved a Soviet spy ring was operating in Canada and his subsequent sharing of those documents with the Canadian government in 1945 would open the West's eyes to the realities of the Cold War.

But his actions also made him a potential target and Gouzenko became a man who was looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life.

In March 1968, Gouzenko sat for an interview on CBC's The Day It Is. For the interview, he wore a mask — as he always did when appearing on television or in newspaper photographs. 

Interviewer Warren Davis asked him if his life would be at risk if he were to remove his mask (actually a full-face hood with holes cut out for the eyes) and let his face be shown on camera.

"Oh yes, definitely," said Gouzenko.

No doubt where he stood with Soviets

Few people knew Igor Gouzenko's true identity. 0:46

After his defection to the West, Gouzenko lived under an assumed name along with his wife and their family, which would eventually include eight children.

But Davis was skeptical that the Soviets would not have been able to determine Gouzenko's new identity and whereabouts after so many years.

Gouzenko admitted that was likely the case, but he still chose to be cautious.

Warren Davis is seen interviewing the late Igor Gouzenko (seen wearing a hood) on CBC's The Day It Is in 1968. (The Day It Is/CBC Archives)

"I assume, yes, and then I act more careful," said Gouzenko, who also said he had not the slightest doubt that Soviet authorities would like to see him killed.

Gouzenko said he watched what he said to his neighbours, who he hoped did not know his identity.

"Mind you, I don't talk to them about politics," he said.

At that point, his youngest children didn't know about their father's past either. His older children, however, were aware of who their dad was.

"They have to know," said Gouzenko, referring to his elder children. "In this sense, they are also helping me in a sense of protection — extra eyes, extra ears."

A 'justifiable paranoia'?

Fourteen years after his appearance on The Day It Is, Gouzenko died of natural causes, at age 63. 

Igor Gouzenko didn't show his face during interviews after his defection in 1945. (Associated Press)

"Like his life for the past 37 years, Gouzenko's death is shrouded in mystery," the CBC's Al Maitland told As It Happens listeners when news of Gouzenko's death emerged at the end of June in 1982. "The RCMP would reveal only that he is dead and already buried."

James  Dubro, a journalist who had got to know  Gouzenko in his later years, said the famous defector had been justified in his instincts about his personal safety.

"Some people might think it's paranoia and maybe it's justifiable paranoia," Dubro told As It Happens, after Gouzenko's death.  

"There was a case in the '60s where a Soviet intelligence officer admitted to trying to locate  Gouzenko's house on behalf of the KGB."
Igor Gouzenko, who died at age 63, lived out his final days with his family near Toronto. 8:17