The Current

Chrystia Freeland a target of Russian intelligence operation, says expert

Mark Hosenball says his U.S. intelligence sources think Russian intelligence targeted Chrystia Freeland, following the pattern seen in other Western politicians.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, one of Canada’s most public defenders of Ukraine, says she's the target of a Russian 'smear campaign.' (Todd Korol/Canadian Press)

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In the wake of an onslaught of allegations from pro-Kremlin websites about her Ukrainian-born grandfather's Nazi sympathies, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland warns that Canada should expect more disinformation from Russia.

The stories report that Freeland's maternal, and long-dead, grandfather edited a Ukrainian-language pro-Nazi newspaper during the Second World War.

The story initially spread on pro-Russia websites. 

Freeland is among 13 Canadians banned from entering Russia since 2014, in retaliation for Canadian sanctions against the country. (Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

When asked by a journalist whether the story was a Russian smear campaign, Freeland said that "it is public knowledge that there have been efforts, as U.S. intelligence sources have said, by Russia to destabilize the U.S. political system. I think that Canadians, and indeed other Western countries, should be prepared for similar efforts to be directed at us."

Canadian journalists Justin Ling, features editor with Vice News, told The Current that he'd been made aware of the story during a conversation with the Russian Embassy in Canada following Freeland's appointment as foreign minister.

He says he didn't publish the report then because he "didn't think this was an important story to tell."

Reuters investigative journalist Mark Hosenball has been working on this story, and talking to U.S. intelligence contacts.

"[They believe] this is part of a propaganda campaign by Russia to embarrass, discredit, possibly intimidate Chrystia Freeland," Hosenball tells Anna Maria Tremonti.

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, former senior intelligence manager with CSIS, says this harkens back to the Soviet propaganda of the Cold War era.

The work of journalism is under siege because this is pure propaganda technique.- Michel Juneau-Katsuya

But David Pugliese, who covers military affairs for the Ottawa Citizen, and has been working on this story, argues the focus should be less on Freeland's grandfather's past and more on her handling of the stories.

He believes that Freeland and her staff should not have avoided the question when first asked about it by journalists.

"If they had just said, yeah, he was a Nazi collaborator, Miss Freeland has nothing to do with that, it probably would have ended right then and there," he tells Anna Maria Tremonti.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal and Steph Kampf.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.