It turns out it was one Michael and another Michael
Espionage revelations don’t excuse China’s hostage diplomacy
Published Nov 18, 2023
Remember the Two Michaels? The Canadians who, amid a diplomatic spat with Beijing, were detained in China for several years for supposedly false charges of espionage? Well, according to a new bombshell report, it turns out that those charges may not have been false afterall. (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-spavor-kovrig-china-intelligence-background/)
According to The Globe and Mail, Michael Spavor is seeking a multimillion dollar settlement from the federal government for entangling him in espionage work without his knowledge. Spavor claims that he shared sensitive information with Michael Kovrig, who then, without Spavor’s consent, secretly passed it on to the Canadian government and its Five Eyes spy-service partners.
China arrested the two men for alleged espionage in late 2018, in a move that was widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. The federal government has since maintained that the espionage charges were baseless and that, by detaining the two Micahaels, Beijing was kidnapping innocent Canadians and engaging in hostage diplomacy.
中国于 2018 年底以涉嫌间谍罪逮捕了这两人，此举被广泛视为对加拿大拘留华为首席财务官孟晚舟的报复。此后，联邦政府坚称间谍指控毫无根据，并称北京通过拘留两名迈克尔，是在绑架无辜的加拿大人并进行人质外交。
The arrest of the Two Michaels tanked Sino-Canadian relations and damaged China’s credibility among Canada’s allies. Many wondered: if Beijing was willing to achieve its diplomatic goals by essentially kidnapping ordinary foreigners, what else might it be capable of?
We now know that the truth was more complicated than the Trudeau government let on.
Spavor operated a tourism business which was wildly successful at penetrating the North Korean market and allowed him to jet-ski and share cocktails with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s brutal dictator. It is unclear what exact information Spavor was granted access to through his work or what he shared with Kovrig.
Kovrig had historically worked in Global Affairs Canada in a diplomatic capacity, where he contributed to the Global Security Reporting Program (GSRP) before taking a leave of absence in 2017 to work at the International Crisis Group, an independent, non-governmental global think tank.
康明凯曾在加拿大全球事务部担任外交职务，为全球安全报告计划 (GSRP) 做出了贡献，然后于 2017 年休假前往独立非政府全球智库国际危机组织工作。
According to a 2022 parliamentary report, the GSRP is “a specialized diplomatic reporting program whose purpose is to collect information on security and stability in select countries abroad using overt diplomatic means.”
根据2022 年议会报告， GSRP 是“一项专门的外交报告计划，其目的是使用公开的外交手段收集有关国外选定国家的安全与稳定的信息。”
The program involves no secrecy and its officers “do not recruit sources or offer money, services or promises in exchange for information.” The GSRP instead directs diplomats to interview local contacts — “including government officials, journalists, academics and activists” — and then use these interviews to write reports containing information on “intelligence priorities or requirements not covered by other members of the security and intelligence community.”
该计划不涉及任何秘密，其官员“不会招募消息来源或提供金钱、服务或承诺来换取信息”。相反，GSRP 指示外交官采访当地联系人——“包括政府官员、记者、学者和活动人士”——然后利用这些采访撰写包含“安全和情报界其他成员未涵盖的情报优先事项或要求”信息的报告。 ”
Based on how the program is described, it appears relatively benign — diplomats engaging in quasi-journalistic work to fill in the gaps left by intelligence officers (who presumably are busy gathering more sensitive information). Although this research ultimately ends up with Canada’s intelligence community, it is debatable whether it constitutes spying, as it lacks the deception and secrecy generally associated with espionage. Does a diplomat become a spy simply because he is asked to openly interview local contacts?
Had Kovrig been actively employed as a diplomat at the time of his arrest, and had he passed along Spavor’s information in his capacities as a GSRP officer, the Canadian government’s assertions that he was not a spy would have been plausible. In fact, when the Globe contacted Global Affairs Canada on this issue, they were told by a spokesperson that Kovrig was not a spy precisely because the GSRP is “not a covert intelligence program.”
如果康明凯在被捕时是一名积极工作的外交官，并且他以 GSRP 官员的身份传递了斯帕弗的信息，那么加拿大政府关于他不是间谍的断言就会是合理的。事实上，当《环球邮报》就此问题联系加拿大全球事务部时，一位发言人告诉他们，康明凯不是间谍，正是因为 GSRP“不是一个秘密情报计划”。
But the situation is complicated because of Kovrig’s leave of absence and subsequent employment in a non-governmental global think tank.
The Globe reported that, according to a “highly placed source,” while the information Kovrig gathered in China was considered valuable by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, he was not an employee of theirs — so the think tank job does not appear to have been a front for other work.
Assuming that this is true, it is plausible that Kovrig passed along Spavor’s information under the assumption that, because he was following GSRP practices, this did not constitute espionage. If this is the case, then it appears that he made a mistake — the fact that he was no longer employed as a diplomat likely changed the nature of his actions.
假设这是真的，康明凯传递斯帕弗的信息似乎是合理的，因为他遵循了 GSRP 做法，因此这并不构成间谍活动。如果是这样的话，那么他似乎犯了一个错误——他不再担任外交官的事实很可能改变了他行为的性质。
No person who discloses sensitive information to a Canadian diplomat should expect that what they share will remain private — which means that, should that diplomat pass along this information to the intelligence community, no deception occurs. However, if this same information is shared with a Canadian working outside of government, who then quietly passes it along to old government contacts, a breach of trust occurs — there is deception, and possibly espionage.
Maybe this incident was caused by mistakes and misunderstandings. Maybe Kovrig thought his behaviour wasn’t espionage, when it was, which inadvertently made him vulnerable to arrest (and exposed Spavor to risk as well).
But this is all just speculation. We still know too little to confidently make sense of this debacle, and, as these new disclosures so poignantly show, things aren’t always what they seem.
None of this changes the fact that China engaged in hostage diplomacy.
In the end, though, the fact that this is all coming out now, after five years of insisting that China’s accusations were totally baseless, is terribly embarrassing for Canada. The federal government should have been transparent about the fact that, yes, China had some reasonable grounds to consider the Two Michaels spies, but that the men were still not the villains Beijing wanted them to be.
If the federal government was confident enough to tell China that Kovrig’s work fell under the auspices of the GSRP and therefore did not constitute espionage, then it should have been open with Canadians about this, too. This transparency would have put Canada in a weaker short-term negotiation position, while strengthening the country’s long term credibility.
如果联邦政府有足够的信心告诉中国，康明凯的工作属于 GSRP 的职责范围，因此不构成间谍活动，那么它也应该对加拿大人保持开放。这种透明度会在短期内削弱加拿大的谈判立场，同时加强该国的长期信誉。
Suggestion Kovrig, Spavor involved in espionage perpetuating ‘false narrative,’ GAC says after report
Published Nov. 18, 2023 3:59 p.m. EST
Global Affairs Canada (GAC) is dismissing the idea that formerly imprisoned Canadian Michael Kovrig was involved in espionage after a recent report alleged the nature of his work in China led to the detention of fellow citizen Michael Spavor.
加拿大全球事务部 (GAC) 否认了曾被监禁的加拿大人迈克尔·康明凯 (Michael Kovrig) 参与间谍活动的说法，因为最近的一份报道称，康明凯 (Michael Kovrig) 在中国的工作性质导致其同胞迈克尔·斯帕弗 (Michael Spavor) 被拘留。
On Saturday, the Globe and Mail reported that Spavor, who along with Kovrig was jailed in China for nearly three years, is seeking a multimillion-dollar settlement from Ottawa.
Citing two unnamed sources, the Globe reports that Spavor alleges he was detained because he “unwittingly” provided intelligence on North Korea to Canada.
The sources told the Globe that Spavor’s lawyer, John K. Phillips, alleges his client was arrested by China because of information he shared with Kovrig, which was later passed on to the Canadian government and its Five Eyes partners, without Spavor’s knowledge, as part of Kovrig’s diplomatic duties with the Foreign Affairs department’s Global Security Reporting Program.
消息来源告诉《环球邮报》称，斯帕弗的律师John K. Phillips声称，他的当事人之所以被中国逮捕，是因为他与康明凯分享的信息，后来在不知情的情况下被传递给了加拿大政府及其五眼联盟的合作伙伴，作为康明凯在外交部全球安全报告计划中的外交职责的一部分。
In a statement to CTV News, GAC spokesperson Pierre Cuguen said, “China’s arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was unjust and unacceptable.”
GAC 发言人 Pierre Cuguen 在给 CTV News 的一份声明中表示，“中国任意拘留斯帕弗和康明凯的行为是不公正且不可接受的。”
“As the PM noted in 2021, China’s conviction of Michael Spavor on charges of espionage were unfounded, and came after a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law,” Cuguen said.
“正如总理在 2021 年指出的那样，中国以间谍罪对迈克尔·斯帕弗定罪是毫无根据的，而且是在连国际法要求的最低标准都没有达到的审判之后进行的，”Cuguen说。
“Perpetuating the notion that either Michael was involved in espionage is only perpetuating a false narrative under which they were detained by China.”
GAC appears to have provided much of the same statement to the Globe in response to its reporting. The statement did not mention the reported settlement that Spavor is allegedly seeking.
“These two men went through an unbelievably difficult ordeal and every day of their arbitrary detention showed strength, perseverance, resilience and grace. They inspired all of Canada and as a country, we breathed a collective sigh of relief when they returned home,” Cuguen said.
“Since their release from arbitrary detention, the Government of Canada has remained committed to supporting them both to rebuild their lives following this difficult ordeal. Both men are free to speak about their experience of their arbitrary detention in China. Due to privacy considerations, no further information can be disclosed.”
Kovrig and Spavor, often referred to as “the two Michaels,” were arrested in December 2018 on allegations of espionage, a move considered to be retaliation for the detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the tech giant’s founder, in Canada on a U.S. extradition request.
China released the two men in September 2021, on the same day that the U.S. Justice Department reached a deal to resolve Meng’s criminal charges.