Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another archivist busted for selling stolen documents on eBay

I am following several stories of runagates this week, most of them thieves or spies, (essentially the same thing) which may become Blog articles. The case of Daniel D. Lorello, a 54 year old archivist living in Rensselaer, N.Y. is rather interesting, but certainly not unique. Lorello is a thief, but he's an educated thief, and that is a telling distinction. That breed rarely gets caught. Lorello has been a New York state employee since 1979, working in archives and enjoying unrestricted access. How long he has been stealing rarities from the Manuscripts and Special Collections in the New York State Library in Albany, remains unknown. In his voluntary written statement he admitted to beginning stealing "about" 2002.

I say that the Lorello case is not unique because there have been several well publicized examples of thefts by privileged insiders, especially from the massive National Archives in Washington. For example, who can forget the infamous thefts from NARA by a man with Top Secret security clearance - Sandy (Socks) Berger, a former National Security Advisor to Pres.William Jefferson Clinton. Berger was given VIP treatment by the archives staff - a private office to "research" in. Their courtesy allowed Sandy to steal documents by putting them inside his well elastized socks. [I posted his photo last year.] Celebrity thieves usually don't get punished of course. Our local exception was the Vancouver M.P. (a clever lad from Minnesota) Svend Robinson. Svend had the tragic misfortune to get caught the very first time he stole something; it was an expensive diamond ring. Still, it was public opinion and not our criminal courts which punished the wayward parliamentarian. Mr. Daniel Lorello, who co-authored a book on Civil War archives and occasionally lectures, is not famous enough to avoid a judge's sentencing.

The reason the Lorello thefts were given any attention at all was because giant eBay Inc. is embarrassed by the frequency with which its websites worldwide are being used to fence stolen archives and antiquities. This time around the online auction house offered to pay compensation to buyers who bought from Mr. Lorello, so that material would be quickly returned to Albany without triggering protracted battles over their possession. eBay has records of $68,000 in sales registered to Lorello, and will give buyers their money back. Lorello's annual base salary is $72,000, so clearly he had developed a very lucrative criminal sideline.

So far I have not been stung by an eBay seller, but I did come close early last year. Initially I was excited when an Ontario seller offered a few obscure items that would enhance the book I was then writing. The documents were preWW1 ephemera once owned by a University of Toronto medical student. When I realized the seller had set up a dummy account to bid up all the items in her eBay "store", I challenged her on it. Naturally she got hostile, so I dropped the email conversation. A few days later she admitted that eBay had cancelled her vendor account and asked if I would complete the purchase anyway. Fat chance!

I have made something of a hobby of compiling examples of theft from museums and archives over thirty years, some of which are boastful anecdotes collected from cocky contacts. It's a fascinating topic and though I've been tempted from time to time to intervene, to do so would be a suckers' game. It is to risk making enemies of staff at the very institutions where you might later seek goodwill for your own research project. ( In one messy NARA theft case just a few years back, over thirty librarians and archivists wrote letters of support for a greedy thief who had been caught red handed. The lesson is that folks with university degrees can close ranks as tightly around a friend as do teamsters.) The majority of Canadian archivists are true watchdogs for heritage, but the one time I informed on a thief to the National Archives in Ottawa, I felt my complaint was blown off. Theft, especially of "old stuff" as some people term it, is not a big deal in this country. And if our courts will not punish, it's pointless to accuse. In the U.S. though, theft from archives is a bigger story.

Lorello sold many stolen documents and photos with ease, but this 1823 letter, signed by South Carolina politician and Vice President, John C. Calhoun, finally tripped him up. It had been referenced in a published work, and an honest eBay bidder blew the whistle.

N.Y. State employee Daniel Lorello, holds a Masters Degree in History and is a recognized authority on Civil War records. This photo, showing him in cuffs, is from his arrest record.

The Lorello book mentioned in news reports, is currently listed on eBay. Ironic perhaps. At least one Civil War photograph collector, who purchased three stolen CDVs from Daniel Lorello, has returned the state owned property.
Lorello was a clever thief but I would emphasize that he was caught by an equally well educated citizen. The whistle blower attorney and former history professor, Joseph Romito. The concerned attorney tried to deal directly with Lorello's employer, to prevent the completion of the illegal sale on eBay. Romito had to be extremely insistent in order to get the authorities to move on making an arrest. My reading of online debate on this case tells me there are reasonable demands by the victimized, that publicity of this prosecution result in major institutions becoming more responsive to the massive problem of heritage theft.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ousted Tory M.P. handed Mulroney Cabinet secrets to the Russians

KGB/SVR agent Sergei Tretyakov speaks at KGB headquarters in 1998. (Putnam photo)

Imagine you are a well established book author and you are approached by the F.B.I. They praise your work, and offer you exclusive access to a trove of unpublished material delivered by a Russian defector. The senior agent, who had run all of Russian Intelligence gathering in New York including operations at the United Nations, had capped his career with two perilous years as a double agent for the F.B.I. The Russian has already been debriefed, his stories vetted, and he is available for interview. How do you respond?
Now imagine that you are a member of the Canadian establishment; It doesn't matter which tier - Parliament... the Civil Service... the News Media. Reporters call and inform you that an AMERICAN writer has just published a book which, among other revelations, contains profiles of five Canadians who aided the Soviets or the succesor to the KGB - the Russian SVR . You haven't read the book but you know such stories have a very short shelf-life and you want a piece of it. What do you do? Of course you do what is expected of you - attack the source... the defector, the author and the book.

Incumbant M.P. Alex Kindy campaigning in Calgary, 1988. Though born in Warsaw Kindy's profile reflected his roots. He was a staunch Ukranian nationalist. A new book entitled "COMRADE J" alleges Kindy took Russian cash for informing on the Tory Caucus.

"Comrade J" is based on 125 hours of recorded interviews with Sergei Tratyakov and exclusive access to FBI counter intelligence officers.

The book is called Comrade J: the Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War. The National Post claims the book is "blockaded at the border" but I just checked Amazon. ca and found it available. The author, Pete Earley, is a New York Times best-selling author who has written books on American traitors Aldrich Ames and John Walker, Jr. He is certainly qualified to analyse and explain a story of this magnitude.

As a former Reform Party activist (and never a Tory) I continue to be interested in leaks from the drum-tight secretive world of subversion and influence peddling in Canada. This new book, published by G.P. Putnam's, alleges that in 1992 Moscow was interested in getting Parliamentarian Alex Kindy to provide details on “various intrigues inside the Canadian Parliament and government. This was intimate information about his colleagues and also details about international manoeuvres that were going on.” He was approached at a Ukranian-Canadian function and a Russian agent made the pitch. It does not say Kindy betrayed Canada. It alleges that he turned on his former cronies in the Conservative Party, several of whom had previously been scuppered as they attempted to build profile by crafting a major "friendship" overture between the government of Brian Mulroney and the Kremlin. The claim is that enough information was delivered by Kindy that it filled more than 100 cables to Moscow.

Much has been made in news reports since Thursday, of Alex Kindy's expulsion from the Tory caucus in 1990, because of his vociferous objection to the imposing of the G.S.T. That is hardly the point. Kindy was on the outs with the Tories long before that. Case in point: pick up a copy of Richard Cleroux's book OFFICIAL SECRETS, published in 1990. It's the story of the creation of C.S.I.S. and its troubled early years. Chapter 9 deals with the Sofonov investigation and the attempt, in 1986, by Tory insiders to set up Parliamentary friendship group designed to show those Americans just who had the inside track with the Soviets, and give the MPs plenty of junketing opportunities. "Then disaster struck. Calgary Tory MP Alex Kindy, a practising psychiatrist of Ukranian descent, and Toronto Tory MP Andrew Witer, a staunch supporter of a number of self-styled Ukranian "Freedom Fighter" associations, attacked the idea of any kind of parliamentary rapprochment with the Russians. Mysteriously, information travelled to a number of right-wing ethnic and emigre associations in Canada, along with the names and photocopies of the signatures of the two dozen MPs who had signed the friendship club charter." Cleroux connects all the dots but two. He leaves it to readers to decide who distributed unmarked manila envelopes and blind faxes.

Comrade J makes the allegation that Kindy took payment in 1992-93, while a sitting MP. $10,000 plus $5,000 plus $5,000 from an operative working for Tretyakov. It doesn't claim Kindy reneged on his life long opposition to the Soviets. Russian Communism had already disintegrated. It does say that he informed on his old colleagues in the Conservative Party, and he was tape recorded accepting cash. The point is that he was already in the cold, facing the Tory machine in Calgary, and the rise of the Reform Party (which took his riding). In 1993 he tried to run as an Independant and lost. If any man ever felt he had the moral authority to toss a hand grenade among the Tories, it would have been Alex Kindy in 1992.

Before going to press, author Earley gave Kindy access to the allegations. His silence was deafening. Since the story broke Kindy has remained silent. His son claims he is ill, but that is the extent of the family response so far. If he has been ill used, Kindy must demand a retraction.

This from a review by David Wise - "Tretyakov, who had been assigned to the Russian mission at the United Nations since 1995 and to Ottawa before that, gave the FBI 5,000 secret SVR cables and more than 100 Russian intelligence reports, according to one U.S. intelligence official cited by Earley. Tretyakov apparently first tried to defect around 1997 but agreed to remain as an "agent in place," passing secrets to the FBI until October 2000, when he vanished from a Russian residential compound in the Bronx with his wife, daughter and cat. Four months later, the United States acknowledged his defection, but Comrade J (the title is drawn from the KGB's code name for Tretyakov, Comrade Jean) is the first account of his espionage career. "It is one of our biggest success stories," puffed the unnamed U.S. intelligence official."

The Calgary Herald made a lukewarm attempt to cover the story - gathering a few rebuttal comments from those who knew Kindy, back when, but asking not a single hard question. You'll find the January 31 Herald story here. The fact that the F.B.I. have a complete archive of the Soviet and later SVR cables prepared in Ottawa by Tretyakov and his agents, may be the reason that Kindy has clamed up.

Comrade J can be freely purchased from Amazon. ca or Chapters/Indigo. Tantor Audiobooks offers an eleven hour audion version of the book here, which can be delivered by post. National Public Radio (NPR) in the U.S. has an interview and also posts a lengthy extract from the book.

Update: It's been two weeks since this story broke in Calgary, Mr. Kindy's last hometown. He has issued no rebuttal, nor has the local press chased after him. We are left to assume that COMRADE J is 100 % correct on Kindy at least. That news won't add a single button to your TV remote, but some of us prefer to open the back of the watch, and observe the tiny gears and levers which run this country.