SPY-SPOTTING FOR FUN AND PROFIT
Lev Grigorevitch Khvostantsev had always been referred to as "the Commie Spy, since the day we met at a conference in New Hampshire in June 1976. We thought we were joking! He really “came on strong” at that conference -vodka flowed freely and he insisted on giving gifts to me and my colleagues.
This behaviour, which was accompanied by a request that he be permitted to come and work at our laboratory, seemed a little suspicious, but one is never sure what is normal behaviour for someone from a very different culture. A French scientist at the conference said that he thought Lev was a member of the KGB - Lev had spent a few months at a French research establishment - but that was taken as a joke. (Ha ha?)
Of course, we had no authority to agree to his request to work at the NRC (National Research Council of Canada, in Ottawa), but a couple of months later we learned that Lev had applied to the Council to work there as an exchange scientist, citing our meeting at the conference as evidence of his sincerity. It certainly seemed a reasonable request, as he was in high pressure research - the speciality of our section - although he was very insistent on working on a particular experiment which was not closely related to our usual work.
In late November, Lev arrived, with very little commotion, and seemed very friendly and open. Most suspicions were forgotten.
On Christmas Eve, our section held its Christmas luncheon, and instead of the usual wine, we drank two bottles of genuine Russian vodka, supplied by our friend. This drink was really rather good and not at all like the ethanol solution sold in most liquor stores, under the pseudonym of vodka.
After the lunch, I was preparing to go home when Lev asked if my wife and I would care to join him for dinner, over the Christmas break. That would have been difficult for us, so, , in the spirit of international camaraderie, (the spirit of vodka may have helped too,) I invited him to came to dinner at our home instead. He accepted, and presented me with a bottle of a Russian liquor called phiirn , which I believe is pronounced "Balsam".
On December 26th, as arranged, he arrived at our apartment, bearing gifts of a genuine Amber brooch for my wife and a bottle of Russian cognac, one of the best imitations of the real thing I have ever tasted. He was friendly and charming and talked about his family, back in the USSR. All in all, it was a very pleasant evening. We said he should come round again some time.
That was a mistake.