Former diplomat Brian McAdam's investigations into corruption cost him his job, and his health
Donna Jacobs Citizen Special
Monday, August 18, 2008
It's 3 a.m. and Brian McAdam is wide awake: No sense for this insomniac to lie in bed, mind racing along an old and disturbing track.
He brews the first of several strong mugs of Earl Grey tea -- to be followed by black coffees through the day. And, once again, from his Ottawa home office, he grapples with his own China Syndrome.
The 1979 box-office thriller The China Syndrome portrayed a U.S. nuclear reactor meltdown powerful enough to burn through the centre of the Earth to China.
Mr. McAdam did, indeed, have a meltdown -- though rather in reverse.
A seasoned, 30-year career Canadian diplomat, Mr. McAdam's assignments included London, Copenhagen, Barbados, Amman, Bangkok, Bogota, Dublin, Helsinki, Glasgow, Tokyo and, twice, Hong Kong.
His second Hong Kong posting, 1989 to 1993, as immigration control officer, included responsibility for southern China. He was tasked with protecting Canada from international people-smuggling rings, murderers and drug-smuggling, organized criminals from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong.
It was his last posting.
He discovered and painstakingly documented in more than 100 separate reports to his bosses in the Department of External Affairs infiltration and corruption at the Canadian consulate. And he investigated individual members of the Triads -- China's powerful, Communist Party-connected organized crime gangs -- to buy visas and smuggle its members and spies into Canada.
He worked closely with RCMP liaison officer Sgt. Garry Clement to identify Triad hitmen, violent refugee claimants, drug smugglers, money launderers, collectors on gambling debts and extortion money and their innocent-looking front companies.
Mr. McAdam says his first three reports paid off: He says he was the catalyst behind the law that enables Canada to prevent organized criminals from getting into the country, and that permits others to be deported.
It kept out 5,000 organized criminals, according to Immigration Canada's assessments, he says. "In addition, I stopped 2,000 illegal immigrants from getting to Canada, saving Canadian taxpayers at least $25,000 for each refugee claim -- or $50 million" during the busy days before China took over Hong Kong from the British in 1997.
In his many assignments, he had also trained airport personnel to use ultraviolet lights to reveal doctored passports and other documents. And, pre-Internet, he set up a highly-sophisticated electronic system for them to transmit images of questionable specimens.
I just kept going.
When Canada's Department of External Affairs staff read his first report, he says, "I was told people sucked in wind, shocked because they probably recognized some of the names they'd thought were upstanding Hong Kong businessmen.
"My first report was immediately leaked to media in Hong Kong and to someone in The Globe and Mail -- most likely leaked by people in the consulate."
The fallout was two-fold.
It made his confidential sources nervous. "I had phenomenal contacts in Hong Kong. I can't tell you who they were. I was bombarded with information by people wondering what Canada was doing -- being absolute fools allowing these people into their country."
And he started to get death threats.
"The first time quite shocked me. I was sitting in my office one night on the 24th floor of a modern office building. The phone rang. I thought it was going to be my wife.
"Instead, the person described what colour tie I was wearing, what colour suit I was wearing. He could read what was on my desk. He had to have had binoculars or a telescope. I was hoping the telescope wasn't attached to a gun."
Over the years, he says, "I was constantly intimidated and the more it happened, the more I knew I was doing the right thing. So I just kept going."
The corrupt courting of immigration officers had started early: "In the first two weeks after I arrived in Hong Kong, my wife and I were invited to the Happy Valley Race Track by a well-known businessman. He gave us little red packets. We opened them when we got home; each one had about $250.
"I was very disturbed by that and told my boss that I was going to return the money."
He was told to keep it, he says, not to offend the giver and gave it to charity.
When the RCMP later investigated, he says, they found at least 30 consular staff receiving these packets. "I was told it was in cash amounts of $1,000 -- and up -- for a staff member and for his or her spouse."
How many envelopes and how often?
He laughs: "That's the question -- that was just openers to see who was going to take bait."
The consulate had about 120 staff -- some local and some from Canada's Department of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs and International Trade).
"I made it known I was not prepared to accept any money," he says, "and I was very quickly ostracized."
He and RCMP Sgt. Clement kept writing reports on infiltration and corruption. By the end of Mr. McAdam's four-year posting, he says, "maybe three or four people among the Canadian staff would speak to me."
The 32 reports he sent Foreign Affairs in Canada, entitled Triads Entering Canada, "were received in Ottawa by total silence."
One day, "out of the blue," he says, the External Affairs Department personnel director invited him to return to Canada to start an organized crime unit.
"I was excited -- it was a continuation of the work I'd done with the Immigration department."
He returned in the summer of 1993, ill with pneumonia, to start up the new job. However, two days after arriving back to Canada, a longtime colleague paid him a nighttime visit in his hotel. He carried a warning.
He said Mr. McAdam was "very hated" by Foreign Affairs and Immigration for his work in exposing corruption. "He said my career was toast."
Shocked, Mr. McAdam went to his office early the next day to see what was going on.
The personnel manager there told him bluntly: "No one wants to work with you." She urged him to take a retirement package.
"I argued that they should be upset because a number of people were very incompetent and a number of people were obviously corrupted within the Canadian foreign service."
He says he asked to work for CSIS or the RCMP. She told him it was impossible and seconded him to Immigration where he worked on the Investment Program, which essentially sold visas to any business person who invested $150,000 in Canada.
"It was the worst program --so many flaws and so much corruption going on," he says. "I'd already discovered a lot of Canadian immigration investor programs were being exploited by members of Triads living in Canada. They made tens of millions of dollars from them.
"Many of Triads gained entry that way because $150,000 is a joke to them," he laughs. "That's what they give as a tip."
Immigration gave Mr. McAdam another task. One day, he went to see an acquaintance who, incredulous, informed him that that project had been finished weeks before.
That very day, in October 1993, it struck him like a lightning bolt: "I realized my career was over.
"I went home that night with an incredible weird feeling in my head. I could actually feel the chemical change in my brain." The next day he went to the doctor who told him to stop work immediately and warned him recuperation could take "maybe years."
Mr. McAdam says he knew nothing about depression. He could hardly believe neurotransmitters could shut down his muscle co-ordination and produce relentless headaches.
He harnessed his willpower expecting to heal fast with a crash course of therapy with psychologists and a psychiatrist -- paying some of the high hourly fees himself.
But it didn't work fast. "The depression had built up over four years. I defy anybody to work in an environment where your life is being threatened regularly, where you know everybody you're working with hates you."
One incident, he says, particularly disturbed him.
Among more than six of his reports that were leaked to the Chinese Triads was one about a major Triad figure who'd visited Canada 20 times.
"One day, my contact in the Hong Kong police department phoned me. He'd intercepted a phone call from Mr. X (a Triad kingpin) talking to someone in the Immigration Department in Ottawa.
"That person said to Mr. X: 'Don't worry about McAdam and what he's doing. We'll take care of him'."
Donna Jacobs is an Ottawa writer; her email address is email@example.com
© The Ottawa Citizen 2008