Mission Possible: Find A Missing List of Spies

Reporter's wife questioned after a friend found a computer disk in Canada

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Life does imitate art sometimes. And in the case of the two spies who came to visit my wife the other day while she was baking banana bread, this seems to be what happened.

First, the "art" in this case is the recent film "Mission Impossible," in which actor Tom Cruise breaks into the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters to filch a computer disk loaded with a top-secret list of all American spies working overseas.

Now for the "life" part. Here in Toronto, the quiet big city with a well-deserved reputation for clean streets, a list of what appeared to be foreign agents working for the Canadian intelligence service somehow ended up on a scuffed 3.5-inch computer disk in a downtown phone booth.

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A friend of my wife's, whose name I would like to protect, found the disk while making a call. Figuring it was lost, he made a small sign with his phone number saying he had found the disk in case its owner came looking for it. Days passed with no calls.

Curious and losing patience, my wife's friend took the disk home and put it into his computer to see what might be on it.

He was not prepared for what popped up: a long, detailed list of names, locations, and sundry information about people working in Bosnia and elsewhere overseas. References to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS, or Canada's version of the CIA) also appeared in the document.

Someone's joke probably, he thought at first. Still, it looked real. That's when my wife's friend had to tell someone.

Like any good Canadian, he called the CSIS right away to report it. Soon a man stopped by his office and had him click open the file right there. Ashen-faced, the agent left the building in a hurry, taking the disk with him.

Shortly afterward, my wife walked into the friend's office. In the flush of excitement, he spilled the beans. Later, my wife told me about the incident. Too bad, I muttered. No disk, no news story. Just a big fish tale.

Then it happened. Three weeks later, a spy called my wife at 10 a.m. and asked to interview her. She wanted to come by our apartment, where I also keep my office.

Based on the two agents who came by, I must conclude that the CSIS has the most polite spies in the world. Angela Jones, wearing a dignified woman's business suit, and H.N. "Harry" Southern in a blue business suit, both politely identified themselves with their credentials at the door. He announced that Ms. Jones was head of internal security and that he was her "boss." (I suspect she was his boss, actually.)

With the agents comfortably seated on our couch, the scent of baking bread in the air, my wife asked what the fuss was about. Mr. Southern said it was a "very, very serious" matter. The disk her friend picked up did indeed have "classified material" on it, he said. It all might lead to a police investigation, he said.

Then my wife told them both everything she knew. Simply what I have recounted here. We were both surprised the pair never asked my wife who else she had told about what we now call the "phone-booth-disk affair."

At one point, my wife said solicitously that she hoped nobody would lose their job over the missing disk. Both agents said they hoped not, too.

Finally, Southern asked my wife what I did for a living. Both spies seemed extremely interested when she told them I was a newspaper reporter. But neither spy asked her to keep her knowledge of the affair confidential.

A minute or two later, following chitchat about the weather, the pair were out of the door and into their metallic-green Chrysler sedan. They sat there for a few minutes. I suppose they were pondering their next move - or maybe just whether to come back and ask for a slice of banana bread.

*Laura Clayton contributed to this article.

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