With the silence of Michael Spavor finally being ended by his lawyer announcing he was suing for “millions of dollars”, those within the foreign North Korean academic and news community have also slowly been opening up about their thoughts on the matter.
Yet while there is certainly no one-size-fits-all response to what people think about the case, the overall attitude seems to be mixed between a sort of feeling of betrayal to those who stuck by him, as well as severe skepticism about the allegations he was brought.
What is Spavor alleging?
Embarrassingly for the government of Canada he is suggesting that his co-defendant Michael Korvig was actually a spy and that Spavor was “duped” into giving him information that was then used for spying, as previously reported by Eastern Angle.
And while this case has often rankled many of the left in Canada about what the “deep state” was doing to poor Spavor, those within the community are treating his case with the utmost skepticism. And the reasons for this are that if what is saying is indeed true then far from being “duped” he was at best stupid and naive and at worst behaving like a spy regardless of if he was being paid or not.
North Korea and spies
With North Korea being so isolated from the world, as well as so famously controlling and unwelcoming to foreigners it is generally considered quite hard for the intelligence community to get accurate information about the country.
Quite ironically this leads to those doing business in the country, particularly those involved with tourism often being the most knowledgeable about the inner workings of the country and thus “popular” among intelligence types.
As previously stated by Felix Abt, embassy staff and other shadowy figures are known to invite you to dinner, play golf, or whatever else to have a “friendly” chat. And of course, people deal with this in different ways, which go across a spectrum from not talking to them at all, all the way to the other end, taking the dinners, going to the meetings, and generally reveling in the attention.
It is generally known that Spavor fell well into the later camp on this, not only taking the free dinners but also seemingly reveling in the attention and importance that was afforded to him.
And the allegations of impropriety do not end there, with rumours of relationships with female Chinese military officials, as well as a not-so-clean record regarding his relationship with the Koreans when he was running Paektu Cultural Exchange.
Was Spavor a spy?
And this is where we get to the crux of the matter and indeed one where the legal element will come into play. Was Spavor a spy, or was he indeed as he claims an unwitting duped accomplice, also known in the trade as a “useful idiot”?
To answer this we also have to ask the questions “What is a spy” and “What is spying”, of which there really are no clear boundaries or definitions. If it is someone who is paid money to share information about a foreign government, it would appear that Spavor was not a spy.
If though it is someone who shares sensitive information about a country that is then used as intelligence and that person receives payment in kind through being treated to expensive dinners and having doors opened to him that would otherwise remain closed, then yes Spavor was indeed a spy.
And this is where the question of common sense and judgment cannot simply be ignored. If Spavor was knowingly sharing information deemed useful to someone he knew to have previously worked for the government of Canada then he either knew what he was doing, or was extremely stupid in doing so.
And it is this later point that has made the academics and members of the DPRK expat community extremely dubious about his recent claims. Many are now stating that indeed he was probably a spy, but one not smart enough to actually get paid for his work, unlike the “other Michael”.
Sadly perhaps we will be unlikely to see how this plays out, with many feeling that an embarrassed Canada will likely settle out of court. Spavor himself will then most likely become very wealthy under the provision that he keeps his mouth shut. Whether he then decides to pay back the money that was raised for him is yet to be seen.
One thing is for sure though, he is unlikely to be going back to China, or indeed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) any time soon.