[ Colonel Nicolai Zabotin ]

Colonel Nicolai Zabotin, Unknown, 1944, Library and Archives Canada, PA-116421, Zabotin headed the GRU spy network in Canada


Honourable Mr. Justice Robert Taschereau
Honourable Mr. Justice R. L. Kellock





Igor Gouzenko

It was Igor Gouzenko who revealed the existence in Canada of a widespread conspiracy to obtain secret official information.

Gouzenko, who had been sent to Canada in June, 1943, with the official title of “civilian employee” of the Soviet Embassy at Ottawa, was the cipher clerk on the staff of the Military Attaché, Colonel [Nikolai] Zabotin.

On the night of September 5th, 1945, Gouzenko left the Embassy with a certain number of documents from his own office, including telegrams sent to Moscow, others received from Moscow, which he had enciphered and deciphered, as well as other documents made either by Russian officials of the Embassy or by other persons living in Canada. After having gone through the experiences detailed in Section X of this Report, Gouzenko eventually told his story to the R.C.M.P., who reported to the Canadian Government.

He has undoubtedly been a most informative witness and has revealed to us the existence of a conspiratorial organization operating in Canada and other countries. He has not only told us the names and cover names of the organizers, the names of many of the Canadians who were caught “in the net” (to employ the phrase used by the documents) and who acted here as agents, but he has also exposed much of the set-up of the organization as well as its aims and methods here and abroad.

There can be no doubt in our minds that these attempts, very often successful, to obtain here secret and confidential information cannot be qualified as casual or isolated. They are not merely the acts of over-zealous Soviet employees anxious to inform their own Government. The set-up of this organization in Canada is the result of a long preparation by trained and experienced men, who have come here for the express purpose of carrying on spying activities, and who have employed all the resources at their disposal, with or without corruption, to fulfill the tasks assigned to them.


[p. 14]

When Gouzenko came to Canada in June, 1943, he arrived with Colonel Zabotin who had the official title of “Military Attaché”. With them was Major [Alexander] Romanov, Zabotin’s secretary. Zabotin did not come here to inaugurate a system of espionage, but to continue and amplify the work of his predecessors.


[p. 17]

This organization, being the one for which Gouzenko was the cipher clerk, is the only one of the espionage systems which we have been able to investigate in detail, because it was in that branch of the Embassy only that Gouzenko had access to the documents.

[p. 19]



It seems, however, that several parallel under-cover systems, or networks, existed in Canada under the direction of members of the Soviet Embassy but independent and distinct from Zabotin’s (Red Army Intelligence) organization; and that these parallel systems, had and may still have their own under-cover agents operating in Canada.


Gouzenko told us: —

“...They (the Soviet Government) were trying to establish a Fifth Column in Canada. What transpired is only a modest or small part of all that is really here. You may have discovered fifteen men but it still leaves in Canada this dangerous situation because there are other societies and other people working under every Embassy, under every Consul in each place where there is a Consulate. It is just like a number of small circles. There are parallel systems of spies or potential agents.


[p. 20]

“[A]ccording to conversations between [Major Vsevolod] Sokolov and Zabotin I think they suspected that there existed a parallel military intelligence system, parallel to Zabotin’s. The same thing was true in the United States, according to a telegram I saw. [...]”

This system was apparently also directed by the Red Army Intelligence Headquarters in Moscow, but not through Col. Zabotin. Gouzenko testified that it was only, as it were, by accident that Zabotin learned of its existence in Canada, although Zabotin and his immediate colleagues had always been quite aware of the existence of some of the other parallel networks operating in Canada including that of the N.K.V.D. directed by [Vitali] Pavlov (A Second Secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa), with which we deal below.


[p. 21]

There had been several previous instances of friction between the parallel systems and particularly between Pavlov’s network and Col. Zabotin’s. Gouzenko said that such cases of friction often [arose] through efforts to “develop” the same agent [...]

One result of the irritation evidenced by Zabotin toward Pavlov, in his telegrams on the incident outlined above, was the receipt of simultaneous instructions by Zabotin and Pavlov from Military Intelligence Headquarters and N.K.V.D. Headquarters, respectively, that all disputes must be settled, and that there should be no more quarrelling between the various systems operating in Canada.

The N.K.V.D. System

There can be little doubt that the N.K.V.D. [the Soviet Department of Internal Affairs], previously called the O.G.P.U., and which is the secret political police of the Soviet Union, have a powerful organization in Canada. In the documents exchanged between Zabotin and The Director of the Military Intelligence Service in Moscow, which have been produced before us, the N.K.V.D. is mentioned by its cover-name The Neighbour.


[p. 23]

When Moscow asked Zabotin if he knew a certain “Norman” he answered that he did not. Then Motinov and Zabotin thought they had identified him; they asked Pavlov about the man they had in mind, and Pavlov said: —“Don’t touch Norman we work with him”. Zabotin then telegraphed Moscow: —“The Norman about whom you ask, we think is Norman Freed and ‘neighbours’ are busy with him”. Moscow did not answer this telegram.

While Gouzenko’s evidence and the documents establish the existence of the N.K.V.D. organization in Canada, we have been unable to ascertain the extent of its infiltration and the identity of its Canadian or other agents. We have, however, sufficient evidence to show that the N.K.V.D. system is parallel to, but entirely independent of and quite distinct from the military espionage network. Gouzenko stated in his evidence that the N.K.V.D. network was more extensive than that of Colonel Zabotin; that it had been operating much longer in Canada, and that it had several agents among members of the staff of the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, and was headed by Pavlov.


Source: Honourable Mr. Justice Robert Taschereau and Honourable Mr. Justice R.L. Kellock, Commissioners., "The Report of the Royal Commission," The Report of the Royal Commission (Ottawa: King's Printer, 1946), 11-23

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