In one of the most entertaining blog posts of 2019, historian and writer Greg Nesteroff shares the story of Bill Lane, an undercover FBI agent sent to the Slocan Valley to ferret out counter-culture radicals. Maybe you met him?
Greg Nesteroff is one of our favourite storytellers in British Columbia’s West Kootenay region. He’s always unearthing fascinating tales about everything from elephants on the pass between Rossland and Grand Forks to Nelson’s international lacrosse team of the early 1900s.
Our favourite, though, is his post from earlier this year about an undercover American special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who was assigned to the Slocan Valley in 1973 to infiltrate a supposed underground movement and report back to his superiors about radicals. His name was Cril Payne but when he lived in the West Kootenay he went by Bill Lane. He had long hair, lived in his van, hung out with a woman named Karen for a time, stayed for a week at the Wild Horse Commune in Ymir and attended a music festival. Perhaps you met him?
Payne wrote a book about his experience during his time with the FBI called Deep Cover: An FBI Agent Infiltrates the Radical Underground and recounts his time in the West Kootenay and elsewhere searching for members of the Weathermen, a militant organization that took responsibility for various bombings at US government buildings.
In his post Nesteroff recounts one aspect of Payne’s story when he is pulled over by the RCMP soon after he arrives in the West Kootenay. It’s funny because he later learned the cop thought he was suspicious because he seemed too deferential to authority. Nesteroff writes: “It’s the funniest part of a book that doesn’t have many funny parts. While the van was littered with drugs, they tried to be as polite as possible, and after Payne’s driver’s license was run through the FBI’s database and came back clean, they were free to go. Payne later learned:
When Karen and I had been stopped by the RCMP officer in Slocan Park, he had checked my identification through the NCIC computer. Though the officer received a routine reply that I was not ‘wanted,’ all hell broke loose at FBI headquarters. The Revolutionary Activities Section of the Domestic Intelligence Division was immediately notified that the RCMP had inquired about the fictitious identity of a deep cover operative in Canada. Red Alert! What’s gone wrong? Was he arrested? Is he in jail? Did he have an accident? Frantic calls from the Bureau to Seattle. Seattle ordered to contact Special L immediately and find out what was going on … It was a bureaucratic nightmare.”