When Canada Learned It Had Spies
October 30, 2015 2:28 PM   Subscribe

"Unknown even to the majority of parliament, by 1972 the CBNRC had grown to employ some 600 people—slightly smaller than the Department of Justice, and about half the size of the Canadian Forces unit for military signals intelligence. Every successive federal government vehemently denied that Canada engaged in any international espionage, while the CBNRC secretly helped to fight and even escalate the Cold War."
posted by the man of twists and turns (4 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
This was fascinating, thank you!
posted by sadmadglad at 4:10 PM on October 30, 2015

And another thank-you from me.
posted by sardonyx at 9:51 PM on October 30, 2015

Funny how completely I've never even heard of that. It sounds a little like the Snowden leak of its day. As now, every attempt was made to ignore, deny, and then excuse black and white revelations of dangerous, undemocratic government behaviour that should have created deep enough outrage to cause real reform. Instead it's been almost forgotten. Frightening to think of history repeating itself.
posted by blue shadows at 3:18 AM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

“by August 1973 it was felt that the unclassified cover story for CBNRC left something to be desired.”

They were lacking a few of the modern verbs that would accurately characterize the situation: The Canadian government got woodward-bernsteined, but not deep-throated. But in those days we hadn't yet limbered up enough to have a sense of humor about this.

We older old farts may remember the turmoil of the times, rather like white-water rafting in a paper boat. Our presidents were being shot, our Vice Presidents were polysyllabic mumblers, our Attorneys General were nattering nabobs of obfuscation, and the their wives were being assassinated by blowing up their aircraft. We had not yet learned to distrust the galloping rumor factory, and our children were having to choose between their square parents, a bitter counterculture, and spending at least a year in a steaming jungle shooting kids from a country only a few could find on the map. Canada, we remember, was a haven for American dissidents of lesser resolve. It offered them a third choice, if they didn't want to go to war or jail. It was a pleasant alternative, having only a few drawbacks of the Alice's Restaurant type. Or so it seemed at the time. Anyhow, the Canadians only wanted to know whether you came across their border without any money. Back home we were normalizing the idea that American National Guardsmen can be called out to shoot students...not whether it was a good policy, but whether the students, by their behavior, asked for it.

By 1971 we already knew that Big Brother was watching us, so it didn't raise any eyebrows to know that our Big Cousin was also looking through the keyhole. Our great fear then was the takeover of the world by godless commies. Really. This worried us officially much more than the prospect of nuclear holocaust--and (this is true, but fantastic) we officially ignored China, the real China, which was the largest commie country in the world at that time. Imagine that. We spent all of our defense budget on fighting commies, and chose to pretend that half of them didn't exist. I would be remiss if I failed to mention sex, drugs, and Rock And Roll, but I don't believe it's necessary to elaborate.

So. It was leaked to the public that the Canadians, too, have a classified counterpart to NSA, KGB et al. Hardly a spike in the field, I would say. Not that it wasn't significant, but at the time we had other fish to fry. See, kiddies, this is what your grandfathers have handed down to you. Well, that and global warming. Sorry about that.
posted by mule98J at 11:18 AM on October 31, 2015

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