The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on April 13, 2018. Declassified records show RCMP intelligence officials devised a secret Cold War plan to use a hidden briefcase camera to photograph Communists and Soviet Bloc officials travelling through Toronto’s airport. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Mounties eyed Cold War candid camera scheme, declassified documents show

The idea of snapping surreptitious images developed in late November 1964

RCMP intelligence officials devised a secret Cold War plan to use a hidden briefcase camera to photograph Communists and Soviet Bloc personnel travelling through Toronto’s airport, declassified records show.

The idea of snapping surreptitious images developed in late November 1964 when a member of the RCMP’s security and intelligence branch drafted a memo touting the possible help of a special police squad working at the bustling Toronto International Airport.

The squad, which included members of the provincial and Toronto police forces, kept tabs on the travel of prominent criminals, watching flights daily from 6 a.m. into the wee hours of the next morning.

“They operate a briefcase camera and have become adept in collecting very good photographs,” the RCMP memo said.

At the time, two decades before the birth of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP was responsible for monitoring suspected subversives and foreign spies.

In light of frequent air travel by leading Communist Party of Canada members, East Bloc embassy personnel and others of interest to the Mounties, the future co-operation of the airport squad “might prove rewarding,” and its members had already indicated a willingness to assist, the memo said.

The Canadian Press obtained details of the RCMP’s Photographic Sighting Program from Library and Archives Canada through the Access to Information Act. Some passages of the internal correspondence, though more than half a century old, were considered too sensitive to release.

Under the plan outlined in the 1964 memo, the Mounties would provide the airport squad with file photos of people of interest so members could keep their eyes peeled for them.

For instance, the RCMP memo said, a certain member of the Cuban consulate in Toronto often went to the airport to meet Cuban couriers and other officials visiting the Toronto area or heading to destinations in Canada or the United States.

Once the squad became familiar with the Cuban diplomat’s appearance, members could make note of his contacts and take surveillance photos of their own. RCMP sources working on immigration matters might then help identify the individuals he met.

Senior Mounties decided to run the concept by their counter-intelligence and counter-subversion officials.

One said the worth of such a program would be “marginal at best,” noting people of interest tended to fly through Montreal, not Toronto. Another said there were “no great advantages to be gained,” though there would be occasions when the squad’s services “could be of very definite value.”

In addition, an RCMP member involved in criminal investigations had been part of the airport squad on a trial basis for some time, and could help assess the merit of assisting with intelligence efforts.

A wary William Kelly, the RCMP’s director of security intelligence, agreed in March 1965 that the Mounties should work with the airport squad “only on an ad hoc basis, and if the member from our force has full control.”

Kelly saw potential benefits but also problems that “could prove fatal to our operation.”

Members of other police forces lacked knowledge of RCMP security procedures and policies, were not screened by the force and had taken no oath of secrecy related to intelligence work, he wrote.

Kelly said careful consideration must be given to details shared with squad members, adding the RCMP should ensure “that highly sensitive cases are not included.”

ALSO READ: Animals, house parties, manhunts: Top 10 most read stories across B.C. in 2019

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wheels in motion for mountain biking trail project near Clinton

Project to provide immediate employment while resulting in new trail on Jesmond Mountain

New wildfire springs up north of Clinton; lightning suspected as cause

Fire is not a flare-up of blaze that started on Aug. 1 near 51 Mile Creek

Financial assistance available for victims of flooding in TNRD

Government will pay 80% of eligible claims resulting from flood damage

Clinton RCMP looking for Citizens on Patrol program volunteers

Organizer hoping to have enough people to get program started in September

Free online course aims to keep care home residents, staff safe

Course gives basic COVID-19 information and safety procedures for visitors to protect the vulnerable

B.C. records 30-50 new COVID-19 cases a day over weekend, no new deaths

Many of those testing positive were identified by contact tracing for being linked to other confirmed infections

Five B.C. First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

Salmon arrive in larger numbers at Big Bar landslide

Arrival follows historic high-water levels that halted migration runs

Rent-relief program becomes new front in fight between Liberals, opposition

Opposition trying to draw parallels between decision to have Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. run program and the WE controversy

Ottawa sets minimum unemployment rate at 13.1% for EI calculation

Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July

$45K in donations received after couple’s sudden death in Tulameen

Sarah MacDermid, 31, and Casey Bussiere, 37, died August long weekend

Famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer brings movements of joy to Long Beach

Internet-famous dancer is exploring Vancouver Island, visiting the B.C. Legislature and more

Battle of Fairy Creek: blockade launched to save Vancouver Island old-growth

‘Forest Defenders’ occupy road to prevent logging company from reaching Port Renfrew-area watershed

Most Read