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

Students cash in on awards for Legion Literary and Poster Contest

Chemainus branch rewards exceptional artistic work and writing

Snowy scenes

The white stuff makes a dramatic appearance

What happens in the Cowichan Valley when an earthquake strikes

When an earthquake does happen, will the Cowichan Valley be ready for it?

Winter storm warning now in effect for Island’s east coast

Environment Canada issues new weather warning late Wednesday afternoon

After cashing in on QB gambles, Chiefs and 49ers to clash in Super Bowl

KC beats Tennessee, San Francisco dispatches Green Bay to reach NFL title game

How to beat Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year

Multiple factors can play a role in seasonal depression, says Fraser Health psychiatrist

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

Victoria family focuses on ‘letting go, enjoying time together’ after dad gets dementia

Walter Strauss has developed an interest in music and now takes line dancing classes

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

Northern B.C. RCMP investigating alleged sexual assault in downtown Smithers

One person was transported by ambulance to hospital following RCMP investigation at Sedaz

UBC, Iranian-Canadian community create memorial scholarship in honour of victims

The Jan. 8 crash killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians

Disrespectful that Horgan won’t meet during northern B.C. tour: hereditary chief

Na’moks said he was frustrated Horgan didn’t meet with the chiefs

Most Read