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

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

Letter to the editor.
LETTER: New signs not a good use of RMI money

There are other more pressing things we need in Revelstoke

BC Transit is replacing older diesel buses in Revelstoke and the Shuswap with new light-duty gasoline buses. (Submitted/BC Transit)
BC Transit replacing buses in Revelstoke and Shuswap

The new light-duty buses will run on gasoline, replacing older diesel buses

Revelstoke Options for Sexual Health Clinic will be closed for two weeks. (Photo via Facebook)
Revelstoke OPT clinic closes temporarily due to spike in COVID cases

The clinic usually operates on Wednesday evenings

(File)
Jocelyn’s Jottings: What I stand for

I recently made a mistake. Though I strive to get it right… Continue reading

Grizzly.
Morning Start: Humans might be able to hibernate like bears

Your morning start for Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020

The Animal Food Bank is asking for donations as the pandemic continues and the holidays approach. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Okanagan Animal Food Bank in need of donations as pandemic continues

The Animal Food Bank provides food for any domestic pet in need

A colourful inflatable igloo is a new addition to Vernon Winter Carnival 2021, if the multi-day event can proceed amid health regulations. (Vernon Winter Carnival photo)
Vernon Winter Carnival still hoping to light up 2021 amid COVID-19

Event gets support from city in attempts to continue while navigating health regulations

B.C. Liberal interim leader Shirley Bond speaks to reporters from Prince George via Zoom conference, Nov. 24, 2020. MLAs are being sworn in for the legislature session this week, many of them also by video. (B.C. legislature)
B.C. Liberal leadership contest will wait for election post-mortem

Interim leader set to face NDP on payments for COVID-19

McDonald’s at 155 Hollywood Road N in Kelowna. (Contributed)
Kelowna McDonald’s reopens after closure due to COVID-19 exposure

The restaurant shut down on Monday for a thorough cleaning and sanitization after a staff member tested positive for the virus

Landmark GRand 10 Cinemas in Kelowna, B.C. (Contributed)
New COVID-19 protocols temporarily close Okanagan theatres

Kelowna Cineplex and Landmark 10 are part of the latest health regulations in limiting events

Product Care offers more than <a href="http://link.mediaoutreach.meltwater.com/ls/click?upn=pDYyTceU0YgTDdsd92GohdQJsmSiPFEkcB4MdMM0Qkoqb1aJA-2By5aWklKJXV6QRdyTteNjr2FccUOVLUe4t5Zw-3D-3D1ds-_KVyBcpjXADXifSWVpM8nQcAzSm9-2B6fEFnjVrTsOcu31irDHDxi5k0QTOIWCqMXUxaNbrf0yRzXSSpROCkfx3NkUtbr65Dkcw1J0by-2F-2BDdDiJGbcfhtjHWYSs66NwakeCCLYkj20e9ICIZsLcedqNZKBhsN0sGgBsInpdzsddYikUZkmQvFdxLJhakpgAA6aAJ5ScUoWR6vO9sM819vRB-2F6x7dsdfIaWa4ZgHxR4G7hauxgSJCsNI2bP5J62EFfM0aiDqRPwUPUjt7i5-2FMqpdJxrEBewnLky-2B3lE0JAmi5UsJBkJejuLOjsndZz4b7dNgbvt6KyewKuF0sxU2rpYgkAO9YAKc9STuFJd28Qn7jE0-2FqlB8HKOvpW150NHS-2BOMBcK5rkZ8YAuPqJy11k-2BgndiKB-2FWl2icAfbWtRGJPb8fM-3D" target="_blank">150 free drop-off locations</a> in B.C. (Pixabay.com)
Recycling broken or burnt string lights can reduce holiday landfill waste

In 2019, Product Care Recycling diverted more than 11.6 million light bulbs from landfills

(Firedog Photography)
Family rescued from Peachland area after spending night in a truck

The family was off-roading when their truck battery died and became stranded

The Vernon Towne Theatre and Galaxy Cinemas are closed under the latest pandemic protocols. (File photo)
COVID-19 closes North Okanagan movie theatres, again

Galaxy Cinemas and Towne Theatre part of latest health regulations in limiting events

Most Read