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

An Abbotsford man was killed in a motor vehicle accident on Highway 3 on Monday, Jan. 18. (Black Press file photo)
Abbotsford man killed in Highway 3 single vehicle crash near Hedley

Fatality was discovered by passing tow truck driver

(Black Press file photo)
Highway 3 cleared, open after vehicle incident

The road was closed for about three hours earlier on Jan. 18

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

A map released by the BCCDC on Jan. 15 shows the number of new COVID-19 cases reported for each local health area between Jan. 3 and 9. (BCCDC Image)
Salmon Arm and Vernon see increase in new COVID cases, curve flattening elsewhere

The rate of new cases is levelling off in Kelowna, Penticton and Revelstoke.

The Premier Hotel on Summerland’s Main Street and the taxi were owned by Bill and Lydia Johnston. Today, the building is Sass Fashions in Summerland. H.S. Kenyon, who moved the building to Summerland from Midway, continued with building construction. His family now operates Greyback Construction. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Two former Summerland hotel buildings have been moved over the years

Transport of buildings is part of community’s history

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

This dog is going to the SPCA if its owner isn't found. (RDNO Dog Control photo)
Owners sought after dog ‘dumped’ near North Okanagan school

Pup is now either getting adopted or going to the SPCA

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay woman flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

A warrant was issued for Darwyn Sellars, 31, on Nov. 4, 2019, according to Black Press. (CrimeStoppers)
List of guilty pleas entered along with North Okanagan shootout

Sentencing delayed against Darwyn Sellars, who pleaded guilty to a rack of charges

Most Read