Review: The Bridge in the Parks-The Five Eyes and Cold War Counter-Intelligence

There are innumerable books, movies, podcasts, and TV shows that discuss and dramatize the roles of intelligence services during the Cold War. Comparatively few of those media, however, discuss Canada’s role during the same period. Molinaro’s edited volume, The Bridge in the Parks: The Five Eyes and Cold War Counter-Intelligence, goes a way to correcting this deficiency by including five chapters on Canada,1 as well as post-script, in a nine chapter book about Cold War counter-intelligence practices.

The Bridge in the Parks is written by historians who have used archival research and access to information laws to unearth information about a variety of Five Eye security services. The aim of the text as a whole is to “add nuance to what has often been a polarizing historical field in which scholars are forced to choose between focusing on abuses and the overreach of intelligence agencies in the Cold War or discussing successfully prosecuted individuals cases of counter-intelligence. This volume thus seeks to add complexity to this history, more in line with the “grey” world in which counter-intelligence has often existed” (8). On the whole, the book is successful in achieving this aim.

This book is written for scholars in intelligence history as well as individuals who have an interest in the secret histories of the Five Eyes. In Chapter One, Kealey and Taylor shed light on the involvement of the Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand governments and intelligence services at a set of security conferences in 1948 and 1951. Their writing showcases how Canadians were somewhat prickly insofar as they wanted to ensure they would continue to enjoy a privileged and close relationship with their American cousins. The conferences saw the assembled commonwealth countries focus on counter-subversion, though such activities “quickly encompassed the totality of the political Left, including pacifist, anti-nuclear, labour, and women’s and gay movements, and in the latter case all citizens suspected of such “deviance””(26).2 The chapter concludes by noting that the Commonwealth countries, writ large, remained largely confused about the distinction between espionage and subversion, and that this led to anti-Communist attitudes which were accompanied by “sad results for democracy and human rights … until the demise of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc Allies” (36-7).

Bencivenni’s Chapter Two uses the case against Carl Marzani as a way of demonstrating the conflicts between the OSS and the FBI. Marzani held leftist views, had been a member of the Communist Party, and had been involved in the labour movement. He joined the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA, in 1942 and was involved throughout the war effort. The case the FBI constructed against him was that he was a Communist with access to sensitive materials and, as such, should be removed from the OSS. He had also made false statements to FBI agents about his Communist associations. These allegations led to a case being brought against him which Bencivenni argues “provided a justification for the loyalty oaths, the McCarran Act, and other repressive measures, all of them still in the drafting stage. And the exposure of Marzani’s communism helped to give credibility to the FBI suspicions of Soviet penetration, its cleaning out opposition to Truman’s Cold War foreign policy (including people like Donovan), and its discerning of the Popular Front” (61). The prosecution’s witnesses against Marzani were all compromised in one way or the other by the government, and Marzani’s lawyer was prevented by the judge from introducing evidence or asking questions to witnesses that might have secured his client’s freedom. Key, was that as a result of Marzani’s conviction, the FBI was given a wider aperture to develop a peacetime domestic spying apparatus along with legal tools to target or isolate those with leftist views.

When we turn to Lomas and Murphy’s chapter on the UK’s Foreign Office, we find a history where the Foreign Office was largely concerned with potential reputational damage linked to employing homosexuals as opposed to legitimate security concerns. This is apparent in some of the literature that is quoted throughout the chapter, including where UK documents recognize the “high intelligence and ability” of homosexuals but nonetheless indicate the Foreign Office’s concerns that homosexual men were of an unstable mindset, that they posed security risks linked to blackmail, and posed an increased chance they would bring “discredit to the service” (77). While some early documents did note a possible security risk, ultimately the authors of the chapter make clear that it was a perceived reputational risk that drove the Foreign Office’s anti-homosexual policies. Whereas past work has suggested this attitude was due to pressure from the Americans it was, in fact, largely internal to the British bureaucracy, making clear that the American government was not responsible for the mistreatment that homosexuals faced at the hands of the Foreign Office.

Deery’s extensive chapter on Anne Neill, an ASIO agent who infiltrated Communist circles in Australia, focuses on how her case officers were concerned for her interests, sought to protect and aid her, and generally did not treat her as disposable. The chapter provides a meticulous accounting of Neill’s activities as well as how some of her actions led to consternation between her handlers and with ASIO more broadly. Nonetheless, it was apparent that she was seen as useful by ASIO in providing listings of individuals with Communist, labour, or leftist sentiments, and that she was largely motivated to her duty to the Crown. It is never entirely apparent just how significant Deery’s argument is, however, given that his argument that agents were cared for appears to be a response to a single article published in Clues: A Journal of Detection. That article asserts that the intelligence service had “lost contact with feeling and humanity and has become an anonymous bureaucracy that makes decisions without considering the consequences for the individual agent” (93). More work spelling out how this is representative of a significant and broader problem, especially during the time that is examined in the article, would have improved upon the thrust of Deery’s argument.

In Chapter Five, Reilly investigates Operation Profunc. This was a plan to intern Canadian Communists should a Cold War proxy conflict extend to Canada. A key finding in the chapter was that “those running Operation Profunc (particularly in the RCMP) were ultimately unsure about what type of national threat or emergency they were to anticipate” (126), with the effect that plans shifted over time. The fact that plans shifted, or were updated over time, means that historians can assess the very uncertain world of counter-intelligence in Canada throughout the Cold War. The chapter details the early plans, as well as reformed plans, for how the operation would unfold and, in so doing, reveals how the Canadian government perceived a possible emergencies and conflicts over time. While early government plans involved keeping regularly updated lists of individuals who would need to be detained (as well as deep concerns about the ethics of interning women given the lack of female prisons or available interment staff), the prospect of nuclear attack shifted considerations of where to intern people as well as the efficacy of interment if key physical, government, and social infrastructures were destroyed. While early lists had focused on Canadian Communists they shifted, over time, to focus more broadly on leftists in general (141). The operation was concluded in 1983 on the basis that the concerns facing the security services were in excess of Profunc’s mission and mandate, and because it was largely by then an outdated disaster plan. My only significant critique of this chapter comes from the author’s assertion that the chapter’s content showcases “the shortcomings of having law enforcement responsible for the delicate matter of counter-espionage and disaster preparation” (143). While this may be true, it is not entirely apparent why this is explicitly the case given the structure and presentation of material in the chapter.

Hewitt’s chapter on transnational threat construction and (de)stabilization of the Canadian domestic security environment in the 1970s sets out to explain the direction and legacy of counter-subversion activities and counter-terrorism activities. This leads him to argue that the 1970s were “the start of a fusion between the Cold War security milieu and the modern counterterrorism that would come to be the main priority in the post-Cold War period at least until the 2020 pandemic” (150). Part of this bridging takes place by the definition of subversion itself, which is inclusive of measures short of the use of armed forces, and recognizes the a breadth of social and physical violence, which means that the linkage between subversion and terrorism are implicit in the definition of each. Fears of terrorism rose following the Munich Olympics attacks and led to changes in the Immigration Act (1976) to enhance security powers based on terrorism concerns. Notably, Hewitt addresses how the RCMP’s homogeneity, and consequent challenges in developing trust or sources within Canada’s ethnic and minority communities, led to broad-based community threat assessments; “police had to take a blanket approach, viewing entire communities with suspicion and thus rendering them … “suspect communities”” (157). Continuing towards the present day, Hewitt argues that this othering of subversion as well as terrorism–as something that comes from the foreign into the domestic–has stymied the RCMP’s ability to engage with threats that were largely domestic, while also having the effect of carrying over the legacy of targeting subversion by community but this time with the focus on counter-terrorism efforts that bear striking resemblance to historical operations.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter, for me personally, was Molinaro’s on the history of wiretapping in Canada. In Chapter Six he broadly seeks to rehabilitate the RCMP’s public image during this time, insofar as he argues that the Mounted Police were careful to ensure that they had appropriate and adequate political and legal cover to undertake wiretaps, and that the RCMP were significantly stymied in their efforts to shift from non-legislative to legislative grounds to conduct such surveillance. Wiretapping was initially deemed permissible in Canada through a selective interpretation of the Official Secrets Act, which in section 7(1) “provided for the minister to have the right to order the production of copies or receive the originals of telegrams sent out of Canada” (170). The operation of wiretaps under this authority was agreed to by Bell Canada, with the telecommunications company requiring payment to run the surveillance network. Throughout the operation of wiretaps the RCMP focused on leftist groups; Molinaro recognizes that this included “overzealous security screening and surveillance” but notes that the measures were justified on grounds that “there were illegals at work for the Soviets in Canadian society” (172). The movement to formally judicialize wiretaps was included in the Protection of Privacy Act (1974), though the real purpose of the Act was less to protect privacy so much as make clear how intrusions would take place vis-a-vis wiretaps; the very nature of the legislation–from its name to structure–was meant to provide a smokescreen to conceal the government’s surveillance activities (177). However, individual warrants were slow to write and authorize, especially as individuals were moving, and so “blanket warrants” were authorized during the run-up to the 1976 Olympics. These blanket warrants did, however, have to be limited to “extremist organizations and not used for counter-espionage operations” (179). Groups put under such surveillance included: the Japanese Red Army, Bader Meinhoff Gang, Black September, Irish Republican Army, Front du Liberation du Quebec, American Indian Movement, Symbioses Liberation Army, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Jewish Defense League, Croatian Revolutionary Brotherhood, and others. The conclusion of Molinaro’s argument is that the government had been kept appraised of, and directed, the RCMP’s activities throughout the Cold War and that the Mounted Police were thus never a rogue agency when it came to its application of wiretaps or interceptions. As such, while the RCMP has been scandalized by the Security Service’s activities during the latter part of the Cold War, he argues that such scandal might be best assigned to the Ministers who were involved in authorizing their activities.

John Breen’s chapter focuses on the differences between the Nixon and Ford governments and their handling of leaked information. He broadly concludes that Nixon lost his presidency as a result of focusing on leaks of information, and that while Ford was similarly frustrated by national security leaks he didn’t let them undermine his presidency. This chapter contributes to a deeper understanding of how the Ford presidency was drawn into internal debates and discussion about the problems of national security information leaking to the press, and offers a lesson in how the obsessions of different administrations can lead to radically different conclusions for the respective governments.

The book’s final chapter by Sayle does a good job in showcasing how Canadian intelligence services have regularly stymied the recounting of their activities during the Cold War, inclusive of preventing the publication of information in semi-official publications. The chapter recounts the challenges that historians in External Affairs have had with the British (who sought to prevent writing about information that was stored in the Public Archives in Ottawa), Canada’s Department of National Defense (which required changes to semi-official history drafts because the drafts made it seem that DND had little involvement in the war effort as compared to External Affairs), and CSE (which was concerned about revealing its own existence and activities generally, as well as those of its partners; this was largely the result of pressures from Washington). Some of CSE’s concerns arose due to when the semi-official chapter recounting signals intelligence work during the war was to be published: around the time that CSIS was created. CSE deemed that, at the time, “[t]he less public debate, it seemed, the better for CSE” (214). While some information that had been collected by External Affairs eventually emerged it was partial, incomplete, and in some ways inaccurate. Sayle’s broader point, however, is that without an understanding of Canada’s role in intelligence operations during World War Two, as well as the Cold War, its partner countries are able to assert that they were responsible for actions that Canadians were deeply involved in. Moreover, in the absence of telling its own story, CSE is in a position where it is challenging to build up public support for its activities to the detriment of the agency’s perceived public legitimacy.

The postscript from Reid Morden, former director of CSIS, attempts to summarize much of the book’s historical insights and apply them to a modern security situation. In doing so, there is a mix of support of contemporary activities such as big data collection and analysis of persons who are innocent of posing a national security risk, as well as a robust push against the creation of a foreign security service. With regards to the latter, he points to the historic roles that have been played by Foreign Affairs in collecting intelligence along with CSIS’ more limited mandate, and asserts that any attempt to create an equivalent of MI6 or the CIA “will prove to be an expensive mistake” (247). He concludes with an important reminder and warning: there is a growing risk is that disadvantaged persons who come to Canada seeking a better life, or native Canadians who are impoverished, may grow disenchanted with Canada and its policies and thus be susceptible to foreign influence or domestic groups that endanger the safety and security of Canada and Canadians. The solution, per Morden, is to bring those living on the margins of Canadian society into the society by addressing the inequity faced by so many. The solution, then, is not more security services per se but greater economic and social inclusivity, so that all can share in Canada’s wealth.

On the whole I found this to be an excellent edited collection and highly recommend its purchase. The chapters on Canada tended to be the strongest, though the chapter on the British Foreign Office was also particularly compelling. However, while the book’s intent was to showcase the complexity of security agencies and how they were not ‘rogue’, what I find is that quite often there were efforts to legitimize, or make it lawful, the targeting of minority, ethnic, and progressive leftist groups. In this way, the book reveals the ugly histories of security services, though often through a lens of their merely doing what was normal during their times or acting on the basis that they were merely responding to the perceived threats of their day. While perhaps outside the scope of the book, few authors take up the consequences of security service operations–legal or not–or the broader threats or challenges that these services generated through their support of conservative politics or political positions in their respective countries.

Finally, while the book was meant to address “common myths” in debates of security services (14-15) this book tends to, instead, showcase that there was significant discrimination and racism at the heart of the activities undertaken by security services. While this may have been a product of times, or made lawful at the time, these types of defences do not ameliorate the harms caused by the various security services or government bureaucracies’ activities that are taken up in the book’s chapters. If anything, the chapters in this volume underscore that the government agencies across the Five Eyes intelligence services were regularly design and staffed such that they targeted democracy-seeking and progressive organizations on the basis that they allegedly posed risks to what were often inequitable, classist, and racist democratic institutions. True to the aim of the book, then, readers will almost certainly walk away with an understanding that the moral character of the respective agencies were ’grey’ at best, and certainly cannot be painted as pure or white based on the chapters included in The Bridge in the Parks: The Five Eyes and Cold War Counter-Intelligence.

The Bridge in the Parks: The Five Eyes and Cold War Counter-Intelligence, edited by Dennis G. Molinaro, is available for purchase at the University of Toronto Press, or wherever you purchase your hardcopy or electronic books.

  1. Chapter one, “After Gouzenko and “The Case”: Canada, Australia and New Zealand at the Security Commonwealth Security Conferences of 1948 and 1951″ does not solely address Canadian issues. ↩︎
  2. Of note, even as far back as the 1950s, there were concerns raised that counter-intelligence and counter-subversion efforts were not being adequately resourced; this is an issue that is recurrent in the literature, including throughout Carvin et al’s Top Secret Canada: Understanding the Canadian Intelligence and National Security Community↩︎