Category: Historical reprints
Source: The Toronto Sun, Tuesday March 31, 1981
RCMP’S SPY PROBE IGNORED
Do Soviets run civil service?
By Bob Reguly, Staff Writer
Many of the scores of civil servants fingered as suspected Soviet agents or secret Communists by Operation Featherbed between 1958 and 1972 still wield power.
The massive RCMP subversive-ferreting operation concluded the departments of finance, external affairs and immigration were heavily infiltrated by members of Communist secret cells.
And, in the nature of the subversion game, those who retired probably left hand-picked successors, meaning nothing really has changed until today.
Featherbed’s search-and-pinpoint study lasted 14 years but its alarming findings were shrugged off by Conservative and Liberal governments.Featherbed grew out of the U.S. Senate internal security committee’s hearings and the resultant FBI cracking of the Silvermaster atomic spy ring. Elizabeth Bentley, secretary of the U.S. Communist Party, had been the network’s courier and confessed all.
Nathan Silvermaster’s web included high-level U.S. civil servants, among them U.S. Treasury Secretary Harry Dexter White and the state department’s Alger Hiss. FBI information suggested there was a counterpart network in Canada.
Featherbed (from birds of a feather) quickly found a dozen suspected members of the equivalent of the Silvermaster network in the Canadian civil service hierarchy. Curiously, RCMP top brass forbade interrogation of the “12 apostles,” as they were called. But they were put under surveillance and wiretapped.The hunt began in 1958 with 60 men at RCMP headquarters handling the analytical side under the name Featherbed and a similar number at Ottawa. A division handling investigations under the code-name Operation Mercury. It continued until 1972.
Featherbed concluded the civil service was riddled by Soviet-sympathising “agents of influence,” including four deputy ministers.
But none of the 245 finally pegged as secret members of the Communist Party International underground in the civil service or the professions, was ever positively proved to be engaged directly in espionage. Still, nagging circumstancial evidence kept cropping up.
One curious episode recounted in Featherbed files involves regular visits by two civil servants, one who [later] became a deputy minister and the other head of a government agency, to a Rideau St. electronics shop. After their visits, jointly and singly, to a manager’s office, a card would be put in the window. It signalled a live letter drop was ready for pickup by Soviet Embassy military spies.
Another logged clandestine night meetings at Ottawa Civic Hospital parking lot between an ambassador home from abroad and a woman, on the Speaker’s staff in the House of Commons, whose brother later was unveiled as a KGB spy.
Another deputy minister was followed by the RCMP Watcher Service to a meeting with Soviet Embassy spy Rem Krassilnikov at Green Gables restaurant in Ottawa.
British MI-5 counter-intelligence told the RCMP the same man attended a meeting of the central committee of the Communist Party of Britain before joining the government. The RCMP found communist membership cards in a secret cell for the deputy minister and his influential wife. They became the target of a special surveillance effort code-named Operation Apache. Yet, he is still in government.
Featherbed also identified three prominent union movement officials as secret party members. One is a union president, another a vice-president and a third is research director for one of Canada’s biggest unions.
Perhaps the most ominous Featherbed finding from a security standpoint was the conclusion that O.D. Skelton, the revered “father of the civil service,” was a Comintern agent recruited in 1923.
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P.S. Admin.: The Silvermaster file at the FBI is where the disclosures by Elizabeth Bentley were kept that “Mike” Pearson, better known as Lester Bowles Pearson, was a Soviet agent. The FBI wrote to Canada’s RCMP to tip them off, with a copy of Bentley’s statement on Pearson. How did Pearson manage nonetheless to become prime minister of Canada? Pearson had been recruited into the federal civil service by none other than Canada’s infamous agent of the Comintern, Oscar D. Skelton, our “revered father of the civil service”. Skelton himself was recruited by Louis Konarski, who set up Soviet fronts in Canada, and who changed his name to Kon when he was naturalized here.