The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Operation

[ Inspector Terry Guernsey ]

Inspector Terry Guernsey, Unknown, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

John Sawatsky, For Services Rendered: Leslie James Bennett and the RCMP Security Service (Markham, ON: Penguin, 1983), pp 253-257.

[The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s operation] Featherbed started in the early 1950s while Terry Guernsey ran B Branch. Guernsey believed that many communist spies had escaped the disclosures from Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko since Gouzenko exposed only the operations of military intelligence and did not touch the KGB (then called the NKVD). If Gouzenko exposed only a corner and not the whole that meant that several or more agents remained in place for every agent he uncovered. Virtually all the agents he revealed were ideological recruits co-opted on the strength of their religious-like belief in communism, so the undetected KGB agents would likely be similarly motivated. By now they would have embedded themselves so deeply in the civil service under a false flag that normal investigation could not uproot them. Most secret ideological agents once had been open communists who attended party meetings and distributed leaflets on street corners before “dropping out” of the open party and apparently abandoning communism to go undercover. They could hide their real beliefs and the passing years would dim peoples’ memories but they could never totally erase the past, so they lived with an achilles heel that always threatened their cover. Guernsey worked on the idea that by searching back into the 1930s and 1940s one could uncover the open communists of that generation and compare their names with current civil servants and thereby develop leads toward identifying the undiscovered KGB agents inside the government.

When Guernsey, then a junior officer, tried to get investigators he found his proposal turned down. The RCMP hierarchy refused to support Featherbed. It felt such a search would embarrass the Force in the eyes of the government. Subsequent attempts to rekindle the investigation were also stopped from on high, so Guernsey’s idea deteriorated to the status of a passive holding file. If a piece of information flowed across his desk, Guernsey slipped it into the slender Featherbed file, which rarely left his office safe. For the next half dozen years the file never accumulated more than three or four sheets of paper.

The original name to make it into Guernsey’s file was E. Herbert Norman, the Canadian ambassador and friend of Lester Pearson who committed suicide in 1957 after the witchhunting United States Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security named him publicly for the second time. Guernsey and George McClellan interviewed Norman after the U.S. committee first publicized his name in 1951, confirmed that he had been a communist at Cambridge University in the 1930s and pinned down a few other suspicious things, but Norman denied being an agent or betraying Canada. He said his university days were behind him. Norman returned as ambassador but Guernsey and McClellan harboured doubts and put his name into the Featherbed file. [...]

The names of [a small number of] senior civil servants filled the Featherbed file. The information did not prove anything and may not have been accurate but contained enough fragments to keep the file around. In 1960, Howard Draper, the junior inspector from the Countersubversion Branch looked at the file and shook his head. Draper said it was a shame the Force refused to devote resources to it and vowed that if ever he rose high enough he would untie Featherbed. Featherbed started taking on life in the 1960s [when] [...] Draper finally reached his senior post and the restrictions fell off.

Overnight Featherbed grew from an orphan to a spoiled child, getting not only full-time investigators but the choice of almost anybody in the house. Harry Brandes and Ray Lees, two of the best counter-espionage investigators, joined Featherbed shortly after returning from university and in turn were joined by the hardworking Neil Chadwick and Ian MacEwan, another latter-day university product. Since Featherbed dwelled heavily on the Communist Party of Canada, D. Branch (countersubversion) got a representative and nominated the capable Neil Pollock. Later Archie Barr, the baby-faced but fearsome intellectual, would switch to Featherbed and so would Bill Cliffe.

Featherbed, which never before had had an office, took over the “penthouse,” a nest of four offices in [RCMP] headquarters’ most secret nook. [...]

The new secluded Featherbed went back in time, culling the files for leads of longterm Soviet penetration of the Canadian government and starting with a more thorough investigation of Herbert Norman. The Security Service suspected Norman had committed suicide in 1957 to avoid recall and another investigation for fear he could not withstand it. Now in the late 1960s Featherbed uncovered allegations that Norman had secret communist membership which he had withheld from Guernsey and McClellan in 1951. A the same time the CIA passed along information from an informant quoting Norman shortly before his death in Cairo as saying he could not talk without betraying colleagues. These colleagues of Norman’s did not have to be agents but the remark heightened the suspicion Norman had been holding back.

The Featherbed search widened beyond the civil service, expanded into the general public and eventually produced a list of 262 alleged secret communist party members including doctors, lawyers, economists and academics suspected of performing various tasks short of espionage. They belonged to the so-called “secret clubs” with no membership card. [...]

The more Featherbed looked the more mesmerizing became the thought that the Canadian government had been overrun by KGB agents, and the more tantalizing yet frustrating the search became. Some potential informers, who once told the RCMP to go to hell, now had second thoughts and started talking, which helped push the investigation forward. [...] Investigators scrambled through quarter-century-old telephone books for evidence of who owned certain telephone numbers. Such leads provided suspicion but no proof. Featherbed was paying the price of nearly two squandered decades. The evidence would never satisfy a court but the investigators felt the thrust of the material was unmistakable. Detached outsiders never saw the files so an impartial referee could not determine whether the files would open one’s eyes to the breadth of KGB espionage and subversion or merely smear peoples’ names with poisonous gossip and innuendo based on hearsay evidence appealing to conspiratorial minds. [...]

Source: John Sawatsky, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Operation in For Services Rendered: Leslie James Bennett and the RCMP Security Service, (Markham, Ontario: Penquin, 1983), 253-257

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