How long has Canada and its American and U.K. allies been involved in wiretapping? According to new declassified documents, longer than you might think.
Download some of the PICNIC docs here.
In the file you will find 3 documents from the collection I am working from. One is the details of the agreement with Bell for the RCMP to continue wiretapping. A letter from the RCMP about the program and a draft letter for the Prime Minister to give to Bell Canada. And third is a letter from Peter Dwyer formerly of MI6 discussing wiretapping and revealing how the U.S. and U.K. have also been secretly doing it.
What makes PICNIC new?
For years we have had a limited understanding of wiretapping in the Cold War and even beyond. There have been sporadic mentions of wiretapping pre-1970s in the McDonald Commission volumes but nothing extensive or substantial. I spoke at length with Martin Friedland who prepared a report on The Official Secrets Act for the McDonald Commission (which led to the creation of Canada’s civilian intelligence agency CSIS) and he too was quite surprised at this find. What makes it new is not that wiretapping occurred in the Cold War, but that the federal government was deeply involved in the creation of a wiretapping program against potential subversives.
This 178 page file documents how the government planned to hide it from the public, how it could fool Parliament to keep it hidden, and this extended right up to the Prime Minister. The pdf you can download on this site is a sample of this larger file. The documents summarize the agreement with Bell Canada to construct a surveillance network that the RCMP would pay rent for and also reveal that the U.S. and U.K. were doing wiretapping and all of this was designed to be hidden from the public and the courts. None of this has ever been uncovered. What we don’t know is how large it became and on this issue I think it’s best for all scholars in this field of history to cooperate and coordinate on getting the remaining documents out into the public so we can properly assess Canada’s wiretapping history. The secret order 3486 also could be interpreted as a founding document of sorts for signals intelligence in peacetime in Canada and we have a whole other issue with the Privy Council Office refusing to discuss it.
UPDATE: 3486 has been released! Read it and download your own copy Here
In development is a database on what I have regarding PICNIC. All files I have will be made public. Check the site for more updates.
Do you know where historians can find out more about this program? Do you know of archival sources we should request to see? Let us know.
CBC’s The National on PICNIC