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Study reveals new details of overseas Cold War intelligence effort by Canadians

Canada enlisted citizens who travelled to Communist countries during the Cold War to gather needed intelligence -- a shadowy element of a little-known government program detailed in a newly declassified history. Security intelligence expert Wesley Wark poses at the University of Ottawa's Social Sciences Building in Ottawa, Tuesday, May 14, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Canada enlisted citizens who travelled to Communist countries during the Cold War to gather needed intelligence — a shadowy element of a little-known government program detailed in a newly declassified history.

The study by intelligence expert Wesley Wark reveals officials became sufficiently nervous about the tasking of Canadians — and the prospect of being caught snooping overseas — that they had John Diefenbaker, prime minister at the time, give his blessing.

Wark, who teaches at the University of Ottawa, began work in the late 1990s on the government-commissioned study of how Canada’s intelligence community evolved in the years following the Second World War. 

Much of the book-length manuscript, based on classified files, was released under the Access to Information Act in 2005, but considerable portions were considered too sensitive to disclose.

Additional details of the intelligence effort to conscript travellers were released to The Canadian Press following a complaint to the information commissioner.

Initially, officials collected intelligence largely from defectors and recent immigrants from the Soviet Union and East Bloc countries, but later saw the potential value of information gleaned from travellers.

The Canadian Press