Sunday, August 31, 2014

CSEC flunks history

CSEC has a seven-sentence section of its website that purports to tell the story of CSEC's origins as the CBNRC (The Beginning: The Communications Branch of the National Research Council).

Among the few actual details provided in the section is the following statement: "On September 3, 1946, the 179 former employees of the XU and JDU came back to work together at their new jobs in the CBNRC under the direction of retired Lt. Col. Edward Drake."

That's not really quite right.

The CBNRC's initial approved establishment was 179 positions, but the agency was nowhere near that size when it commenced operations. In fact, it was only a little over one third of that size.

At least that's what it says on page 2 of Chapter 3 of Volume I of CSEC's classified History of CBNRC:
The number of people actually available at the start as opposed to the establishment figure was very small and only grew gradually. Mr. Drake's original recommendations of August 1946 were approved by NRC and formed the starting team of 62 civilians. One year appointments were given to 12 ex-Service people (all NCOs) and 7 civilians (including several ex-WRCNS (Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service) who had been released from the Navy earlier). Three year appointments, which were curiously called "permanent", were given to 20 ex-Service people and 23 civilians. To illustrate the modest speed of growth from the original staff of 62 toward the approved establishment of 179, some figures in 1947 were: March - 73, May - 80, and October - 95.
[Update 14 September 2014: Kurt Jensen's book Cautious Beginnings: Canadian Foreign Intelligence, 1939-51 reports that "it was not until 1949 that the CBNRC... reached the original staffing level of 179 positions." (p. 160)]

Also, it was just the Joint Discrimination Unit (JDU) that "was transferred to the NRC, first in a transitional way as the Communications Research Centre (CRC) on 1 July 1946, then finally with its name changed to CBNRC and all staff transferred to NRC on 1 September 1946" (History of CBNRC, Volume I, Chapter 1, page 3). The Examination Unit (XU) had not existed for over a year by the time CBNRC began operations. (That said, a significant proportion of the XU staff had been transferred to the JDU at the latter's creation on 1 August 1945, and thus a large number of the personnel who ended up comprising CBNRC's initial staff did come originally from the XU.)

The account on CSEC's Before the Beginning; the Examination Unit and the Joint Discrimination Unit page is similarly garbled.

The apparent contradiction in start dates, on the other hand, is not a problem. As page 1 of Chapter 1 of the History reports, "In 1946, the 1st of September fell on a Sunday, and Monday was of course Labour Day; so in fact it was on Tuesday 3 September that the staff of CBNRC arrived at work, all in civilian clothes for the first time, and all occupying positions on the establishment of the National Research Council."

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