Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Fifth Estate: The Espionage Establishment

On January 9th, 1974, the CBC broadcast a documentary about the Canadian intelligence community entitled "The Fifth Estate: The Espionage Establishment." Unrelated to the investigative journalism program The Fifth Estate, which wasn't created until a year later, the documentary contained extensive details of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's activities around the world, discussed Canada's cooperation with the CIA, and outed the CIA's Chief of Station in Ottawa.

It also revealed to the Canadian public and parliament that Canada had a signals intelligence agency, the Communications Branch of the National Research Council (CBNRC). The documentary included an extensive interview with NSA whistleblower Perry Fellwock (using the pseudonym Winslow Peck), who had earlier named CBNRC to the U.S. counterculture magazine Ramparts, in which he explained the nature of the National Security Agency and discussed CBNRC's role as a partner in the UKUSA SIGINT community.

CBNRC's exposure led to immediate questioning in parliament by Conservative and NDP MPs and wide coverage in Canadian newspapers, and it is thought to have played an important role in the Trudeau government's 1975 transfer of the agency to the Department of National Defence, where it received its current name, the Communications Security Establishment.

Although it took almost a decade for the government to formally acknowledge, in late 1983, CSE's signals intelligence role, the 1974 broadcast marked the beginning of public and parliamentary discussion of the agency and Canada's role in the SIGINT community and thus, in a sense, the beginning of public oversight over the agency.

CSE itself has a slightly garbled version of the story on its website:
In 1974 the television program "The Fifth Estate" broadcast an exposé of Canadian involvement in signals intelligence. The program revealed the existence of the hitherto low-profile CBNRC, and explored the nature of its signals intelligence program and its US partners. The Fifth Estate's revelations were raised in the House of Commons over the next week. As a result of the unwelcome publicity, the government soon transferred Canada's SIGINT and Communications Security organization to the Department of National Defence portfolio, and renamed it the Communications Security Establishment (CSE).
I have pointed out on more than one occasion that the documentary had no relation to "the television program 'The Fifth Estate'", but our listening agency just isn't listening on that subject. Maybe I need to send an e-mail to some department of the government.

As far as I know, the documentary was never re-broadcast, and it does not appear to be available for viewing.

[Update 23 November 2018: As noted below in the comments, the documentary can now be viewed online.]

A transcript of the program does exist, however.

And here it is:

The Fifth Estate: The Espionage Establishment (produced and directed by William Macadam; research directed by James R. Dubro).

Update 2 March 2015:

While we're on the subject of garbles on the CSE website, let's consider another portion of the same web page:
On September 27, 2007, the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada approved the registration of a new applied title for the organization. This change was made in order to become compliant with the federal government's Federal Identity Program (FIP), which requires all departments and agencies have the word 'Canada' as part of their corporate title. From this point forward, the organization became known as Communications Security Establishment, with an abbreviation of CSE. It is important to note that while the applied title changed, the legal title remains Communications Security Establishment and continues to be used for all legal documents.
Now, this passage actually made some sense in the days when it read "From this point forward, the organization became known as Communications Security Establishment Canada, with an abbreviation of CSEC." But last summer CSE quietly reverted to its legal name, the Communications Security Establishment, for its public identification purposes, and apparently somebody at CSE thought the best way to update the explanation was simply to delete the word Canada.

So now hapless readers get informed that Canada's SIGINT agency, renamed CSE in 1975, became known as CSE in 2007, but this was only a change in applied title, since its legal name remained CSE.

Does anybody there read the stuff they post?

Let's not even talk about the hopelessly outdated "Quick Facts about CSE" at the bottom of the web page.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many thanks for getting and sharing the transcript. Been keen to see the video but this will do.

March 03, 2015 3:31 pm  
Blogger Bill Robinson said...

I'd love to see the video too! I was living in Ottawa at the time and remember suddenly being aware that there were "spies" in the Tilley building, but I didn't see the actual broadcast.

March 07, 2015 10:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the link

May 09, 2015 7:51 pm  
Blogger Bill Robinson said...


Thanks so much for sending that link!

May 09, 2015 11:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

more recent link to the '74 vid.

August 11, 2018 2:21 pm  
Blogger Bill Robinson said...

Belated thanks for the updated link!

November 23, 2018 1:50 pm  

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