Backstage at Ottawa

January 1 1954

Backstage at Ottawa

January 1 1954

Backstage at Ottawa


Canadian authorities dislike the methods of Senators Jenner and McCarthy, the techniques that John Diefenbaker recently called “Trial by Television.” They not only felt this strongly as individuals but they also believed—and the cabinet’s mail has tended to confirm—that most Canadian citizens feel the same way.

HOWEVER, the Government had other reasons for not wanting Gouzenko to testify. These explain why the first Canadian reply did not even suggest, let alone encourage, a direct approach to Gouzenko ns a free and private citizen.

Ottawa is convinced that Igor Gouzenko has already told every fact he really knows, and everything Gouzenko said has been passed on to the FBI in Washington. Not only the published reports and the public testimony but everything Gouzenko ever said to the Mounties and the Royal Commissioners who questioned him for months on end in 1945 and 1946 have been given to J. Edgar Hoover’s men. It’s all in the FBI files but the FBI has waged a stubborn and successful fight to prevent its files from being thrown open to congressional committees. One senator admitted to a Canadian reporter that the main reason for wanting Gouzenko is to have another try at getting the FBI to open up.

Ottawa is convinced too that everything Gouzenko testified in 1945 and 1946 is true to the best of Gouzenko’s knowledge. The Mounties have checked it and counter-checked it with every available alternative source. They have examined and cross-examined the little Russian cipher clerk and they are sure he was telling the truth.

They are not so sure about what he might say if he got on a congressional television show with Joe McCarthy. Under the skilful prodding of a headline-hungry counsel like Jenner’s Bob Morris, or McCarthy’s fabulous Cohn and Schine, Gouzenko might be induced to say or to imply things that he couldn’t substantiate.

In that event, they fear, Gouzenko might become discredited in the public mind and his original testimony lose its weight and value. Gouzenko was the witness, and in many key cases the only witness, to prove the Communist conspiracy as it operated in Canada. If any doubt is cast on anything he says, the only gainers can be the Communists and their fatherland Soviet Russia.

IT’S HARDLY NEWS, though, that Ottawa is annoyed by a congressional committee. What is new, and much more disturbing, is that this time the Canadian Government is also at outs with the United States Administration.

Canadian authorities were more than merely “surprised,” they were furious when Herbert Brownell, U. S. Attorney General, published secret documents as political weapons against the Democrats. One was a letter from J. Edgar Hoover, FBI chief, in which Canada was prominently mentioned. It did nothing to soothe Canadian irritation that Hoover had got his facts innocently but hopelessly muddled.

Hoover was reporting to the White House that Harry Dexter White was a Soviet spy. White, former assistant secretary of the U. S. Treasury, was about to be confirmed as a U. S. representative on the International Monetary Fund. After a detailed account of White’s espionage Hoover went on to give more information which, he said, “originated with sources high

placed in the Canadian Government.”

According to these “high placed sources,” Britain and Canada were likely to nominate Harry Dexter White to the important post of managing director of the fund. Hoover said “my Canadian source” was aware of White’s activities as a spy, and was warning him that “United States acquiescence” in this supposed Anglo-Canadian proposal would make White’s election a certainty.

Hoover’s story was so preposterous that it was thought at first to be groundless. Canadian Government economists didn’t know in 1946 that Harry Dexter White was a spy, but they did know him and they didn’t like him. “The most difficult man I ever had to deal with,” one of them said of White afterward. Canadian delegates wouldn’t have nominated White

to anything; neither would the British, who had the same opinion of him.

It took several days of enquiry to unearth the story which J. Edgar Hoover had got so thoroughly scrambled:

White’s nomination as managing director was never intended by either the Canadian or the British Governments; there were rumors that it was intended by the U. S. Government itself. A Canadian economist’s grumbling against this American suggestion happened to come to the ears of a security officer—not a Canadian official, but one working in Ottawa for another Allied power.

This officer did know that White was a Soviet agent because Hoover’s own FBI had told him so. When he heard about the American plan to make White managing director he concluded (rightly, as it turned out) that the FBI had not been informed of its own Government’s intention. So he sent off a hurried message to Washington to let Hoover know what was cooking.

That was the message Hoover received from his “Canadian source.” But by the time Prime Minister St. Laurent had tracked down all the details of this complicated and longforgotten incident, he had twice been asked about it in parliament and had said, quite truthfully, that he had no knowledge of any such message ever having been sent. When at last he was able to give parliament the full and true facts, Canada had already been made to appear in an unflattering and faintly sinister light. ★