CANADA

Ottawa’s unlikely spymaster

September 28 1987
CANADA

Ottawa’s unlikely spymaster

September 28 1987

Ottawa’s unlikely spymaster

He is, at first glance, far from the classic image of a spymaster. At 46, Reid Morden, the newly named head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), has followed a successful, predictable career in the public service. Rising steadily through the ranks of the external affairs department, the pudgy, bespectacled Morden earned a reputation as a sharp, no-nonsense operator. His droll manner and low-key style disguise the fact that he now runs a secretive organization that can tap telephones, open mail and enter homes surreptitiously—in the name of detecting threats to the nation’s security. But those unassuming qualities were precisely what the federal government wanted in a new director. “If he is tough and hardheaded,” noted one former Privy Council official, “then he could be the broom that sweeps relatively clean.”

Morden has frequently taken on tough assignments. He joined the civil service 24 years ago and oversaw the 1984 merger between the former industry, trade and commerce department and External Affairs. He first came to the attention of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for his work during the 1985 Com-

monwealth meeting in the Bahamas. He was also the key architect of Mulroney’s widely acclaimed speech last May that warned the United States against using its Strategic Defence Initiative as a first-strike threat against the Soviet Union.

Raised in Montreal, Morden studied history and political science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, where he dabbled in Conservative student politics and struck up a friendship with a fellow student named Joe Clark. Clark, now external affairs minister, was an usher at Morden’s 1964 wedding. Morden and his wife, Margaret, live with their two teenage sons in Ottawa’s fashionable Glebe district. A collector of rare classical recorded music who also owns a set of rare books on the First World War, Morden acknowledges a taste for spy novels. His favorite authors: John le Carré and Len Deighton.

During his first week on the job Morden spent long days in his downtown Ottawa office reading the act that spells out CSlS’s wide-ranging powers, meeting with his five deputy directors and delving into two black leather briefcases crammed with classified material. Said Morden dryly: “I am sure there will come a moment when I enjoy being here.”