Chronology of Canada's Postwar SIGINT Activities

1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s


1945: (September) The Chiefs of Staff Committee, "in discussions with four senior External Affairs officers," agrees to continue SIGINT activities in peacetime, "even though the [wartime Joint Discrimination Unit] was scheduled to lapse on 30 June 1946."[1]

1946: (28 March) The Canadian Chiefs of Staff Committee "once more" approves "the continuation of Service intercept stations in peacetime".[2]

1946: (29 March) The senior interdepartmental SIGINT group, the approximate equivalent (for SIGINT policy purposes) of the current ICSI, proposes "the establishment of a Communications Research Centre" to succeed the Joint Discrimination Unit as Canada's SIGINT processing organization.[3]

1946: (13 April) Ministers St Laurent, Howe and Abbott approve the creation of a post-war Canadian SIGINT organization, with 179 positions, to be operated within the National Research Council.[4]

1946: (June) The Communications Research Committee is set up to "control all SIGINT activities, including policy control of CBNRC and Canadian intercept stations". The CRC replaces the JIC, which backs out of "anything to do with Service intercept or other SIGINT operations." The JIC continues to be largely responsible, however, for setting intelligence requirements: "Although this Committee had no responsibilities for SIGINT matters after June 1946, it was the group which individually or collectively levied requirements on CB for intelligence derived from the SIGINT process." The first meeting of the Communications Research Committee takes place on 20 June 1946.[5]

1946: (1 July) The JDU is transferred to the NRC "in a transitional way" as the Communications Research Centre.[6]

1946: (1 September) The Communications Research Centre is reconstituted as the CBNRC and all staff are transferred formally to the NRC. CBNRC begins operations on 3 September 1946, with a staff of 62 out of its authorized establishment of 179.[7]

1946-47: GCHQ hosts "an imperial SIGINT conference in London over the winter of 1946-47." The conference "[lays] the foundations for the Commonwealth SIGINT organization, headed by GCHQ". The CSO ties CBNRC and Australia's Defence Signals Bureau (now Defence Signals Directorate) to GCHQ and, through GCHQ, eventually, into the UKUSA SIGINT alliance.[8]

1946: (5 December) The CRC assigns itself responsibility for Cipher Security Policy for the Services and the Department of External Affairs.[9]

1947: (Early) CBNRC hires "four people to form the nucleus of the COMSEC organization".[10]

1947/1948: The UKUSA SIGINT alliance is created. More on the UKUSA community.

1947: (Late) CBNRC's authorized established is increased to 227.[11]

1948: (November) The senior interdepartmental SIGINT group is formalized as the Senior Committee. The Senior Committee is chaired by the Undersecretary of State for External Affairs and contains, in addition, the three service Chiefs of Staff, the Chairman of the Defence Research Board, the President of the NRC, and the Secretary to the Cabinet. The Chairman of the Communications Research Committee serves as the committee secretary. The Deputy Minister of National Defence later becomes a member of the committee.[12]

1949: (February) Mary R. Oliver becomes CBNRC's first liaison officer to GCHQ.[13]

1949: (October) CBNRC undergoes a major reorganization.[14]


1949/1950: The CANUSA COMINT agreement is signed by the United States and Canada.[15] More on the CANUSA agreement.

1949/1950: Robert S. McLaren becomes CBNRC's first liaison officer to the US Armed Forces Security Agency (later the National Security Agency).[16]

1950: (January) CBNRC moves its headquarters from the Lasalle Academy to the Rideau Annex.[17]

1950: (June) CBNRC undergoes another major reorganization.[18]

1950: The US-Canada Atlantic HF-DF net is established: "the RCN and USN agreed to coordinate and standardize direction-finding activities for search and rescue operations in the Atlantic area."[19]

1950: (10 November) The Communications Research Committee authorizes an immediate increase of 166 in CBNRC's establishment (to 393) "with consideration of an additional 56 in a year's time". The RCMP begins regular attendance as a member of the Communications Research Committee.[20]

1951: (March) The Senior Committee approves a policy paper, SC/12 ("Expansion of CB"), "authorizing an increase of 222 to cope with a large-scale extension of CB's SIGINT responsibilities, bringing the approved establishment to 449." (This increase incorporates the increase of 166 approved by the CRC in November 1950.)[21]

1952: (Early) The approved establishment of CBNRC is increased to 469.[22]

1953: (February) The Senior Committee accepts the recommendation of Dr. Omond Solandt (Chairman of the Defence Research Board) that a single executive authority be appointed to handle all SIGINT policy matters, with the Communications Research Committee serving as an advisory body to this authority. The Director of the Joint Intelligence Bureau joins the CRC at this time. The individual subsequently appointed is the Chairman of the CRC, George Glazebrook, who is given "the rather unfortunate title of Director of Communications Security (DCS), a title which thereafter caused considerable confusion as to what his main function was." At approximately the same time, the Senior Committee renames itself the Communications Security Board (CSB).[23]

1954: (September) CBNRC undergoes another major reorganization.[24]

195?: (mid- to late-1950s) CBNRC's authorized establishment is increased (in one or more steps) to approximately 587. For more details, see CSE Establishment and Strength.

1958: (March) MI5 develops the RAFTER surveillance technique. Sometime later, the RCMP Security Service and CBNRC begin "a country-wide receiver hunt" in an attempt to detect spies. "CBNRC provide[s] the operators, the machinery and the technical expertise while the Security Service [comes] up with investigators, the operational back up and set[s] the targets." The program apparently produces no usable results, and is subsequently dropped.[25]

1959: (September) CSB policy paper CSB/82 is approved, expanding CBNRC's COMSEC mission to include provision of "technical advice and support on electronic emission security [ELSEC] matters".[26]


1960: (Early) CSB policy paper CSB/91 is approved, expanding CBNRC's COMSEC mission to include TEMPEST. "The paper recommended that the Director CBNRC should assume responsibility in Canada for carrying out field tests and providing government departments with technical advice and assistance on radiation problems, and that he be authorized to acquire the resources required to carry out these tasks. CSB/91, therefore, was the mandate for CBNRC activity in the TEMPEST field."[27]

1960: (February) The "Canada-US Navies Standardization Program (Shore HFDF Activities)" agreement enters into force.[28]

1960: (28 April) The composition and terms of reference of the new Intelligence Policy Committee (IPC) are approved by the Prime Minister. The IPC replaces the CSB, but also assumes responsibility for overseeing other intelligence activities.[29]

1961: (June) CBNRC moves to the Sir Leonard Tilley Building.[30]

1964: (January) CBNRC undergoes another major reorganization.[31]

1966: (19 July) The Canadian Forces Supplementary Radio System is created.[32]

1969: (mid-1969) The Department of Communications attempts, unsuccessfully, to "assume control of the COMSEC responsibilities of CBNRC." "The controversy continued for the next five years, and was only resolved after the Interdepartmental Committee on Security and Intelligence, at its meeting on 4 September 1974, recognized that there was a possible overlap between the mandate of DOC and that of CBNRC in the area of secure communications." "A Statement of DOC and CBNRC Mandates and Responsibilities in the COMSEC Area" is agreed in October 1974.[33]


1970: (29 June) DND's Directorate of Intelligence Operations is dissolved and incorporated into the Supplementary Radio System, "which now included headquarters staff as well as the station operators; CFSRS continues in the same form to this day."[34]

1972: (February) The Security Panel and the IPC are merged to form the Interdepartmental Committee on Security and Intelligence. "The primary motivation for the merger was the desire to coordinate the external intelligence function with counterterrorist activities". At the same time, two subordinate committees are created, the Security Advisory Committee and the Intelligence Advisory Committee. The Communications Research Committee and the post of Director of Communications Security are disestablished, but the incumbent DCS, Bert Hart, becomes Chairman of the IAC. The abolition of the post of DCS leaves SIGINT policy more in hands of CBNRC. The History of CBNRC comments as follows: "it has to be said that on the whole SIGINT policy has been healthier since the change in 1972."[35]

1975: (16 January) Privy Council order 1975-95 orders the transfer of CBNRC to the Department of National Defence, effective 1 April 1975.[36]

1975: (1 April) CBNRC becomes the Communications Security Establishment, under the Department of National Defence. The Director CBNRC becomes the Chief CSE, Assistant Directors become Directors-General, and organizational changes also occur.

197?: (late 1970s?) CSE's authorized establishment is increased to 600?


1980: (Spring) CSE sends Thomas Johnston to NSA "to assess and study the cryptoanalysis [sic] performed there and then recommend to CSE how it could re-enter the area of cryptanalysis."[37]

1980: (Late) CSE occupies the Insurance Building.[38]

1981: (Early 1981?) CSE's authorized establishment is increased to 645?

1983: (mid-1983?) CSE's authorized establishment is increased to 670? "By mid-1983 and 1984," CSE approves an extra 14 person-years for its cryptanalysis unit, O1A, as part of a major revitalization of the organization's cryptanalytic capabilities.[39]

1984: (Spring) CSE decides to buy a supercomputer for cryptanalysis. The Cray X-MP/11 supercomputer purchase is formally approved in June 1984.[40]

1985: (early 1985 or late 1984) Leitrim's first satellite communications interception dish is installed.[41]

1985: (March) The Cray X-MP/11 is installed at the Sir Leonard Tilley building.[42] An extensive series of upgrades is undertaken in succeeding years.

1985: (mid-1985?) CSE's authorized establishment is increased to 720?

1986: (April) A permanent in-house legal counsel from the Department of Justice is assigned to CSE.[43]

1986: A medium-sized satellite dish (ca. 10 metres) is constructed at Leitrim.[44]

1987: (mid-1987?) CSE's authorized establishment is increased to 900?

1987: (late) Another medium-sized satellite dish is constructed at Leitrim.[45]

1988: (August) The CSE System Security Centre is established "to augment the computer security expertise of the RCMP and DND and to provide new capabilities for the evaluation of computer and network security products for the Government of Canada."[46]

1988: (mid- to late 1988?) M4 and possibly other CSE sections establish a 24-hour/7-day reporting capability, and develop "quick reaction reporting teams". Prior to this date, only the CANSOC and CSE's communications and computer sections were 24/7 operations.[47]

1988: (December) Representatives of CSE and the Department of Supply and Services conduct "a survey of Canadian research facilities doing work in speech recognition" to assess its potential use in automated "keyword spotting".[48]

1988/1989: Another small satellite dish is constructed at Leitrim, for a total of two medium-sized and two small dishes currently in service.[49]

1989: (Spring) Work begins on a $35-million addition to the Sir Leonard Tilley Building.[50]

1989: The SRS Augsburg detachment, "a detachment of the SRS Headquarters," is established "to formalize the presence of Canadian Forces personnel serving with the United States Army Field Station there."[51]


1990: (24 September) The Report of the Special Committee on the Review of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Security Offences Act (In Flux But Not In Crisis) is tabled in the House of Commons. Among other recommendations, the Committee recommends "that the Department of the Solicitor General study the matter of CSIS and the CSE obtaining judicial authorization before using electromagnetic eavesdropping technology for investigative purposes" and "that Parliament 1) formally establish the CSE by statute and 2) establish SIRC as the body responsible for monitoring, reviewing and reporting to Parliament on the activities of the CSE concerning its compliance with the laws of Canada."[52]

1991: (Early 1991?) CSE's authorized establishment is decreased?

1992: (July) DND announces the beginning of a $29-million expansion program at Leitrim.[53]

1992: (FY 92-93) Work on the Sir Leonard Tilley Building addition is completed.[54]

1993: (30 April) CFS Bermuda is closed.[55] See Postwar Canadian SIGINT Sites for the dates of operation of other sites.

1994: (February) DND announces plan to convert CFS Alert, CFS Masset, and 770 Communications Research Squadron (CFB Gander) to remote operations.[56]

1995: (21 March) The House of Commons passes a motion calling on the government to "establish an independent external mechanism to review the operations of the Communications Security Establishment, CSE, similar to the role played by the Security Intelligence Review Committee for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and table a report annually in the House."[57]

1995: (22 March) Defence Minister David Collenette announces that, "in principle, the government supports an oversight mechanism for the CSE."[58]

1995: (2 May) The Deputy Clerk, Security and Intelligence, formally releases CSE budget and strength information for the first time ($113.2 million in fiscal year 1995-96 and approximately 900 full- time equivalents) and confirms that "Canada collaborates with some of its closest and long-standing allies in the exchange of foreign intelligence... These countries and the responsible agencies in each are the U.S. (National Security Agency), the U.K. (Government Communications Headquarters), Australia (Defence Signals Directorate), and New Zealand (Government Communications Security Branch [sic])."[59]


[1] Kevin O'Neill, ed., History of CBNRC, 1987, Chapter 2, p. 3, released in severed form under Access to Information Act.

[2] Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 3.

[3] Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 3.

[4] Ibid., Chapter 1, p. 1.

[5] Ibid., Chapter 2, pp. 2-3; Chapter 10, pp. 1-2.

[6] Ibid., Chapter 1, p. 3.

[7] Ibid., Chapter 1, pp. 1, 3; Chapter 3, pp. 1-2.

[8] J.L. Granatstein and David Stafford, Spy Wars: Espionage and Canada from Gouzenko to Glasnost, 1990, p. 45; Desmond Ball and Jeffrey Richelson, The Ties That Bind: Intelligence Cooperation Between the UKUSA Countries, Allen and Unwin, 1985, pp. 142-3; Christopher Andrew, "The Growth of the Australian Intelligence Community and the Anglo-American Connection," Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 4 No. 2, April 1989, pp. 223-224.

[9] History of CBNRC, Chapter 16, p. 1.

[10] Ibid., Chapter 17, p. 4.

[11] Ibid., Chapter 3, p. 6.

[12] Ibid., Chapter 2, pp. 7-8.

[13] Ibid., Chapter 27, p. 3.

[14] Ibid., Chapter 3, p. 6.

[15] David J. Bercuson and J.L. Granatstein, The Dictionary of Canadian Military History, Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 43.

[16] Public Accounts, 1949-50: Part II, p. Y-82.

[17] History of CBNRC, Volume VII, Chronological Summary.

[18] Ibid., Chapter 3, p. 8.

[19] "Brief History: 770 Communications Research Squadron and Naval Radio Station Gander," no date, pp. 1-2, Canadian Forces Communications and Electronics Museum collection.

[20] History of CBNRC, Chapter 14, pp. 16-7; Chapter 2, p. 9.

[21] Ibid., Chapter 3, p. 7.

[22] Ibid., Chapter 27, p. 15.

[23] Ibid., Chapter 2, pp. 9-11.

[24] Ibid., Chapter 3, p. 11.

[25] Peter Wright, Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, Stoddart, 1987, p. 117; John Sawatsky, For Services Rendered, Penguin, 1986, originally published by Doubleday (1982), pp. 107-108.

[26] History of CBNRC, Chapter 16, Annex F, pp. 1, 5.

[27] Ibid., Chapter 17, p. 43.

[28] "List of Agreements," Backdoc. No. 17, Department of National Defence (produced for the House of Commons Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence), 1985, p. 26.

[29] History of CBNRC, Chapter 2, p. 19.

[30] Ibid., Volume VII, Chronological Summary.

[31] Ibid., Chapter 3, p. 12.

[32] CFS Leitrim introductory booklet (no title), National Defence, ca. 1988, released under Access to Information Act.

[33] History of CBNRC, Chapter 16, pp. 10-11; Chapter 16, Annex G.

[34] Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 25.

[35] Ibid., Chapter 2, pp. 23, 25, 30.

[36] Dr. W.G. Schneider, President, National Research Council, testimony, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence of the Standing Committee on Miscellaneous Estimates, 25 March 1975, p. 19:8.

[37] Muriel Korngold Wexler, Record of Decision, Public Service Staff Relations Board file 166-13-17850, 12 March 1990, p. 9.

[38] Tillian (CSE newsletter), Autumn 1980, pp. 23 and 26, released in severed form under Access to Information Act.

[39] Record of Decision, p. 15.

[40] Ibid., p. 11; contract 12213-4-9120, Supply and Services, 3 December 1984, released in severed form under Access to Information Act.

[41] Air photos A26479-205 and A26638-57, National Air Photo Library.

[42] Record of Decision, p. 11.

[43] Letter from Commander F.B. Frewer to Peter Moon, 15 April 1991.

[44] Air photo A27068-96.

[45] Air photo A27239-23.

[46] Annual Report 1988-89, Privacy Commissioner, p. 19.

[47] PSSRB file 166-13-17850, exhibit 63 ("Edwina Slattery: CSE Competition no. M-144," [1987]).

[48] "Development of a Wordspotting System" (unsolicited proposal to Communications Security Establishment), Le Centre de recherche informatique de Montreal, September 1989, p. 1, released in severed form under Access to Information Act.

[49] Air photo A27611-40.

[50] Doug Yonson, "The secret's out: Spy headquarters to get $30-million addition," Ottawa Citizen, 22 January 1989, pp. A1-A2; Annual Report 1989-90, Public Works Canada, p. 42.

[51] Defence 89, National Defence, p. 61.

[52] In Flux But Not In Crisis, report of the Special Committee on the Review of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Security Offences Act, September 1990, pp. 130, 153.

[53] David Pugliese, "Military communications centre to get $29-million facelift," Ottawa Citizen, 17 July 1992, p. F1.

[54] Estimates, 1991-92, Part III: Public Works Canada, 1991, p. 3-47.

[55] Bob Russ, "Bidding Bermuda Farewell," Sentinel, August/September 1993, p. 26.

[56] "Canadian Forces Station Alert, N.W.T.," Backgrounder, National Defence, February 1994.

[57] House of Commons Debates, 21 March 1995, pp. 10815-10820.

[58] Tu Thanh Ha, ``Secretive agency to be more open, Collenette says,'' Globe and Mail, 23 March 1995, p. A5.

[59] Statement by Deputy Clerk, Security and Intelligence, to Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, 2 May 1995.

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