UK spies sought Canada help to infiltrate 1950's Jagan govt
Wednesday, August 17th 2005
British spies asked Canada to help infiltrate the Cheddi Jagan administration of the 1950's, a newly declassified study says.
In the most recent evidence of the Trans-Atlantic allies' attempts to influence the British Guiana political landscape during the Cold War era, the study says M16, Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, sought to have a Canadian placed as a special economic adviser to Jagan, in order to steer both his politics and his policies.
According to a report from the Canadian Press (CP), the "British hoped that the Canadians might be able to provide an economist who could moderate what they termed Jagan's 'extreme left-wing tendencies' and guide his policies along 'sound lines.'"
Late President Jagan had served as chief minister of the then British Guiana following the victory of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) at the polls in 1953.
CP said his government was credited with giving more rights to farmers, improving pay for workers and overhauling the drainage and irrigation systems, while in the process exacerbating relations with the colonial masters based in London.
But Jagan's administration was short-lived as British troops rolled into the country on October 9, 1953. London suspended the constitution, fired the government and set up a new legislative council. It was Jagan's "extreme left wing tendencies" that led to the suspension of the constitution, an action that the British Government saw as necessary to prevent "subversion of the government and a dangerous crisis in public order and economic affairs." It charged that "the elected party and ministers were completely under control of a communist clique," while placing Jagan and other functionaries as being closely associated with communist organisations.
At that time, the US and the UK were both trying to fight the spread of communism that was extending its reaches from the Soviet Union. However, Jagan would re-emerge as leader in 1957.
The abandoned British/ Canada plot was just one of many schemes that were concocted in the cloak-dagger relationship between the allied powers, according to the top secret study prepared for the federal government by Wesley Wark, a University of Toronto historian.
A draft version of the 265-page document, based largely on still-sealed records, was released to The Canadian Press in response to a request under the Access to Information Act.
The Canadian Press report quotes John Starnes, who served in the intelligence section of Canada's External Affairs Department in the late 1950s and early '60s, as having a "vague recollection" of seeking a Canadian economist to serve Jagan.
"I believe our inability to find someone was simply that we could not find a suitable candidate, willing to serve in that capacity," 87-year-old Starnes said in an e-mail message.
The report says that after the Second World War, Canada looked at creating its own foreign spy service but did not follow through with the idea.
But they "did not in fact shy from the spy game," writes Wark, who says they assisted the British in exchange for a steady stream of secret intelligence reports.
A candid 1960 archival document that summarizes dealings with MI6 mentions a small number of special cases, including the Jagan file, involving "help to the British beyond the arena of simple intelligence collection," Wark writes.
Numerous pages of his study, including a section detailing the memo's contents, were withheld from release - deemed too sensitive to make public even decades later.
Wark says the document suggests Canadian authorities were generally "quite prepared" to assist their trusted ally and that negative responses to requests were rare.
Starnes remembers at least two occasions when Norman Robertson, his deputy minister at External Affairs, refused requests for "direct Canadian support" of MI6 operations in the Middle East.
He said in these instances Robertson would not agree to Britain's proposal that a Canadian Foreign Service officer posted abroad become involved. In fact, there were fears that "if the officer concerned was caught by the very active counter-espionage agents of the country in question, despite his diplomatic immunity, he most certainly would have been declared persona non grata, with the inevitable political brouhaha which would ensue," Starnes says.
And caution seemed to prevail when it came to Canadian forays into international espionage. In 1947, Canadian officials turned down a proposal from Canada-born Sir William Stephenson, who made his mark with British security during the war, to become an intelligence adviser to Ottawa.
Four years later, a senior External Affairs official developed a detailed plan for a Canadian foreign spy service to complement the counter-espionage work of the RCMP. But it went nowhere.
Canada chose instead to build on ties with Britain cultivated during the war, fulfilling requests for MI6 as the price of staying in the western spy loop.
"And why not?" Wark asks. "At the cost of little expenditure and low levels of political risk, the Canadians were able to reap a significant amount of intelligence."
Stabroek News is currently carrying a series entitled 'Documents on Guyana' which includes exchanges between the US and Britain over the 1950s Jagan administration and concerns about the spread of communism.