Artifacts Collection

Technological Artifacts Collection from the Cold War

During the Cold War era, the RCMP Security Service and, in 1984, its successor CSIS waged a war of wits with various foreign spy agencies. Both sides relied heavily on the use of technological gadgets to uncover espionage activities. In an effort to preserve the history of these activities, CSIS has assembled a collection of artifacts from the Cold War era, providing a rare glimpse of a part of Canada's history that has always remained in the shadows.

image of some technological artifacts including the toy truck, the hollow stick and the table lighter

The most significant event in the history of the Canadian security service occurred in September 1945, when a cypher clerk named Igor Gouzenko employed at the Soviet Embassy, in Ottawa, defected with evidence of a clandestine network of Soviet spy rings operating in the country. The revelations had a dramatic effect on Canada and the world.

The Gouzenko defection was but one incident in a course of events that was driving Russia and her former Western allies into two camps that were ideologically, militarily and economically divided. In his "iron curtain" speech of 1946, then Prime Minister of England Winston Churchill referred to this period as the "Cold War."

  • Igor Gouzenko (1919-1982)
  • A sample of the collection of press clippings provided by the RCMP to 20th Century Fox for the production of the 1948 Hollywood film "The Iron Curtain" about Gouzenko's defection.
  • The National Research Council headquarters was a prime espionage target.

For the Government of Canada, it became clear from the Gouzenko revelations that key employees had been recruited by the Russians. A Royal Commission investigating the disclosures confirmed the government's suspicions and recommended the establishment of a security screening program to prevent disloyal or potentially disloyal persons - the enemy within - from penetrating the public service. As East and West drifted further apart, the efforts of the RCMP intensified; they mounted a strong counter-espionage offensive.

Tools of the trade

From the beginning of the Cold War era, the RCMP Security Service and, in 1984, its successor CSIS waged a war of wits with various foreign spy agencies. During that period, both sides relied heavily on the use of "technological gadgets" to try and uncover espionage activities. Many of the gadgets were designed to hide/or transport secret communication, acquire surreptitious photographs, listen in on private conversations, broadcast secret and coded messages and enable agents to carry out activities without detection.

In an effort to preserve the history of these activities, CSIS has assembled a collection of artifacts from the Cold War era that provides substance to the stories. Since most of these artifacts come from operational cases that are classified Secret, the Service has selected a number of declassified items for public viewing.

These artifacts provide a rare glimpse of a part of Canada's history that has always remained in the shadows. They also demonstrate concretely that Canada is not immune from covert attempts, by foreign governments, to acquire Canadian science and technology and military secrets. They demonstrate the importance of Canada's counter-espionage activities.

Browse the surveillance artifacts and tradecraft artifacts.

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