Feather Bed - Introduction

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Heightened fears and paranoia over Soviet espionage and infiltration of Western governments characterized much of the Cold War. Canada grappled with its own high-profile case, the Gouzenko Affair: In 1945, Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, defected and exposed a Soviet espionage network in Canada. Later cases such as the Cambridge Five and Alger Hiss in Britain and the United States, respectively, served as further proof to Canada the threat posed by Soviet espionage. Together, these cases were taken as proof that the “Soviets were indeed ‘an evil empire’ spying on their former allies.” [1] By the 1950s, convinced of the Soviet threat to Canadian national security, Operation Feather Bed was born.

Feather Bed (or, on occasion, Featherbed) was a nearly two-decade long RCMP probe to root out Soviet infiltration of the Canadian federal government, lasting from 1958 to 1975. In its infancy, the RCMP investigated the backgrounds of employees in high-level positions that fit the pattern of known Soviet agents in the United States. The original list of suspects included prominent figures, such as Herbert Norman, a Canadian diplomat whose 1957 suicide was often attributed to pressures resulting from persistent accusations that he was a communist, investigations were plagued by squandered time. By the time the investigation began in earnest in 1962, many individuals listed had passed away, and concrete evidence was hard to locate. While investigations continued for another decade, the Feather Bed file, as requested by the Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act in 2012, reveal no evidence that a Soviet mole was ever uncovered. [2] 

As investigations progressed, the file expanded its scope to investigate hostile intelligence activities against Canada. [3] The Featherbed section, created in 1968 under the Feather Bed umbrella, continued searching for Soviet spies, but had few resources and limited personnel. In the early 1970s, Feather Bed also investigated the possibility that Jean Daviault, a former Dominion Archivist, had stolen the missing volume of Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s diary. Daviault, however, had passed away in 1971, and the missing volume has never been located to this day. 

Although the Feather Bed file was largely dormant after 1975, its existence soon came to the attention of the public through MP Tom Cossitt’s continual questioning in the House of Commons beginning in 1975. He alleged that the file might name Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, as well as members of the Liberal Party and a number of journalists. In 1979, Prime Minister Joe Clark declined to release the file, dismissing it as “gossip [that] was found to be unfounded in the investigation.” While 136 files had already been destroyed as part of an authorized purge in 1977, the remaining files survived and were passed on in the transition from the RCMP Security Services to Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

What follows is not a narrative, but rather a selection of documents taken from the various Feather Bed files. The selections highlight the limitations of the Feather Bed investigations and shed light on a few of the avenues explored, such as the possibility that Jean Daviault had stolen the missing piece of the King diaries, and the publicity surrounding the investigations in the late 1970s. The documents in this briefing book are sorted by file, with links to the full folders at the end.



[1] A.A. Gordon, NORAD and the Soviet Nuclear Threat: Canada’s Secret Electronic Air War (Stroud: Amberley, 2011), 20.

[2] On the file’s release in 2012, see Jim Bronskill, “Operation Feather Bed: RCMP’s Fruitless Cold War Mole Hunt Zeroed In On Key Diplomats.” HuffPost Canada, March 22, 2012.

[3] CDFB00305.

Feather Bed - Introduction