1957-1960: Building Links and Maintaining Ties, Alerts, and Tensions in the Line

After the initial transfer of HYDRA, the network continued to grow and solidify. Old links were maintained and new links were established. While the archival record pertaining to HYDRA between 1949 and 1955 is scarce, from an undated summary of the Canadian takeover of HYDRA it can be determined that the control and receiving functions of HYDRA were moved to Leitrim, near Ottawa, in 1951, while the transmitter stayed in Oshawa. While Canada continued to maintain close ties with their British counterparts on matters of technology and communications expertise, as is reflected in this volume, they also forged new ties with the Americans. In 1949, Canada and the United States reached the CANUSA agreement, which governed the bilateral exchange of signals intelligence between Ottawa and Washington.[1] By 1959, HYDRA was a key hub of signals intelligence and diplomatic communications traffic between Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, held together by radio links, landlines, and undersea cables. The system linked Canada with the CIA, the NSA, and the British Embassy in Washington, as well as GCHQ, the Foreign Office, and the Canadian High Commission in London.

            In addition to signals intelligence-sharing and diplomatic traffic, HYDRA also became part of a strategic warning system between Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. In the deep chill of the Cold War, there was need for the three allies to warn each other in the event of Soviet preparations for war. In 1957, the three allies concluded the Tripartite Intelligence Alerts Agreement, which established procedures for indications and information-sharing relating to Soviet war preparations.[2] A dedicated circuit was established on the HYDRA network for these purposes, linking the indications centers in London, Washington, and Ottawa.

            Though HYDRA was a well-established system by the mid-1950s, its operations were hardly trouble-free. At times, the division of duties established in the post-war period – with policy assigned to External Affairs, operational control assigned to the CBNRC, and administrative responsibilities assigned to National Defence – could result in bureaucratic tug-of-wars over the HYDRA system. As evidenced in the documents in this volume, the Department of National Defence took a sense of ownership of the HYDRA system, and tended to resent External Affairs’ attempts to make unilateral changes to the network, or to claim the network as their sole purview.

[1] Jensen, Cautious Beginnings, 170.

[2] Alan Barnes, “A Confusion, Not a System: The Organizational Evolution of Strategic Intelligence Assessment in Canada, 1943 to 2003,” Intelligence and National Security, 34:4: 467.


1957-1960: Building Links and Maintaining Ties, Alerts, and Tensions in the Line