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 Hugh Johnston

Historian Hugh Johnston (above) knew the RCMP were on campus monitoring leftists in the ’60s, but he was surprised to hear the CIA had their own agents here.

CIA spied on former SFU professor

July 26, 2007

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By Stuart Colcleugh

A former SFU professor was among numerous Canadian university faculty and students whom the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) spied on during covert operations in Canada in the 1960s and ‘70s, according to previously confidential documents released recently by the CIA.

Retired political scientist Mordecai Briemberg was one of the names listed among the declassified documents on a clandestine CIA program codenamed MHCHAOS, which targeted so-called extremists, including Vietnam War protesters and left-wing activists in Canada and other countries.

Briemberg, who chaired the formerly combined political science, sociology and anthropology (PSA) department, fit the bill on both counts. He was active both in left-wing politics and in Canada’s anti-war movement.

"I find it utterly shameful that a government like that of the U.S., which is always trumpeting the rhetoric of democracy, in practice does even the most despicable things to sabotage real independence and discussion," Briemberg told the CBC News.

MHCHAOS is portrayed in the CIA documents as "a worldwide program for clandestine collection abroad of information on foreign efforts to support/encourage/exploit/manipulate domestic U.S. extremism, especially by Cuba, Communist China, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union, North Korea and the Arab fedayeen."

The agency recruited agents for the program from "selected FBI sources who travel abroad in connection with their extremist activity and/or affiliations with hostile foreign powers or with foreign extremist groups" as well as "Americans with existing extremist credentials."

History professor emeritus Hugh Johnston, author of Radical Campus which chronicles SFU’s tumultuous early years, says he knew the RCMP were on campus at both SFU and UBC covertly monitoring leftists during the late ’60s. And he assumes the Mounties were passing intelligence along to American authorities.

"Obviously, police were watching campuses throughout North America during this period so that’s not a surprise," says Johnston. But he says it’s the first time he’s heard of the CIA going so far as to send their own agents to Canada to gather intelligence.

But, he muses, it may not be the last: "Maybe we’ll find out years from now that they’re watching our campuses today."

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