[an error occurred while processing this directive] FactsCanada.ca -- Friday Feature 2001-09Fr -- What was Camp X?
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What was Camp X?.

March 2, 2001.

A short one today to mark Mike's final article for FactsCanada.ca. There will be at least one more Friday Feature, if only to announce our intentions, but we may still publish a couple more articles.


What was Camp X?
By Michael Hora

Most of what is commonly assumed about "Camp X" is patently untrue. Its use was never as exotic as the stories would have you believe. It was only the boring and the mundane that took place there. It was a camp for the training and development of low level agents, sort of a school for bargain basement bloodhounds. Its cover was perfect for spy work, as were its students. It was once described as being ordinary in an ordinary way. And it did actually have a proper name. It was called Special Training School 103.

The British ran the camp through the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), an arm of the government. Nearby Whitby, Ontario, benefited from the camp's proximity. So did best-selling author Sir William Stephenson. This man, who gave us his better-known wartime alter ego, "The Man Called Intrepid", made his mark there.

Probably more than anyone, Stephenson perpetuated the exaggerated links to the camp's inflated past. He based some highly debatable assertions on the supposed role of his life character at the camp. The most notable claim was that the assassins of SS General Reinhard Heydrich were trained there. Simply not true. Stephenson's account of the 1942 incident had the Czech gunmen at the site prior to the deed. Very few, if any, Europeans were ever trained on the grounds.

One odd thing the site administration did do though was recruit then-neutral American armed forces personnel and train them in the art of espionage and trickery. The fledgling American spy apparatus consisted mainly of untrained Office of Strategic Service (OSS) people. Camp X is where they were sent.

British Security Co-Ordination (BSC) did have one interesting feather in its cap, and that was that "Hydra", an intelligence-run radio station, was responsible for the transmission of highly classified data from across the Atlantic and back.

The school also didn't have a very long life at all. It came into being on December 9, 1941, and died an ordinary death in December of 1943.

Canadian espionage predated the camp by about 100 years. The middle of the 1800s saw the Canadian government first employ an active intelligence gathering apparatus. In the early 1860s the Fenian threat was enough to trigger the deployment of a counter-effort to thwart the avowed fifth columnists. Their entire plan was to have the US provide them a base from which they could invade Canada. The government of the day was suitably impressed. A second and also serious question of the day was the Boer War. This action also precipitated covert action on the part of the Canadian government and once again the interests of the nation became paramount. Survival of a way of life is powerful motivation. Another contributing factor to the development of the nascent force was the Riel Rebellion (or the Red River Rebellion). These rudimentary efforts at the game, although of no lasting significance themselves, had an integral part in building toward Canada's first professional spy service.

World War One gave painful birth to some intelligence networking. Fearful of German espionage and also mindful of an actual full frontal attack by the "Hun", Canada kept a wary eye on the German attache of the day, one Franz von Papen. The government was right in expecting sabotage from the diplomat -- he bungled an abortive bombing attempt on a rail line bridge near the Maine border in his one and only assault on Canadian soil.

As the World Wars and the Korean and Southeast Asian conflicts went stale, the role of the Canadian intelligence services changed. No longer were they active in the field and the role they took on, as gatherers of information rather than users, was the result of forces of society.

This changing of the guard saw the community go from becoming the wards of the military, to being orphans of the state, with a brief stop in the bright red serge of our finest. The critics of today have retaken the intelligence community and made it into a faceless and bland company in the government grey space. Now, nobody notices it. Which is just as well, considering the business they are in.



On Sunday our biography feature focuses on Catherine O'Hara, I tell you about Gambler, Manitoba, tell you a bit about classical music, list the world's top ten gold producers, give you a Prince Edward Island saying, give you a recipe for a hot toddy, take a look back at how long the "loonie" has been with us, and introduce a new weekly feature -- the idiom of the week.


This week's Friday Feature really just whets your appetite. Have a look at the links in today's resources (linked below) to learn more about Camp X. See you on Sunday.



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