Thursday, December 15, 2016

Historians in the news: Molinaro on secret wiretapping

Dave Seglins of CBC News reports on Trent University historian Dennis Molinaro's discovery of a secret, never acknowledged, and still unarchived Canadian order in council, dating back to 1951 but continuing for decades, that authorized wide surveillance, including wiretapping by the RCMP.

I happened to be talking yesterday with a senior legal scholar, aware of this breaking story, who had noted to the McDonald Commission (1977-81, on RCMP activities) that the Official Secrets Act was a very poor legal basis for much of the surveillance that went on. He of course was unaware of this Order-in-Council under which the RCMP was actually operating, and suspects the Commission staff may have been equally in the dark.

Meanwhile, the New Yorker has a Malcolm Gladwell story on "leakers and hackers" in which Daniel Ellsberg, the ur-leaker, describes the profound gap that opens between someone in government service who has clearance for secrets and scholars outside who do not:
it will have become very hard for you to learn from anybody who doesn’t have these clearances. Because you’ll be thinking as you listen to them: “What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?” And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening. . . . The danger is, you’ll become something like a moron.
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