by Peter Marwitz

So much has been said of Herbert Norman that his life’s story has become a hagiography of a celebrated victim of the Cold War who might have otherwise been a saint. As an External Affairs friend pointed out to me after the recent showing of the National Film Board documentary, “The Man Who Might Have Been: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Herbert Norman,” Norman was hardly depicted as a loyal Canadian. Instead the NFB left all of the national security questions still unanswered and made a good circumstantial case for his disloyalty. Norman lied during two security interviews in the early 1950s regarding his membership in the communist party while at Trinity College, Cambridge University during the Great Depression. He dissembled to the FBI when questioned in 1942. He consistently tried throughout this period to disassociate himself from the Japanese communist, Tsuru Shigeto, whom he had known while involved with a marxist study group at Harvard University. Finally, Norman denied having been the Cambridge recruiter of colonial communists. His lies came home to roost causing him to commit suicide, in itself, an indicator of a guilty mind, despite the contents of his suicide notes.

What was Norman covering up? His mentor and recruiter into the Communist International was John Cornford, a self-described Lenin of Great Britain, among whose associates included what the KGB termed “The Magnificent Five.” It stretches the imagination to think that Herbert Norman was not himself approached to struggle for peace on behalf of the Soviet Union, given that he exemplified the Comintern’s best interests: a communist of intellect and standing who had the ability to make it as a star in any profession of his choosing. Having graduated from Harvard University just before the commencement of World War II, he gained entry as a junior foreign service officer of External Affairs and rapidly climbed the ladder of success becoming the head of missions in Japan, New Zealand and Egypt while gaining access to information of critical interest to the Soviets. All along his Comintern file in Moscow recorded his development as a Soviet agent.

Marwitz is a former member of the RCMP Security Service, CSIS and National Security Liaison Officer at External Affairs.


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