Pearson’s Reminiscence of Norman Case

In 1951 a woman, Elizabeth Bentley, as well as some others, gave evidence off the record in Executive Session to the [U.S.] Internal Security Sub-Committee. In the course of her testimony she gave the names of some Canadians who had worked with a communist study group in Washington during the war. She gave one name which I managed to prevent becoming publicly known. The man [Hazen Sise] became a prominent citizen in Quebec, of unimpeachable loyalty and considerable achievement. During the war he was a rather radical young man and went to some of these study discussions. But he probably did not know much about what was going on and he certainly was not an agent of any kind. I have no doubt that he talked about me, saying he had seen me at the Embassy and that I had said that the Russians were going to break through in the Ukraine, or some such thing. Thus, my name appeared in the Senatorial records, by association with this man to whom I was supposed to have fed information; that was what Miss Bentley insinuated. The committee really thought they had got hold of something, that I, as Ambassador, had been giving this group, some of whom were or became Soviet intelligence people, information through this other Canadian.

The State Department considered it their duty to pass these names on to Ottawa, including mine. I was then Secretary of State for External Affairs. I cannot quarrel with them for their decision; they were probably asked to do so by the committee. I had a call about this from a very highly placed man in Washington. He said: ‘God, Mike, we’ve got to do it. We don’t want to get into trouble with Congress. It’s a political matter. Please forgive me. I’m going to have one of your friends go up with all this information so you’ll know this is being done in the right way.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘don’t worry about it, though it’s a pretty insulting thing to do. I hope we don’t ever have to do anything like that in reverse. But I’m in politics now, and I know about these pressures. Just go ahead and give your list to the Prime Minister. I’ll tell him all about it.’

It was not so trifling when Herbert Norman’s name was singled out. They said they had evidence, which they brought to our attention, showing that he was a Soviet agent and a member of the Communist party. This was quite a shock. I had known Herbert Norman for some time and had gone to college with his older brother. His father, like mine, had been a Methodist minister and had served in Japan. Herbert was completely fluent in Japanese and had written books about Japan. When I was in Tokyo in 1950 General MacArthur said of Herbert, who was then in charge of our Liaison Mission: ‘He’s the most valuable man we have. We want to thank you for letting him help us.’ Nonetheless, it was obviously my duty to follow up the accusation because the evidence included some specific charges. The first thing I did was to bring him back for special duty in the department. I invited him to my office and told him what had happened. It was a real blow to him. I said: ‘We’re going to put you through the most exhaustive investigation that any Canadian civil servant can be put through. That’s what we must do.’ He agreed. Then I had the man in charge of the RCMP Security Branch in for a talk with us and told him: ‘Now take your time. Mr. Norman, for his own protection, wants this to be a very thorough investigation. He’ll tell you everything and I want reports on everything that you find.’

The enquiry went on for about six or seven weeks. The RCMP investigated in great detail and, I thought, in a very intelligent, sensible, and fair-minded way. The main charge against him was that as a student at Cambridge and Harvard he attended Marxist communist study groups. This was quite true, and he did not attempt to conceal it. The RCMP could not find anything to cast doubt on Herbert’s loyalty. I went over the evidence with the chief of the Security Branch and concluded that he had a clean bill of health.

To show our confidence in him, we sent Herbert to New Zealand as High Commissioner. It had been quite an ordeal for him, though he took it very well. New Zealand was an easy post and he was not subject to much working pressure. Afterwards, we sent him to Cairo as Ambassador, a very difficult post, especially in the middle fifties. His reports from Egypt contained able analyses of the situation and the Americans were very grateful to receive digests of them. He was considered by most of his peers, I think, to have been on of the best observers there, just as he had been in Japan.

The second Norman blow occurred in March 1957 when the Internal Security Sub-Committee released to the press, without our knowledge, let alone our approval, a textual record of hearings which involved Herbert Norman, based on the earlier evidence. I sent the strongest note to the American government, to John Foster Dulles, that I ever sent as Prime Minister or Secretary of State to any country, even to a communist country. It read:

I am instructed by my government [this is Arnold Heeney, our Ambassador] to bring to the attention of the United States Government the allegations of disloyalty which have been made in the United States against Mr H. Norman, the Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, a high and trusted representative of the Canadian government. The irresponsible allegations to which I refer, and which in any event would concern matters to be dealt with by the Canadian government and not by a sub-committee of the United States Senate, were contained in the textual record of the Internal Security Sub-Committee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary which was officially released by that body to the press in Washington at 4:30 PM on March 14 [1957]. I am instructed to protest in the strongest terms the action taken by an official body of the legislative branch of the United States government in making and publishing allegations about a Canadian official. This procedure is both surprising and disturbing because it was done without the United States government consulting or even informing the Canadian government and without taking account of relevant public statements made earlier by the Canadian government. The Canadian government examined similar allegations as long ago as 1951, and as a result of an exhaustive security inquiry, the full confidence of the Canadian government in Mr Norman’s loyalty and integrity has been confirmed in all respects. The conclusions of the Canadian government were made public at that time and must have been known to the sub-committee particularly as the State Department was requested at the time, and again on December 11, 1952, to draw them to their attention. I am attaching the text of the two statements made by the Canadian government on this matter in 1951. The repetition of such irresponsible allegations in the sub-committee and the publication on the authority of this official body of a record containing such allegations is the kind of action which is inconsistent with the long-standing and friendly cooperation characterizing relations between our two countries.

The note, with the annexes, went to Mr Dulles on 18 March. Then I sent a follow-up on 10 April because they had not done much about the first note. This was even tougher. We were challenging again their whole procedure of making this information public without our knowledge, and indeed, of making it public at all: ‘As the United States government knows, the Canadian government finds the procedures actually adopted by the Sub-committee with respect to Canadians difficult to understand, unfair and indeed intolerable. The Canadian government therefore requests again that these procedures be altered in so far as Canadians are concerned along the line indicated above.’ We told them that in the future we did not want any Congressional Committee to ever mention a Canadian name without our approval, in any press release they made, and then we really told them what we thought of them in some pretty strong language; that we were going to protect Canadian citizens from this kind of slander. This is the paragraph that probably disturbed them most: ‘In view of the conduct of Congressional investigations affecting Canadians and because of its responsibility for taking every precaution in its power to protect Canadian citizens, the Canadian government requests that in the reciprocal exchange of security information the United States government give its assurance that none of its agents or departments will pass such information to any committee, body or organization in the United States over which the executive branch of the United States government has not executive control without the express consent of the Canadian government in each case.’ This was to impress the security branches to whom we were passing on information, reciprocally (as no doubt is still done), and as we did with Great Britain. The FBI was peddling that information to the sub-committee. The note continued: ‘The Canadian government for its part assures the United States government that any security information on United States’ citizens supplied by United States agencies to the security agency of the Canadian government would be given similar protection in Canada. Unless such an assurance can be given, I am instructed by my government to inform you that the Canadian government must reserve the right in future not to supply security information concerning Canadian citizens to any United States government agency.’

That really upset them. The State Department and the White House threw themselves on our mercy. They said, in effect, ‘Look, you know the relations between the Executive and the Legislature, and you know the sacrosanct position of the FBI, don’t ask us to give you this kind of an assurance.’ It threw our security people here into confusion too, but we got what we considered to be adequate assurance that it would never happen again.

When I reported to the House of Commons there was an outburst of anti-American indignation, though the members were very pleased with the way it had been handled, even the official Opposition. It was near the end of the session. The 1957 [federal election] campaign had not yet opened, but I was in Kingston talking to a Liberal assembly and meeting people when the message came that Herbert Norman had killed himself. My feelings never reached a lower point in my public career. During the last day of the session Mr Diefenbaker asked whether I could give an assurance that all the statements made before the US Committee were untrue and unjustified. It was one of those ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ questions. I had about five seconds to decide what to do. I wish I had replied:. ‘I have nothing to add to what I said, that this was an unfair and unjust accusation.’ Instead I refused to say whether every single statement was accurate or not. But I told the House that every one of the allegations had been examined in detail and there was no doubt in our minds about Herbert Norman’s integrity and loyalty. It was true that in his early days he had, as a student, been associated with Marxist study groups. I did not say he was a member of the Communist party, nor did I suggest that this was any reflection on his later loyalty. Mr Diefenbaker said, in effect: ‘Well then, why all this indignation?’ It was the beginning of an election campaign, so the Opposition attacked, asking why I hadn’t given the facts back in 1951, and so on. This was very unpleasant.

The papers began to criticize the government, and while not accusing Herbert Norman directly of anything, the impression could be left that I held this information back because I had some suspicion about him. I could have made everything public in 1951 and I had considered doing so. I had discussed it with the police, as well as with some of my colleagues. I was urged by the security people and by some others not to. It is a poor practice to reveal security procedures, and it is not fair to the person concerned. It is normal procedure to give only the results of the investigation. The story of the evidence against Herbert Norman shows the value of our system. In 1957, when the committee in Washington gave out the information about him, it was that an RCMP member during the war had put Herbert Norman’s name forward as a communist agent. But that evidence had been discredited by the police themselves. It was so mixed up, it even had him at the wrong university. They should have burned it but they put it on file. Some time later an official of the Security Branch here sent it down to the FBI without any indication that it had been discredited and was not being used. When this was found out some months later, the RCMP informed the FBI of their error. If that later message was sent over to the sub-committee, they never used it. In 1951 I think we were right in not mentioning details. The fact that the matter was not mentioned for six years would seem to vindicate our judgment. In 1957, should I have done the same thing? It was now a tragedy. Herbert had killed himself. There were headlines all over the world. I am not sure, but I think I followed the right course.

Source: Lester Pearson, "Pearson's Reminiscence of Norman Case," Mike: The Memories of the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson Volume 3 1957-1968 John A. Munro and Alex I. Inglis (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975., n.d.), 167-172

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