Norman under scrutiny

President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on November 2, 2007, that George Koval was receiving, posthumously, Russia’s highest state award was yet another signal that the case of Herbert Norman would not be laid to rest any time soon. Koval, newly designated “Hero of Russia,” was a scientist of American birth but who lived in Russia from 1948 until his death in 2006. In the crucial 1944-5 period, Koval had been a mole for Soviet military intelligence inside the Manhattan Project. Code-named “Delmar,” the GRU spy was able to obtain information about the atomic bomb. Putin declared that Koval’s work had drastically reduced the time it took for the USSR to develop a nuclear arsenal to compete with that of the United States. Just as American national security agencies began an investigation of him as a possible spy, Koval had fled the United States to live in the Soviet Union.

The knowledge that people like Koval had successfully spied for the USSR and escaped detection must have caused Western counter-intelligence agents to redouble their quest for traitors. Despite the aid of the Venona interception project and of defectors, Western national security agents did not catch every Soviet spy. Even big fish got away. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, greater vigilance seemed to be justified.

In 1950, Herbert Norman found himself ensnared in the security intelligence net. One question debated by historians, and which you may wish to examine, is how he came to be of such interest to the authorities. This part of the site contains documents relevant to that issue. Others can be found under the heading Trial by Television and in the Aftermath section under Immediate Reactions.

Given the atmosphere of heightened antagonism against communism in the Western countries, another question to consider is this: Should Norman have been fired from his job as a Canadian diplomat because of his admitted association with communism over a decade earlier? At the time, two practices prevailed in cases where the loyalty of a civil servant was in doubt. One was a recognized principle; the other a widely held convention. The principle was that although security specialists – usually the RCMP – carried out the investigations, they did not make decisions about whether a public servant would be hired, retained, or fired. That judgment was left to senior executives in the department in which the person worked. The convention was that when there was doubt about a civil servant’s loyalty, it should be resolved by his or her dismissal. There was no right to work in the state sector, then or now. Indeed, some would argue, the state had a duty to dismiss or refuse to hire anyone whose background raised doubts in the area of loyalty.

Had you been the Minister of External Affairs in the years 1950 to 1952, what would your decision have been about Herbert Norman?

Norman’s case was further complicated by the fact that, rightly or wrongly, it could not be addressed exclusively in Canada. Indeed, the fact that the Cold War was an international confrontation meant that the frequently-used term “national security” is really a misnomer. While some unique national standards did apply to security intelligence investigations and interrogations, every Western government was aware that it must be a team player. The United States was only too obviously the coach of the team, and its desires had to be recognized. This was especially true of the relationship between Canada and the United States. in general and between the RCMP and the FBI in particular. In order to work together to address Depression-era political dissent, the two agencies had established their first formal liaison in 1937. This co-operation meant posting an FBI liaison officer at the RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, with an RCMP counterpart stationed at the FBI office in Washington DC. Both through formal channels and through informal contacts, the FBI officer in Ottawa would have had virtually complete access to intelligence reports from the Mounties’ Special Branch.

Herbert Norman had studied in the United States in the 1930s and had worked closely with both the United States’ security intelligence system and its occupation authorities in Japan. As such, he would certainly have been of interest to the FBI. Little wonder, then, that the RCMP’s intelligence reports found their way into the hands of the FBI. Once that happened, the ability of the Canadian political system to draw its own conclusions about Norman’s loyalty was seriously compromised. True, Canada could decide on its own whether or not to extend Norman’s employment in the Department of External Affairs. But a green light from his superiors was not necessarily enough to convince U.S. authorities of this diplomat’s loyalty.

Government Documents


Newspaper or Magazine Articles

Thesis or Dissertation