In the so-called war on terror, it's disturbingly clear that the ends justify the means.

It is also evident that for George Bush and the cadre of intelligence "experts" north and south of the border, civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law are minor irritants that can be dismissed with an arbitrary wave of the hand.

More evidence of this emerged this past week when The New York Times revealed that days after Sept. 11, 2001, Bush secretly ordered his spy services to eavesdrop on an untold number of Americans without a court order.

News of the possibly illegal domestic espionage authorized by the president has unleashed a firestorm of criticism. There will undoubtedly be Congressional hearings and a possible criminal investigation into the type of spying reminiscent of Richard Nixon's notorious dirty tricks.

Bush and his supporters remain, of course, unrepentant, insisting that the ends do indeed justify the means. Others rightly argue that an imperial president must not be permitted to unilaterally subvert the rule of law in the pursuit of villains or terrorists. To countenance this would effectively grant unlimited and unchecked powers to the executive branch.

The vigorous and necessary debate presently being waged in the United States over the extent to which intelligence services may exercise their extraordinary resources and powers is not, regrettably, mirrored in Canada.

There was pathetically little attention paid among Members of Parliament, civil libertarians and journalists when the federal government moved unilaterally four years ago to lift the ban on the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) — our little-known cyberspace spy service — to intercept the e-mail and cellphone traffic of persons living in Canada.

Without so much as a scintilla of debate in the House of Commons, Ottawa granted an immensely powerful and largely unaccountable spy service the authority to spy on cyber communications in Canada without a court order.

The failure of our politicians to offer up even a whiff of protest to this draconian step is as shameful as Bush's ill-conceived actions.

To be sure, the usual cabal of academics and media-anointed intelligence experts has trotted out the shopworn excuses to defend this affront to Canadians' civil liberties and human rights in the malleable name of national security.

Our secret services, they say, were being unnecessarily "handcuffed" by outdated laws that prevent our intrepid spies from keeping tabs on terrorists lurking in our midst.

This is drivel. Our spy services don't require new powers and money to do their job. What they are in desperate need of is reform and effective oversight.

Two years ago, I published a book that detailed the incompetence, laziness and abuse of authority that is endemic in our spy services. Heaping more powers and resources on our spy services is akin to placing a cast on an injured arm without performing an X-ray to determine the size and nature of the break.

Then there are the assurances that official watchdogs are ever vigilant, protecting our rights and liberties against abuse. Not true.

Retired chief justice Antonio Lamer (and his tiny staff) was appointed the watchdog over CSE only after I reported on a former long-time CSE analyst who revealed to me that the spy agency had illegally intercepted the communications of Canadians, including discussions between a woman and her gynecologist.

MPs, the media and Canadians urgently need to cast a critical eye on the spy services that are charged with protecting us.

Spy services and their political masters are prone to abusing their power in the name of nati onal security.

We need to keep watch because our rights and liberties are at stake.

Andrew Mitrovica is contributing editor at The Walrus magazine and author of Covert Entry: Spies, Lies And Crimes Inside Canada's Secret Service.