CSIS bolsters ranks, cites continuing threats from extremists and spies

OTTAWA — Canada's intelligence agency hired 100 new spies last year and is moving ahead with plans to expand its Ottawa headquarters.

In its latest annual report, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says it will continue to invest heavily in attracting personnel amid persistent threats to national security.

The main focus of CSIS in 2006-07 was terrorism inspired by the ideology of al-Qaida, and the possibility that Canadians could become radical followers, says the report tabled in Parliament on Thursday.

The intelligence service was heavily involved in the probe that led to the June 2006 arrest of Toronto suspects, including several youths, for allegedly plotting to attack high-profile targets.

CSIS says it also remains wary of aggressive activities by foreign governments engaged in spying and interference with ethnic communities in Canada.

In one case, Paul William Hampel was deported to Russia following his November 2006 arrest in Montreal over espionage accusations.

CSIS, which has bolstered its overseas role in recent years, underscored the ongoing threat of suicide bombers against Canadian soldiers.

The spy service continued to provide intelligence support to the Defence Department - both in Canada and Afghanistan - to help protect troops.

"In international operations, CSIS will further enhance its capacity to detect and deter threats originating outside Canada," CSIS director Jim Judd said in the report. "This will also help us better protect Canadians beyond our borders, whether military personnel or civilians."

CSIS, created in 1984, began issuing annual public reports in the early 1990s in an effort to explain its work following a wave of bad publicity.

Two years ago it took a hiatus from tabling the document, looking for ways to make it more relevant.

On Thursday, CSIS released reports covering 2005-06 and 2006-07.

The latest report contains little new information about the agency's activities. And it does not mention a couple of the less-flattering episodes highlighted in the most recent annual assessment prepared by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the watchdog over CSIS.

The review committee found CSIS "arbitrarily detained" Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, an admitted al-Qaida member, in contravention of the Charter of Rights.

The committee also noted CSIS made an "unsubstantiated statement" linking an Ottawa-based charity to a terrorist group.

In the latest CSIS report tabled Thursday, Judd did however acknowledge criticism of the agency from the commission of inquiry into the Maher Arar affair.

He said the intelligence service is adjusting policies and working with other federal departments in response to the inquiry's recommendations.

Arar, a Canadian communications engineer born in Syria, was detained by U.S. authorities at a New York airport during a stopover in September 2002. Days later Arar was sent to Damascus, where he was tortured in prison over false accusations of involvement with al-Qaida.

An inquiry led by Justice Dennis O'Connor found that faulty information supplied to the Americans by the RCMP likely resulted in Arar's transfer to Syria.

O'Connor also said CSIS did not do an adequate assessment to determine whether information relayed from Damascus was likely extracted through torture.

In addition, the judge cited a lack of CSIS and RCMP support for a Foreign Affairs letter to Syrian authorities calling for Arar's release.

Judd said CSIS takes O'Connor's findings and recommendations seriously.

He also noted the inquiry did not find evidence that CSIS, or any Canadian official, took part in the decision to detain Arar or send him to Syria.

The CSIS report for 2006-07 says the intelligence service will begin construction of the next phase of its national headquarters building east of downtown Ottawa, a project in the works for several years.

Judd also said CSIS will keep abreast of relentless changes in technology in areas inc luding telecommunications and the Internet.

"These play a central role in the planning, organizing, and execution of terrorist activities, as well as in recruiting participants. They are also crucial for our response to other threats."