Former intelligence chief disputes RCMP testimony

Bill Curry, Ottawa (Globe and Mail) - Former CSIS director Reid Morden rejected claims of an almost unworkable relationship between the spy agency and the RCMP, urging the Air India inquiry yesterday not to mess with a system that is working well.

Contradicting Friday’s testimony from former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, Mr. Morden urged the commission not to advocate changes that could do more harm than good.

“I am very much of the view that if you have something which at the moment seems to be working, then I think you should be very careful about trying to change it,” he said.

Mark Freiman, the lead counsel for the inquiry, challenged that rosy view.

“We just heard in the last three days from very senior police officials. They don’t think it’s working,” he said, referring to Mr. Zaccardelli’s statement that the status quo cannot continue.

“I’m sure that they’re entitled to their opinions and that they’ve expressed them to you,” Mr. Morden replied. “I would not agree with that.”

Mr. Morden said he has yet to be convinced of the need for changes to the 23-year-old CSIS Act, nor the division of powers between spies and police.

The one change Mr. Morden did recommend is for a single person to oversee all national security files in Canada. As more and more departments take on national security responsibilities, Mr. Morden said, it is important for one person to collect all of that intelligence to advise the Prime Minister directly.

Though he said he doesn’t support calling the position a “national security czar,” he acknowledged that such a position is regularly referred to as such.

Mr. Morden was pulled from the senior ranks of the federal public service in September, 1987, to take over a three-year-old spy agency plagued by controversy in the aftermath of the 1985 Air India terrorist attack.

Mr. Morden acknowledged there were tensions between CSIS and the RCMP at the time, but he and Norman Inkster, the then-head of the RCMP, agreed they would personally set an example of co-operation.

Though he left CSIS in 1991, Mr. Morden has remained active as a consultant in the national security field. He also served as an adviser to the public inquiry into the treatment of Maher Arar.

He argued that in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, a lot of work has been done to ensure a seamless flow of information between the RCMP and CSIS.

While he acknowledged the fledgling spy agency could have done a better job managing the events that preceded the Air India bombing, Mr. Morden said he regrets telling the CBC in a 2004 interview that the agency “dropped the ball” on Air India.

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