Ottawa may still boost Canada’s foreign intelligence abilities
Monday, April 30, 2007
OTTAWA -- The Harper government is conducting an "intensive review" of whether to enhance Canada's ability to gather foreign intelligence abroad, Canada's spy chief said Monday.
The Conservatives promised during the last election to create a new agency to "gather intelligence overseas, independently counter threats before they reach Canada, and increase allied intelligence operations." But senior government officials have expressed doubts about the need for a new foreign-intelligence agency, and the issue appeared to have moved to the backburner under the minority Parliament.
Jim Judd, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency, acknowledged Monday Canada cannot "fully" meet its intelligence requirements without beefing up its overseas operations. "In principle, you'd have to say in the absence of the capacity, the requirements are not being fully met," he told the Senate committee on national security and defence.
But the government is still debating how to plug that gap, he said. "It's been under intensive review and debate within the government, and we are not yet at the stage of going to ministers with any firm views or recommendations."
Under its governing legislation, CSIS can collect intelligence on activities believed to pose a national-security threat to Canada. It may also assist the military or Department of Foreign Affairs in gathering information on foreign states, individuals or corporations.
Supporters of the status quo argue these provisions already give the agency considerable latitude to collect intelligence abroad.
Judd said Monday that all but roughly 50 of the agency's estimated 2,600 staff are based permanently in Canada. However, it occasionally dispatches agents on covert missions, such as to support Canadian troops in Afghanistan or help Canadian hostages in Iraq.
In addition, the Communications Security Establishment intercepts "signals intelligence" from foreign entities.
But Judd conceded his agency does not gather "human intelligence" in foreign countries, as agencies such as the CIA and Britain's MI6 do.
It is believed such operations - which some experts describe as "stealing secrets" from others countries - would be largely covert and target "political and economic" information.
"What we're missing is the active so-called human intelligence," said Judd.
Most of Canada's allies, including "middle powers" such as the Netherlands and New Zealand, already have such capabilities, he added.
The forces of globalization and the increasingly international character of terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida are rendering national borders "irrelevant" and blurring the lines between domestic and foreign spy agencies, said Judd.
He pointed out roughly 15 countries regularly conduct intelligence operations within Canada. "It's surprising, sometimes, the number of hyperactive tourists we get here and where they come from."
Pressed to elaborate, he acknowledged China tops the list of such countries and accounts for "close to" half such activity. China has repeatedly denied spying on Canada.
But he cautioned that enhancing Canada's foreign-intelligence activities in other countries could have legal complications.
"Obviously if you are engaged in foreign espionage in other countries, chances are you're breaking somebody else's laws."
And he said that creating a new agency could have the unintended effect of diverting resources from existing national-security activities.
"When you create an institution ... in this business, more often than not you're robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Some national-security experts have predicted the creation of a foreign spy agency would be a costly undertaking that would take at least a decade to get up and running due the difficulty of training recruits.
But it does not appear that CSIS is suffering from a dearth of applicants.
Judd said Monday the agency hired 100 intelligence officers last year from a list of more than 14,000 applicants, and plans to recruit another 100 this year.
At least half of the recruits speak languages other than English or French and have more than one university degree, he said.
"There's a healthy market out there for bright, young people, and the calibre of person we're recruiting is very, very high."
© CanWest News Service
CanWest Interactive, a division of
CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.