|Mar. 8, 2004. 01:00 AM|
OTTAWA—Thousands of Canadians involved in the hunt for terrorists and spies will be forbidden from ever discussing sensitive aspects of their work under a new federal secrecy law. The government expects between 5,000 and 6,000 current and former security and intelligence officials to be designated as persons "permanently bound to secrecy," internal memos obtained by The Canadian Press reveal. The move to make officials take secrets to the grave is being ushered in under provisions of the Security of Information Act, part of a package of anti-terrorism measures passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States. The act, which contains a wide range of tools to safeguard federal information, was recently invoked by the RCMP to search the home of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill. But little attention has been paid to other elements of the law that demand permanent secrecy about covert intelligence gathering and military battle plans. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service is to store the names and related records of those sworn to silence in a database. Compilation of the list, which is ongoing, began last March, according to memos and briefing notes released through the Access to Information Act. Under the act, people automatically bound to secrecy include current or former members of CSIS, certain RCMP departments and intelligence watchdog agencies and members of the Communications Security Establishment, Canada's electronic spy agency.Also covered are former employees of the Communications Branch of the National Research Council (forerunner of CSE, defunct since 1975) and the RCMP Security Service (disbanded in 1984). Federal officials in charge of hand-picking these individuals ``have only recently started the process," said Mario Baril, of Treasury Board Secretariat, which is administering the initiative. The secret information includes: Past or current sources of confidential data. Names of spies involved in secret intelligence collection. Plans for armed military operations. Places, persons or groups targeted for covert intelligence efforts by Canadian spy services. Revealing such data "without authority" could bring 14 years in prison. "While there are categories of information which are important to safeguard, secrets don't stay secrets permanently," said Wesley Wark, a University of Toronto history professor, who said the law could dampen public debate.