Sudden appearance of CSIS file fuels Charkaoui claims of smear campaign

MONTREAL - The sudden appearance of a damning CSIS report that paints alleged terrorist Adil Charkaoui as a jihadist insider is feeding claims by Charkaoui and his supporters of a smear campaign, while also raising questions about security at Canada's spy service.

CSIS' assistant director of intelligence admitted earlier this month to a federal court judge that the service had recently "discovered" a report of an April 2001 interview with Charkaoui.

The interview did not form part of the evidence used by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to detain Charkaoui under a security certificate in 2003, even though it deals with his purported extensive knowledge of Islamic-extremist circles in Montreal.

"According to the (assistant director of intelligence), there was an administrative or transcription error when CSIS transferred the information from its database to the court file," reads a summary of the closed door session between the unidentified CSIS official and Federal Court Judge Simon Noel.

A precis of the interview, included in the record of Charkaoui's Federal Court case to have his security certificate dismissed, describes his familiarity with jihadist recruiting techniques.

"Charkaoui explains that many are called, but few are chosen," the precis reads.

"An individual thought by a recruiter to have potential will be brought to take part in certain meetings where he will be exposed to activities that have traits of jihad. The individual is tested."

The interview resurfaces just ahead of Charkaoui's scheduled appearance this Thursday before the Supreme Court of Canada, where he will argue he was denied fundamental justice because CSIS destroyed notes and tapes of its interviews with him. That has Charkaoui crying foul.

"It's obvious that this document was filed to hurt my reputation," he told a Montreal newspaper last week.

Charkaoui's lawyers plan to file documents on Monday with the Supreme Court that will question how CSIS handled its records of the 2001 interview.

The timing, along with the ambiguous explanation given by CSIS, has even struck members of the intelligence community as odd.

"It's got some disappointing features," said David Harris, a former chief of strategic planning at CSIS, of the interview's sudden reappearance. "I would suggest it is an unusual situation."

But for Charkaoui's supporters, CSIS' actions are further proof of a targeted smear campaign.

They say the spy service pulled a similar stunt in 2005 when just prior to a bail hearing it released a misleading summary of an interview with Charkaoui which described him refusing to take a lie-detector test.

They also point to a secret document that was leaked to two La Presse journalists last year that said Charkaoui discussed an apparent terrorist plot with Hashim Tahir in June 2000.

Charkaoui's attempts to force the La Presse journalists to give up their source were given a boost recently when the Federal Court rejected a motion to have their subpoenas quashed.

During hearings on the motion, Judge Simon Noel himself raised the precedence of government officials spreading false information about Maher Arar, the Canadian engineer who was deported and tortured in Syria after being wrongly accused of being a terrorist.

"The publication of this information can only have negative consequences for Mr. Charkaoui," Noel wrote in throwing out the La Presse motion. "His fundamental rights can be affected."

La Presse intends to appeal Noel's decision.

Implications for Charkaoui's quest for freedom aside, CSIS is likely very concerned about how secret information ended up public.

"If you start seeing information leaking out through inappropriate channels, then that raises a host of questions," said Harris, who currently heads Insignis Strategic Research.

"Although it could be information released to a journalist one day, it could be an issue of release, the next day, to terrorist-oriented individuals or agents of foreign p owers hostile to us."

Both the RCMP and CSIS have opened investigations into the leak of the document to La Presse.