Watching the watchers
Monday, November 07, 2005
Canada's top intelligence official has offered members of Parliament the chance to spend a day spying with his agents, a kind of bring-your-child-to-work program, except for politicians. Sounds like fun, but it'll take more than that to solve some of the problems plaguing the Canadian security establishment.
James Judd, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), issued the invitation to members of a yet-to-be-formed national security committee of nine parliamentarians. Aside from the question of whether MPs really ought to be doing stakeouts and surveillance, the gimmick is a distraction.
CSIS has been having a rough time of late. Last week, one of its senior analysts admitted in Federal Court that he's never bothered to inquire whether information from foreign agencies was obtained through torture. The admission emerged during a bail hearing for former Ottawa pizza delivery man Mohamed Harkat, whom CSIS alleges has ties to Jihadist groups.
The lawyer representing Mr. Harkat said he was "stunned" to learn that CSIS doesn't bother asking how its foreign counterparts get their information.
Mr. Harkat's lawyer seemed concerned mainly about the ethical dimension of using torture-induced information, and that's a legitimate issue. On simply a pragmatic point, we would add that torture-induced statements are notoriously unreliable, and we would think CSIS has an interest in determining the reliability of its information.
What's strange is that CSIS has been assuring the Canadian government that the information it receives from foreign agencies is not obtained by torture. The body that serves as official watchdog of CSIS -- the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) -- has now determined that CSIS "was not in a position to provide such an absolute assurance."
The review committee also recently castigated CSIS for concocting a biased report against Bhupinder Liddar, the former magazine publisher whom then-prime minister Jean Chretien appointed as consul general in Chandigarh, India.
CSIS painted Mr. Liddar as a security risk, preventing him from taking up his duties and forcing him to get a lawyer. Two years and $240,000 of taxpayer money later, Mr. Liddar has been exonerated, apologized to, and granted a new diplomatic posting to his birth country of Kenya.
There is an ugly possibility that Mr. Liddar, caught up in the Chretien-Martin rivalry, was smeared for political reasons. The spectre that CSIS was used, directly or indirectly, as an instrument in a vendetta is alarming. The politicization of security agencies is not consistent with democracy.
In the post-9/11 world, intelligence gathering is a difficult, complex and risky endeavour. CSIS is still a relatively young organization requiring serious oversight. Such oversight could be provided by the proposed nine-person national security committee, but their involvement will have to be more comprehensive than a night or two at a stakeout.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2005
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