Be Less Secretive, Internal Report Urges Canada’s Spy Agency

January 15th, 2008


Ottawa (Canadian Press)- Canada’s spy agency is “lagging behind” other countries when it comes to telling the public about its work in the shadows, says an internal study. The analysis prepared for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service found the agency’s annual public report to be dull, timid and full of recycled information - unlike documents produced by allied spy services.

“The expectation exists that CSIS will follow suit and be more open about its operations.”

A draft version of the study, dated January 2007, was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

Rocked by scandal and unflattering publicity in its early years, CSIS began issuing an annual public report in 1991 in an effort to explain the security service’s work and address persistent myths.

However, the spy agency hasn’t issued a report for the last two years. The most recent one covers 2004-05.

CSIS hired a consultant in 2006 to provide an assessment of whether the report remains “appropriate in today’s environment,” and to make recommendations for strengthening the document.

The authors interviewed senior members of CSIS, including director Jim Judd, officials from the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the RCMP, the Public Safety Department and the Privy Council Office, and members of the academic and media communities, including The Canadian Press.

“Some respondents suggested that if CSIS does not move to increase its openness about its operations, its reputation and credibility may suffer.”

The study, while acknowledging CSIS must keep some secrets, found the annual document released by the spy service left a lot to be desired.

“A review of recent years’ public reports indicates a fair amount of repetition from year to year, with few insights, facts or figures about actual CSIS operations,” the consultants write.

“CSIS needs to reconsider the approach it has taken to its public report, in terms of both content and format.”

Some security officials were wary about releasing too much information. But the majority indicated a public report should include more data on the number of CSIS employees and intelligence officers, the region of the country in which they work, new hires, visa screening, overseas operations and agreements in place with foreign governments.

CSIS spokeswoman Manon Berube said Friday the service found the advice constructive and that it would be reflected in CSIS reports for 2005-06 and 2006-07 “due to be released in the short term.”

The study comes amid pressure on the federal government to follow through with promises to bolster oversight of the intelligence community.

Ottawa has pledged to create a full-fledged national security committee of parliamentarians and a new watchdog to monitor the intelligence activities of the RCMP.

Liberal MP Derek Lee, long engaged in security and intelligence issues, said the CSIS public report had become too “pro forma,” but was better than nothing given what he considers a huge accountability gap.

Lee said he’s “deeply distressed” the government hasn’t moved quicker on setting up the new parliamentary committee to keep an eye on CSIS and other intelligence outfits.

The newly released study says public reports from security intelligence organizations in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands reveal a trend toward increasing openness regarding threats and operations.

“Relatively speaking, CSIS can be seen to be lagging behind its international counterparts in this regard.”

It notes that in November 2006 the director of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service, revealed the number of terrorist cells and individuals under investigation.

The study says CSIS, following the Australian model, should include a message from Judd “outlining the year-in-review in as much detail as possible” in an open-source document, giving the agency a chance to relay key points “in a highly credible voice.”

It even suggests a storyline the 2005-06 report with the theme “Canada’s Changing Role on the World Stage,” and for 2006-07, “Managing the Threat of Radicalization,” a reference to homegrown terrorism.

Copyright © 2008 The Canadian Press

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