Sun, December 19, 2004

Canada short on spies

OTTAWA -- Canada needs more spies posted abroad to fight the global war on terror, says Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan. While not convinced of the need for a separate spy agency to operate overseas, McLellan said she and Prime Minister Paul Martin agree there's a pressing need for Canada to collect more foreign intelligence.

The mandate of CSIS could be expanded to do the job.

"We may want to redefine the existing section of the CSIS legislation to give them broader powers abroad, and perhaps to gather different kinds of intelligence," McLellan said in a year-end interview with Sun Media.

"That's something we would need to discuss. But it's also a question of resources. If you want to do more abroad, it costs money."

Traditionally, CSIS agents have primarily worked domestically, collecting foreign and security intelligence. But in a world that's "changed dramatically," Canada must reach beyond its borders to fend off potential terrorist threats, McLellan said.

"Intelligence is the lifeblood of preventing further terrorist acts. Intelligence is the lifeblood of destroying organized crime which funds, in turn, terrorism, or at least some terrorism offshore," she said.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade departments already gather "general political intelligence" through embassies abroad on issues ranging from industrial intelligence to refugee pressures and migration trends.

McLellan said intelligence helps the government inform government decision-making on issues aside from crime or terrorism.

"Depending on the intelligence you gather, you may have someone in an embassy who learns something about what a key competitor of one of our major corporations may or may not be doing. That's information that then can help us in terms of developing our strategy around a trade initiative for example," she said.

While it's expensive to post agents and support staff, McLellan said CSIS is the "logical vehicle" to gather more intelligence abroad.

"There are extremists in different parts of the world who would attempt to collect the funds and materials for the destruction of innocents, weapons of mass destruction, where they might be purchased, who they might be purchased by, what their target might be - all of this is happening in the world, and we need to have our own independent sources of intelligence about those things," she said.

In turn, under the "appropriate protocols," Canada must share information with "like-minded countries" and key allies such as the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, she said.

Intelligence that convinces the government there is state-sanctioned terrorism would likely influence Canada's foreign policy in relation to that country, she said.