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CSIS spies want improved briefings, training

JIM BRONSKILL, CP   2003-12-09 04:08:30  

OTTAWA -- Canadian spies have quietly told their bosses at CSIS they require more information about the "ethnic peculiarities and traits" of the suspected terrorists they're shadowing, an internal study reveals. The need for deeper cultural knowledge was just one of the shortcomings singled out in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service review of surveillance training provided by the spy agency.

Lack of time for training, dated course outlines and failure to provide timely refresher lessons were among the other difficulties uncovered by CSIS auditors.

A copy of the classified study, completed in March, was obtained by CP under the Access to Information Act.

CSIS provides several core courses in the art of surveillance practised on foot or in a vehicle, including:

- A five-to-six-week entry-level course that covers the "basics of surveillance techniques and tradecraft."

- A two-week investigative techniques session for the purpose of "obtaining information, identifying targets" and recording their activities.

- Various driving classes on conducting discreet surveillance, avoiding collisions and handling winter conditions.

- A 20-hour "confrontation management" course aimed at building skills with the goal of "de-escalating and escaping" tense situations.

The spy service also offers a communication skills course that includes lessons on cultural and ethnic awareness. But CSIS spies, who often find themselves tailing people with unfamiliar backgrounds, want more information, the study indicates.

Before being sent on assignment, "as much information as possible" about individuals and locations is passed to surveillance teams, the report says. However, CSIS officers told the auditors expert briefings on "cultural backgrounds of groups as well as ethnic peculiarities and traits would be most beneficial."

All regional divisions of the spy service are hiring a number of new officers dedicated to surveillance, the report adds.

While new recruits receive initial surveillance training, the reviewers expressed concern about efforts to keep skills sharp.

The practice of setting aside special days to hone surveillance techniques had largely fallen by the wayside.

Although CSIS employees noted the value of these sessions, "they are . . . infrequently utilized, with some regions not having training days for several months at a time." In addition, some courses "had not been revised for several years and elements in each were in need of updating."

CSIS is supposed to offer refresher training in collision avoidance and surveillance techniques for intelligence officers, the study says, "but this does not occur."

In response to recommendations, CSIS has agreed to review course training standards by February and implement a new mentoring program by autumn 2004.

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