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Internal CSIS report maps out new plan for foreign spy operations
Jim Bronskill
Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) - A secret Canadian Security Intelligence Service task force has called for a fresh injection of resources to bolster the spy agency's work overseas against terrorism.

The internal blueprint is expected to chart the course for CSIS efforts to gather intelligence in foreign countries in order to protect Canadians from terrorist groups and other threats.

"The purpose of the task force was certainly to look at how best to manage foreign operations in the future, and what type of resources we would need, both in terms of personnel and expenditure," said CSIS spokeswoman Barbara Campion.

The task force report, which also examines the thorny policy issues governing operations abroad, was quietly delivered to CSIS director Jim Judd in December.

Campion said that before implementing any of the recommendations, Judd must discuss the plans with new Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, the cabinet member responsible for CSIS.

"Of course, he has to get approval from the minister, and he has to get money, and all that sort of thing."

Campion declined to discuss specific needs of the intelligence service.

But CSIS has acknowledged turning its eyes abroad more often in recent years, as part of the mission to keep Canadians safe from terrorist organizations including Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

"The CSIS Act allows us to collect security intelligence anywhere in the world, and we've always done so. But in the past few years, certainly, we've done that increasingly," Campion said.

"Many of the threats affecting Canada come from outside of our borders, and we would certainly be remiss if we didn't investigate those as thoroughly as we could."

During the winter election campaign, the Conservatives promised to expand Canada's foreign-intelligence gathering capabilities, though they were unclear about how this might be accomplished.

Campion indicated the blueprint prepared for Judd was not linked to Tory election pledges, but a desire to study "what shape our foreign operations are going to take in the future."

Word of the plans come as the federal watchdog over CSIS expresses concern about some aspects of the intelligence service's activities outside Canada.

In a top secret report to the government, CSIS inspector general Eva Plunkett says she has become aware of unspecified "operational activities that raise questions about the policy framework governing the range of activities undertaken by the service abroad."

Plunkett acts as the minister's "eyes and ears" concerning CSIS and prepares an annual certificate - essentially a report card - on the intelligence service.

A declassified version of her November 2005 certificate, which covers the year ending last March 31, was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

It was submitted to former public safety minister Anne McLellan before the election.

Plunkett said in an interview at her Ottawa office she had discovered some "policy vacuums" - gaps that may well be addressed by the internal CSIS review of foreign operations.

She said the absence of adequate policy makes it difficult for her to state categorically to the minister that CSIS hasn't contravened provisions that limit what the service may do abroad.

The CSIS Act allows the agency to collect intelligence, in Canada or overseas, in investigating threats to national security such as a possible terrorist attack.

But while CSIS can gather this sort of "security intelligence" anywhere, it can collect "foreign intelligence" - for example, word that a distant country plans to invade its neighbour - only if it comes across the information within Canada.

"I couldn't find any evidence of (an infringement), but I continue to be concerned that there's a risk there," Plunkett said.

CSIS does re-examine its policies from time to time, Campion said.

"Any policy in any organization is constantly evolving due to changing circumstances. Our policies do evolve, they do change."

During the course of the year, Plunkett and her staff studied CSIS's foreign liaison arrangements and received briefings on the intelligence service's foreign investigative work, as well as its probe of international criminal activity.

In her report, the inspector general also expresses concerns about the fact CSIS employees had violated operational policies on three occasions. Plunkett said she was satisfied CSIS had taken "appropriate corrective action" in these cases, on which she did not elaborate.

In two other cases, the intelligence service violated policies by missing reporting deadlines, prompting Plunkett to call for a "greater degree of diligence."

Plunkett also criticized CSIS for inaccuracies, including its misstatement of the number of joint operations undertaken with other services, and the number of completed threat assessments and research reports.

"While none of these inaccuracies may appear to be very significant, their mere existence is worrying to me," she wrote. "This, coupled with the fact that the director's report last year also contained inaccuracies which my office identified, may be symptomatic of a broader issue of overall information management."

In general, Plunkett found that in 2004-05 CSIS had not exceeded its lawful authority, had not contravened any ministerial directions, nor exercised its powers unreasonably.

"I think Canada's well served - I really do - by the service."

© The Canadian Press 2006

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