Canada's spy-service watchdog has cleared this country's intelligence agents of direct involvement in the 2002 U.S. decision to deport Maher Arar to Syria as a suspected terrorist.
But in a heavily censored report, the watchdog also criticizes CSIS for not being careful enough about how it passes intelligence on to the Mounties, especially ones chatting with U.S. law-enforcement agencies.
The findings add further flesh to a skeleton laid out by a public commission during the summer, which explored whether the RCMP could have leaked sensitive intelligence information about Mr. Arar to the United States. When the Ottawa software developer returned to Canada last year, he said Canadian agencies were complicit in the torture he suffered during a 10-month captivity in his native country.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service "has consistently claimed they had no prior knowledge American authorities plan to detain or deport Arar," reads an unclassified portion of a Security Intelligence Review Committee report released yesterday.
"SIRC's review of documentation provided by CSIS and its answers to SIRC's written questions are consistent with this position."
Secrecy continues to shroud the whole affair and 70 per cent of the May, 2004, SIRC report into Mr. Arar's ordeal remains blacked out for national-security reasons.
SIRC asserts that the line between gathering security intelligence and pursuing criminal investigations is blurring -- and that for this reason, CSIS should re-examine its relationship with the RCMP.Despite this consideration, even the SIRC officials who saw all of the CSIS documents on Mr. Arar are not certain "what information prompted the Americans to place Arar's name on the [terrorist] watch list or whether any of that information came from CSIS via the RCMP," the report says.
Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor is leading an inquiry that is looking at nearly 20,000 documents, mostly from CSIS, the RCMP and the Department of Foreign Affairs, in an attempt to shed some light on the Arar affair.
The O'Connor commission released the SIRC report yesterday as it began secret hearings in which the government and commission officials will argue over what information can be released.
Public hearings aren't expected to resume until 2005.
The report released yesterday shows that CSIS apparently gets intelligence from Foreign Affairs. The spy service told SIRC it "relied on the assessment of [Foreign Affairs] that Arar did not show signs of being abused."
The SIRC report also shows that Canada's ambassador to Syria, Franco Pillarella, requested and received briefings on Syria's interrogation of Mr. Arar just one month after he was jailed there. He then passed the information on to CSIS.
The material from Foreign Affairs included Mr. Arar's forced confession (which he has recanted) that he travelled to Afghanistan in 1993. The SIRC report indicates how this information may have travelled from a Middle Eastern jail into diplomatic channels, back into the police and intelligence community -- and finally into a controversial newspaper report that resulted in the RCMP raiding a reporter's home last winter.