Oct. 23, 2004. 01:00 AM
Top job at CSIS about to be filled
But posting involves complex shuffle of top bureaucrats

JAMES TRAVERS

One of the capital's best-kept secrets is who will keep the country's secrets. So, it's passing strange and decidedly intriguing that an overwhelming favourite is emerging in the strictly confidential process of choosing a new spymaster.

He is Jim Judd, an accomplished mandarin with the twin advantages of being anonymous to most Canadians but well-known in circles that matter most. Now secretary of the quietly powerful federal Treasury Board, Judd is everyone's first choice for a post that bears the weight of national security and Ottawa's pivotal relationship with Washington.

Those concerned about both are urging Prime Minister Paul Martin to quickly fill a vacancy created in May when former Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Ward Elcock completed his second five-year term. CSIS directors are limited to two terms and the government is required to name a permanent successor within six months.

As finance minister, Martin worked closely with Judd and is known to strongly favour the appointment. A final decision is likely to be announced within weeks.

Still, there could be glitches. For Martin, the appointment is only part of a complex puzzle that includes shuffling top bureaucrats and naming a new ambassador to Washington. And Judd, who yesterday demonstrated the discretion expected of a chief spook by not returning phone calls, is, at 57, considering retirement.

Finding a credible replacement for Elcock and acting director Dale Nuefield is essential. In the tense post-Sept. 11 atmosphere, confidence in CSIS is a critical component of U.S. relations strained by Jean Chrétien's decision not to send troops to Iraq and Martin's ambivalence over Canada's participation in the controversial ballistic missile defence shield.

That makes Judd the right man at the right time. His resumé reads like lifelong preparation for responsibilities rooted more in diplomacy and managing complex organizations than in cloak-and-dagger skulduggery.

He has varied and extensive experience in foreign affairs, including advising the prime minister and cabinet. Equally important, as a former deputy minister of defence, Judd knows what it's like to lead an organization that, along with making life-and-death decisions, has a unique culture shaped by loyalty and discipline.

Smart and with a brooding presence some say is simply shyness, Judd would bring another vital asset to CSIS: He is known, liked and trusted in Washington as well as in other capitals where Canada trades intelligence.

There is another and disquieting reason why Judd would be what one insider calls a brilliant choice. Among experts there are growing fears that someone so clearly competent will be sorely needed in a future crisis.

A week ago, the Prime Minister's senior security adviser warned that it would be "absurd" to assume this country won't be targeted for a terrorist attack. "Osama bin Laden has publicly identified Canada as a country he believes his followers should attack," Robert Wright said. "He ranked Canada as fifth out of seven countries, and every other country on that list has been attacked. ..."

Wright's candour is welcome, but not everyone is convinced that politicians fully recognize the seriousness of the threat. While decisions to push the tough Anti-Terrorism Act through Parliament and toss $8 billion at the security infrastructure are duly noted, concerns remain that the federal government is hoping for the best instead of planning for the worst.

Huge holes are evident in the national security blanket, particularly at ports and airports, and there is no doubt this country would suffer if those gaps facilitate an attack on the U.S. A government that warns that security trumps trade could almost certainly slam the border shut before demanding answers to questions about Canada's commitment to continental defence.

Doubts about Canada's preparedness and its ability to make its case in Washington are exacerbated by delays in finding a new CSIS director and a new head for the embassy. While both are in competent hands, agencies as sensitive as CSIS shouldn't be left leaderless long, and top diplomat Michael Kergin has been a lame duck since former deputy prime minister John Manley turned down Martin's unusual offer to be Ottawa's man in the world's political epicentre.

Kergin is expected to be replaced soon after the Nov. 2 presidential election, an impending move that led to a strange twist. He is also a contender for the CSIS job, while everyone from David Pratt, the Liberal defence minister defeated in the June election, to former Ontario premier David Peterson is rumoured to be Martin's choice for ambassador.

But what's far more important than the musical chairs is that Canada gets the strong people it needs in influential places.

Martin's promise to bring more sophistication to U.S. relations depends on something more than building the rapport that eluded Chrétien and George W. Bush. While top-level access is important and is often equated with influence, Ottawa's ability to be heard in Washington largely turns on who speaks at the many levels of a complex relationship.

If one of those voices is Jim Judd's, Canada would be well-served.

Additional articles by James Travers


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