Wary spy watchdog to closely eye secret CSIS missions overseas
OTTAWA (CP) - The federal watchdog over the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says the spy agency runs the risk of straying beyond its mandate by stepping up operations overseas.
Inspector General Eva Plunkett has quietly advised Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan she'll be keeping a close eye on clandestine CSIS activities abroad to ensure the intelligence service doesn't cross legal lines.
CSIS has made no secret of the fact the fight against global terrorism has spurred an increase in foreign missions by Canadian spies - operations Plunkett believes could test the bounds of the service's mandate.
"I think it warrants attention," Plunkett said in an interview. "We should be alert to it."
In a highly classified report to McLellan, Plunkett says CSIS "runs the potential risk" of infringing the statutory restrictions on the service through its investigative work in foreign countries.
The Canadian Press obtained an edited version of the top secret November 2004 report under the Access to Information Act.
Federal legislation permits CSIS to collect intelligence, in Canada or abroad, in investigating threats to national security such as a possible terrorist attack.
In the Commons on Monday, McLellan strongly signalled such efforts would continue, saying intelligence on security matters "is the lifeblood of keeping a country and its people safe and secure."
But while CSIS can gather this sort of "security intelligence" anywhere, the spy agency is limited by the CSIS Act to the collection of "foreign intelligence" within Canada.
As a result, CSIS could not, for example, go beyond Canada's borders to collect information on construction of a military satellite or a brewing revolt against a foreign leader.
Plunkett says in the report that while she has "not seen any cases" of such violations during her first year, "prudence dictates that the inspector general should annually examine these activities."
CSIS spokeswoman Barbara Campion said the intelligence service was respecting the rules.
"We do not collect foreign intelligence overseas, that's not our mandate," she said.
"CSIS will continue to work within the law and the bounds of our own internal authorities."
The spy agency may collect foreign intelligence in Canada when formally requested to do so by the minister of defence or foreign affairs.
For instance, if a refugee claimant in Montreal was plotting to overthrow his home country's government, CSIS might be asked to investigate.
The rules around gathering such intelligence are somewhat looser than those governing CSIS collection of information about security threats, which also worries Plunkett.
"I think because of that, we have to be more vigilant in ensuring that the two don't get muddied when people are working in these areas."