CSIS: Getting It Right, Through Accident

Some days ago, Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Richard Fadden, said in what he presumed to be a sealed audience that “There are several municipal politicians in British Columbia and in at least two provinces there are ministers of the Crown who we think are under at least the general influence of a foreign government.” For this remark he has been called before a Parliamentary committee established just for this purpose, and has further been widely condemned by media for his supposed crimes of “casting traitorous aspersions” and McCarthyism.

It is doubtless apparent to all that Fadden referred covertly to the influence of China. (The closest he came to saying so was his use of the word “Asia.”) His failed use of code suggests that either he believed an effective veil was unnecessary or that he simply isn’t very good at it. It is also curious that he reposed in the assumption his words would never drift on the open air. What sort of “Spymaster,” as he has been frequently called, fumbles in such a manner? Only the sort of spymaster one finds across the bloated, complacent, self-serving, and incompetent bureaucracies of the “intelligence community” as constituted both here and in the United States.

In case we need the reminder, the mess in which things now are has been further detailed by John C. Major’s Final Report, “Air India Flight 182: A Canadian Tragedy.” Among Major’s findings are the following:

  • CSIS surveillance was ineffective. Surveillants were unable to distinguish one traditionally attired Sikh from another. When a CSIS surveillance team observed experiments involving a test explosion conducted by Sikh extremists in the woods in Duncan B.C. in June 1985 (the Duncan Blast), the loud sound heard was misinterpreted as a gunshot. No photograph was taken of the unknown third person present (Mr. X.) because surveillants had not brought a camera.
  • CSIS failed to include important information, such as the Duncan Blast, in the threat assessments it provided to the RCMP and Transport Canada.
  • The RCMP wasted resources creating a threat assessment structure parallel to CSIS’. The RCMP structure was itself ineffective – it failed to identify, report, and share threat information.
  • CSIS often failed to disclose promptly to the RCMP information relevant to the criminal investigation, particularly information from human sources, or it disclosed information without sufficient detail or in a manner that prevented the RCMP from using the information.
  • CSIS was mesmerized by the mantra that “CSIS doesn’t collect evidence,” and used it to justify the destruction of raw material and information. CSIS erased the tapes that caught coded conversations possibly related to the planning of the bombing, and CSIS investigators destroyed their notes that recorded the information CSIS sources provided in relation to the Air India bombing. Both of these actions compromised the prosecution’s evidentiary position at trial.
  • CSIS delayed disclosure of necessary information for the prosecution of Interjit Singh Reyat by adopting a legalistic and technical approach in responding to requests from prosecutor James Jardine.
  • The RCMP never made a written request that the Parmar tapes be preserved, though it was aware of their existence, and also never made a verbal request specific to the Parmar tapes until months into the investigation, when the early tapes were already erased. CSIS only ceased ongoing erasure in 1986, following a request by the Department of Justice in connection with the civil litigation.
  • The families were not kept informed about the investigation by the Government, and often learned about new developments through the media. The RCMP only began to liaise with the families directly after 1995. CSIS refused to participate.

… and on and on. It’s perhaps far worse in the United States, where the security establishment eats money and defecates requests for more, but no one is quite able to say. Such is the badness. In the meanwhile, the security industry conducts a farcical public relations campaign which has everything to do with managing public perception and little to do with security.

Even before anyone had come around to the word China, the Chinese were protesting a bit too much. The irony here is that all informed persons know China indeed aggressively promotes its interests internationally. What else would you expect of the world’s next global empire? The Confucius Institutes, the espionage, the busloads and busloads of planted Chinese patriots in my neighbourhood — during the recent visit to Ottawa of President Hu Jintao — the all-expenses-paid trips and the endless visits of VIPs: it’s all part of business for the world’s Communist behemoth.

But if you choose to be so naïve as to suppose the world isn’t roughly as Fadden says it is, at least fire the arrows into the proper targets. For this is one of the very few occasions on which a legitimate concern has been brought (even if by accident) to timely attention, by an agency more often having drawn attention for its appalling failures. To the degree that these recent statements are being ridiculed, dismissed, and savaged, the failure to see the worth of these statements is a public failure. You’ve been warned, in other words.

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