Special to Globe and Mail Update Published on Thursday, Dec. 03, 2009 7:16PM EST Last updated on Thursday, Dec. 03, 2009 7:18PM EST
There could not have been a starker contrast between the visions of our security intelligence agency and our national police force, described by Wesley Wark in The Globe and Mail last week (Post-9/11 Fatigue Sets In – Nov. 23). Surprisingly, Mr. Wark ignores history by throwing in his lot with the RCMP and dissing CSIS.
There are four fundamental points: (1) preventing terrorism through good security intelligence is preferable to relying on criminal prosecutions after the event; (2) almost every time the RCMP gets into serious trouble, it is over its activities in the security intelligence field; (3) CSIS was created by Parliament 25 years ago as a separate civilian body as a result of botched work by the RCMP in the 1970s; (4) CSIS operates under law with full accountability, while the RCMP still does not have full accountability.
Virtually everyone agrees on the need for national security in this age of international and domestic terrorist threats. Human rights have been given new meaning by our courts and various commissions of inquiry, extending the notions of fairness and freedoms not only to individuals but to society as a whole. Security is a human right, as the new CSIS director, Richard Fadden, has noted. Canadians yearn for both civil liberties and security, and have a right to both.
But then the discussion gets murky. Mr. Wark criticizes Mr. Fadden for not being as transparent and open to dialogue as former CSIS chiefs. But that's exactly what Mr. Fadden did in his first public outing on Oct. 29, when he candidly described the turbulent legal environment in which CSIS finds itself. He set forth the underlying assumptions of the original CSIS Act of 1984: CSIS would be separate from the police and would not collect evidence; to protect privacy, information would only be retained if strictly necessary; and CSIS agents would rarely appear in court.
With all the criminal cases, commissions of inquiry, resulting civil litigation, immigration cases and specialized review bodies requiring CSIS's attention these days, it was refreshing that Mr. Fadden would publicly discuss the impact of recent judicial rulings regarding retention of information in the context of the legislative mandate given to it by Parliament. Whether one agrees with him, he certainly was transparent and open to dialogue.
On the issue of disclosure, he was equally forthright: CSIS has worked hard to compromise but, in the Charkaoui security certificate case, was pushed to withdrawing information that caused the case to collapse rather than providing would-be terrorists a virtual road map to tradecraft and sources. And he acknowledged government support for this decision. No cover-up here.
There were two other areas where he encouraged public debate. He spoke of the ongoing reality of terrorism in Canada that is based on religious and political extremism, with the Internet allowing people to use social networking technologies to recruit, plan and execute acts of terror. And he made it clear what intelligence agencies do – hire the right people who are superb at technology and information and who will analyze and interpret intelligence that serves to actually protect.
Contrast this approach with a rare speech by RCMP Commissioner William Elliott the next day. While he offered a valuable glimpse into the world of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Somali pirates, Tamil Tigers, Sikh terrorists, espionage, weapons of mass destruction, drug trafficking and the Canada-U.S. border, he left the impression that the RCMP would like to get fully back to the security intelligence field. He complained about the enhanced focus on security intelligence overshadowing the role of law enforcement in protecting national security and groused about the fact that, since 9/11, government anti-terrorism expenditures of billions of dollars have gone to bolster Canada's intelligence capacity through CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment rather than the RCMP.
What was most disturbing is what he didn't say. There was no acknowledgment of past wrongdoings and no embracing of any true accountability or review body other than to reject the supervision of an intelligence czar currently being considered by the Air India inquiry.
Most curious was his historic view of the role of criminal law enforcement and his apparent acceptance of increased scrutiny and judicialization of intelligence information. What he may have missed is that the courts or commissions of inquiry or the media and the public will scrutinize not only intelligence information but the checkered conduct and track record of the organization that does the collecting, analysis and retention. History has a way of repeating itself, particularly if it is forgotten.
Ron Atkey is a security law specialist who teaches at Osgoode Hall and the University of Western Ontario. He served as chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee from 1984 to 1989.
*** Look, if prevention is better than cure, then it follows that CSIS is better than the RCMP
Or, if you would like it another way, an ancient Chinese proverb has it that an excellent doctor prevents disease, a mediocre doctor treats it, and the lowest is the one who actually has to cure it (after the fact).
However you take it - the point is that CSIS has a bigger job to do and rightfully deserves the lion's share of funding and support. CSIS is not the CIA and this should not be about which agency has the front seat in the theatres of power.
It helps no one to have competition between agencies rather, ALL must live by the following: Unity of Thought, Purpose of Action.
Now carry on. ***