*** These agencies need the right kind of support from lawmakers and the public. Is it so bad to want them to succeed in making sure some idiot doesn't blow his underwear off and kill everyone around him? I would hope not. MS ***
The RCMP and CSIS are Canada's defence line against terrorism.
But they can be terrible teammates.
According to the Air India inquiry report, the RCMP philosophy is "the less information we receive from CSIS, the better," while CSIS is reluctant to hand over its intelligence to police for fear it will be disclosed in court.
The 9/11 Commission found a similar problem when it examined the U.S. government failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It used a football analogy to explain: The players were in position but they weren't working together and there was no quarterback calling the plays.
Air India commissioner John Major wants Canada's national security advisor to play quarterback; he has proposed a much bigger role for the advisor in deciding how government agencies respond to terrorist threats.
Supposeasuspectedmember of a terrorist group flies to Canada after training at an overseas camp. Should the RCMP arrest him at the airport? Should CSIS instead follow him to see what he does and whom he meets? If he's not Canadian, should the Canada Border Services Agency deport him?
Those calls would be made by the national security advisor (NSA), who works out of the Privy Council Office. "In these and other situations," Judge Major writes, "the NSA will act in the public interest, transcending institutional self-interest."
The advisor would have the power to pass CSIS intelligence on to police, part of a series of proposed reforms that appear to be nudging Canada in the direction of the United States and Britain, where criminal prosecutions of terrorists are much more common.
The Air India report proposes making greater use of CSIS intelligence by police, restructuring the RCMP to better deal with terrorism prosecutions and improving the relationship between the two agencies.
During the Air India investigation, CSIS and the RCMP "were unable to co-operate effectively, or sometimes at all," the report says. And that awkward relationship continues to some extent to this day.
That is partly a reflection of conflicting mandates. The RCMP fights terrorism by collecting evidence that can be used to prosecute suspects in open court. CSIS fights terrorism by collecting intelligence that guides government action and that is not intended to be publicly disclosed.
The system apparently worked during the Toronto 18 investigation. CSIS found out about the young extremists and notified the RCMP, which conducted its own parallel investigation and made the arrests. (MS: Using the same agent, I should add.)
But to use the 9/11 commission's football analogy, the two agencies sometimes find themselves covering the same man. And that overlap only got worse after Canada criminalized terrorism in 2001, throwing police into areas -- such as the investigation of terrorist financing and planning terrorist acts -- that had once been the domain of CSIS.
The report calls for a "culture change" in both agencies. Judge Major wants the RCMP to stop avoiding CSIS intelligence that could protect Canadians. And he wants CSIS to accept that its secrets may have to be disclosed as evidence against terrorists.
The commission goes so far as to propose the national security advisor have the authority to compel CSIS to hand its intelligence to police.
Judge Major wants fundamental change at CSIS. He wants the agency to treat the information it collects as evidence that might be used in a prosecution. To that extent, he wants CSIS to begin acting as a law enforcement agency.
He also recommends CSIS end its practice of destroying its records, suggesting it hang on to them for at least 25 years. At the same time, the report recognizes the need to keep sensitive intelligence from the public.
In a passage reminiscent of the 9/11 report, Judge Major writes: "What must be avoided is a diffusion of responsibilities, where each agency and each official acts properly but where they fail collectively to achieve the ultimate goal: protecting the security of Canadians to the greatest extent possible.
"Promises by agencies to co-operate with each other are only part of the answer. Better rules, supported by legislation, are required."