Sunday, September 19, 2010


*** CSIS collects information in support of identifying threats to Canada and it seems this is exactly what they were doing in Afghanistan so I don't see the issue here. And it sounds like a really, really stupid idea to be sending them to Afghanistan and not be armed when talking to those, "unfriendly at best". MS ***

OTTAWA - Canada's spy service admits interrogating up to 50 Afghan prisoners captured by the Canadian Forces, but insists they were never mistreated, federal documents reveal.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service's involvement in interviewing suspected Taliban fighters alongside military intelligence officers was revealed by The Canadian Press last March, though details of the agency's role and actions have remained largely cloaked in secrecy.

Briefing notes prepared for CSIS director Dick Fadden take pains to emphasize the conduct of agents has been above reproach and that the spy agency is bound "in every instance by the law, ministerial directives and internal policies."

The documents, obtained under the Access to Information Act, were drawn up to brief Fadden for a June interview with the CBC, but the broadcaster did not ask him about the role of CSIS role in Afghanistan.

"CSIS officers have been serving alongside the Canadian Forces and willingly share some of the risks faced by our soldiers," say the notes, which acknowledge the spies were armed.

The briefing materials lift the curtain ever so slightly on the agency's activities, but also raise more questions in the mind of a legal expert.

University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes said the notes raise the spectre of spies travelling along with soldiers in combat — or perhaps taking part in ultra-secret special forces operations. Such actions may be beyond CSIS's legislated mandate, he said.

"We've got to look at that very carefully and ask many more questions," said Mendes. "Intelligence gathering is absolutely within the mandate of CSIS, but actually going out on missions is a legal issue as to whether it's within their jurisdiction."

The notes say CSIS personnel in Afghanistan have been authorized to carry guns because "they are often required to meet individuals — some who would be described as unfriendly at best — in very dangerous situations while carrying out their work" in the region.

The Canadian army is thought to have captured hundreds of suspected Taliban fighters over the last nine years of operations in Kandahar. Recent reports indicate that since 2006 almost 500 have been handed over to Afghan authorities.

CSIS questioned Afghan detainees from 2002 through late 2007, when the military began to conduct interrogations without assistance, Michel Coulombe, the service’s assistant director for foreign collection, told the Commons special committee on Afghanistan in May.

"CSIS did interview a small number of suspected Taliban insurgents captured or in the custody of the Canadian Forces — approximately 40 or 50," say the CSIS notes. These interviews were designed primarily to determine the identities of the individuals. Decisions to transfer suspected Taliban insurgents to Afghan authorities were not made by CSIS."

Mendes said if the numbers are accurate they indicate the spy service limited itself mostly to operations by Joint Task Force 2 — JTF-2 — the army's highly trained commando and counter-terrorism unit.

Those operations would have been directed at al-Qaida suspects operating in Afghanistan, senior Taliban commanders and the leaders of bomb-making cells.

The spy service's mandate is flush out direct security threats to Canada and the note insists that at no time did the agency cross the line during interrogations as the CIA admits to doing. CSIS said it does not use coercive techniques, such as waterboarding, where a person is subjected to simulated drowning.

The spy agency also appears to deny knowledge of alleged torture by Afghan authorities of some prisoners handed over by Canada, currently the subject of several inquiries.

"While CSIS is aware of media allegations of mistreatment of Afghan detainees, we have no reliable proof of mistreatment or torture of detainees," the notes say.

"CSIS has not and does not mistreat those it interviews, nor does it assist or counsel others to do so."

Previously released records showed the intelligence agency was undertaking an internal review of its involvement with detainees for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

CSIS spokeswoman Isabelle Scott cited confidentiality in declining to discuss the review or the latest briefing notes.

The documents say Aghanistan and the neighbouring region is, and will remain for some time, the epicentre of al-Qaida core leadership and a source of real threats to Canadians.

"I cannot say if CSIS will remain in Afghanistan post-2011," add the notes prepared for Fadden's use, "but I can say that the Service will certainly continue to investigate these threats and will remain actively interested in this region."

Scott would not comment further on the possibility.