Friday, April 24, 2015

Spy Watchdogs Investigating


Canadian spy watchdogs tell Parliament they need to talk with each other

Colin Freeze

The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Apr. 23 2015, 4:23 PM EDT

Last updated Thursday, Apr. 23 2015, 7:34 PM EDT

The watchdogs for Canada’s spy agencies have got together to tell Parliament how much they resent being kept apart.

Telling a Parliamentary hearing they need new laws to allow them to compare notes about Canada’s counter-terrorism operations, the review bodies say they see only a partial picture of what federal police and intelligence agencies are doing.

The watchdogs said their blind spots could grow under C-51, a new bill that would allow federal counter-terrorism agents more latitude to share intelligence – and even engage in “disruption” campaigns.

Parliament has never given the watchdogs the power to discuss operational matters with each other. As a result, each review body remains tethered to one agency, even as agencies increasingly relay information to each other.

“I have to act in a silo, all the time,” Jean-Pierre Plouffe, a retired judge who runs a small office that scrutinizes the operation of the Communications Security Establishment which is Canada’s international electronic surveillance agency, told the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on Thursday afternoon.

Flanked by the executive director of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) and the head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, Mr. Plouffe told Parliament he and his counterparts see only their own agencies’ portion of joint counter-terrorism operations.

“What’s the problem with sharing operational information among ourselves?” Mr. Plouffe asked.

In Canada, it is increasingly common for the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and Communications Security Establishment to work together to pursue suspects, with each agency frequently looping in their counterparts in the United States or Britain.

The watchdogs say their inability to share information hinders their mandate to looked at how investigations take shape, and determine what is – and is not – lawful.

These issues came to the fore in a controversial 2013 case, in which Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley said Canadian spies had breached their “duty of candour” to his courtroom by not telling him that they relayed intelligence to allies in the cases of Canadian terrorism suspects hiding abroad. Judge Mosley expressed fears Canadian suspects could have come to harm.

The Supreme Court is poised to take another look at this issue in October. A decade ago, a federal commission of inquiry found that the passing of sensitive intelligence between national and international agencies, each of which work to different investigative standards, can increase chances of things going awry. Especially if Canada’s watchdog agencies cannot tell each other what they are seeing.

Earlier this week, the Conservative government vowed to effectively double the budget of the SIRC. However, Michael Doucet, the agency’s executive director, told Parliament on Thursday he is still worried he will not be able to keep up with what CSIS is doing.

“Bill C-51 will significantly impact the effectiveness of not only SIRC, but of Canada’s national security accountability overall. With the passage of Bill C-51, SIRC will stand at a critical threshold whereby its ability [and capacity] to effectively fulfill its review function could be in jeopardy,” he told the Parliamentary committee.

Mr. Doucet specifically expressed concern about the “threat diminishment powers.”

These powers have never been spelled out, but some law professors say they could allow Canada’s spies to empty suspects’ bank accounts, seize their passports, and even engage in “smear campaigns.”

Because Canada’s politicians have no direct role in scrutinizing spy operations, the only ones reviewing such activities would be SIRC.

“Threat-reduction activities are by their very nature potentially controversial and higher-risk, meaning that SIRC will have to pay very close attention to them in coming years,” Mr. Doucet said. “The number of complaints that these activities may generate is difficult to predict …. [but] SIRC will therefore face difficult decisions in coming years as we struggle to cover a larger CSIS waterfront.”

Spy Watchdogs Stonewalled


Spy agencies try to curb watchdogs’ ties to each other


The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, May. 29 2014, 10:21 PM EDT

Last updated Thursday, May. 29 2014, 10:21 PM EDT

Federal intelligence officials are warning their watchdogs against talking too much to each other, even as spies themselves increasingly team up on top-secret surveillance.

A 2013 letter obtained by The Globe under Access to Information laws reveals the frictions between Canada’s spies and those who watch them. The correspondence shows how Canada’s two spy-service watchdog agencies were last year exchanging letters about a technique used jointly by the spy agencies.

Collaboration among intelligence agencies is “the direction everything is heading in. So it’s the direction we also need to go,” Lindsay Jackson, a researcher at the Security Intelligence Review Committee told The Globe in an interview. SIRC is the watchdog for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

The problem, she said, is that “there are mechanisms for the intelligence agencies to share information,” but “there are no mechanisms for the review bodies to share information.”

In early 2013, the watchdogs were writing to each other in hopes of drawing attention to a shared surveillance concern.

When Canadian intelligence officials learned the watchdogs were corresponding about the surveillance technique in question, they tried to find out whether the review bodies could be leaking classified information – by writing to each other.

“CSEC [Communications Security Establishment Canada] was initially concerned that the [CSEC watchdog] Commissioner may have … shared information with a third party [SIRC] that was obtained in the course of the Commissioner’s classified review,” reads a April, 2013, letter from CSEC’s Kathy Thompson.

The spy agency’s director-general of policy told her watchdog office that a review of the SIRC letters satisfied her no one violated any secrecy oaths. But in the future, “I would ask that the Commissioner’s Office initiate discussions with CSEC prior to sharing additional information with SIRC,” she wrote in her letter to the Commissioner.

The outreach effort between the watchdog agencies was supported in a scathing ruling last November by Justice Richard Mosley against Canada’s spy agencies. The ruling occurred because the Federal Court judge read the watchdogs’ public reports, where they raised red flags after comparing notes.

Judge Mosley learned the full extent of the information sharing between Canadian spy agencies and also foreign allies after reading the watchdogs’ public reports. His ruling indicates he had never been told of this by Canada’s intelligence agencies during five years of secret hearings. He took the extraordinary step of reopening a case he had settled in 2009. In the November ruling, he rebuked CSIS and CSEC for breaching their “duty of candour” to his court.

The watchdog agencies have not traditionally partnered up, given how the two spy agencies they scrutinize have traditionally pursued separate mandates.

CSEC has been collecting “foreign intelligence” for nearly 70 years. Working under the Minister of National Defence’s authority, the electronic-eavesdropping agency mass-collects data and is generally banned from spying on Canadians’ communications.

CSEC’s watchdog – the Office of the CSE Commissioner (OCSEC) – was created in a 1996 law.

CSIS is the “human-intelligence” agency created in a 1984 law, with SIRC as its minder. More akin to police than surveillance spies, its intelligence officers have a wide latitude to collect Canadian communications – so long as they first get a judge to sign a warrant.

The legal tensions between foreign and domestic intelligence long kept CSIS and CSEC apart, save for circumstances where they were allowed to give limited investigative help to one another.

Yet post-9/11 laws, the evolving threats of terrorism and espionage, and modern surveillance methods have lately been pushing them to team up for mutual benefit in terms of collecting communications.

Spy Watchdogs Warn Harper

Security-bill snooping goes too far, federal watchdogs warn

Ian MacLeod, Ottawa Citizen More from Ian MacLeod, Ottawa Citizen
Published on: April 23, 2015
Last Updated: April 23, 2015 7:57 PM EDT

The federal government’s proposed security bill contains serious and contradictory flaws that will allow more than 100 government entities to exchange Canadians’ confidential information – yet no provision for similar information-sharing between the agencies that track the lawfulness of federal spies and police, parliamentarians were told Thursday.

Four of Canada’s top government watchdogs – who monitor privacy, the country’s two spy agencies and the RCMP – testified on Bill C-51 before the Senate national security committee.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien levelled the harshest blows. Canadians risk being caught in a web of unbridled government snooping into their personal lives if the draft security legislation becomes law, he warned.

“The bill would potentially lead to disproportionately large amounts of personal information of ordinary, law-abiding citizens being collected and shared. This sets up the prospect of profiling and Big Data analytics on all Canadians. In short, the means chosen are excessive to achieve the end,” Therrien said.

A crucial concern is C-51’s proposed Security of Canada Information Sharing Act. It would allow more than 100 federal departments, agencies and other entities to share information about Canadians with 17 departments and agencies that have national security responsibilities. The information would only have to be “relevant” to a potential or suspected national security threat. The 17 agencies also could share and collate information among themselves.

Therrien fears this could lead the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), RCMP, Department of Finance and others to share potentially all information they may hold on Canadians and businesses.

“The minister of public safety has indicated there are several privacy protections envisaged by Bill C-51. While I agree there are some, I believe they fall quite short of what a balanced approach would require,” he said.

Therrien’s recommendations to the committee include:

– Information should only be shared between departments if “necessary” – not merely “relevant” as the bill currently reads – to combat activities that threaten national security.

– The bill should be amended to: ensure that all 17 agencies are subject to independent and effective review, by an expert body and by parliamentarians; remove impediments for information exchange between existing review bodies; and amend the Privacy Act to allow for judicial recourse in cases involving collection, use or disclosure of personal information. The bill should also include a mandatory period of review after three years.

– Fourteen of the 17 agencies to receive information for national security purposes are not subject to dedicated independent review or oversight. To fill that gap, the jurisdiction of one or more of the existing review bodies (monitoring Canada’s two spy agencies and the RCMP) should be extended to include the 14, or a new expert review body with horizontal jurisdiction should be created to review the lawfulness and reasonableness of national security activities.

Meanwhile, the heads of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which monitors the activities of CSIS, and the Office of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) Commissioner, which watches over Canada’s electronic spy agency, CSE, complained Thursday that C-51 does nothing to help them share information with each other.

In the increasingly entwined and expanding world of federal security intelligence, the two watchdogs remain firmly locked in silos and unable to “follow the thread” of their agency’s operational activities once they move into the domain of another department or agency.

“These legislative constraints on SIRC will make it increasingly difficult for us to provide robust assurances on CSIS’s activities to Parliament and Canadians,” said Michael Doucet, SIRC’s executive director.

Jean-Pierre Plouffe, the CSE commissioner, voiced the same concern. ““It is critical (that) the ability of review bodies to share and co-operate must keep pace,” with the sweeping reforms and new powers C-51 will give to federal spies and RCMP national security investigators, he said.

Harper Covers Up 30-08 Warrants

Why is Harper content to let CSIS keep him in the dark?

By Andrew Mitrovica | Apr 16, 2015 8:59 pm

When it comes to strengthening what passes for oversight of Canada’s spy service, Stephen Harper doesn’t listen to his critics. Maybe he’ll start listening to his friends.

Earlier this week, I spoke at length with a former senior government official who not only spent decades deep inside the Canadian spy biz, he also worked closely with, and remains a political ally of, the prime minister.

This former official — who agreed to be quoted only on condition of anonymity — is an experienced hand in the netherworld of intelligence. Academics, journalists and politicians of all political stripes — including, no doubt, Harper himself — would all attest to his ability to navigate the tricky bureaucratic terrain where politics and espionage meet.

So when a universally respected ex-official — someone who helped Harper settle into office when he first arrived in Ottawa — suggests that the sweeping powers the Canadian Security Intelligence Service will get under Bill C-51 demand stronger mechanisms to keep our spies in check, the prime minister can’t blow it off. He can ignore it at his peril, but he has to acknowledge he’s the only one left in the know who thinks CSIS can be trusted with these new powers without someone looking over its shoulder.

My source began by questioning Harper’s “surprising” decision in 2012 to shut down the Inspector General’s Office — ostensibly the Public Safety minister’s eyes and ears inside CSIS.

“I found it puzzling. It’s cheap. There were a little group of people that were keeping an eye on what was going on, trying to see what was coming down the railroad that might be troublesome … and able to persuade CSIS not to go there. I thought it a very useful position to have. I didn’t understand it. It took me completely by surprise.”

The official noted that, despite its anemic resources — a paltry $1 million budget and a staff of eight — the IG’s office played a key role in making sure the government didn’t get blindsided by CSIS.

“The IG’s mandate was to make sure that if anything was going wrong with CSIS … he or she would keep the minister up to date and give he or she a heads-up that something should be done about that.”

Indeed, IGs like Maurice Archdeacon, David Peel and Eva Plunkett did such a good job of warning ministers of potential problems that senior CSIS officials complained loudly, sometimes publicly, that they were a pain in the ass.

Peel told me in an interview for my book about CSIS that the spy service’s then-director, Ward Elcock, was so infuriated by his prying that he actually refused to speak with him. He left that chore to his right-hand man, Jim Corcoran, widely known inside CSIS as ‘Mr. Fix-It’.

“There is this sense that they (CSIS) can get away with things … they were not open in a way they should be to scrutiny,” Peel told me. (The distinguished former diplomat died in 2009.)

Incredibly, Peel also revealed that Elcock failed to keep the minister responsible for CSIS informed about what CSIS was up to, despite written instructions to do so.

“Part of my problem with (Elcock) was that I didn’t think that he was keeping the minister well enough informed about issues and problems and what the service was doing where the minister had, in general terms, given directives that he wanted to be kept informed about such things,” Peel said.

Think about that: An unelected CSIS director kept an elected cabinet minister in the dark about what the spy service was up to. And the office that raised the alarm no longer exists — courtesy of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Giving CSIS fresh powers in the absence of real, robust oversight effectively gives the spy service free rein to do what it wants, to anyone, whenever it wants.

Politicians can’t get in front of scandals if they don’t see them coming. Our anonymous official, for one, thinks that it would be smart of Harper to consider re-opening the IG’s office. “I think that a lot of people might find that a pretty good idea …

“You need to have someone who is capable of dealing with everybody, being honest and truthful and sometimes a bit hard-nosed, and yet do it in a way that won’t antagonize everyone that they wouldn’t cooperate. I’m sure that there are people all over the place that could do a good job.”

He also suggested that Harper revisit a proposal made during the Chretien administration to grant MPs and senators on the national security subcommittee top-secret security clearance, allowing them to be briefed by the Security Intelligence Review Committee — the spy service’s current, and wholly inadequate, oversight mechanism — on sensitive intelligence matters.

“You would have had SIRC reporting classified material to a Parliamentary committee. That would have worked.”

That proposal, the official said, was apparently rejected (wisely, I believe) by several MPs and senators — including Progressive Conservative members — who were pushing for full parliamentary oversight of CSIS, complete with the experienced staff and healthy budget that would put Canada’s oversight on par (on paper, at least) with congressional oversight of the vast U.S. intelligence infrastructure.

“I think they were asking for too much. But they were saying that they weren’t going to go along with some half-assed system.”

The big hurdle facing parliamentarians who support establishing parliamentary oversight of CSIS, the official added, is that the spy service has convinced successive Liberal and Conservative governments to dismiss the idea as untenable.

The official suggested that, since the Harper government clearly has no appetite for full-fledged parliamentary oversight, giving parliamentarians top-secret security clearance and SIRC briefings might be a workable compromise.

But SIRC, he said, should get more people and money to do its job. “SIRC needs to put in a Treasury Board submission for more resources … I think it would be ideal for SIRC to report to a committee of the House of Commons and Senate which would be able to accept very sensitive information about what was going on so that Parliament itself had an eye on what was going on, which it does not have at the moment.”

Harper is giving much wider powers to an intelligence service with a bad habit of keeping ministers of the Crown out of the loop. There’s still time for him to heed the advice of people who’ve seen this movie before. I doubt he will.

Andrew Mitrovica is a writer and journalism instructor. For much of his career, Andrew was an investigative reporter for a variety of news organizations and publications including the CBC’s fifth estate, CTV’s W5, CTV National News — where he was the network’s chief investigative producer — the Walrus magazine and the Globe and Mail, where he was a member of the newspaper’s investigative unit. During the course of his 23-year career, Andrew has won numerous national and international awards for his investigative work.

More CSIS Corruption

Who’s watching CSIS? Not Ottawa — and not the media

By Andrew Mitrovica | Apr 16, 2015 8:59 pm

Pssst. Here’s a secret. Ages ago, when I was a Globe and Mail investigative reporter, brass at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service tried to get me fired.

I’d caused a lot of trouble for CSIS by writing lots of front-page stories exposing corruption, incompetence, nepotism, law-breaking, laziness and a near-mutiny inside the intelligence service.

To plug the service-rattling leaks, then-CSIS director Ward Elcock launched what amounted to a service-wide witch hunt to ferret out my sources. (He turned up nothing.)

Elcock was particularly incensed after Michel Simard, a 35-year veteran of the RCMP Security Service and CSIS, told me that CSIS was a “rat hole”. Simard headed a large group of intelligence officers known as the X-MP Fund who, incredibly, were suing Elcock and CSIS for back pay and benefits they were promised when they left the RCMP to join the new civilian agency.

Simard was put on indefinite administrative leave as payback, while Elcock’s right-hand man Jim Corcoran issued a directive to all CSIS staff not to speak to me if I contacted them at work or at home about stories I was working on. The muzzle order was promptly leaked to me. (Corcoran broke his own ban by delivering an on-the-record diatribe after I called him at home for comment.)

Elcock and company were so upset by my prying into their secret work that they penned unflattering letters to my editors, while their frazzled PR guy tried to engineer a letter-writing campaign to, in effect, get me turfed.

The Globe, to its credit, rebuffed the pressure. Eventually, I wrote an exposé about CSIS called Covert Entry — one of only two books penned by Canadian journalists (the other is by my friend, Richard Cleroux) about the intelligence service’s inner workings.

In much of my reporting on CSIS since the late 1990s, I’ve been raising the alarm about how the spy service routinely abuses its extraordinary powers. I wasn’t alone, of course. Lawyers Paul Copeland and Clayton Ruby, academics like Reg Whitaker, Maureen Webb, Stuart Farson, Steven Hewitt and Sharryn Aiken, and journalists like Canadian Press reporter Jim Bronskill, freelance writer Mathhew Behrens and Now magazine senior news editor Enzo DiMatteo, have tried for years to warn Canadians about the absence of true oversight for this largely unaccountable intelligence agency.

I often felt I was whistling in the wind. I watched with dismay as a string of Liberal and Conservative governments gave CSIS more money, people and powers — while the already limp review bodies charged, on paper, with keeping an eye on our spies have been abolished, or politicized and neutered into irrelevance.

Recall that in 2012 Stephen Harper shuttered the office of the Inspector General — ostensibly the Public Safety minister’s eyes and ears inside CSIS — largely because IGs like David Peel, Maurice Archdeacon and Eva Plunkett were doing too good a job. The spymasters whined and Harper happily obliged them.

Harper also turned the inept Security Intelligence Review Committee into an international punchline. SIRC has a miniscule budget and woefully inexperienced and transient staff. Its last two chairs, Chuck Strahl and Arthur Porter — both Harper appointees — resigned in disgrace. Porter is allegedly a crook on the lam, while Strahl, an ex-Tory cabinet minister and lobbyist, got ensnared in a conflict of interest scandal.

Harper tapped former Reform MP Deborah Grey to run SIRC — thus confirming the job’s status as a landing pad for superannuated hacks. It was a curious choice since, while she was in Opposition, Grey loudly agreed with Preston Manning when he denounced SIRC as — you guessed it — a landing pad for superannuated hacks.

Despite this, the prime minister and his alarmist Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney keep claiming SIRC is more than capable of holding CSIS in check. Anyone who believes them is living in a fact-free universe.

Facts, as we know, have never been Harper’s cup of tea. Like most demagogues, he enshrines his hysteria and fear into laws … draconian laws like Bill C-51, which essentially makes it crime to think, write or talk about terrorism and gives CSIS carte blanche to do virtually whatever it wants to do, to whomever, when and wherever it wants to do it.

C-51 is a bad, dangerous law, drafted for short-term political purposes and being shoved pell-mell through the Parliamentary process by a government without scruples. And we can already see how this story plays out …

Turkish media reported last week that authorities had detained a man — who apparently has claimed he’s working for CSIS in exchange for citizenship — in connection with efforts to help three teenage British girls join Islamic State. The story is plausible: CSIS officers often dangle the promise of citizenship or the threat of deportation to secure the ‘co-operation’ of vulnerable people.

So far, Ottawa’s tepid statements on this matter read like classic non-denial denials, leading many to conclude that CSIS may have gotten caught — again — up to its old tricks.

Look, I don’t know what happened in Istanbul. I do know Canadian media aren’t going to get at the truth by talking to the usual suspects it trots out every time something intriguing happens in the world of espionage.

But there they were again last week, popping up on radio, TV, websites and newspapers like whack-a-mole — guys like that slick ex-CSIS officer, Ray Boisvert, who cautions everyone not to jump to conclusions while he jumps to unsubstantiated conclusions that, predictably, provide cover for CSIS.

Then there’s University of Ottawa professor Wesley Wark, who, just like CSIS, gathers most of his “intelligence” from “open sources” — that is to say, by reading newspapers and watching TV. Clearly, Wark hasn’t got a clue about what’s happening in Turkey but he’s loath to admit it, so he spouts flimsy conjecture and reporters nod approvingly.

Bereft of in-the-know sources, the National Post’s so-called “national security reporter” even dug up Reid Morden from obscurity for comment. Reality check: Morden — who once dismissed CSIS as the “Keystone Kops” of the spy trade — was appointed the agency’s director more than 25 years ago. You might as well be asking the mailman to tell you what’s going on in Turkey.

I haven’t been the “spy guy” at a media outlet for years. When I was, however, I understood that I had to convince the grunts inside CSIS to talk to me. Many of them did. More often than not they shared small or big pieces of the truth that I put together like a jigsaw puzzle.

That kind of work takes patience, perseverance and ingenuity. My advice to reporters: Ditch the ubiquitous talking heads and find the people who know — for the truth’s sake.

Andrew Mitrovica is a writer and journalism instructor. For much of his career, Andrew was an investigative reporter for a variety of news organizations and publications including the CBC’s fifth estate, CTV’s W5, CTV National News — where he was the network’s chief investigative producer — the Walrus magazine and the Globe and Mail, where he was a member of the newspaper’s investigative unit. During the course of his 23-year career, Andrew has won numerous national and international awards for his investigative work.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spies Lies No Oversight

Spies, lies and the myth of ‘oversight’ at CSIS

By Andrew Mitrovica | Apr 3, 2015 10:00 am

Lie, deny … then act surprised if you get caught. Translate that into Latin and you’d have a pretty good unofficial motto for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

I learned that lesson from John Farrell — a former Toronto gang leader turned postal inspector, turned CSIS dirty-tricks operative — while writing a book about his long, eventful career inside the spy service.

Farrell (whose pardon was fast-tracked by Ottawa so he could get top-secret security clearance) was a loyal, hardworking and well-paid CSIS agent for years.

No wannabe, Farrell worked directly for powerful people inside CSIS and was intimately involved in some of its most notorious and sensitive capers. Knowledge of who Farrell was and what he did for CSIS — including all the illegal stuff — reached high levels in the spy service’s HQ in Ottawa.

Indeed, former CSIS director Ward Elcock once wrote Farrell a letter offering him $6,000 in “humanitarian assistance” after Farrell complained that CSIS had stiffed him. Ultimately, Farrell sued CSIS to try to get his money. (I later discovered that CSIS promised — in writing — to pay Farrell even more money if he was prepared to disavow everything he told me for the book.)

While he worked side by side with senior CSIS officers in Toronto, Farrell was often ordered to lie, then deny, then act surprised. He wasn’t alone, of course. He saw CSIS officers doing the same thing all the time.

Remember this when the Bill C-51 apologists in the media and academia, or Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s blinkered minions, insist that since CSIS always plays by the rules, we don’t have to be alarmed by all those new powers they’re getting in Bill C-51 — powers that effectively make legal what under current law is very illegal.

Think the current checks and balances are enough to keep CSIS honest? Let’s get real. Farrell told me that many CSIS officers considered the spy service’s review agency, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, little more than a nuisance. He informed me that seasoned CSIS officers often colluded to mislead SIRC’s handful of raw, overworked and gullible “investigators.”

No one at CSIS worries that much about SIRC. They treat it like a visit to the dentist: a necessary nuisance, rarely painful.

Like Farrell, celebrated Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati knows all about CSIS’s in-house motto — and just how dangerously inept SIRC is.

Galati has been a persistent burr in the spy service’s hide, and Harper’s too. Recall that it was Galati who taught the prime minister and company a sharp lesson about the Constitution when he scuttled Harper’s plans to appoint Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court. (For his lifelong commitment to the rule of law, the Ontario Bar Association will honour Galati with the President’s Award at its annual gala later this month.)

That’s Galati through and through — a brilliant, principled troublemaker armed with a deep knowledge of law. For the powers-that-be, that’s a dangerous combination.

In 1999, Galati was representing two men accused by Ottawa of being national security threats. Galati suspected that CSIS was snooping on his supposedly sacrosanct conversations with his clients. (He also suspected that he was being followed.)

Galati demanded answers in court. CSIS kept mum. The Crown dismissed Galati’s concerns as ridiculous.

“I knew I was being wiretapped,” Galati told me in an interview.

Turns out he was right all along. In 2012, the Crown belatedly admitted that CSIS (and the Canada Border Services Agency) had tapped all of Galati’s telephone calls with his clients. Apparently CSIS can also lie, deny and act surprised in front of a federal court judge.

Galati said that CSIS’s actions had “corrupted” the judicial process. In 2012 and 2013, I wrote two columns for the Toronto Star in which I challenged SIRC to find out who at CSIS ordered the bugging, who conducted it, who covered it up for so long and, if necessary, to refer the matter to the RCMP.

In my 2013 column, I quoted SIRC Executive Director Michael Doucet, who — get this — told me that he didn’t know anything about CSIS having bugged Galati’s phone calls for years until I told him. He assured me that he was going to raise the issue directly with then-SIRC chair Chuck Strahl, a former Harper cabinet minister.

But Strahl didn’t last long as SIRC chair. He resigned in January 2014 after being ensnared in a messy conflict of interest scandal. (Strahl was a lobbyist for Enbridge on the Northern Gateway pipeline. CSIS reportedly has kept tabs on aboriginal and environmental groups opposed to the pipeline.)

I tried to determine this week what, if anything, SIRC has done to probe the bugging of Galati’s phone calls by CSIS in the years since I wrote those columns.

This is what I’ve learned. SIRC never picks up the phone. A recorded message tells callers that someone from SIRC will call back ASAP. No one called me back. (I left three messages over two days.) No surprise, really. Given that SIRC has a pathetically tiny budget and staff, I suspect that answering questions from a member of the public isn’t a priority.

Tried sending my questions to SIRC via email. Good luck finding an email address for anyone on SIRC’s homepage. SIRC does have something called a ‘fax machine’ that apparently runs 24/7. (I checked the calendar. It’s still 2015.)

Two of my iPolitics colleagues, reporters Amanda Connolly and Kristie Smith, independently approached SIRC by phone earlier this week to get answers as well. No response from SIRC.

So I think I can now safely conclude that SIRC hasn’t done a damn thing to investigate the disturbing fact that CSIS bugged a lawyer’s phone for a decade without his knowledge or consent, or that of his clients.

Galati laughed when I asked him whether he had filed a complaint with SIRC. “They’re useless,” he said. He confirmed that SIRC hasn’t contacted him to ask about the bugging.

“It’s all a smokescreen. SIRC isn’t there to do anything but make it look like it’s doing something to oversee CSIS. Nobody is doing anything to oversee CSIS. They’re out-of-control renegades.”

If CSIS can get away with bugging a lawyer’s phone calls with his client, imagine what the spy service will do when Bill C-51 becomes law. It’s chilling.

And SIRC — that sorry, somnolent excuse for a “review” agency — can’t and won’t do anything to stop or rein in this nation’s spooks. That’s chilling, too.

Andrew Mitrovica is a writer and journalism instructor. For much of his career, Andrew was an investigative reporter for a variety of news organizations and publications including the CBC’s fifth estate, CTV’s W5, CTV National News — where he was the network’s chief investigative producer — the Walrus magazine and the Globe and Mail, where he was a member of the newspaper’s investigative unit. During the course of his 23-year career, Andrew has won numerous national and international awards for his investigative work.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

No CSIS Oversight



Ex-spy watchdog Plunkett calls CSIS civilian review ‘a joke’

By Andrew Mitrovica | Apr 10, 2015 3:59 pm

Eva Plunkett is not prone to hyperbole. The former inspector-general for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – the public servant who was, once upon a time, the Public Safety minister’s eyes and ears inside Canada’s spy agency — chooses her words very carefully.

Plunkett spent nearly a decade as IG before Stephen Harper shuttered the office in 2012 because she was doing too good a job — routinely issuing reports that diplomatically raised the alarm about CSIS’s questionable conduct. She took the work seriously.

So when Plunkett says that the government’s civilian oversight body, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, is a “joke” — take it to the bank. She knows what she’s talking about. And nobody knows better how vacuous the assurances offered by Prime Minister Harper and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney about the draconian powers CSIS is getting under Bill C-51 truly are.

These days, Plunkett happily spends much of her time working with horses instead of spies. So I wasn’t surprised that she was reluctant to talk about the espionage biz when we chatted earlier this week. “I’m retired now,” she said. “I’m stepping away from it.”

Plunkett told me she actually turned down an invitation to appear as an expert witness before the Public Safety and National Security Committee on C-51. She didn’t elaborate on her reasons; personally, I suspect she simply didn’t want to run the gauntlet of Tory backbench hand-puppets who have been treating C-51’s opponents to derision and snide insinuations during the hearings.

But Plunkett says she still has “strong views” about espionage, C-51 and the Harper government’s lackadaisical notions of accountability. So — after a little prodding — she began by ripping into the Harper government’s refusal to listen to any outside expert opinion recommending significant amendments to C-51.

“The reality of it is that this government isn’t interested in what anyone has to say because they have a majority. They will proceed and do a few minor, cosmetic adjustments,” she said.

Plunkett also offered some caustic comment on the odds of the Harper government heeding widespread calls for robust accountability and parliamentary oversight of the day-to-day operations of CSIS, given the extraordinary powers the spy service will get through C-51.

“They certainly won’t add any more resources,” she said. “They will eliminate resources.”

And she had a stark warning for the federal government and Canadians about what can happen when secret services are armed with extraordinary powers in the absence of credible oversight.

“They seem to forget that people who are given a lot of intrusive authority and power then sometimes get wrapped up in this mindset that they know what’s best for the greater good and they become overzealous. Good people in their own right, but they become overzealous,” Plunkett said.

Recall that in her final report as IG in 2012, Plunkett informed the federal government that CSIS often flouts its own policies and makes “numerous” errors in reporting on intelligence matters which undermine the spy service’s credibility and reputation.

She also noted that, despite the IG’s small staff (eight people) and budget (a paltry $1 million) “it is the only independent, impartial resource available to the (Public Safety) Minister to support his responsibility and accountability for an organization which works in secret but has been given highly intrusive powers.”

Harper’s response to Plunkett’s disturbing findings was to make CSIS happy by ensuring Plunkett never issued another critical report; he closed the IG’s office for good. Outside a handful of interested journalists, politicians and academics, nobody raised much of a fuss.

With the IG gone, that left SIRC as the only agency that occasionally takes a glance over the shoulders of our spies. But, as Plunkett rightly points out, SIRC’s mandate does not include oversight of CSIS — nor is it much of a review agency.

SIRC is a limp, ineffectual body that, from time to time, administers complaints about CSIS it receives from the public. Its five-member part-time executive committee — the current committee has been short one member for ages — meets a few times every other month, and tends to be comprised of ex-politicians looking for something to do with their spare time.

SIRC’s acting chair is Deborah Grey, the former Reform Party MP who — ironically — once agreed with her ex-boss, Preston Manning, when he denounced SIRC in the House of Commons as a useless dumping ground for surplus government hacks.

For her part, Plunkett’s current assessment of SIRC is simple, clear and absolutely bang-on.

“This government, even though they go on and on about security, they have no interest in accountability so they put their political hacks in that joke of a committee called SIRC,” Plunkett told me.

“It really is a complaints body … They have a small office who they present their reports to, are all political appointees who come to Ottawa for a day and half every two months. So where is the oversight there?

“You know, no one is going to present a report in those offices that is going to ruffle feathers.”

Taken together, Plunkett’s remarks are about as damning an appraisal of SIRC as I’ve ever heard in all the years I’ve covered the intelligence file. Plunkett agreed to be quoted on the record after I suggested that her voice needed to heard by Canadians at a time when the Harper government — blinkers firmly in place — hurtles towards passing a law that will give CSIS even more sweeping powers.

There’s still time for Harper to listen to reason. Like Eva Plunkett, I know he probably won’t.

Andrew Mitrovica is a writer and journalism instructor. For much of his career, Andrew was an investigative reporter for a variety of news organizations and publications including the CBC’s fifth estate, CTV’s W5, CTV National News — where he was the network’s chief investigative producer — the Walrus magazine and the Globe and Mail, where he was a member of the newspaper’s investigative unit. During the course of his 23-year career, Andrew has won numerous national and international awards for his investigative work.

SIRC Is Broken


Canadian spy agency’s overseer can’t really oversee:

By: Alex Boutilier Staff Reporter, Published on Wed Apr 01 2015

OTTAWA—CSIS’s review body admits it can only review a “small number” of the spy agency’s actions each year, as the government continues to resist calls for oversight into Canada’s intelligence agencies.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) warned that continued vacancies on the five-person board, the inability to investigate CSIS operations with other agencies, and delays in CSIS providing required information are “key risks” to its mandate.

“Currently, SIRC reviews still lack the ability to ‘follow the thread’ of a CSIS investigation if it involves another government department or agency,” the SIRC wrote in documents tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

“SIRC’s effectiveness is dependent on (CSIS’s) timely provision of information. In those cases where there are delays in receiving information, SIRC is at risk of being unable to complete its reviews and investigations in a timely manner.”

SIRC is a five-person committee (currently with a compliment of four members) supported by 18 full-time staff and a budget of $2.87 million this year, according to the documents. CSIS, the sprawling agency the committee is mandated to review, has a budget of around $500 million a year.

The committee has had two abrupt departures in the wake of scandal in recent years. Arthur Porter, who is currently in Panama but expected to be extradited to Canada to face fraud charges, resigned in 2011 after information about his past business dealings surfaced.

Chuck Strahl, a former Conservative cabinet minister, stepped down after the Vancouver Observer revealed he was lobbying for an oil firm while CSIS monitored pipeline protests.

Deborah Grey, another former Conservative MP and current acting chair of SIRC, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

While SIRC is already facing challenges, its job is unlikely to get any easier in years to come.

Bill C-51, currently before Parliament, drastically expands CSIS powers to investigate and “disrupt” potential threats to Canada’s national security. The majority Conservatives have introduced minor amendments in the face of widespread criticism of the bill, but have resisted calls to create any form of oversight for Canada’s intelligence agencies.

The government contends the requirement to obtain a warrant when CSIS wants to break the law or violate Charter rights amounts to “judicial oversight.” Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has referred to parliamentary oversight as “needless red tape,” and the Conservatives have repeatedly said the SIRC provides adequate supervision for Canada’s spooks.

But in SIRC’s report, the committee acknowledged they can only review a “small number of CSIS activities in any given year,” and those reviews come only after the actions have been taken.

“Parliament has given CSIS powers to enhance the security of Canadians. SIRC ensures that these powers are used appropriately and in accordance with the rule of law in order to protect Canadians rights and freedoms,” the report reads. “To do this, SIRC examines past operations of the Service and conducts investigations.”

With files from the Canadian Press

CSEC Commissioner Broken



Review body for Canada’s electronic spy agency warns it can’t keep up

Report warns growth of electronic spy agency has outstripped 8-person review body’s ability to keep tabs

By Alex Boutilier

OTTAWA — The 11-person review body looking into Canada’s massive electronic spy agency worry they can’t keep up with the Communications Security Establishment’s growth.

The Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner has warned that the growth of CSE and fiscal restraint at the commissioner’s office is a “constant concern.”

“Cost sharing related to central agency initiatives and fiscal restraint measures are reducing the flexibility of the office’s available funding,” a report tabled in Parliament Tuesday reads. “CSE, however, is growing and its activities are changing in response to a changing environment.”

CSE Commissioner Jean-Pierre Plouffe has a team of around eight investigators and an annual budget of $2 million. CSE, Canada’s answer to the U.S. National Security Agency, is projected to spend $538.2 million this year, and has over 2,000 employees.

On Monday, another spying overseer, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) warned that continued vacancies on its five-person board, the inability to investigate CSIS operations with other agencies, and delays in CSIS providing required information were resulting in “key risks” to its mandate.

The CSE report suggests the commissioner will engage part-time subject matter experts when required to supplement his permanent staff. But it also says that an increase in funding would resolve the “capacity issue” and “provide the necessary assurances to . . . Canadians as to whether CSE is complying with the law and has due regard for the privacy of Canadians.”

CSE has attracted considerable attention in the wake of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the pervasive surveillance of the Five Eyes security partnership — including the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Working from those disclosures, The Intercept and CBC revealed CSE has developed a “vast arsenal” of cyberwarfare tools, and had a goal to become more aggressive in their use by 2015.

Other documents leaked by Snowden suggest CSE has engaged in mass Internet surveillance of file sharing sites, and collects massive amounts of Internet traffic through 200 “internet backbone” sites worldwide through a program called EONBLUE.

Bill Galbraith, the executive director of the CSE Commissioner’s office, would not say if the office was investigating EONBLUE or comment on any specific review.

“The reviews that we are conducting covering a range of signals intelligence activities, IT security activities, and there is a major review of metadata underway,” Galbraith said.

Galbraith said the ability for the commissioner’s office to review CSE’s operations has been a long-standing concern, and one that the commissioner monitors closely.

Like the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which reviews the actions of CSIS, the CSE commissioner’s office believes that co-operation between the small agencies keeping tabs on spies’ actions would present a more complete picture of Canada’s intelligence activities.

“Information sharing among intelligence agencies at the national and international level requires at minimum some co-operation among the various review and oversight bodies,” the report notes.

But in the debate around Bill C-51, which gives new police-like powers to CSIS, the majority Conservatives have continued to resist calls for a unified oversight body to monitor and approve intelligence agencies’ activities. During the debate, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has called such oversight “needless red tape.”

Toronto Star

Access To Information Broken

My family and I have been dealing with the Harper governments ACCESS TO INFORMATION system for 2 years now trying to get our 30-08 warrant information so we can sue the Harper government for torturing and murdering our family and we are still waiting for them to help us.

We were told our requests need our signatures, birth dates, and social insurance numbers. We send in the FOI request forms with a sample of our hand writing, multiple samples of our signatures, our birthdates, copies of our birth certificates and copies of our social insurance cards. My wifes reply from the RCMP was that they needed to know what RCMP detachment has her information so they can find it and my reply from the RCMP was that they needed to know my birthdate before they can find my information.

My wife and I just got our reply back from CSEC. They need to know from us what section of CSEC is holding our 30-08 warrant information so they can find it. They don’t know what section of CSEC holds terror investigation information. What are we suppose to say to that? How are we suppose to get our 30-08 warrant information and have a proper investigation done for the torture and murder of our family for the last 6 years? Who is going to help us?

CSIS and the Ontario Justice Department are not even replying back to us and SIRC should of got back to us already but they just tabled a letter in Parliament on March 31st stating they can not properly investigate CSIS.

These are the type of games every government agency we have applied to to get our 30-08 warrant information through the freedom of information system has been playing with us for over a year now. Information Minister Suzanne Legault, The Justice Department Of Canada, The Privacy Commissioner Of Canada, Ontario Justice Department, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, AD-HOC Privacy Commissioner John Sims, The Justice Department Of BC, The Privacy Commissioner Of BC, The Law Society Of BC, CSIS, SIRC, CSEC, RCMP have all been playing games with us.

Canada’s Access to Information Regime Is Busted, But It Can Be Fixed – March 31, 2015 – By Justin Ling

It took Suzanne Legault, the Information Commissioner of Canada, 104 pages to say something very simple: Canadians are losing their right to access government information.

The long-delayed report, prepared by an office that is virtually bankrupt, is a jarring criticism of the Access to Information (ATI) system that is supposed to be one of the most powerful ways that Canadians can hold the government to account.

“There has been a steady erosion of access to information rights in Canada over the last 30 years,” Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault said in releasing the report. “Although the act was intended to shine a light on government decisions, it has become a shield against transparency and has encouraged a culture of delay.”

Legault introduced 85 recommendations to the act that would, among other things, extend the the scope of the access to information regime to ministers’ offices (including that of the prime minister); create a legal obligation for bureaucrats to retain relevant information, and make it illegal to destroy it; make it harder for departments to delay requests; and to expand the commissioner’s power to force departments to comply with the Act.

VICE interviewed the minister responsible for the ATI regime, Tony Clement, in December. He told us, then, that he’s “quite willing to take credit” for the system.

“Canadians’ right to access is healthy right now,” Clement said.

VICE asked for an interview with Clement on today’s report, but got a statement from his office instead—which is exactly the same statement that he read in the House of Commons when he was asked by members of the opposition about the report.

“Our Government takes Canadians’ right of access to information very seriously and has taken important steps in the last few years in support of that right,” the statement reads.

Clement regularly cites statistics that show that the government is releasing more documents than ever. The Commissioner’s report, however, shows that refusals, redactions, and delays are bad and getting worse.

Clement’s office has not commented on any of the recommendations. He would only say that: “I thank the Information Commissioner for her report and am currently reviewing her recommendations.”

The fact that Legault’s office could even finish the report is sort of incredible. The commissioner has been consulting and writing the report for two years, and in that time Legault’s office has almost had to strip the wire out of the walls.

At the end of last fiscal year, Legault had $37,000 left in the bank. And things haven’t gotten much better.

Financial statements from her office, which were also released Tuesday, reveal that the Office of the Information Commissioner has been cut so deep that there’s virtually nothing left. Of their paltry $8.5 million budget, only about one percent is freed up for discretionary spending.

In other words: if the office were to be faced with any unexpected costs, they would have less than $100,000 to deal with it. Aside from that: they have no money.

“In order for the OIC to continue to operate within its appropriations, the Commissioner will need to cut into the program,” the office’s report reads. “This will result in longer wait times for complainants. In turn, this could lead to increased litigation related to complaint delays.”

That means that it will be even more difficult to deal with the mountain of complaints levied against federal departments over delays, obfuscation, and outright refusals in releasing information under the ATI system.

One such complaint comes from VICE, over a request made to Canada’s spy agency asking for financial reports on a program that has since been declared unconstitutional.

The government has not made any changes to the ATI system since they first came into power in 2006. The closest they’ve gotten is considering hiking the fee schedule.

Harpers Conservatives Lost There Way


Tories lost July court ruling on CSIS spying overseas

By: Tonda MacCharles Ottawa Bureau reporter, Published on Tue Nov 04 2014

OTTAWA—The Conservative government revealed that it lost an important Federal Court of Appeal ruling that found CSIS hid the extent of its overseas spying activities from a judge.

A redacted version of the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, dated July 7, 2014, was posted on the court’s website Tuesday with no notice to the media — a highly unusual move.

It upheld an earlier Federal Court ruling by Justice Richard Mosley that rebuked the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the federal government for hiding the fact that CSIS had turned to CSE, Canada’s electronic spy agency, and its allied partners in the “Five Eyes” international spying network to carry out intrusive surveillance abroad on two Canadians.

The ruling gives strong backing to CSIS’s power to operate abroad.

But Justices Eleanor Dawson, Robert Mainville and Pierre Blais, the recently retired chief justice, declared that a judge’s decision to issue a warrant is “not the simple ‘box-ticking’ exercise the attorney general suggests.” And they said CSIS had to level with the courts.

“The duty of candour and utmost good faith required that CSIS disclose to the Federal Court the scope of its anticipated investigation, and in particular that CSIS considered itself authorized by . . . the CSIS Act to seek foreign agency assistance without a warrant. CSIS failed to make such disclosure.”

However, the appeal ruling disagreed with the lower court, and found that a Federal Court judge does have jurisdiction to issue a warrant that would authorize intrusive surveillance by CSIS overseas.

“A warrant is required when the (Canadian Security Intelligence) Service either directly, or through the auspices of a foreign intelligence service, engages in intrusive investigative methods such as the interception of telecommunications. In our view, the Federal Court has jurisdiction to issue such a warrant when the interception is lawful where it occurs. In our further view, it remains an open question as to whether the Federal Court possesses such jurisdiction when the interception is not legal in the country where it takes place.”

However, under a bill tabled week by the Conservatives that gap would be fixed.

Bill C-44 would provide explicit authorization for CSIS to seek and use Federal Court warrants to authorize investigative activities — including electronic intercepts and other covert surveillance activities — outside Canada “without regard to any other law, including that of any foreign state.”

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said in a written statement Tuesday the government would appeal the latest Federal Court of Appeal ruling, even as it seeks parliamentary approval for the bill he said is a direct legislative response to the Federal Court of Appeal ruling the government lost — undisclosed until that moment.

In kicking off parliamentary debate on Bill C-44 on Tuesday, Blaney did not even refer to the Federal Court of Appeal loss. But he quoted the twin sister of slain Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was run down by Martin Couture-Rouleau on Oct. 20 in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.

At Vincent’s private funeral last weekend, Blaney said Vincent’s twin sister had “asked us to ensure her brother’s death is not in vain.” He told the Commons all parties had the opportunity to begin that work by supporting C-44.

Opposition parties agreed to study the bill further in committee, but both called for greater oversight.