[an error occurred while processing this directive] FactsCanada.ca -- Friday Feature 2000-01Fr -- CSIS -- Canadian Security Intelligence Service -- Part One
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CSIS -- Canadian Security Intelligence Service -- Part One.

August 25, 2000.

Hi everyone. Welcome to our first "Friday Feature" article. Some of our readers have asked us to cover more topics, and to cover some of them in more depth. We're starting with a series on CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. If at any time you feel the effects of information overload, just let me know at tashakat@home.com or john@factscanada.com and I will be happy to adjust your subscription in whatever way you request. Craig, our technical guy, is working on the bleeding edge (almost literally he says) of server-based mailing list software technology. He swears that he'll have it running soon, at which time we will be able to automate the subscription process for each of our newsletters. In the meantime, read and enjoy!


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CSIS -- Canadian Security Intelligence Service
By Michael Hora (mike@factscanada.com)


By its very nature, a democracy (such as Canada's) leaves itself more vulnerable and open to the dealings of malevolent foreign interests. It is also a fact, and for these very same reasons, that being in a democracy gives us a greater chance of detecting and preventing these self same intrusions.

Most nations are concerned with both their internal and external security affairs. Canada is no exception. Since 1984 our country has been placing its security affairs in the hands of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or, as it is commonly called, CSIS. CSIS was formed to handle these affairs in order that a dedicated group be awarded the mandate previously held by a branch of the RCMP. The RCMP, with a lot on its own plate, was found ill equipped to deal with national security concerns. The Canadian parliament, after researching and detailing this research through the office of the Privy Council, made the recommendation that a single entity be allotted the responsibility to safeguard this nation from external threats. A single entity doing one thing and one thing only, could do a better job. As the group itself states, "We are an organization with secrets to protect. Not a secret organization." Their authority to act in the best interests of the nation stems from the Canadian Security Services Act.

Like all organizations, CSIS has a corporate structure and a chain of command that is somewhat akin to a military flow chart. The ultimate authority to which it reports is the Canadian government. This then, is in fact, the Canadian public. As with all tax funded initiatives, an avenue of reportage must exist that allows for the democratically elected representatives of the Canadian people to ask for an accounting of all the activities of the group or groups they fund. At the head of the CSIS group, and responding directly to the Solicitor-General of Canada, is the director. He or she is then responsible for CSIS's mandate and called to answer for anything that happens on their watch. Ordinary Canadians can also apply through the Access to Information Act with specific information requests dealing with CSIS actions.

The main areas of CSIS's mandate are Counter-Terrorism, Counter-Intelligence, Analysis and Production Requirements, and the very broad and loosely defined area called Additional Issues. It is the latter that has given critics of the group their broadest concerns and resulted in their fiercest attacks. It is to be noted that it was this area that recently came under fire for failing to provide, in the eyes of several foreign powers, timely and accurate reports on alleged terrorist activity, taking place on Canadian soil, that was earmarked for export to third-party countries. Most vocal was the United States of America. This criticism was launched after an alleged terrorist was captured trying to bring powerful bomb making devices into Port Angeles, Washington. CSIS responded immediately in a strongly worded denial and cited its mandate and responsibilities and the degree to which they were being met. Direct action to counter hostile actions on Canadian soil is not done by CSIS. They are not an enforcement arm of the Canadian government. That remains in the hands of the RCMP.

The average person, when questioned about the images that come to mind when the topic shifts to spies and intelligence gathering, will generally identify with the typical Hollywood image of a James Bond movie. These dashing and intrepid figures couldn't be farther from the truth if they tried. In fact, a successful spy is the one that nobody notices. They do not want to stand out playing baccarat in Monte Carlo or jet skiing across the Bermuda coastline. The real spy is very low key, highly educated and probably extremely good at doing long-term, boring and repetitive jobs. The new breed of spy must also be very technical and up on the latest technological marvels. A quick trip to the CSIS Web site bears this out. Hit this site and go to the career opportunities section. You will find that the people they are looking for are well equipped to deal with the information revolution that is today's new reality. For prospective spies in the service of the Canadian government, "Shaken, not stirred," should refer not to a martini, but only to the electorate at large. Even then, only at election time.

Advance warning is theoretically what this agency does best. In order to do so, it is necessary to occasionally infiltrate certain suspect groups and organizations. Identifying or targeting these types of illegal gatherings requires patience and attention to detail. Too often we forget that it is real people who do these jobs and just like real people everywhere, they tend to make mistakes. When they do, and it comes to light, the press and every type of opposition and those with some sort of advantage to be gained from exposing these errors will always stand up and bay to the moon about how inefficient CSIS really is. Such was certainly the case several months ago when a certain unnamed operative went to a Leaf's game in Toronto and left a satchel of top secret documents in the back seat of her car. This briefcase was then stolen by an enterprising crook and when its loss was revealed, the press had a field day. The opposition went ballistic. Human rights groups across the country trumpeted their anger on national TV. "How could this happen?" they asked? Human error will always be there and the foibles of people like the hapless agent who committed this indiscretion will always be with us no matter what the organization. Oh yeah, the briefcase was later reacquired in a local dumpster.

Being a spokesman for a group like CSIS must be a real ball sometimes. In late July's Vancouver newspapers it was revealed that a request for information made through the Access to Information Act yielded data that showed the RCMP had actively tried to penetrate a lawful peace group calling for an end to the arms race (End the Arms Race). This happened between 1984 and 1987, three years after the RCMP gave up its mandated powers to do these types of things legally. It was up to CSIS to reply, and a spokesman for CSIS did in fact reply; Phil Gibson. His comments were recorded and released in a report filed Saturday, July 29, 2000, in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Asked whether the RCMP went beyond its mandate in spying on the peace group, starting in 1984 and running through 1987, and asked whether or not the group is still being targeted, Gibson simply stated that "he could neither confirm or deny that files exist".

More on CSIS next time around.


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Thanks for your time as usual. If you'd like to make a suggestion for an article to appear in our "Friday Feature", drop Michael a line at mike@factscanada.com. See you next week!


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