Annual Report 2007-2008 - An Operational Review of CSIS Activities
The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) was created in 1984 as the only body with a mandate to carry out ongoing, independent review of the activities of CSIS.
Established under the CSIS Act, SIRC provides assurance to Parliament—and through it, to Canadians—that CSIS performs its duties and functions appropriately and effectively and in accordance with legislation, policy and Ministerial Direction. In doing so, SIRC seeks to ensure that CSIS both protects and respects the fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadians.
To fulfill its mandate, SIRC directs staff to undertake a number of reviews each year. These provide a retrospective examination and assessment of specific CSIS investigations and functions. Under the CSIS Act, SIRC has virtually unlimited power to review CSIS’s performance. With the sole exception of Cabinet confidences, SIRC has the right to have access to any information under the control of the Service, no matter how highly classified that information may be.
SIRC’s reviews include findings and, where applicable, recommendations. Upon completion, the report is forwarded to both the Director of CSIS and the Inspector General of CSIS. SIRC is also authorized under Section 54 of the CSIS Act to provide special reports to the Minister of Public Safety on any matter that the Committee identifies as having special importance or that the Minister directs SIRC to undertake.
An oversight body looks on a continual basis at what is taking place inside an intelligence service and has the mandate to evaluate and guide current investigations or work in “real time.” SIRC is a review body, so unlike an oversight agency, it can make a full assessment of CSIS’s past performance without being compromised by any involvement in its day-to-day operational decisions and activities.
SIRC’s research program is designed to address a broad range of subjects. In deciding what to review, SIRC considers:
This approach allows SIRC to manage the inherent risk of being able to review only a small number of CSIS activities in any given year. Each review results in a “snapshot” of the Service’s actions in a particular context. For more than twenty years, SIRC’s reviews have provided Parliament and Canadians with a comprehensive picture of the Service’s operational activities, and assurance that CSIS is performing its duties and functions appropriately, effectively and in accordance with the law.
For each review, SIRC’s researchers will consult multiple information sources to examine specific aspects of the Service’s work. For example, in addition to consulting the academic literature and arranging briefings with CSIS employees, researchers will spend considerable time reviewing various documents at CSIS headquarters. As part of this process, researchers may look at individual- and group-targeting files, human source files, operational messages and other relevant correspondence, documents relating to cooperation between CSIS and foreign and domestic agencies and partners, intelligence assessments and warrant documents, among other sources that vary between reviews. The goal is to create a diverse pool of information so SIRC can ensure that it has thoroughly reviewed, and completely understood, the issues at hand. SIRC is pleased that CSIS has made every effort to facilitate and improve SIRC’s access to these information sources, and we appreciate their efforts in this regard.
SIRC is only one of several mechanisms designed to ensure CSIS’s accountability. The Service also remains accountable for its operations through the existing apparatus of government, specifically the Minister of Public Safety, the Inspector General of CSIS, the central agencies, the Auditor General, the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
Traditionally, counter-intelligence investigations conducted by CSIS have focused on countries operating covertly in Canada. In this case the Service both cooperated with and investigated the intelligence agencies of a foreign country. SIRC was interested in examining the challenges faced by CSIS in managing these relationships, while also guarding against suspected threat-related activities. SIRC also examined whether the information exchanged and the cooperation undertaken with these agencies were within the scope of the relevant foreign arrangements, as well as whether there were any problems or issues that arose from this situation.
SIRC found that, despite greater cooperation between CSIS and the targeted agencies, the Service clearly had a legitimate interest in investigating the covert activities of those agencies. Although any relationship in these circumstances has the potential to become conflicted, SIRC assessed that CSIS handled its investigation in an effective manner. At the same time, SIRC confirmed that the Service needed to continue to exercise both caution and balance in maintaining this relationship to ensure the protection of Canada’s security interests. SIRC also found that CSIS employees did not always submit a contact or visit form, as required by operational policy, following contact with a foreign agency representative.
SIRC made two recommendations arising from this review.
First, SIRC recommended that CSIS employees submit a standard, written record of non-operational information exchanged with foreign agencies. This would be placed in both the relevant “cooperation with” file and operational database. The written record of non-operational information exchanged should also cross-reference the operational information exchanged with those foreign agencies. SIRC believes that as the number of visits with foreign agency representatives increases, it is important that CSIS employees be kept abreast of information exchanged with foreign agencies, so that they can get quick, comprehensive snapshots of these interactions.
Second, Section 17(1)(b) of the CSIS Act states that the Service may, with the approval of the Minister, “enter into an arrangement or otherwise cooperate” with foreign security or intelligence organizations, which is reiterated in Ministerial Direction and operational policy. During its review, SIRC found documents indicating that the Service was cooperating with a foreign agency with which it did not have a Section 17 arrangement. CSIS maintained that the information exchanged with that agency was covered by existing arrangements with other agencies in that country. Nevertheless, SIRC recommended that CSIS establish a separate Section 17 foreign arrangement with that agency to conform with the CSIS Act, Ministerial Direction and operational policy.
In this study, SIRC reviewed one of CSIS’s highest priority counter-intelligence investigations. This foreign intelligence service has conducted aggressive operations in Canada, targeting economic, political, scientific and technical information. It also has conducted operations against Canadian diplomatic premises and Canadian staff working overseas.
The objective of SIRC’s review was to assess CSIS’s performance in countering the foreign intelligence service’s attempts to cultivate sources of information within the Government of Canada, as well as its attempts to obtain surreptitiously economic intelligence and controlled technologies from Canadian businesses.
SIRC concluded that CSIS’s investigation was run professionally and was indicative of both strong operational planning and extensive experience with the investigation. The Service showed itself to be well positioned to identify and counter new threats posed by this foreign intelligence service. SIRC noted that CSIS had recently reconsidered and refocused its intelligence efforts to respond to a detected shift in practices by the foreign service in question. The Service must continue to shape its investigation to offset the challenges identified in this study and to close existing intelligence gaps.
SIRC also noted an inconsistent application of procedures for secure meetings with human sources, and expressed concern that certain practices could risk the security of CSIS’s operations and increase the chance of exposing the source’s relationship with the Service. As a result, SIRC suggested that CSIS review its practices and implement a consistent approach to all domestic human source operations.
As part of this review, SIRC identified and reviewed CSIS’s role in the investigation of security concerns that arose during the construction of the Department of National Defence’s Above Ground Complex in North Bay, Ontario, as part of its North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) modernization program. Although these issues were the subject of two reports by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (May and October 2007), neither report discussed CSIS’s role in the matter.
The Department of National Defence is responsible for meeting its security obligations under the Government Security Policy as they relate to the construction of this facility, and must report any concerns to CSIS when they arise. Further, CSIS is responsible for investigating national security concerns when they are reported. In this case, DND reported its security concerns to CSIS, and the Service responded in due course. SIRC noted, however, that CSIS did not receive sufficient information from the Department of National Defence to investigate various security concerns related to the NORAD facility fully and proactively.
SIRC also identified a gap in Canada’s national security policy. The Government Security Policy requires all departments to request and receive security clearances from CSIS for individuals who require site access to secure facilities. The two reports issued by the Auditor General in 2007 indicated that departments and agencies often do not obtain the necessary security assessments for contractors. Yet there is no mechanism to alert CSIS when a department or agency has failed to meet these requirements.
SIRC believes that the failure of a department to request and receive appropriate security clearances could create a situation that could be exploited by a foreign intelligence service. Therefore, SIRC suggested that CSIS make every effort to be aware of construction projects involving secure locations and to develop a standardized procedure for CSIS to advise departments concerning the necessity of site access or security clearances.
SIRC recommended that CSIS consult with the Treasury Board Secretariat to clarify its responsibility to investigate incidents reported under the Government Security Policy, and to explore the value of enhancing interdepartmental liaison in order to advise departments of their security screening responsibilities under the policy. SIRC encourages CSIS to consider this recommendation as part of its future planning, and to include it in any discussions with the Treasury Board Secretariat about CSIS’s responsibilities under the Government Security Policy.
CSIS’s Intelligence Assessments Branch (IAB), formerly Research, Analysis and Production, plays an important role in providing timely and relevant strategic and tactical advice to the federal government concerning threats to national security. The IAB develops strategic analyses that examine current and emerging trends or issues that might affect national security in the future. The analyses are done for government or in support of Service investigations. It also prepares tactical analyses that support operational needs, including information about particular individuals, targets or other immediately pressing issues.
SIRC chose to review the IAB to enhance its understanding of the nature, scope and effectiveness of the branch’s work. In addition to analyzing the strategic and tactical intelligence analyses produced by the branch, SIRC explored the nature and extent of the IAB’s integration and cooperation with the wider Canadian security intelligence community and examined how the branch disseminated timely and relevant intelligence products.
Overall, SIRC found the IAB to be an effective and professionally organized group that has worked diligently in recent years to respond to growing demands—both within the Service and across government—for intelligence assessments and products. At the same time, considerable work remains for the IAB to adjust to the complex and changing security intelligence environment. This was recognized by IAB management and was demonstrated in ongoing work to improve and expand the branch’s role. SIRC’s review provided several insights into this ongoing transition.
First, recent organizational changes within the IAB should help to enhance the branch’s capacity to produce strategic and tactical intelligence analyses for government or in support of Service investigations. In particular, SIRC believes that these changes represent an important step towards addressing the need for more long-term strategic analysis, especially since previous SIRC studies noted that frequent restructuring and insufficient resources had limited the Service’s strategic intelligence assessment capabilities. For this reason, SIRC encourages CSIS’s senior management to provide the necessary leadership and resources to ensure that the branch has the organizational stability to complete its important initiatives and objectives.
Second, SIRC believes that there will be increased pressure from across the security intelligence community for the IAB’s assessments and related products. The challenge will be for the Service, and the IAB in particular, to continue to develop the capacity to meet those needs.
Third, SIRC found that the IAB has had a growing and important role collaborating with others in the Canadian intelligence community. For example, at an informal level, IAB analysts maintain contact across the intelligence community on a regular basis to share ideas and intelligence information. At a more formal level, these analysts and senior management participate in various interdepartmental working groups. SIRC believes that the branch’s ongoing participation in such initiatives is essential in today’s complex and evolving security environment.
SIRC’s review also highlighted various challenges for the IAB in disseminating products and collecting client feedback. SIRC recognizes the Service’s efforts to improve its methods of liaising with clients, to ensure that they receive relevant and timely analysis and commentary.
The Director of CSIS noted in his 2006 speech to the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies that Canada’s borders cannot protect the country from many of the threats it now faces. Canadian lives and property are at risk from the actions of individuals and groups residing in foreign countries—as are Canadians working or travelling abroad. In view of this, the Director maintained that one of CSIS’s top challenges is “to strengthen (its) capacity to operate effectively outside of Canada in support of (its) core national security mandate.”
SIRC’s review sought to examine the Service’s efforts to increase its capacity to operate outside Canada. SIRC therefore analyzed, as a case study, CSIS’s role in interdepartmental efforts abroad to rescue members of a group known as the Christian Peacemakers, who were kidnapped in Iraq in 2005.
The following questions guided SIRC’s research:
SIRC found that CSIS officers increased in two ways the effectiveness of interdepartmental efforts to rescue the kidnapped members of the Christian Peacemakers. First, the officers provided access to information and priorities of other intelligence agencies operating in Iraq. Second, they provided information collected by human sources operating in the region.
At the same time, SIRC found that the Christian Peacemakers example illustrated the challenges that CSIS will face as it increases its activities abroad:
The complexities of dealing with human beings, and human relations, make human sources a unique and challenging line of intelligence collection. Nevertheless, human sources remain an essential tool in security intelligence for understanding both threat environments and the intentions of targets—information that is not always evident from technical sources such as photographs or intercepted communications.
SIRC examined the challenges of conducting human source operations overseas, including operations in war zones. SIRC assessed the Service’s actions against the CSIS Act and Ministerial Direction, as well as relevant operational policies and guidelines. Special attention was given to whether current Ministerial Direction was sufficient to accommodate the Service’s foreign collection activities and support for military operations.
SIRC believes that the expansion of CSIS’s foreign intelligence collection program will entail challenges as the organization adapts to new operational environments. SIRC recognizes the Service’s efforts to work effectively in this still-evolving context, evidenced by the creation of the International Region, which includes the transition from Security Liaison Officer to Foreign Officer, and the approval of Executive Directives to guide certain operations. However, further work remains to be done.
SIRC therefore made two recommendations. First, SIRC’s analysis suggests that the Service should reconsider its policy structure to accommodate its increasing activities outside Canada. Although the Committee found that CSIS had revised its practices to meet the challenges identified in the study, corresponding Service policy has yet to be adjusted. SIRC believes it appropriate for the Service to extract common principles and themes from its current practices to develop new policy to govern overseas source operations. To be effective, these changes in policy should be led by the Minister of Public Safety by way of clear Ministerial Direction. SIRC therefore recommended that CSIS prioritize the development of these policies upon receipt of the new Ministerial Direction.
SIRC’s second recommendation concerned the assessment of risk for source operations. When risk assessments were reported in the planning documentation reviewed, there was little detail as to how these assessments were calculated, and little consistency in the language used. As a result, it was often unclear what factors motivated the assessment of a particular risk level. CSIS policy has neither a standardized scale establishing thresholds between different levels of risk, nor consistent terminology when assessing risk.
SIRC concluded that CSIS should rationalize its risk assessment procedures and its reporting of risk in operational plans. Clearly described standards would provide operational staff with a tool to measure and assess risk, and ensure that all factors are considered. SIRC therefore recommended that CSIS standardize its risk assessments with detailed and consistent terminology that is reflected in operational policy.
This review examined one of CSIS’s largest and highest-priority investigations. Operational activity undertaken within this investigation had taken place both in Canada and abroad, and the Service had cooperated with allied intelligence agencies to disrupt certain threat-related activities.
In the period under review, SIRC examined the nature and extent of the activities of a sample of group and individual targets, including how these targets constituted a threat to the security of Canada, as well as the effectiveness and appropriateness of the Service’s investigation.
Two findings and one recommendation resulted from this review.
One of the groups reviewed was approved as a target in 2004, and again in 2006. SIRC found that the Service had no indication that members of the targeted group had been directly involved in any terror-related acts. According to CSIS, its main concern was that these individuals could be regarded as ideal recruits by terrorist groups.
Although there is evidence to suggest that this group is a terrorist organization—for example, some of its members are thought to have participated in terrorist activities outside of Canada—there is also a wide body of academic literature that suggests it is non-violent, and has been targeted by a number of foreign governments because it is considered a political threat. Although SIRC’s review noted that the Service, in its investigation, was aware of the debate regarding the group’s status as a terrorist organization, there was no reference to that debate in the targeting approval process. Therefore, SIRC’s first finding was that this debate should have been included in the targeting approval process.
SIRC therefore recommended that the debate about whether the targeted group is in fact a terrorist organization should be included in future targeting discussions. Although the ensuing discussion might not alter the final decision, the targeting approval process would nonetheless be better informed.
Another aspect of the review included an examination of the Service’s investigation of targets in sensitive Canadian institutions, which includes academic, political, media, religious and trade union fields. Ministerial Direction and operational policy require that CSIS obtain a higher level of approval prior to undertaking investigative activities that have an impact, or appear to have an impact, on these institutions. SIRC’s second finding was that CSIS may be required to undertake certain types of investigative activities that could have an impact on a sensitive sector institution. SIRC therefore believes the Service should re-examine existing policies to ensure that these activities are suitably covered.
Because the vast majority of threats that CSIS must contend with arise beyond Canada’s borders, the Service has taken steps to strengthen its capacity to operate effectively abroad. CSIS has for many years operated Foreign Offices around the world—the number and locations of which are classified, except for those in London, Paris and Washington. Service representatives working at these posts are designated Foreign Officers (FO), formerly Security Liaison Officers (SLO).
SIRC’s review of one such Foreign Office was designed:
SIRC’s examination of this Foreign Office illustrated the challenges facing CSIS in an immigration-generating, geo-politically complex and threat-diverse region. The Service places high expectations on Foreign Officers to address these competing demands, requiring solid time management and the effective development of diverse information sources. SIRC noted the Foreign Officer’s capable handling of these divergent expectations at the office.
From SIRC’s perspective, two overlapping issues converged at this office: strategic restructuring challenges and tactical workload expectations. These issues will become particularly relevant for this Foreign Office as the region’s security intelligence demands continue to evolve. The challenge for CSIS will be to balance expanding collection demands with resource realities.
SIRC offered three concluding observations for the Service to consider as it attempts to address these competing priorities. First, CSIS will need to acknowledge and address ongoing human resource capacity issues, particularly in relation to the increased workload demands related to the transition from Service Liaison Officer to Foreign Officer. Efforts at addressing this challenge will depend on the extent to which the Service perceives the need to bolster collection capabilities at the office. Second, SIRC encouraged the Service to continue with efforts to increase liaisons with partner agencies, a strategy that SIRC believes will offset the over-reliance on particular information sources. Third, SIRC encouraged CSIS to continue refining its plans and priorities that focus on threats originating outside Canada.
Considering that the Service’s reorganization remains a work in progress, there were no recommendations arising from this review.
*Note: This review was not finalized until after the 2006-07 annual report went to print.
Western-based intelligence agencies have noted in recent years the activities of certain Islamist-based movements around the world whose adherents employ violence against those declared to be “enemies of Islam.” In Canada, there are increasing concerns about the emergence of “homegrown” terrorist threats posed by so-called second generation Islamists—individuals born or raised in Canada who subsequently espouse radical beliefs, as well as converts who espouse extremist interpretations of Islam. CSIS has identified al Qaida-inspired threats as prominent, and particularly the threat posed by individuals who may, to all appearances, have blended into society.
To understand better why some who are born and raised in Canada might turn to extremism, and to prevent those who do so from engaging in threat-related activities, CSIS assigns priority to identifying the factors that may lead to radicalization.
SIRC reviewed the Service’s investigation of certain individuals believed to be second-generation terrorists or recent converts to extremist interpretations of Islam. SIRC also reviewed CSIS’s execution of warrant powers and its use of human sources.
SIRC found that the Service complied with the CSIS Act, as well as applicable Ministerial Direction and operational policies in this investigation. Specifically, SIRC found no issues of concern in CSIS’s examination of individual targets, the development and execution of a warrant, and the management and control of most of the human sources associated with this investigation.
Concerning CSIS’s direction of human sources, SIRC noted that appropriate authorization had not been provided by CSIS’s executive for operations conducted within sensitive institutions, as required by its sensitive-sector policy.1 For instance, SIRC found that a regional investigator had directed a human source to collect information within a sensitive institution without first obtaining executive approval.
SIRC also found that the investigation’s targeting-approval documentation did not provide a sufficiently thorough overview of the issue, group, organization or individual targeted or a description of the activities of the proposed target, as per operational policy. In particular, SIRC believes the documentation could have included more detail regarding how the investigation would focus on issues of new, evolving or increasing concern. In the absence of this information, the investigation has served as a general operational file for the broader investigation of Islamist extremism. SIRC believes that clarifying and limiting this issue-based investigation could assist CSIS in more effectively identifying issues of developing concern and isolating them for analysis.
Therefore, the Committee recommended that CSIS clearly define this issue-based investigation when it is next renewed and determine whether it should focus on issues of increasing concern.
1 Sensitive institutions include those in the academic, political, media, religious and trade union fields.