Summary of Reviews, 2005-2006

SIRC carries out reviews to determine whether CSIS has acted appropriately in the performance of its duties and functions, and met all requirements set out in law, Ministerial direction and operational policy. SIRC’s reviews are not intended to provide oversight of current CSIS activities, but rather to examine CSIS’s performance on a retrospective basis. The findings of an individual review are not intended to be a judgement on CSIS’s operations as a whole.

Each review provides a “snapshot” of a Service operation or program at a defined period in time. The reviews can include findings and recommendations. Although the recommendations are not binding, SIRC’s role is to advise and warn, so that CSIS may take steps to modify policies and procedures as needed. SIRC’s reviews are sent to the CSIS Director, the Inspector General of CSIS, and in the case of Section 54 reports under the CSIS Act, directly to the Minister of Public Safety.

SIRC completed seven reviews during 2005-06, with an eighth still to be finalized. In addition, SIRC completed its annual review of foreign and domestic arrangements, the CSIS Director’s annual report and the certificate of the Inspector General.

Review of a counter-terrorism investigation

This review focused on a CSIS investigation of a terrorist organization suspected of raising funds in Canada for its activities abroad. SIRC found that CSIS had reasonable grounds to suspect that the targets of this investigation posed a threat to the security of Canada.

The investigation brought the Service into contact with a “sensitive” Canadian institution, which can include the academic, media, political and trade union sectors. Although CSIS is not prohibited from pursuing lawful investigations which may touch upon these sectors, it is required to take specific actions – and obtain specific approvals – when there is a possibility that its activities may involve one of these sectors. SIRC recommended that CSIS extend its sensitive sector policy to require senior-level approval for certain investigative techniques. SIRC also expressed concern about an exchange of information involving a foreign agency and the misuse of information by a domestic partner.

Review of a security liaison officer (SLO) post

CSIS maintains a number of SLO posts outside Canada. This year, SIRC reviewed one of the busiest of these posts, and found it to be managed effectively and in compliance with the CSIS Act, Ministerial Direction and CSIS operational policy and guidelines.

SIRC made five recommendations, the first being that SLOs maintain a written record when they verbally transmit requests for information from CSIS Headquarters to foreign intelligence services (SIRC made the same recommendation in its Section 54 report on Maher Arar). The other four recommendations concerned issues related to the way CSIS documented its foreign relationships. SIRC recommended that CSIS update the post profile; remind operational branches and SLOs to submit reports of discussions with foreign partners in a timely fashion; produce an assessment on a new relationship with a specific foreign agency; and develop an operational policy for documenting its relationships with agencies that are known or reputed to have engaged in human rights abuse.

Review of the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre (ITAC)

ITAC is a key component of Canada’s National Security Policy. The Centre prepares and distributes threat assessments to decision-makers in governments and law enforcement agencies. ITAC is a functional part of CSIS, governed by the same legislation and policies, and thus subject to SIRC’s review. Because this was a “foundation” study to be used as a basis for future reviews, SIRC examined documentation concerning the formation and operations of ITAC as well as its predecessor, the Integrated National Security Assessment Centre.

Although SIRC concluded that for the most part, the Service had complied with the CSIS Act and Ministerial Direction, it found that the Service had not yet integrated the operations of the Centre into existing CSIS policies or approved new ITAC-specific policies. As a result, SIRC recommended that CSIS review its policies to determine where amendments are required to address the role of this new organization. SIRC also found that CSIS was exchanging ITAC threat assessments with a foreign counterpart without a Section 17 arrangement, as required under the CSIS Act. SIRC recommended that CSIS formalize its relationship with this foreign centre by seeking the Minister of Public Safety’s approval.

Review of a counter-intelligence investigation

SIRC examined a long-running CSIS investigation into the activities of a foreign intelligence service suspected of covert economic espionage and spying on expatriates who had relocated to Canada.

SIRC concluded that CSIS had reasonable grounds to suspect that this foreign intelligence service posed a threat to the security of Canada. Based on the information which it reviewed, SIRC agreed with the Service’s decision to end the investigation because this foreign intelligence service no longer posed a threat. There were no recommendations arising from this review.

Review of foreign arrangements with countries suspected of human rights violations

Section 17 of the CSIS Act authorizes the Service to enter into arrangements with foreign intelligence agencies for the purpose of exchanging information. However, in cases involving countries that have a questionable commitment to human rights, Ministerial Direction stipulates the arrangements will only be considered if they are required to protect the security of Canada.

This review examined the Service’s foreign arrangements with seven agencies in four countries. SIRC examined the rationale for establishing and – if applicable – expanding each arrangement; the relationship between CSIS and the agency; the nature of the information exchanged; special conditions or limitations on the collection or use of the information; and an assessment of the intelligence disclosed to, and received from, the foreign agency.

Overall, SIRC found that CSIS’s exchanges with these agencies was within the scope of the respective foreign arrangements. SIRC was concerned that information provided to one foreign agency could have contributed to that agency’s decision to detain a Canadian citizen (who was also a CSIS target) upon arrival in that foreign country. In another case, SIRC expressed concern that information the Service received and used from a foreign agency may have been obtained under duress.

At the end of 2005-06, CSIS had arrangements with 265 foreign agencies in 144 countries. SIRC recognizes that for CSIS to safeguard Canada’s national security, it must maintain relationships and exchange information with agencies around the world – some of whom have questionable human rights records. Nevertheless, SIRC believes that CSIS’s policy framework should reflect the challenges of dealing with countries suspected of human rights violations. SIRC therefore recommended that CSIS amend its policy governing the disclosure of information to foreign agencies, to include consideration of the human rights record of the country and possible abuses by its security or intelligence agencies.

In addition, SIRC recommended that CSIS Headquarters should maintain a written record of secure telephone conversations with SLOs – specifically conversations that contain operational information – and include this in its reporting; and review its procedures so that parameters and methods of exchange – as well as the Service’s expectations – are communicated to the foreign agency prior to entering into new foreign arrangements.

Review of CSIS’s electronic-surveillance and information-gathering techniques

Advances in broadband and wireless communication have resulted in dramatic changes to the types of techniques that can be used to conduct electronic surveillance. The pace of technological change – and the speed with which terrorists and foreign intelligence agencies are adopting these innovations – requires Canadian law enforcement and security agencies, as well as review bodies such as SIRC, to stay abreast of new developments. In this review, SIRC sought to gain a better understanding of how the Service was adapting to these rapidly evolving technologies.

SIRC reviewed two warrant applications approved by the Federal Court in 2004, one for a counter-intelligence investigation and the other for a counter-terrorism investigation. This is because warrant powers are among the most intrusive investigative tools available to the Service. SIRC examined hard-copy and electronic documentation related to each of the warrant applications, as well as CSIS’s implementation of warrant powers.

SIRC found that the Service complied with the CSIS Act and all relevant operational policies in its application for, and execution of, warrant powers. However, SIRC was unclear why CSIS believed that warrant powers were necessary to investigate a particular counter-terrorism target. SIRC also noted that several warrant implementation files did not contain all the documents required by operational policy. While it agreed with CSIS that different situations may require different types of documentation to support the warrant process, and that these requirements may change over time, SIRC recommended that CSIS review and revise a certain warrant policy so that it reflects current best practices.

Review of activities and investigations in a CSIS region

SIRC’s regional reviews provide insights into how investigations authorized by CSIS Headquarters are implemented in the field, and help SIRC to gain a better understanding of a region’s activities, priorities and challenges. This regional review was timely because it allowed SIRC to examine the first warranted investigation of a new and emerging threat within Canada: homegrown Islamic extremism.

SIRC agreed with the Service’s assessment that this phenomenon poses a serious threat to Canada’s national security. However, it had concerns about the use of a certain interception technique and recommended that CSIS obtain an updated legal opinion governing its use. Although internal security issues were generally dealt with appropriately by the region, SIRC found that a district office was not documenting potential violations. This led SIRC to recommend that existing operational policy be strictly adhered to by all regions, regardless of location, size or staff complement.

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