06 January 2006

Harper to create Canadian CIA

Stephen Harper will create a Canadian spy organization like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to collect information on threats to Canadian security, counter threats overseas and add to allied intelligence capabilities.

There is no explanation of how Harper's spy agency will counter threats overseas, although CIA has recently been aggressively capturing and reportedly torturing suspected terrorists in secret prisons overseas.

There is also no explanation as to why a major foreign and security policy announcement was buried in the back of a document that for the most part focused on gun and youth crime. The release, aimed to exploit recent gun violence in Toronto, made no mention of intelligence agencies.

The Conservative plan is buried in a backgrounder to an announcement on security made on Thursday.

* Expand the Canadian Foreign Intelligence Agency to effectively gather intelligence overseas, independently counter threats before they reach Canada, and increase allied intelligence operations.

The Harper commitment to expand the agency is unusual since no such overseas intelligence agency currently exists.

There is no information on Harper's plan beyond the brief mention buried in the party backgrounder. The Conservative policy statement released in March contains reference only to a new agency to co-ordinate existing intelligence activities within the Privy Council Office.

Today's announcement describes an agency with powers significantly beyond those currently held by PCO.

As the 1996 Auditor General's report notes, the main Canadian source of foreign intelligence is the Canadian Security Establishment (CSE). (Left - CSE badge)

This agency, part of the Department of national Defence collects and analyzes electronic intelligence from a number of sites, including automated equipment at Gander and Argentia. CSE is comparable to the National Security Agency (NSA), the American electronic intelligence gathering and cryptological service.

The United States maintains a data collection facility at Argentia that includes equipment to monitor launches from Cape Canaveral.

Canadian foreign intelligence collection and assessment is also provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Privy Council Office, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and elements of the Canadian Forces.

The Martin government has considered adding to CSIS' limited overseas operations, however Harper's proposal would create an entirely separate agency under new legislation. (Left: CSIS badge)

Earlier this year, the head of the CSIS oversight committee warned that CSIS' overseas operations may be straying outside the mandate of the counter-terror agency. Under current legislation CSIS is able to collect intelligence both within Canada and overseas.

A bill to establish the Canadian Foreign Intelligence Agency was introduced two years ago as a private member's bill but died on the order paper at the end of the 37th Parliament.

Recent international news stories have highlighted CIA operations in the fight against terrorism, including the existence of secret overseas prisons, the use of torture by the CIA and suspected shuttling of detainees on CIA-contract flights that sometimes transit Canadian airports like Gander, St. John's and Goose Bay.