25 June 2010

China and CSIS: the naive and sentimental writers

Richard Fadden, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said something a few days ago that did not go down well with many people.

In an interview taped on Monday past with Peter Mansbridge, Fadden said:

“We're in fact a bit worried in a couple of provinces that we have an indication that there's some political figures who have developed quite an attachment to foreign countries."

In the days since CBC broadcast the interview, Fadden issued a public apology in which he retracted his statement that CSIS was discussing with the Privy Council Office how best to deal with the provincial government’s involved.

Some commentators have made a big deal out of the fact Fadden made the comments this week, in advance of the G8/G20 meetings.  Others have taken the apology as a sign that Fadden has been reckless and that he may well be  - or ought to be - replaced very soon.

Two things:

1.  In the context of the week’s events, an apology and retraction would be absolutely necessary if only to save the Prime Minister’s face with foreign leaders.  But no one should take that official retraction for anything other than that.  Canada plays in the big leagues and Fadden is too experienced a public servant to make comments that are as off-the-wall as the apology might suggest. 

Fadden’s comments may alarm the uninformed  - and there are evidently plenty of those out there - but for anyone even passingly familiar with CSIS publicly available intelligence assessments there is no surprise in anything Fadden said. China has long been mounting a campaign of economic and political espionage around the globe.  The country’s aggressive moves into the energy sector is well known.  The two things together suggest a need for wariness, if not increased vigilance.

Incidentally, you can include in the ill-informed list none other than Brian Mulroney’s former chief of staff, Norman Spector. The facts are at cbc.ca.

2.  Around these parts, no one should be surprised either at the Chinese presence  or the potential naiveté of some provincial administrations. 

In 2004, the Williams administration signed a memorandum of understanding for the potential development of the Lower Churchill. 

The company – Sino-Energy – was a consortium of companies that included a state-owned Chinese corporation that has been involved in questionable arms shipments.  The memorandum of understanding gave Sino-Energy complete access to NALCOR information, including details of the interconnection between Churchill Falls and the rest of the North American energy grid.

Bond Papers discussed the MOU issue - including the national security implications – in a 2005 post. No one has followed up on the story since Jeff Ducharme started it. 

The Williams administration might not be on CSIS’ watch list  - they might; China might not be the only foreign country of concern either - but that doesn’t mean they been known to make some amateurish shag-ups when it comes to signing secret deals like that memorandum of understanding with questionable foreign companies.