The review bodies for both Canada’s intelligence agencies are raising concerns about their ability to keep track of the country’s spies.
OTTAWA—The review bodies for both of Canada’s intelligence agencies are raising concerns about their ability to keep track of the country’s spies.
The warnings come as the Conservatives continue to insist that Canada does not require increased oversight into the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or the Communications Security Establishment.
The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which reviews CSIS actions, said continued vacancies on the five-person board, the inability to investigate CSIS operations with other agencies, and delays in CSIS providing required information are “key risks” to the committee’s mandate.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner warned that the growth of the massive electronic spying agency, coupled with fiscal restraint at the commissioner’s office, is a “constant concern.”
The two review bodies combined boast about 30 full-time employees and an annual budget of roughly $5 million, according to government documents. The agencies they review are expected to spend more than $1 billion this year, and CSE alone has more than 2,000 employees.
The concerns were raised in both agencies’ plans and priorities reports, which outline the expected actions and spending of government departments and agencies for the year.
They come as Parliament continues to debate Bill C-51, which would give CSIS a much wider mandate to investigate and “disrupt” threats to Canada’s national security.
Many critics who testified about the bill, and a good number of witnesses who support it, have argued there should be some measure of parliamentary oversight into the actions intelligence services take on Canadians’ behalf.
But Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, responding to questions in the House of Commons Wednesday, said Canada’s review system is the “envy of the world.”
“We will continue to support them,” Blaney said of the review bodies.
Blaney has argued that SIRC provides adequate review of CSIS activities, and that additional oversight would simply be “needless red tape.”
In its report, however, the SIRC admitted it can review only a “small number” of the spy agency’s actions each year.
“Currently, SIRC reviews still lack the ability to ‘follow the thread’ of a CSIS investigation if it involves another government department or agency,” the SIRC wrote.
“SIRC’s effectiveness is dependent on (CSIS’s) timely provision of information. In those cases where there are delays in receiving information, SIRC is at risk of being unable to complete its reviews and investigations in a timely manner.”
Both SIRC and the CSE commissioner reported their review capacity depends on co-operation with the agencies they look into — while both are separate and independent from the agencies, both say they require a close working relationship. The CSE commissioner’s report went so far as to say the success of their reviews is “fundamentally reliant on the relationship between the office and CSE.”
Both review bodies also say they need to work together. SIRC’s mandate is to review CSIS operations, but not CSIS’s co-operation with CSE. Without seeing how the different agencies interact — including with the RCMP, which has civilian review, and Military Intelligence, which has no civilian review — the CSE commissioner said it’s difficult to see the whole picture.
“Information sharing among intelligence agencies at the national and international level requires at minimum some co-operation among the various review and oversight bodies,” the report notes.
CSIS’s operations have been well known since the intelligence branch of the RCMP was separated from the law enforcement mandate. The operations of CSE, on the other hand, have attracted widespread attention only through the leaks of whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Working from those disclosures, The Intercept and CBC revealed CSE has developed a suite of cyberwarfare tools, and had a goal to become more aggressive in their use by 2015.
Other documents leaked by Snowden suggest CSE has engaged in mass Internet surveillance of file-sharing sites, and collects massive amounts of Internet traffic through 200 “Internet backbone” sites worldwide through a program called EONBLUE.
Bill Galbraith, the executive director of the CSE commissioner’s office, said he could not discuss whether the office is looking into those disclosures.
“The reviews that we are conducting cover a range of signals intelligence activities, IT security activities, and there is a major review of metadata underway,” Galbraith said in an interview.
Deborah Grey, the former Conservative MP and current acting chair of the SIRC, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
How the review bodies measure up
18 – The number of full-time equivalent positions at the SIRC
11.5 – The number of full-time equivalent position at the CSE commissioner’s office
$5 million – Roughly how much both offices have to spend this year
$537 million – Amount CSIS expects to spend in 2015-2016 alone.
2,175 – Number of employees at CSE
By: Alex Boutilier Staff Reporter, Published on Wed Apr 01 2015
© Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. 1996-2015