Former spy agency chief calls for Parliamentary oversight
Published Sunday, October 13, 2013 8:55AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, October 13, 2013 11:49AM EDT
The agency accused of spying on mining and energy operations in Brazil sure as "heck" does not collect intelligence to aid Canadian businesses, says its former head, who is calling for greater government oversight to assure Canadians that its work is not violating their civil liberties.
Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) made headlines last week when an investigative news program on Brazil’s Globo TV reported that the agency used its email and phone metadata to map internal communication within that country’s Mines and Energy Ministry.
The report was based on leaked documents obtained by whistleblower and former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
John Adams, who spent seven years at CSEC, told CTV’s Question Period Sunday that CSEC spies “certainly are not” stealing secrets from foreign businesses and passing them along to Canadian firms.
“We’re seeking information for the government of Canada, and we sure as heck don’t seek it for commercial enterprises,” Adams said.
But, he said, he was concerned that the agency, which gathers intelligence from foreign targets by monitoring electronic communication, leaves Parliamentarians in the dark about its activities.
Adams says Canada should have a Parliamentary committee, such as the kind that exists in the United Kingdom, where a select group of lawmakers is briefed on the activities of the nation’s spy agencies.
“One way of achieving a measure of informed consent would be to have an all-party group of Parliamentarians from both the House and Senate, if the government so desired, that would be cleared for briefings on the operations that CSEC was carrying on,” Adams told Question Period.
Adams said that while the agency’s direction would still come from the government, MPs would still be able to voice concerns and ask questions about the agency’s activities.
“This is not direction from the parliamentary committee because that direction comes from the government, but it at least is their opinion,” Adams said.
“And frankly, if CSEC and its officials can’t convince the Parliamentarians that what they are doing is for the benefit of the country and not going to compromise civil liberties, then they’ve got to re-think their approach and see if they can’t move in another direction.”
The Globo TV report spurred Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff to demand answers from the Canadian ambassador. A day after the report aired, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was “very concerned” by the allegations and that Canadian officials had reached out to their Brazilian counterparts.
The report also raised a number of questions about what Canada’s spy agencies are up to, and if CSEC is using its technology to spy on domestic targets.
CSEC’s current head, John Foster, told an Ottawa tech conference on Wednesday that his agency’s work is monitored by an independent commissioner.
"He and his office have full access to every record, every system and every staff member to ensure that we follow Canadian laws and respect Canadians' privacy," Foster said.
But Adams said that “given the circumstance that we find ourselves in today, I think we’ve got to figure out some way to get some informed consent from Parliamentarians.”
“The challenge now is I think there’s a certain lack of confidence in the security agencies themselves,” Adams said. “So it would be very useful to have a third party there to assure Canadians that what is going on is right for Canada.”
Watch the full interview and political panelists’ discussion with Robert Fife, on CTV’s Question Period, Sunday at 11 a.m. ET