CSIS cleared in Afghan detainee probe: review
In this March 23, 2011 photograph, an Afghan detainee is seen through iron mesh inside the Parwan detention facility near Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. (AP / Dar Yasin)
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, September 15, 2011 6:32PM EDT
OTTAWA - Canada's spy agency has been cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the abuse of Afghan detainees.
But the Security Intelligence Review Committee raised two issues for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to consider in future overseas operations -- even though CSIS operations on foreign soil are limited by law.
The spy watchdog chided CSIS for not keeping adequate records and cautioned it to "assess and qualify with care and consistency" the intelligence it receives from agencies that may be party to human rights abuses.
It also recommended that if CSIS continues to operate abroad, its standards of accountability and professionalism should live up to those on Canadian soil.
CSIS's role in Afghanistan has been a source of controversy since The Canadian Press revealed in March 2010 that its operatives interviewed suspected Taliban fighters alongside military intelligence officers.
"In the course of SIRC's review, we found no indication that in the period during which CSIS conducted detainee interviews, CSIS officers posted to Afghanistan had first hand knowledge of abuse, mistreatment or torture of detainees by Afghan authorities," Arthur Porter, chair of the committee, said in a statement Thursday.
CSIS acknowledged interrogating up to 50 Afghan prisoners captured by the Canadian Forces, but has always insisted they were never mistreated.
The spy service questioned Afghan detainees from 2002 through late 2007, when the military began to conduct interrogations without assistance, according to House of Commons committee testimony last year by Michel Coulombe, CSIS assistant director for foreign collection.
CSIS can operate anywhere in the world to collect information about threats to Canada, such as terrorist plots.
But CSIS can gather foreign intelligence, such as details of another country's diplomatic intentions, only on Canadian soil.
In its annual report last year, SIRC said the time had come for Canada to decide whether it should have its own stand-alone foreign spy service, akin to the CIA in the United States or Britain's MI6.
In the meantime, Thursday's review addressed the future implications of the spy agency's role in Afghanistan, where a detainee abuse scandal continues to unfold for Canada's NATO allies, months after the country withdrew its combat troops from Kandahar.
"Should CSIS continue to expand its activities abroad and to provide support to Canadian efforts in volatile regions of the world, CSIS needs to ensure that the management of its operations abroad mirrors, to the extent practicable, the standard of accountability and professionalism that is set and maintained domestically," Porter said Thursday.
Porter said that CSIS did not keep adequate records to document its role in the interviews of Afghan detainees. Given the "complexity" of the Afghanistan environment, the spy agency "could have moved more quickly to put in place additional guidelines to promote greater accountability."