Monday, November 21, 2011

Do we need a Canadian CIA?

The Harper government shouldn't spend money on foreign intelligence if it doesn't plan to heed it

At a time when Ottawa is instructing federal agencies to trim their budgets, the Conservative government is reportedly contemplating expanding the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's mandate to allow it to engage in intelligence collection abroad, a measure that would signify additional costs and whose returns are by no means certain.

At the heart of the problem lies Section 16 of the CSIS Act, which contains a clause — "within Canada" — that has long cast a shadow on the agency's ability to operate abroad. The government wants to do away with that constraint, arguing that new imperatives, such as international terrorism and Chinese espionage, require that CSIS have the same powers to spy on people abroad as it does within Canada.

Now, it is an ill-kept secret that, thanks to built-in flexibility in the mandate, CSIS is already conducting operations abroad, sometimes in some of the world's most dangerous places. What a revamped mandate would signify is that CSIS would be able to engage in more such activities, or feel less like a criminal when it does so. Arguably, such intensification in espionage abroad would imply additional costs related to training and deployment, among others, which goes counter to the government's budget cuts plan. What this would create, in fact, is justification for CSIS to ask for more money.

My op-ed, published today in the Ottawa Citizen, continues here.

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