Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CSIS Public Report 2007-2008: A feeling of déjà vu

My former employer, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), released this week its 2007-2008 Public Report, in which, as it does every year, it provides an assessment of the threat environment and the organization’s priorities. As with every annual release, the report is an exercise in vagueness, and aside from the message from the director, Jim Judd, section, is almost verbatim what had been provided in previous reports from 2001 on. Given that CSIS tends to recycle and rehash information in not only its operational reports, but also in court affidavits and Federal Court warrants, it is no surprise that the unclassified annual report would fail to give new information.

As always, we are told that terrorism was the No. 1 investigative priority, followed by espionage and proliferation. Naturally, the report spends quite a bit of time on terrorism, mentioning the principal actors and countries where, since 9/11, terrorist attacks have been committed, while repeating, for the 6th year in a row, that al-Qaeda has singled Canada as an “important ally of the U.S. and is therefore deemed a legitimate target by the group.” It also writes that because of its participation in Afghanistan, Canada may appear as a legitimate target for attacks. While no Canadians have been targeted in recent years, the report tells us, it does not mean that the threat is any less, which, absent details, the reader must take on faith. Not a single reference is made to specific counterterrorism cases in Canada, except for the brief mention of the detonation of an explosive device outside a Jewish community center in Montreal in April 2007, which caused damage but no injuries. Including this incident in the terrorism section is actually misleading (and shows how little CSIS has to offer), as — to quote the Gazette newspaper — “The pair [of suspects] were arrested Thursday morning and questioned. The investigation did not turn up links to any terrorist or hate groups, said Constable Christian Emond, of the Montreal police fraud and arson squad.”

Stretching the definition of terrorism even further, the report continues:

Terrorism, however, remains a real threat to the safety and security of Canadians. Since the 9/11 attacks in the U.S (in which 24 Canadians were among those killed), there continue to be major terrorist acts committed across the globe. In Afghanistan, 301 Canadian soldiers were killed in 2007-08, most of them victims of improvised explosive devices … or roadside bombs.

Sad as the deaths of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan are, they did not fall at the hands of terrorists, as they are a foreign military occupying another country. To refer to the deaths of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in its terrorism section is misleading and either underscores a lack of understanding of terrorism by the authors of the report, or a desire to muddy the water by making the threat of terrorism against Canadians seem more serious than it actually is.

The rest of the report is equally thin on specifics and does not provide anything new. In the espionage and foreign interference section, the usual intelligence-gathering activities of foreign powers — industrial espionage, cyber attacks, etc — are mentioned, but none of the principal suspects (China, Russia) are mentioned. Not even once. Nor are we given any information on actual foreign activities on Canadian soil. Instead, the report once again repeats the old “Canada as an ally of the US,” “Canada as an advanced industrialized country,” “Canada as a NATO member” as reasons why it is being targeted — with more sophistication and aggressiveness, the report claims.

The rest of the report is equally uninformative, with statistics on number of employees, gender representation, budget (C$389 million for FY2007-08), and donations to charity. A brief mention of the need for more review and accountability is made, but nothing is said about what CSIS or monitoring bodies, such as the Inspector General and SIRC, have done to ensure more transparency — except for CSIS’ outreach program, which is more an exercise in PR targeting academia and the media rather than a real means to ensure that CSIS act with honesty.

In all, with a few minor exceptions, someone who reads the 2007-08 report will not be learning anything new. I remembering memorizing, almost to the letter, the 2002-03 report during the many months I was involved in the hiring/screening process to become an intelligence officer at CSIS. Five years on, very little has changed …

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Wang Jin-pyng addresses the TFCC

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) met the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club (TFCC) at the Thompson Reuters office in Taipei today to discuss, among other things, plans by Taiwan to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.

Wang, a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), gave a 20-minute presentation — mostly on the ECFA talks — before taking questions from the audience. Unfortunately, as there were only eight earpieces for simultaneous translation to be shared among a roomful of correspondents, a lot of time was wasted translating questions into English or Chinese, which were then followed by translations of Mr. Wang’s responses.

In the opening question, Mr. Wang was asked to talk about the planned purchase of weapons from the US, to which the legislative speaker responded with the standard: Taiwan’s fleet of Mirage 2000 and F-16A/B aircraft is aging; newer aircraft (i.e., F-16C/Ds) as well as PAC-3 missile batteries are required to maintain the military balance in the Taiwan Strait; and the Legislative Yuan has approved the budgets to obtain them.

The rest of the questions skirted around ECFA and Taiwan’s bid to gain observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body at the World Health Organization. On the latter, Wang said that while he did not know under which name Taipei would seek to gain entry, the preferred name would be (1) Republic of China and (2) Taiwan. He said that while the bid may appear straightforward, in reality it is very complex, involving many players in the international community — the US, Japan, and of course China and Taiwan. Wang expressed hope for a final resolution to the nation’s entry into the WHA rather than one that would have to be renewed annually. He said he could not speak for the executive on how to approach the negotiations, or under which name to do so, adding he was certain “the executive had developed a good strategy,”without elaborating.

Asked if unofficial exchanges between the KMT and the Chinese Nationalist Party (CCP) had already been made on an ECFA, Wang said he could neither confirm nor deny the rumors, adding that it was not his position, as legislative speaker, to address matters pertaining to the executive. He mentioned that he had been promised, by either the KMT or the executive, that once the details of an agreement are fleshed out, they would be submitted to the legislature — not for ratification, mind you, but more as a courtesy.

Asked, if somewhat indirectly, if the KMT, which according to certain polls is increasingly perceived as “pro-China” rather than “pro-Taiwan,” can be trusted to represent the interests of Taiwan in negotiations with China, Wang said that a majority of card-carrying KMT members were against unification and preferred maintaining the “status quo,” adding that even among pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members, the majority also supported maintaining the “status quo.” After admitting that under the previous government, the DPP’s controlling the executive and the KMT the legislature was “not necessarily a bad thing,” Wang said that despite the KMT now controlling both the executive and having a majority in the legislature, there was no such thing as total control, as every bill has to be approved by legislators, who are elected by the people and act as their representative in monitoring the activities of the executive. Unexpectedly, here Wang was ever the champion of the legislative system (which, it must be said, he has made great contributions to over the years).

This somewhat skirted the question and represented a bit of a contradiction, as he had previously said that documents pertaining to an ECFA with China would only be submitted to the legislature for reference, which would mean that the executive would remain unchecked, as happened with previous cross-strait agreements with China. Wang nevertheless mentioned that according to Interpretation 520 of the Council of Grand Justices, matters pertaining to the future of the state (as an ECFA surely is) should be debated, and clearly stated that the contents of the agreement should be deliberated on in the legislature and altered if needed. He also admitted that while some sectors would benefit from an ECFA, others would suffer, which the government would seek to mitigate. (It would be interesting to see if the sectors that stand to benefit also happen to be predominantly controlled by KMT-affiliated individuals, a question that wasn’t asked.)

Also not asked was Mr. Wang’s level of confidence on whether the KMT would inform the legislature of the full details of an ECFA, given that he himself, as speaker, has been left in the dark (or claims that he has) as to whether meetings have already taken place between the KMT and the CCP. This also raises the question as to whether the small, unaccountable groups of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait that have held dialogue on various agreements also reflect Wang’s contention that the majority of KMT members favor the “status quo” — especially when China has made no secret that it sees an ECFA and other agreements as stepping stones toward unification. Whether there might be conflict of interests, or deals we are unaware of, remains a mystery, albeit a distinct possibility. It would have been interesting to hear Mr. Wang’s comments on such musings, but time restrictions made it impossible to raise them at the meeting.

Lastly, asked if Mr. Wang would respond favorably to invitations for him to visit China, he said that he would only do so if four conditions were met: dignity, equality, reciprocity and consent. While hinting that a visit would have been possible when the DPP was in power (though the conditions were clearly not met), he seemed to say that at present it would not be a good time to do so.

In all, the session did not deliver surprises or any information that wasn’t already known. Unfortunately, Mr. Wang far too often relied on the “I cannot speak for the executive” argument to deflect questions, which was not unexpected. We can suspect that, on certain questions, he knew far more than he let on, but given his position — and the KMT contingent in the room — he had to toe the party line and not contradict the executive.