Inside Politics

CSIS in Wonderland

A spy boss takes on Canada's "specialty:" moral outrage

So now we know the view from the CSIS Director's window: besieged by the enemy within!

As if fighting Hezbollah and Al Qaeda wasn't tough enough, CSIS must fight while "tied in knots" by the "Alice-in-Wonderland" law courts. Why, these courts even suggest that it's illegal to use evidence that "may have been derived from torture." And that video of a weeping Omar Khadr being grilled by CSIS agents at Guantanamo? Well, that would surely provoke Canadians to indulge their "knee-jerk anti-Americanism" and "paroxysms of moral outrage" - a "Canadian specialty," it seems.

Ouch!

These, the U.S. Embassy reported, were the views expressed in 2008 by former CSIS Director Jim Judd to a visiting State Department official. Judd retired last year after five years at the helm of Canada's Security and Interlligence Service. The cable zinged off to Washington and everyone thought his complaint would never see the light of day.

WikiLeaks has decided otherwise. What to make of it?

First, it has to be said that Judd's views are widely shared at CSIS and in the country at large. Polls consistently show that Canadians are not crying for Omar Khadr, no matter how often his lawyers protest that this Canadian was a child soldier, abused and railroaded at Guantanamo. And, if the CSIS director thinks the courts are an obstacle to his work, well, who's to say he's wrong? The prevailing view at CSIS remains that the courts and the media just don't understand what we're up against. As Judd's successor as CSIS Director, Richard Fadden, told Brian Stewart in April:

"When I arrived here...there was a sense that we were losing all of the court cases we were involved with; there was a sense that some parts of the media didn't like what we were doing."

The Supreme Court, too, threw up roadblocks. It called the Guantanamo process "illegal." As for CSIS agents going there to interrogate a 16-year-old Khadr, the Court unanimously thundered its disapproval in January of this year:

"This conduct establishes Canadian participation in state conduct that violates the principles of fundamental justice. Interrogation of a youth, to elicit statements about the most serious criminal charges while detained in these conditions and without access to counsel, and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the U.S. prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects."

Ouch again!

Imagine, then, what it must have been like to write my story about Jim Judd tongue-lashing the courts - and then to find myself immediately sitting down to dinner sandwiched between...the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin and the CSIS Director, Richard Fadden.

Triple ouch! Our host, the security aficionado Sen. Colin Kenny, had arranged this mischievous seating plan and, inevitably WikiLeaks and Jim Judd were the hot topics. No way I could get away with just passing the butter.

It's unseemly, of course, for a journalist to cash in on a social gathering to grab quotes, embarrass the host and inhibit the candour of dinners to come - so there won't be any tattling here. But intuitive readers will not go broke guessing that there may be, ahem, a difference of views between those who think human rights are not some trendy catchphrase dreamed up by naive judges, and those who think the courts tilt too far towards protecting the rights of the suspect above those of society at large.

Fortunately, there's no shortage of comment from both sides in the public domain. The Supreme Court wasn't shy about its contempt for the Guantanamo process in its ruling - noting, for example, that CSIS was well aware that its interrogation of Khadr "was conducted knowing that Mr. Khadr had been subjected to three weeks of scheduled sleep deprivation." That's not the fair process that most Canadians would expect for themselves and these findings were not plucked out of thin air by judges intent on wrecking the war on terror. On the contrary, human rights activists argue that such abuses cause prosecutions to fail - not to succeed.

On the other hand, as Jim Judd told his American visitor, CSIS feels more and more bogged down by legal wrangling, "making Legal Affairs the fastest growing division in his organization...a distraction that could have a major chill effect on intelligence officials." And the court records bear him out - with constant problems over Canada's ability to protect secret, foreign intelligence in the cases of Momin Khawaja in the UK Al Qaeda bomb plot, or of Said Namouh, charged with plotting bombings in Europe. The courts may not like it but, if the intelligence isn't kept secret, well, nobody will give us any intelligence.

But perhaps the last word should go to Richard Fadden. Right after telling Brian Stewart how "depressed" his agents were about legal setbacks, he added that he had, as a result, "had a little study done not long after I got here to look at the court cases in which we were involved in and in fact we were winning far more than we were losing."

Ouch! Take that, Jim Judd!
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