CSIS head plays down CBC comments

CSIS director Richard Fadden appears to be backing away from exclusive comments he made to CBC News this week about foreign influence on Canadian politicians.
Richard Fadden, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, has raised concerns about foreign influence over Canadian politicians. ((Chris Wattie/Reuters))
CSIS director Richard Fadden appears to be backing away from exclusive comments he made to CBC News this week about foreign influence on Canadian politicians.

Fadden said Wednesday in a press release he realizes "the context of a special report by the CBC on CSIS have given rise to some concerns about foreign interference in Canada."

He said his statement is meant to "place those comments in context."

Richard Fadden's statement

"Recent comments I made in the context of a special report by the CBC on CSIS have given rise to some concerns about foreign interference in Canada. The following statement is meant to place those comments in context.

All of the activities of the Service take place within the law and the CSIS Act in particular. The CSIS Act requires the Service to investigate threats to the security of Canada - including foreign interference.

The Service has been investigating and reporting on such threats for many years. Foreign interference is a common occurrence in many countries around the world and has been for decades.

I have not apprised the Privy Council Office of the cases I mentioned in the interview on CBC.

At this point, CSIS has not deemed the cases to be of sufficient concern to bring them to the attention of provincial authorities.

There will be no further comments on these operational matters.

Richard B. Fadden, Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service"

"All of the activities of the service take place within the law and the CSIS Act in particular. The CSIS Act requires the service to investigate threats to the security of Canada — including foreign interference," Fadden said.

"The service has been investigating and reporting on such threats for many years. Foreign interference is a common occurrence in many countries around the world and has been for decades.

"I have not apprised the Privy Council Office of the cases I mentioned in the interview on CBC. At this point, CSIS has not deemed the cases to be of sufficient concern to bring them to the attention of provincial authorities.

"There will be no further comments on these operational matters."

In an exclusive interview with CBC News earlier this week, Fadden said Canada's spy agency suspects that some municipal politicians and cabinet ministers in two provinces are being swayed by their connections to foreign governments.

Fadden said the agency was in the process of discussing with the Privy Council Office the best way to inform those provinces there may be a problem, and experts questioned Wednesday the wisdom of going public with the allegations while that process is underway.

Experts question timing

Wesley Wark, a national security expert at the University of Toronto, is puzzled by the rush to release this information to the public first.

He said this puts CSIS "dangerously out front in what could become a serious and damaging political issue."

"It's not the business of CSIS to finger politicians it believes are threats to national security," he said.

Canadian security expert Martin Rudner also found the timing of the claim curious, but he theorized that perhaps it was CSIS's way of letting any politician or official who is selling out Canadian interests know that the spy agency is watching.

University of Victoria professor Norman Ruff suggested that if that was the intent, there are better ways of achieving it.

"It led to some speculation and suspicions, and I think CSIS, if they were going to make this public, could have been perhaps a little more specific," he said.

China suspected

Fadden did not identify the cabinet ministers or the two provinces, but he said some public servants in British Columbia are also under suspicion.

Officials in British Columbia were caught off-guard by the allegations that some among them could have a foreign government's interests at heart.

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell's office said the premier would not be available for comment.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying, "We have no knowledge of these matters," and directed all inquiries to CSIS.

Municipal officials in Victoria and Vancouver appeared surprised at Fadden's statement and declined to comment.

Fadden described how a few foreign governments are seeking out Canadian politicians from the diaspora of those countries and are offering free trips to the homeland or access to business contacts.

Fadden suggested that as the relationship gets cozier, a politician in that situation starts making decisions that favour his or her homeland over Canada.

Fadden did not say which countries are suspected of being involved in the practice, but in his interview with CBC he pointed to a statement by former CSIS boss Jim Judd that the intelligence agency spends half its counter-espionage budget dealing with China.

When Fadden was asked whether China was one of the foreign governments involved, he referred to media reports on China conducting economic espionage in Canada, saying they were not "entirely incorrect."

"I believe the country that you mentioned was mentioned in those stories," he said to the interviewer.

With files from The Canadian Press