Carson cleared by low-level staffer: PCO official

The prime minister or his chief of staff are expected to be personally notified if issues are raised during security checks of potential staff in the PMO, according to documents obtained by CBC News.
Bruce Carson, left, and Ian Brodie, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are seen walking to Hy's Steakhouse in Ottawa in May 2008. Carson Jake Wright/Canadian Press

A former adviser of Stephen Harper with criminal fraud convictions was cleared to work in the Prime Minister's Office by a low-level federal bureaucrat, according to a government spokesman.  

The statement comes after CBC News reported Tuesday that the federal official responsible for Carson’s security clearance in 2006 was William Elliott, currently the RCMP commissioner. Elliott was national security adviser at the time in the bureaucracy that serves the prime minister.

The report was based on interviews with senior officials who were in the Privy Council Office when Carson was given security clearance.

In an email to several media outlets Thursday, PCO spokesman Raymond Rivet said: "The national security adviser does not approve security clearances."

However,  documents obtained by CBC News state the national security adviser is the official link to the prime minister where red flags are raised on a file.

The memo, sent to Harper in 2008 from the then head of the Privy Council Office, Kevin Lynch, includes an attached document dated January 2006 listing the official procedures for conducting "background checks," and what to do if the findings of those investigations cause concerns.

"When problematic issues are identified, the national security adviser to the prime minister will personally convey the results of the checks to the prime minister or to the chief of staff to the prime minister," the attached document said.

Rivet said Thursday the 2006 guidelines on background checks did not apply to someone in Carson’s position.

The Canadian Press reported earlier this week that Carson was convicted on five counts of fraud — three more than previously known — and received court-ordered psychiatric treatment prior to his hiring as an adviser to Harper.

Carson worked in the Prime Minister's Office until 2008. An investigation into Carson's business dealings by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network led the PMO to call in the RCMP in March. More of Carson's past fraud convictions and bankruptcies have surfaced in the news in recent days.

The RCMP and the PCO did not return reporters’ phone calls prior to the CBC’s initial report, and declined to comment on Elliott’s involvement in the Carson case until Thursday afternoon.

The email from Rivet creates the impression no one in PCO or in the Prime Minister’s Office had anything to do with Carson’s security clearance.

"I would add that no senior officials in PCO, including the national security advisor at the time, were involved in granting the security clearance to Mr. Carson," Rivet wrote.

Official reported to Elliott: PCO spokesman

In a later telephone interview, Rivet pointed out that he referred only to the fact no "senior officials" in PCO were involved in handling Carson’s file.

In fact, he said, Carson was cleared by a lower-ranking official in the office.

But Rivet admitted the lower-level bureaucrat who would have approved Carson’s security clearance ultimately reported to Elliott.

Rivet refused to say whether there is any kind of investigation under way to determine how someone with Carson’s criminal and financial history could get security clearance to handle highly sensitive and secret government information.

The official said only that PCO was "reviewing" its security clearance processes.

Harper and his former chief of staff, Ian Brodie, have both denied they were briefed by anyone on Carson’s long history of criminal and financial problems. Brodie said he was told only that Carson was security cleared.

Carson has told The Canadian Press he recalls mentioning his criminal past in early 2006 to Brodie.