Former CSIS director says expanded surveillance powers needed to prevent terror attacks

Former Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Ward Elcock said CSIS needs greater surveillance powers if it is to prevent a terrorist attack in Canada. He said such an attack is "probably inevitable."

Ward Elcock says current lawful access provisions insufficient for spy agency

Former CSIS Chief says agency needs expanded powers to prevent attacks

6 years ago
Duration 9:27
Former CSIS director Ward Elcock says the spy agency needs expanded surveillance powers

Former Canadian Security Intelligence Services director Ward Elcock says the spy agency needs expanded surveillance powers to address the risk of terror attacks on the scale of recent violence in Europe and Turkey.

Elcock said modern technology has surpassed the legal framework for surveilling and foiling the threat of an attack.

"Communications has moved on substantially from the days of alligator clips and copper wires," he said in an interview with Terry Milewski on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

The Liberals are currently reviewing the previous Conservative government's Bill C-51, now known as the Anti-terrorism Act.

Elcock said current lawful access provisions are "absolutely" insufficient and should be expanded so CSIS would have additional powers and tools to investigate threats involving smartphones and the internet.

"I think the minister of public safety has suggested that he does see some room for movement on issues like lawful access," he said. 

The previous government's attempts to expand lawful access provisions were denounced by privacy activists and then-federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart. ​

Elcock said Canada has been listed as a target of both al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State and an attack of some kind — whether co-ordinated or a lone wolf — is "probably inevitable."

"No intelligence service, no police force knows everything and they can't know everything," he said.

"The reality is there is some risk that there will be an attack that will get missed. I think given the services we have, the police forces we have, the likelihood that we will miss one is as low as it can be — but there is some risk."​

U.S. intelligence agencies

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump has cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community's case that Russia interfered in the 2016 election — including allegations that country was involved in hacking the emails of the Democratic National Committee. 

"I'm not sure it says anything about the credibility of the organizations," Elcock said.

"It may say more about the understanding of others. But the reality is the Russians and the Chinese have been busy in that area for some time." 

Elcock said he still believes the American intelligence organizations that made the claims, despite not having seen the evidence himself. 

Trump has blamed the DNC itself and sided with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who said Russia was not involved.

"Julian Assange wouldn't be high on my list of credible characters," Elcock said.

U.S. government transition officials say CIA director John Brennan, FBI director James Comey and national intelligence chief James Clapper will meet with Trump in New York Friday to brief the president-elect on the investigation into Russia's involvement in the alleged hacking.

With files from The Associated Press