On May 11, 2010, Richard B. Fadden, Director of CSIS appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. In his opening remarks, Mr. Fadden spoke about the role CSIS plays abroad to support Canada's national security interests.
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Richard B. Fadden, Director of CSIS
I am pleased to be here today to speak to the role that CSIS plays abroad in support of Canada’s national security interests.
As I approach my first anniversary as the Director of CSIS, I would like to underscore how important it is that we have an informed and flowing dialogue about national security in Canada. There is no better setting than Parliament in which to advance this dialogue, so I am very pleased to have been invited here today.
As you know, my Assistant Director Foreign Collection, Michel Coulombe, spoke last week to the Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, and there will no doubt be some overlap in content and interest with today’s proceedings. I will touch upon Afghanistan in my remarks and am happy to try and clarify any points that arose from his appearance last week.
I would like to structure today’s remarks in the following manner:
First, I would like to briefly summarize to you what CSIS is allowed to do outside of Canada, because I don’t believe that those functions have always been well understood, even by commentators in the national security community;
Second, I will advance to you an argument on why I think CSIS must be active outside of Canada as part of its overall mandate to protect Canada’s national security;
And last, I will give you a sense of what CSIS is doing abroad so that today’s proceedings are strongly grounded in real-life issues and circumstances.
What CSIS is Allowed to Do Outside of Canada:
The central duties and functions of CSIS are defined in Section 12 of the CSIS Act. We are to collect, analyse and retain information and intelligence respecting activities that can reasonably be suspected of being security threats to Canada. We call this type of intelligence “security intelligence.” We are then to report to and advise the Government on that intelligence.
Based on those general powers, CSIS collects intelligence on a variety of specific threats to Canada’s security, defined broadly in our Act and refined by directives from the Minister of Public Safety. These include terrorism, espionage and foreign-influenced activities.
Most relevant to today’s proceedings is the fact that the CSIS Act does not place any territorial limitation on where the Service can collect security intelligence.
In short, if it’s a threat to Canada’s security, we can collect intelligence on it in Canada or outside of Canada. This is a crucial point, because as I will explain later, threats are rarely conveniently confined in the discrete geographic space called Canada.
Threats, much like air pollution or migrating species, rarely stay put for long and tend not to respect borders. They move, so therefore CSIS has to move.
The framers of the CSIS Act recognized this essential fact. The notion that CSIS must be able to operate overseas has always been recognized as necessary. Indeed, the McDonald Commission, which provided an exhaustive report in 1981 on what a Canadian security intelligence agency should look like, found that:
“We do not think that the agency should be required to confine its intelligence collecting or countering activities to Canadian soil. If security intelligence investigations which begin in Canada must cease at the Canadian border, information and sources of information important to Canadian security will be lost.”
Similarly, then-Solicitor General Robert Kaplan, speaking in support of the passage of the CSIS Act, said in an appearance before a Commons Committee in April 1984 that:
“There is no statutory requirement that the entire activities of the Security Intelligence Service be performed in Canada. I think that would be unduly inhibiting...”
The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) has also recognized our mandate to collect intelligence abroad. In its 2003-04 Annual Report, SIRC reported on a review of a CSIS investigation abroad, and “determined that CSIS has a clear mandate to conduct... investigative activities outside Canada, and concluded that such operations will undoubtedly increase as the threat posed by international terrorism grows.”
The situation is similar for many of our international counterparts who, like CSIS, recognize that the collection of security intelligence must be defined thematically – by the threat – and must be indifferent to the source or locations of those threats.
Quite simply, the Service’s functions extend beyond Canada’s shores because Canada has interests beyond those shores, and threats can and do find us anywhere we are.
Why Foreign Collection is Important:
There are several key reasons why CSIS must focus a growing amount of its resources on foreign collection.
First of all, as I alluded to earlier, threats move. The globalized world is interlinked and intertwined. International affairs is no longer the sole domain of states and of foreign affairs departments. An explosion of political, commercial and social ties has knit the globe together and made us more inter-dependent than ever before.
And while that interdependence can be a great source of strength, it also presents to us new challenges. Numerous global forces are pushing on our borders, softening them. If we are to protect our national security, we have to toughen them up and push them out.
This is not just political science theory. It is a stark reality, and can be illustrated by a few key examples.
The Internet has allowed terrorists to use social networking technologies as a force multiplier, permitting them to gather in the virtual world to recruit, plan and execute acts of terror.
As the Internet, however, spreads its tentacles into every society, computer and home, the implications are enormous. Never before have so many ill-intentioned people had instant, global access to every corner of the globe. It has become much easier for those abroad to plan and organize attacks on Canada or on its allies. But it’s also easier for young Canadians, excited by a perverse call to action, to become radicalized and to develop into a security concern either in Canada or abroad.
I do not want to leave the impression I am against the internet, only that we have to deal with the consequences of its use.
Of those security concerns, confronting the threat from Al Qaeda, its affiliates, and its adherents remains our number one priority. Naturally we are most concerned with those within Canada who ascribe to such movements, and who advocate violence as a mean to achieve their ends. In that regard, I can say that as of this month, CSIS is investigating over 200 individuals in this country whose activities meet the definition of terrorism as set out in section 2(c) of the CSIS Act.
In addition to the work that CSIS does to counter the threat these individuals represent to Canada, CSIS also plays an important international role in protecting others from threats emanating from Canada.
For example, the involvement of Canadian citizens with foreign terrorist organizations – many of them listed as such in the Criminal Code of Canada – is a relatively new phenomenon. Some Canadians even play senior roles in such organizations. Canada has an international obligation to work with partners to ensure that our citizens do not plan or execute terrorist acts abroad.
It may surprise some to hear that CSIS maintains an investigative interest in a disturbing number of Canadian citizens or permanent residents who have travelled abroad to engage in terrorist activities. The suspected whereabouts of these individuals spans the breadth of the globe, involving countries primarily in the Middle East, parts of Africa, and South Asia, but also in Europe and the Americas. It is also worth mentioning that the Service maintains an active interest in the threat-related activities of a number of non-Citizens who have ties to Canada -- whether through former residence here or family links.
In a much more general sense, of course, the movement of people in and out of Canada is enormous. As the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism notes in his 2009 annual report, Canada has a proud history of openness to newcomers from around the world. Canada has the highest relative immigration rate of any major Western country. In 2010, we expect to welcome about 250,000 permanent residents. This connection to the world is a Canadian hallmark, a central facet of our identity.
Increasingly, however, Canadian citizens have strong links to homelands that are in distress, are failed states, or that harbour terrorist groups. Canada is therefore increasingly implicated in a more complex, turbulent world. If we are to protect our national security, we have to know that world, and we can’t do that by simply reading scholarly articles. We have to collect intelligence outside of Canada to have a true grip on what is transpiring. Just as we have solid diplomatic, commercial and social links, we need solid intelligence links.
The recent spate of terrorist kidnappings provides perhaps the most tangible example of why our work abroad is necessary. It is an unfortunate reality that many of these incidents have taken place in parts of the world where Canada has little diplomatic presence or even where diplomatic ties of any kind may be minimal.
Our lack of diplomatic engagement in some very turbulent countries, however, should not be allowed to hinder us when one of our citizens is in distress. We must find ways to engage with foreign entities in such situations.
And this is where CSIS can be – and has been – particularly effective. Over the past three years, an alarming number of Canadian citizens have been kidnapped by extremist elements in some of the most dangerous regions on earth. In many of these cases, key intelligence services are given the lead for efforts to secure the release of foreign hostages, and it is not unusual for them to insist that Canada’s exclusive point of contact be CSIS. Although our arrangements with certain foreign agencies have sometimes been criticized, this trust that our foreign counterparts place in the Service has led directly to the safe and secure release of Canadian citizens held hostage abroad.
In specific cases such as terrorist kidnappings, the Government of Canada, through CSIS, has little choice but to engage with foreign intelligence agencies, wherever they may be, if it is to protect Canadians. And this is why CSIS must continue to cultivate and maintain such a large network of intelligence relationships – currently involving over 275 agencies in approximately 150 countries.
To shy away from such engagement would be a form of unilateral disarmament in a dangerous world. It would render us extremely ineffective. It would be like sitting in a non-smoking section of a tiny restaurant, feeling proud about how we have advanced our health as the blue haze drifts towards us. In a dangerous world, that approach is not a realistic option.
What CSIS Does Abroad:
CSIS officers overseas collect information, and manage and leverage relationships with foreign intelligence agencies to protect Canada, and others, against threats to their security. This is a vital part of an ongoing, international system of intelligence sharing. With major allies, this allows Canada to build a coherent picture of emerging threats. With partners where relations are less hospitable or productive, it provides a vital link in times of crisis.
Our officers abroad are also charged with providing security screening advice to Citizenship and Immigration Canada in order to identify threats to Canada. In this regard, we aim to prevent foreign-based threats from materializing on our shores. These officers are an important link to a major section within CSIS – the Security Screening Branch.
In 2008-09, the Screening branch received just over 329,000 immigration-related security screening requests. The program focuses on visitors, refugee claimants, applicants for permanent residence from within Canada and abroad, and applicants for Canadian citizenship.
This screening process is a vital part in what I referred to earlier as pushing out our borders. Clearly, if we can prevent those who are threats to Canada from arriving on our shores, our work at home can be that much more focused and effective.
The overwhelming majority of those coming to Canada do so for legitimate and very positive reasons. They want to start a new life in a free and peaceful place. But given the legal complexities in trying to remove threats to Canada once they arrive, screening becomes that much more important.
In short, it is preferable to stop a threat from coming to Canada than trying to remove it once it become entrenched over time.
As I alluded to earlier, CSIS also has a strong interest in keeping tabs on individuals who use their Canadian status to move freely around the globe to plot or execute terrorist acts. This often requires that we operate close to such targets, or failing that, that we share information with allied agencies who are close to them.
Before concluding, I would like to say a few words about the Service’s presence in Afghanistan.
The news that CSIS is operating in Afghanistan has often been greeted with relative surprise, and even, in some quarters, outright bewilderment. Why this is so remains puzzling to me, because it would seem logical that a Government committing itself to a project as complex, dangerous, and ambitious as routing Al Qaeda and helping to stand up democratic institutions in Afghanistan, would wish to take full advantage of all its available resources. CSIS is a key Government partner in this complex effort.
There seems to be a general sense among citizens that intelligence work in places like Afghanistan is unsavoury, and that such work may not meet Canadian standards of fairness and integrity. I understand this unease, and agree with the overall sentiment that all Canadians deployed in Afghanistan must meet the highest human rights standards.
What is rarely assumed, but important to note, is that CSIS plays a critical role in supporting all three pillars of Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan - defence, diplomacy, and development.
As my Assistant Director Foreign Collection stated last week, information collected by CSIS has saved lives. Our work has led to the disruption and dismantling of insurgent networks planning imminent IED and car bomb attacks against military and civilian targets.
We are very proud of our role in force protection, and our employees are willing to share the risks faced by CF personnel while in Afghanistan.
Likewise, CSIS information provided to DFAIT has contributed to Canada’s diplomatic posture in the region, and our advice provided to CIDA has helped advance our development and aid efforts in Kandahar and elsewhere.
CSIS intelligence contributes to the success of Canada’s overall mission in Afghanistan. What is more, south Asia will remain a major source of threats to Canadian and allied interests well beyond the end of the Canadian Forces mission in 2011, and is an area that CSIS will continue to follow closely.
CSIS is an innovative organization that is constantly adapting, evolving, and fine-tuning. Our work necessarily takes place behind the scenes and our successes rarely make headlines. But our mission – literally carved in stone at the entrance of our national headquarters – is as simple as it is clear: “the people of CSIS are dedicated to the protection of Canada’s national security interests and the safety of Canadians.”I believe that Canadians are very well served by the dedicated work of the men and women of the Candian Security Intelligence Service, both at home and abroad.
Thank you, I look forward to your questions.