Check out this article from The Star:
Secret deal between Canada’s spies and border guards raises concerns
A memorandum of understanding between the two agencies allowed info sharing, joint operations without political oversight.
By: Alex Boutilier Ottawa Bureau Reporter, Published on Thu Jul 02 2015
OTTAWA—A secret deal between Canada’s spies and border guards proposed more information sharing and joint operations without the need for political sign-off, the Star has learned.
A 2014 deal between the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency proposed the two agencies be allowed to share information and resources without the prior approval of their political masters.
“The Framework (Memorandum of Understanding) will also authorize (CSIS) to enter into more specific arrangements with CBSA, as required, without the necessity to seek your approval each time,” wrote CSIS director Michel Coulombe in a memo explaining the deal to Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.
Blaney’s office won’t say whether or not the deal has been approved.
The deal, obtained under access to information law, would permit the two agencies to share “investigative techniques, the provision of equipment, the sharing of information, resources or personnel” to assist one another to meet shared objectives.
CSIS is allowed to enter into agreements with other departments and agencies, including foreign partners, and routinely does. But the rules governing the spy agency state that CSIS needs the express permission from the public safety minister to do so.
But Coulombe explicitly stated that, under the new deal, Blaney’s approval would not be required for further co-operation between the two agencies. Both would otherwise have to follow their respective mandates, the deal states.
The Star requested an interview with Blaney, and provided a detailed list of questions. That interview request was denied. Blaney’s office would not say if the minister approved the deal, and did not respond to the Star’s questions.
Jeremy Laurin, a spokesperson for the minister, instead provided a written statement referencing the threat of “jihadi terrorists” and the necessity for national security agencies to work together.
“In today’s global threat environment, national security is a team effort — which means that CSIS works with many domestic partners,” Laurin wrote. “CBSA is one of those partners.”
It’s not clear when the deal itself was drafted — the documents themselves are undated, but were released in a batch of briefing notes written last summer. That means the proposal would have crossed Blaney’s desk well before the Conservatives introduced controversial new terror laws that drastically expanded the agency’s mandate.
Bill C-51 allows CSIS to “disrupt” real or perceived threats to national security, rather than passing the intelligence they gather to an enforcement agency. The legislation, which recently became law, also greatly expands government agencies’ ability to share information deemed relevant to national security.
While the scope of the information sharing provisions alarmed security researchers and privacy experts, the majority Conservatives said they were necessary to ensure Canadians were kept safe. But The Canadian Press reported Wednesday that CSIS had told senior bureaucrats that improvements to their access to information could be achieved within the existing law.
Wesley Wark, a security researcher at the University of Ottawa, said it’s not uncommon for agencies to have formal agreements governing joint operations. But this deal in particular, Wark said, appears to diminish political accountability.
“It also shows a tendency on (the) part of the Harper government to allow for an erosion of ministerial accountability,” Wark wrote after reviewing the documents. “And it reminds us of one of the big holes in the fabric of accountability for security and intelligence — namely the absence of independent, external review of CBSA.”
Craig Forcese, also a University of Ottawa professor and vocal critic of Bill C-51, said the “stovepipe” nature of Canada’s intelligence review bodies is a major concern with these type of agreements.
The Security Intelligence Review Committee, for instance, can review actions taken by CSIS after the fact. But the committee has no ability to “follow the thread” of an operation when CSIS partners with another agency like CBSA, the RCMP, or Canada’s electronic spying agency, the Communications Security Establishment.
“If I had set out to intentionally design a system of accountability likely to break, it would look a lot like our current system of stovepiped review,” Forcese said.
“Add to that CBSA has no review body of its own — and, as best I know, is the only agency with a law enforcement or intelligence mandate in the country without some form of external, independent review or oversight.”
The Star requested the text of CSIS’s memorandums of understanding with other agencies. The agency declined to provide them, or to list which agencies it co-operates with, saying that the agency operates within its mandate, ministerial direction, and internal policy.
CSIS is permitted to enter into partnerships, both domestic and international, under Section 17 of the CSIS Act. The act requires the agency to get the go-ahead from the public safety minister beforehand.
If the CSIS-CBSA deal was accepted, the two agencies could co-operate without bothering to get approval from politicians.
The Conservatives’ controversial terror law allows for the free flow of information between 17 domestic law enforcement agencies and departments. Canada’s privacy commissioner has called the provision excessive.