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Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director Richard Fadden waits to testify before the Commons public safety and national security committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa July 5, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director Richard Fadden waits to testify before the Commons public safety and national security committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa July 5, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

Richard Fadden, the spy who couldn't spin Add to ...

Richard Fadden answered one question conclusively at the public safety committee. In so doing, the director of CSIS gave us a bit of insight into how the agency functions - and where it still needs to learn some basics about communicating with the public.

As to why Mr. Fadden fingered unnamed politicians who might be under the spell of foreign governments, it was all a misunderstanding, he said. The CBC had been invited to film his speech to the Royal Canadian Military Institute in March as part of CSIS's attempt to enhance the public's comprehension of how it operates. During the question-and-answer period, Mr. Fadden, thinking he was no longer on the record, "provided a degree of granularity or detail," he would not have ordinarily given to the public. When asked about it in a later CBC interview, he felt compelled to repeat the allegation.

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It is, to say the least, surprising that Mr. Fadden would not have noticed the CBC was still filming. But at least he owned up to this very human mistake.

That Mr. Fadden made the revelation in any public setting at all is more disquieting. The possibility that some politicians are working in another country's interest is not a run-of-the-mill intelligence finding; it is a serious, indeed, extraordinary charge (though not rising to the level of treason, as suggested by the Bloc Québécois). Such suspicions merit energetic investigations, not vague public musings.

But at least Mr. Fadden says he "would not offer such detail again."

He spoke in overly general terms about his apprehensions, and would not reveal anything of the report he is preparing on the subject. Canadians can only guess what specific form the foreign influence might take: energetic lobbying; gifts. If Mr. Fadden thinks it advisable to inform the public of the influence, he should be able to describe it.

An additional disservice has been done by Mr. Fadden's revelations, and the resulting political piling-on. Spending valuable Commons committee time on whether politicians have outside loyalties distracts from issues that are probably more critical to national security: the fomenting of terror and terror cells in Canada; the possibility of attacks from abroad; the threat of corporate espionage.

It takes sophistication and dexterity for institutions concerned with national security to deal with media entities. If CSIS is to continue with its outreach, it must be very clear on which issues it will seek overt public co-operation, and which ones must be investigated in relative secret.

Moreover, this issue cannot be wished away. The public has a right to be suspicious of politicians, but politicians, especially those of immigrant origin, should not be, in effect, besmirched as a class by an intelligence agency.

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