The intrigue launched by coquettish correspondence between Bob Dechert and a Chinese reporter was more of a comedy than a thriller for Canada’s spy service.
Emails sent after the Conservative MP’s amorous notes to a reporter for China’s state news agency were made public suggest some within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service got a chuckle out of the whole affair.
One email chain carries the subject line “By far, my favourite news story this year.”
A recipient of the email wrote back: “Scandal.. haha.”
The emails circulated around CSIS in the days after news broke of Mr. Dechert’s flirtatious exchange with Xinhua news agency correspondent Shi Rong.
The Canadian Press obtained the documents under the Access to Information Act.
CSIS blanked out nearly all the emails. But the bits that escaped the censor’s pen may offer a glimpse at how seriously the spy service took the episode.
A CSIS spokeswoman did not seem to know much about Mr. Dechert, who is parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
“I have an urgent request to find an article ... on Mississauga-Erindale Conservative MP Bob Dechert which alleges that this individual has been hacked,” she wrote in one of the emails.
“Apparently the individual is now a parliamentary secretary to DFAIT.”
The rest of the uncensored emails contain news stories about Mr. Dechert and Ms. Shi.
While some emails appear to be light-hearted, other documents show CSIS director Richard Fadden sat in on at least one high-level meeting about the incident. But notes from the Sept. 12 meeting are completely censored.
The Conservative government has played down Mr. Dechert’s dalliance with Ms. Shi, insisting no state secrets were spilled.
Neither CSIS nor Mr. Dechert responded to requests for comment.
Mr. Dechert has insisted his relationship with Ms. Shi was an innocent friendship.
“The person is a journalist whom I have come to know as a friend. I met her while doing Chinese-language media communications,” Mr. Dechert said in a statement posted on his website last year.
“These emails are flirtatious, but the friendship remained innocent and simply that – a friendship.”
Their correspondence, distributed anonymously to almost 250 recipients in September, dates back to 2010.
“You are so beautiful. I really like the picture of you by the water with your cheeks puffed. That look is so cute. I love it when you do that. Now, I miss you even more,” wrote Mr. Dechert in an email sent on April 17, 2010.
Another email sent two days later urged Ms. Shi to watch a vote in the House of Commons.
“I will smile at you. I miss you. Love, Bob.”
Ms. Shi has since been reassigned to China.
The Chinese Communist Party created Xinhua in the 1930s to handle revolutionary propaganda. Run by the Chinese government in Beijing, it has grown into a multimedia empire with offices across the world and throughout China.
Xinhua is also widely suspected by western intelligence agencies of having links to China’s spy services.