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The head of a group of CSIS agents suing the federal government has been suspended indefinitely by the espionage agency after going public with complaints about leadership and morale problems at CSIS.

Michel Simard, a 34-year RCMP and CSIS veteran, was suspended last Thursday, two days after he was interviewed by The Globe and Mail. In the interview, Mr. Simard described the agency as a "rat hole" and said senior Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers "don't know what's going on in the service."

Veteran intelligence sources characterized Mr. Simard's suspension as "a blatant attempt to scare and muzzle" other agents who may want to speak out about the embattled spy service.

The angry intelligence officers added that Mr. Simard's suspension is evidence of a double standard at CSIS, where senior officers escape the kind of discipline routinely meted out to rank-and-file agents.

Mr. Simard heads a group of 120 current and former CSIS intelligence officers who created a firm -- called X MP Fund -- to launch an extraordinary lawsuit against the federal government for millions of dollars in back pay and bonuses they insist the agency owes them.

The lawsuit amounts to a "near-mutinous situation" that has further rocked morale at the beleaguered service, senior intelligence sources said.

Mr. Simard's suspension is bound to deepen the morale problems, they said.

Despite a lengthy and impeccable record as an intelligence officer, Mr. Simard faces a future with CSIS that is now "very precarious," an experienced intelligence source said. Mr. Simard's suspension was not surprising, another source added, given the highly critical nature of his comments.

The swiftness of CSIS's action, the intelligence source said, was designed to have a chilling effect on other agents who may be contemplating speaking out publicly about the agency's leadership and flagging morale.

"They are using their usual tactic of trying to scare the crap out of everyone else in this place before the dam bursts," said a senior intelligence source. Intelligence sources said the decision to suspend Mr. Simard was made by the agency's executive committee, which includes CSIS director Ward Elcock.

Mr. Simard was unavailable for comment.

A CSIS spokesman did not return calls requesting an interview. However, reports said CSIS is insisting that Mr. Simard has not been suspended, but is on "special administrative leave" while the agency conducts an internal probe into his comments. CSIS also denied that morale is sinking among its employees.

But Mr. Simard was summoned to appear before senior officials on the executive floor of CSIS headquarters in Ottawa late last week after the interview featuring his controversial comments appeared and he was told he was suspended with pay, a source close to Mr. Simard said.

"He is really very upset and disappointed," the source said.

Mr. Simard's family and some of his CSIS colleagues were "proud" the intelligence officer had the "courage" to speak out, the source said. "He didn't do anything wrong [but]now he is in big trouble."

Intelligence officers are not prevented by the CSIS Act from speaking to the news media. However, when they join the service, CSIS agents swear an oath that forbids them to divulge information about the agency's secret operations. Mr. Simard's allies at CSIS point out that his comments did not contravene that oath.

Nonetheless, CSIS is investigating Mr. Simard to determine whether he broke human-resources policies regarding integrity and compliance with directives issued by senior managers.

Intelligence sources said Mr. Simard's suspension is another example of a double standard at the spy service that insulates an "old boys' group" of senior managers from disciplinary action when they break the rules, while rank-and-file officers are regularly punished for similar offences.

For example, officers point out that Jim Corcoran, the agency's second-in-command, apparently escaped punishment despite being interviewed by The Globe in December. In the interview, Mr. Corcoran denied that a former CSIS analyst had been browbeaten during an interrogation about the theft of a top-secret document.