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Allegations of illegal eavesdropping by U.S. spies prompted pointed questions from the federal watchdog who oversees their Canadian counterparts, newly released records reveal.

Correspondence obtained by The Canadian Press shows the public controversy about U.S. National Security Agency spying on American citizens led to a series of highly classified exchanges in Ottawa.

John Adams, chief of the ultra-secret Communications Security Establishment, was forced to respond to detailed inquiries spanning two months from the office of Antonio Lamer, the former Supreme Court chief justice who, as CSE commissioner, serves as watchdog over the spy outfit.

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Portions of the correspondence, including even the security classifications stamped on the letters, were blacked out due to the information's sensitivity.

But it is clear from the records, obtained under the Access to Information Act, that Mr. Lamer's office wanted to ensure the CSE, a wing of the Defence Department, wasn't contravening Canadian law by conducting excessive snooping in the fight against terrorism.

Joanne Weeks, executive director of the commissioner's office, said in an interview she was surprised by the Defence Department's release of the letters. She and CSE spokesman Adrian Simpson cited national security in declining to discuss details of written exchanges.

However, one matter that appeared to pique the interest of the commissioner's office was a 2002 published report, never confirmed, that CSE had helped convict a U.S. man of sending illicit cash to suspected Hezbollah terrorists.

The issue will be addressed in the commissioner's coming annual report to Parliament, she said.

Canadian Press

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