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The Globe and Mail

CSIS director balks at new powers for national security adviser

Richard Fadden, newly-named CSIS director at Citizen and Immigation Committee in Ottawa June 9, 2009.

Bill Grimshaw for The Globe and Mail/bill grimshaw The Globe and Mail

The head of Canada's spy agency has serious objections to beefing up the powers of the national security adviser - effectively rejecting a key recommendation of the federal inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing.

In a secret memo to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Dick Fadden said the Air India report's call to hand new authority to the adviser would undermine ministerial responsibility.

Mr. Fadden said bolstering the role of the adviser - currently a low-profile federal official - would "fundamentally misunderstand" the long-held notion the minister is ultimately accountable for what happens in his portfolio.

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"In short, while there is always room for improvement, I believe the report does not fully take into account the measures that have been implemented since 1985, and leads as a result to some unfair and potentially misguided recommendations," Mr. Fadden said.

The Canadian Press obtained a declassified copy of the four-page June, 2010, memo from CSIS, with few redactions, under the Access to Information Act. The Privy Council Office released a heavily censored version of the same memo under the access law in November.

While the copy disclosed two months ago left a clear impression that CSIS bristled at criticism from the Air India commission, the newly released memo spells out Mr. Fadden's concerns in considerable detail.

"In several instances, the report's recommendations seem to be based on the premise that simply adding another level of management or dispute resolution early on in an investigation will somehow resolve outstanding legal issues that may arise later," Mr. Fadden said.

In its spring report, the Air India inquiry, led by retired Supreme Court justice John Major, recounted a litany of federal failures before and after the June, 1985, terrorist attack that killed 329 people, most of them Canadians.

Authorities believe Sikh extremists fighting for an independent homeland planted explosives on the jetliner, which blew up over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland.

Mr. Major's June report called for changes to intelligence-handling, criminal prosecutions and aviation security to prevent another such tragedy. Under the retired judge's recommended plan, the national security adviser would essentially become an intelligence czar, served by a deputy and a staff of representatives from front-line security agencies, including CSIS, the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and Foreign Affairs. The adviser would resolve disputes among these agencies. Mr. Major concluded that serious miscommunication and turf wars had contributed to the Air India disaster.

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Mr. Major said the current practice of limiting the information CSIS provides the RCMP - to prevent disclosure in possible criminal proceedings - is wrong and results in an "impoverished response to terrorist threats."

He advocated legislation that would require CSIS to report information that might be used in an investigation or prosecution of an offence to police, prosecutors or the national security adviser. The adviser would also be empowered to pass information to relevant authorities.

Mr. Fadden said in the memo to Mr. Toews that while CSIS is keen to solve long-standing issues related to information-sharing and evidence, "our initial reaction to some of the recommendations - such as relinquishing control of the dissemination of our information to the [national security adviser] and diluting promises of source anonymity - is of serious concern."

Last month, Mr. Toews seemed to dismiss the notion of making the national security adviser a more powerful point person, using much the same rationale Mr. Fadden did in the memo. "In Canada now, we do have a co-ordination of many of these efforts already and we're not about to set up a new bureaucracy," Mr. Toews told a news conference.

In the memo, Mr. Fadden also takes issue with Mr. Major's assertion that lingering problems of communication and co-ordination, especially between CSIS and the RCMP, have not been resolved.

"I fundamentally disagree with this statement, and submit that, had the same level of effort been applied to an examination of the current operational environment and administrative policy frameworks between the two agencies, the overall tone of the report would have been tempered, and the resulting recommendations would be more reflective of the current realities," Mr. Fadden says.

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"The simple truth is that the chain of events of 1985 could not, or would not, in my view, be repeated today."

The Canadian Press

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