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CSIS director Richard Fadden.Bill Grimshaw

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the appointment last summer of Richard Fadden as director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, a collective sigh of relief rippled through the corridors of official Ottawa.

Although the shoes of his retiring predecessor, Jim Judd, were considered sizable, CSIS staffers - and the universe of watchers that closely monitors the domestic spy agency - were pleased at the government's choice.

In Mr. Fadden, now 58, CSIS would be getting a career civil servant with more than three decades of experience, including two terms as deputy minister in key portfolios (Citizenship and Immigration, and Natural Resources). Neither was he a novice in the sensitive arena of intelligence, having served for two years as counsel and security and intelligence co-ordinator in the Privy Council Office. His term there included the period after 9/11 and kept him in close touch with CSIS officials.

In short, said security expert Wesley Wark, Mr. Fadden was precisely the sort of leader the agency needed - one of Ottawa's most senior mandarins, "very seasoned, measured, calm, intelligent. He knew the rules of the game and the importance to the Harper government of centralized control of political messages."

In that sense, says Prof. Wark, an associate of the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies, Mr. Fadden's remarks Tuesday to the CBC's Peter Mansbridge - that some provincial cabinet ministers and other public servants were "under at least the general influence of a foreign government" - seemed completely out of character.

"Even if the statement had been previously authorized, he should have declined to answer the question," Prof. Wark added. "[The statement]made no sense and it does damage to the agency's reputation."

Mr. Fadden's first major speech as CSIS director - delivered last fall to the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies' annual conference - also contained statements that struck many observers as strange. In it, he directed aim at Canada's political elites and the media for underestimating the threat posed by international terrorism.

Although there had been five convictions or guilty pleas in terror cases before the courts, he noted, "Our elites tend to avert their eyes and media tend to give what little coverage they grant on this subject to groups that seem to feel that our charm and the Maple Leaf on our backpacks are all that we need to protect us.… Why … are those accused of terrorist offences often portrayed in media as quasi-folk heroes, despite the harsh statements of numerous judges? Why are they … more or less taken at their word when they accuse CSIS or other government agencies of abusing them?"

Security and human rights, Mr. Fadden argued, were not "always in opposition … but are intertwined like DNA strands. Together they form part of the genetic code of modern citizenship.…They are compatible and inseparable.… I have to ask bluntly - can those who down-play the seriousness of terrorism claim to be protecting our civil liberties?"

Mr. Wark says he found the speech "bizarre," for alleging a media cabal was soft on terror and suggesting the courts' new demand - that CSIS save and collect everything potentially relevant to a future case - threatened to turn the country's spy agency into a facsimile of East Germany's once-omnipresent and much-feared Stasi.

Immigration and Citizenship's current deputy minister, Jaime Pitfield, says Mr. Fadden - with whom he has worked with in two or three different posts - is "not afraid to call it like he sees it. He's a very serious, very ethical guy, extremely professional. He takes responsibility seriously. He does the right thing. He's tough, but he's fair."

After earning a degree in political science at McGill University and a law degree from the University of Ottawa, Mr. Fadden joined External Affairs as a foreign service officer in the late 1970s. He rose quickly through the ranks, becoming executive assistant to the undersecretary of state by 1981 and did his first stint in security issues from 1983 to 1988, as director of policy in the Privy Council Office's Security and Intelligence Secretariat. He spent eight years in various posts in the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, before being named assistant deputy minister of Natural Resources in 1996.

Later, he served as assistant secretary to the Treasury Board and as president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency until 2005, when he was promoted to Deputy Minister of Natural Resources. The following year, Mr. Fadden was transferred to the same post at Citizenship and Immigration.