The generous intelligence-sharing relationship known as "the Five Eyes" could bring "detention or harm" to Canadian citizens abroad, a new report from a federal watchdog agency says.
The Security Intelligence Review Committee tabled a report in Parliament on Thursday that refers to "clear hazards" of current intelligence-sharing practices. The report highlighted a complex chain of circumstances that can arise as Canadian terrorism suspects travel with counter-terrorism agencies in hot pursuit.
Over the past decade, domestic law-enforcement and foreign-intelligence agencies have shared increasing amounts of intelligence. But the report said problems can arise when different agencies use different means to deal with perceived threats.
For example, Canadian authorities such as the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) gather information domestically in hopes of prosecuting suspected terrorists. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is known to fire drone missiles at such suspects – including some from the West – should they end up in Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, known terrorist havens.
After several judicial inquiries in the 2000s, the Canadian government tightened legal "caveats" on how the country's intelligence is to be shared, and what U.S. agencies that receive such information can do with it.
But Canadian and U.S. agencies are also feeding and tapping into vast pools of data held by the "Five Eyes," which has no such strictures. This long-standing alliance of surveillance agencies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand agrees not to spy on members' citizens while sharing intelligence on just about every other country.
Recent leaks have revealed just how much joint surveillance is done by these five electronic-eavesdropping agencies – including the Canadian Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) – that collect intelligence abroad.
The SIRC report points out that CSIS and CSEC have legally combined their capabilities on at least 35 investigations since 2009. That was the year the Federal Court decided that the domestic intelligence agency (CSIS) could extend the reach of its wiretapping by enlisting Canada's overseas agency (CSEC) to monitor Canadian terrorism suspects when they go outside Canada.
But federal security officials need to be mindful that CSEC keeps few secrets from the Five Eyes, SIRC said.
"[A]lmost every case leverages the assets of the Five Eyes community," reads the report. It adds that "the ability of a Five Eyes partner to act independently on CSIS-originated information … carries the possible risk of detention or harm of a target."
The report, filed annually to Parliament, urges that CSIS tighten up its information-sharing practices.
And the concerns are not hypothetical. A decade ago, the CIA played a role in jailing Canadians in Middle East prisons after Canadian authorities red-flagged them. Five years ago, two al-Qaeda suspects from Winnipeg disappeared in Pakistan. A former CIA director later told The Globe and Mail he knew the case well, having learned of it through Canadian intelligence.