The civil servant in charge of the government’s spy-watchdog agency says Canada may have to reconsider how it shares intelligence with the United States if president-elect Donald Trump makes good on his promise to torture terrorists to gather intelligence.
The federal official also remarked that had former U.S. intelligence analyst Edward Snowden worked for Canadian intelligence and leaked secrets, “he should be shot,” but quickly backed off the opinion.
Michael Doucet, the executive director of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, made the off-the-cuff remarks to a small audience in Toronto last week. An audio recording of his talk was provided to The Globe and Mail by a student journalist from the Eyeopener, a campus newspaper at Ryerson University, which was the venue for the talk.
For 1 1/2 hours, the former intelligence analyst held forth on intelligence issues.
Members of SIRC rarely make unscripted or unguarded remarks publicly because they are sworn to secrecy about their work reviewing the highly classified spying operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
When contacted on Wednesday, Mr. Doucet acknowledged he made the comments, but said he was not expecting them to be recorded.
In recent weeks, the Liberal government has tried not to make remarks that could irritate or prejudge the incoming Trump administration. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump unequivocally promised a return to brass-knuckles techniques for U.S. intelligence agencies, which may no longer want to use them.
“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work – torture works,” Mr. Trump once said, adding that he would personally authorize it.
His nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director has defended the so-called “extraordinary interrogation techniques” U.S. spies used under past administrations. “These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots,” Representative Mike Pompeo has said.
Should the CIA revert to practices such as simulated drowning techniques known as “waterboarding,” it could cause problems for CSIS and other Canadian agencies.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how this evolves in the U.S. in the next four years, because I think there is a game changer going on down there,” Mr. Doucet said at Ryerson. “How do we react with them? Because we think torture is a bad thing. … We don’t want information derived from torture.
“They may have a new administration that thinks torture is a good thing. … It’s going to be an interesting and challenging time, and we’ve got to think about what defines us as Canadians.”
Harking back to his years when he worked for Canada’s signals-intelligence agency – the Communications Security Establishment – Mr. Doucet told the audience intelligence-sharing is vast, and alliances are important. He pointed out that in the mid-2000s, he was CSE’s embedded liaison officer at the U.S. National Security Agency.
“For every dollar we invest in intelligence, the Americans are investing hundreds,” he said.
An audience member asked Mr. Doucet what he thought of Mr. Snowden, the fugitive former intelligence contractor who leaked vast amounts of NSA documents, and what his fate would be had he been Canadian.
“Do you want my opinion on that? Do you really want it? I’ll give it to you. If Edward Snowden had worked for CSIS, and did what he did, he should be shot.”
Mr. Doucet clarified that he was being provocative, and would like to see Mr. Snowden put on trial. But he said he does not accept arguments that Mr. Snowden had to leak the NSA documents because he believed they contained evidence of illegality and had no other way of bringing that to light.
“My point that I’m not making very well is that if he worked for CSIS, there are all the mechanisms there, as there were in the states, to raise the issues that he felt needed to be raised,” Mr. Doucet said. “… If he really cared about the U.S., the U.S. system, he would have exhausted every avenue … he would not have released so much information that would have placed Americans, allies and others in risk of harm.”
During his talk, Mr. Doucet highlighted that Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale recently called SIRC a “whistleblower” agency.
That followed a Federal Court ruling this fall, when judges responding to a SIRC report accused CSIS officials of “breaching their duty of candour” in their applications for surveillance warrants by not revealing what they do with the data.
One broad theme of Mr. Doucet’s talk was that CSIS and its foreign counterparts are veering far from their roots of building cases with intelligence from informants by increasingly using technological surveillance instead.
“I would argue that our ‘human-intelligence’ operations are becoming ‘signals-intelligence’ organizations. The Big Data is out there. They are looking at it,” Mr. Doucet said. “They run the risk of not doing the right thing or embarking on illegal activities. And we have to pay attention to that.”
He called the Federal Court ruling a big win for SIRC.
“I was kind of thrilled. It was tremendous validation for us,” he said.
With a report from Sylvia Lorico at The EyeopenerReport Typo/Error