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David Jacobson, the US Ambassador to Canada.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Washington wants Ottawa to prosecute Iranian procurement agents who are sending banned military and mechanical goods to their homeland from Canada.

"If people are exporting prohibited technologies and you know about it, the Canadian government knows about it, they should put a stop to that," David Jacobson told The Globe and Mail editorial board. "There should be some enforcement on it – period."

Mr. Jacobson had been asked about the contents of a leaked State Department cable. It shows that a group of top U.S envoys were dispatched to Ottawa three years ago amid irritations that Canada wasn't doing enough to lock up suspected Iranian procurement agents.

At that time, the cable says, an American delegation complained that an individual in Canada was shipping components for anti-tank missiles back to Iran but Canadian intelligence officials had "blocked" U.S. entreaties to team up and arrest that individual.

The question of how the West is to deal with Iranian procurement agents has lately taken on added urgency, given that intelligence sources believe that Iran's program to build nuclear bombs has kicked into overdrive. While Iran faces stiff controls on the goods it can import, the country skirts sanctions by setting up procurement networks in diaspora communities.

"This is a difficult, difficult situation we face, in my country, and Canada and around the world," Mr. Jacobson told The Globe and Mail editorial board. "Iran has been misbehaving in pretty much every way they can misbehave."

According to the May, 2008, cable obtained by WikiLeaks, a group of Ottawa security officials told the Americans that prosecutions in this area – known as counter-proliferation – are rarely viable under Canadian law. This group of officials, including the newly appointed RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, were recorded saying that they often preferred to shut down procurement networks by alternate means – by intercepting shipments, levying fines or mining suspects for intelligence.

While the U.S. ambassador would not speak to specific cases Friday, he said the United States values Ottawa's support in spearheading global restrictions against Iran. "Canada has been very much our partner in this process, they've been very supportive in international organizations particularly with respect to sanctions," Mr. Jacobson said. "And we appreciate that."

The leaked State Department cable in question was sent to Washington from Ottawa. It shows that one federal Canadian official told the Americans that his "hands were full targeting hundreds of mostly Iranian and Chinese foreigners" involved in setting up front companies in order to procure sensitive technologies.

The cable notes U.S. complaints that Canadian Security Intelligence Service officials were being unhelpful in a resolving a specific case – one involving "TOW" missile components.

The "TOW" acronym stands for 1970s-era military technology known as "Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire command" guided missiles, weapons that remain popular for military forces who anticipate squaring off against armoured units.

"CSIS officials have blocked co-operation with ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]to prosecute an individual involved in the fabrication and shipment to Iran of TOW missile parts," the cable reads. "CSIS officials told ICE that they are collaborating on the matter in the intelligence lane with the CIA [U.S. Central Intelligence Agency]a claim that Ottawa-based liaison officers have refuted."

The reference to the "intelligence lane" indicates that CSIS may have been trying to cultivate the individual in question, hoping he'd shed intelligence about Iran's procurement programs in hopes of staying out of jail.

No Canadian officials will publicly speak to this case, and it's not clear whatever happened to it.

Other State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks show that U.S. envoys have taken an abiding interest in Canada's efforts to crack down on Iran, its nuclear programs and its procurement efforts:

*Several February, 2010, cables signed by Mr. Jacobson warmly note that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has "repeatedly voiced his strong views on Iranian activity" and said that "nonproliferation was a 'major concern' for him."

*In November, 2009, a senior Canadian security bureaucrat mulled whether the West should slap a visa ban on Iranians, in order to buttress existing sanctions programs.

*In September, 2009, several Canadian Foreign Affairs officials expressed concerns about Russia being too cozy with Iran. One said that "the time had come to consider new approaches, even to include 'going after' the oil sector in Iran."

*Also that September, a U.S. delegation visited Canada to urge stepped-up measures against Iran and North Korea, namely "controls on the flow of intangible technology." The delegation urged visa screening of foreign scientists who might be trying to infiltrate companies dealing in nuclear technologies, missile manufacturing, or aerospace firms making UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles.

*In August, 2009, Canadian and U.S. officials discussed whether any legal measures could block an impending sale of an African uranium mine from a Canadian company to a European one. The fear was the new owner was "contemplating doing business with Iran in furthering its nuclear weapons capability."

*In May, 2009, the U.S. consulate in Toronto penned a cable titled "Iranians in Toronto: A complex community." Remarking on pro- and anti-Tehran elements within Canada's largest city, it noted that Iran's vice-president had quietly visited Toronto that month to "give a speech on Iran's nuclear program."

*A similar cable from 2008 remarked that the number of Iranian students studying in Canada had doubled over the past five years, with many expats gravitating toward the study of "physics, mechanical engineering and biology" as well as nuclear engineering. This cable noted that several Ontario universities had teamed up to produce a course in designing nuclear reactors.

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