Huda Mukbil is a security consultant and the author of upcoming book Agent of Change: My Life Fighting Terrorists, Spies, and Institutional Racism.
The renewed global interest in CSIS’s role in running a covert source operation in Turkey, which led to the smuggling of British citizens into Syria, is running high.
Why, in 2015, 15-year-old British citizen Shamima Begum decided to join the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria and Levant is still unknown. Whatever the reasons, she should not have been trafficked by a Canadian government source into a war zone.
At the centre of this controversy is Mohammed al-Rashed, a Syrian refugee claimant to Canada. He was arrested the same year by Turkish authorities, where he divulged his CSIS handler’s name and the specifics of two years of supporting the Islamic State under CSIS’s direction. Video footage actually shows him directing the girls to take their luggage from his car as he bids them farewell.
The fact that al-Rashed broke cover, revealing his intelligence connections, is a stain on how CSIS runs international operations. After serving a seven-year sentence, Mr. al-Rashed is now allegedly in Canada. If true, Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino would have had to approve the entry of the ISIS child trafficker. CSIS is now deeper into this scandal.
Many security experts argue that Mr. al-Rashed’s role as a smuggler for the terrorist group was a necessary cover to infiltrate and gain credibility, in order to gather information about ISIS’s intentions and capabilities. And it is true that the best sources are the ones steeped in terrorist group activities.
But the buck must stop there. Every ethical and legal consideration should have been made by the source, his alleged handlers, law enforcement and security officials to ensure these minors were not trafficked into a war zone. If a source does not comply with direction, he is to be cut loose, and his relationship is to be immediately terminated.
In his new book, The Secret History of the Five Eyes, Richard Kerbaj claims that CSIS became aware that al-Rashed smuggled the girls before reporting it to his handlers. Britain subsequently allegedly conspired with Canada to cover up the role of CSIS in the case. While it is reassuring that CSIS was not initially aware of the smuggling of the minors, we still don’t know what decisions and actions took place in the aftermath and when information was shared between Britain’s MI5 and CSIS, and later London’s Metropolitan Police Service.
We cannot begin a proper assessment without knowing all the facts and circumstances of this case. Still, international criticism of Canada will continue to mount as Ms. Begum’s case goes to British court in November.
That is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should immediately call for an independent, impartial inquiry into allegations that a CSIS source smuggled underaged girls to Syria. The 2004 Commission of Inquiry Into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar (sent to Syria by the Americans, with complicity from Canadian officials, to be tortured for 10 months) is an example of how the government can investigate the role of the security service officials while simultaneously protecting and preserving sensitive government information and methods.
Mr. Trudeau has committed to investigating CSIS’s role in the Begum case. That is a positive step. However, he noted existing review mechanisms, likely referring to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or NSICOP. The committee came under fire in 2019 owing to its lack of transparency after the firing of two scientists at the National Microbiology Lab and the stripping of security clearances from them.
Executive impartiality was at the heart of the House of Commons debate, resulting in calls for a legislative review of the NSICOP, scheduled for 2023. Now, if Mr. Mendicino did in fact permit the child trafficker into Canada, government impartiality would again be at issue.
For seven years, British teenage girls, their families, and lawyers have been looking for answers to urgent questions about how and why these youth ended up in Syria. They deserve answers from Canada.