Former CSIS officials say the intelligence agency has been warning successive governments about foreign election interference for decades but all failed to act — and measures outlined in this week’s budget are not enough to address the problem.
“Thirty-two years in national security work, every time we’ve had a crisis, every time we’ve had an incident, that’s what the government’s done. We’ll throw money at the RCMP, we’ll say you folks have got to sort that out. And I don’t think that’s really an appropriate response,” Dan Stanton, former executive manager at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), told a committee of MPs on Friday.
Budget 2023 earmarks $48.9 million over three years to help the RCMP protect Canadians from harassment and intimidation by foreign governments, increase its investigative capacity and help communities at risk of being targeted by foreign interference.
The budget also gives $13.5 million over five years to Public Safety Canada so it can establish a National Counter-Foreign Interference Office.
“We’re allocating millions of dollars to the RCMP … with no investigative strategy, no prosecution strategy. We’re just here saying, ‘Here, take this money and use this,'” said Stanton, who was CSIS’s national program manager for China during the years of Stephen Harper’s government.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, CSIS’s former chief of the Asia-Pacific unit, told MPs that while the idea of a National Counter-Foreign Interference Office has merit, it should not report to the minister of public safety.
“This office must be independent, separate from CSIS and the RCMP, and it needs to report directly to the House of Commons with a director appointed by the House,” he said.
Juneau-Katsuya also said the office’s budget is not large enough to ensure it can conduct investigations in all parts of the country and assist the federal, provincial and municipal governments.
Juneau-Katsuya said the federal government also needs to introduce legislation that defines “the activities considered illegal and the penalties that can be incurred” in order to be effective.
Stanton disagreed, saying the Security of Information Act already allows officials to prosecute someone “who prejudices the interest or safety of the state or commits an offence to benefit a foreign entity.”
“These offences are easily captured by the Security of Information Act, in my opinion,” he told the committee.
Stanton said Canada has not updated its national security policy since 2004 and it’s time to revise that policy to adapt it for threats that did not exist 20 years ago.
“I think Canadians deserve something like that and it should be a national security policy that is China-centric,” he said.
‘Every government chose to ignore CSIS’s warning’
Both Juneau-Katsuya and Stanton made the point that no one government is to blame more than any other for failing to deal with interference from China. He said all federal governments over the past three decades have been warned about China’s attempts to influence elections and have failed to properly respond to the threat.
“CSIS has knows about [China’s] foreign interference in Canada for at least the last 30 years. Every federal government from Mr. Mulroney to Mr. Trudeau today have been compromised by agents of the communist China,” Juneau-Katsuya said.
“Every government [was] informed at one point or another. Every government chose to ignore CSIS’s warning.”
Juneau-Katsuya said every government has been infiltrated by “agents of influence” from China and every government has taken decisions that can only be explained by the successful influence from these internal agents. He did not provide examples.
Stanton said he also doesn’t want to “blame any particular government.” He said that when CSIS reported interference to the government of the day more than a decade ago, the reaction he got “was no different than it was today — nobody home. There really wasn’t much of a response.”
Leaker not likely from CSIS: former officials
Both Stanton and Juneau-Katsuya said that the intelligence leaks of the past few months likely did not come from a member of CSIS.
Stanton said that while he does not know who is doing the leaking, it is someone who is seeing a small piece of intelligence but is not privy to the big picture that CSIS officials see.
“They don’t see all the work and all the effort that goes into countering certain threats,” he said. “They are just seeing a little piece of the pie, and then on their own, I’d say somewhat arrogantly, decided that they have the prerogative to inflict this damage for whatever cause they may have.”
Stanton said that the media reporting on the leaks have “embellished” the intelligence to attach “nobility to it” and that when the dust settles, Canadians may find that the leaker is not an important intelligence official, but is likely to be someone using the leaks to further “an agenda.”
Juneau-Katsuya was also critical of the idea of holding a public inquiry into what intelligence officials told the prime minister and when.
He told MPs that the only way an inquiry could have value is if it can avoid turning into a partisan circus.
“This is not the way to go,” said Juneau-Katsuya. “A public commission will inevitably reveal the investigative methods of our security services and thus diminish our effectiveness in detecting and neutralizing the threat while putting human sources at risk.”