In The Media

Former CSIS director backs greater oversight

by CTV News Staff (feat. Richard Fadden)

CTV News
May 29, 2016

The former director of CSIS says he supports greater oversight of the nation's security and intelligence agencies to ensure they are playing within the rules.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has signalled its intention to set up an all-party, parliamentary oversight committee to watch over Canada's national security agencies.

"Broadly speaking I think there's something to be said for somebody, somewhere, having an overview," said Richard Fadden, who retired about a month ago from his role as national security advisor to the prime minister, a job assigned to him by former prime minister Stephen Harper. Prior to that Fadden was the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

But in order for such a committee to function correctly, Fadden told CTV's Question Period it would need to be given staff and provided with access to classified information, and integrated with various security agencies to ensure the committee members receive pertinent information when making decisions.

Liberal Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc said Friday the government plans to "expeditiously" follow through on its pledge.

"One of the reasons why we think it's important to be precise, to have robust, serious and credible parliamentary oversight is to build the confidence of Canadians in the national security institutions of the government," LeBlanc told CTV's Power Play.

"Men and women who work in these institutions want to know the public has confidence they're respecting the charter of rights, they're respecting the rights of Canadians."

Greatest threats

During a wide ranging interview looking back on his tenure as one of Canada's top security officials and his views on the state of security in Canada, Fadden noted that traditional terrorism as well as cyberattacks are the greatest security threats currently facing Canada.

Fadden said it was difficult to choose just one security threat as the greatest facing Canada.

"I think it's hard to pick one so I'll pick two if you'll forgive me," he said. "One I think is the traditional concern about terrorism. I think it's real, I don't think it presents an existential threat to Canada -- it's not like during the Soviet period -- but it's a threat. And I think the second one is cyberattacks, which affect not only government but the private sector and I think they're getting worse instead of getting better."

Those cyberattacks tend to come from three states, he said, singling out China, Russia and Iran as the most active states carrying out cyberattacks or cyber espionage against Canada, with China as the chief proponent.

However, Fadden said at least in the case of Russia and China, both are countries with which Canada has a close relationship and must be diplomatic in dealing with such issues.

"We need to have relationships with them so I think it is quite difficult to balance all of this, making sure we have a workaday relationship while at the same time making it quite clear we don't like the cyberattacks, and at the same time we do what we can, both public and private sector, to build the fences against it," he said.

Saudi Arabia is another country with which Canada has a working relationship, but one that is not entirely free of friction. He noted that Saudi Arabia's tradition of helping pay for the construction of mosques around the world, and the typically extreme brand of Islam practised in Saudi, means the country often, though perhaps unintentionally, does "export people who are extremists."

"We've actually talked to the Saudis about this over the years," Fadden said.

"They want to promote Islam through the development of mosques and whatnot. They don't want to support terrorism so they have a problem as well distinguishing exactly what they're doing, where, with whom and under what conditions."

Fadden also discussed the means by which young people in Canada make connections with terrorist recruiters, saying they often make initial contact over the Internet, but quickly take the discussion offline in order to avoid detection.

He said he believes mosques are seldom used as terrorist recruitment grounds, largely because many of those involved with terrorism recognize the risk of being associated with an institution.

"A lot of the mosques are entirely legitimate...if you're a bad guy you'll be aware people are keeping an eye on what's going on around mosques so it's institutions around mosques, community centres, coffee shops and things of that nature," Fadden said.

Fadden also said times have changed, and Canada must approach its global relationships and security challenges as multi-faceted problems.

He said foreign policy, defence and security issues are all deeply intertwined and placing them in government silos is counter-productive.

In fact, he said the new Liberal government should follow the example of the British, Australians and Americans who have all begun looking at global issues with a broader approach than in the past.

"If I were still in my job advising the current prime minister that's one of the things I would say -- you have to make sure the knitting is taking place," Fadden said.

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