The Minister of Public Safety did not have access to secret CSIS notes

Minister of Public Safety did not have access to secret CSIS notes

Sean Kilpatrick The Canadian Press Mr Johnston paints a 'muddy' overall picture of how intelligence is shared and points out that no one keeps track of who received specific reports.

The special rapporteur on foreign interference, David Johnston, notably discovered that Canada's Minister of Public Safety did not have access to top-secret emails that national security officials use to share intelligence, including on threats against MPs.

And that, he says, is just one example of the glaring problems with information sharing within government that need to be addressed.

In his preliminary report on foreign interference, released on Tuesday, the former governor general finds that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was aware of indications that Chinese officials were planning to take action against Chinese lawmakers. -Canadians and their family members abroad.

There is no information that the People's Republic of China (PRC) had taken any action to specifically threaten the family of Conservative MP Michael Chong, the report said, in response to the allegations at the heart of the recent controversy. “According to our information, there is no indication that the PRC took any action to threaten his family. Rather, the PRC was looking for information,” Mr. Johnston writes.

The documents he used to reach this conclusion are secret and not shared publicly.

< p>Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initially said the information never left the security agencies involved. But his national security and intelligence adviser, Jody Thomas, later confirmed that this information had indeed made its way to the office of his predecessor in the Prime Minister's Office.

At the time , CSIS said it intended to provide Mr. Chong and an unidentified second MP with a “defensive security briefing, but did not recommend any specific action or seek direction from the minister.” , according to Mr. Johnston's report.

Mr. Chong later said that briefing did not provide any details of a threat to his family.

The minister saw nothing

Mr. Johnston's report further confirms that CSIS also sent information to the then-Minister of Public Safety and his chief of staff in a top-secret email, but they never received it. The federal public service confirmed to Mr. Johnston that these individuals did not have access to the correct system.

Mr. Chong argued before a parliamentary committee that the failure to inform him of the Chinese threat constituted a “systemic failure of the machinery of government”. He declined a request for an interview on the contents of the report on Tuesday.

Mr. Johnston believes that this is “probably the most glaring example, but not the only one, of poor flow of information and mishandling of information between organizations, the civil service and ministers”.

The current Minister of Public Security, Marco Mendicino, has since formally ordered CSIS to investigate and disclose any foreign threats against parliamentarians, their families , their staff or Parliament itself.

The report says this is “a good start”, but “it is clear that better systems are needed to process the enormous amount of information produced every day”.

Mr. Johnston writes in his report that Canada's security services often direct intelligence reports to government departments rather than to individuals. “However, it is rare that specific names are mentioned and therefore it cannot be determined who exactly in these departments receives these reports by simply looking at the document. »

Mr. Johnston paints a “nebulous” overall picture of how intelligence is shared and points out that no one keeps track of who has received specific reports, which means that intelligence can be sent, but is not always read. .

Staff at the Prime Minister's Office “report that they receive a large notebook in a secure room with a client relations officer present, little time to review it, no context or mention of the priority of the document and that he cannot take notes [for security reasons],” the Johnston report points out. and no one is saying 'you should pay attention to this in particular'. And if an employee isn't there, “he might not see that notebook that day.”

Mr. Johnston argues that the problem exists across government and that there is no guarantee that the information will reach the person who is supposed to review it or take action based on it.

According to Mr. Johnston, this has led to situations where “information that should be brought to the attention of a minister or the Prime Minister does not make it to them because it gets lost in the maze of documents to the government”.

“The current system where large unidentified notebooks are sent out and no one is named responsible for reading or responding to these notebooks no longer works these days, so that international relations are at stake and threats are faced, particularly because foreign interference is changing rapidly, while the machinery of government is not.

Minister Mendicino's office said it had accepted Mr. Johnston's recommendations and was considering how to implement them, including those relating to communications between his office and national security agencies.