On February 3, 2014, the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence met to examine and report on Canada’s national security. Point de Bascule reproduced the highlights of the presentations made by three top level civil servants:
Stephen Rigby, National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister (who was accompanied by David Vigneault, Assistant Secretary to Cabinet)
Michel Coulombe, Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)
John Forster, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC)
On occasions, questions asked by senators were also reproduced below in order to provide some context to the answers of the witnesses.
The original and complete report of the meeting is available on the Hansard: http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/sen/committee/412%5CSECD/02EV-51162-E.HTM.
All excerpts of interest are grouped by intervener, regardless of when they were made during the meeting.
Michel Coulombe, Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)
PRESENTATION OF MICHEL COULOMBE BY THE CHAIR OF THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL SECURITY AND DEFENCE
Senator Daniel Lang: Michel Coulombe [is] the new Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He has served with the agency since 1986, and for reasons that will be understood by members of the committee, his publicly available background is limited.
CANADA’S EXPORT OF JIHADISTS
Michel Coulombe: Honourable senators, you have no doubt heard of many examples in the media in recent months of Canadians travelling abroad — often to the places I just mentioned [Yemen, Iraq, Syria, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan] — for terrorist purposes. This phenomenon is worrisome, and Canada has an obligation to prevent such activity where and when possible. Equally concerning for the service is when these individuals decide to return to Canada, potentially posing a more immediate threat to our national security.
Currently, CSIS is aware of over 130 Canadians who are abroad in support of extremist activities, including approximately 30 in Syria alone. Such individuals’ activities vary widely, ranging from paramilitary activity, training in weapons and explosives and logistical support, to terrorist fundraising and studying in extremist madrasas. Some never achieve their intent and simply return home. Thus, their depth of experience varies widely, making some individuals much more concerning than others.
The service actively investigates such individuals. However, I must be clear in stating that such investigations are inherently challenging and gaps in our understanding are unavoidable. The number of individuals overseas is in constant flux. Their motivations are difficult to ascertain and their movements across sometimes isolated terrain are difficult to track.
CSIS DROPPED THE WORD ‘JIHAD’ AND REDEFINED THE ISLAMIST THREAT AS BEING A “TERRORISM INSPIRED BY AL QAEDA IDEOLOGY”
Question by Senator Daniel Lang: I want to refer to your report of 2012-2013 that you tabled. I read it very carefully, and I thought it was a very clear document and a document all Canadians should read, quite frankly, especially enumerating all the threats we face. I want to say that I found an omission in that report as opposed to your other reports that have been tabled over the last number of years. I refer to the radical Islamic threat we face here in the world. I notice in the reports of 2008, 2009 and even in 2010 the Islamist threat is referred to numerous times, and also “jihad” and its derivations.
What I found interesting in this report is it’s not referred to at all in respect to the writing of the report. Am I to assume that the militant Islamic jihadist threat is no longer what it was a few years ago? My question then leads me to if it is still a threat, why are we not still clearly identifying it?
Michel Coulombe: It is definitely still a threat, but we prefer to talk about terrorism inspired by al Qaeda ideology. That’s what we’re talking about.
If you look across North Africa, if you look at what’s happening in Yemen, in Libya, in Syria, in Lebanon — the conflict in Syria is bleeding in Lebanon — Afghanistan, Pakistan, it is all al Qaeda-inspired ideology that is driving that terrorism, and that’s what we’ve tried to communicate through our most recent public report.
MICHEL COULOMBE IS ASKED TO PROVIDE A LIST OF INDIVIDUAL AND ORGANIZATIONS WITH WHOM CSIS HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN OUTREACH PROGRAMS
Request by Senator Daniel Lang: I’m not going to belabour this, but it is an area that I would like to have a follow-up on if you could. I would ask if you would table for us the list of individuals and organizations with whom your organization has been relying on for outreach, and I would also like to see the summary of the advice given as it relates to identifying religions or religious ideology.
REFUSAL TO TARGET CERTAIN COMMUNITIES (DIASPORAS) IN ORDER TO INVESTIGATE THREATENING ACTIVITIES
Question by Senator Roméo Dallaire: I would like to draw your attention to Canadian diasporas, which are growing in size and number. They are from countries currently going through a crisis, and their members have not necessarily broken ties with their past and their family.
More specifically, I am talking about those diasporas’ young members who are increasingly organizing into groups and gangs. I am talking about entities that are fostering division locally and causing problems for the police, but that also enable recruitment. Do you need to obtain special authorization if you are focusing on a diaspora in a location where the targets are people under the age of 18? Is that activity something that deviates from the norm in your operations?
Michel Coulombe: I will split the question into two parts. On the one hand, we have the diasporas, and on the other hand, we have individuals under the age of 18.
We have internal policies for situations where the target or the subject of investigation is under the age of 18. In such cases, authorization must be obtained at a higher level. That provision is part of the service’s operational policies.
However, we do not target diasporas. The service’s mandate is clear. We investigate and target individuals involved in activities that constitute a threat. That is how we decide whether to investigate an individual or not. We do not look at situations in a context of community diaspora, but rather target activities as such.
We could be talking about organizations or individuals. We have to decide whether the case meets the threshold established in the CSIS Act and whether those individuals are involved in activities that constitute a threat to Canadian security. The threats are well described in section 2 of the CSIS Act.
Senator Roméo Dallaire’s reply: It can target a diaspora because the small group is part of it. Thank you for your answer, Mr. Coulombe.
CSIS IS A MEMBER OF THE CROSS-CULTURAL ROUNDTABLE ON SECURITY
Michel Coulombe: Mr. Chair, you’ve mentioned our public report and actually it’s the twenty-first edition of that report. You might be interested in knowing there is no legislative requirement to produce that report. It was a decision made by the service in order, again, for Canadians to better understand what we do, how we do it and the threat environment.
We also talk in the report about, for example, our academic outreach program. Again, that’s to engage in a dialogue outside of CSIS to discuss those important issues. We’re quite aware of the importance of this communication. We are a member of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, for example. We are involved at a number of levels in trying to be as open as we can be in terms of what we do.
PART OF CSIS’ MANDATE IS TO MONITOR FOREIGN COUNTRIES’ “MEDDLING IN DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES IN CANADA”
Michel Coulombe: Everything we do is in accordance with the CSIS Act.
One definition you will find in the CSIS Act is around foreign interference, which is “clandestine or deceptive” activities detrimental to the interests of Canada. These include foreign acquisition and meddling in different communities in Canada. If it is “clandestine” or “deceptive” and it is against the interests of Canada, then it falls within the definition of threats to the security of Canada. That is when the service would be involved.
CSIS’ MANDATE REQUIRES A MONITORING OF CLANDESTINE OR DECEPTIVE ACTIVITIES LED BY STATE-OWNED ENTERPRISE IN CANADA
Question by Senator David Wells: If a state-owned enterprise outside of Canada had an interest in a Canadian corporation for acquisition, CSIS would not have a role there?
Michel Coulombe: We would have a role if some of the activities were clandestine or deceptive. It is not automatic that we would have a role, but if there is enough ground to suspect that there is a threat as defined by the act, then we would have a role.
Under the Investment Canada Act, a national security review could be launched and then the service — again, our role is to collect and then advise government. In that context of foreign investment, we would do the same thing: We would collect and then advise government if, at the start, there are enough grounds to suspect that there is a threat.
CRITERIA THAT MUST BE SATISFIED IN ORDER TO GET A WARRANT TO INVESTIGATE AN INDIVIDUAL
Question by Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais: My question is for Mr. Coulombe. We all know that terrorism is a threat that is spreading internationally. In your report, you say that your warrants target individuals who pose a threat to the security of Canada. What premises establish the warrants for monitoring a specific individual?
Michel Coulombe: The criteria involved in submitting an application for warrant to the federal court are laid out in section 21 of the CSIS Act. The first criterion consists in there being sufficient grounds to suspect that an individual’s activities constitute a threat.
If that criterion is satisfied and an individual is under investigation, the second question to ask is the following: are there any other ways to obtain information we need to fulfil our mandate besides warrants?
So when we appear before a judge, we have to show that we have tried all other investigative procedures and that they, for whatever reason, did not allow us to obtain all the information we needed to be able to notify the government of the threat.
“INTEGRITY TESTING” FOR THOSE APPLYING TO WORK FOR CANADA’S SECURITY AGENCIES
Question by Senator Vern White: I have asked question previously of the oversight bodies surrounding the integrity testing that must be done on employees. In the hiring process, I am quite familiar with the manner in which people are hired. But what kind of comfort can you give us that the integrity testing, which must be continuous within your organization, would ensure that those types of individuals or contractors would not be allowed to flourish as Mr. Snowden has? […]
I did not hear the words “integrity testing,” so I will ask again: Is that used? Most police agencies now use integrity testing to ensure that employees, police officers who are in such positions, are caught before they find themselves in a position of jeopardizing an organization or investigation. Would the same be in place?
Michel Coulombe: Yes, there is. It is just the use of a different terminology. We talk about “reliability,” but under the government security policy, to obtain a clearance, be it secret or top secret, there are two aspects: loyalty and reliability. When you are talking integrity, you are talking about the reliability of it.
CSEC INTERCEPTS COMMUNICATIONS FOR CSIS
Question by Senator Pierre Claude Nolin: When you use section 21 before the Federal Court, can you tell us how it works when you ask your colleague to intercept the communications of a Canadian and why? How does it all work and why does it work that way?
Michel Coulombe: Why does it work that way? We ask CSEC to become our agent, to intercept the communications for us, because we do not have the technological capacity to do that. We could develop it, but would it be a judicious use of taxpayers’ money to spend millions of dollars on technology that our colleagues already have and are legally authorized to use?
CSIS’ MANDATE IS NOT GATHERING EVIDENCE TO BRING PEOPLE BEFORE THE COURTS
Michel Coulombe: We still want to maintain a separation. CSIS is not a police force; we are not in the business of gathering evidence to bring people before the courts. That is not what we do. So we have to respect the line that separates our investigations from police investigations.
RADICALIZATION OF YOUNG CANADIANS PLANNING TO DO SOMETHING HERE, ABROAD, OR TRAVELLING OVERSEAS TO BE INVOLVED IN THREAT-RELATED ACTIVITIES
Michel Coulombe: In terms of things that keep me awake at night, I talked in my opening remarks about the phenomenon that we call “foreign fighters.” This is not just in Canada. When I travel and meet with my colleagues in Europe and elsewhere, it is the number one concern and the number one priority. That would certainly be at the top of my list: radicalization of young Canadians; and then either planning to do something here, planning from here to do something elsewhere, or travelling overseas to be involved in threat-related activities.
There is one thing I want to make clear. The label “foreign fighters” is being used to describe this. I mentioned in my opening remarks that at this time we are aware of about 130 Canadians. It’s misleading to say “foreign fighters” because, again, some of them could be involved in fundraising or logistical support. It is not 130 Canadians out there fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere. That’s an important distinction. But that would definitely be at the top of my list at this time.
COMBATTING RADICALIZATION BY MEETING LEADERS OF “COMMUNITIES WHERE RADICALIZATION TYPICALLY OCCURS”
Question by Senator Vern White: You did make a comment, Mr. Coulombe, in relation to radicalization. We know your folks aren’t the ones with their feet on the ground in the communities where radicalization typically occurs, yet we have been successful in the Toronto 18 and other cases, for example. What activity does your organization take with those local organizations to ensure that the radicalization is combatted and that there is a fight on the ground to try and reverse or disrupt cases like the Toronto 18?
Michel Coulombe: I mentioned earlier that we are a member of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security. That is certainly a venue for the service to be at the table and discuss those issues with community leaders. Through our regional offices we also maintain a relationship with a number of those leaders in talking about those issues.
It is also important to understand that the issue of radicalization is not one that will be solved uniquely by intelligence services or law enforcement. It is at all levels of the community and it will need the involvement of everyone on this file. We play a role, but we are not the overall solution to this. We certainly make many efforts in terms of understanding the phenomenon. We do a lot of studies ourselves, with partners and with academia involved, trying to understand and then trying to counter this, but we do maintain a cross-country liaison at different levels.
CSIS’ RELATIONSHIP WITH POLICE ORGANIZATIONS
Michel Coulombe: We [CSIS] are part of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and through that we try, as much as possible, to inform. Like you have mentioned, we are not necessarily the boots on the ground. We are limited and we certainly rely on front-line police officers to bring any threat-related activities to our attention through dialogue with different police forces.
When I was responsible for the regional office in Montreal, the relationship between the RCMP in “C” Division, Sûreté du Québec and Montreal police was extremely important. It is something we cultivate and work for, because it is crucial in order for us to fulfill our mandate.
Stephen Rigby, National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister
SECURITY IN CANADA IS NECESSARILY CONNECTED WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD
Stephen Rigby: Security at home is necessarily connected with the rest of the world, not only in the positions and actions that Canada takes beyond its borders, but in those that other states take vis-à-vis Canada in their bilateral relationships with us and investments in the Canadian economy. Canada’s approach to security issues is therefore organized around this broader concept of security, and most of our allies have done likewise.
CANADA’S EXPORT OF JIHADISTS
Stephen Rigby: The terrorist threat in particular has undergone noteworthy changes in recent years. Of note, we have seen a growing number of Canadians travel abroad to take part in terrorist activities — the rise of the so-called “foreign fighter” phenomenon. Likewise, there are real threats to us here in Canada from foreign fighters who return home to become active in radicalizing others susceptible to adopting their views, or from individuals who seek to do harm on Canadian soil. For some, although its leadership has been weakened, al Qaeda nonetheless remains a source of inspiration.
Stephen Rigby: As we saw recently with the case of Jeffrey Delisle, there are individuals who pose an “insider threat” to Canada. It is therefore necessary to take measures to safeguard government information and ensure that threats of this nature are identified as early as possible so they can be contained.
WHY ARE CANADIAN TERRORISTS ARRESTED ABROAD AND NOT IN CANADA?
Question by Senator Daniel Lang:When it comes to supporting and financing terrorists and terrorist groups, why are we not seeing more similar arrests, charges and convictions in Canada as opposed to Canadians being arrested in other countries? [In the presentation of his question, Senator Lang mentioned that Canadian citizen Tahawwur Rana was convicted in the U.S. for 14 years in June 2013 for his role in a plot to attack a Danish newspaper as well as providing material support for a Pakistan-based terrorist group.]
Stephen Rigby: I couldn’t give you a precise answer on why we are not seeing more arrests, but I can tell you that the issue of how we track terrorist financing, how CSIS, the RCMP and FINTRAC [Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada], within the Department of Finance, look at these things is an issue of considerable concern to us.
CABINET ESTABLISHES THE INTELLIGENCE PRIORITIES EACH YEAR
Question by Senator Joseph Day: Are priorities established for security issues through a specific cabinet committee?
Stephen Rigby: Cabinet establishes the intelligence priorities for the community, and that is done annually. I prepare those priorities, present them to cabinet, and they are approved accordingly. There are committees of cabinet, particularly the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, which oversees the legislative agenda and some of the operational activities of the community.
SECURITY ADVISER TO PM IN CONTINUING CONTACT WITH HEADS OF CANADIAN SECURITY AGENCIES
Stephen Rigby: From counterterrorism and counterespionage points of view, I have constant conversations with the heads of our security agencies and the RCMP. We look at how we have responded in the past to terrorist plots on our home soil, what we have learned about those sorts of things, how we could improve the reaction, and how we could improve the way we work with allies, particularly the Americans, because we have very close relations with them on a number of these things.
John Forster, Chief, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC)
DESCRIPTION OF CSEC MANDATE
John Forster: As my colleague mentioned and as was outlined in the CSIS report tabled last week, the threat environment that we face is constantly evolving. Now, more than ever, foreign intelligence is indispensable in discovering threats to our security and prosperity, such as from terrorism or cyberattacks.
CSEC plays an important role in the government’s efforts to address these threats. Our mandate flows from the National Defence Act and requires us to provide the government with three key services.
First, we collect foreign signals intelligence that supports government decision making, providing information on the capabilities, activities or intentions of foreign entities, such as states or terrorist groups, as they relate to international affairs, security or defence. The act specifies that these CSEC activities are bound by and must be in accordance with intelligence priorities that are set by the government.
Second, we have a cyberprotection mandate. We provide information technology advice, guidance and services to help secure government systems and networks, and the confidential information they contain.
Third, because we do possess unique capabilities, we provide technical and operational assistance to federal law enforcement and security agencies under their mandates. Here, we act under the legal authority of the requesting agency we are assisting, and we are subject to any limitations of that authority, such as any applicable court warrants.
Over the years CSEC, in partnership with our closest allies, has provided intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians. For example, we have supported Canadian military operations, such as the missions in Afghanistan, and protected our forces against threats. We have uncovered foreign-based extremists’ efforts to attract, radicalize and train individuals to carry out attacks in Canada and abroad. We have identified and helped to defend the country against the actions of hostile intelligence agencies. We have contributed to the integrity of Canada’s borders and infrastructure by providing early warning about the illicit transfer of people, money and goods. Finally, we have furthered Canada’s national interests in the world by providing context about global events and crises and informing the government’s foreign policy.
When I last appeared before this committee, we discussed the growing challenges of cyberspace and how nation states, criminals, terrorists and hackers are exploiting the growth of the Internet. There are now more than 100 nations that possess the capability to conduct cyber operations on a persistent basis. Our government systems are probed millions of times a day, and there are thousands of attempts each year to compromise those systems. CSEC monitors and defends against cyber-threats to government networks, and, in this role, CSEC plays an important part in protecting the private information of Canadians.
CSEC also supports the efforts of the government to protect the Canadian economy from cyber threats. For example, CSEC shares cyber threat information and mitigation advice with public safety for further dissemination to the private sector in order to protect the intellectual property of Canadian businesses and Canada’s critical infrastructure.
Foreign signals intelligence is critical to identifying foreign cyber threats, but let me be clear that, while CSEC supports the protection of Canadian businesses from cyber threats, it does not share foreign intelligence with Canadian companies for their commercial advantage.
CSEC CANNOT TARGET THE COMMUNICATIONS OF A CANADIAN ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD
Question by Senator Roméo Dallaire: Mr. Forster, you say that you do not investigate or seek information on Canadian citizens. Would those in uniform, the military, as an example, would they be fair game for your work with regard to their employment overseas?
John Forster: In terms of targeting them for collection of intelligence about them, they are Canadian. It doesn’t matter if they are in the military or not. We can’t target the communications of a Canadian anywhere in the world.
We do work very closely with the Canadian Armed Forces in terms of SIGINT, particularly in support of military missions and operations. Again, it was before my time as chief, but certainly the relationship and the joint operations between SIGINT and the military in Afghanistan was extremely close and extremely invaluable in protecting the lives of our soldiers.
TWO TOP PRIORITIES FOR CSEC: CYBER-THREATS AND TERRORIST THREATS
John Forster: Two things are at the top of our list that we’re preoccupied with. One is certainly cyber-threats. This is a rapidly growing area that you are seeing: nation states, activists and criminals, in terms of how they use the Internet, hide in the Internet and exploit information from the Internet. It’s a challenge that you can’t say, “Right, we’ve done that, fixed that.” The complexity and the evolution of the capabilities, not just to use it to seek information, but others are using it for disruption purposes. You saw last year that there were cyber-threats or attacks from Iran on the U.S. financial sector, for example, on their websites.
The second biggest area of concern for us, as Michel [Coulombe] would say, would be in the field of terrorism. It’s a very diffuse threat, very difficult to find, and has life-and-death consequences.
THE PROCEDURE BEING FOLLOWED TO SPY ON A SUSPECTED CANADIAN
John Forster:I would make one point in terms of Canadian individuals who go overseas to train and fight. Even if they’re a person of interest, they’re still a Canadian. They may be in Syria. I’m not going to target them for intelligence collection. It would still require Michel [Coulombe from CSIS] to go to court, to get a warrant, and then I may assist him in that effort. But even as a Canadian in a foreign country, it’s not something within my mandate.
Point de Bascule: File Canadian Security Intelligence Service
Richard Fadden (Hansard – April 23, 2012): “The greatest threat to Canada’s national security remains terrorism and primarily the terrorist threat from Sunni Islamist extremism” (Richard Fadden was CSIS director when he drew this conclusion in front of a Senate committee.)
Point de Bascule (December 21, 2012): The ultimate offence: calling Islamists by the name they use to describe themselves (Part 7 of Point de Bascule’s answer to a condemnation by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, then called CAIR-CAN, for having criticized Justin Trudeau’s participation at the RIS conference because it was sponsored by IRFAN-Canada, an organization designated terrorist entity in April 2014.)
John Esposito (Oxford Dictionary of Islam – 2003): Definition of an Islamist
Raymond Ibrahim (Middle East Forum – February 13, 2012): Why We Need Words Like ‘Islamist’
IPT (January 4, 2013): Islamist Group Tries to Kill Use of «Islamist»
GMBDR (January 6, 2013): CAIR Wants Media To Stop Using Term “Islamist”