Don't shoot the messenger

Par Dermod Travis le 22 juillet 2010

Before some of Canada's political class line up eagerly to shoot themessenger, they may be better off asking instead: what if CSIS chief Mr. Richard Fadden is right in his warnings regarding foreign interference in Canada's political affairs.

Because his remarks raise two fundamental questions: do Chinese spies and possibly their non-Chinese operatives in fact lurk within our political structures and, if so, how much of a concern should it be to Canadians?

Relying solely on news reports Fadden's comments warrant investigation, not hasty retreats.

For instance last year, the New York Times reported on GhostNet, a study released by researchers from the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies.

GhostNet detailed an almost exclusively China-based operation that had infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and government offices. Canada was not immune.

Two years earlier, Bombardier refused to comment on reports that Chinese technicians were caught stealing aerospace secrets at one of its Canadian facilities. The company also declined to comment on reports that its negotiators were spied upon during a trip to China. 

richard-fadden-300x208.jpg At the time, the wife of a diplomat posted to the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, defected telling of a special unit at the embassy whose job was to collect information, harass and spy on Canadian citizens supporting the Tibetan, Uyghur and Falun Gong movements among others. In 2006, a Canadian human rights activist reported to CSIS that three Chinese men spent a night watching his suburban home through the windows of a black SUV. It was not his first encounter with such tactics. A year before, two Chinese defectors, formerly diplomats in Australia, claimed the Chinese government had a network of more than 1,000 spies and informants in Canada.

And in 2001, reporting on the removal of the Tibetan flag during the 1996 APEC Summit, Ted Hughes wrote: "I find it alarming that the Chinese Consulate was in contact with the informant and took steps to influence the RCMP to remove the flag.the RCMP must not tolerate interference by foreign diplomats or officials into security matters, particularly where the constitutional rights of Canadian citizens are at stake." 

These are a few cases from what spymasters might call the Google file, because they're all available on the net. But if they're reflective of what is publicly known, imagine how much more intelligence may be available to agencies such as CSIS.

And while none of these instances directly involve bureaucrats or officials is it such a stretch to consider that China might also pursue its ambitions at other levels?

One of the most controversial reports regarding Chinese espionage is known as Project Sidewinder, a 1997 CSIS-RCMP investigation to gather and analyze intelligence about efforts by the Chinese government and Asian criminal gangs to influence Canadian business and politics. While the report was ordered to be destroyed, shelved or delayed depending upon your point of view, it was also leaked. In light of subsequent events its findings have proven incredibly clairvoyant. 

Project Sidewinder noted: "China remains one of the greatest ongoing threats to Canada's national security and Canadian industry. There is no longer any doubt that the Chinese Intelligence Services have been able to gain influence in important sectors of the Canadian economy, including education, real estate, high technology, security and many others. In turn, it gave them access to economic, political and some military intelligence of Canada."

Contrast that opinion with a U.S. government report, a decade later that concluded: "Chinese espionage activities in the United States are so extensive that they comprise the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies." When foreign interest becomes foreign interference, it's incumbent upon our government to protect Canada and the rights of Canadians.  Mr. Fadden's timing may not have been to the liking of some, his words may have been erroneously decoded to cast inappropriate aspersion on some solely because of their ethnicity, but his underlying assumptions may be dead-on.

 Fadden's job is not to curry favour. His job is to protect Canada and Canadians. The threat he raised must be a matter for further inquiry by Canada's security apparatus, and not a justification for a summary bureaucratic execution.


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