Testimony to Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security


Stephanie Carvin, Assistant Professor

Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University

15 November 2016

I would first like to thank the Committee for inviting me to speak here today. Before I begin, I would, in the interest of disclosure, state that from 2012-2015, I worked as an intelligence analyst with the government of Canada. My views are shaped by this experience as well as my academic research on national security issues.

However, with regards to the matter that brings us here today, Bill C-22 and the question of intelligence oversight and review, I would like to speak to issues that have been somewhat less prominent.  My presentation will therefore proceed in two parts. First, I will address three issues that I believe the committee should consider as this bill goes forward: efficacy review of intelligence analysis, counter intelligence and foreign influence, and communications with the public. Second, I will provide four recommendations.

The first issue is efficacy review and intelligence analysis. I am presenting these remarks almost two weeks after it was discovered that CSIS’ Operational Data Analysis Centre (or ODAC) had illegally kept metadata and conducted assessments with it.

While this issue largely refers to data collection and retention, it also speaks to the role of intelligence analysis within the government of Canada. We have frequently heard that CSIS’s early 1980s mandate no longer reflects technological realities, but intelligence analysis was never discussed in the first place. Other than noting in Section 12(1) that the Service “shall report to and advise the Government of Canada” on national security threats, the role of intelligence analysis is barely given any consideration in the CSIS Act. There is no guidance as to how this role should be done, how intelligence should support operations or in what way advice is to be given. There is also no formal or consistent intelligence analysis review.

In short, there is little accountability within much of the intelligence community as to the delivery of intelligence products, how those products are produced or whether those products are delivered in a timely manner. Additionally, there is no way of knowing how intelligence products are used or if they adequately support internal operations or policymaking. Furthermore, there is no way of knowing if analysts have the proper equipment, tools and training they need in order to produce their assessments.

I believe the proposed committee in Bill C-22 can play a role in helping to address these issues by becoming the first body dedicated to intelligence analysis efficacy review in Canada.

Second, thus far, the discussion around reform of our intelligence agencies and oversight has largely referred to terrorism and surveillance, not espionage or foreign influence activities. Counter-intelligence work requires a different set of skills and activities than counter-terrorism. For example, counter-intelligence activities can impact foreign policy and vice-versa.

Therefore, the proposed committee could assess how well our foreign policy and national security agencies coordinate their activities. Or whether intelligence services should be more frank regarding the activities of foreign governments on Canadian soil. Without a doubt, it is challenging to air these issues in public — espionage and foreign influence can be the source of diplomatic headaches and embarrassment. Nevertheless, they should not be left out of the conversation and consideration of Parliament as Bill C-22 goes forward. This is especially the case as investigating these issues may require going outside the intelligence community in Canada, as traditionally defined.

Third, the proposed committee has the potential to be one of the most important communication tools the government has with regards to providing Canadians information on our national security. Unfortunately, at present, there are very few ways in which security agencies are able (or willing) to communicate with the broader public. Worse, in recent years it has been a trend for national security agencies to publish their reports infrequently and erratically. For example, CSIS has not produced an “annual” (now bi-annual) public report since May 2015 (which covered the period 2013-2014). Public Safety Canada’s Public Report on the Terrorist Threat is the sole multiagency report on threat activity in Canada, appearing on a more regular basis, but does not cover non-terrorism related activity.

It is my hope that the Committee’s report will help to remedy this gap and become a powerful communication tool that can improve knowledge and generate trust.

I see this manifesting in two ways. First, it could become a central source of information on the current threat environment that Canada faces. That this would come from our elected Parliamentarians would, in my opinion, contribute to an overall improvement in the understanding of national security issues in Canada. Second, an honest assessment of the activities of our security agencies will generate confidence that our national security services are operating within the letter and spirit of the law.

And now, for the second part of my presentation I will present four recommendations.

First, it is imperative for Parliament to consider the wider context in which Bill C-22’s committee will exist and the broader roles it can play in generating trust. Oversight and review of national security agencies is and should be the fundamental focus of the proposed committee. However, I would encourage Parliamentarians to think broadly about the role it may play in communicating information and building trust.

Second, with regards to analysis, the committee should, as a part of its mandate, ensure the quality and timeliness of intelligence analysis to support the government and policy-making by holding executives accountable. Additionally, it should also include review of innovative techniques, such as big data analytics. This would, of course, require a secretariat that is knowledgeable about these issues and could advise committee members. This will help transform intelligence analysis from a second thought to a core activity supporting policy-makers.

Third, while it might have to be done behind closed doors, the issues of counter-intelligence, foreign influence and cyber-intrusions need to be given greater consideration in terms of how the committee will handle its mandate. This includes ensuring that these operations are well coordinated with other agencies and departments, such as Global Affairs Canada – which might shape the scope and mandate of the proposed Committee.

Fourth, the Committee should be required to publish their findings every 365 days without exception. Everyone sitting here today knows how easy it is for government reports to fall through the cracks and miss deadlines. Nevertheless, as I have already stated, the Committee’s report will be a crucial tool in communicating to Canadians.

The more frank and honest these reports are, the better informed the debate over measures to counter Canada’s national security threats will be.

In this sense, I am very much supportive of the suggestions of MP Murray Rankin regarding the proposed committee’s report in his speech to the House of Commons on 27 September.

Thank you for your time, and I am happy to answer any questions or hear any comments you have.