OTTAWA – Canada’s spy service continues to flout policy and make a serious number of reporting errors, says a federal watchdog whose office was recently abolished.
In her final report as inspector general of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Eva Plunkett says CSIS’s reputation and effectiveness may suffer if the problems aren’t addressed.
The “re-occurring and high rate of non-compliance with policy and the ever-increasing rate of errors in reporting identified in what is a relatively small review sample of CSIS activities is a concern to me and should be a serious concern of the Service,” Plunkett says in the annual report card.
“Errors in intelligence reporting, as I have repeatedly stated over my tenure, are a serious matter and have the potential for far-reaching consequences.”
The Canadian Press obtained a declassified version of Plunkett’s top secret November 2011 evaluation Friday under the Access to Information Act.
Plunkett retired last December and the Conservative government recently scrapped her office, saying it would save money and eliminate duplication.
As inspector general, she served as the public safety minister’s eyes and ears on the intelligence service for eight years. She had a staff of eight and a budget of about $1 million.
In her report, Plunkett says her office performs the unique role of identifying issues and recommending corrective actions before they become public controversies that undermine trust.
“This is not work done elsewhere in government on your behalf,” says the report.
“At this time, it is the only independent, impartial resource available to the minister to support his responsibility and accountability for an organization which works in secret but has been given highly intrusive powers.”
The report also says the inspector general’s office worked to eliminate “any possible overlap” with the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the other federally appointed body that keeps an eye on CSIS.
Overall, Plunkett concluded CSIS had not strayed outside the law, contravened ministerial direction or exercised its powers “unreasonably or unnecessarily” in 2010-11.
However, she was advised of at least 19 instances of CSIS’s failure to comply with its own policies. The precise number was stripped out of the document for security reasons.
She also found “numerous inaccuracies” in reporting by the spy service.
“These numbers do concern me and should concern the service,” Plunkett says.
Once errors are introduced into CSIS databanks, they can lead to decisions based on inaccurate information by both the spy agency and its partners.
“When errors of this nature do come to light, they have a highly detrimental effect on the service’s credibility with Canadians, the judicial system and with other intelligence agencies,” says the report.
“Intelligence is a very important but also a very powerful weapon. Safeguards against its abuse are essential.”
The greatest strengths of an intelligence organization must be its accuracy in reporting and information management — the ability “to know what they know,” Plunkett adds.
“Based on my eight years of experience as inspector general, I cannot state with confidence that this is the current situation for CSIS,” the report says.
“I fear that if issues of non-compliance with policy and the rate of errors are not addressed and continue to grow, the reputation and effectiveness of the service may suffer.”
Plunkett’s office, which is in the process of shutting down, did not respond to an interview request.
CSIS did not make its director, Dick Fadden, available for questions Friday.
CSIS spokeswoman Tahera Mufti said the spy service “has appropriately addressed the concerns raised in the report,” but she provided no details.
Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, said he was unavailable.
In an email, Carmichael reiterated the government’s position that — despite Plunkett’s comments on the value of her office — having both the inspector general and the Security Intelligence Review Committee meant “duplicative oversight” of CSIS.
The inspector general’s duties will be merged into the review committee, preserving “all of the oversight and accountability over CSIS” while reducing administrative costs, she said. The minister’s department will play “a greater role” in providing advice on intelligence matters, she added.
However, Carmichael did not explain how the review committee would absorb the inspector general’s functions or how it would fulfil these duties. The review committee’s latest planning report, recently tabled in Parliament, indicates that its staff and budget will not increase.