Mark Collins – Shock! Horror! The Threat from CSIS Operating Abroad

Two retired Canadian ambassadors raise the alarm about a menace to the conduct of the country’s foreign policy:

Who speaks for Canada, spies or diplomats?
[actually one does not think spooks speak much in public]

Paul Heinbecker is former ambassador to Germany and the UN, and currently with Laurier University and the Centre for International Governance Innovation [more here]; Daniel Livermore is a former ambassador to Guatemala and El Salvador and currently teaches at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa [more here]…

The expansion of CSIS’s [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] scope of activity abroad by Bills C-44 and C-51 creates real prospects for confusion and conflict with the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs – with consequences for Canadians. Who speaks for Canada abroad? Is the ambassador still in charge of the embassy and all Canadian government operations in his/her country of accreditation, as the statutory authorities of the Foreign Affairs Act clearly state? Or do CSIS, the RCMP and other security agencies now have carte blanche overseas?

…CSIS was created as a domestic service, with a deliberately restricted reach abroad [not really, see below]. It has little international operational experience [how do the authors know?], limited linguistic expertise and checkered cultural awareness. The government has effectively created a nascent foreign-intelligence service by inadvertence or indirection [hardly, see below], perhaps even by misdirection, with few of the management foundations needed for success. In doing so it has also programmed a fundamental clash with the Foreign Affairs Act…

One wonders how much attention the authors’ have been paying to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s activities over the last decade or so.  CSIS describes its current foreign operations here.  Now see this from, gasp, 2003:

CSIS admits to spying abroad
First public confirmation: Director Elcock says it has become ‘an integral part of the service’s operations’

Canadian spies have been conducting “covert” operations in foreign countries to gather information about threats to national security, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service admitted for the first time on the weekend.

“Events have increasingly required us … to operate abroad,” CSIS director Ward Elcock told a Vancouver security conference. “As a result, working covertly abroad has become an integral part of the service’s operations.”

CSIS “has been conducting operations abroad for many years,” Mr. Elcock said, but such work has become more important now that the most troublesome threats to Canada’s security originate outside the country.

“Extremists respect no barriers, either international or moral.”..

Then a post of mine at in 2010:

From the CSIS website, “Frequently Asked Questions” [scroll down]:


Does CSIS operate overseas?

There is no restriction in the CSIS Act on where CSIS may collect information on threats to the security of Canada. We may collect information on security threats from anywhere in Canada or abroad…

From an Oct. 2009 speech by CSIS Director Dick Fadden [p. 8]:


In this state of constant flux, it is important that we be able to focus on our core mandate to the highest possible degree. It is clear that operating more outside of Canada is a crucial element in tracking and understanding the threats to Canada.

Terrorists, whatever else they may be, are not couch potatoes. They are part of this great global flux we all live in. Ideas, money, products and people – they all move. CSIS therefore has to be more mobile to defend Canada against threats. That is the simple global reality we face…

From the CBC’s Brian Stewart, April 2009:


…CSIS is increasingly operating abroad.

Its agents have been sent out to track foreign terror cells, search for nuclear and chemical weapons proliferation and follow up on commercial espionage or sabotage threats affecting Canadian interests.

It can also spy for any one of its federal allies when asked to and it will help abroad any of the Five Eyes, just so long as it does not target a specific government. Slippery? Yes.
A confusing distinction

“It is a bit of a confusing distinction,” [previous director Jim] Judd acknowledged last year to a Senate committee on security. “We certainly do conduct intelligence operations outside Canada (but) it is now done only when clearly linked to our national security mandate relating to the protection of Canada or Canadians.

“So we are not so much collecting foreign intelligence as collecting national security intelligence outside Canada [emphasis added].”..

So, as I wrote elsewhere in 2006:

Still no need for “Smiley’s Canadians”

During the election campaign the Conservatives, still on a learning curve, promised to “Expand the [non-existent] Canadian Foreign Intelligence Agency” [see “Securing our borders” at link]. Not a good idea…
CSIS rather should be given a strengthened capability to collect security (i.e. counter-terrorist) intelligence abroad–as the head of CSIS argues [preceding link no longer works but see this one]…

Meanwhile Messrs Heinbecker and Livermore also seem to have missed the Canadian Forces’ growing foreign human intelligence capacity–from the latter part of a 2012 post:

I’m pretty certain the Canadian Forces conduct their own HUMINT activities abroad when necessary, e.g. in Afghanistan. Read between some lines at this CF page about the “Intelligence Officer”… and [see] most especially this 2011 MERX contract notice:

The Department of National Defence (DND) has a requirement for CF members to be instructed on Human Intelligence Training (HUMINT) recruiting methods and strategies…

And note this:

Canadian Forces Intelligence Consolidation

  • Joint Task Force X (JTF-X) – This group provides strategic, operational and tactical human intelligence resources in support of DND programs and CAF operations. These are conducted only on overseas missions [emphasis added] within the construct of a Task Force.

The bullet on JTF-X (cute, remember Camp X?) is the most public statement I’ve seen about the CF’s HUMINT capabilities...

Perhaps our erstwhile ambassadors might then also fret fairly furiously about the impact of this ambition on our foreign affairs department:

Canadian Forces in Intelligence Big Leagues (with document)?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


3 thoughts on “Mark Collins – Shock! Horror! The Threat from CSIS Operating Abroad”

  1. One should add that engaging in HUMINT abroad–of one category or another–is common international practice, almost a “norm”; so why the HeinLiver hoo-hah?

    Mark Colling

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