Mark Collins – Anyone Care about Canadian Intelligence Analysis? Plus C-22 and Parliamentary Review

In my view intelligence analysis is not a sexy or scandalous enough subject to invoke any serious interest amongst Canadian politicians or our media–unless we have our 9/11. But a former analyst makes a case for closer scrutiny, especially with regard to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service:

Where is the review of intelligence analysis in CSIS?
[and in the Canadian government as a whole]

Stephanie Carvin is an assistant professor of international relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, and a former national security analyst with the federal government [more here–what sort of analyst with what agency?]

In a week dominated by headlines alleging the FBI meddling in the U.S. presidential election, and police surveillance of journalists in Quebec, Thursday’s [Nov. 3] Federal Court ruling on CSIS’s Operational Data Analysis Centre (ODAC) likely heightened the uncertainty many Canadians feel over the actions of our national security services.

While much of the ruling refers to data collection and retention, it also speaks to the role of intelligence analysis within the government of Canada – a topic that has thus far not received much attention in discussions surrounding the national security review process, but should.

…there is no formal or consistent intelligence analysis oversight – or more correctly, efficacy review [but see “Strategic Intelligence” link below]. One can only speculate that had there been some form of regular review of CSIS’s analytical functions, it is unlikely that ODAC’s existence and activities would have been such a surprise to the Federal Court.

But this situation has led to other problems as well. For example, there is no accountability within the CSIS Executive 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 policy making.

Furthermore, there is no way of knowing if analysts have the proper tools and training.

In fact, it is not even clear what kind of analysis CSIS should be producing. ODAC’s role appears to be that of supporting operations, but there is no reason that the broader trends it uncovers cannot be used to support intelligence analysis that supports policy making.

But complicating matters is the largely haphazard structure of the Canadian intelligence community’s (IC) analytical branches. There is considerable overlap between several, including the Privy Council Office’s [Canada’s Cabinet Office] Intelligence Assessment Secretariat, the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC [website here]), and CSIS’s analytical branches.

[The PCO section is actually now called just “Assessment Secretariat“–the listing at the link would seem to include only a few senior personnel of a much larger body.]

While having competing perspectives can provide a plurality of views for the government to choose, the lack of review means that we do not know how well the IC manages these relationships and/or collaborates…

As for the quality of the PCO’s intelligence analysis, see the second part of this post:

Strategic Intelligence Headline of the Day (plus inside Ottawa stuff)

The link for the first part is now this; my snarky comment on Canada at the start of the post itself still holds.

Earlier on the proposed parliamentary review committee:

Under PM’s Thumb: Proposed Canadian Parliamentary Security/Intel Review Committee

Now note this Nov. 4 from public safety minister Ralph Goodale (in charge of CSIS, the RCMP, and the Canadian Border Services Agency, key members of our intelligence/security community [see here for the CBSA and enforcement and intelligence]):

The parliamentary oversight committee the Liberals are setting up — legislation to implement it, Bill C-22, is currently before the House — could offer a future safeguard.

It will have “extraordinary authority,” Goodale said, and unlike SIRC [the existing Security Intelligence Review Committee], could review not just past activities of security agencies but also ongoing operations.

“Timeliness is a critical concern here,” the minister said…

Any such real-time role would be an extraordinary development in Canada–see this piece by Prof. Craig Forcese of Ottawa University:

Functions of parliamentary accountability in national security

In conventional Canadian practice “oversight” has traditionally meant operational control and coordination of security and intelligence services, something that is very different than “review”. There is much misunderstanding, therefore, over who does or should do actual “oversight” in this classic sense. The general rule is: the executive. There is also a role for the courts to control security agency conduct through the warrant process.

We do have serious structural problems in terms of oversight in Canada — see ch 11 of False Security. But reform here means reforming the role of the courts and the executive.

Parliament and “oversight”

It does not mean giving Parliament an “oversight” role. Legislatures do not really do full oversight, in the command/control sense. And there are some good reasons for this. First, they would likely not be good at it [NO. FLIPPING. KIDDING] — a committee of parliamentarians signing-off on realtime operational decisions would create an unwieldy process at best. It would also risk politicizing the process [NO. FLIPPING. KIDDING]. And indeed, in relation to police operations, it would trench on a concept that in Canada has possible constitutional imprimatur: police independence…

What about other countries?..

The government better make some definitively clear decision about how much actual real-time “oversight” the new committee will be engaged in.

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


6 thoughts on “Mark Collins – Anyone Care about Canadian Intelligence Analysis? Plus C-22 and Parliamentary Review”

  1. Meanwhile SIRC staff may be cut! From Prof. Forcese:

    Remember that, until the Conservative gov’t axed the office, the minister in charge did have real internal “oversight” of CSIS, provided by the Office of the Inspector General within the Solicitor General’s department, then the public safety department:

    “Reviewing Canadian Intelligence Activities: Increasingly Pathetic, Part 2–With a Monty Python Twist”


    “CSIS Inspector General Certificate Reports”

    Whilst in France:

    “France to collect personal data of 60 million with controversial database”

    Mark Collins

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