Who decides what is a serious national security threat: intelligence professionals or bureaucrats?

When a senior intelligence official appears to do a 180 to satisfy government views on how to interpret threat it is a sad day for national security professionals.

It ain’t easy working for CSIS.

The organisation’s mandate is a tough one: monitor and investigate threats to the security of our nation based on “reasonable grounds to suspect”, all while not running roughshod over Canadians’ fundamental rights (freedom of speech, of assembly and lawful dissent).  Not to mention public damnation when it is perceived you have dropped the ball (any ball!).

The women and men at CSIS are, nevertheless, a dedicated bunch who are passionate about what they do (I have an insider’s perspective here, having worked there from 2001-2015).  They do their utmost to keep us safe and provide the best intelligence and advice possible to our government. 

And while just about everything CSIS does is done in secret its staff should be able to rely on the fact that the leadership will support and defend its actions when called upon, in public or in camera, to do so.

Until yesterday.

CSIS Director David Vigneault has been telling the inquiry into the Trudeau government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act in February of this year to put an end to the actions of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Ottawa and elsewhere that this ragtag bunch of protestors did not constitute a threat to national security as outlined in section 2 of the CSIS Act (mostly 2c) – political/ideological violence – but perhaps a bit of 2d) – subversion).

In other words, CSIS officers did their due diligence, looked into who was who in the zoo and concluded there was no ‘there’ there.  No threat to national security.  Dissent, pure and simple.

What then to make of his stunning reversal when it emerged that he had ‘advised’ the government to usethe Emergencies Act since it was clear to him that there are other ways to interpret threat?  Does he have that mandate as CSIS Director?  One would think he should stick to his own act, no?

Further undermining his surprise reconsideration is the unfortunate reality that the Emergencies Act refers to the CSIS Act definition of threat to national security in its own definition section.  So, CSIS says there was no threat and the Emergencies Act says ‘do what CSIS does’.  Huh?  Where is the alternative interpretation of threat?

What occasioned this change?  Are there ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’ political interference?  Mr. Vigneault admitted that he sought the advice of the Department of Legal Services which is, after all, a Trudeau government body.  Asking the very ones who said the Emergencies Act was required for advice on whether it was necessary sounds kinda like a foregone conclusion, doesn’t it?

Whatever happened to ‘speaking truth to power’?  Whatever happened to independent assessment (the National Security and Intelligence Advisor Jody Thomas got the original CSIS assessment and didn’t like it moving her to fish around for another one, probably more to her preconceived ideas on the threat landscape)?

This was a sad day for national security in Canada.  I am not a conspiracy theorist but this whole affair smells bad.  I do not know who whispered in whose ear but it sure seems that the CSIS Director did an about-face at a crucial point in the inquiry’s deliberations, effectively giving the government a get-out-of-jail-free card.

To my former colleagues at CSIS: I feel for your sense of betrayal.  You did your job and were slew footed by your head honcho.  Sigh… Please keep doing what you do for Canada and for Canadians.  The country needs you.

As for this nation’s security intelligence leadership: shame on you!

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

2 replies on “Who decides what is a serious national security threat: intelligence professionals or bureaucrats?”

You nailed it Phil. Also, it is time we, Canada, woke up. We need a foreign intelligence agency as another layer of protection. We cannot keep relying on our “friends”.

R.A.P. ‘Dick’ Hawkshaw
RCMP/CSIS Retired.

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