Canada's high-tech spies (CSE) leave (commissioner) Lamer in the
mctylr at gmail.com
Tue Jun 27 07:21:16 PDT 2006
Canada's high-tech spies leave Lamer in the dark
[The Globe and Mail, June 27, 2006]
Ottawa b The watchdog over Canada's eavesdropping agency says he's not
getting the detailed information he needs to be sure the secretive spy
outfit is obeying the rules.
In his annual report, Antonio Lamer laments a "lack of clarity" in the
information the Communications Security Establishment provides when
seeking ministerial permission for sensitive operations.
The disagreement raises questions about whether Mr. Lamer, as CSE
commissioner, can provide full assurances that the spy agency is
meeting all legal requirements.
The Ottawa-based CSE, an ultra-secret wing of the Defence Department,
monitors foreign radio, telephone, fax, satellite and computer traffic
for information of interest to Canada. The intelligence is used in
support of Canadian crime-fighting, defence and trade policies.
Military listening posts assist the agency's efforts to intercept the
communications of foreign states and organizations, as well as the
phone calls and messages of suspected terrorists, drug traffickers and
The CSE has long been prohibited from directing its surveillance at
Canadians or anybody in Canada.
However, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 gave the CSE authority to tap
into conversations and messages even if those communications begin or
end in Canada.
For instance, the CSE could now intercept a phone call from a member
of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network somewhere in Asia to a residence
Various safeguards, including the need for the defence minister's
approval, were built into the practice.
Mr. Lamer, a former Supreme Court chief justice, recently concluded
his term as CSE commissioner, an independent watchdog who scrutinizes
the spy agency's activities to ensure compliance with the law.
In his final report, he says there should be a clear linkage between
the government's intelligence priorities, the targets chosen and the
activities for which ministerial approval is needed.
But supporting documentation provided by the CSE as part of its
requests for authorization address foreign intelligence requirements
"only in general terms."
The dispute stems from differing legal interpretations held by Mr.
Lamer's independent counsel and the deputy minister of Justice, whose
department provides legal direction to the CSE.
"The lack of clarity in this regard has made it difficult for my staff
to assess compliance with certain of the conditions that the
legislation requires to be satisfied before a ministerial
authorization is given."
Mr. Lamer says he has "offered specific recommendations" to the
defence minister and CSE to iron out "ambiguities" in the legislation
governing the CSE.
As a result, Mr. Lamer qualifies his finding that CSE activities
2005-06 complied with the law "as it is currently interpreted by the
Department of Justice."
CSE spokesman Adrian Simpson said Monday that, as a government agency,
the organization "must follow the interpretation" of the Justice
Mr. Simpson added that the CSE "takes great pains to comply with all
of the laws of Canada."
Mr. Lamer says his one regret is leaving the post "without a
resolution of the legal interpretation issues that have bedevilled
this office since December 2001."
"I wish my successor well in bringing this matter to a satisfactory
conclusion for all concerned."
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor's office had no immediate comment.
A spokesman for Mr. Lamer was unavailable.
Mr. Lamer's concerns emerge as the CSE's American counterpart, the
National Security Agency, faces the glare of controversy.
In December, the New York Times disclosed that U.S. President George
W. Bush had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans and others
inside the United States without court-approved warrants, as has been
the recognized practice there.
Despite pointed criticism from privacy advocates, U.S. officials have
defended the program.
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