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Friday, January 07, 2011

Canada ‘a target for foreign interference,’ spy chief warns

Globe and Mail - A keenly anticipated report by Canada's spy chief paints a picture of a broad threat of foreign interference from countries out to influence policy and politicians, target dissidents and pilfer technology.

Canadians singled out by unfriendly powers may be “subject to threats, coercion or potential blackmail,” warns the memo from Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Dick Fadden to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

“Canada is a target for foreign interference due to our natural resources, scientific and technological sectors, our role and influence in the international community, and our close relations with powerful allies.”

It is the latest, and perhaps most detailed, articulation of the spy service's concerns about stealthy overtures from foreign agents, including two suspected cases involving provincial cabinet ministers.

“These clandestine efforts by foreign governments to influence our officials, policies and communities have the potential to undermine our ability to make independent decisions in Canada's national interests,” the report says.

A declassified version of the top-secret July 29 report on the alleged cases was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act. A draft of the memo became public in October.

The final version – tagged “For Decision” and including attachments – shows that Mr. Fadden requested a meeting with Mr. Toews to discuss the cases, though names of the countries, provinces and individuals in question were deleted.

Neither CSIS nor the minister would comment Thursday.

Mr. Fadden said in a June television interview that he was in the process of warning at least two provinces, through the Privy Council Office, that members of their cabinets had come under foreign influence. He said CSIS also had suspicions about a number of municipal politicians in British Columbia.

Mr. Fadden was cagey about the countries involved, but did not deny that China was a country of concern.

The interview angered critics, including opposition MPs, who said the comments left a cloud of suspicion over all elected officials with ties abroad.

In the July memo to Mr. Toews, Mr. Fadden says the targets of foreign interference can include elected representatives, candidates for public office and public servants at the municipal, provincial and federal levels – as well as diaspora or ethnic communities.

Ethnic communities may be manipulated – sometimes through exploitation or coercion – to monitor the activities of members, collect information on dissidents or seek support for or against a Canadian policy, the report says. “Politicians are targeted to solicit support for policies and positions that favour the interests of the foreign state or entity.”

The approach may include an “offering of electoral support” and, in some cases, takes place subtly over a long period during which the targeted Canadian may not even be aware of the interfering agent's intent.

Mr. Fadden describes it as a “slow and methodical development of relationships that aim to affect the perspective and decision-making of those being influenced.” Individuals under foreign influence “may assist in the theft of technology or classified or sensitive information,” he adds.

Mr. Fadden distinguishes such underhanded activity from legitimate lobbying on Canadian government policies. The spy chief also stresses it is the activities of foreign parties “that are generally the focus of our investigations,” not the Canadians who may be targeted.

“That said, if the activities of Canadians interacting with foreign officials themselves constitute a threat to national security, the service is mandated to initiate an investigation and report to the government as appropriate,” Mr. Fadden writes.

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