Are the Liberal party’s calls for parliamentary oversight of Canada’s intelligence services warranted?

By: /
6 February, 2014
By: Paul Heinbecker
CIGI Distinguished Fellow

Greater/better/more independent/more public oversight is certainly needed, the more so after the CSEC head and the National Security adviser revealed in Monday’s Senate testimony the extent to which government officials are prepared to play legal word games to explain away their behaviour. “Trust but verify,” as the supposed Russian proverb goes. But what is legal is not necessarily right or smart. There is at least an equal and, I would argue, a prior need for government policy on intelligence itself to be reviewed with respect to the cost/benefits of CSEC’s (and CSIS’s and other departments and agencies’) actions. Policymakers must consider how useful/cost effective intelligence really is in relation to other available forms of information gathering such as summitry, the personal diplomacy of leaders with their foreign counterparts, modern diplomacy, and media reportage. Such a review would assess whether the vaunted Five Eyes relationship is worth the sovereignty as well as financial costs it entails and whether and to what extent that relationship leads the Canadian government to undertake actions it would not otherwise perform to essentially “pay” its membership dues.

A good example of the counter-productivity of our current intelligence policy is our experience with the Brazilians in which CSEC snooping apparently harmed and possibly nullified the efforts the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Trade Minister, and many others to build a cooperative relationship with Brasilia.

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