CSIS disagreed with Trudeau adviser on foreign interference threat: report

The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) published a report on Monday noting several communication breakdowns between intelligence agencies and the Trudeau government during the last two federal elections.

CSIS disagreed with Trudeau adviser on foreign interference threat: report
The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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A recent report from one of Canada's intelligence watchdogs reveals that critical intelligence on foreign interference often failed to reach the prime minister in 2021.

The lapse was due to a lack of consensus between the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the prime minister's national security adviser on the severity of the threat.

The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) published a report on Monday noting several communication breakdowns between intelligence agencies and the Trudeau government during the last two federal elections.

The independent body was tasked with conducting the review in March 2023 after media reports, based on unnamed security sources and classified documents, accused China of interfering in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Reports also suggested that Liberals within the government failed to take action during certain interference attempts.

The government tabled the NSIRA's report late Monday in the House of Commons, reports the CBC.

The intelligence watchdog found that CSIS and the Privy Council Office produced reports in 2021 intended to serve as overviews of Chinese foreign interference.

The prime minister's national security intelligence adviser (NSIA) allegedly failed to take the reports seriously and viewed them as "recounting standard diplomatic activity."

"The gap between CSIS's point of view and that of the NSIA is significant because the question is so fundamental," it said.

"CSIS collected, analyzed, and reported intelligence about activities that it considered to be significant threats to national security; one of the primary consumers of that reporting (and the de facto conduit of intelligence to the Prime Minister) disagreed with that assessment."

The NSIRA said that the disagreement contributed to those reports not reaching the prime minister and other higher-ups in the government.

"Commitments to address political foreign interference are straightforward in theory, but will inevitably suffer in practice if rudimentary disagreements as to the nature of the threat persist in the community," the report continued.

No adviser is named in the report.

The NSIRA said that the "disagreements and misalignments" between CSIS and the adviser showed what they refer to as a "grey zone," where "political foreign interference borders on typical political or diplomatic activity."

"This challenge was ever-present in the activities under review, influencing decisions about whether to disseminate and how to characterize what was shared, while raising sensitivities in terms of reporting about activities which skirt the political and diplomatic realms," NSIRA wrote.

"The risk of characterizing legitimate political or diplomatic behaviour as a threat led some members of the intelligence community to not identify certain activities as threat activities."

The report recommended that "regular consumers of intelligence work to enhance intelligence literacy within their departments and that, further, the security and intelligence community develop a common, working understanding of what constitutes political foreign interference."

The report said that CSIS also was not sure if their reporting the foreign interference would contribute to interfering in elections. Ultimately, CSIS's distribution of intelligence on political foreign interference during the last two elections was "inconsistent," the report stated.

"The threat posed by political foreign interference activities was not clearly communicated by CSIS," the NSIRA said.

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