The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) says it will spearhead an investigation to uncover who leaked highly classified information on Chinese election interference. The spy agency suggested the federal government may have frustrated the whistleblowers over their handling of Beijing's intrusion into the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
CSIS Director David Vigneault recently appeared before a House of Commons committee investigating Chinese interference. He spoke directly about the leaks and whether tension existed between CSIS and the federal government.
"There is an investigation underway by CSIS and our partners regarding the sources of the information, the leaks," he said, adding the spy agency has internal processes for intelligence officers to air their concerns about foreign-interference operations.
"In an intelligence agency like ours, there are always different points of view and [earnest] discussions," said Vigneault when Bloc Québécois MP Christine Normandin asked whether media leaks reflect internal CSIS tensions with Ottawa.
"There are measures within CSIS for those dissatisfied with how information is handled to use a process to deal with that."
Vigneault expressed grave concern with the media leaks, stating they "reveal sensitive sources, methodologies and techniques" that Canada's adversaries closely follow.
"This could threaten operations and even human sources' and employees' physical safety and security."
He also said the leaks of top-secret information shared with Canada's closest intelligence partners undermine their confidence in CSIS's ability to keep secrets.
"It is a [grave] matter."
Vigneault assured MPs that CSIS takes "all allegations of foreign interference seriously" but declined to discuss the contents of the leaked documents or explain how Beijing sought to defeat Conservatives viewed as anti-China in previous federal elections.
As The Globe and Mail first reported, China used online disinformation campaigns, undeclared cash donations and international students to volunteer for preferred Liberal candidates, according to the leaked CSIS documents.
The Globe also cited anonymous security sources, who claimed Chinese diplomats and their proxies worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered "hostile" towards Beijing during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
Vigneault responded: "I am not at liberty to disclose information directly or indirectly that would provide classified information in a public setting," but added they regularly briefed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on foreign interference.
The CSIS director also declined to comment on documents that allege China targeted 11 preferred candidates, nine Liberals and two Conservatives, in the 2019 election.
"I will not be able to speak specifically about who may or may not have been the subject of interference," he said. "For legal reasons, I cannot share that information."