The National Post has a column by self-declared former Mossad officer Michael Ross complaining that he cannot understand how we could allow someone with dubious ties to an international lobbyist — not to mention a second job as ambassador plenipotentiary for Sierra Leone — to chair the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the small outfit which is responsible for complaining powerlessly whenever CSIS breaks the law. Ross also sounds another increasingly familiar note: that we need to get our act together so we can create a proper foreign intelligence service, like all grown-up countries have.
Now, I’m not sure why exactly Ross feels he can share the contents of the Mossad’s presumably secret watchlist in this article, but I can answer the other part of his question. I imagine that Arthur Porter was cleared for SIRC in exactly the same way that Bruce Carson was cleared for work in the Prime Minister’s Office (in that case, apparently fraud convictions and other problems don’t discount you from holding one of the highest jobs in the country). This “amateurishness” isn’t going to go away while the Harper regime is in command (and possibly not after they leave, either). What Ross calls amateurishness, they call loving one’s friends. It’s very Christian of them, really.
I can’t help wondering whether the real reason people in the intelligence community are so anxious about this isn’t that Porter was a security problem in the first place, but that the whole world found out about it thanks to some uncharacteristic derringdo from our usually placid and complacent media.
Now, all this fuss about Porter (whose official bio will probably vanish soon, so if you want it, grab it while you still can) has somehow managed to skip by a couple of other more serious question, like who should be in SIRC in the first place. SIRC’s job is to work in secret but to uphold the law: we trust them to ensure that CSIS doesn’t start doing what its predecessor, the SS, did: things like committing arson and attempting to frame suspects with stolen explosives. Or conduct illegal foreign intelligence operations, something which it has patently failed to do.
In addition to Porter, who has no intelligence experience to speak of but does apparently have ties to the Conservative Party, the following are the present members of SIRC. Try and pick out the ones that might be “intelligence amateurs” by any reasonable definition. The reason they were appointed, I suspect, is their loyalty to political parties who had influence under the minority Parliament. If I’m right about that, then they will shortly be replaced, mostly with a crop of Conservative loyalists:
- Carol Skelton — From 2000-2008, a Conservative and Alliance MP. Skelton was the Western Economic Diversification Minister in the first Harper Cabinet. Skelton has worked in the nonprofit sector, including Canadian Blood Services. With Porter’s departure, she has taken over as Acting Chair.
- Denis Losier — From 1998-1994, minister of fisheries and economic development for Liberal New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna. Losier is the CEO of Assumption Mutual Life Insurance and sits on numerous corporate boards.
- Philippe Couillard — From 2003-2008, a Quebec MNA under premier Jean Charest. He was Minister of Health, and a former neurosurgeon.
- Frances Lankin — From 1990-2001, an NDP MPP in Ontario. Lankin was premier Bob Rae’s Health Minister and went on to head up United Way Toronto after leaving provincial politics.
You might notice that there is a dearth of intelligence experience (i.e. absolutely none), and a ludicrous preponderance of healthcare experience on a board that really has nothing to do with healthcare. According to the SIRC master list, since SIRC was established in 1984, its appointees have included former politicians, engineers, lawyers, and an asbestos marketer, but never, oddly enough, intelligence or national security. They include former premiers Gary Filmon, Roy Romanow, and Bob Rae.
Now, since SIRC’s job is to ensure that the security services are obeying the law, you might think that an ideal mix of people would be judges and intelligence professionals. In the past, governments made sure that judges or lawyers were a part of the commission. Over the past decade, they seem to have decided that isn’t necessary after all. Presumably this is because CSIS’s new unofficial mandate doesn’t include following the law anyways.Tweet