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Don't shoot the messenger

July 6, 2010

Dermod Travis
July 5, 2010

Before some of Canada's political class line up
eagerly to shoot the messenger, they may be
better off asking instead: what if CSIS chief Mr.
Richard Fadden is right in his warnings regarding
foreign interference in Canada’s political affairs.

Because his remarks raise two fundamental
questions: do Chinese spies and possibly their
non-Chinese operatives in fact lurk within our
political structures and, if so, how much of a
concern should it be to Canadians?

Relying solely on news reports Fadden’s comments
warrant investigation, not hasty retreats.

For instance last year, the New York Times
reported on GhostNet, a study released by
researchers from the University of Toronto’s Munk
Centre for International Studies.

GhostNet detailed an almost exclusively
China-based operation that had infiltrated at
least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including
many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries
and government offices. Canada was not immune.

Two years earlier, Bombardier refused to comment
on reports that Chinese technicians were caught
stealing aerospace secrets at one of its Canadian
facilities. The company also declined to comment
on reports that its negotiators were spied upon during a trip to China.

At the time, the wife of a diplomat posted to the
Chinese embassy in Ottawa, defected telling of a
special unit at the embassy whose job was to
collect information, harass and spy on Canadian
citizens supporting the Tibetan, Uyghur and Falun Gong movements among others.

In 2006, a Canadian human rights activist
reported to CSIS that three Chinese men spent a
night watching his suburban home through the
windows of a black SUV. It was not his first encounter with such tactics.

A year before, two Chinese defectors, formerly
diplomats in Australia, claimed the Chinese
government had a network of more than 1,000 spies and informants in Canada.

And in 2001, reporting on the removal of the
Tibetan flag during the 1996 APEC Summit, Ted
Hughes wrote: "I find it alarming that the
Chinese Consulate was in contact with the
informant and took steps to influence the RCMP to
remove the flag…the RCMP must not tolerate
interference by foreign diplomats or officials
into security matters, particularly where the
constitutional rights of Canadian citizens are at stake."

These are a few cases from what spymasters might
call the Google file, because they’re all
available on the net. But if they’re reflective
of what is publicly known, imagine how much more
intelligence may be available to agencies such as CSIS.

And while none of these instances directly
involve bureaucrats or officials is it such a
stretch to consider that China might also pursue its ambitions at other levels?

One of the most controversial reports regarding
Chinese espionage is known as Project Sidewinder,
a 1997 CSIS-RCMP investigation to gather and
analyze intelligence about efforts by the Chinese
government and Asian criminal gangs to influence
Canadian business and politics.

While the report was ordered to be destroyed,
shelved or delayed depending upon your point of view, it was also leaked.

In light of subsequent events its findings have proven incredibly clairvoyant.

Project Sidewinder noted: "China remains one of
the greatest ongoing threats to Canada's national
security and Canadian industry. There is no
longer any doubt that the Chinese Intelligence
Services have been able to gain influence in
important sectors of the Canadian economy,
including education, real estate, high
technology, security and many others. In turn, it
gave them access to economic, political and some
military intelligence of Canada."

Contrast that opinion with a U.S. government
report, a decade later that concluded: "Chinese
espionage activities in the United States are so
extensive that they comprise the single greatest
risk to the security of American technologies."

When foreign interest becomes foreign
interference, it’s incumbent upon our government
to protect Canada and the rights of Canadians.

Mr. Fadden’s timing may not have been to the
liking of some, his words may have been
erroneously decoded to cast inappropriate
aspersion on some solely because of their
ethnicity, but his underlying assumptions may be dead-on.

Fadden’s job is not to curry favour. His job is
to protect Canada and Canadians. The threat he
raised must be a matter for further inquiry by
Canada’s security apparatus, and not a
justification for a summary bureaucratic execution.

The writer is the executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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