June 3, 2003


CSIS "facts" bear closer scrutiny

THOMAS WALKOM (Toronto Star)

To many Canadians, the case of Adil Charkaoui would be obvious beyond words.

Charkaoui is a landed immigrant from Morocco living in Montreal. Two weeks ago, he was arrested on the basis of what is called a national security certificate and ordered deported by the federal government.

His case is currently before a federal court judge who must decide whether to uphold the deportation.

Many Canadians would agree with getting rid of Charkaoui. He's a Muslim, a North African (wasn't there just an Al Qaeda linked bombing in Morocco?) and a non-citizen.

What's more, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's spook outfit, claims he's a "dormant agent" who could "be activated at any time."

In the wake of Sept. 11, many would say that it's better to be safe than sorry, and if that means turfing one Montreal pizza restaurateur well, at least we can all sleep more easily.

In fact, the case of Charkaoui, like all cases of those detained under the Star Chamber terms of the national security certificate, is not that clear at all. For, unlike defendants in a criminal trial, he cannot know his accusers, much less cross-examine them.

Nor is he allowed to even know the specific allegations against him.

All that the 29-year-old knows is that CSIS considers him a security risk for four reasons. One, he visited Pakistan at a time when two Al Qaeda suspects were training at a terrorist camp in the region.

Tellingly, CSIS does not say Charkaoui was at this training camp only that he was in the same generic part of the world.

Two, he told CSIS he wants to open a karate school. The spy agency says that this makes him a security risk because one of the Sept. 11 hijackers knew karate and other Al Qaeda members have trained in the martial arts. (CSIS does not mention that thousands of Canadians, most of whom presumably are not Sept. 11 bombers, also train in karate.)

Three, CSIS says he tried to "integrate himself into Canadian society" by opening a pizzeria, marrying and going to university a most curious charge to be levelled in a country of immigrants who do exactly this kind of thing.

Four, he is said to know someone who is said to know someone who knows Ahmed Ressam, the convicted terrorist who plotted to blow up Los Angeles airport.

In a normal criminal trial, this case would be laughed out of court. But a security certificate review is far from normal. The judge hears the details of the government's evidence in secret.

The defendant is not allowed to know the specifics of the evidence against him. Neither is his lawyer. There is no robust examination of the so-called evidence. The judge is simply asked to accept it on faith. The government argues that in matters of national security, normal rules cannot apply. Defendants cannot be permitted to know specific information lest they tip off their pals. Theoretically, this rationale could make sense. We do live in a nasty, insecure world.

But in practice, does it? The answer depends on the quality of the so-called intelligence. Some CSIS intelligence comes from its own agents and intercepts. Some comes from informants, many of whom have dubious motives.

But much comes from other intelligence agencies the Egyptians, the Israelis, the Syrians, the Moroccans, the Saudis, the Algerians and, in particular, the U.S. Is this intelligence accurate? Let's just look at the lead-up to the Iraq war where, we were told, American intelligence had confirmed the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

We can all remember U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's stirring performance at the United Nations where he provided telephone transcripts and photos that purported to identify holdings of such weaponry. He described trucks and decontamination units and mobile labs all confirmed by ironclad intelligence sources.

The only problem? They didn't exist. The embarrassed Americans discovered this after conquering Iraq. Now they are reduced to lame excuses the most recent of which is the theory that Iraq had managed to construct a system of mobile bioweapons labs so ingenious that they left absolutely no traces.

Even the much vaunted U.S. attempt to bomb Saddam Hussein in his bunker has now been proven false. Acting on another ironclad intelligence tip, the U.S. did bomb something. But we now find out that (a) they didn't kill anyone important and (b) there was no bunker.

Inside the U.S., there is great controversy over whether the raw intelligence surrounding Iraq was manipulated or just plain wrong.

The point for Canada is that no matter who screwed up this is the kind of intelligence that is passed on to CSIS as fact. This is the kind of intelligence that is being used, nquestioningly, to deport people such as Adil Charkaoui.