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Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Information Series - Part 2

Here is the second part on the CSIS.

A friend e-mailed me today about the first article and he seemed surprised to discover the organization’s mandate. So, in order to build on yesterday’s story, I will be looking at the CSIS ACT in particular, including the organization’s search and warrant powers, and how they apply these powers.

[*#] indicates an endnote.

Just to set the tone, we must first look at the concept of the state. In theory, the state is the mechanism by which people delegate power in order to secure social and economic well-being and to offer a sustainable level of protection from internal and external threats. Barry Buzen (1991:38)[*1] states:

The paradox, of course, is that as state power grows the state also becomes a source of threat against the individual. The stability of the state derives not only from its centralizing power, but also from the understanding by its citizens that it is the lesser of two evils (that is, that whatever threats come from the state will be of a lower order of magnitude than those which would arise in its absence).

Is this the case? Is the state really the lesser of two evils? Or, should we be fearful of a monolithic power we refer to as ‘the state’ and its over-arching powers to curtail the rights and freedoms of its citizens?

According to the CSIS Act (I refer to the office consolidation version entitled “Chapter C-23 Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act”), Section 12 states:

"The Service shall collect, by investigation or otherwise, to the extent that is strictly necessary, and analyse and retain information and intelligence respecting activities that may on reasonable grounds be suspected of constituting threats to the security of Canada and, in relation thereto, shall report to and advise the government of Canada."

As such, the CSIS can also develop associations with both provincial departments, police forces, or develop an arrangement for the exchange of information with foreign states. While Section 13 indicates that the Service may provide “security assessments” to agencies on the federal and provincial level, the Service is not limited to assessments. Section 15 states that the Service may conduct investigations “as are required for the purpose of providing assessments.” Moreover, Section 16 permits the Service to collect information concerning foreign states and persons or any Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or corporation “in relation to the defence of Canada or the conduct of the international affairs of Canada.” There are very few limitations to these investigative and assessment powers with regards to defence issues and international relations, the primary one being authorization by the Minister of Defence or Minister of Foreign Affairs[*2].

As a federal organization concerned with national security and intelligence issues, the CSIS is primarily mandated, under the ACT, to perform: (1) security screening for all federal departments with the exception of the RCMP and Department of National Defence (assessments are usually conducted for employment with the government and immigration and citizenship applications)[*3]; (2) security and threat assessments to appraise the loyalty to Canada of an individual, overall reliability of an individual as it relates to government employees (i.e. security clearance levels), and the potential of an individual or group to use violence against Canadians and the government, etc.

The four areas of concern as outlined under Section 12 of the ACT (i.e. “constituting threats to the security of Canada”) are as follows: (1) espionage and sabotage (in other words the unlawful collection of sensitive political, social-economic, scientific-technological, or military information or an act that endangers the safety or security of private or public property); (2) foreign Influence (activities that are controlled or financed by outside sources); (3) political violence and terrorism (from external or internal sources and acts that are directed against other countries by Canadians); and (4) subversion (activities meant to overthrows Canada’s government by violence).

Now, the CSIS states publicly that it does not have a mandate to conduct covert foreign intelligence operations (i.e. clandestine activities outside of Canada), but, as suggested yesterday, the CSIS has a history of foreign influence, including the attempt to recruit foreign nationals. “The CSIS Mandate”[*4] (pp. 4-5) states: “CSIS does not have the mandate to conduct foreign intelligence operations outside of Canada. CSIS is a defensive, domestic security service…. CSIS has liaison officers in some countries. Liaison officers are involved in the exchange of security intelligence information which concerns the threats to the security of Canada. They are in no way involved in offensive operations.”

I’m sure you can draw some conclusions from this.

With regards to collecting information, one may wonder what the CSIS does and how they get permission. Let’s look at the process for each function:

Security Screening and Reliability Checks require the following:

  • Verification of personal data and proof of identity
  • Verification of education and professional qualifications
  • Reliability and loyalty checks by interviewing previous employers and references
  • A check of criminal records
  • A credit history check
  • Fingerprint checks

For SS and RC functions, the individual grants permission because she or he is seeking employment, etc.

As for conducting threat assessments and investigation concerns of espionage and subversion (that is, for performing counter-terrorism or counter-intelligence duties), the CSIS uses a number of methods that are systematically applied according to the levels of threat that an individual or group (the threat) represents. For instance, Wolfgang Droge was given a Level 2 TARC [*5] rating by the CSIS in the early 1990s and was likely increases to TARC level 3 when physical confrontations between the Heritage Front and the ARA became more frequent.

The TARC levels are as follows:

LEVEL 1 – investigators use open sources such as newspaper articles, police records, or other records held in Canadian and foreign information banks. Investigations are usually short-term of no more than 60 days.

LEVEL 2 – investigators can use more intrusive measures such as interviews and physical surveillance. Investigations are usually up to a year in duration before being reviews.

LEVEL 3 – investigations include the use of the most intrusive measures and warrants for the removal and collection of evidence that must be granted by the Federal Court. Investigations of this sort are permitted for no more than one or two years before a review is necessary.

Methods include: mail openings, covert searches, human sources, communications interception, the removal (and replacement) of any equipment in a defined area, the installation of equipment for monitoring of the threat, and clandestine operations such as the placement of individuals in an organization.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at recent mistakes by the CSIS and complaints against the Service. That is, if I’m still around to write about it…


*1 Buzen, Barry. People, States, and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post Cold-war Era. Lynne Rienner, Colorado: 1991 [2nd Edition].

*2 CSIS ACT Limitation S. 16(2)(3)(a).

*3 Please note that the CSIS does not perform security screening for the DND, this is an internal function of the DND. However, the CSIS does provide information to the DND with regards to national security and potential intelligence threats (i.e. threat assessments).


*5 LEVEL 2 is a designation given by the Targeting Approval and Review Committee, a quasi-independent committee with representatives from the Service, the Solicitor General’s office, and the Department of Justice. TARC assesses the validity of the investigation of a threat and permits certain investigative methods according to the seriousness of the threat (i.e. the potential for violence and harm).


Anschluss Canada:
CSIS Information Series
"Togetherness & Union"
Anschluss Kanada is a political, social, and cultural information and e-news site that discusses issues of interest to European-Canadians, especially those of German descent.
This site is guided by the principles of freedom of thought, assembly, and civil discourse.
Versammlungsfreiheit, Redefreiheit, und Pressefreiheit.
Contact me: Or visit the Anschluss Canada Website
Canadian Jewish News lying article on Anschluss Kanada



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