Secrets and Spies

Author says CSIS has "special relationship" with media -- an interview with investigative journalist Andrew Mitrovica

(24 October 2002) -- ANDREW MITROVICA launched a new book yesterday that threatens to shake up Canada's not-so-secret Secret Service. The author of Covert Entry: Spies, Lies and Crimes Inside Canada's Secret Service spoke with rabble about Canada Post spies, why the media is in bed with CSIS and his possible arrest.

An award-winning investigative journalist, Mitrovica has worked for The Fifth Estate, W-5, and the Globe and Mail, where he covered security and intelligence issues. He calls himself -- and proudly -- "a long time shit-disturber." rabble interviewer Joshua Knelman found out why.

Knelman: Covert Entry is a tell-all book about Canada's Secret Service. Give me an idea what's inside.

Mitrovica: The book is part farce, part frightening exposť of the inner workings of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). The picture painted is of an agency where laziness is rampant and corruption is prevalent. Gross incompetence is almost a kind of daily occurrence. Most importantly, not withstanding their pledge to abide by the law, senior CSIS officers continue to break the law.

Having said all that, it would be kind of funny if it weren't so serious. The stakes, as we all know now in this post-September-11 environment can run incredibly high.

Knelman: How difficult was it to get information about CSIS? They are, after all, a "Secret" Service.

Mitrovica: It wasn't difficult at all. People have the impression that getting "top secret" information is a difficult business. It's the myth that they try to promote. I had no trouble finding intelligence officers who were prepared to discuss, on the record, the culture inside CSIS. That leads me to believe that the watchdog agencies that are supposed to be keeping an eye on Canadians aren't doing their job. How come they couldn't find out what I have found out. Why haven't they reported this to Canadians?

The picture that CSIS and the media try to paint of these intelligence services is one where the intelligence officers roll up their sleeves and are dedicated to fighting terrorists, using the enormous powers and the money that they already have to prevent catastrophic attacks from taking place. That's the myth.

My tour inside the underbelly of these intelligence services shatters that myth.

But what do we do? We give them more power, we give them more money without understanding what is going on inside the service on a day-to-day basis. Canadians are woefully in the dark about what's really going on.

Knelman: You mention watchdog agencies. Why aren't they keeping CSIS in line as they're meant to?

Mitrovica: In my opinion, watchdog agencies develop the Stockholm Syndrome. They get very close to the intelligence agency that they are supposed to be watching over, relying heavily on CSIS to provide them with information. They have a minuscule staff. More often than not, the watchdog agency will give CSIS a clean bill of health and an occasional slap on the wrist.

If I can find this information on CSIS, why can't the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC)? The book shows how SIRC really has no particular interest. There are some central figures who told SIRC what was going on inside CSIS, and they were rebuffed, time and again. That is an unassailable fact. SIRC had ample opportunity to dig as deeply as I did, but they took a pass. With Covert Entry, I call for the resignation of the director of SIRC as well as the director of CSIS.

Knelman: What about the media?

Mitrovica: An investigative reporter is supposed to prick the sensibilities of the powerful, whether they're government or private or individuals. CSIS, like any institution that's had its sensibilities pricked, fights back. They try to discredit you, then they blacklist you, refuse to answer your questions.

They do everything in their power to prevent you from getting the information that you're digging for. But they've failed in that too. The CSIS officers who were lining up to talk to me recognize that there's something seriously wrong with the state of CSIS that the public needs to know about, that the media isn't reporting.

CSIS cultivates close relationships with reporters in Canada. They will provide them with information that serves the organization's interests. When I started writing critically about CSIS in the Globe and Mail, CSIS made an effort to discredit me in the eyes of the editor. To the paper's credit they rebuffed those attempts to smear me.

Knelman: Who is currently reporting on CSIS?

Mitrovica: Unfortunately, since I've left the Globe, they don't have a reporter who's doing any kind of critical reporting on CSIS. It's like the black hole of reporting in this country.

There's a multi-million-dollar security and intelligence infrastructure in this country and I can count on two fingers the reporters who are doing any kind of critical reporting on these guys. Enzo Di Matteo at Now magazine and Jim Bronskill at Southam News. I don't know of anyone else who's doing anything. Jim and Enzo are in the wilderness. At the Globe, now, where is the critical reporting on CSIS -- particularly since September 11?

Knelman: What role should the media play?

The press are supposed to be keeping an eye on these agencies and reporting to Canadians about how they're using that money. That's not happening. When you ask most Canadians, what is CSIS, what is SIRC, most Canadians are in the dark, in part because the media isn't doing a good enough job writing about them. The message the media is printing is that we're at risk, that Canada is teaming with terrorists, but there's no reporting on what CSIS is doing about it or how it operates.

Knelman: Tell me about the connection you found between CSIS and Canada Post?

Mitrovica: According to my sources, CSIS and Canada Post are connected by an unseen umbilical cord.

Knelman: How does the relationship work?

Mitrovica: In my book I explain that a postal inspector works for Canada Post and then goes on to work for CSIS.

Canada Post has been in a death battle with the unions for a long time and vehemently denies that they spy on union leaders. I provide evidence to the contrary from an individual who was responsible for collecting intelligence on union leaders for Canada Post and then CSIS.

In the book he says, "I did it." He doesn't say I saw other people do it. He says, "I did it."

Knelman: What does he say he did, exactly?

Mitrovica: He spied on union leaders, collecting their garbage, going through court documents, breaking into their cars. He admits that he used Canada Post money, at the direction of senior Canada Post officials, to buy a slim jim [a thin metal ruler used to get into locked cars] to break into the cars of union leaders. He admits to the criminal conduct. He would criss-cross southwestern Ontario in his car and steal the garbage of union leaders, take it to his apartment parking lot and sift though it for useful information, financial information, credit card information. In the book he names union leaders.

Knelman: How do you anticipate CSIS will react when the book comes out?

Mitrovica: They will likely employ the catch-phrase that is well known inside the service: Lie, Deny, and Act Surprised. They will say there's no law-breaking; they will deny any knowledge of it.

Internally they will go on a witch-hunt to root out people who they think are leaking embarrassing information. Publicly they will say this never happened. Privately, they will dedicate officers in trying to unearth my sources. They will do that with all of their power, probably at the expense of what they ought to be doing.

Knelman: Will anything happen to you?

Mitrovica: I have punched CSIS in the nose long enough to know that this will bloody their nose. How they are going to respond, I don't know. It's possible I could face charges under the new security legislation.

The book is a romp through this secret world. It's the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll of CSIS. I could potentially be charged. Do I think that that's likely? No. Is it possible? Yes.

More importantly, there are individuals in the book who make some startling admissions about corruption, law-breaking and incompetence inside the service, I think they will face prosecution. They're saying, We did this, at the behest of senior intelligence officers in CSIS. Those people that stepped forward are at greater risk then I am.

Knelman: What are you trying to accomplish with this book?

Mitrovica: I want to tell Canadians that this is going on. Hopefully at the end of the day Canadians will say this is unacceptable.

*Joshua Knelman is a Toronto-based writer, researcher and interviewer.


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