Friday, July 11, 2014

Ethics concerns within CSEC

From the Globe and Mail (Colin Freeze, "Ethical concerns raised by workers at Canadian spy agency," Globe and Mail, 11 July 2014):
Employees at Canada’s fast-growing electronic spy service are sounding alarms about possible misuse of funds, conflicts of interest and financial mismanagement.

Some have also tried to blow the whistle about “improper contractor security screening,” “questionable contractor invoicing,” “unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information,” and “non-compliance with CSEC’s values,” according to recent “internal disclosure of wrongdoing” reports obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The number of intelligence-agency employees at Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) seeking “ethical advice” from a senior official is also at a record high, according to the documents. Employees at CSEC, which is entrusted to spy on foreign communications for the federal government, sought advice 18 times in 2012 – 16 times over unspecified “conflict of interest” issues. The previous year, 12 ethics-related questions arose.

The records highlight the thorny issue of raising concerns in the secret world of intelligence gathering. In 2007, the Conservative government passed the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act in the name of protecting whistle-blowers within the federal bureaucracy. But while that law empowers a federal integrity commissioner to investigate employee complaints arising in dozens of departments, CSEC was given an exemption in favour of a parallel system that keeps such matters within the agency.

In CSEC, a “senior officer for disclosure of wrongdoing and reprisal protection” acts as a sounding board for employees who wish to air their own ethical quandaries, or to speak about alleged lapses in judgment by their colleagues or bosses.

These complaints are logged in annual reports, but specific details are withheld.

Findings of ethical wrongdoing are rare within CSEC. During the three years of released records, the senior official in charge of ethics made just one formal finding of wrongdoing.

The Canadian Press reported this spring that whistle-blower complaints of unspecified “asset misuse” at CSEC resulted in stepped-up financial training and monitoring.
You can read the Canadian Press report here: Jim Bronskill, "Canada's electronic spy agency uncovers wrongdoing, ethics breaches," Canadian Press, 15 March 2014.

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