CSIS pays some informants, court toldposted on December 07, 2004 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink
Harkat's lawyer obtains information despite government's objections
The question of whether Canada's spy agency pays its sources for information led federal lawyers yesterday to suggest the answer to that question could imperil national security. A former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) agent, Jean-Luc Marchessault, was asked the question as the lawyer for accused terrorist Mohamed Harkat sought to understand what motivates CSIS informants. CSIS is accusing Mr. Harkat of being an al-Qaeda operative, in part on the strength of unnamed sources. Before Mr. Marchessault could answer, however, a federal lawyer interjected, reminding Justice Eleanor Dawson of her duty to protect national security. James Mathieson suggested she should consider closing the court to the public in order to hear Mr. Marchessault's answer. That answer, he argued, falls within the ambit of the Security of Information Act, which became law in late 2001. The law makes it an offence to disclose any information about how the government uses, collects, deciphers, assesses, handles or reports security intelligence information. "CSIS needs to have their methodologies and operational methods protected," Mr. Mathieson said. "To reveal some would be injurious to national security." Mr. Harkat's lawyer, Paul Copeland, said the suggestion "boggled" his mind. "If it threatens our national security to find out whether or not CSIS pays its informants, then we're in real trouble in this country," he said.Judge Dawson, acknowledging the public interest in the Harkat case, allowed the question to be answered in open court.
Mr. Marchessault, who had already testified some sources can be motivated by personal animosity or a sense of patriotism, then told court that others are, in fact, paid for information.
The better the information, the more they're paid, Mr. Marchessault said.
Mr. Copeland sought to have Mr. Marchessault, who worked for the spy agency for almost a decade as an intelligence officer and screening officer, qualified as an expert witness. But that effort was derailed by Mr. Marchessault's employment record.
Federal lawyer Michael Dale, citing a public service staff relations board hearing into Mr. Marchessault's firing in 1998, noted that three of his supervisors complained about the poor quality of his work.
Mr. Marchessault, however, insisted that his firing was political, and was part of a "conspiracy" to have him removed from the spy agency because of his labour relations work.
Mr. Copeland conceded that Mr. Marchessault left CSIS under a cloud, but insisted he should be allowed to give evidence about the way CSIS operates, because no one else will.
"It's not like there's a whole raft of people willing to come forward and testify," he complained.
Judge Dawson allowed Mr. Marchessault to testify, but did not qualify him as an expert, which means his evidence will not be given as much weight by the court.
Mr. Marchessault later testified that CSIS tends to prepare reports as a narrow argument, excluding information that would diminish the threat posed by an individual.
"If there's 100 pieces of evidence that contradict the one piece of evidence, they will go with the one," he said, adding: "They're trying to win an argument."
Mr. Dale accused Mr. Marchessault of being biased against the spy agency because of his dismissal from CSIS.
Mr. Harkat, an Ottawa pizza delivery man and gas station attendant, is accused by CSIS of travelling to Afghanistan and meeting a top al-Qaeda lieutenant, Abu Zubaydah.
Mr. Harkat, who has denied any connection to al-Qaeda, was arrested and jailed in December 2002 after two cabinet ministers signed a security certificate against him. He can be deported to his native Algeria if Judge Dawson finds the decision to issue a security certificate was reasonable.
Much of the evidence against Mr. Harkat has been presented in secret. Mr. Copeland yesterday asked Judge Dawson to throw out whatever evidence has been supplied by Mr. Zubaydah. According to reports in the Washington Post and New York Times, Mr. Zubaydah, who had been shot in the groin during his arrest, had been denied painkillers by U.S. authorities to encourage his co-operation.
Mr. Copeland argued that such treatment offends the United Nations' Convention Against Torture, which also directs courts not to rely upon such evidence.
Federal lawyers have called no evidence in public from CSIS or from U.S. authorities to refute the allegations that Mr. Zubaydah was tortured.
"That silence stands for the proposition that this court should find ... that Abu Zubaydah was tortured by the Americans or their proxies," Mr. Copeland said.
Federal lawyers are expected to respond to Mr. Copeland's argument later this week.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2004