CSIS flags problems with US intelligence services ahead of Jan. 6 riot, says facing same issues

US intelligence agencies struggled with ‘inconsistencies’ in their analysis and ‘lack of consensus’ on the nature of the threat in the weeks leading up to the January 6, 2021 riot on Capitol Hill, a service says. internal Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) report.

This July 2021 briefing note – obtained by CBC News via a Freedom of Information request – also indicates that, as CSIS pursues the threat of ideologically motivated violent extremism (IMVE) in Canada, it faces many of the same challenges his American counterparts faced before the riot.

The July 2021 briefing includes summaries by CSIS officials of the US Senate report on the January 6, 2021 attack on Capitol Hill and the US national strategy to counter domestic terrorism.

The report also includes CSIS observations on the event, which were to be shared with senior officials from the ministries of public security, defence, immigration and justice.

Reacting to reports from the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to US lawmakers, CSIS said there were “inconsistencies between and within intelligence products that have led to a lack of consensus on the seriousness of the threat posed on January 6”.

The CSIS summaries pointed to the problems faced by the FBI and DHS trying to prepare for what became an assault on the Capitol by a mob of incumbent President Donald Trump’s supporters.

CSIS said these issues include discerning the intent of potential threat actors, distinguishing between protected freedom of expression and credible threats of violence, obtaining lawful access to media platforms private or closed social media and access to encrypted channels used by IMVE individuals threatening violence.

“CSIS faces many of the same investigative challenges as its American counterparts in this space,” the document states.

“These considerations reinforce the importance of CSIS’s efforts to modernize and maximize its powers, as part of Canadian and allied efforts to counter violent extremism.”

A truck driver is sprayed with pepper spray as police enforce an injunction against protesters near Parliament Hill on February 19, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

CSIS defines IMVE as extremism motivated by “a range of grievances and ideas from across the mainstream ideological spectrum.”

“The resulting worldview is a personalized narrative centered on an extremist’s willingness to incite, enable, and/or mobilize for violence,” the CSIS website reads.

The challenges raised in the briefing note lead a national security expert to question how seriously the intelligence community and law enforcement took the Freedom Convoy event before protesters opposed to vaccination mandates occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks in February.

“Where it seems to have failed in the United States seems to be the contradictory and inconsistent advice,” said Stephanie Carvin, a former federal government national security analyst who now teaches at Carleton University.

“I don’t know about CSIS, but was it a community problem that we had here in Canada that some agencies recognized and some didn’t, and was it [the Ottawa Police Service] get consistent advice? That would be something I would like to know.”

Gaps in information sharing

What the spy agency saw and passed on to the police, and how the police reacted to that information, will likely come under scrutiny in the recently announced public inquiry and the special joint committee to review the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to clear the convoy occupation.

The 2021 briefing note flags one angle of the investigation the committee may want to consider: the continuing gaps in intelligence sharing between CSIS and police.

“CSIS continues to grapple with the challenges of sharing classified information to inform law enforcement action, while protecting against harmful disclosure,” the briefing note said.

Carvin said the real question may be whether authorities have failed to turn CSIS’s warnings and advice into action.

“It seems pretty clear that our intelligence services seemed to understand what was going on. That’s the main difference, I think, between [the] convoy and January 6,” she said.

“It seems the service was informing downtown before this happened, so why hasn’t that information turned into better preparation and guidance?”

CSIS Director David Vigneault holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, July 16, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A CSIS spokesperson said it could not confirm or deny details of its investigations, operational interests, methodologies or activities.

“Having said that, I would like to point out that the definition of threats, as set out in the CSIS Actspecifically excludes legal protest and dissent,” Brandon Champagne said.

“CSIS works closely with its security and intelligence partners, including sharing necessary information with law enforcement to ensure public safety.”

In the briefing note, CSIS indicates that, in order to better monitor the EVMI, it is requesting an update to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act.

“To fulfill our mandate to investigate IMVE, advise the government, and take action to reduce the threat, CSIS must have the tools necessary to identify and disrupt threat actors in this rich threat environment. rapidly changing data, while meeting the privacy expectations of Canadians,” the document says.

Chris Parsons, a senior research associate at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, said it’s nearly impossible to determine whether CSIS currently has adequate powers or how it deploys them.

“I don’t think CSIS is transparent enough that we know the answer to that,” he said.

“But I think there should be a culture of when we give those powers to national security, as well as law enforcement officers, they should be required to provide some sort of annual report on how how they use them and the effectiveness of their use.”

He also said he wondered why CSIS did not raise concerns about the investigation of ideologically motivated violent extremism when the government passed updated national security legislation in 2019.

“That’s a little shocking, given that it suggests CSIS either didn’t understand what they wanted, or that they ultimately decided they wanted to take the first bite of the apple and then take another. “, did he declare.

Earlier this week, CSIS Director David Vigneault told a committee of MPs and senators that his resources would increasingly investigate IMVE.

“We are constantly looking at the movement of ideologically motivated violent extremists, so we have a pretty good understanding of the dynamics at play,” he said.

Sharing information with banks

CSIS officials who drafted the briefing also said the section of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act that prevents it from sharing classified threat information with non-governmental partners undermines its work. .

“…Section 19 of the CSIS Act prevents CSIS from sharing classified threat information with non-governmental partners, including financial institutions, which poses challenges as to how the Service can support counter-terrorist financing efforts,” the briefing note said.

Parsons said there is a risk that CSIS may inappropriately classify people as terrorists or claim they are engaging in activities contrary to Canadian interests and then pass that information on to banks and other institutions.

“It might be one thing if you’re going to hunt down people who are going to go to the prime minister’s house and try to shoot him. But there are a lot of other groups that have been targets of CSIS attention that probably don’t deserve it, or definitely don’t believe it,” he said.

Outside of opening up its legislation, there are a number of policy changes that could change how CSIS responds to IMVE.

Police enforce an injunction against protesters camped out in downtown Ottawa on February 19, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In the briefing note, CSIS says it is also monitoring ongoing CLOUD Act negotiations between Ottawa and the United States. US law allows law enforcement to compel US-based technology companies (through a warrant or subpoena) to produce requested data stored on their servers, whether the data be stored in the United States or on foreign soil.

If Canada signed on, CSIS could theoretically gain faster access to data held by Google, Apple, Facebook and other major online players.

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The agency also said it was closely following government efforts to pass online harms legislation that could require regulated online entities like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to report problematic content to CSIS. of national security.

“CSIS will continue to work with Government of Canada partners on strategic government initiatives and will seize every opportunity to strengthen the toolkit to respond to this dynamic threat,” the briefing note said.

Carvin said Canada, like some of its allies, should regularly update the powers and authority given to security agencies like CSIS to keep them in step with emerging technologies and privacy concerns.

“How do we want our security services to engage online? Because I think if you ask most Canadians, “Do you just want CSIS to randomly surf the internet looking for bad things?” the answer is no and I think that’s probably the right one. answer. ” she says.

“But Parliament must act.”