WASHINGTON—Canadians have an “Alice In Wonderland” attitude toward global terrorism, the former head of Canada’s spy service told a U.S. counterpart in 2008, according to a secret American memo disclosed Monday.
Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director Jim Judd is also quoted as saying that Canadian courts have the security service “tied in knots,” hampering their ability to detect and prevent terror attacks inside Canada and beyond.
Judd further praised the Harper government for “taking it on the chin and pressing ahead” with possible adjustments to toughen Canada’s prosecutorial stand against terror suspects, the leaked diplomatic cable reports.
“When asked to look to the future, Judd predicted that Canada would soon implement UK-like legal procedures that make intelligence available to ‘vetted defense lawyers who see what the judge see,’ ” according to the U.S. account of the 2008 meeting forwarded to Washington by the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.
The Judd memo marks Canada’s first newsworthy exposure to the vast and widening WikiLeaks disclosures in which troves of sensitive American secrets are dumping daily in ways that are making friends and allies squirm the world over.
It came only hours after Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon downplayed concern that Canada is poised for a diplomatic bruising in any of the more than 2,600 as-yet-unreleased U.S. State Department documents known to reference Canada.
“In terms of the significance of the documents as it pertains to Canada, I’m saying it’s not that significant,” Cannon said.
The Judd memo, posted online Monday by the New York Times, one of five major news outlets with exclusive access to the stolen files, describes a candid Ottawa meeting between the ex-CSIS boss and a senior State Department counsellor, Elliot Cohen, a close adviser to former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
Judd told his American counterpart that CSIS officers were “vigorously harassing” known Hezbollah members in Canada but that the service’s current assessment was that no attacks were “in the offing.”
Other comments by Judd, in reference to a major Taliban prison break in Afghanistan, appeared to contradict later accounts by senior Canadian government and military officials.
Judd is quoted as telling Cohen that Canadian spies had prior warning that a Taliban explosion at Kandahar’s Sarpoza Prison was in the works “but could not get a handle on the timing.”
Shortly after the attack on the prison, former chief of defence staff Gen. Rick Hillier told a committee hearing, “Obviously we would have liked to have known so we could have pre-empted or helped, more accurately, the Afghans pre-empt that kind of thing.”
The post-attack investigation into the intelligence failures was headed by former Conservative foreign affairs minister David Emerson, who also said that Canada was essentially caught unaware when the prison break happened.
Judd’s comments on Canadians and their courts echo private remarks made at CSIS headquarters in Ottawa, where security officials sometimes sarcastically refer to the legal obstacles as “judicial jihad.”
But the newly disclosed Judd document is likely to become fodder in arguments calling for greater oversight of the mercurial spy service.
The document emerged at the end of a day in which red-faced diplomats the world over joined the United States in a message of unity, insisting the ongoing leaks will have no serious impact on international relations.
With weeks of withering diplomatic blows still to come, Washington shifted to offence, blasting WikiLeaks.org as perpetrators of an attack not just on the United States but all nations.
“There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people and there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, facing reporters for the first time since Sunday.
WikiLeaks and five prominent newspapers continued to control the pace of the unprecedented revelations with continuing daily reports based on a trove of more than 250,000 stolen State Department documents in their possession.
Another leaked cable, cited by the French newspaper Le Monde but not yet published, presents Canadian diplomacy in a sharply positive light.
The 2009 memo is said to offer a U.S. diplomat’s description of how a Canadian ambassador to Tunisia boldly condemned the practice of torture, even as his counterparts from France, Spain and Italy remained silent.
“The Ambassador of Canada, supported by the UK, is clear: the Tunisian denials on torture are ‘bullshit,’ ” the U.S. cable indicates, according to Le Monde.
The cable quotes the unnamed Canadian diplomat as having “direct evidence of abuse and torture practiced for months,” the newspaper said.