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Ottawa improving how it handles intelligence: Trudeau’s national security adviser

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OTTAWA — The prime minister’s national security adviser says Ottawa needs to improve the way it manages intelligence, and officials are taking steps to address breakdowns in communication within government. 

Jody Thomas made the comments this morning at a meeting of a parliamentary committee that is investigating allegations that members of Parliament were targeted by foreign interference. 

Thomas said she wouldn’t speculate on the specifics of what took place before her tenure, after watchdog David Johnston found in a recent report that there were serious issues in the way the government handles confidential information. 

The former governor general’s first report found that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was aware of indications Chinese officials were contemplating action directed at Canadian MPs, but did not identify negligence at the highest political levels.

The report said intelligence about Chinese officials seeking information about Conservative MP Michael Chong didn’t reach the prime minister, the public safety minister or Chong himself until after it was leaked publicly by media.

Thomas said the memo was sent to three deputy ministers across government but effectively went into a “black hole” and wasn’t shared with the appropriate people. 

At the time, CSIS intended to provide Chong and a second unnamed MP with a briefing, Johnston’s report said. Chong said that a briefing he received then did not include any details about a threat to his family.

Thomas said the memo about Chong arrived in the Privy Council Office in July 2021 and was provided to her predecessor David Morrison in August, but she wouldn’t say why it wasn’t shared with the prime minister, Chong or other relevant people at the time. 

“I’m not going to account for what’s happened with my predecessor,” she told the committee. 

Johnston’s report confirmed that CSIS also sent information about the targeting of Chong to the public safety minister and his chief of staff via a top-secret email platform — but they never received it, with the public service confirming to Johnston that they don’t have access to the right system.

Bill Blair, the public safety minister at the time, is expected to appear before the committee Thursday afternoon.

But Thomas said it should have been the responsibility of the security apparatus to ensure the information was provided. 

She said steps have been taken to ensure better information flow since her arrival to the national security advisor position in 2022, and more is now being done to ensure officials are aware of how to consume intelligence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2023.

David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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