Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Richard Fadden could very soon find himself out of a job, after a parliamentary committee last week said he was responsible for fostering “a climate of suspicion.”
Fadden’s troubles began when he alleged during an interview in June last year that federal and municipal politics were the object of foreign interference and that Chinese embassy and consulate officials had helped fund protests against the Canadian government.
No sooner had the words left his mouth than Chinese officials and the parliamentary opposition accused Fadden of lying.
Not only had Fadden created suspicion, the committee concluded, he had also “plant[ed] doubt about the integrity” of elected officials and Chinese-Canadians.
If opposition lawmakers have their way, Fadden will be fired “for doing his job,” which is to alert government officials and the public about threats to national security.
Although every Canadian knows that Chinese espionage has long been a problem, targeting not only the high-tech sector, but also government agencies and minority groups such as Taiwanese and Falun Gong practitioners, it has become worryingly taboo to talk about the darker side of Canada’s engagement with China.
The problem is Beijing’s growing economic influence, for which Canada serves as a warning. There is a long tradition of Canadian leaders making a fortune in China after their political careers end, oftentimes using the contacts they made while in office. China has also invested billions of dollars in Canadian natural resources and telecoms, creating fortunes for several of those involved. Such contacts have created numerous opportunities for Chinese officials to seek to influence policy decisions in Canada.
Fadden now runs the risk of joining the ranks of lower-ranking government officials who, having the courage to shed light on this unholy alliance, have been repaid with the abrupt termination of their careers in government.
Not only is he threatening to uncover senior government officials who may have betrayed their country, he also risked undermining (or so his detractors argue) close relations between Ottawa and Beijing.
Intelligence agencies should never be told by their political masters not to investigate a potential threat or discouraged from disclosing it at an appropriate venue when that threat has been confirmed.
Whether decisionmakers act on the intelligence provided to them is their prerogative, but intelligence officials should not be put in the position of having to choose between telling the truth and career advancement, however inconvenient it may be to the political system as a whole.
This should serve as a lesson for Taiwan, where under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) a similar tendency to downplay the threat from China so as to maintain “good” relations has weighed down intelligence officials.
Taiwan’s National Security Bureau Director Tsai Der-sheng (蔡得勝) has often been a lone voice pointing to the continued Chinese threat and there are signs that his statements are unwelcome in certain circles. Indeed, he has on several occasions been accused of “playing up” and “politicizing” intelligence to influence, for example, Washington on arms sales.
The closer cross-strait relations become and the more reliant Taiwan becomes on China economically, the more the Presidential Office, the National Security Council and corporations will exert pressure on intelligence agencies to moderate their comments on the China threat.