Defense ministry is vulnerable to leaks: Canadian minister

Reuters, OTTAWA

Thu, May 02, 2013 - Page 7

Canadian Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay admitted on Tuesday his department has failed for years to combat the risk of security leaks from contract workers who are not being screened properly.

The admission could lead to further embarrassment for the military after it emerged last year that a Canadian navy officer had passed secrets to Russia for years before he was caught.

MacKay made his comments after parliament’s official watchdog, the auditor general, rapped the Ministry of National Defence for failing to ensure that all private contractors receive security clearance for sensitive jobs. The auditor general first flagged the problem in 2007.

“I agree with the auditor general that the Department of National Defence is not acting expeditiously to address key security concerns. They must do better,” MacKay said at a press conference held to address the report’s findings.

MacKay said a special security team was looking into his ministry’s practices. He said he wanted to see an interim report by the autumn.

The defense ministry, national police and two intelligence agencies use private contractors to carry out many sensitive tasks, and must seek security clearance for these workers, but Canadian Auditor General Michael Ferguson said that did not always happen and he complained the government had not done enough to address problems outlined in the 2007 auditor general’s report. Guidelines on who needs clearance are inconsistent and not always applied properly, he said.

“Although the government has made a number of improvements ... in our opinion significant weaknesses remain,” Ferguson wrote. “Contracts are sometimes awarded to those who lack the appropriate security clearance.”

The government amended its policies after the 2007 report, but Ferguson said the changes did not clarify whether firms with access to protected and classified information were required to hold a security clearance.

“This is an important gap that could result in inconsistent application of the policy and thus introduce additional security risk,” he said.