National security watchdog says pandemic is slowing work

National security watchdog says pandemic is slowing work

The physical distancing measures meant to keep Canadians safe during the pandemic have had unintended consequences for the people who monitor the nation’s spies: They cannot always access the classified information they need to do their jobs.

The National Security and Intelligence Oversight Agency (NSIRA), the oversight body set up to monitor the activities of Canada’s national security and intelligence sector, says the pandemic has slowed its work.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in delays in response times and the provision of briefings from the departments under review,” said NSIRA spokesman Tahera Mufti.

“These were compounded by the limitations placed on authorized workers in our own offices at any given time, due to public health considerations.”

The pandemic issues were flagged in the NSIRA’s recently released plan for the coming year.

“The physical distancing precautions required by the COVID-19 pandemic may continue to be needed in 2021-2022. This would limit employee access to NSIRA offices and classified physical and electronic documents, ”states the NSIRA’s plan for 2021-2022.

“Such restrictions could slow down the ability of the NSIRA to fulfill its mandate in a timely manner and limit the frequency and type of outreach the NSIRA can do in person.”

Due to the nature of the material they work with, NSIRA personnel operate in a top secret environment with strict rules on the retention, analysis, and exchange of classified security and intelligence information. These rules make it nearly impossible for staff to bring home work records.

The NSIRA was launched following the overhaul of liberal national security legislation in 2019. It is responsible for providing an independent and expert review of national security and intelligence activities in all federal departments and agencies.

It also reviews all national security complaints against the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment, as well as complaints about security clearances.

“The resource constraints of these organizations could continue to be exacerbated next year by disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This may hamper the ability of the NSIRA to fulfill its mandate in a timely manner, ”the 2021-2022 plan document states. .

Mufti said the pandemic has slowed down the NSIRA’s recruiting process. The agency employs around 75 people but needs around 100, many of whom hold top secret security clearances.

“The typical challenges associated with hiring highly qualified and security-empowered personnel have been compounded by the pandemic,” Mufti said.

In its first annual report, started before the pandemic but released late last year, the NSIRA found that the use by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service of publicly available geolocation data without a warrant could violate the law. law.

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