Opposition MPs slammed the government yesterday for its handling of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service mess as new information came to light showing that the RCMP also lost a briefcase brimming with sensitive information to thieves.
A briefcase containing notebooks full of information that would enable criminals to identify a string of confidential informants was stolen in March, 1995, from an unmarked RCMP car, The Globe and Mail has learned.
The police informants were notified of the theft and "all appropriate measures" were taken by the federal police force to protect them, Corporal Grant Learned, an RCMP media-relations officer, said yesterday from Vancouver.
One of those RCMP informants said he is offended that history has repeated itself with the missing CSIS documents. "I am dumbfounded that this has happened again, that they didn't take serious steps to prevent this," the informant said.
The informant's comments came as political controversy continued to swirl around Solicitor-General Laurence MacAulay and his handling of the theft of CSIS operational planning documents from the back seat of a CSIS analyst's car while she was at a hockey game in Toronto last month.
"This is sounding more and more like an Austin Powers episode, 'The Spy Who Shagged Us,' " Conservative MP Peter MacKay said.
Mr. MacAulay told the House that corrective action has been taken to ensure "strict adherence with security procedures" at CSIS.
Ron Atkey, former head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, joins in the criticism in a commentary in The Globe and Mail today.
"It is simply unforgivable that the CSIS director or his senior officials did not immediately call the chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee as soon as they learned of the theft of a top-secret document from a CSIS analyst's car," Mr. Atkey writes.
The theft of the sensitive RCMP documents in 1995 occurred in Surrey, B.C., while the Mountie was involved in an undercover operation probing the activities of a local biker club, a source said.
"In 1995 there was a police vehicle that was stolen that contained an officer's briefcase and the contents of that briefcase also included personal notebooks dealing with a specific investigation," Cpl. Learned said.
The car was parked "for the evening" when it was stolen by unknown thieves, Cpl. Learned said. He could not say, however, if the theft was a random "smash and grab" or an act perpetrated by the targets of the undercover probe.
He could also not explain how such sensitive material was allowed to sit unattended in a police officer's car for several hours.
The vehicle was eventually recovered by local police but the briefcase and the notebooks are still missing.
Cpl. Learned was quick to point out that none of the stolen material imperiled Canada's national security or the undercover police probe, although he acknowledged that it may have endangered the lives of several police informants.
"The people who may have, in any way, been impacted by this were notified. Steps were put in place to ensure their safety," he said.
Cpl. Learned said as far as he knows no police informants were harmed as a result of the theft. He said the Mounties have taken steps to protect the informants, although he would not be specific.
However, one informant who recently contacted The Globe said his life has been a "living hell" since the notebooks were stolen.
Cpl. Learned acknowledged that the incident represented a serious breach of internal security. "This is one of the most delicate issues that I have ever had the pleasure to deal with. . . . These are an undercover operators notes . . . any undercover operation would be of some [importance]," he said.
An internal investigation into the incident was launched in 1995 and the officer received "informal discipline," Cpl. Learned said. That may have included the officer receiving counselling, an oral reprimand or a note in his file, Cpl. Learned said. The officer is still with the Mounties and involved in undercover operations.
The solictor-general at the time was not informed of security breach, but Philip Murray, then commissioner of the RCMP, may have been notified, Cpl. Learned said.
Meanwhile in Ottawa, Mr. MacAulay, the minister responsible for both the RCMP and CSIS, was unable to answer several key questions about the CSIS security breach at the Toronto hockey game, including whether the analyst who kept the operational planning document in her car is still on the job handling classified material.
He told reporters they should go to CSIS for answers. But CSIS also refused to say anything about whether the analyst is still on the job.
CSIS spokesman Phil Gibson said privacy laws and the fact that the Security Intelligence Review Committee is conducting an investigation precludes the service from saying anything at this time.
CSIS is also conducting its own internal security investigation.
Opposition parties pressed Mr. MacAulay to explain why he did not immediately inform SIRC, Parliament's watchdog panel, when he first learned of the security breach three weeks ago.