And Richard Fadden wants to be taken seriously

If what the CSIS director said is true, how can it possibly be acceptable not to alert the governments directly involved?

Richard Fadden, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, has made himself look ridiculous on precisely the sort of national security issue about which he has, in the recent past, lectured the media and “opinion leaders” for failing to take seriously enough.

Fadden is backpedaling awkwardly today from the startling remarks he made in a CBC interview about provincial cabinet ministers, and other public servants, being “under at least the general influence of a foreign government.”

Earlier today Fadden beat an ragged retreat from that unprecedented public claim. “At this point,” he says in a press release, “CSIS has not deemed the cases to be of sufficient concern to bring them to the attention of provincial authorities.”

Really? Insufficiently concerning? Just as a refresher for anyone who missed the astounding CBC report on Tuesday evening’s The National, here’s the key quote: “There are several municipal politicians in British Columbia and in at least two provinces there are ministers of the Crown who we think are under at least the general influence of a foreign government.”

If that statement is true, especially now that Fadden has said it on TV, how can it possibly be acceptable not to alert the governments directly involved? The only explanation I can think of is that CSIS really doesn’t have the information Fadden claimed it has, or whatever CSIS has doesn’t rise anywhere near the level of seriousness he suggested.

Fadden’s bizarre decision to say what he said, and his ungainly attempt to contain the resulting damage, should be considered in the context of a speech he delivered late last year to the annual conference of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies.

On that occasion, he took aim at certain people—impossible to say who exactly he meant to criticize since he didn’t specify—for failing to understand what’s at stake in his line of work.

“Our elites tend to ignore it altogether,” he said of national security. He faulted “opinion leaders” for portraying attempts to fight terrorism as “an overreaction or an assault on liberty.” And he said those “accused of terrorist offences [are] often portrayed in media as quasi-folk heroes.”

At the time, I found it maddeningly difficult to guess what exactly Fadden was on about. In which cases did he begrudge the raising of civil rights concerns in the debate over anti-terrorism measures? In what stories did he detect an inclination on the part of journalists to turn accused terrorists into heroes?

A serious discussion about national security demands clarity about the facts and sense of proportion in airing them. Fadden has offered us neither. I suppose it’s too much to hope that he might redeem himself by clearing up this week’s confusion, since he closes today’s damage-control press release with the words: “There will be no further comments on these operational matters.”