(This column was published in the North Shore News on May 3, 2000)


Sidewinder spins huge security scandal

By Leo Knight  

"I know what is in the files and they are simply not interested in getting to the bottom of it because it is potentially very embarrassing politically for the Canadian government."

-- RCMP Cpl. Robert Read


WHEN Robert Read said that he had just been suspended by the RCMP for allegedly breaching the Official Secrets Act.  


Read, you will recall, was assigned to investigate alleged corruption and improprieties at the Canadian Consulate in Hong Kong, the third such investigation since former Foreign Services Officer Brian McAdam blew the whistle on the scandal.  


After discovering evidence of the corruption in our consular operations which reached into the upper echelons of the federal government, Read was inexplicably taken off the file.  


He then fought to have the investigation reopened going through several levels of RCMP bureaucracy, the Public Complaints Commission, the auditor general, then finally, the media in the form of Vancouver Province news editor Fabian Dawson.  


The Province broke the Sidewinder story shortly after the Read revelations, and it has been much discussed in this space as well as the national press.  


The Sidewinder report alleged the government of the People's Republic of China and various high ranking triad gangsters were conspiring to obtain significant influence in Canada through a variety of means.  


Last October, the Toronto Globe & Mail reported that CSIS director general Barry Denofsky ordered the destruction of all copies of the report and, amazingly, all other material associated with the file -- e-mails, drafts, notes and all other bits and pieces with any link to the investigation.  


CSIS spokesman Phillip Gibson confirmed the destruction of the material, saying, "We do not report conspiracy theories ... rumour and innuendo."  


The resulting outcry in the media and in the House of Commons prompted the civilian watchdog of CSIS to announce an inquiry investigating allegations that the original Sidewinder report was suppressed because of political pressure. It is expected to complete its investigation and release the results to Parliament within weeks.  


Last week CSIS director Ward Elcock spoke publicly for the first time on the issue in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen. Elcock denied it was public pressure that shut the report down, still toeing the party line that the report was based on rumour and innuendo, not facts.  


"There were some disagreements about what the facts were, what you could say in that paper," he said. "And while we thought it was an interesting theory, we don't publish papers on the basis of just theories. We publish papers on the basis of the facts we can put in the papers," he was quoted as saying in the Citizen story.  


He didn't try to explain why, if they thought it was "interesting," they ordered everything shredded.  


But the shredding of the Sidewinder material couldn't prevent loyal agents and officers from helping to get the story in the public eye. And so we learned this weekend, not all the documentation was destroyed in the shoddy attempt to cover up what may well prove to be the most important story of the last decade.  


In Saturday's Globe & Mail, reporter Andrew Mitrovica quoted segments of the document obtained by him through sources that obviously thought Elcock's comments were the last straw.  


At the time the report was produced in 1997, the Criminal Intelligence Directorate of the RCMP objected strenuously to a CSIS executive request to file a watered-down version, so frightening were its findings.  


In the end, the RCMP investigators who had worked in the project were left dangling in the wind, and CSIS bowed to the political pressure to soften the blow of the report. The disclosure left CSIS to ultimately claim they had destroyed the file in its entirety because it was unsubstantiated rumour.  


In the foreword to the report, investigators fearful of the spin that would be attempted said, "... this report presents concrete facts, not just ideas or speculation."  


Then this: "This document does not present theories but indicators of a multi-faceted threat to Canada's national security based on concrete facts drawn from the data banks of the two agencies involved, classified reports from allied agencies and various open sources."  


Much of the information in the report has already been made public through various sources.  


But the absence of the documentation until now has allowed the spin put out by CSIS senior management.  


The document itself describes how Beijing's spies and the triads worked in concert in matters like stealing high-tech secrets, engineering control of Canadian firms in real estate, security, media and other influential sectors, money-laundering and political influence through substantial party donations.  


The aftermath of the Sidewinder collapse is also shocking. The inter-agency peeing contest and political interference in the management of CSIS has left the agency woefully inept for its intended purpose.  


One CSIS agent caught up in the fallout told me, "We're so handcuffed now, we couldn't find an elephant in a zoo. If it's not open-source material, we can't use it."  


This episode shows what's wrong with our government. We have allowed Beijing and its criminal partners to steal our sovereignty, piece by piece.  


They have bought and paid for our political leaders through campaign donations and ensured their co-operation.  


When the people we pay to protect us from this insidious corruption try to investigate, they and their message is stifled and minimized.  


Last week a Federal Court judge allowed a convicted Chinese espionage agent to remain in this country after immigration officials tried to remove him.  


Our immigration minister is in China playing footsie with the Chinese government on the subject of illegal aliens, pleading with them to please, take their citizens back.  


Meanwhile, Prime Minister Chretien is planning another trade mission to China next year to bestow some more of your hard-earned tax dollars on the communist regime.  


By the way, Cpl. Robert Read is still on suspension.







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