A counterspy's new ways

October 14 1985

A counterspy's new ways

October 14 1985

A counterspy's new ways


Unlike the eccentric, plodding George Smiley in John le Carré’s spy novels or the dangerously high-flying M in Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, Thomas D’Arcy Finn seems to be a perfectly ordinary man. Finn is the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the new counterespionage agency that was created 15 months ago—amid political demands for civilian control—out of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The U6-year-old public servant with the sandy-grey hair and the quiet speaking voice lives with his wife, Margaret, their four children and two enormous German shepherd dogs in a rambling, three-garage home at the end of a cul-de-sac in suburban Ottawa. Finn’s mild demeanor belies the fact that he orchestrates a secret organization composed mainly of former Mounties who can tap telephones, open mail, enter homes and offices surreptitiously and examine files such as medical records—all in the name of searching out “threats to the security of Canada. ” Finn's mandate is to investigate and interdict espionage, sabotage, terrorism, political violence and other clandestine activities that menace the state. Finn, a former assistant secretary to cabinet for intelligence and security in the Privy Council Office, juggles with jigsaw bits of information—the identities of spies and moles, covers, targets and secret deals—that make up the netherworld of covert acts against Canada and its allies. Said a former colleague in the spy trade: “It’s an endless bloody business, and you have to be extremely patient. Nothing is conclusive. When a spy dies it closes one small capillary in a whole blood system. ” By personal preference Finn keeps a low profile and the law forbids him to discuss specifics of his work publicly. But Finn and Solicitor General Perrin Beatty, who oversees CSIS , spoke to Maclean’s Ottawa Editor Roy MacGregor and staff" correspondent Hilary Mackenzie in Ottawa last week. The highlights:

Maclean’s: Does the CSIS have any form of foreign intelligence service of its own or is it entirely dependent on links with other agencies?

Finn: We have a foreign liaison component and we have our own people abroad for fulfilling that function in a number of other countries. We call them security

liaison officers, and that’s what they are doing: liaising with security and intelligence services within those countries —performing, for example, visa-vetting responsibilities on behalf of Canada’s department of immigration—and also liaising in a security context, thereby enhancing our ability to have information from other countries shared with us.

Maclean’s: With the rash of defections it is as though someone, somewhere has pushed a central button and you’ve got people running for their lives. Do you know of any interconnection?

Finn: I am not sure that one can necessarily draw any particular conclusions from that situation. And I think that to develop a thesis about some relation-

ships is probably not terribly productive.

Maclean’s: The two defections that are particularly interesting to us are those of Sergei Bokhan, a Soviet military intelligence officer who defected in Athens last May, and Vitaly Yurchenko, a KGB officer who crossed over in Rome in July. Is one of them of particular interest to Canada?

Finn: I think any defection is of interest to Canada provided it is a defection that relates to our ability or our allies’ ability to understand what intelligence organizations in the Soviet Union or other countries are doing. And, of course, defections the other way are of great interest to any service because of the damage they tend to do the Western intelligence efforts. But I think the best that can be said is—apart from a general interest in what a defector may be able to provide

concerning the service for which he or she has worked—that the other area of interest is whether a defector has any particular information relating to this country. I think you can assume that if there is information either generally or specifically relating to Canada, we would want that information. Maclean’s: How much control does Moscow have over world terrorism?

Finn: I don’t think anyone can answer that. I think the jury is still out. Maclean’s: What about the extent of Soviet operations in Canada?

Finn: I would say there is a presence that is constant and that we constantly have to be working to identify and develop intelligence about it.

Maclean’s: Is there particular concern over the nature and number of Soviet illegals in Canada?

Finn: That’s a very, very difficult ques-

tion to deal with. I think it is fair to say that one of the techniques an offensive intelligence service will use is to plant illegals in country X and country Y, and I think we can assume the Soviets and others have made that something of a priority for not only Canada but all Western nations. It is a very important area to be guarded against and constant efforts are made throughout the whole of the Western intelligence community to identify and pursue possible illegals. As to numbers and kinds in the Canadian context specifically, obviously I wouldn’t comment on it.

Maclean’s: How do you explain what you do for a living to new people whom you meet?

Finn: I tell them I’m the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. I’m teased unmercifully at the golf club sometimes about whether the golf ball

really is a golf ball—but in truth it is. Maclean’s: How do you reconcile the job to your own personality?

Finn: I see nothing in what I do or in what we do as an organization as being contrary to any basic tenets that I may hold. I think the freedoms that we have in Canada are just terribly, terribly worthy of being protected. And I don’t want to put this in the context of soldiers marching off to war—in the sense that one has a duty to defend one’s country and so on—but I do want to put it in the context of the freedoms that we have and enjoy. It is a question that we are so wonderfully, happily free in this country, we are shocked to our very core when something such as a terrorist act occurs within our borders. I don’t think it’s naïveté, but I think it is small-i ignorance of the reality that is out there. Maclean’s: Are Canadians naive about

the growing problem of terrorism?

Finn: Let’s not use the word ‘naïve.’ But we are a trusting and honest people, and I think we tend to project our own characteristics on others and assume that if we wouldn’t do something improper to someone else, they wouldn’t do it to us. We’ve got no basis for believing that. We have had acts of terrorism here in Canada; we’ve exported no terrorism abroad. We have had acts of espionage directed against us here in Canada; we have exported no espionage abroad. Our CSIS has strictly a defensive ability. I don’t think any country has a right to feel it is immune.

Maclean’s: But how do you reconcile your own personal moral standards against the world of dirty tricks and low morals.

Finn: Unpleasant and unpalatable—I would quite agree. Dirty tricks—I tend to reject that as nomenclature that would apply to the kind of things we do. Defensive vs. offensive—the definition is very simple: offensive means you are operating a service that is operating within foreign nations actively collecting or gathering intelligence or taking steps to influence or destabilize a government or a particular element of a society of that country. Defensive is attempting to ensure that the kinds of things talked about in our statutes —such as spying within Canada—is kept to a minimum but that there is advance information on steps to be taken to prevent terrorist attacks. But God knows no nation has been entirely successful in doing that. I think that one of the ways that you can assist in making sure that the processes under which we work and the things that we do are kept within the bounds of propriety is to reach a little bit for people who have high moral standards and who are not going to be running amok unnecessarily and improperly in the lives of Canadians. It almost sounds to me—when I hear myself saying that—almost trite, and yet it isn’t; it’s very much part and parcel of the whole heart and soul of the organization that we’ve tried to build. God knows it has its flaws.

Maclean’s: Is there an underlying acceptance of the necessity of doing a nasty job and doing it well?

Finn: There is no difficulty whatsoever in relating to the task that has to be done in a way that it ought to be carried out—absolutely no difficulty whatsoever. Any organization has growingpain problems—we certainly do and we’re going to continue to have them for a number of years. Turning the organization around into a civilian organization will take a generation—at least a generation. It’s incremental. It’s day by day. It’s subtly turning knobs or pulling levers to make sure that it marches along on a particular path.