11/19/2014 03:50 EST | Updated 01/19/2015 05:59 EST

Poor training, communication bedevilled Canada's Five Eyes liaisons: evaluation

OTTAWA - Lack of training, poor communication with head office and sketchy expectations hampered the Canadian liaison teams embedded in the electronic spy agencies of Ottawa's Five Eyes partners, says a newly declassified evaluation.

The Ottawa-based Communications Security Establishment's foreign relations program is key to helping the spy service do its work, given the importance of relations with counterparts in the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the internal evaluation concludes.

But it calls for several changes to "achieve greater effectiveness and efficiencies."

The Canadian Press obtained a heavily censored copy of the August 2012 evaluation — originally classified "Secret/Canadian Eyes Only" — under the Access to Information Act.

The CSE monitors foreign communications of intelligence interest to Canada, and exchanges a large amount of information on terrorism, espionage and international crime and with its four main allies.

CSE has special liaison offices at the U.S. National Security Agency and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters, as well as one in Canberra that provides representation to the electronic spy services of Australia and New Zealand.

In turn, Canada hosts members of the four foreign agencies.

The study found advance briefings for Canadian liaison staff sent overseas was largely limited to information about living and working abroad.

"Operational training offered to posted employees is scarce and self-initiated," the evaluation report says.

Staff heading to the foreign posts had to book meetings with CSE directors or enrol in internal courses. However, some noted that formal classroom training was not necessarily helpful.

"Rather, they felt that spending some time working with various operational areas during the pre-posting phase was often very beneficial."

In addition, liaison directors "seldom received feedback" on the initial planning documents they submitted to superiors.

Once on the job, the directors felt they were "often ill-informed" about developments at CSE headquarters. Management at CSE also expressed a desire for better communication. A senior manager lamented that information he received from one foreign post in particular was often either already known or outdated by the time it was sent to CSE.

"Because these employees are out of the country, it is very important that they have effective and reliable communications available to them," the report says.

CSE employees who took the foreign positions essentially gave up their previous jobs and CSE didn't have a formal process for reintegrating them into the Ottawa fold once their posting was done, it adds.

Upon return, posted employees "are often required to fill positions unrelated to their area of expertise and the experience and knowledge gained from the foreign posting are not exploited."

CSE spokesman Ryan Foreman said most of the evaluation's recommendations had been implemented, with the rest expected to be complete later this year.

Leaks from Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency, have raised questions about operations of the Five Eyes intelligence network. Civil libertarians have expressed alarm about widespread monitoring of private communications.

Material disclosed by Snowden last year indicated that Canada had helped the United States and Britain spy on participants at the London G20 summit in 2009. Other documents from Snowden's cache suggested CSE once monitored Brazil's department of mines and energy.

The evaluation — completed well before Snowden's revelations — says there is "exceptional value-for-money" in maintaining harmonious relationships with the key partners, something that is "in the broad interest of the government of Canada and of Canadians."

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