Testimony given by William John Hooper, assistant director of CSIS (morning)
- Commission counsel said Stephen Harper may be called to testify at the inquiry. (Harper had indicated on CBC the previous night that he had recevied private briefings about Maher Arar's situation.)
- A redacted version of the SIRC report in Maher Arar’s case was released by the government to Commission Counsel and the public with every single page blacked out.
The inquiry began with Commission counsel showing the Commissioner that a redacted version of the SIRC (Security Intelligence Review Committee) report regarding Maher Arar’s case had been completely blacked out.
The following was taken from the testimony of William John Hooper, Assistant Director of CSIS and Acting Deputy Director of Operations, when cross-examined by counsel for Maher Arar (continued from June 22, 2021).
INSETs (Integrated National Enforcement Teams)
When asked by Waldman, Hooper indicated that CSIS officers are subjected to rigorous selection standards and receive 14-16 weeks of training followed by a 5-year probationary period. Hooper agreed with Waldman that officers need an understanding of the culture/milieu of the community they are working in order to question appropriately.
When asked, Hooper said the analytical and investigative skills of police officers are very similar to CSIS officers, but disagreed that a police officer could do intelligence work straight away.
Waldman stated that INSETs and the Ottawa Police and Ontario Provincial Police were involved in collecting intelligence on Maher Arar. When asked if he was concerned about untrained police officers doing intelligence work, Hooper said no. Waldman noted that Hooper said he himself required training before becoming an intelligence officer, and Hooper replied that an officer without training would be less effective, but that he doesn’t know this was so in Maher Arar’s case.
Waldman stated that community members were told by secondees of INSETs that they usually worked in places like Customs and were given no training. When asked if this concerned him, Hooper said no, and that it doesn’t mean police officers don’t have experience with different communities or lack analytical and investigative skills. Hooper said he thinks the question should be about effectiveness, and that it wouldn’t cause him concern if the officers didn’t have any knowledge of the communities, though it would be ideal if they did.
When asked how reliable evidence would be from an untrained police officer questioning a person from the Muslim community, Hooper said that’s difficult to answer because he doesn’t know the purpose of the interview, or that INSET officers conduct interviews to determine if an individual is a threat to national security. He said it is more likely that they are trying to discover what a person may know about a threat to national security, but that without knowing specifics, all he can say is that knowledge of the threat dynamic/milieu makes an investigator more effective and the information more reliable.
When asked if he thinks CSIS could do INSET’s work more effectively than the RCMP or Ottawa Police, Hooper said he doesn’t have any difficulty with INSETs doing national security work, and said he has worked closely with one INSET. Hooper said there is a “high degree” of consultation between INSET and CSIS, and that CSIS officers seconded to an INSET are there because of their knowledge of the threat milieu. “Personally, I don’t see a great problem with this,” Hooper said.
When asked, Hooper said he understands the Muslim community’s concern about INSET officers lacking understanding and knowledge.
Hooper also clarified that the purpose of INSETs are to assist the RCMP with respect to national security. INSETs may use regional, municipal, and provincial police as well as customs and immigration officers.
Waldman asked commission counsel to further pursue INSETs in camera, because he could not continue without infringing National Security Confidentiality.
When asked what steps CSIS has taken to ensure the safety of Canadians when sharing information with the US, Hooper replied that CSIS’s guidelines with the US are the same as with any other country, and that it considers any consequences of disclosure. But he said that “perhaps” they now give more consideration since Arar’s case, though no new policies or guidelines were implemented.
Hooper stated that renditions since Sept. 11 have caused CSIS to more carefully weigh how it shares information with many countries. When asked if rendition was taken into account in Arar’s case, Hooper said he could make presumptions about it.
Identification of Members of Terrorist Organizations
Waldman asked about the Goven case and mentioned that Bob Rae (a Security Intelligence Review Committee member who wrote the report of the Goven Case) was critical of CSIS’s understanding of membership in a terrorist group as being too broad. When asked if CSIS changed its policies after the report, Hooper replied that there were no policies on membership to start with, and that he doesn’t know of any changes.
When asked why CSIS, which is said to respect SIRC, made no changes, Hooper said he couldn’t answer that, reiterating that there was no policy in place to begin with. Hooper continued to explain that with some terrorist groups it is difficult to establish membership and that CSIS couldn’t draft a policy on membership that would cover both terrorist groups and the foreign intelligence agencies that it investigates.
Waldman stated that the SIRC report disagreed with CSIS’s assessment that Goven was a member of a terrorist organization, which Hooper acknowledged, but he added that he thinks Rae’s decision is based on Rae’s belief that the PKK isn’t a terrorist group, and therefore Goven can’t be a member of a terrorist group.
Hooper agreed with the report that merely having one individual say another individual is a member of a terrorist group is not sufficient to conclude membership, and said CSIS does use other information as well. But Hooper then said, “I can’t tell you that the service would never conclude on the basis of one human source report or one piece of open information or one intercept that a person is or is not a member of a terrorist organization. So my views on that issue are in direct accord with Mr. Rae’s.”
When asked, Hooper said he disagreed with Rae’s assessment that the term “member” should only cover those who pose a threat, saying he couldn’t accept that someone could be a member of a terrorist organization without being a threat. (Waldman said he disagreed with Hooper’s understanding of Rae’s position, saying he thinks Rae was saying that a person who is not a threat can’t be a member.) Hooper said Rae’s argument isn’t in accordance with his experience as an intelligence officer.
When asked what criteria is applied to determine membership, Hooper explained that in the case of the PKK, passive sympathy included participating in demonstrations organized by a front group linked to the PKK, where a person may or may not know they were participating with the PKK. He said that an active supporter is someone who attends meetings at facilities known to belong to the PKK (even if unidentified as such), interact with known PKK members and knowingly give money to the PKK. He said a PKK operative is someone prepared to commit
violence for the PKK.
When asked, Hooper explained that the line between sympathizers and activists comes down to the role the person plays, if most of their contacts were PKK members, if they regularly attended meetings with other PKK members, or if the person had leadership or dominant role. Hooper said he realizes the terms are “nebulous”, but that they are specific to the PKK and might not work with another terrorist organization, which is why CSIS doesn’t have a policy defining membership. He said that al-Qaeda is extremely “anomalous,” and that the usual indicators of membership don’t work. He cited the WTC bombing in 1993, where the perpetrators were all from different countries and were a group of people who met each other by virtue of common training, experiences and religion.
Hooper said that in Canada and North America, Al-Qaeda’s membership is difficult to establish, but that it might be easier in countries like Algeria, Libya and Morocco where there are well-defined organizational structures.
When asked by Waldman how CSIS concludes membership to al-Qaeda, Hooper replied that the person may have trained in Afghanistan, fought in Jihad, travelled to places where al-Qaeda terrorism occurs and has a range of contacts (incidental, regular, or frequent). Hooper said that none of these things are conclusive of membership because they are only indicators. He said CSIS might also receive information from domestic sources like Immigration Canada, where someone may have even admitted to being a member of a group. Foreign intelligence agencies also provide information. But Hooper said despite these, CSIS will still observe a person’s “comportment” in Canada before deciding.
Waldman asked if religion was also a factor, and if he knew of al-Qaeda members who are not Muslim, and Hooper said no and has never asked because he assumes that al-Qaeda members are Muslim. When asked if it would surprise him that intelligence officers are questioning individuals about being Muslim and the number of times they pray, Hooper replied that nothing surprises him anymore. He stated that his belief is that pious Muslims pray frequently and that it does not indicate membership in a terrorist organization. When asked if he thinks the questioning of how often a person prays is appropriate, Hooper replied that he would not recommend officers ask that question and that his experience tells says him the question would be offensive. He said he doesn’t think piety is an indicator.
Asked if his prior testimony that al-Qaeda operatives are educated, mobile and computer literate also meant that those are indicators, Hooper replied that they are not and were said only to indicate that they are dealing with “smart guys.” Hooper also said that while some groups may use female suicide bombers, al-Qaeda is mostly male.
When asked if being a tele-communications engineer was relevant to someone’s being an al-Qaeda member, Hooper said no, but that it would worry him if a suspected member had those skills.
When asked about visiting Afghanistan, Hooper said that, especially with the “intervention” in Afghanistan causing al-Qaeda to move its training elsewhere, having been to Afghanistan is not a necessary component of membership, though having been to a training camp in Afghanistan is a “strong indicator.” Hooper also said that this indicator would constitute the reasonable grounds for suspicion to start investigating.
Asked about travel plans, Hooper replied that traveling regularly to and from Pakistan, Georgia, some of the central Asian republics, the Emirates, and similar places are not strong indicators, but do suggest CSIS should look closely. He said that whether some places are more important than other depends on the time and place, i.e Europe when the Balkans were in conflict. But Hooper said that Pakistan is a definite indicator, because it allows easy access to Afghanistan.
He also confirmed that how often a person meets with someone CSIS knows or believes to be an al-Qaeda operative, how long the meetings are and what happens during them are indicators. Hooper said he would also add things like associating with al-Qaeda members almost exclusively and if the person is “security conscious,” engaging in counter-surveillance.
When asked if someone packing up and leaving Canada with their family was an indicator, Hooper replied that it wasn’t, unless, for example, they left at 7 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001 and he was already suspected of being an al-Qaeda member.
Syria and Torture
When asked if he considers the US State Dept. reports on Syria to be credible, Hooper said yes. When asked if it concerns him that the State Dept. report on Syria’s court system (which notes corruption), as well as other reports on Syria’s court system, and CSIS’s study on Syria (which doesn’t note any corruption in the legal system) are inconsistent, Hooper replied, “Yes. I know that when we produce these documents they are facted,” although he didn’t know what facting process was used in this case.
Waldman pointed out that CSIS failed to note that Syria’s military court also tried civilians, which almost happened to Arar, and said it seems like CSIS is not being objective in its report. When Waldman asked if CSIS was trying to portray Syria positively, Hooper replied that if one looked at the report in whole, it wouldn’t portray Syria positively, and that it “is a statement of fact as we understood them to be.”
Waldman read from the State Dept. and Amnesty International Reports about human rights abuses in Syria (whereas CSIS’s report made little mention and said things were getting better), and Hooper said that he gives the State Dept. report credit for being more “complete” and “inclusive.” But he also said that one should take into account that CSIS’s report wasn’t meant to impact policy, and that the audience for it is law enforcement officials that don’t need extensive detail.
When asked about the absence of torture in CSIS’ report, Hooper didn’t answer the question directly at first but pointed to other things in the report. He eventually said that he can’t say why, he didn’t write it and reiterated that based on what he knows of how and why those reports are produced, it occurred “in consideration of the audience…”.
When asked how often CSIS’s targeting committee meets, Hooper replied two or three times a month, and depending on whether they’re considering one or more target requests, and the meetings are between a half hour to two hours long. Hooper said an organizational targeting request could take longer because it may deal with several individuals, but it takes about half an hour for one individual.
When asked, he said there isn’t a formal checklist to run through before approving targeting requests, but there are policy considerations.
(Stenographer had technical difficulties – part of testimony may not have been transcribed)
When asked, Hooper said that a high percentage of targeting requests are accepted. He said they would rarely reject a request, and that about 17 officials will have signed a request before it reaches the committee. Hooper said it is his job to review every targeting request after this signing process but before it reaches the committee, and that problematic requests, about 10% of all requests, end with him.
He also confirmed that a level three investigation, the highest level, includes surveillance and warrants allowing officers to enter homes to search and seize documents and intercept communications.
When asked, Hooper confirmed that, under CSIS’s policies, if someone like Arar had casual contact with a target under surveillance, the information that Arar met the target would go into CSIS’s database as “casual intelligence spin-off” in the target’s file. Hooper also confirmed that CSIS could disclose that the target met with Arar to the RCMP or other organizations.
When asked, he said that CSIS has an organization targeting authority against al-Qaeda, under which members’ names fall, and that if a person happens to come into contact with members enough times to be included in the al-Qaeda targeting authority, then CSIS also has enough information to start an investigation into the individual. Hooper explained that group targeting is used to “capture preliminary reporting” of individuals, whose names aren’t known, or of activities of the umbrella organization that can’t be associated with an individual.
Hooper also said that there are times when CSIS will work with a foreign security organization in Canada.
Waldman quoted Elcock’s statement that CSIS profiles for immigration authorities abroad and that profiles are not based on race but on nationality and membership in certain organizations. When asked if the profiles were based on nationality, Hooper explained that it would be if the majority of applicants in a given country were nationals of that country, and that that profile wouldn’t be used elsewhere.
Hooper denied, when asked, that religion and having a Muslim name is a factor in the profiles, but said, “if an individual is working out of an office in Beirut and we have concerns about the possible infiltration of his elements into Canada – and Hizbollah is known to be a predominatly Shiite Muslim organization – we would contextualize religion with that overlay…” He said being religiously observant isn’t a factor.
Waldman asked if Hooper understands the meaning of Jihad, which he had said a few times, Hooper explained that he uses it like al-Qaeda, to denote conflict. Hooper also said that he is aware that there are other non-violent meanings, like the spiritual struggle.
When Waldman asked about CSIS’s report on the Canadian Arab Community, Hooper explained that the security officials using this report might be immigration or custom officials, and that it has been sent to local police forces across the country.
When asked, Hooper said he didn’t know how the report was being used and that he doesn’t think it’s been updated. He said the report was prepared by the Analysis and Production branch, which has “subject-matter experts” in particular domains who haven’t been through intelligence training.
When asked who summarized into the report that Arab-Canadians feel frustrated because of racial profiling and world events, Hooper replied that it came from open information and CSIS’s experiences with the Muslim community, and indicated that it was so apparent it could be learned talking to a cab driver. Hooper says he agrees with the report’s assessment of Arab-Canadian sentiment and that they are non-violent people. He also agreed with Waldman that people who feel unjustly targeted and racially profiled are less likely to give officials information, thus increasing national security risks.
When asked what CSIS is doing to address the concerns of Arab-Canadians, Hooper replied that there are policies on conducting interviews saying CSIS officials must identify themselves, explain that the interview is strictly voluntary, take into account that the interviewee may be from a country where security officials are not “as friendly as we are,” and take into account religious beliefs and concerns for privacy and human rights. Hooper said there has also been dialogue with representatives of the Canadian Muslim community. Hooper said that locally, in the regional offices, senior officers have more interaction because that is where the collection of information takes place, but that he doesn’t think they’ve done enough of this.
Stephen Harper's Comments
When asked if Hooper agrees with Stephen Harper’s statement that “officials” told him Arar’s deportation was appropriate, Hooper said he doesn’t want to answer anything said in the context of an election campaign because it is “fraught with danger” for him and CSIS. Hooper also refused to say whether he felt Arar’s deportation was appropriate, and the Commissioner said it might be better to ask that question in camera when they could also ask how he reached his conclusion.
When asked if he thinks it’s appropriate to send a person to be tortured, Hooper said no. When asked if it was CSIS who gave Harper a briefing on the Arar case, Hooper said no.
Waldman then asked the Commissioner to bring in Harper as a witness to determine who was briefing politicians.
Questioning of Hooper by counsel for the Attorney General.
When asked, Hooper explained that the PKK is the Kurdistan Workers Party, and that the PKK was investigated when it was under the leadership of Abdullah Ocalan, a Kurdish organization with nationalistic objectives for northeastern Iraq.
When asked if John Walker Lindt would be considered a member of al-Qaeda, Hooper said he thinks Lindt was probably a member of the Taliban, and doesn’t know if he was also a member of al-Qaeda.
When asked if Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber”, was a convert to Islam, Hooper said he was, and that converts to Islam are not referred to as non-Muslim members of al-Qaeda.