April 30, 2013 / 2:50 PM / 7 years ago

Canada defense ministry vulnerable to security leaks- watchdog

By David Ljunggren
    OTTAWA, April 30 (Reuters) - Canada's defense ministry and
other key departments are vulnerable to security leaks because
they do an inadequate job of screening contract workers,
Parliament's official watchdog said on Tuesday.
    The report by Auditor-General Michael Ferguson is a further
potential embarrassment for the military after revelations last
year that a Canadian navy officer had passed secrets to Russia
for years before he was caught.    
    Canada's defense ministry, national police and two
intelligence agencies use private contractors to carry out many
sensitive tasks, and must seek security clearance for these
workers.
    But Ferguson said that did not always happen and the
government had not done enough to address problems outlined in a
2007 auditor-general report. Guidelines on who needed clearance
were inconsistent and not always applied properly.
    "Although the government has made a number of improvements
... in our opinion significant weaknesses remain," he wrote.
"Contracts are sometimes awarded to those who lack the
appropriate security clearance."
    Ottawa amended policies after the 2007 report, but Ferguson
said this did not clarify whether firms with access to protected
and classified information were required to hold a security
clearance.
    "This is an important gap that could result in inconsistent
application of the policy and thus introduce additional security
risk," he said.
    In the 2011-12 fiscal year, some 27,000 security clearance
requests were filed, of which 1,400 had been in the system for
almost eight months, well beyond the supposed maximum 75 days.
    A further 1,100 requests remained from previous years.
    Ferguson said defense ministry and police employees,
frustrated by the amount of time needed to gain security
permits, would sometimes allow a person with no clearance to
work in a classified area as long as they had an escort.
    In other cases, all classified material in a particular area
would be removed before the contractor started work.
    "This practice fails to address identified security
requirements and may result in inadequate security for
projects," he said.
    A study by Ferguson's team showed 32 of 48 contracts awarded
by the defense ministry lacked security documentation.
    Canada's security standards came under scrutiny last year
after the arrest of navy sub-lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle on
charges of spying for Russia. He was jailed for 20 years in
February this year.
    Officials told a sentencing hearing that allies had
threatened to withhold intelligence from Canada unless it
tightened security procedures. Along with the United States,
Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Canada belongs to the
so-called "Five Eyes" group of nations who share intelligence.
    The defense ministry said it agreed with all of Ferguson's
comments and would take action.
    Ferguson also found that some contract employees at the
top-secret Communications Security Establishment Canada, which
gathers electronic intelligence, had been allowed to start work
before gaining security clearance.
    He reported no serious problems at the Canadian Security
Intelligence Service agency.

 (Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Janet Guttsman and
Sofina Mirza-Reid)
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