Chinese ‘influence’ and ‘intelligence threat’ outlined in declassified 25-year-old CSIS-RCMP report

The report finds that Chinese intelligence services were actively attempting to recruit business and political leaders in Canada to influence political activities here back in the ’90s

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OTTAWA – A joint report into Chinese interference in Canada drawn from an RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service investigation found evidence of foreign agents working in this country to “influence…important leaders” and “neutralize” criticism of China.

The report was written 25 years ago.

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Finalized in 1998, now partially declassified, the report was the result of a joint RCMP-CSIS investigation dubbed Project Sidewinder, examining links between Chinese government intelligence agencies and Chinese organized crime. An early draft version of the report had been leaked before now but was controversially discredited by Canada’s Security Intelligence Review Committee.

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The National Post obtained the declassified version of the report, titled “Allegations of Co-operation Between the Triads and the Government of the People’s Republic of China,” through an access-to-information request. Triads refer to organized crime groups in China.

The report describes similar concerns about Chinese political interference in Canada that have come out in recent months through intelligence leaks that have dogged the Liberal government, leading to the public inquiry that the government announced this month under pressure from opposition parties.

The final report is 26 pages long. Each one is marked “Secret” for “Canadian Eyes Only.” It has three main sections: “Triads,” which covers the activities of Chinese organized crime groups, including inside Canada; “Intelligence Services of the People’s Republic of China,” which details the methodology of Beijing’s agents and their infiltration activities in Canada; and “The PRCIS and the Triads,” which analyzes the connection between the People’s Republic of China’s Intelligence Service and organized crime.

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Some of the exceptions that federal departments can use for censoring documents available through access-to-information requests expire after 20 years, but there are still many redactions in the version released to National Post.

The report clearly concludes however that Chinese intelligence services were actively attempting to recruit business and political leaders in Canada to influence political activities here as far back as the ’90s.

“They (Chinese agents) attempt to secure access to, influence with and the support of important leaders, officials and sectors of the population, particularly with the Chinese communities,” reads the report.

“The PRCIS also seeks to mute criticism of the Chinese government in Canada and to identify and neutralize political forces in Canada opposed to Beijing’s policies,”

The report said China’s intelligence services were also looking to take intellectual property they could give to Chinese organizations.

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“Canada is seen as an excellent source of indigenous and foreign advanced technology, both open and restricted (i.e. proprietary, classified or embargoed), with which to expedite the modernization of China’s economy.”

The report also notes China’s use of “mass line” intelligence collection, using a network of informal Chinese nationals travelling abroad to gather useful intelligence information.

“PRCIS front companies and Canadian companies have been used to slip PRCIS personnel into Canada in delegations,” reads the report. “The thousands of Chinese students and delegates who come to Canada each year and are hampered by few restrictions in moving about the country, pose the greatest Chinese intelligence threat.”

Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor at Carleton University and a former national security analyst, said China was pursuing a similar agenda in 1999 that it appears to be pursuing today, despite there being different leaders of the Chinese communist government over the last 25 years.

“I would say what’s different now is scale. The other thing that’s really coming in since 1999, I would say is the cyber angle,” she said, referring to allegations of China’s use of online disinformation and computerized intelligence gathering.

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The Project Sidewinder report found that Chinese criminal organizations were also working extensively in Canada.

“This country is an excellent place for them to invest in companies, launder profits derived from criminal activities, secure a portion of their assets outside Hong Kong and obtain a Canadian passport.”

The report concluded that Chinese intelligence services and Chinese criminal organizations were working together in Hong Kong and Macau. But it determined there was likely also collusion unauthorized by Beijing between some members of the intelligence services and the criminal organizations elsewhere in the world, for the purpose of making money.

The many redactions to the report exempting disclosure under Access to Information Act are cited using sections that exempt information received in confidence from another government, could be injurious to defence or suppression of hostile activities or could harm investigations,

The report, although still classified at the time, became the subject of controversy not long after it was submitted to the government, then headed by Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien after the authors alleged political interference. CSIS acknowledged it had altered the report but had done so for reasons of accuracy, while the RCMP said the changes undermined the report.

A review from the Security Intelligence Review Committee, a former oversight body for CSIS, found no basis for the interference allegations and said initial report jumped to conclusions that had not been substantiated.

Several media reports earlier this year fed by leaks from intelligence sources have alleged widespread efforts by the Chinese government to interfere in both the 2019 and 2021 elections. The efforts included misleading social media and WeChat posts in Chinese diaspora communities.

After several months of delay and circumventing, the Liberals announced a public inquiry into the issue of foreign interference last week to be overseen by Justice Marie-Josée Hogue.

Carvin said although Canada’s intelligence services had their eye on China in the 1990s, governments got much more serious about monitoring subversive activities after the turn of the century, following 9/11.

“I don’t think this was ever forgotten,” she said. “I’m just not sure the extent people were paying attention until recently.”

Email: [email protected]

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