Thursday, May 29, 2008

So how's that clean government thing going, anyway?

More notes on the scandal...

1. According to "senior law enforcement officials," the RCMP is about to be called in, reported Bob Fife last night. Now, perhaps, we will learn something about what has been going on. The flimsy talking points the government has been parroting thus far, such as the PM just learning about the security breach on Monday, are about to come in for appropriate scrutiny.

(Gratuitous side notes about the CTV report: "Couillard" is giving Fife fits in terms of pronunciation it seems, "Cole-yard" according to Fife. And don't you love it when Stalk gets all condescending to the opposition, calling them ignorant and playing smart guy in his ice cream jacket.)

2. CBC confirms that Bernier's papers were returned a full day before the PM says he learned of the security breach. So ostensibly, Foreign Affairs had them in hand for a full day before Harper supposedly found out about the entire mess. Because poor Harpie is always the last guy to know, don't ya know...:)
The Tories have said Harper became aware of the security breach only on Monday and acted immediately and decisively in accepting Bernier's resignation. But the government so far has offered no explanation why it took almost 24 hours for the prime minister to find out about the breach.

CBC news has confirmed that the missing government document was returned to Foreign Affairs on Sunday, and that Couillard had the document with her when she recorded her now infamous interview with the French-language TVA network on Sunday afternoon.

Lawyers consulting with Couillard contacted the government, and sources said officials arranged for the document to be returned to Foreign Affairs, the CBC's Susan Bonner reported from Ottawa.
This focus on the 24 hour period between Foreign Affairs retrieving the documents and Harper being alerted is important, yes, but largely misses the boat. The documents were missing for 5 weeks. The "security breach" occurred when those documents went missing. The real questions surround why the PM or anyone else did not have a freaking clue for 5 weeks, at least not that they're saying publicly, that the documents were missing.

3. Speaking of which...here's Don Martin with more on the government's internal controls over documents that make the 5 week Clouseau defence seem ridiculous:

The Privy Council Office checks out every document bound for a minister's desk and checks them back in, usually within hours of their release, the minister said. Missing documents or even a few removed papers, particularly on sensitive files like Foreign Affairs, are tracked down almost immediately and reclaimed with a respectful rebuke from anal officials hired to maintain cabinet confidentiality.

The system is supposedly foolproof and perhaps doubly so given this government's penchant for excessive and perhaps unwarranted secrecy.

And more in this Globe article, further underlining the point we're getting to know well by now. It's pretty tough to accomplish what Bernier did:
But what Mr. Cappe said baffled him is how Mr. Bernier could have left the documents in former lover Julie Couillard's apartment for so long.

Mr. Cappe talked about regular confidential-paper security audits, about each minister having someone on staff responsible for keeping track of confidential papers and returning them to their source. He talked about the climate of security in the cabinet and Privy Council Office.

Every minister is provided with a secure briefcase and a lecture on how to use it. A PCO team does a security assessment of every minister's residence, providing "whatever security infrastructure they may need, including things like alarm systems, a regulation safe in the minister's home and a secure telephone so that [they'd] have access to encrypted telephone conversations and they'd do a sweep of the house if there was any reason to think there was a threat."

Mr. Cappe said he expected that even the minister's driver would have sufficient security clearance to look after the minister's briefcase when he was elsewhere.

But the papers go out with Mr. Bernier. "And this stuff never came back," Mr. Cappe said. "How is that possible?"
4. Don Martin also comments on the timing of the alleged CSIS/PMO meeting:
And then there's the surprisingly specific allegation levelled by Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service met with officials in the Prime Minister's Office to discuss the Bernier file just as news of his former gal pal's criminal connections were hitting the headlines.

That would suggest a tripwire had gone off and that the prime minister was taking the allegations seriously, even while Harper was smearing all those who dared questioned the connection.
Recall that something else happened around this time frame as well. Dosanjh said the CSIS/PMO meeting occurred between May 1 and 8. On May 9, Julie Couillard returned from dinner to her home to a "deactivated" home alarm system and consequently had her place swept, turning up the supposed bugging. That's a lot of coincidental activity going on: media reports on Couillard begin, alleged CSIS/PMO meeting, Couillard's home incident.

5. The uber-investigator who missed the leaker right under his nose is on the job again:
Privy Council Office spokeswoman Myriam Massabki said the head of the civil service, Kevin Lynch, is ensuring that Foreign Affairs will look into the matter and "plans to conduct a thorough review."
Hopefully, that review is tied to the news of the RCMP coming in and will have absolutely nothing to do with Lynch.

6. Given the way things have been going for the Conservatives lately in terms of anonymous government sources leaking to the media, it'll be interesting to see whether the Clouseau defence holds up. In the last few days we've seen unknown sources finger someone in the PMO as the leaker(s) in NAFTAgate and telling Liberals about CSIS meeting with the PMO in early May. It's big leak week on the Hill and perhaps from here on out...