Canada admits defense ministry vulnerable to security threats

Tue Apr 30, 2013 2:21pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay admitted on Tuesday his department has failed for years to combat the risk of security leaks from contract workers who are not being screened properly.

The admission could lead to further embarrassment for the military after it emerged last year that a Canadian navy officer had passed secrets to Russia for years before he was caught.

MacKay made his comments after Parliament's official watchdog, the auditor general, rapped the Defence Department for failing to ensure that all private contractors receive security clearance for sensitive jobs. The auditor general first flagged the problem in 2007.

"I agree with the auditor general that the Department of National Defence is not acting expeditiously to address key security concerns. They must do better," MacKay said at a news conference held to address the report's findings.

MacKay said a special security team was looking into his ministry's practices. He said he wanted to see an interim report by this autumn.

The 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 Auditor General Michael Ferguson said that did not always happen and complained the government had not done enough to address problems outlined in the 2007 auditor general's report. Guidelines on who needs clearance are inconsistent and not always applied properly, he said.

"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."   Continued...

Canada's Auditor General Michael Ferguson listens to a question during a news conference upon the release of his report in Ottawa April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie