Politics

John Ivison: Clement’s sexting scandal ‘an early warning’ on national security risks

The news that Tony Clement’s sharing of explicit images online
had led to an extortion attempt conjured up a comment
attributed to the Greek poet Sophocles, who once compared the
male libido to being chained to a lunatic.

I’ll leave moralizing on the story to the chaste and righteous
who appear to predominate on social media. But there is a
public-policy component to this story of private failure and
humiliation.

Clement, who issued a statement late Tuesday that he was
being extorted by someone to whom he had sent sexually explicit
images and a video of himself, was one of two Conservative
members on the new 11-member panel of parliamentarians
appointed to oversee the secret activities of Canada’s national
security and intelligence agencies. The committee will
scrutinize the activities of CSIS, the RCMP and every other
agency involved in intelligence-gathering. Extorting those
secrets from a member of the committee would be a major coup
for a foreign intelligence service.

There is no confirmation that Clement was the victim of a
honey-pot sting arranged by Russia or China. Conservative
leader Andrew Scheer said he asked Clement to resign from
caucus Wednesday because there were indications “this was not
an isolated incident.” But Justin Trudeau’s refusal to comment
— and silence on the substance of the matter by normally
talkative sources — only feeds suspicions that Clement may have
been targeted.

Andy Ellis, a former assistant director of operations at CSIS
who now works at intelligence event detection firm EVNTL, said
sexual entrapment is an age-old tool in espionage. While
foreign entities have been more prone to influence-peddling
than blackmail, luring politicians into compromising positions
has been used in the past in Canada and elsewhere, he said.

As recently as 2011, it emerged that Bob Dechert, a junior
foreign affairs minister in the Harper government, had sent
“flirtatious” emails to Shi Rong, the Toronto bureau chief of
Xinhua News Agency, a media organization controlled by the
Chinese government. A former Chinese intelligence officer
suggested that while she may not have been a spy, Beijing does
have agents in Chinese news agencies who would view senior
politicians as targets.

That Clement would engage in such risky pursuits and put
himself in a situation where he could be successfully
blackmailed was breathtakingly dumb.

Rennie Marcoux, executive director of the secretariat
established to support the new National Security and
Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, said each member
was given a “comprehensive” security briefing by the Privy
Council Office and other security agencies. Perhaps the
imprudence of sending penis pictures by email to someone you
don’t know was so obvious it was overlooked in the briefing.

But it is concerning that someone who appears to have been an
accident waiting to happen was not flagged by the security
services.

Marcoux said all committee members and staff at the secretariat
were subject to the same “stringent” security and
confidentiality requirements as the security and intelligence
community.

The incident is likely to signal an undignified end to a near
30-year career in politics for Clement

Yet Ellis said in his experience security checks for
politicians are “superficial,” lacking the depth and breadth of
top-secret security checks applied to others. He said regular
security-clearance checks include a full search of social media
and interviews with friends and colleagues going back at least
10 years.

Stephanie Carvin, a former national security analyst with CSIS
who now teaches at Carleton University, said MPs and senators
were vetted for committee membership but there would have to be
serious some red flags flying before the security agencies
would intervene to block a parliamentarian.

The news comes at a bad time for a committee that is trying to
build public confidence. Carvin said she welcomes parliamentary
oversight but it will be a real problem if the national
security agencies view the committee with caution.

“If the agencies feel they can’t trust the committee, it will
damage its credibility,” she said.

The incident is likely to signal an undignified end to a near
30-year career in politics for Clement. He was a key figure in
Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution in Ontario and a held
three ministerial portfolios in Stephen Harper’s government. He
has learned the hard way that respect is hard-earned and easily
burned.

The broader question is whether damage has been done to
Canada’s security apparatus.

Andy Ellis thinks not, as long as committee members appreciate
they are now a higher level of target for foreign entities.

“This is not a critical national security issue,” he said. “I
think it’s a gentle nudge, an early warning. It was nipped in
the bud and the question is: Can we learn from it?”

• Email: jivison@nationalpost.com
| Twitter: IvisonJ

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