Top critical review
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on October 2, 2004
This is a sensationalist book that does not decisively prove the alleged crimes within CSIS. The research fails to withstand even the most casual scrutiny. "Covert Entry," unfortunately, raises more questions than it answers, and hinges upon very limited evidence that does little more than show the improper conduct of a middle-ranking operational chief. An exaggeration of gross proportions, the book only contributes incidentally to our understanding of the inner workings and problems within Canada's intelligence service.
The most palpable and rather annoying characteristic of this book is that Mitrovica frequently digresses in an attempt to mask his lack of raw information. Naturally, CSIS is a difficult agency to research effectively; nevertheless, the research presented is not substantial enough to warrant a full length book. It is frequently padded by unnecessary details and background information that does nothing to substantiate the claims made by the author. Does the text really need to include Laurie Brodie's fake SIN number, Farrell's sixteen digit Canada Post expense account number, or a picture of a Toronto parking garage entrance? Would these details even be useful in a footnote? The author absolutely empties his notebook in the hope that excessive detail will be mistaken for thorough research.
The introduction states his basic argument; that the "lies and crimes [of CSIS were] ordered and condoned by high ranking public servants..." Yet the author fails to show this. By Mitrovica's own research, Don Lunau is the only individual that can be attributed to asking Farrell to engage in improper conduct on behalf of the service. Others asked Farrell to do them favours which Farrell, in the hopes of actually being hired by CSIS, did on his own accord. These middle-ranking operational officers of the spy service did undoubtedly act inappropriately, and others within the SOS tolerated what they probably should not have. I will grant that CSIS made an attempt to cover up the story - but well after the events in question, in the interest of "saving face" and in an attempt to keep Farrell's story from the public eye. This is something that, right or wrong, must be expected of any federal bureaucracy involved in a scandal. CSIS, in this regard, is no different than other federal agencies, or private sector employers, for that matter.
Still, Lunau was not a senior civil servant, but rather a chief of operations within a sub-group of intelligence officers in a regional office. Mitrovica conveniently fails to give Lunau's official title, instead allowing the reader to imagine he was a much bigger player in the service than he really was.
Another fact conveniently ignored is that John Farrell was never, at any time, an actual employee of CSIS. CSIS conducted a standard background check upon him for the purposes of his employment with Canada Post. He remained an employee of Canada Post throughout his illicit involvement with CSIS, and did not sign any kind of contract, whatsoever, with CSIS. The service later reluctantly admitted to Farrell's involvement with officers of the service, though it was a relationship exclusively brokered by Lunau, who, for whatever reasons, saw fit to use Farrell for jobs that were often clearly illegal. Farrell, though taken advantage of, engaged in most of his work on behalf of Don Lunau, at his own risk and with nothing more than a tacit verbal agreement between them. Farrell thus bears the primary responsibility for his own financial misfortune. He simply allowed himself to be taken advantage of for far too long.
Covert Entry raises a number of very important questions it fails to answer. What happened to Don Lunau, and what disciplinary action, if any, did he receive? What was the fallout within CSIS over this scandal? What responsibility, if any, does Canada Post bear? Finally, the book suggests, by its title and classification as "current events" that it is about CSIS today. In fact the bulk of the story takes place between 1987 and 1995. Much has changed in the world and within CSIS since then, as the organization has matured and threats to Canadian security have become far more pressing than during the period of malaise following the end of the Cold War. The accusations that CSIS officers and management were bumbling, lazy, drunkards are troubling, and probably somewhat true. However, virtually anyone who has spent any time in a high-stress professional setting with a large number of fellow employees, in government or in the private sector, can conjure a few stories of colleagues with precisely those characteristics.
Any reasonable individual can also understand that the improper actions of a few middling officials can hardly be cause for wholesale condemnation of an entire organization. Sensational journalists and their editors sell papers (and in this case books) by preying on the natural and healthy scepticism that the citizens of democracies have for public officials, and in this case, intelligence agencies. It is much more troubling, and exciting, to imagine that a Prime Minister had knowledge of improper contracting procedures within the Sponsorship Program than to place the blame upon a little known bureaucrat named Chuck Guite. In the same respect, Mitrovica's story about CSIS does not convincingly demonstrate wholesale criminal activity or incompetence within the spy service. The contents of this book would have made a great feature piece in the Globe & Mail in about 1996. As a 300+ page book however, it is unable to live up to its own inflated billing.