The Naftagate inquiry: A failure to connect the dots

By: Sandford BorinsIn case you missed it – which was the government's intent – the report of the Naftagate inquiry was released late last Friday afternoon. And it was posted, not on the Canada portal or Prime Minister Harper's Web site, but on the low-profile Privy Council Office (PCO) Web site.The 14-page report makes fascinating reading. In my previous blog I wrote that a serious investigation was needed. The research underlying this inquiry was certainly extensive, but ultimately it fails to connect the dots.Consider the chronology. On February 8, Canadian consul general in Chicago George Rioux met with Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee. Foreign service officer Joseph de Mora, the note-taker, completed his notes of the conversation on February 13 and sent them to a list of 232 e-mail addresses compiled by the Canadian embassy in Washington.The list was created for reporting on the U.S. presidential election and included 212 addresses at Foreign Affairs, eight at the PCO, seven at other departments and agencies, and five external addresses of people already on the list. An old Foreign Affairs hand tells me that the department has long had a tradition of wide circulation of reporting telegrams. An e-mail list is the electronic equivalent.Two things stand out in this part of the story. The list did not include anyone in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Second, despite the length of the circulation list, there were no leaks of de Mora's report for almost two weeks. Had there been any, the sensitivity of the topic – an Obama adviser undercutting Obama's position on Nafta – would have led to immediate stories.On February 25, the saga took a political turn. PMO Chief of Staff Ian Brodie was at the Canadian Embassy in Washington where he heard in an informal discussion that there had been contact between Canadian diplomats and a presidential campaign, and he assumed it was Hillary Clinton's.The next day – February 26 – at the budget lock-up, Brodie mentioned this to a CTV reporter, and CTV reporters in both Ottawa and Washington started digging. That evening, the CTV reporter was a guest at a Carleton University journalism class, and told the students, some of whom were politically connected, about the conversation with Brodie. The word was out.On February 27, two significant things happened. PCO staff for the first time sent the PMO de Mora's report on the meeting with Goolsbee. Second, CTV phoned Canadian ambassador Michael Wilson. Wilson's side of the call is fully reported in the inquiry; he confirmed that Canadian diplomats in the U.S. had been in contact with the Clinton, Obama, and McCain campaigns, but without revealing the de Mora report.On February 28, a U.S. online writer e-mailed the Canadian embassy to ask about a meeting between the Canadian consul in Chicago and Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee, so that writer certainly knew about the de Mora report, and possibly had it. Both CTV and ABC News also began digging to find the report.On Sunday, March 2, three days later, the Associated Press contacted the Canadian embassy in Washington for confirmation of a faxed copy it had received of the de Mora report. When the Embassy confirmed its authenticity, AP broke the story and released the report the next day.The Naftagate inquiry could not determine who leaked the report because there are no e-mail or fax records that any of the 232 original recipients or any subsequent recipients e-mailed or faxed it from a government e-mail address or office. Surprise, surprise.The person who leaked the document made sure to leave no trail, and faxed it from a private location. And, as is appropriate, the media didn't reveal their sources.The Naftagate inquiry failed to explain – or even comment on – two critical inferences. The report was not leaked when it was circulating throughout the bureaucracy, but was leaked shortly after it entered the political sphere.The most likely motive for leaking the de Mora report would be to corroborate Brodie's “not to worry, it's just rhetoric” message about opposition to Nafta by Clinton and Obama. And if that is the case, the most likely source for the leak would have been at the political level.What are the implications of this story? First, Ian Brodie is the person who set the ball rolling by his comments at the budget lock up, the proverbial loose lips that sink ships. One even wonders why he spoke about Nafta at a budget lockup. He was intending to leave PMO and, by announcing his departure as the inquiry was released, he was in a limited way, taking responsibility.Second, the inquiry concludes that Foreign Affairs circulated the de Mora report too widely and recommends tighter protocols to protect sensitive information. This is the wrong solution. Foreign Affairs was simply using online technology to share information about an important issue.If I'm right that the leak came from the political rather than the bureaucratic level, then tighter protocols at the bureaucratic level won't solve the problem. They will simply make it harder for the public service to do its work.In my previous blog about this I urged Cabinet secretary Kevin Lynch to stand up for Canada's public service. To date, he hasn't.

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