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Ottawa company barred from national security work after alleged contact with Indian intelligence

Ashok Koul at the Indo-Canada Ottawa Business Chamber's annual gala held Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009.
Ashok Koul at the Indo-Canada Ottawa Business Chamber's annual gala held Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009. The Ottawa Citizen

The federal government has barred an Ottawa company from work related to the military or national security because of its president’s alleged “consistent contact” with Indian intelligence officials.

Life Prediction Technologies Inc., an aerospace company that was contracted by the Canadian military as recently as 2018, has been removed from the government’s controlled goods program.

The government also revoked security clearances from the company’s president, Ashok Koul, and his wife, Anju Koul, a former Health Canada biologist who owns half the business and is its director of corporate affairs.

Citing the president’s alleged contacts with Indian officials, Canadian authorities deemed the company an undue risk of transferring controlled goods “to an unauthorized person,” documents show.

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Details of the government action, and its link to Indian intelligence activities in Canada, were disclosed in documents filed in the Federal Court, where the company and the Kouls have launched an appeal.

The company’s lawyers could not be reached for comment. A company official said the president was in India. Public Services and Procurement Canada declined to comment on the case.

But in a letter explaining the decision to revoke the president’s reliability status, the department said it had launched an investigation after receiving information from a “security partner.”

“This investigation has determined that since approximately 2000, you have had consistent contact with the Indian High Commission in Ottawa, including elements of the Indian government involved in information and intelligence collection activities in Canada,” it read.

A screen grab from the Life Prediction Technologies Inc. website.
A screen grab from the Life Prediction Technologies Inc. website.

The letter alleged that Ashok Koul had failed to report his contacts with foreign officials to the Canadian government and had provided “contradictory and misleading” answers to investigators.

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In addition, the letter alleged he had been asked not to disclose “sensitive information about the background of a foreign government employee” but had “breached this trust” by telling the person in question.

“Therefore, a decision has been made to revoke your reliability status making you ineligible to maintain your Secret security clearance,” the public services department’s Canadian Industrial Security Directorate wrote.

Anju Koul received a similar letter alleging that although she had received government insider threat training, she had failed to report her “social contact” with foreign officials, specifically “elements of the Indian High Commission in Ottawa.”

“It was determined that you were aware that your company has an ongoing business contract with the Indian Government, specifically with the Ministry of Defence,” the letter, dated Dec. 31, 2018, further alleged.

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In their Federal Court appeal, the Kouls called the government action unreasonable and argued they were never given enough information to meaningfully respond to the allegations.

The attorney general, meanwhile, has filed a case asking the court to prohibit the disclosure of two sensitive documents it argued “would be injurious to international relations, national security, or national defence.”

Ashok Koul is a former National Research Council scientist, as well as the longtime president of the Indo-Canadian Kashmir Forum, which supports the Indian government’s position in the disputed Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan.

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The company he founded in 1998 specializes in “predictive maintenance and life cycle management of gas turbines.” It serves the military and power-generation sector, according to its website, and has offices in the United States and India.

Government records show it was awarded a $1.1-million Canadian military contract in 2014 and another worth $655,000 in February 2018 — eight months before the president was informed his security clearance had been revoked.

Letter sent by Public Service and Procurement Canada to Ashok Koul, president of Life Prediction Technologies Inc., in 2018.
Letter sent by Public Service and Procurement Canada to Ashok Koul, president of Life Prediction Technologies Inc., in 2018. Federal Court of Canada

Companies that deal in what the government calls controlled goods must register with federal authorities. Controlled goods are defined as those with “military or national security significance.”

“Civilians and companies who provide services and support to the government of Canada in sensitive sectors, or where the nature of their work requires access to sensitive government documents, require security clearance and will undergo periodic security screening to maintain the validity of that clearance,” said national security law expert Prof. Leah West.

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“If there is a reasonable doubt as to an individual’s reliability or loyalty to Canada because of adverse information, their status may be revoked,” said West, who teaches at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

“Given the emphasis on loyalty to Canada, it is routine to ask individuals about their connection to foreign governments when conducting security screening. Interactions themselves may not be grounds to revoked someone’s status, but lying about one’s connection to a foreign government is certainly grounds to question a person’s loyalty.”

The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries “supports the Controlled Goods Program because it helps companies to protect themselves and the government from insider and external threats,” said communications manager Kathryn Forrest.

Prime Minister Trudeau wraps rocky visit to India
Prime Minister Trudeau wraps rocky visit to India

Documents filed as part of the company’s court appeal say Life Prediction Technologies was registered with the Controlled Goods Program but that on Aug. 23, 2018, Ashok Koul was asked to attend an interview to address information provided “by an unidentified security partner.”

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Details of the allegations or their source were not shared with him, the appeal claimed.

“He was not given the opportunity to understand the case against him and to make informed submissions, which was the minimum level of fairness he was owed in the circumstances,” his lawyers argued in their appeal.

After losing his security clearance, Ashok Koul resigned as chief security officer of the company, but on Nov. 21, 2018, Public Services and Procurement Canada ordered the business to stop work on a contract involving controlled goods.

Government staff later seized company files, it said.

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“Dr. Koul has held government of Canada security clearances since the 1980s. Following his first security clearance for the NRC in the later 1980s Dr. Koul held Secret clearance from 1993 to 2003. In 2004, the NRC sought and obtained enhanced reliability status for Dr. Koul. Most recently, he held reliability status from 2011 until this status was revoked,” the court appeal reads.

“Throughout his years of service at the NRC, Dr. Koul’s supervisors and colleagues were well aware of his involvement as a leader in the Indo-Canadian community in general and as part of the Indo-Kashmiri diaspora in Ottawa in particular,” it says.

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“Furthermore, this involvement has been disclosed to members of Canada’s security apparatus in the context of various interviews in which Dr. Koul has voluntarily participated over the years.”

Stewart.bell@globalnews.ca