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Transcript Episode 12 Nov. 24

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THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 12, Season 3

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Host: Tom Clark

Guest Interviews: Jason MacDonald, Tasha Kheiriddin, Rafal Rohozinski, Steve Clemons

Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Tom Clark:

On this Sunday morning from Halifax, secrecy, security and stability; the RCMP deliver 80 pages of evidence on the Senate scandal and alleged criminality in the Prime Minister’s Office.  We try to cut through the secrecy with Stephen Harper’s spokesman.

And, he ran for president and is an icon of the Republican Party but Senator John McCain is under attack from within.  We ask him about the stability of American politics.

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Plus the security of cyberspace:  what you need to know about cyber spying.  Is your life an open book?  Why yes it is.

I’m Tom Clark, on this Sunday November the 24th with a special edition of The West Block from the Halifax International Security Forum, one of the most prestigious meetings of its kind anywhere in the world.

But first, it was a fascinating and at times disturbing look into the inner workings of the Prime Minister’s Office.  Eighty one pages of an RCMP investigation of that deal that saw Nigel Wright cut a cheque for Mike Duffy to the tune of $90,000 and the RCMP concluded that crimes were committed, but it also raised a whole host of other questions.  What are they?  Well here it is, your weekly West Block Primer:

It’s the hottest issue on the stands; a must read.  The story just grows and changes over time.  It’s a question of who knew what, when.  The prime minister has always said that he only learned of the scheme on May the 15th.  But newly released documents show that Nigel Wright told PMO staffers the day before that that Harper knew in broad terms that he personally assisted Duffy.  And even before then, in emails dated February 22nd finalizing a deal for the Conservative Party to pay Duffy’s expenses, Nigel Wright sent an email to his staff saying, “I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final”.  And then, less than an hour later, he writes this, “We’re good to go from the PM”.  Good to go?

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Stephen Harper:

“Good to go with Mr. Duffy repaying his own expenses”.

Tom Clark:

But there was more to the deal than just repayment of funds.  The prime ministers staff arranged to have a Senate report whitewashed, attempted to hold an audit on Duffy and created media lines for everyone to follow.  It all involved several members of the Prime Minister’s Office and yet, the prime minister maintains he knew absolutely nothing of what was going on.

And joining me now is the director of communications for the prime minister, Jason MacDonald.  Mr. MacDonald good to have you here and welcome.  What these documents seem to suggest is that by February 22nd at the latest, there was a deal struck whereby the Conservative Party would pay off Mike Duffy’s expenses when they thought that those expenses were $44,000 dollars.  So the question is this, did the prime minister approve of the plan to pay off those expenses; $44,000, did he approve that?

Jason MacDonald:

No Tom, the prime minister did not at all approve of that.  He did not know of that and in fact, if you look at the document that the RCMP made public on page 20, it actually indicates quite clearly, that Nigel Wright told the RCMP in his statement to them, that he had not informed the prime minister at all.  In fact, the prime minister, up until May 15th when it became public, the prime minister believed that Mr. Duffy had repaid his own expenses.

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Tom Clark:

Well let’s take a look at some of the other emails, and these are emails that the RCMP had published in this court document.  February 22, Nigel Wright writes this email to his staff:  “I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final.”  They were talking about reimbursing Mike Duffy $44,000.  Less than an hour later, he sends a memo to his staff that says, “We are good to go from the PM.”  What was good to go?  What did the prime minister approve?

Jason MacDonald:

Well like I said, you actually don’t need me to respond to that, you can look at the document that the RCMP has provided.  And it’s very clear on page 20, what that exchange was all about.  He told the prime minister that the senator had agreed to pay his own expenses and that he would acknowledge that he had made a mistake, but it wasn’t until May 15th when it became public that the prime minister learned that that in fact wasn’t the case.  So the prime minister had no knowledge of this and the RCMP document actually makes that clear…very clear in fact.  And Mr. Wright himself in his statement to the RCMP indicates that at no time did he make the prime minister aware of what was actually going on.

Tom Clark:

But…okay, but why would the prime minister need to approve Mike Duffy paying his own bills?  It’s like me asking you if I’ve got your permission to pay my hydro bill.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

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Jason MacDonald:

Well look, I think it’s been clear that Mr. Duffy has resisted all along, up to and including today, that 1) he’s done anything wrong or that he should have to repay those inappropriate expenses.  I mean what that exchange was about with the prime minister was, Mr. Wright and the prime minister talking about the fact that Mr. Duffy was going to be compelled to repay his expenses.

Tom Clark:

Well here’s the document just so everybody can see it.  You’re right; there are more than 81 pages in here.  There are a lot of unanswered questions, not the least of which the one I just brought up to you.  How come there was an email dated May 14th where Nigel Wright said, “The prime minister knew in the broadest terms what was going on” and the prime minister said he didn’t know anything until the 15th.  But beyond all that, you know is the prime minister now upset that so many of his senior staff seem to be okay with the idea of white washing the Senate reporter trying to interfere with the audit from Deloitte.  Is he upset today that his senior staff was on that path?

Jason MacDonald:

Look, the prime minister obviously understands that these are serious issues and that the things contained in the document are very serious.  And as a matter of fact, he has said publically in an interview that he did just a couple of weeks back when he was asked a very similar question.  Obviously he had a right to know.  He should have known and had he known he would have been able to put a stop to it because these are inappropriate activities.

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Tom Clark:
Okay, Jason MacDonald, director of communications for the prime minister.  Thank you very much for being here Mr. MacDonald, I appreciate your time.

Jason MacDonald:

Thanks for having me.

Tom Clark:

Well joining me now from Toronto is Tasha Kheiriddin, a political columnist for i-Politics.ca.  Tasha welcome to the show once again.

Tasha Kheiriddin:

Thanks.

Tom Clark:

You just heard Jason MacDonald, what did you make of what he said.

Tasha Kheiriddin:

Well to use the language in the document itself it seems they’re circling the wagons.  I t think that I was not expecting to hear anything different in terms of denying the prime minister had knowledge of the deal denying the prime minister had knowledge of the deal, denying the prime minister had knowledge of Nigel Wright’s cheque to Mike Duffy or payment through his lawyer to Mike Duffy.  What I find though is that you can’t have the interpretation that Mr. MacDonald gives of the document.  You can’t take that seriously in terms of the prime minister not having any knowledge of the personal assistance, whatever that term actually meant Nigel Wright gave to Mike Duffy.  Mike Duffy…Nigel Wright specifically says the prime minister knew in broad terms of his personal assistance to Mike Duffy.  If you’re acting as a chief of staff you’re not acting personally.  Personal is a very specific term.  So for the prime minister to not know of the specifics of the payment, I believe that, but it may well be that Mr. Wright presented the situation to him in a way…sort of a wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  Any reasonable person would understand that some type of payment had gone personally from Mr. Wright to Mr. Duffy.

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Tom Clark:

You know what strikes me about this as well Tasha you know like in so many areas of life, if you can’t explain something in about a 12 second period, the old elevator pitch, you’re in some trouble, and it seems to me that that’s been the problem with the Prime Minister’s Office. They’re having a great deal of difficulty explaining this.  What do you think the political damage, if any, has been to Stephen Harper at this point?

Tasha Kheiriddin:

I think it’s very serious.  It’s getting more serious by the day. The questions are dogging him wherever he goes and he’s not giving answers to them.  He’s simply repeating the line that there are only two persons under investigation and he’s obviously not one of them.  And this is true but it doesn’t answer the question.  I think that it’s causing great consternation among the base because, and this we saw at the convention already, the sense that there is something that is not being told.  The prime minister is not being completely forthcoming.  Many people, I remember at that convention had said well if you had only laid it out of the table right away what had actually happened but the story has changed so many times.  And intriguingly, you know people from the Prime Minister’s Office who weren’t even there anymore.  Dimitri Soudas, his former communications director the day after the story broke in May, sent an email to CBC saying Nigel Wright knew Mike Duffy for a long time and he was doing this also for the taxpayer, you know these kinds of convoluted stories.  People were rushing to the defence of the prime minister, of Nigel Wright and then after that, of course they threw Nigel Wright under the bus and he resigned/was fired.  But the story has changed so many times that you just can’t believe the version that we’re getting now.

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Tom Clark:

You brought up the Calgary convention and that was interesting because Senator Irving Gerstein stood in front of that convention and said I never at any time considered paying Mike Duffy’s bills.  Well, in this document, in fact he did…

Tasha Kheiriddin:

He absolutely…

Tom Clark:

…consider at one point doing it so how does the base react, I’ve got less than a minute left, but how does the base react when it appears anyway that somebody like Irving Gerstein who controls the Conservative fund apparently wasn’t straight with the delegates at that convention.

Tasha Kheiriddin:

It reacts badly.  And it also reacts badly I think to the fact that these people are still around.  They are still in the prime minister’s, not necessarily all in his office, but they are in his entourage.  They are very important figures in the party.  You know there were three people who were eliminated from this picture, Mike Duffy, Senator Brazeau and Pamela Wallin by virtue of emotion.  What’s the prime minister going to do now?  Is he going to expel everyone who was connected to this affair?   It raises so many questions about what he can do or should be doing.  I think the base is very angry that this is not being contained or was not managed in a proper way.

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Tom Clark:

Well we’ll leave it there.  The story will continue however and we’ll talk to you again in the future about how this unravels.  Tasha Kheiriddin joining us from Toronto thanks very much for being here.

Tasha Kheiriddin:

Thanks Tom.

Tom Clark:

Coming up, American political legend John McCain on the state of the Republican Party and the failure of the west in Syria.

Break

Tom Clark:
Welcome back to this special edition of The West Block at the Halifax International Security Forum.  Joining me now as he has for the past three years, Senator John McCain of Arizona.  Senator awfully good to see you here again.

John McCain:
Thank you it’s nice to be back with you.

Tom Clark:

There are number of issues I want to talk to you about but I want to start off by talking about you.  You have been seen as a moderate force within a Republican Party and yet there are rumours going around, speculation that you may in fact be targeted by the Tea Partiers in your own state if you go for re-nomination in 2016.  Does that concern you at all?

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John McCain:

No, no, it doesn’t.  You know one of the things about a long time service is you get to know your constituents and I know my constituents very well and I had a very good relationship with them.  When I say it doesn’t bother me, look, any challenge that you might have you better take seriously but and I take any challenge I might have seriously but am I confident that I can overcome it?  Absolutely.

Tom Clark:

Which I guess leads to the next question and that is, are you going to running again in 2016?

John McCain:

I’m thinking about it seriously but I have at least another year or so before I’d have to make a final decision.  But I think frankly I’m near the top of my game so and there’s a lot going on as you know.

Tom Clark:

Let me ask you though about the Republican Party itself them because even from afar we witness what has happened in Congress, the shutdown of the government by a handful of people and so on.  I think it’s safe to say that people have never seen the Republicans so badly divided as they are right now.

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John McCain:

I think there is great division but also think that some of my friends who work astray to the shutdown have learned a very serious lesson.  There was an incredible backlash against what they did.  In my home state we had to fly food up to people who run concessions near the Grand Canyon because after a couple of weeks their minimum wage people they didn’t have enough to eat.  Six hundred thousand people were turned away from the national parks in my state so it was a terrific backlash against that and I hope, and I think it taught some of my friends a lesson.  The big struggle I think this viewed in my party is probably going to be one that’s been there ever since the Republican Party, certainly since the beginning of the 20th century and that is isolationism versus internationalism.  When bad economic times as we’ve been through there is a greater, greater impulse to say withdraw to America, no foreign aid, we don’t need the military etc. etc.  And that has been a debate that’s been going on.  It’s going on right now within my party, through all of America…

Tom Clark:

We hear that from Ran Paul…

John McCain:

Yes, we hear that from Ran Paula and he makes a very persuasive case as did some of his friends.  So that I think is going to be the big debate within my party.  And I welcome the debate.

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Tom Clark:

One of the things that is going to be talked around here, has been talked around for the past couple of days was of course is Syria, and it’s something that you’ve commented on frequently.  What can or should Canada be doing in terms of Syria right now?

John McCain:

Well I would love it if Canada would help us help the Syrians but I can’t be too vociferous about it because we’re not helping them.  We’ve abandoned them.  We’re giving them a minimum amount of aid despite the rhetoric you hear our president, our secretary of state who’s a good friend of mine.  A year and a half ago Bashar was on the…Assad was on the way out.  We didn’t help these people.  We abandoned them for all intents and purposes.  Now they put 5,000 Hezbollah in. The Russians are all in and the Iranians are all in and we give them MRE’s.  I’m not making that up.  MRE’s don’t do very well against tanks and now they are losing.  And now we all know the Jihadists’ and extremists are flowing in, not only from all over the Middle East but all over the world and it’s tragic.  And it’s turned into a regional conflict.  Lebanon is being destabilized with what just happened a couple of days ago.  Jordan is overwhelmed with refugees.  Iraq is unravelling. The whole part of the world and there’s no American leadership.  And that is a shame.  We will pay a very, very heavy price for that.  One vignette, I was in a refugee camp in Jordan. At that time there were only 50,000 refugees there.  A woman was showing me around, a school teacher, and she said, see all these children Senator McCain.  I said yes.  She said they’re going to take revenge on those who they believe abandoned them and failed to help them.  And I’m telling you my friend we’re going to reap the whirlwind.

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Tom Clark:

Senator John McCain always good talking to you sir.  Thank you very much for taking the time.  I appreciate it.

John McCain:

Thank you very much.

Tom Clark:

Coming up, will future wars be fought on the internet?  And why that may be more devastating than bullets and bombs.  Stay tuned.

Break

Tom Clark:

And welcome back to The West Block, a special edition from the Halifax International Security Forum.  Well the world of war, of conflict and rebellion, all have been changed radically in just the past 10 years.  Think about it, the internet, social media; it has changed the way that rebels think and that army’s act.  So what is this brave new world going to look like?  Is it scary or is it positive?  Well I’m joined now by two of the best thinkers in this area.  First of all, Rafal Rohozinski, he’s the principal of SecDev, an international security consulting company based in Canada, and also by Steve Clemons, a Washington editor at large for the Atlantic.  Thank you both very much for being here.  Rafal, let me start with you.  You have said in the past that cyber warfare in fact would be more devastating than a nuclear war…gambling.

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Rafal Rohozinski:

Yeah and I did and I think the reason there for it is you need to look at cyber warfare as a metaphor to some extent.  So the fact that cyber has become so entrenched in everything that we do.  Our economy depends on it.  Our relationship with government depends on it.  Our personal lives depend on it.  If you see this environment starting to be disruptive by actors either within the state or outside of the state you’re essentially talking about starting a rock fight in a glass house.

Tom Clark:

And you’re right, I mean in the sense that they can bring down not only bank accounts and the economy but power grids as well.  And planes go crashing into mountains and so on.  What about protection on that because this is something you’d think about.  Is there a way of protecting ourselves?

Rafal Rohozinski:

Well the principle problem that we have here is not so much that there is in a technical way of dealing with cyber-attacks.  The problem is that from a policy perspective we don’t really have it right.  I mean we’re doing essentially what’s known as pointing things.  We’re trying to defend the end object, not realizing that it’s the network itself that’s at risk.  That requires looking at regulation; regulation such as reforming the telecom sect.  We have the single most regulated industry, telecoms which actually has nothing at the moment to do with cyber security on a national level.  That’s a big fault that we currently have that’s systemic rather specific.

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Tom Clark:

So Steve let’s pick up on that point because it seems to me that there has to be a mighty rebalancing happening here between privacy concerns on one hand, security on the other hand in this whole new cyber world.  Are governments up to that task?  Have they identified the problem and have they even thought about what the solution is?

Steve Clemons:

Well governments just aren’t a war fighting or terrorism chasing institutions.  They also represent the public’s interest.  They represent the concerns about privacy and my quick answer would be no they’re not up to the task.  They’ve been derelict in their duties and basically laying out the regulations and the framework through which institutions like the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies would do their work.  And so in the absence the right kind of supervision and the right kind of regulation laid down, these groups that have been concerned about our security have done what they should do, is to grab as much as they can do, filter it, but they’ve kind of forgotten the public interest.  Their job is to be regulated by in our case, the US Congress, which has been absent in this.

Rafal Rohozinski:

Yeah, I think the issue here is really just one of time.  If you take a look at how long it’s taken the internet to really take centre stage in our societies, it’s been a blink of an eye.  Its 15 years and yet we’re seeing a fundamental renegotiation of the relationship between citizens in space in terms of this right to privacy which on one hand is fundamental democracy and collective security.  Where does that balance line run right now?  We don’t know.

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Steve Clemons:

I’ll just make one comment.  The American public doesn’t like the government spying on them without their permission.  They’ll give their data information to Facebook.  They’ll give it to Google.  They’ll give it to ATT but right now, I talk to the CEO’s of these firms who are now having to renegotiate their social contracts with their clients who are worried about what they’ve done.  They are very sure that yes they’ve given a lot to Facebook but that doesn’t mean that they’re okay with the government riding in on all this data in detail about their lives.

Rafal Rohozinski:

Yeah, and yet at the same time, it’s the government that really has the scale, the scope and the regulatory mandate to take care of security in cyberspace, which means we have this paradox.

Tom Clark:

But isn’t there then a crisis of confidence when you’re talking about that, that governments have created for themselves and I’m thinking about the NSA leaks; everything from Edward Snowden to WikiLeaks.  I mean it seems that all this information that they have that everybody was so concerned about giving to them; maybe they have reason to be concerned…

Steve Clemons:

You mentioned WikiLeaks and Snowden; these are market responses to a real problem.  We have too much secrecy.  We’ve had a massive expansion with visceral secrecy and so you’re just sort of waiting for one of the 4.9 million people with top secret clearances to walk out like Daniel Ellsberg did with quite a lot of information.  We classify too much and we have to get back and rebalance that as well. The president of the United States has been saying we need to have that discussion but he’s done very little in moving that discussion forward.

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Rafal Rohozinski:

Yeah and I’d say that Edward Snowden actually will go down in history probably as sparking off a very necessary debate around this citizenship-state relationship in cyberspace.  Unfortunately, the revolution that the internet started back in the 1990’s was interrupted by 911.  And I think this cloak of secrecy meant that a genuine public debate in terms of defining privacy and collective security in cyberspace was tainted by the fact that we have this pressing need of counter terrorism that trumped everything.

Tom Clark:

And it’s more than just governments involved in this.  As we all know, Google probably knows more about us than even…

Steve Clemons:

They know what toothpaste you’re going to use tomorrow morning.

Tom Clark:

Exactly.  How do they get involved in this policy debate?

Steve Clemons:

Well right now, Eric Smith the CEO…the chairman of Google, then Larry Page the CEO are demanding that the federal government allow them to be fully transparent with their users.  Before Google or ATT, or Yahoo could not come out and tell the public that in fact it was giving away their information under government orders.  So transparency is the first step forward and I think second, really working with the government to train people in the legislative branch about what kinds of protocols make sense.  That would be a good way to move forward from a conflictual relationship to one where you begin to get cooperative rule-making in an area where there hasn’t been, in my view, the right kind of rule-making.

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Rafal Rohozinski:

I think also domestically though, between the actual companies and citizens there’s also a debate that has to take place, which is, what is it that consumers give away to these companies in return for the utility that they return back from it because I think that’s also something we haven’t scratched the surface of nearly enough.

Tom Clark:
We haven’t scratched the surface of this debate but I thank you very much.  Rafal Rohozinski for being here, Steven Clemons of the Atlantic; great discussion I thank you very much.

Rafal Rohozinski and Steve Clemons:

Thank you very much Tom.

Tom Clark:

And that’s our show from the International Security Forum in Halifax.  It’s going to be a fascinating week ahead.  Four byelections across the country and all eyes will be on Brandon-Souris in Manitoba because if the polls are right, this could be a devastating loss for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives and a game changer for Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau.  We’ll see.

Until then, I’m Tom Clark.  Thanks for being here.  See you again next Sunday.