Tag Archives: Communications Security Establishment Canada

The political issues that dare not speak their names

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They were, until recently, sleeper issues – incipient tempests snoozing away until their moments in prime time arrived which, as it happens, was just the other day.

Greet the two cri de coeur of the common era: income inequality in one protest line and privacy rights in the other. Both are getting a lot of ink – both figurative and literal – these days.

Google “income” and “wage” and “inequality” and “gap” in any combination you like and 144 million references become available within a fraction of a second. Most recently from the mosh pit of opinion on the subject is a USA Today piece about Americans who “grapple with income inequality” even as they debate the “government’s role in the economy.”

There’s Bloomberg’s Income Inequality News, replete with “Income Inequality Photos” and “Income Inequality Videos” and a piece that chastises President Barack Obama for supporting fairer income distribution while pushing for international trade deals, such as NAFTA, that many economists blame for the wage gap.

And there’s this of local interest from the web pages of Statistics Canada , courtesy of the Huffington Post last week:

“StatsCan’s data shows some large differences in the degree of income inequality between provinces, with the Maritime provinces registering the lowest concentrations of income among high earners, while the country’s economic powerhouses – Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia – registered the highest. . .The share of income going to the top one per cent in Alberta was nearly 17 per cent, compared to around 12 per cent in Ontario and around five per cent in the Maritime provinces.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier has added her voice to the roaring multitude’s on the increasingly sophisticated, increasingly unaccountable, cohorts of spies, spooks and creeps who are steadily eroding any

reasonable expectation of privacy among the world’s citizenry.

“Revelations surfacing over the past months have raised questions among many Canadians about privacy in the context of national security,” she wrote in her report to Parliament last week. “While a certain level of secrecy is necessary within intelligence activities, so is accountability within a democracy. Given our mission to protect and promote privacy, and our responsibility to provide advice to Parliament, we are putting forward some recommendations and ideas for Parliamentarians to consider on these important issues.”

One of these ideas is to require Communication Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) to “make public more detailed, current, statistical information about its operations regarding privacy protection, and submit an annual report on its work to Parliament, as does the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).”

Of course, to hardcore conspiracists, that’s like taking a convicted fraud’s unaudited financial statements at face value.

Still, Ms. Bernier remained undeterred. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, she insisted her report was a rallying cry for clarity and accountability. What’s more, she said, “When you look at our recommendations, quite a few are low-hanging fruit. Quite a few could be implemented immediately.”

Which is why quite a few of them probably won’t. The same goes for any meaningful government response on income inequality.

The respective issues are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. Each boils down to rough conceptions of fairness and justice. Each posits villains and victims. Each’s mythology depends on the noble travails of the plucky little guy who must endure the hob-nailed boots of the powerful elite’s henchmen.

Those are marvelous messages for governments with pretensions of  progressivism to exploit. Indeed, Barack Obama and his quasi-crusading band of faint-hearted social democrats are all over the income-disparity and big-brother issues in the U.S., alternately making the former the subject of the 2014 state of the union address and the latter the handmaiden for stinging rebukes of the National Security Agency.

Not so for the Government of Canada. Late last year, one of its committees quietly shelved an extensive report that measured income inequality across the country. At the same time, Ottawa continued to support the work of its spy agencies despite a gathering lobby of both expert and public opinion against many of their practices.

True reform, of course, is a messy business. And few governments, despite their pretensions to high-minded purpose, are temperamentally inclined and logistically equipped to render the society they temporarily govern any fairer or more just than it was before they rode into power.

Still, the sleepers have awoken, and soon political leaders may have no other choice than to share the spotlight with them in the prime time of the world’s attention.

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Who watches the watchers?

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The mind of The Great White Spook is more scrutable today than it was merely a week ago. But only a shade, and only thanks to the whistle-blowing of a certain, former National Security Agency (NSA) operative now on the lam in Russia.

Edward Snowdon’s data dump of super secret NSA documents on American scrivener Glenn Greenwald and his associates now implicates Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which was, until recently, tucked safely behind an opaque veil.

In the spy world, Canada has never commanded much more authority than a handmaid in the U.S. and British intelligence establishment (or so “they” would have us believe). The news, this week, out of Brazil puts paid to that quaint conceit.

“Brazil’s flagship Fantastico investigative program on the Globo television network revealed leaked documents suggesting that Communications Security Establishment Canada has spied on computers and smartphones affiliated with Brazil’s mining and energy ministry in a bid to gain economic intelligence,” the Globe and Mail reported on Monday.

“The report. . .includes frames of a CSEC-earmarked presentation that was apparently shared with the United States and other allies in June, 2012. . .The presentation. . .rhetorically asks ‘How can I use the information available in SIGINT [signals-intelligence] data sources to learn about the target?’ before delving into specific hacking techniques.”

Former intelligence officials were quick to dismiss the report. Ray Boisvert, an ex-director general of counter-terrorism for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service told the National Post that there wasn’t much up-side in crawling through Brazil’s underwear drawer.

“Like any crime drama, you look for capability and intent,” he said. “Could CSEC do Brazil? Of course, it has significant capability to collect intelligence in the national interest. But on motive, you come up way short. If it was Iran, nobody would be surprised. But this is Brazil. I’m really short on motive.”

Perhaps, but the point is not whether Canada is poking its nose into places where its nose doesn’t belong; it’s whether it can. An even more interesting question is what prevents CSEC from doing just about anything it likes in the name of national interest and domestic security.

On June 27, the organization modified the content of its website, though it’s not clear how or where. Still, the spy agency describes its mandate, thusly: “To acquire and use information from the global information infrastructure for the purpose of providing foreign intelligence, in accordance with Government of Canada intelligence priorities;

to provide advice, guidance and services to help ensure the protection of electronic information and of information infrastructures of importance to the Government of Canada; to provide technical and operational assistance to federal law enforcement and security agencies in the performance of their lawful duties.”

As for its role, CSEC declares that it is “unique within Canada’s security and intelligence community” as it “employs code-makers and code-breakers to provide the Government of Canada with information technology security (IT Security) and foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) services.” The latter assists “government decision-making in the fields of national security, national defence and foreign policy. These functions “relate exclusively to foreign intelligence and are directed by the Government of Canada’s intelligence priorities.”

Nothing in the public record suggests that one of these prime concerns is a policy – official or otherwise – of conducting commercial espionage against our league of friendly nations, of which Brazil is a stellar member.

The Government of Canada’s own website happily declares that this country is  “priority market. . .It is a major economic player, not just in South America, but also globally, as our 11th largest trading partner.. . Bilateral trade has increased by more than 25 per cent over the last five years, reaching $6.6 billion in 2012. . .Canadian exports to Brazil were $2.6 billion. . .In 2012, Brazil was the 7th highest source of foreign direct investment in Canada, with $15.8 billion in cumulative stocks. Brazil was the 12th largest recipient of Canadian direct investment abroad, with $9.8 billion of cumulative stock invested as of year‑end 2012. Some 500 Canadian companies are active in Brazil (over 50 in the mining sector alone).”

As CSEC’s just-retired head, John Adams, tells CBC News, it’s not a bad idea that, henceforth, the agency receives a little more parliamentary oversight than it has in the past.

After all, he says, “We have got capability that is unique to this country. No one else has it.”

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Spying minds really want to know

Is what lies beneath enough?

Who’s got the dirt on you?

Good morning, pipsqueak. This is your big brother calling. How are you doing? Feeling good and rested, ready to take on the world? Sure you are. You’re going to seize the day, follow your bliss, as they say – just as soon as you gulp down that happy pill your doctor prescribed for you last month.

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you junior? Remember that afternoon three weeks ago, when the paramedics had to scrape you off the pavement outside the grocery store, following your 19th nervous breakdown?

Didn’t think I’d find out about that, did you? Never mind. I know a lot of things about you and just about everybody else in this ridiculous country of fools and sleepwalkers who believe that just because I scrapped the long-form census, I give a fig about your personal privacy. What a joke, which is, at it happens, entirely on you.

How’s that new car working out for you? You know. . .the one you bought with four credit cards because your wife wouldn’t let you raid the kids’ college fund. I bet she was mighty cheesed off when you rolled up in that baby. In fact, I know she was because that’s what she told some guy named Hank, with whom she’s having an online relationship. Oops, have I said too much? Listen, pal, a word to the wise. . .what’s good for the gander is good for the goose. Just saying, is all.

Speaking of birds of a feather, you know that chum three cubicles over from you at work? He’s the one with whom you’ve been collaborating for months on that big presentation to your company’s brass. Don’t trust him. He’s planning to stab you in the back, take credit for your ideas and sell you down the river as a lazy no-nothing. Fact is, all he does all day is play computer solitaire when he’s not following Lindsay Lohan on Twitter. Hope that’s useful to you. Your welcome.

Truth is, I care about you bro’. I care about the fact that you lied on your resume where you claimed to have a degree from the University of Toronto whereas you actually have a diploma from the Community College of Tofino. I care about the fact that you list your hobbies as golf, marathon running and skydiving instead of tap dancing, gardening and ventriloquism. You really should be more circumspect.

Not that I plan to do anything with such information. In the scheme of things, you’re just not that interesting, let alone important. I’ve got enough work scrutinizing the “metadata” stemming from the Internet comings and goings and phone calls of millions of other citizens through the Communications Security Establishment Canada. Technically, I’m not “allowed” to listen in on actual conversations or surveil specific emails and text messages. But, well. . .you know. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat.

As my buddy Ronald Deibert might say: “Don’t kid yourself.” In fact, the U of T political science professor and expert on global security did sort of say that in a commentary he penned for the Globe and Mail on Tuesday, to wit: “What is metadata? Take my mobile phone. Even when I’m not using it, when it’s just sitting in my pocket or on my desk, it emits an electronic pulse every few seconds to the nearest wifi router or cellphone tower that includes a kind of digital biometric tag.”

So what, you might say. So, don’t be so stupid. Or, as Mr. Deibert notes, “Think metadata is trivial compared to content? Think again. MIT researchers who studied 15 months of anonymized cellphone metadata of 1.5 million people found four ‘data points’ were all they needed to figure out a person’s identity 95 per cent of the time. In 2010, German Green Party politician Malte Spitz and Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper requested all of the metadata from Mr. Spitz’s phone carrier, Deutsch Telekom. The company sent back a CD containing 35,830 lines of code.”

Anyway, goofball, try to take better care of yourself this summer. I notice you’ve been hitting Amazon.com of late for some reading material. Might I suggest you start with Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and end with George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. Either or both are excellent field guides for the shape of things to come.

That’s it for now.

We’ll talk again soon.

That’s a promise, pipsqueak.

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