Tag Archives: CSEC

New shenanigans for spy versus spy



Leave it to a once and likely future candidate for leader of the free world to admit what was previously inadmissible in polite company. Yes, Virginia, the world is full of creeps, spooks and spies, and we here in the West employ a goodly number of them.

This, from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with the German newsweekly Der Spiegel last week: “I don’t want to give a general answer (about the morality of international spying). There’s so much that goes on in intelligence circles. If we were to say no, under no circumstances, that you shouldn’t do that to us, we shouldn’t do that to you, what if a circumstance arises where it is conceivable that it would be in your interest and ours?” 

Furthermore, she said: “The United States could never enter into a No-Spy agreement with any country – not you, not Britain, not Canada.”

Mrs. Clinton made her remarks just as German officials ousted the CIA’s super-secretive station chief from his (or her) digs in Berlin. According to a BBC report last week, “The German government has ordered the expulsion of (the) official. . .in response to two cases of alleged spying by the US. The official is said to have acted as a CIA contact at the US embassy, reports say, in a scandal that has infuriated German politicians. A German intelligence official was arrested last week on suspicion of spying.

An inquiry has also begun into a German defence ministry worker, reports said.”

 In fact, nowadays, it is inconceivable that even friendly nations will resist the temptation to snoop in each other’s sock drawers and medicine cabinets. According to some research – and thanks to the timely revelations of former National Security Administration (NSA) operative Edward Snowden – since the end of the Cold War, spying hasn’t been declining, as one might reasonably expect. It’s been on the rise.   

“Hacking for espionage purposes is sharply increasing, with groups or national governments from Eastern Europe playing a growing role, according to one of the most comprehensive annual studies of computer intrusions,” Reuters reported from San Francisco last month. “Spying intrusions traced back to any country in 2013 were blamed on residents of China and other East Asian nations 49 per cent of the time, but Eastern European countries, especially Russian-speaking nations, were the suspected launching site for 21 per cent of breaches, Verizon Communications Inc. said in its annual Data Breach Investigations Report.”

How worried should we be about our own, personal information? Surveillance experts routinely dismiss public concerns about the electronic sieves through which choice tidbits of individual identities pour. There’s now so much information floating around in cyberspace, they argue, that the odds of any one hapless schlub falling prey to Internet evil-doers are far greater than ever before.

That’s cold comfort, however, when we are also confronted with headlines like this one in Friday’s Globe and Mail: “Ethical concerns raised by workers at spy agency.”

Apparently, workers at Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) – this country’s version of the NSA – are more than a little disturbed by the conduct of some of their colleagues and supervisors. Indeed, reports the Globe, “some have also tried to blow the whistle about ‘improper contractor security screening’, questionable contractor invoicing’, ‘unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information’, and ‘con-compliance with CSEC’s values’.” 

Meanwhile, the institutional hunt for better and greater sources of personal information continues unabated. Now, Statistics Canada wants people to fork over their Social Insurance Numbers as it tries to improve the accuracy and relevance of the data it collects. “The agency is trying to find out if people will reveal a key identifier they’ve been so often warned to protect,” a Canadian Press story observes.

Of course, back in 2011, the federal government’s privacy hawks abolished the mandatory long-form census, claiming it poked its nose in where it didn’t belong. Evidently immune to irony, Ian Macredie, a former StatsCan paper-pusher, told the CP, “We may have a population that, because of the (U.S.) National Security Administration, has a heightened awareness of Big Brother collecting data about us.”

Sure we do. These days, all of our creeps, spooks and spies hide in plain sight.


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Who watches the watchers?


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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