By Roger Annis, Dec. 1, 2013
Canada’s top-secret Communication Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has been in the news big time since last month when whistleblower Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald, revealed that the agency has conducted industrial espionage on the Brazilian government and Brazilian companies that compete with Canadian firms.
That was followed last week by Snowden’s revelations that CSEC and the U.S. National Security Agency cooperated in spying on the protests against the G20 Summit Meeting that took place in Toronto in 2010.
CSEC is supposedly dedicated to international espionage. It is illegal for it to conduct spying on Canadian soil. That is supposed to be the bailiwick of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). It’s even less legal for CSEC to be welcoming the NSA to set up shop on Canadian soil and conduct joint operations.
CSEC and the Canadian government say no laws have been broken by the agency. Journalist Glenn Greenwald told CBC Radio One’s The House on Nov 30 that this claim is “dubious”. He says that forthcoming revelations by his reporting team in the coming days will “contradict” claims by the director of CSEC, John Forster, that CSEC does not spy on Canadians. Listen to the CBC interview with Glenn Greenwald here, it begins at the 27’ mark.
CSEC is Canada’s CIA. It has developed a vast expertise on internet spying and data storage, placing Canada in the top ranks of the ‘Five Eyes’ espionage alliance that is headed by the U.S. and Britain and also includes Australia and New Zealand. The revelation of the existence of the alliance and its activities is prompting activist campaigns worldwide to defend the right to privacy and demand that the secret treaties that bind the Five Eyes be published.
CSEC’s annual budget has ballooned to more than half a billion dollars. Ottawa is putting the finishing touches on a glitzy new headquarters for the outfit in Ottawa at a cost of more than one billion dollars. The super-computers with which the agency will conduct its spying and collect its data there will consume something equivalent to the electricity required to light up the entire city of Ottawa. CSEC head John Adams told CBC, “There are more transactions at CSEC on a daily basis than all of our banks combined.”
You can view here a CBC photo gallery and story of the new CSEC headquarters.
Below is a link to a feature article on CSEC published in the Nov 30 Globe and Mail. Also below are links to related stories.
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How Canada’s CSEC became an electronic spying giant
Communications Security Establishment Canada has a global reach for its surveillance and a budget that has ballooned to almost a half-billion dollars. But, as Colin Freeze reports, it lacks public accountability or oversight
By Colin Freeze, Globe and Mail, Nov 29, 2013
It is known as “Camelot,” and it is believed to be among the most expensive government buildings Canada has ever built. Next year, the analysts, hackers and linguists who form the heart of Communications Security Establishment Canada are expected to move from their crumbling old campus in Ottawa to a gleaming new, $1-billion headquarters.
It is the physical manifestation of just how far the agency has come since Sept. 11, 2001. Before those attacks, it was known as Canada’s other spy agency – an organization created to crack Communist codes more than seven decades ago, but rendered rudderless after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The agency’s biggest victory of the 1990s, insiders say, was its behind-the-scenes role in the seizure of a Spanish trawler during the Turbot Wars, a 1995 fishing dispute off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
But now, where it once focused on vacuuming up Russian radio signals from Arctic bases, its surveillance reach is global: Its leaders now speak of “mastering the Internet” from desktops in Ottawa. In 1999, it had a shrinking budget of $100-million a year and a staff of about 900. Today, CSEC (pronounced like “seasick” ever since “Canada” was appended to the CSE brand) has evolved into a different machine: a deeply complex, deep-pocketed spying juggernaut that has seen its budget balloon to almost half a billion dollars and its ranks rise to more than 2,100 staff.
Canadian taxpayers spent $300 million a year on the nation’s two intelligence agencies before the attacks of Sept. 11, but the bill for spying is now coming in at more than $1-billion. That’s because the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has also been bulked up into a $535-million-ayear agency, up from $180-million in 1999.
There are key differences between the agencies. CSIS’s “human intelligence” spies are like stay-at-home defencemen – they work largely in Canada to generate reports about security threats to Canada. CSEC’s “signals-intelligence” spies can go as far as their computers can take them and are afforded an open-ended curiosity to explore issues far beyond Canada’s borders.
Read the full Globe and Mail article: How Canada’s CSEC became an electronic spying giant.
- The Snowden leaks and the public, by Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, in New York Review of Books, Nov 21, 2013.
- Ottawa allowed U.S. to spy on G20 summit in Toronto, Snowden leak reveals, Globe and Mail, Nov 27, 2013
- Spying by Canada against Brazil strains relations, including in UN’s failed aid efforts in Haiti, Canada Haiti Action Network, Nov 9, 2013
- Last week, the Vancouver Observer broke the story of ongoing CSIS spying on the environmental movement in Canada.