While the media has been full of news about information-gathering by Facebook and other Internet giants, other secretive organizations that are a major threat to our personal privacy and public security are seldom mentioned. When they are, it has been because politicians are praising them and offering up more money for them to spy.
For example, Justin Trudeau recently promoted the "Anglosphere’s" intelligence sharing arrangement. Two weeks ago, in a rare move, the PM revealed a meeting with his "Five Eyes" counterparts. After the meeting in London Trudeau labeled the 2,000 employee Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s main contributor to the "Five Eyes" arrangement, "an extraordinary institution". Last year Trudeau said that "collaboration and cooperation between allies, friends and partners has saved lives and keeps all of our citizens safe."
The praise comes as the government is seeking to substantially expand CSE’s powers and two months ago put up $500 million to create a federal "cybersecurity" center. This money is on top of CSE’s $600 million annual budget and a massive new $1.2 billion complex.
Since its creation CSE has been part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing framework. The main contributors to the accord are the US National Security Agency (NSA), Australian Defense Signals Directorate (DFS), New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and CSE. A series of post-World War II accords, beginning with the 1946 UKUSA intelligence agreement, created the "AUS/CAN/NZ/UK/US EYES ONLY" arrangement.
Writing prior to the Internet, author of Target Nation: Canada and the Western Intelligence Network James Littleton notes, "almost the entire globe is monitored by the SIGINT [signals intelligence] agencies of the UKUSA countries." With major technological advancements in recent decades, the Five Eyes now monitor billions of private communications worldwide.
The Five Eyes accords are ultra-secretive and operate with little oversight. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden labeled it a "supra-national intelligence organization that doesn’t answer to the known laws of its own countries." In addition to sharing information they’ve intercepted, collected, analyzed and decrypted, the five SIGINT agencies exchange technologies and tactics. They also cooperate on targeting and "standardize their terminology, codewords, intercept–handling procedures, and indoctrination oaths, for efficiency as well as security."
CSE Special Liaison Officers are embedded with Five Eyes counterparts while colleagues from the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand are inserted in CSE. NSA has had many long-term guest detachments at CSE facilities. An NSA document Snowden released described how the US and Canadian agencies’ "cooperative efforts include the exchange of liaison officers and integrees."
NSA has trained CSE cryptanalysts and in the 1960s the US agency paid part of the cost of modernizing Canadian communications interception facilities. With CSE lacking capacity, intelligence collected at interception posts set up in Canadian embassies in Cuba, Jamaica, Russia, etc. was often remitted to NSA for deciphering and analysis. In his 1986 book Littleton writes, "much of the SIGINT material collected by Canada is transmitted directly to the U.S. National Security Agency, where it is interpreted, stored, and retained. Much of it is not first processed and analyzed in Canada."
Five Eyes agencies have helped each other skirt restrictions on spying on their own citizenry. Former Solicitor-General Wayne Easter told the Toronto Star that it was "common" for NSA "to pass on information about Canadians" to CSE. Conversely, former CSE officer Michael Frost says NSA asked the agency to spy on US citizens. In Spyworld: Inside the Canadian and American Intelligence Establishments Frost reveals that on the eve of the 1983 British election Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asked GCHQ to spy on two cabinet ministers "to find out not what they were saying, but what they were thinking." Reflecting the two agencies close ties, GCHQ requested CSE’s help on this highly sensitive matter. Frost notes that CSE wasn’t particularly worried about being caught because GCHQ was the agency tasked with protecting Britain from foreign spying.
In the lead-up to the US-British invasion of Iraq NSA asked Canada and the rest of the Five Eyes to spy on UN Security Council members. On January 31, 2003, NSA SIGINT Department Deputy Chief of Staff for regional targets wrote alliance counterparts: "As you’ve likely heard by now, the agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR [Great Britain] of course) for insights as to how membership is reacting to the ongoing debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/dependencies, etc. – the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises."
While CSE reportedly rejected this NSA request, a number of commentators suggest CSE has shown greater allegiance to its Five Eyes partners than most Canadians would like. Littleton writes, "the agreements may not explicitly say that the United States, through its SIGINT organization, the National Security Agency (NSA) dominates and controls the SIGINT organizations of the other member nations, but that is clearly what the agreements mean."
An NSA history of the US–Canada SIGINT relationship released by Snowden labeled Canada a "highly valued second party partner", which offers "resources for advanced collection, processing and analysis, and has opened covert sites at the request of NSA. CSE shares with NSA their unique geographic access to areas unavailable to the US."
The Five Eyes arrangement has made Canada complicit in belligerent US foreign policy. It’s time for a debate about Canadian participation in the "Anglosphere’s" intelligence sharing agreement.
A Canucks and Canadiens fan, Yves Engler confesses to having hated the Leafs before they partnered with the navy. He is the author of Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical and other books. He is currently writing a people’s history of the Canadian military.