DND to examine if discovery of bugs in Nortel building will change plan to move
BY DAVID PUGLIESE, OTTAWA CITIZEN
SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 10:00 PM
The Department of National Defence will have to decide whether it is still worth the risk to move into the former Nortel campus after the discovery of listening devices at the facility, say security analysts.
The DND is not releasing details about where exactly the electronic eavesdropping devices were found or whether they were left over from an industrial espionage operation when Nortel occupied the complex in Ottawa’s west end.
Nortel was the target of a number of spy and computer hacking operations, with the main culprits suspected of being associated with China.
But security analysts say other listening devices could remain in the sprawling campus at 3500 Carling Ave. The question is whether they can all be found and whether they are still active, they add.
John Pike of Washington-based GlobalSecurity.org said the DND will have to decide whether it is worth the risk to move into the facility. “It might be either they decide they found them all or they’ll decide maybe they haven’t found them all but can work around them,” he said of the bugs.
Pike said Canadian intelligence officials are closely aligned with the National Security Agency in the U.S. so the DND would have access to that expertise and support to determine the extent of the bugging at Nortel or whether the devices predated the government’s purchase of the complex.
Sources say the bugs are believed to have been planted when Nortel occupied the campus.
Wesley Wark, an intelligence specialist with the University of Ottawa, said he believes the DND will be able to properly sweep the campus and that the devices in question are likely left over from an industrial espionage operation against Nortel. That shouldn’t have an impact on the DND eventually occupying the facility, he added.
DND documents indicate that concerns about the security surrounding the former Nortel campus were raised last year.
A briefing document for then-Defence minister Peter MacKay warned that the public announcement the DND was moving into the complex before it could be properly secured created a major problem. “This not only raises the level of difficulty of verifying appropriate security safeguards in the future, it will probably dramatically increase security costs and cause delays to reach full operational capability,” MacKay was told in April 2012 by Canadian Forces security officers.
The briefing note was released under the Access to Information law.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior officer with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said he believes that the Defence Department should make the move to Nortel but noted that it is running a risk. “The challenge with bugs is that you can’t always identify whether they are recent or old,” he said.
The department should prioritize the areas it wants to have secure and conduct intensive sweeps for listening devices in those locations, said Juneau-Katsuya, who is a security consultant with Hill and Knowlton. Later it could concentrate on less important areas and do sweeps of those, he added.
It was revealed last year that Nortel had been the target of industrial espionage for almost a decade. An internal security study by Nortel suggested that the hackers had been able to download research and development studies and business plans starting in 2000. The hackers also placed spyware so deep into some employee computers it escaped detection, the Wall Street Journal reported last year.
The Conservative government has earmarked almost $1 billion for its plan to move military personnel and Defence staff to the former Nortel campus. That includes $208 million to buy the property, with an additional $790 million to renovate the buildings for DND’s needs, according to a presentation made to the Senate by Treasury Board officials. The cost to prepare the site involves everything from creating new offices to installing secure computer networks.
Recently, however, the federal government has noted it could be open to revisiting its plans to have the DND occupy the facility. Public Works has been considering whether other government departments might make their home there instead.
Although DND is still planning for the move, cabinet has not yet made the final decision authorizing it to occupy the Nortel site.
If it does move to the campus, the DND will still continue to occupy key buildings such as its main headquarters, the Major-General George R. Pearkes Building on Colonel By Drive, as well as its facility on Star Top Road. The DND’s presence in the Louis St. Laurent building, the National Printing Bureau building and the Hotel de Ville building in Gatineau will also continue.
The department has estimated it would save $50 million a year by moving many of its employees in the Ottawa area into the Nortel campus but it has not provided a breakdown on how it came up with that figure.
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[this story has huge implications as to whom the Canadian government was serving!]