Saturday, November 12, 2016
New Intelligence gathering challenges for China designed by Canada
Ashley Fraser/Postmedia NewsThe new headquarters of the Communications Security Establishment is in the east-end Ottawa suburb of Orleans.
OTTAWA — The federal government is spending more than half a billion dollars on its electronic spying service this year, six times its pre-9/11 budget and a reflection of how the Internet has morphed into a juicy intelligence target.
The Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, is to receive $605.6 million, according to supplementary estimates tabled in Parliament.
That’s $22 million more than originally planned, much of it carried over from CSE’s 2015-16 budget. In 2000, by comparison, the agency’s annual spending stood at $97 million.
What’s more, the looming U.S. presidency of Donald Trump is already prompting leading national security experts Wesley Wark and Craig Forcese to suggest Canada consider enhancing its foreign intelligence capacity to be better able to resist “the gravitational pull of the U.S. alliance relationship” should it move in “an unpalatable direction,” says Forcese.
With more than 2,000 employees, the CSE’s chief mandate is intercepting, decoding and analyzing the electronic signals emanating from adversarial foreign nations and overseas threat actors. Much of the work takes place at the agency’s new $1.1-billion, 775,000-square-foot east Ottawa headquarters, a display of the importance government places on the service, which reports to the minister of national defence.
The raw eavesdropping data is turned into intelligence and shared with the federal cabinet, government departments and ECHELON, the signals intelligence surveillance program of Canada, the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the so-called Five Eyes alliance. Their main preoccupation is counter-terrorism, though Russian expansionism is rekindling targeting not seen since the end of the Cold War.
The CSE also is responsible for government cyber defences. Federal computer systems are “probed” more than 100 million time a day by suspected malicious actors searching for vulnerabilities. And just over the horizon looms the added challenge of quantum computing, which is expected to cripple widely-used public key cryptography for securing government (and personal) information by 2026. The CSE has joined in a global research effort to find new cryptographic standards before then.
Though the CSE received no new powers under the 2015 Anti-terrorism Act (formerly Bill C-51), its mandate includes providing electronic spying assistance to other security agencies and law enforcement. Security intelligence experts suspect much of whatever assistance CSE renders is for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS, Canada’s human spy service. (CSIS funding is pegged at $593.9 million for 2016-17.)
Bill Robinson, host of the unofficial CSE watchdog blog site Lux Ex Umbra, says about $100 million of this year’s CSE budget goes to pay for its mammoth new home. Opened in 2014, the glass spy palace was designed and built by a consortium of companies that is to manage the site and its highly-advanced IT gear until 2044. Most of the financing came from private equity and bond sales to CSE-approved institutional investors.
While counter-terrorism is a clear priority for CSE, so too is the Internet, said Robinson.
“With CSE — it’s grown so much more than CSIS has – it’s the arrival of the Internet and the decision of the signals intelligence world, the Five Eyes, to take that on as an intelligence target.”
Earlier this year, the independent watchdog agency monitoring the legality of CSE activities disclosed the agency had for years been unlawfully sharing with the Five Eyes metadata associated with Canadians’ private communications. The practice was halted in 2014.
The 11-member Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner operates on $2.2 million in annual funding and is headed by Jean-Pierre Plouffe, a former military and Quebec court judge. William Galbraith, its executive director, said current funding is sufficient and that the office is considering adding another full-time review expert to the eight now employed.
“What’s important for us when CSE has budget increases, is to know where the increase is being applied and does it have resource implications for us,” said Galbraith. “Given that CSE is a technology-intensive organization, technology is expensive and, if they’re upgrading, it may not necessarily mean that it’s expanded operational capacity.”
The situation is in marked to contrast to the financial woes of the independent watchdog monitoring CSIS, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). Postmedia reported last week that SIRC faces significant job cuts because of a chronic lack of sustained government funding.