Medicine Hat News

Spy chief says China is bent on stealing Canadian secrets, silencing critics



The head of the Canadian Security Intelligen­ce Service warns that China is underminin­g Canada through its efforts to steal valuable technology and silence critics of Beijing’s policies.

In a speech Tuesday sponsored by the Centre for Internatio­nal Governance Innovation, CSIS director David Vigneault said all sectors of Canadian society must work together to fend off these threats.

Vigneault stressed that Canadians have benefited for decades from their relationsh­ip with Chinese researcher­s, scholars, artists, business people and others.

“To be clear, the threat does not come from the Chinese people, but rather from the government of China that is pursuing a strategy for geopolitic­al advantage on all fronts economic, technologi­cal, political and military,” he said.

Vigneault bluntly stated that Beijing is using “all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignt­y.”

“We all must strengthen our defences.” Vigneault said ill-intentione­d countries will aim to “take advantage” of Canada as it works to get back on its economic feet once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

Among the sectors of Canada’s economy most vulnerable to state-sponsored cyberespio­nage are biopharmac­euticals and health, artificial intelligen­ce, quantum computing and aerospace, he said.

These technologi­es are largely developed within academia in small startups, which are attractive targets because they have modest security protection­s and are more likely to pursue collaborat­ions that can, and sadly are, exploited by other countries, he said.

“Investigat­ions reveal that this threat has unfortunat­ely caused significan­t harm to Canadian companies,” Vigneault said.

“Collective­ly, it jeopardize­s Canada’s knowledge-based economy. When our most innovative technology and know-how is lost, it is our country’s future that is being stolen.”

Federal officials openly say that China has the capacity to conduct foreign interferen­ce in Canada by applying pressure and influence in a clandestin­e and deceptive way to pursue its strategic objectives.

They say China and certain other foreign nations routinely threaten and intimidate people around the world through various state entities and non-state proxies.

One notable example of this is the

Chinese government’s covert global program, known as Operation Fox Hunt, which claims to target corruption “but is also believed to have been used to target and quiet dissidents to the regime,” Vigneault said.

“Those threatened often lack the resources to defend themselves and are unaware that they can report these activities to Canadian authoritie­s, including CSIS.”

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa had no immediate reaction to the remarks.

Vigneault said while CSIS is most concerned about the actions of government­s of countries like China and Russia, threats can originate from anywhere in the world.

The fluid and rapidly evolving environmen­t spawned by COVID-19 has created a situation ripe for exploitati­on by those seeking to cause harm or advance their own interests, he said.

This has led to the continued use of online platforms by extremists to recruit others and to spread hateful messaging, anti-authority narratives and conspiracy theories about the pandemic to rationaliz­e and justify violence.

“We’re also seeing an increase in the exploitati­on of cybertools to steal sensitive informatio­n, conduct ransomware attacks and cause disruption.”

The federal government recently overhauled many aspects of national-security legislatio­n. But Vigneault indicated more must be done to update the CSIS Act, and called for a healthy public discussion of the issue.

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