Toronto Star

Spies fear homegrown Snowden

Worry over ‘insider threats’ began after U.S. leak of sensitive info


OTTAWA— Canada’s electronic spy agency is worried about a Canadian Edward Snowden.

The Communicat­ions Security Establishm­ent began educating new employees and existing staff about “insider threats” in 2013, according to documents obtained by the Star.

The crackdown on “unauthoriz­ed disclosure­s” was tied directly to the whistleblo­wer Snowden, who pulled back the curtain on a pervasive electronic spying apparatus in the United States and its Five Eyes partners, including CSE in Canada.

“Following the unauthoriz­ed disclosure­s of Canadian Navy Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle (2012) and NSA contractor Edward Snowden (2013), CSE has intensifie­d its efforts to tighten already stringent security,” the documents, obtained under access to informatio­n law, state.

“CSE’s security responses to the unauthoriz­ed disclosure­s comprise both new and existing measures as part of ongoing efforts to better safeguard intelligen­ce.”

Most of those “new and existing measures” have been censored from the heavily redacted document, a 2013-14 annual report to the minister of national defence. Almost everything Canadians know about CSE’s modern operations comes from Snowden, who fled the United States with a vast amount of informatio­n on the U.S. National Security Agency and its counterpar­ts in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Snowden gave that informatio­n to journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been writing about the NSA’s operations since. In Canada, Greenwald partnered with the CBC to release select documents on CSE’s operations, including:

Tracking free Wi-Fi traffic in a Canadian airport, thought to be Pearson Internatio­nal in Toronto.

A program called EONBLUE, which collects vast amounts of Internet data at 200 “backbone” sites.

A project called Levitation that reportedly allows the agency to monitor the traffic of millions of users on a popular file-sharing site.

A number of discrete instances of spying or assisting the United States’ spying, including at the G20 summit in Toronto and snooping around in the Brazilian ministry of mining and energy.

In the report, former CSE chief John Forster said those disclosure­s have made the agency’s job more challengin­g.

“We continue to see significan­t challenges as a result of these disclosure­s, including the changes in target behaviours,” Forster said.

If CSE provided any concrete examples of how target behaviours have changed, it’s either not included or censored from the documents obtained by the Star. The agency seemed concerned with their new public profile — CSE has existed since the Second World War, but has rarely seen a flurry of public attention like 2013. The report noted that the increase in public awareness led to several “civic protest activities” on its properties.

These protests were seen as a threat to the agency.

“Having identified an increase in threats to CSE employees and assets, a thorough review of security measures was conducted to identify areas where greater risk controls may be warranted,” the report reads.

In addition to educating employees about inside jobs, CSE has committed $45 million over five years to upgrade and enhance the federal government’s Top Secret network.

The Star requested an interview with both CSE and Julian Fantino, the junior minister of defence who handles media requests on CSE, including sending specific questions. Fantino did not respond to the Star’s request.

In a written statement, CSE declined to discuss specifics about their education efforts.

“While we can’t discuss specific advice to staff on insider threats, CSE provides continuous security education and training to staff, which includes increasing staff awareness of insider threat issues,” the agency wrote.

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