Windsor Star

Russia, China ramp up spy efforts

On a level `not seen since the Cold War'


• Canada's spy agency says that it “observed espionage and foreign interferen­ce activity at levels not seen since the Cold War” last year and that many security threats have become “much more serious.”

“The key national security threats facing Canada, namely violent extremism, foreign interferen­ce, espionage and malicious cyber activity, accelerate­d, evolved and in many ways became much more serious for Canadians,” warns Canadian Security Intelligen­ce Service Director (CSIS) David Vigneault in the organizati­on's 2020 annual report.

His alarming conclusion­s were mirrored in a separate report also published Monday by the National Security and Intelligen­ce Committee of Parliament­arians (NSICOP), whose mandate is to oversee Canada's security and intelligen­ce agencies.

“The threat from espionage and foreign interferen­ce is significan­t and continues to grow. Several states are responsibl­e for conducting such activities in Canada, but intelligen­ce shows that China and Russia remain the primary culprits,” reads the NSICOP report.

Both reports point to a “sharp increase” in both the scope and scale of hostile activity towards Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, which focused on our nation's health care sector and research facilities.

“We were surprised to see the continuati­on of the threats around science and technology, and research and developmen­t in this country, particular­ly around COVID science and COVID vaccines. That jumped out at us,” NSICOP chair David Mcguinty said in an interview.

Any mention of the number of cyber attacks by state-sponsored actors against Canada was redacted in the report, including the amount of successful compromise­s.

“I'm afraid we can't actually tell you what the numbers are, but they're certainly much higher than you would expect,” said NSICOP executive director Sean Jorgensen, while mentioning there was a “dramatic increase” in the first six months of 2020 led primarily by China and Russia.

In its latest annual report, CSIS also says those two countries as well as other unnamed foreign states continue to target not only Canadian government­s in their attempts to steal political, military and economic informatio­n, but also non-government­al organizati­ons such as universiti­es and the private sector.

To do so, they often turned to “non-traditiona­l collectors” of informatio­n and expertise, such as “researcher­s, private entities and other third parties.”

The agency also warns that some countries such as China are trying to “deceptivel­y influence” the Canadian government to their benefit, namely by harassing, manipulati­ng or intimidati­ng various groups in Canada to either increase support for their policies or mute dissenters.

“An example of significan­t concern are activities by threat actors affiliated with the People's Republic of China that seek to leverage and exploit critical freedoms that are otherwise protected by Canadian society and the government in order to further the political interests of the Communist Party of China,” the report notes.

Another threat highlighte­d for the first time by NSICOP is how China and Russia have spied on our military in order to develop weapons “specifical­ly designed to counter our defences and exploit our vulnerabil­ities.”

But major threats to Canada's national security are also growing from within the country's own borders.

Both CSIS and NSICOP noted the deeply concerning trend of growing ideologica­lly motivated violent extremism (also known as IMVE) in Canada, such as xenophobia, gender-based violence or anti-authority narratives and dangerous conspiracy theories.

“Neo-nazi groups are active and growing,” reads the NSICOP report, adding that research suggests the number of known white supremacis­t groups has tripled in five years, jumping to closer to 300 in 2020 from 100 in 2015.

“Violent attacks by Incel-inspired extremists also pose a growing threat. The Incel subculture is growing and increasing­ly overlappin­g with other types of violent extremism,” the report continues.

Mcguinty said members of the parliament­ary committee were “very, very concerned ” when they began to understand the level of “proliferat­ion and permeation” of extremist ideologies such as white supremacy within Canada.

CSIS says the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the problem worse.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbate­d xenophobic and anti-authority narratives,” reads its latest annual report.

“Some violent extremists view COVID-19 as a real but welcome crisis that could hasten the collapse of Western society. Other violent extremist entities have adopted conspiracy theories about the pandemic in an attempt to rationaliz­e and justify violence.”

With the liberation of the so-called “caliphate” establishe­d by ISIS in Iraq and Syria in 2019, another security concern highlighte­d by CSIS and NSICOP is the return of Canadian extremist travellers (CET).

New numbers from CSIS reveal that at least 200 Canadians are known to have left the country to join ISIS or other terrorist groups since 2013. As of last November, 61 have since returned and 122 remain in Turkey, Syria and Iraq (though an undisclose­d number are suspected dead).

“CSIS is aware of the serious threat posed by CETS who return from conflict zones. The range of training and operationa­l experience they acquire while abroad and the unique environmen­t to which they have been exposed make CETS an especially dangerous threat to the security of Canada,” CSIS'S annual report explains.

 ?? SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? David Vigneault is director of CSIS, whose report says the pandemic has exacerbate­d xenophobic narratives.
SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS David Vigneault is director of CSIS, whose report says the pandemic has exacerbate­d xenophobic narratives.

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