Wednesday, November 18, 2015

October 2015 CSE staff size

2140. Normal range.

(If you click through on the link and get a different figure, it's probably because the Canada Public Service Agency has updated its website; they update the numbers once a month.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Even NSA does it, part 2

From the Linkedin profile of the last SUSLO in Ottawa:

Incidently, the final point on the SUSLO's list looks like a reference to the Collaborative Analytics Research Environment, which CSE described in a 2012 document as "a big-data system being trialed at CSEC (with NSA launch assist)" (see page 25 here). CARE was being used to speed up large-scale data-mining activities to make them practical for operational use.

Part 1 of "Even NSA does it" is here.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Gwen Beauchemin was first CANSLO/C-W

CSE doesn't usually reveal the names of its current or former liaison officers, but the former occupants of those positions do sometimes acknowledge that they once held the job, and on other occasions some enterprising soul figures some of them out for himself.

In this case, we now have the somewhat oblique admission by the former occupant that CSE's first liaison officer to the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) was Gwen Beauchemin.

The CANSLO/C-W (Canadian Special Liaison Office/Canberra-Wellington) position was established in 2009, and Beauchemin served in the role, which is based at ASD in Canberra, from 2009 to 2013.

She then went on to become the Director of the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre (CCIRC) at Public Safety Canada, where she remains today.

Fill-in-the-blanks analysis would seem to confirm her identity:

That would be her, standing on the right with her head blanked out, beside then-CSE Chief John Adams. The original page comes from this CSE document (see page 452).

You can read more about the functioning of the liaison offices here.

Update 10 November 2015: On the question of Special vs. Senior (see earlier discussion here), I'm starting to think that the office is called the Canadian Special Liaison Office and the senior occupant of that office is called the Canadian Senior Liaison Officer, with both being abbreviated as CANSLO. That explanation doesn't account for the occasional reference that turns up to a Canadian Senior Liaison Office or Canadian Special Liaison Officer, but it seems to be the best fit.

Incidentally, CANSLO wasn't always the term used. This NSA document notes that the title of Canada's liaison officer at NSA was "changed to 'Canadian Senior Liaison Officer', abbreviated 'CANSLO'," effective 15 June 1954, and that the title of the liaison officer to GCHQ was also changed at the same time.

As this document shows, the previous title was CBSLO, which presumably expanded to Communications Branch Senior Liaison Officer (CSE was then called the Communications Branch, National Research Council).

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book review: Out of the Shadows

Ron Lawruk's self-published autobiography about his career at CSE, Out of the Shadows, the Life of a CSE Canadian Intelligence Officer (Friesen Press, 2015), contains some interesting tidbits about the organization's history, but anyone looking for substantive information about CSE's current mission and activities is likely to be disappointed.

In part, this is inevitable. The current CSE, with its heavy focus on Internet-based communications and active use of Computer Network Exploitation to steal information, is just not your granddad's signals intelligence agency, whereas that's exactly what it was during the period that Lawruk worked there (1958 to 1990), when it focused overwhelmingly on the military and civilian radio communications of the Soviet Union.

The information about the agency is also sparse because Lawruk took pains not to reveal classified information when he wrote the book, and he submitted it both to CSE and to the NSA for review prior to publication. This was no doubt prudent given the provisions of the Security of Information Act, but it does render the result somewhat devoid of detail, sometimes absurdly so. For example, the name of CSE's Chief from 1980 to 1989—Peter R. Hunt—is carefully excluded from the text even though it is well known publicly and even appears in a letter of commendation reproduced in the book.

Still, the odd unusual detail does make it through. This 1980 photo of Lawruk and various 291ers on HMCS Athabaskan, for instance, may be the only extant example of a bunch of SIGINTers holding up their SIGAD on a sign.

But such items are rare. This is definitely not Mike Frost's Spyworld, and in terms of writing style at least, we can be grateful for that. Lawruk is a former employee of CSE, but he is not a disgruntled one, and he is not out to blow whistles. He likes his former employer.

The lack of detail in the book is unfortunate, however, as Lawruk's career did take him to some interesting places at some interesting times. From 1968 to 1971, for example, he was the assistant to the Canadian Special Liaison Officer (CANSLO) at NSA. The CANSLO at the time was the same Peter Hunt who later became Chief (although you won't learn that in the book), and it was during this period that CBNRC, as it was still called, agreed to open its first embassy-based monitoring site and to help process the communications intercepted by the giant geosynchronous eavesdropping satellites that the U.S. had just begun launching into orbit.

Later, in the 1980s, when CSE was just starting to turn its attention to targets outside the Soviet bloc, Lawruk was appointed as the agency's first liaison officer to the Department of National Defence.

Both times were thus extremely interesting moments in the history of CSE, but sadly there's no insight into them here.

Other parts of his career were more mundane, reflecting the more typical SIGINT grunt work of collecting and collating small details from a myriad of sources to gradually build up a larger picture of some aspect of the target's activities. During the 1970s, for example, he spent a considerable amount of time studying the Soviet nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet.

The topic of icebreakers leads to some rather crankish discussion of the implications of the current Russian icebreaker fleet—which Lawruk frequently lapses into calling Soviet—on Canada's future Arctic sovereignty. This is probably best ignored. On page 120 of the book Lawruk mentions that "our military customers preferred that SIGINT reports include only the facts we could prove with no analytical interpretation or conclusions. However, I eventually obtained permission to allow my reporters to add an ‘Analyst Comment’ to our reports if it was relevant." I'm left wondering if the customer wasn't right.

I'm glad he wrote the book, however.

Even without the details that I would have preferred, I found it a fascinating look into life inside the CSE of the past.

Not everyone may find this subject as interesting as I do, of course.

Update 10 November 2015: You can view some of the pages and search inside the book here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

SIGINT and Canadian exports

Does the Canadian government use SIGINT to support Canadian exports?

CSE has acknowledged (see page 11) that Canada does gather economic intelligence:
In Canada, foreign signals intelligence exists to support the Government in the pursuit of its national interests within the scope of defence, security and international affairs. This includes economic interests because in any state a strong economy is integral to national security.
But the agency also insists that
Canada’s foreign signals intelligence activities are NOT used to provide Canadian private companies with any competitive advantage. Private businesses, here in Canada or anywhere, should compete fairly in the global marketplace on the merits of their own offerings, without assistance provided by state intelligence capabilities.
How credible is this latter assertion?

As I noted here, allegations of Canadian use of CSE-gathered intelligence to assist Canadian industry have cropped up from time to time for decades.

But the government has always denied assisting private companies, and it may be significant that many of the past allegations have revolved around quasi-governmental activities such as wheat exports and nuclear reactor sales.

Provision of SIGINT to private companies would pose serious security problems, and with corporate ownership and production activities often distributed around the world, in many cases it is not obvious which country would benefit most from the provision of such intelligence. Wide-ranging, systematic assistance to Canadian companies that helped them to outcompete companies based in the United States or other Five Eyes allies would almost certainly be discovered, endangering Canada's position in the Five Eyes system. And the Canadian governments of recent decades have tended increasingly to take the view that the free market is the best determinant of economic winners.

A government that was committed to free-market principles might still see a case for using SIGINT to monitor commercial transactions—to ensure that Canadian companies are not cheated out of major contracts by the use of bribery or other underhanded tactics by competitors, for example. But it might draw the line at providing signals intelligence to help those companies win competitions by, for example, underbidding their competitors or using information about key decision-makers to influence the outcome of the competition.

It might.

On the other hand, no Canadian government has ever taken the position that no government assistance of any kind should be provided to Canadian companies seeking export sales. This is especially true of the aerospace and defence industries, which have long been considered crucial sectors of the Canadian economy whose success is considered a critical national interest. The same position has also been taken more recently with respect to the energy industry.

Canadian government support for exports by the aerospace and defence industries includes the provision of grants and loans for research and product development, sponsorship of "Team Canada" trade missions to promote sales, assistance by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service and other elements of the department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, product promotion by defence attachés, use of the Canadian Forces to demonstrate equipment to potential customers, financing both for suppliers and for foreign customers through Export Development Canada, and provision of contracting services through the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC).

In recent years the CCC has placed increasing emphasis on what it calls the Global Defence and Security market:
Sales to governments of other nations are vital for Canadian defence and security companies. By promoting Canadian solutions and technologies and building valuable relationships with governments around the world, CCC plays an active role in keeping global defence markets open.

International buyers benefit from an expedited, transparent process and rigorous supplier-evaluation standards of the Government of Canada. Canadian companies leverage CCC’s unique relationships and negotiating expertise to promote their capabilities and technologies on the world stage.
Should we assume that CSE's capabilities, alone among the tools available to the Canadian government, are never used in support of Canadian exports?

That's certainly what CSE would have us believe. As CSE Chief John Forster told the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in February 2014,
There were reports of us meeting with industry to give them commercial intelligence; that is not what we do. We, along with [CSIS] and Public Safety, meet with them when we can help them, to tell them about threats to their information systems, intellectual property, research and technology. In terms of foreign intelligence outside of the cyberworld, we collect that to give to government departments according to the priorities set by cabinet. We provide that to departments in the form of reports, and that is where our intelligence goes. We would not meet with a company, as I said earlier, to share any intelligence we have about an upcoming bid or an upcoming tender. We don't collect that information; that is not what we do. Again, we collect according to the priorities of the government.
But what are those priorities?

Well, economic success is certainly one of them. The Canadian government has listed "prosperity issues" among CSE's intelligence priorities for a long time. In fact, as then-CSE Chief John Adams acknowledged in a 2007 speech, "in the time between the end of the cold war and 2001, CSE’s reporting concentrated mostly on prosperity issues." [emphasis added]

Counter-terrorism and support to military operations displaced prosperity as CSE's highest priorities in the wake of 9/11, but prosperity never disappeared from the list, and it has almost certainly grown in importance in recent years.

On 27 November 2013, the Harper government announced what it called its Global Markets Action Plan, identifying economic success as the top Canadian foreign policy priority. Minister of International Trade Ed Fast declared that the new plan would “ensure that all of Canada’s diplomatic assets are harnessed to support the pursuit of commercial success by Canadian companies and investors.”

According to the Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson,
The new orientation is the result of a direct order that Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave Ed Fast when he was appointed Minister of International Trade after the 2011 election.... The Prime Minister wants trade to become the dominant focus of Canada’s foreign policy, and Mr. Fast was to come up with the blueprint for making that happen. The Global Markets Action Plan is that blueprint. The plan was stiffly resisted by many senior officials within the department itself, according to a government official speaking on background. Calling the new directive “a culture shift” for Foreign Affairs, the official said the action plan sends a message to Canada’s diplomats: “Take off your tweed jacket, buy a business suit and land us a deal.”
Defense News reported that the plan "target[s] the markets that matter to Canadian businesses, in particular in defense and energy,... ensuring that Canada’s interests are advanced in those markets. The policy concerns 20 nations including Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."

It's probably no coincidence that CSE was targeting the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy at around the same time. After all, it shouldn't come as a complete surprise that Canada's foreign intelligence priorities might align with its overall foreign policy priorities.

Still, there may be room for a little nuance here.

It may be that CSE does collect intelligence related to potential export sales, but that it doesn't actually make that intelligence available to private corporations.

The outstanding success story of the government's recent export promotion efforts, according to the government itself, is the $10-15 billion contract to export light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia announced by Trade Minister Fast in February 2015.

Was SIGINT used in some way to help secure that contract?

We don't know.

But we do know that General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada (GDLS-C), the company that manufactures the vehicles, does not have a direct contract with Saudi Arabia. GDLS-C has a contract with the Canadian government.

It is the Canadian government—specifically the Canadian Commercial Corporation—that has the contract with Saudi Arabia. Like most Canadian arms exports, this is a government-to-government sale.

Thus, if SIGINT was indeed used to help secure the LAV contract, it was probably used by officials working for the Canadian government. There wouldn't have been any need or reason to provide it directly to the company.

If this is how it's done, then Chief Forster's statement that CSE does not provide commercial intelligence to private industry may well be true—just deeply, deeply misleading. It is probably the public servants at the CCC, account executives like Norm Weir, who receive the SIGINT in such cases, not corporate CEOs and sales managers.

I mention Norm Weir in particular for a reason. Nothing on the public record confirms he is cleared to receive SIGINT. But we do know he wasn't a CCC employee when he first arrived in the agency's offices in 2002-03.

He was a CSE employee seconded to CCC.

Of course, nothing in the above proves that Mr. Weir—or anyone else at the Canadian Commercial Corporation—has access to SIGINT and is using it to help secure Canadian export sales.

But, honestly, do you really doubt that somebody there is doing it?

Many people, including at least two Canadian Senators, would probably support Canada using intelligence information to advance the interests of Canadian corporations and thus the Canadian economy as a whole. It's what "grown up" countries do. Or so we're told.

Using SIGINT to protect Canadian companies from being cheated does seem pretty reasonable to me.

But using it to cheat others—if that's what we're doing—is a different proposition. Especially if it's in aid of peddling arms to deep-pocketed despots.

Is that what being grown up is?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The SIGINT satellites of Pine Gap

Desmond Ball, Richard Tanter, and I have released another issue of our on-going series on the SIGINT station at Pine Gap, Australia:

"The SIGINT Satellites of Pine Gap: Conception, Development and in Orbit", NAPSNet Special Reports, October 15, 2015. Full text here.

Although we focus on the satellites operated from Pine Gap and cover the Program A SIGINT satellites (Canyon, operated from Bad Aibling, and Chalet/Vortex/Mercury, operated from Menwith Hill) only tangentially, I think this paper will be of interest to anyone looking for information about the history and operations of U.S. geosynchronous signals intelligence satellite programs.

Earlier reports:

- Desmond Ball, Bill Robinson, and Richard Tanter, "The militarisation of Pine Gap: Organisations and Personnel", NAPSNet Special Reports, August 13, 2015;

- Desmond Ball, Bill Robinson, and Richard Tanter, "The Higher Management of Pine Gap", NAPSNet Special Reports, August 17, 2015; and

- Desmond Ball, Bill Robinson, Richard Tanter, and Philip Dorling, "The corporatisation of Pine Gap", NAPSNet Special Reports, June 24, 2015.

More to come!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

September 2015 CSE staff size

2108. Up 85 from last month, putting the total back into the expected 2100–2200 range (at least for now).

(If you click through on the link and get a different figure, it's probably because the Canada Public Service Agency has updated its website; they update the numbers once a month.)