Saturday, April 15, 2006

In the news: Canada's master eavesdroppers

National Post reporter Stewart Bell has managed to get himself a tour of CSE's secret lair (Stewart Bell, "Listening in on the enemy: Canada's master eavesdroppers," National Post, 15 April 2006), evidently as part of CSE's recent openness offensive.

"The chief feels very strongly that the Canadian taxpayer has a right to know what we're doing here and why it's so very important," CSE's Adrian Simpson is quoted as saying. And so we are treated to earth-shattering revelations such as this:
During a tour of a CSE building that cannot be identified, there were long pauses as an official who cannot be identified was asked for examples of what the agency does. He could not get into details, he resolved.
I guess openness has its limits.

Still, the article gives a much better overview of CSE than most media reports do, and it does contain a few tidbits of new information, notably that CSE still occupies only "three buildings at its headquarters complex and has space in a fourth" (the Tilley Building, the Drake Building, the Insurance Building, and, presumably, the space it has long occupied in the SBI Building at 2323 Riverside Drive) and that the two planned temporary buildings have now been constructed.

[Update 9 April 2012: The fourth building was not the SBI Building (more recently known as the Billings Bridge Tower), which CSE probably vacated around the year 2000. To the best of my knowledge the actual building remains unidentified; possible candidates include the Sir Charles Tupper Building and the Canada Post Building, both in Confederation Heights. More detail on CSE's Confederation Heights campus here.]

[Update 12 November 2013: It was Canada Post Place.]

It also provides a few intriguing details on recent operations:
Signals teams deployed in Baghdad played a role in the March 23 rescue of one British and two Canadian hostages in Iraq, for example. The agency has also saved the lives of Canadian troops in Afghanistan by intercepting details on enemy attack plans.
I have not seen the suggestion that actual CSE signals teams were deployed in Baghdad before. Unfortunately, the source of these claims is not made clear. Possibly they were made in other media reports.

[Update 14 December 2006: The Baghdad claim appears to have originated in an article by Michelle Sheppard ("How 200 soldiers saved 3 pacifists," Toronto Star, 25 March 2006), which reported that "analysts with the Canadian Security Establishment [sic], the secretive electronic eavesdropping agency, rotated through Baghdad's Green Zone during the four months the hostages were held captive."]

The graphic accompanying the article, a map showing how a terrorist's cell phone call might be intercepted, also leaves a bit to be desired, since it seems to imply that "CSE Gander" might do the listening in.

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