Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Adams speaks

The latest issue of Canadian Government Executive carries an interview with CSE Chief John Adams (Paul Crookall, "Gathering Intelligence: The challenges of the Communications Security Establishment," Canadian Government Executive, December 2006). In fact, Adams is the cover story (no pun intended).

The interview covers the challenges facing the CSE in an interesting but necessarily generic way.

Some comments on CSE support to military operations that I found intriguing:
We work more intensively with the uniforms; we provide direct support to Canadian Forces deployed abroad, particularly in Afghanistan. We work much more closely with the tactical side now.... We provide intelligence in real time to operations in Afghanistan. The information we gather, if accurate, can provide the tipping point for the success of an operation – or if inaccurate could have serious consequences.
SMO is not news, but the point about real time is interesting. Presumably, Mr. Adams is not referring to the local interception/analysis that may be done by the CFIOG "291ers" who deploy to Afghanistan. So where is CSE getting the raw material to analyse for Afghanistan operations? Local collection that is remoted back to Ottawa for analysis? There could be some of that I suppose. But I have long suspected that CSE helps to analyse some of the material collected by the so-called TRUMPET satellites operated by the Aerospace Data Facility at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado – maybe that's where the Afghanistan material is coming from.

The Taliban, like Al Qaeda, are of course aware of the existence of SIGINT satellites and the fact that people are listening to their communications. But don't expect Mr. Adams (or anyone else from CSE) to comment yea or nay on the question of the specific collection systems CSE may be using.

I wonder if 771 Communications Research Squadron is missed now that SMO has taken on such importance?

CSE collective agreement ratified

Playing a little catch-up with this one...

The 1500 or so CSE employees who are represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) ratified their latest collective agreement in October. According to PSAC ("PSAC members at Communications Security Establishment ratify collective agreement," PSAC News Release, 4 October 2006), the agreement "provides for wage increases of 2.4%, retroactive to February 2006, and 2.5%, effective February 2007, as well as an increase in wage increments and Market Allowance. It is also among the first agreements negotiated by the PSAC that provides bonuses to eligible workers who speak languages other than French or English, through the Foreign Language Incentive Program."

Although it was based on a tentative agreement reached between PSAC and CSE management in February, the final contract as approved by Treasury Board did not, however, include an agreed section on Mathematicians Compensation that "would have provided a form of retention bonus for mathematicians, a position that has a high turnover in the CSE." (Maybe Treasury Board doesn't realize that cryptanalysts do have other career options these days.)

Notwithstanding the inevitable occasional dispute, CSE has usually maintained relatively good relations with its union(s). Contract negotiations did become tense in 1999 and there was actually talk of potential strike action (see Kathryn May, "Spies near strike: 'We can't talk about it'. A very quiet kind of labour dispute," Ottawa Citizen, 10 March 1999). However, there is very little likelihood of such a threat ever being carried out.

The only serious labour disruptions known to have occurred within the UKUSA community happened to GCHQ, which experienced a work slowdown in the winter of 1979-1980 and a one-day strike in 1981. These actions were cited as one of the reasons then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided in 1983 to ban unions at GCHQ, which led to a bitter dispute that continued until the decision was eventually reversed by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fuel spill at Alert

The Contact, the base newspaper at CFB Trenton, reports that there was a "significant" fuel spill at CFS Alert on September 8th (Lt(N) Pierrette LeDrew, "8 Wing Fuel Spill Response Team receives
Commander’s CFIOG Commendation
," The Contact, 1 December 2006, p. 5). The size of the spill is not indicated, but the article reports that it took an 8-person Fuel Spill Response Team from 8 Wing to contain the spill and begin the clean-up. Further work will be done next summer to remove contaminated soil and set up a "bioremediation area". The team has received a CFIOG Commander's Commendation and an 8 Wing Commander's Commendation for its work cleaning up the mess.

Friday, December 15, 2006

In the news: Arar Commission

The second and final report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar (the "Arar Commission") was released on December 12th. (More about the Arar scandal here.) Entitled A New Review Mechanism for the RCMP's National Security Activities (636-page PDF file), the report focuses on oversight mechanisms for RCMP intelligence activities. The other elements of the Canadian intelligence community are also discussed, including sections on CSE (pp. 143-147), CFIOG (pp. 148-149), and the CSE Commissioner (pp. 281-284).

CSE and the Commissioner are also discussed in several other parts of the report. One interesting section (p. 443) notes, for example, that
Under the National Defence Act, ministerial authorization may be granted [to intercept the private communications of Canadians and persons within Canada] where the Minister of National Defence is satisfied of the following:

(a) the interception will be directed at foreign entities located outside Canada;

(b) the information to be obtained could not reasonably be obtained by other means;

(c) the expected foreign intelligence value of the information that would be derived from the interception justifies it; and

(d) satisfactory measures are in place to protect the privacy of Canadians and to ensure that private communications will only be used or retained if they are essential to international affairs, defence or security.

It goes on to explain, however, that
The CSE Commissioner scrutinizes the legality of the CSE’s interception of communications pursuant to ministerial authorizations, ensuring that the intercepts comply with the terms of the authorizations. However, the Commissioner does not review the Minister’s decision to authorize interception. Thus, the authorization is not reviewed for compliance with the criteria set out in section 273.65(2) of the National Defence Act or in the Charter.

Might this be the basis of the disagreement that the previous CSE Commissioner had with the Minister of National Defence (blogged about here)? Don't know; just asking. Whatever happened to that disagreement anyway? Is the new Commissioner pursuing it?

Back in 2005, the Privacy Commissioner recommended that the National Defence Act be amended to require judicial rather than ministerial authorizations for such interceptions and to empower the CSE Commissioner "to ensure not only that intercepts of private conversations have in fact been authorized..., but that the direction itself is authorized by the law and consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Privacy Act" (Position Statement on the Anti-terrorism Act: Submission of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to the Senate Special Committee on the Anti-terrorism Act, 9 May 2005). These recommendations were not acted on.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

CFSOC stood up

CFS Leitrim, photo by Jerry Proc

The CF Information Management Group website reports that the Canadian Forces SIGINT Operations Centre (CFSOC) was stood up earlier this year. "In 2006, a revitalization of Signals Intelligence capabilities and a concurrent expansion of Station support responsibilities, prompted authorities to stand-up a separate SIGINT Centre of Excellence, at CFS Leitrim. That Centre of Excellence is the 'CFSOC.'"

The CFSOC has taken over Leitrim's SIGINT missions, currently described as follows:
  • To operate and maintain signals intelligence collection and geolocation facilities in support of the national cryptologic programme and military operations;
  • To operate and maintain radio frequency direction finding facilities in support of search and rescue and other programs;
  • To maintain a capacity for the timely deployment of SIGINT forces and capabilities, in support of CF operational requirements.
CFS Leitrim continues to exist as a unit, but it is now described as "a unit that provides support services to the other units located on the Station": the Canadian Forces Information Operations Group Headquarters (CFIOGHQ), the Canadian Forces Network Operations Centre (CFNOC), the CFSOC, and a Joint Information and Intelligence Fusion Centre (JIIFC) Detachment.

Gander and Masset, for their part, are now considered CFSOC Detachments.

Photo courtesy Jerry Proc

Expansion on track

The latest staff figures published by the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency indicate that CSE now has 1,630 staff members, up 33 from the 1,597 reported earlier this year (unfortunately the PSHRMA webpage is still dated 2 February 2006, so it is not clear exactly when the new total was reached).

[Update 20 December 2006: PSHRMA's lead-in webpage says "Employee counts are as of November 2006."]

In 2005 it was reported that CSE had begun a major expansion (blogged about here), with a target staffing figure of 1,650 "full-time equivalents" scheduled to be achieved in 2007. Unless the target has gone up in the interim, it looks like they're just about there.