Friday, May 11, 2007

April CSE staff figure


(If you click through on the link and get a different figure, it's probably because the PSHRMA site has been updated; they seem to be updating the numbers every month right now.)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Intercept warned of Air India attack?

Ontario lieutenant-governor James Bartleman testified to the Air India Inquiry on 3 May that he saw a CSE communications intercept during the week before the 22 June 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182 indicating that the flight was to be targeted that weekend. Bartleman is the first current or former government official to allege that the Canadian government had specific warning information prior to the downing of the aircraft, the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history. Bartleman was Director General of the Intelligence Analysis and Security Bureau at the Department of External Affairs at the time, and he received CSE intercepts and other intelligence information on a daily basis.

Bartleman would not provide specifics about the intercept in a public forum, but said that he could provide further details in private testimony. The inquiry was told that CSE has been unable to find such a document in its files. It was also told, however, that test searches for known documents had also failed in some cases to produce the document sought.

No indication was given of how CSE might have made such an intercept. However, former CSE employee Mike Frost wrote in his book Spyworld that CSE began targeting Sikh extremist communications from an intercept site codenamed "Daisy" inside the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi in early 1984 (see chapter 8, pp. 179-197). The operation was reportedly highly productive and continued well past the date of the Air India attack. If Frost's information is correct, it may explain how CSE obtained the intercept. The telephone conversations between known Sikh activists in Canada and India may also have been intercepted, but the monitoring of communications involving people in Canada would presumably have been done by CSIS, not CSE.

Links to more information:

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Afghanistan SIGINT 2

More follow up to that National Post story (see Afghanistan SIGINT below).

The CSE Chief's 30 April 2007 speaking notes state that "a large majority of [CSE's] foreign intelligence reporting" is on security-related topics and that in the last year "over a quarter of our security reporting was related to Afghanistan".

This is quite a bit less than the National Post said ("more than a quarter of the intelligence reports produced by the agency in the past year were related to the mission."), but it still makes for a lot of reporting.

Let's try some back-of-the-envelope calculations. If we assume that Adams's statement that "a large majority" of reporting is dedicated to security-related topics means that something like 60-70% of reporting is on security topics and that 25-30% ("more than a quarter") of security reporting relates to Afghanistan, then something like 15-20% of CSE's SIGINT reports have apparently been dedicated to Afghanistan over the past year.

On to the next envelope: CSE probably has roughly 1000 people on the SIGINT side of the house, broadly defined (there being about 400 in INFOSEC and maybe 200 or so in administrative positions). But a large number of those function in support capacities (e.g., watch officers, cryptanalysts, transcriber/reporters, IT types, customer liaison officers). If we go way out on a limb and guess that one-third to one-half of the SIGINT side are actual analysts, then maybe 50 to 100 analysts are working full-time on Afghanistan. That's a whole lot of analysts (and remember that figure doesn't include either the transcribers, translators, and other support resources or the personnel who collect the SIGINT, who, notwithstanding the deployment of "several" CSE staff members to Afghanistan, are presumably mostly CFIOG personnel). Enough to have their own dedicated group in the CSE organization chart.

[Update 3 June 2007:
Adams's testimony is now online. In his oral remarks he specified that "about 80 per cent of the CSE's activities is focussed on security and support to military operations". That means about 20-25% of CSE's recent reporting has been on Afghanistan and, to go once more out on that limb, perhaps 70 to 150 dedicated analysts. There are also many other items of interest in the testimony, by the way.]

That's enough people to do a lot of monitoring and analysis. A lot of that presumably relates to direct tactical support to military operations, and a lot also would relate to broader strategic/operational intelligence about the Taliban. (See the National Post article for further speculation along these lines.)

However, Chief Adams's recent speech at Laval University (6 February 2007) suggests that a much broader range of targets is being covered:
Another way in which CSE is helping to combat terrorism and contribute to international peace, security and prosperity is by providing intelligence for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. It is important to emphasize that Canada’s mission in Afghanistan goes beyond military operations. This is because we know that success in Afghanistan cannot be assured by military means alone. That is why Canada has also deployed diplomats, development workers, civilian police, as well as experts in human rights, good governance and democracy-building. By providing intelligence in response to the government’s priorities, it is possible to analyse social networks so that the government can better reach its objectives of diplomacy and development.
Social networks? Okeydoak...

And how are we collecting all this material? Local radio monitoring, undoubtedly. Plus somebody (NSA?) is presumably monitoring satellite up- and downlinks to Afghanistan and remoting it back over here for a good close look. I also suspect we may be involved in processing the take from US SIGINT satellites, especially the TRUMPET satellites, or whatever they're called now, operated out of Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado. But that's just a guess.

You may be wondering, given the fact we're at war with the Taliban right now, why CSE would reveal the information that forms the basis of the above speculations. I don't think the agency is trying to get our soldiers killed, and neither am I in speculating about the information (for the record, I used to be in the infantry reserves, but I am not a supporter of this war). The answer, I think, is that the government has concluded the Taliban is already well aware that it is under intense SIGINT surveillance. The details of particular sources and methods used against the Taliban might matter a great deal, but very general information (and uninformed speculation like mine) does not.

In the news: Afghanistan SIGINT

CSE has revealed that it collects Aghanistan-related SIGINT, according to National Post reporter Stewart Bell ("Canada listening in on Taliban exchanges," National Post, 1 May 2007): "Canada's ultra-secret electronic spy agency revealed yesterday it has been heavily involved in Afghanistan and has deployed a team to the country."

Unfortunately, the story breaks down a bit after that promising-sounding lede. The second sentence tells us that "The Communications Security Establishment acknowledged its role in Afghanistan for the first time in testimony to the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence." Huh? Previous Chief Keith Coulter described CSE's collection of Afghanistan SIGINT over two years ago, in his 11 April 2005 testimony to the Special Senate Committee on the Anti-terrorism Act. Current Chief Adams has also publicly discussed the subject in the past, although this may be his first mention of it in testimony. Stewart Bell has even reported CSE's role in Afghanistan before.

What is newly acknowledged is the information that CSE "has deployed a team to the country." But then the third sentence of the article throws that information into doubt, telling us that "the agency is believed to have sent officers to Afghanistan to eavesdrop on the Taliban and other militant groups." Is believed to have sent!? Did he mention a deployed CSE team or not?

You have to go dig up Adams' own speaking notes (PDF file) to find the answer to that. According to his text, "CSE is working with the Canadian Forces Information Operations Group to provide foreign intelligence to Canadian troops in Afghanistan. As part of this effort, CSE has deployed several employees to that country."

So they have sent them. Now, whether they're engaged in the actual eavesdropping or providing some sort of support to CFIOG efforts is still an open question. But that's just hair-splitting anyway. I guess we'll have to wait for the transcript of his testimony to see if he modified or elaborated on those comments in any way when he was speaking.

An interesting tidbit from the notes: Chief Adams reports that CSE "currently employs 1700 individuals." I wonder if he was rounding things off quite a lot (1646 is the number most recently reported by the PSHRMA) or if the discrepancy represents the difference between actual individuals and "full-time equivalents" or some similar bit of human-resources arcana.