Tuesday, May 01, 2007

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.

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