Friday, May 29, 2009

The Secret Sentry is out!

The Secret Sentry, Matthew Aid's new history of the NSA, is in the stores! (At least, it is in Canada; it doesn't seem to be available in the U.S. until June 9th, strangely enough.) I've been waiting for this book for about 15 years, and yesterday I finally got my hands on it!

It's 432 pages long, so I haven't got it all read yet, but it definitely lives up to its billing. I haven't seen any jaw-dropping revelations at this point, but it provides systematic and comprehensive coverage and there is lots of new information. It will certainly become the go-to reference on NSA history.

On a parochial note: There is very, very little on the agency of primary interest to this blog—its post-1975 name doesn't even make it into the book. Of course, it's not a history of CSE; it's a history of CSE's much, much larger cousin. The book does confirm that the CANUSA agreement was signed in November 1949, however (page 13 and footnote 22 on page 318). Previous discussion of the CANUSA agreement here and here.

[Update 2 June 2009: Done! It's a good, satisfying read. Doesn't have the anecdotal flair of James Bamford's books, but it is well written and provides a more comprehensive, systematic picture. I would have liked to have seen more information on SIGINT technologies, intercept stations, and allied agencies. There is nothing at all on ECHELON and the controversy surrounding that system, for example. Given the amount of exaggeration and nonsense extant on that topic, a reasonable description of the actual workings of the system (along the lines of that in Secret Power) would have been welcome. An updated version of the kinds of information found in The Ties That Bind and The U.S. Intelligence Community would also have been a valuable addition from my point of view. Of course, including all of that stuff would have made for a much longer book, and one that probably would have been less interesting to most readers. It has 96 pages of endnotes as it is (Heaven!), and I'm sure the author was already testing his publisher's forbearance sorely in getting them to go along with that.

Bottom line: The book is essential reading for anyone interested in this topic.]

Full disclosure: I am one of the many people listed in the author's acknowledgements.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Secret Power available online

Secret Power, investigative reporter Nicky Hager's 1996 book on New Zealand's SIGINT agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), has just become available online as a free download.

The GCSB is one of the five partner agencies in the UKUSA intelligence community. Secret Power was and is by far the most complete look inside the structure and workings of a UKUSA SIGINT agency, and it has also been the best single source of information on the infamous "ECHELON" system.

Matthew Aid's soon-to-be-released history of the NSA, The Secret Sentry, will provide a far more complete look at the history and workings of NSA and the UKUSA community as a whole, but I doubt that any agency will ever again go under the microscope quite the way that GCSB did in Secret Power.

(HT to Cryptome.)

Full disclosure: I am one of the many people listed in the author's acknowledgements.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Turnbull now DG Military SIGINT

Brigadier-General (AWSE) John L. Turnbull replaced Commodore (AWSE) Andrea Siew as Director General Military SIGINT at CSE last year. Turnbull was Commander of the Canadian Forces Information Operations Group for three years prior to his appointment to the position of DG Military SIGINT. His full bio can be found here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

New HQ announced; massive expansion underway?

Here is the official announcement of the project to build CSE's new headquarters. The announcement essentially confirms what we already knew, but it does add a few details, as well as raising a few questions.
  • The new building will be constructed, as expected, through a public-private partnership.

  • Construction is planned to begin early in 2011.

  • The Mid-Term Accommodation Project, a $70-million 6000-square-metre building announced last year and scheduled for completion in 2011, is now considered Phase I of the headquarters project, while the new project is considered Phase II.

  • The size of the Phase II building will be 72,000 square metres, for a total of 78,000 square metres at the new headquarters site. (Assuming the two buildings will be at the same site; the press release doesn't specify location aside from the National Capital Region. Maybe it's a s33kr1t.)
Now for some questions:
  • CSE has typically provided about 25 square metres of facility space per employee, and this figure appears to hold for the Phase I building, which is supposed to hold up to 250 employees. It also holds for GCHQ, which is said to house 4000-4500 employees in its new 102,000-square-metre building. If, however, the same figure holds for CSE's Phase II building, that building will be able to accommodate roughly 2900 employees, for a site total of about 3100. That's more than 1450 more than CSE currently has, and about 1300 more than it is currently expected to have! It would appear that either a massive and so far unannounced expansion of CSE is in the works or the happy few then on staff will be luxuriating in their palatial new digs come 2015.

  • According to Minister of Transport John Baird, who apparently has something to say on these matters because he is the MP of one of the National Capital Region ridings, the project "represents an estimated $800 million capital investment by the Government of Canada." The press release goes on to say that "Facilities management and life-cycle replacement costs, over a 30-year agreement, will be added to the project total." I had thought that the $880 million estimated in the 2009-10 Report on Plans and Priorities represented both the construction costs and the 30-year facility operations costs, but this would seem to suggest that the operations costs will come on top of the $800 million cited. That would make it an extremely expensive building, however. I'm more inclined to think that both the $70-million figure for the Phase I project and the $800- (or $880-) million figure for the Phase II project already include both construction and 30-year operating costs. I guess time (or maybe a future, more informative press release) will tell.
[Update 30 May 2009: Actually, the Report on Plans and Priorities shows that the entire $70 million for the Phase I building will be spent over the next couple of years, so no 30-year operating costs there. Since $70 million for a 6000-square-metre building works out to $11,667 per square metre, which applied to the 72,000 square metres of the Phase II building would be $840 million, it looks like no 30-year operating costs there either. Bottom line: it looks like what we have here are two extremely expensive buildings.]

[Update 5 November 2009: See the latest news and my wild speculations about this project here.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

CSE is growing -- again!

DND's 2009-2010 Report on Plans and Priorities indicates that CSE is back in another growth period, the fourth major expansion in its 63-year history. The report projects that CSE will grow from an average size of 1635 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in 2008-09 to 1817 FTEs in 2011-12, an increase of 150-200 staff members. And since the projection doesn't go any further than 2011-12, it is not clear that the increase is going to stop at 1817. Next year's report may answer that question.

Interestingly, I speculated about a year and a half ago that CSE might be headed to a staff of 1800 or more based on information in earlier Reports on Plans and Priorities. That growth failed to materialize, but maybe it was only delayed for a couple of years and the plan is now back on track.

The record of previous expansions can be reviewed here.

A recent article by David Pugliese ("Privatization threatens jobs at spy agency: As many as 200 CSE positions at risk," Ottawa Citizen, 8 May 2009) reports that CSE plans to privatize as many as 200 positions at the agency (CSE says a maximum of 130) over the next several years. The privatized positions would include jobs such as facility maintenance and IT support. It is not clear what effect this plan would have on the overal FTE numbers mentioned above.

The Union of National Defence Employees, which represents CSE employees, is not happy about the plan.

New headquarters to be built

David Pugliese reports ("East Ottawa slated to get new spy HQ: Ogilvie Road-area site tapped to house intercept agency," Ottawa Citizen, 12 May 2009) that the government will soon announce plans to construct a new headquarters complex for CSE. Known as the "Long-Term Accommodation Project" (LTAP), the plan will apparently provide new facilities for CSE's entire staff, leading to the eventual closing of CSE's current Heron Road campus.

The new building (or buildings), scheduled for completion in 2015-16, will be located at the same site as the "Mid-Term Accommodation Project" (MTAP) building announced last year (blogged here), on a plot of land adjacent to CSIS headquarters on Ogilvie Road.

All in all it's very big news for CSE.

And even more jaw-dropping is the building's projected cost! An estimate of the total cost of the LTAP can be found in DND's recently released 2009-2010 Report on Plans and Priorities. And that number is: $880 million!

Yolki palki, that's a lot of clams. I thought the MTAP was expensive at about $70 million to accommodate approximately 250 employees. If the LTAP houses 1600 or so, it will cost roughly twice the per employee amount of the MTAP.

Dollars to doughnuts

GCHQ's splashy high-tech headquarters building, the "Doughnut", cost only £337 million (about $600 million Canadian) when it was built five years ago, and it accommodates a staff of about 4000-4500, which would make the Canadian building about 3-4 times as expensive per person.

The explanation probably lies in the government's plan (revealed by UNDE) to have the private sector design, build, and operate the building over the course of a 30-year contract. GCHQ used the same approach with the Doughnut, with the total cost estimated to be £1.2 billion, or about $2.13 billion Canadian. That would put GCHQ's per person cost at about $500,000, which is virtually identical to the Canadian per person cost if the $880 million figure is taken to represent CSE's 30-year contract cost. It strikes me as strange that that entire sum would be listed as a "capital cost" in the Report on Plans and Priorities, but maybe that is the way such projects are listed, and the cost figures certainly seem to make more sense that way.

April CSE staff size


(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.)