Sunday, May 26, 2013

LTAP in the news

Huguette Young of the QMI Agency profiles the new CSE headquarters ("Our federal information spies are getting new $880M digs, being built at a time of austerity with little public knowledge," Toronto Sun, 26 May 2013).

For some reason, the article is illustrated with a photo of the CSIS headquarters, as the Toronto Sun itself notes in its photo caption, so I suggest readers look at this recent photomontage by Chuck Clark (which shows both headquarters buildings) to get a better idea of the place the article is actually talking about:

The main point of Young's article seems to be to question whether the new CSE headquarters will be worth the money being spent on it, a question on which I have no strong opinion except to note that getting the price tag right would help the discussion.

Young's article uses the $880-million figure that CSE and others have been quoting since the Long-Term Accommodation Project (LTAP) was first announced, but that is not the full number. The actual cost of the new headquarters complex includes both the cost of the LTAP and the cost of the Mid-Term Accommodation Project (MTAP), now known as Pod 1 of the LTAP. The most recent figures that I've seen for the cost of those two projects can be found here, and simple addition puts the combined cost (as estimated at that time) at $1.065 billion. That guess, however, is two years old. Whether the price has risen or fallen since then I can't say, because the new stand-alone CSE doesn't seem to want to report that kind of information any more. In that respect, the concerns expressed in the article about the lack of information available to Parliament and the public are spot on.

A few quotes and comments:
  • "The Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC) is the federal intelligence centre for the protection of electronic information and communication."

    Well, that's about 34% of its role (by budget). Its main job, accounting for about 66% of its budget, concerns the acquisition of other people's information and communications, otherwise known as signals intelligence.

  • "...the department's new 72,0000-square-metre building..."

    That's the "rentable space" in the LTAP. Take the total space in the LTAP and add the MTAP and you get about 88,700 square metres at the new complex.

  • "Current CSEC infrastructure dates from the 1950s...".


  • "The new CSEC building will house the entire department -- including the country's five most powerful computers -- under one roof."

    Now that's an interesting bit of information! Last year, reportedly, CSE had the top three computers in the country. None of these statistics ever gets formal, on-the-record confirmation by a named source, but personally I find the claims quite believable.

  • "Canada is a member of the "Five Eyes" alliance -- five countries that share intelligence to combat those looking to steal it."

    Because we're against the idea of stealing information...

  • "Its operations are so opaque that the Canadian government only acknowledged its existence in 2002."

    Or, to be more precise, 1983. (See page 4 of this document.) And, actually, it was the signals intelligence role of the agency that was newly acknowledged. Official mentions of the agency by name can be found in public documents at least as far back as the 1950s.

  • "The CSEC has an annual budget of $350 million..."

    Currently $422.2 million.

  • "It is only permitted to intercept communications from foreign targets and cannot spy on Canadian citizens at home or abroad."

    Except when operating under Part C of its three-part mandate. If, say, CSIS or the RCMP have legal authorization to spy on you, it is perfectly legal for them to enlist the help of CSE in collecting that information.

  • "The CSEC has a program that targets Quebec separatists, called "The French Problem," which allegedly exists to this day. The program was revealed in a 1994 book by former CSEC spy Mike Frost."

    Frost's book is not entirely reliable, but then again it is not entirely unreliable. With respect to the "French problem", Frost was referring to activities that he had heard of in the 1970s, and he was either unwilling or unable to provide many details about those activities. The Quebec separatist movement was certainly a major target of the RCMP Security Service (CSIS's predecessor) at that time, and although CSE had essentially no domestic monitoring infrastructure it may well have collected some relevant international communications as part of that effort. If such monitoring was going on, however, it did not constitute a large part of the agency's activities: it is worth noting that the federal government was implementing bilingualism within the public service at that time, and CSE employees complained bitterly about what they saw as an unnecessary imposition, arguing that they had no need for French in their work. As to whether such activities continue today, well, if CSIS, the RCMP, or other domestic law enforcement or intelligence agencies are authorized to spy on individuals associated with the movement, then CSE would certainly be able to help them. But I really doubt it's very high on the Canadian intelligence community's list of priorities these days.


Blogger CWC said...

Is that info about "learning French" actually true?! I have great sympathy for those who are imposed upon by Higher Authority (tm) but how can anyone in their line of work think they don't need to learn EVERY language on earth?

May 27, 2013 10:52 pm  
Blogger Bill Robinson said...

CSE and its predecessors did do some work on French targets during the Second World War, and probably for some years after the war. But by the 1960s and 1970s they were focused almost exclusively on the Soviets. NSA and GCHQ did the great bulk of the work on the "Russian Problem", of course, but they were big enough to also spare some time for other targets, including French-speaking ones, and CSE had access to much of their reporting on those topics. Our job was to contribute our little bit to working the Russian Problem, monitoring traffic on the Northern Sea Route, tracking Soviet oil production, listening in on Soviet air defence forces, etc. CSE's targets started to broaden again in the 1980s, and since the end of the Cold War it has had a vastly greater range of targets, undoubtedly including francophone ones and of course many, many other languages. There is probably still some sort of division of effort among the UKUSA agencies, but presumably not nearly as limited in CSE's case as it was during the Cold War.

May 28, 2013 12:04 pm  

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