Tuesday, October 15, 2013

National Post fuzzifies the muddification

The bewildered National Post attempts to explain CSEC to the Canadian public (Adrian Humphreys, "How Canada spies: A guide to the sometimes obscure acronyms of our intelligence world," National Post, 11 October 2013):
Officially, the Communications Security Establishment Canada is an arm of the military, although it largely operates independently. “It’s placed within the Department of National Defence largely as a kind of cover, to help bury its budget in the immensity of the DND budget,” says Prof. Wark. As evidence, CSEC reports to DND for financial and administrative matters and to the PCO for policy and operational matters.
Where to begin.

CSEC is not an arm of the military and it has never been one. Until November 2011 it was a civilian agency of the Department of National Defence. It is now a stand-alone agency. It still reports to the Minister of National Defence and is still considered to be part of the Defence portfolio, but it is no longer a part of the Department of National Defence.

Prior to November 2011 it reported through the Deputy Minister of National Defence for financial and administrative matters and the National Security Advisor in the Privy Council Office (PCO) for policy and operational matters. It now reports directly to the Minister. DND and the PCO are now both out of the loop.

(In the National Post's defence, it is worth noting that even the last Minister of National Defence found the distinction confusing.)

It is true that CSE's budget was hidden within the much larger DND budget for the first 20 years following CSE's 1975 transfer to the Department of National Defence (indeed, it has also been suggested that its budget was hidden within the DND budget even before the agency's transfer to DND, while it was still the Communications Branch of the National Research Council.)

But DND stopped hiding CSE's budget in the mid-1990s. For more than 15 years CSE's annual overall budget and the breakdown of that budget into personnel, operations and maintenance, and capital expenditures were published in DND's Report on Plans and Priorities, the departmental part of the annual budget estimates documents. The reporting also usually included a description of the agency, some general discussion of its priorities, current staffing figures, and sometimes some information on the status of major projects, such as the construction of its new headquarters complex.

CSE's overall budget is still published every year. But now that the agency has its own stand-alone status it appears separately in the Main Estimates document (pp. 113-114). CSE no longer appears at all in the DND Report on Plans and Priorities, and it does not publish its own Report on Plans and Priorities (or Departmental Performance Report or Annual Report). The agency now reports very little beyond its overall budget number.

It has thus become significantly less transparent in its public reporting in the two years since it left DND.

(In the grand tradition of flacks everywhere, CSE's spokesthing responded to coverage of this change by claiming that CSE had actually "enhanced" its public reporting. I guess there must have been an asterisk of some kind attached to that statement as well.)

More from the National Post:
[CSE] is often called Canada’s electronic eavesdropping agency, as it’s the main gatherer of foreign signals intelligence by listening to and monitoring electronic communication.
Its SIGINT mandate also extends to hacking into and stealing computer files, as indicated by the wording of part (a) of its mandate: "to acquire and use information from the global information infrastructure".
Another job is Canada’s cyber security, protecting Canada’s telecommunications.
For the most part, it does not seek to protect the telecommunications of Canadians, but it is tasked under mandate (b) "to help ensure the protection of electronic information and of information infrastructures of importance to the Government of Canada".
As a top-tier part of Canada’s intelligence apparatus with about 2,000 employees, it can lend technical and operational assistance, and equipment, to the RCMP and CSIS.
Such assistance, which can include intercepting the communications of Canadians and persons in Canada, is also provided to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Border Services Agency.

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