Thursday, October 31, 2013

SIGINT lessons for Canada

Former senior Canadian diplomat Paul Heinbecker spells out five lessons for Canada from the recent Snowden revelations (Paul Heinbecker, "Five reasons our international eavesdropping isn’t worth the cost," Globe and Mail, 30 October 2013):
First, secrets are hard to keep in the digital world. The intelligence leadership and their political masters should presume that they will see their decisions on the front page of the Globe and Mail one day.

Second, intelligence is a means not an end, and not all its purposes – national security, counter-terrorism, communications security, commercial secrets and economic advantage – are equally compelling. Mature judgment is a must if sound decisions are to be made about the risks that are worth running – or not. For example, at a time when our Governor-General, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Trade Minister and other ministers had visited Brazil to court the government, was it really worth spying on the Brazilian Ministry of Energy and Mines, as we are alleged to have done?

Third, membership in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group (the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), which dates from the end of the Second World War, entails costs as well as benefits and needs to be kept under sober review. Rubbing shoulders with the American intelligence community can be intoxicating, a poor condition in which to make important judgments.

Fourth, intelligence can be and frequently is over-rated. Spending on intelligence and diplomacy needs to be re-balanced. While intelligence operates beyond the pale of international law, diplomacy is both legally sanctioned and uncontroversial, and effective, in its creation of trusting relationships, effective. It does not make sense at a time when intelligence expenditures have grown dramatically, and CSEC is erecting a billion-dollar building in Ottawa, that the Foreign Affairs department is selling off assets abroad to cover a shrinking budget.

Fifth, leadership matters. The key challenge is not so much to do things right as it is to do the right things. Oversight to ensure that Canadian laws are not being broken is important and needs reinforcement, but coherent, strategic policy leadership that ensures that the intelligence tail never wags the foreign policy dog is crucial. Technological capacity should never trump political judgment.
Written by a guy who, for many years of his career, was a direct recipient of CSE's product and so probably has a good sense of the usefulness or lack thereof of SIGINT.

[Update 11:50 PM: Apropos:

Paul Lewis, "NSA chief Keith Alexander blames diplomats for surveillance requests," Guardian, 1 November 2013
The director of the National Security Agency has blamed US diplomats for requests to place foreign leaders under surveillance, in a surprising intervention that risks a confrontation with the State Department.

General Keith Alexander made the remarks during a pointed exchange with a former US ambassador to Romania, lending more evidence to suggestions of a rift over surveillance between the intelligence community and Barack Obama's administration.

The NSA chief was challenged by James Carew Rosapepe, who served as an ambassador under the Clinton administration, over the monitoring of the German chancellor Angela Merkel's phone.

Rosapepe, now a Democratic state senator in Maryland, pressed Alexander to give "a national security justification" for the agency's use of surveillance tools intended for combating terrorism against "democratically elected leaders and private businesses".

"We all joke that everyone is spying on everyone," he said. "But that is not a national security justification."

Alexander replied: "That is a great question, in fact as an ambassador you have part of the answer. Because we the intelligence agencies don't come up with the requirements. The policymakers come up with the requirements."

He went on: "One of those groups would have been, let me think, hold on, oh: ambassadors."

1 Comments:

Blogger Scout said...

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November 01, 2013 4:19 am  

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