Friday, December 06, 2013

Canada's first cryptanalytic target was in Brazil

A little footnote to the recent controversy concerning CSEC spying in Brazil (see also here):

Canada's first codebreaking agency was the Examination Unit (XU), and the XU's very first target was a German spy who was based in Brazil.

The XU began operations in June 1941, housed in rooms 202 and 203 in the National Research Council Annex on Montreal Road in Ottawa. Headed initially (but not for very long) by the infamous American codebreaker Herbert Yardley, the XU began by working on the encrypted radio communications of the German intelligence service, the Abwehr, between South America and the main Abwehr radio station at Hamburg.

As an internal history of the XU later noted, "The first success of the office was in the German Abwehr traffic to South America. It was not long before we had succeeded in breaking into this and soon had a complete list of keys and read the traffic regularly. The system used was at first a simple transposition [redacted]. The Army picked up the messages at their Rockcliffe station and we received them direct from there. Most of this traffic concerned shipping up and down the coast of South America, with occasionally a message from some spy in the U.S." John Bryden's 1993 book Best-Kept Secret (p. 54) specifies that the first Abwehr messages worked on by the XU (received by the unit on 16 June 1941) were those of German agent Friedrich Kempter, who headed a small network of German agents in Brazil.

Update 26 February 2018:

As it happens, Brazil was also one of the four initial SIGINT targets of the CBNRC when it began operations in 1946.


Blogger Stephen Allen said...

Is the NRC involved in esponiage or elint at all today?
Just wondering, I use GNU/Linux and one of my debian repositories is at the NRC. Is it possible they would seed malware into the repo?

December 06, 2013 9:28 am  
Blogger Bill Robinson said...

As far as I know, NRC has no espionage role these days. CSEC remained with the NRC until 1975, when CBNRC (as it was then known) was transferred to the Defence department and renamed the CSE. I think there is sometimes some R&D work done at NRC that may have SIGINT applications. That said, I would guess that any government computer server would be accessible to CSEC as long as it had the appropriate legal authorities.

December 12, 2013 10:49 am  

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