Thursday, December 19, 2013

CANSLO/C-W established in 2009

CSEC documents (H/T to Colin Freeze) show that CSEC and its Australian counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, began stationing liaison officers at each other's headquarters in 2009.

The Canadian liaison office, known as the Canadian Special Liaison Office Canberra-Wellington (CANSLO/C-W), is located at the ASD's heaquarters in Canberra. The CANSLO/C-W is also accredited to New Zealand's SIGINT agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), located in Wellington, New Zealand (which explains why Wellington is in the title). Australia's liaison office in Ottawa is known simply as the Australian Liaison Office (AUSLO). GCSB's liaison office at the NSA appears to handle Canadian liaison for New Zealand's agency.

Canada has maintained liaison officers in the U.K. (CANSLO/L) since 1949 and in the U.S. (CANSLO/W) since 1950 (although the U.S. arrangement wasn't formalized until 1954) (see the partial list of CANSLOs here). But it took almost 60 more years for Canada to send a liaison officer to Australia.

What changed to convince CSEC to open an office in the Antipodes?

Most probably, it was the economic rise of the Asia/Pacific region, and in particular the rise of China.

These days, the UKUSA agencies do not have the world as neatly divided into geographic areas of specialization as they are said to done back in the Cold War days. But each agency does direct special attention to areas of particular interest to its national government, and in Australia's case, that includes neighbours, near-neighbours, and important regional actors such as Indonesia, India, Japan, and China.

As Canada's intelligence sights have turned towards the Asia-Pacific region in recent years, it is likely therefore that CSEC has had increased reason to work closely with and to draw upon the skills and experience of ASD.

Why 2009?

The reasons for the upgrade in the CSEC-ASD relationship have not been made public, but it may be significant that Canada began a concerted effort to improve relations with China and to expand Canada-China trade in 2007/2008.

In their first few years in office the Harper government seemed often to go out of its way to antagonize China's leaders. But in 2007 the government identified "extending our reach to new markets, starting with Asia," as one of the three core elements of its new Global Commerce Strategy. Lecturing the Communists was out. The July 2008 meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Harper on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Japan marked a turning point in the Harper government's relations with China, and 2009 saw visits to China by Trade Minister Stockwell Day, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, Transport Minister John Baird, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, and ultimately the Prime Minister himself, and the opening of new Trade Commissioner Service offices in Chengdu, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenyang, Shenzhen, and Wuhan.

It seems likely that the government's demand for intelligence on China, both political and economic, increased significantly around the time these developments occurred.

Unfortunately, as a report written in February 2009 by former Canadian diplomat and China expert Charles Burton noted, the Canadian government was woefully short on expertise on China at this time:
The effectiveness of the divisions of DFAIT, CSIS and DND responsible for Canada’s relations with China is severely inhibited due to allocation of personnel without China-specific expertise to positions that demand this expertise.
(Burton did note, however, that while DFAIT, CSIS, and DND were severely lacking in people with linguistic and cultural expertise, "there is stronger Chinese language ability among the relevant personnel in the Communications Security Establishment Canada and in the International Assessment Staff of the Privy Council Office.")

Among other recommendations, Burton suggested that
Reporting on China by DFAIT and the Intelligence Assessment Staff of the Privy Council Office as well as the Communications Security Establishment Canada and the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service should be refocused away from general assessments of Chinese affairs and should instead focus reporting on practical matters directly related to Canada’s interests. The relevance to Canada and quality of these reports should be subject to periodic external review to ensure that they are fulfilling the strategic mandate of these agencies.
Translated from the bureaucratese, this would appear to be a gentle suggestion that the Canadian intelligence community was not at that point contributing much of specific relevance to the Canadian government's objectives in China.

Assuming Burton's assessment was accurate (and he appears to have been working with inside knowledge), it may well explain why CSEC sought to build a closer relationship with ASD in 2009.

Update 3 January 2014: The CSEC documents revealing the existence of the CANSLO/C-W can be read here (see page 452). The documents were obtained by reporter Colin Freeze under the Access to Information Act and have now been posted online by him. See also Freeze's article in the Globe and Mail (Colin Freeze, "CSEC sends strong message of privacy to new recruits," Globe and Mail, 22 December 2013).

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