Monday, December 09, 2013

CBC news redacts all the news

CBC News has acquired a new document from the Snowden collection that apparently spells out some of the details of the NSA-CSEC relationship (Greg Weston, Glenn Greenwald & Ryan Gallagher, "Snowden document shows Canada set up spy posts for NSA," CBC News, 9 December 2013). But don't expect to get the news from the CBC.

The only thing that Weston et al. are willing to tell us that wasn't already well known to everyone who cares to follow these issues is the number of countries ("approximately 20") where Canada has clandestine SIGINT collection facilities. [Actually, it's unclear what the "approximately 20" refers to: see below.]

Well, OK, I find that interesting.

But hardly surprising.

The rest of the news story is just a rehash of well-known information such as the fact that CSEC and NSA have cooperated for decades and that the two agencies exchange liaison officers.

There's nothing inherently wrong with rehashing that kind of information -- it will certainly be new for a lot of people -- but please don't try to spin it as the stuff of headlines.

And as for waving a top-secret document around and informing us that you can't tell us what's in it because it's top secret, that's the Minister of National Defence's line.

If there's something in the document that the public ought to know, tell us.

All you're doing now is using it as a prop.

Update 2:00 pm 10 December 2013: Also, please stop saying that "the NSA employs an estimated 40,000 people plus thousands of private contractors, and spends over $40 billion a year". Documents leaked in August established definitively that the U.S. Consolidated Cryptologic Program (which includes military SIGINT personnel as well as NSA personnel) employs about 35,000 people (contractors not included) and has a total budget of about $10.8 billion (see Barton Gellman & Greg Miller, "U.S. spy network’s successes, failures and objectives detailed in ‘black budget’ summary," Washington Post, 29 August 2013).

Update 11:00 pm 10 December 2013: To its credit, CBC has now placed two somewhat redacted pages of the four-page document online. Two of the redactions, from a paragraph marked confidential, probably name the U.S. and Canadian liaison officers based in Ottawa (SUSLO/O) and Washington (CANSLO/W) respectively. The other redactions seem to list countries of interest to CSEC and NSA and some of the locations of covert Canadian listening posts -- Havana and one or two others? Presumably the two missing pages contain the really sensitive stuff, because these pages are pretty basic.

I understood the statement in yesterday's CBC story that "Canada is involved with the huge American intelligence agency in clandestine surveillance activities in 'approximately 20 high-priority countries'" to mean that Canada has covert intercept sites in approximately 20 countries. What we can see in the document, however, says only that "NSA and CSEC cooperate in targeting approximately 20 high-priority countries." And that line appears in a paragraph titled "What NSA provides to the partner". So it is not at all clear how many of those countries may contain Canadian monitoring sites. Perhaps the other two pages of the document spell this out or perhaps they don't.

Interesting additional tidbit in the part of the document CBC released: "No Consolidated Cryptologic Program (CCP) money is allocated to CSEC, but NSA at times pays R&D and technology costs on shared projects with CSEC." That probably explains the purpose of this money, but it would still be very interesting to know what those shared projects are.

CBC now has a follow-up story on their website: Greg Weston, "Canada’s electronic spy agency says tracking allies is necessary," CBC News, 10 December 2013. More on that in a later post.

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