Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Economic intelligence gathering IV

Does CSEC do economic intelligence gathering? (Previous comments on this question here, here, here, and here.)

This statement found in Section IV of the Department of National Defence's 2011-2012 Report on Plans and Priorities pretty much spells it out in black and white:
In line with the priorities approved annually by the Cabinet’s Ad Hoc Committee on Security and Intelligence, CSEC will continue to provide intelligence to hundreds of clients across the federal government to help them better understand global issues and inform their decisions. These priorities include:
  • terrorism and extremism;
  • mission in Afghanistan;
  • proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
  • cyber security;
  • foreign espionage and interference;
  • Canada’s Northern Strategy; and
  • international security and prosperity interests.

Prosperity interests.

As I noted earlier, economic intelligence gathering does not necessarily mean stealing foreign companies' secrets for the benefit of Canadian companies: such intelligence could also include data on future global energy supplies and the functioning of the global economic system, inside information on the negotiating positions of other countries participating in trade negotiations, and the detection of bribery and bid-rigging in international competitions for multi-billion-dollar contracts. It could mean listening in on the internal deliberations of foreign (non-Five Eyes) delegations participating in G8 and G20 summits.

But it might also -- on some occasions -- mean helping Canadian companies by supplying inside information on competitors' plans, operations, technologies, or bids.

The latter role might explain the fact that CSEC had a "Business Support Unit" within its SIGINT branch during the mid-2000s.

Does this unit or something equivalent still exist? It seems likely.

"Prosperity" may be the last item on the 2011-12 list of priorities quoted above, but it is near the top of the Harper government's foreign policy priorities. In November, International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced that the government would increase the support it provides to Canadian companies seeking export contracts: "We must be more aggressive and effective than the intense competition we face as we advance Canada’s commercial interests in key global markets. This new plan represents a sea change in the way Canada’s diplomatic assets are deployed around the world, and in so doing, we are ensuring that the commercial success of Canadian firms and investors is entrenched as one of our core foreign policy objectives.”

Want to see the CSEC priorities list for yourself? Sadly, you're out of luck. The "Section IV" material in DND's Reports on Plans and Priorities (RPPs) is not contained within the actual RPP documents. Instead, the documents contain a link to the DND website, where the material is posted separately. The RPPs from earlier years remain available on the web, but the Section IV material is scrubbed from the DND website after a year or two. The 2011-12 discussion of CSEC, its funding levels, and its priorities has thus evaporated.

And there will be no more such discussions. When CSEC became a stand-alone agency in November 2011, it stopped appearing in the National Defence RPPs.

It doesn't publish its own Report on Plans and Priorities. (Or Departmental Performance Report. Or Annual Report.)

CSEC's description in the Main Estimates document is the only remaining place where annual reporting of the agency's plans and priorities might be published. But in fact the description in the Main Estimates is nothing more than a couple of sentences of boilerplate that provide no new information.

What changed between June 2011, when the detailed description quoted above was published, and November 2011 that would justify that precipitous drop in public accountability? Neither CSEC nor its minister have even pretended to provide an answer. Nor, as far as I can tell, has a single member of parliament even raised the issue.

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