Thursday, November 20, 2014

Liaison office concerns

Jim Bronskill has written an interesting piece on the problems CSE's liaison officers have been experiencing in recent years ("Poor training, communication bedevilled Canada's Five Eyes liaisons: evaluation," Canadian Press, 19 November 2014):
Lack of training, poor communication with head office and sketchy expectations hampered the Canadian liaison teams embedded in the electronic spy agencies of Ottawa's Five Eyes partners, says a newly declassified evaluation.

The Ottawa-based Communications Security Establishment's foreign relations program is key to helping the spy service do its work, given the importance of relations with counterparts in the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the internal evaluation concludes.

But it calls for several changes to "achieve greater effectiveness and efficiencies."

The Canadian Press obtained a heavily censored copy of the August 2012 evaluation — originally classified "Secret/Canadian Eyes Only" — under the Access to Information Act.


CSE has special liaison offices at the U.S. National Security Agency and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters, as well as one in Canberra that provides representation to the electronic spy services of Australia and New Zealand.

In turn, Canada hosts members of the four foreign agencies.

The study found advance briefings for Canadian liaison staff sent overseas was largely limited to information about living and working abroad.

"Operational training offered to posted employees is scarce and self-initiated," the evaluation report says.

Staff heading to the foreign posts had to book meetings with CSE directors or enrol in internal courses. However, some noted that formal classroom training was not necessarily helpful.

"Rather, they felt that spending some time working with various operational areas during the pre-posting phase was often very beneficial."

In addition, liaison directors "seldom received feedback" on the initial planning documents they submitted to superiors.

Once on the job, the directors felt they were "often ill-informed" about developments at CSE headquarters. Management at CSE also expressed a desire for better communication. A senior manager lamented that information he received from one foreign post in particular was often either already known or outdated by the time it was sent to CSE.

"Because these employees are out of the country, it is very important that they have effective and reliable communications available to them," the report says.

CSE employees who took the foreign positions essentially gave up their previous jobs and CSE didn't have a formal process for reintegrating them into the Ottawa fold once their posting was done, it adds.

Upon return, posted employees "are often required to fill positions unrelated to their area of expertise and the experience and knowledge gained from the foreign posting are not exploited."

CSE spokesman Ryan Foreman said most of the evaluation's recommendations had been implemented, with the rest expected to be complete later this year.
Also interesting is this fact box on CSE's liaison offices, which reports the dates when the liaison offices were established. The years when the offices were established were already known, but the month of establishment was known only in the case of the office at GCHQ.

Here's a list of the Canadian Special Liaison Officers (CANSLOs) to NSA and GCHQ I compiled several years ago. The names of the more recent CANSLOs don't seem to be available, but every now and then one turns up.

I have also written a bit on the 2009 establishment of the CANSLO/C-W in Canberra. The first CANSLO/C-W was (evidently) a woman, but no names have been released so far.

Back in the old days, the job of CANSLO/W was often given to mid-ranking officers who were considered destined for greater things. The last two Chiefs of CSE to come from inside the ranks of the agency, Peter Hunt and Stew Woolner, both served as CANSLO/W earlier in their careers. (Since 1999, all Chiefs have been selected from outside the agency.)

The CANSLO/L slot, on the other hand, gained a reputation as a plum posting for senior officers just prior to retirement.

Undoubtedly there were exceptions to those patterns even then; it would be interesting to know if they continue to some degree today.

The liaison offices normally have several people posted to them, not just the liaison officer. During the Cold War period, there were (I believe) about four people at the NSA office and two at the GCHQ office. No information on the current size of these offices has been made public.

[Update 14 December 2014: Actually, the "CSEC 101: Foundational Learning Curriculum" document, released last year to Globe and Mail reporter Colin Freeze, indicates that the CANSLO/L office at GCHQ had three people assigned to it as of January 2013 (see page 447). The number of people at the CANSLO/W office at NSA is redacted but was at least six (see page 444). CSE "integrees" are not included in these figures.]

By contrast, in 2008 the NSA's liaison office at CSE had 12 people attached to it. It is possible, however, that this total included NSA "integrees" serving on exchange with CSE.


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