Friday, April 10, 2015

March 2015 CSE staff size

2168. Down slightly from last month's 2175.

This is the fourth drop in a row from CSE's peak staff size, 2254, which was recorded last November. Extended fluctuations in CSE's staffing sometimes occur, but this could be a sign that CSE's long growth period is finally over, at least for the time being, with its staff size stabilizing at roughly 2200—which appears to be around the size its new headquarters was designed for.

(Alternatively, we could be seeing a temporary slowdown in hiring as Ottawa struggles to make the books look good for the government's pre-election budget.)

(If you click through on the link and get a different figure, it's probably because the Canada Public Service Agency has updated its website; they update the numbers once a month.)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Recent items of interest

Recent news and commentary items related to CSE, signals intelligence, and related issues:

- Ian MacLeod, "MP Rathgeber wants tougher oversight of electronic spy agency," Ottawa Citizen, 4 April 2015.

- Editorial, "Canada, the Five Eyes – and the hackers’ arms race," Globe and Mail, 30 March 2015.

- Jim Bronskill, "Conservative MP Michael Chong wants more parliamentary spy oversight," Canadian Press, 24 March 2015.

- Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, "Majority of Canadians oppose state surveillance, new report says," Toronto Star, 23 March 2015.

- Craig Forcese, "Bill C-44: Statement to Standing Senate Committee," National Security Law blog, 23 March 2015. (There is much more worth reading at Forcese's blog, particularly on the analysis he and Kent Roach have done on Bill C-51.)

- Colin Freeze & Christine Dobby, "Watchdog presses Ottawa for strong rules on sharing surveillance data," Globe and Mail, 18 March 2015.

- Ian MacLeod, "Spy versus spy: Australian security oversight holds lessons for Canada," Ottawa Citizen, 18 March 2015.

- Jordan Pearson, "NSA Targeted a Canadian Bank and Telecom Company Reveals New Snowden Doc," Motherboard, 17 March 2015. Follow-up to this Globe and Mail story.

- Mathew Ingram, "We can’t accept Internet surveillance as the new normal," Globe and Mail, 17 March 2015.

- Justin Ling, "Support Plummets For Harper’s Anti-Terror Bill, New Poll Shows," Vice, 17 March 2015.

- Jordan Press, "Cyber attack at NRC kept secret from other departments," Ottawa Citizen, 16 March 2015.

- Tony Burman, "Canadians should heed Edward Snowden’s warning: Burman," Toronto Star, 14 March 2015.

- Jordan Pearson, "Internet Providers are Keeping Canadians In the Dark About Their Privacy," Motherboard, 12 March 2015.

- Emily Chung, "Internet carriers may be breaching Canadian privacy laws," CBC News, 12 March 2015.

- Peter Jones, "Security review or oversight? The critical difference," Globe and Mail, 11 March 2015.

- Kent Roach & Craig Forcese, "Roach & Forcese: A parliamentary review is not redundant red tape," National Post, 9 March 2015.

Also worth checking out:

- "CSE Codewords and Abbreviations," Top Level Telecommunications blog, 5 April 2015.

- Christopher Parsons, "Five New Additions to the SIGINT Summaries," Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets blog, 27 March 2015.

SIGINT history

And for those interested in SIGINT history:

- Jerry Proc has put together some notes on the little-known radio operations at Prince Rupert, B.C., which served as one of Canada's intercept sites in the early post-war period.

- Second World War intercept operator Eileen Glavin is profiled here: Theresa McManus, "New West resident proud of her Top Secret work during the war," New West Record, 6 February 2015.

- And a visit to the U.K. National Archives by Jonjo Robb turned up a document that shows the Queen was receiving briefings classified Top Secret EIDER during the Suez Crisis in 1956. EIDER was the codeword for communications intelligence at the time. I wonder if the Queen still gets SIGINT-related briefings. Does she get stuff from the Canadian government too? Every now and then the Queen and other members of the family firm turn up for tours of GCHQ facilities.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

CSE Commissioner pleads for cash?

The 2015-2016 departmental reports on plans and priorities, otherwise known as Part III of the Estimates, were tabled in parliament on Tuesday, March 31st.

That annual event doesn't usually draw much attention at this blog, because CSE doesn't publish a Report on Plans and Priorities. (When CSE was part of the Department of National Defence, DND did include a roughly two-page section on CSE in the departmental RPP, but CSE chose not to maintain this reporting when it became a stand-alone agency in 2011. In true Orwellian fashion, the agency then described this entirely needless retreat from what was already a minimal level of transparency as "enhanced" reporting.)

Unlike CSE, however, the agency's watchdog the CSE Commissioner does publish a Report on Plans and Priorities, and this year's report managed most unusually to make the news:

- Alex Boutilier, "Review body for Canada’s electronic spy agency warns it can’t keep up," Toronto Star, 1 April 2015.

- Justin Ling, "The Guy Who Oversees Canada’s Cyberspy Agency Is Cash-Strapped and Worried," Vice, 2 April 2015.

- Ian MacLeod, "Watchdog worried about keeping up with Canada's electronic spying activities," Ottawa Citizen, 3 April 2015.

I'm not totally persuaded that this year's report was intended to be read as a warning that OCSEC is starved for cash and resources, but that's certainly the way it has been interpreted, and the Commissioner clearly did express concern about the effects of fiscal restraint on his ability to oversee CSE:
Cost sharing related to central agency initiatives and fiscal restraint measures are reducing the flexibility of the office's available funding. CSE, however, is growing and its activities are changing in response to its changing environment. The risk that the capacity of the office to conduct sufficient review to provide the necessary assurances to the Minister will be exceeded is a constant concern. An increase in funding, if required, would resolve the capacity issue and enable the Commissioner to continue to provide the necessary assurances to the Minister and to Canadians as to whether CSE is complying with the law and has due regard for the privacy of Canadians.
Over at Vice, this became "Financial reports released on Tuesday show the commissioner is going to have to cut back his review processes due to lack of funds." I think that probably overstates the message that the Commissioner intended to send.

Vice also commented that the Commissioner "doesn't have the power to compel information from CSE."

This is not correct.

As the National Defence Act makes clear, the CSE Commissioner "has all the powers of a commissioner under Part II of the Inquiries Act." Which means the Commissioner
(a) may enter into and remain within any public office or institution, and shall have access to every part thereof;
(b) may examine all papers, documents, vouchers, records and books of every kind belonging to the public office or institution;
(c) may summon before them any person and require the person to give evidence, orally or in writing, and on oath or, if the person is entitled to affirm in civil matters on solemn affirmation; and
(d) may administer the oath or affirmation under paragraph (c).
What the Commissioner says in the Report on Plans and Priorities is that "The office has no authority to enforce specific actions by CSE". In other words, the Commissioner can make recommendations for changes in CSE's policies and operations, but he does not have the power to compel the Minister or CSE to accept those recommendations.

Also relevant is this follow-up report:

- Laura Beaulne-Stuebing, "Canada’s security watchdog needs more power, says Liberal MP," Yahoo News, 3 April 2015.