Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book review: Out of the Shadows

Ron Lawruk's self-published autobiography about his career at CSE, Out of the Shadows, the Life of a CSE Canadian Intelligence Officer (Friesen Press, 2015), contains some interesting tidbits about the organization's history, but anyone looking for substantive information about CSE's current mission and activities is likely to be disappointed.

In part, this is inevitable. The current CSE, with its heavy focus on Internet-based communications and active use of Computer Network Exploitation to steal information, is just not your granddad's signals intelligence agency, whereas that's exactly what it was during the period that Lawruk worked there (1958 to 1990), when it focused overwhelmingly on the military and civilian radio communications of the Soviet Union.

The information about the agency is also sparse because Lawruk took pains not to reveal classified information when he wrote the book, and he submitted it both to CSE and to the NSA for review prior to publication. This was no doubt prudent given the provisions of the Security of Information Act, but it does render the result somewhat devoid of detail, sometimes absurdly so. For example, the name of CSE's Chief from 1980 to 1989—Peter R. Hunt—is carefully excluded from the text even though it is well known publicly and even appears in a letter of commendation reproduced in the book.

Still, the odd unusual detail does make it through. This 1980 photo of Lawruk and various 291ers on HMCS Athabaskan, for instance, may be the only extant example of a bunch of SIGINTers holding up their SIGAD on a sign.

But such items are rare. This is definitely not Mike Frost's Spyworld, and in terms of writing style at least, we can be grateful for that. Lawruk is a former employee of CSE, but he is not a disgruntled one, and he is not out to blow whistles. He likes his former employer.

The lack of detail in the book is unfortunate, however, as Lawruk's career did take him to some interesting places at some interesting times. From 1968 to 1971, for example, he was the assistant to the Canadian Special Liaison Officer (CANSLO) at NSA. The CANSLO at the time was the same Peter Hunt who later became Chief (although you won't learn that in the book), and it was during this period that CBNRC, as it was still called, agreed to open its first embassy-based monitoring site and to help process the communications intercepted by the giant geosynchronous eavesdropping satellites that the U.S. had just begun launching into orbit.

Later, in the 1980s, when CSE was just starting to turn its attention to targets outside the Soviet bloc, Lawruk was appointed as the agency's first liaison officer to the Department of National Defence.

Both times were thus extremely interesting moments in the history of CSE, but sadly there's no insight into them here.

Other parts of his career were more mundane, reflecting the more typical SIGINT grunt work of collecting and collating small details from a myriad of sources to gradually build up a larger picture of some aspect of the target's activities. During the 1970s, for example, he spent a considerable amount of time studying the Soviet nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet.

The topic of icebreakers leads to some rather crankish discussion of the implications of the current Russian icebreaker fleet—which Lawruk frequently lapses into calling Soviet—on Canada's future Arctic sovereignty. This is probably best ignored. On page 120 of the book Lawruk mentions that "our military customers preferred that SIGINT reports include only the facts we could prove with no analytical interpretation or conclusions. However, I eventually obtained permission to allow my reporters to add an ‘Analyst Comment’ to our reports if it was relevant." I'm left wondering if the customer wasn't right.

I'm glad he wrote the book, however.

Even without the details that I would have preferred, I found it a fascinating look into life inside the CSE of the past.

Not everyone may find this subject as interesting as I do, of course.

Update 10 November 2015: You can view some of the pages and search inside the book here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

SIGINT and Canadian exports

Does the Canadian government use SIGINT to support Canadian exports?

CSE has acknowledged (see page 11) that Canada does gather economic intelligence:
In Canada, foreign signals intelligence exists to support the Government in the pursuit of its national interests within the scope of defence, security and international affairs. This includes economic interests because in any state a strong economy is integral to national security.
But the agency also insists that
Canada’s foreign signals intelligence activities are NOT used to provide Canadian private companies with any competitive advantage. Private businesses, here in Canada or anywhere, should compete fairly in the global marketplace on the merits of their own offerings, without assistance provided by state intelligence capabilities.
How credible is this latter assertion?

As I noted here, allegations of Canadian use of CSE-gathered intelligence to assist Canadian industry have cropped up from time to time for decades.

But the government has always denied assisting private companies, and it may be significant that many of the past allegations have revolved around quasi-governmental activities such as wheat exports and nuclear reactor sales.

Provision of SIGINT to private companies would pose serious security problems, and with corporate ownership and production activities often distributed around the world, in many cases it is not obvious which country would benefit most from the provision of such intelligence. Wide-ranging, systematic assistance to Canadian companies that helped them to outcompete companies based in the United States or other Five Eyes allies would almost certainly be discovered, endangering Canada's position in the Five Eyes system. And the Canadian governments of recent decades have tended increasingly to take the view that the free market is the best determinant of economic winners.

A government that was committed to free-market principles might still see a case for using SIGINT to monitor commercial transactions—to ensure that Canadian companies are not cheated out of major contracts by the use of bribery or other underhanded tactics by competitors, for example. But it might draw the line at providing signals intelligence to help those companies win competitions by, for example, underbidding their competitors or using information about key decision-makers to influence the outcome of the competition.

It might.

On the other hand, no Canadian government has ever taken the position that no government assistance of any kind should be provided to Canadian companies seeking export sales. This is especially true of the aerospace and defence industries, which have long been considered crucial sectors of the Canadian economy whose success is considered a critical national interest. The same position has also been taken more recently with respect to the energy industry.

Canadian government support for exports by the aerospace and defence industries includes the provision of grants and loans for research and product development, sponsorship of "Team Canada" trade missions to promote sales, assistance by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service and other elements of the department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, product promotion by defence attachés, use of the Canadian Forces to demonstrate equipment to potential customers, financing both for suppliers and for foreign customers through Export Development Canada, and provision of contracting services through the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC).

In recent years the CCC has placed increasing emphasis on what it calls the Global Defence and Security market:
Sales to governments of other nations are vital for Canadian defence and security companies. By promoting Canadian solutions and technologies and building valuable relationships with governments around the world, CCC plays an active role in keeping global defence markets open.

International buyers benefit from an expedited, transparent process and rigorous supplier-evaluation standards of the Government of Canada. Canadian companies leverage CCC’s unique relationships and negotiating expertise to promote their capabilities and technologies on the world stage.
Should we assume that CSE's capabilities, alone among the tools available to the Canadian government, are never used in support of Canadian exports?

That's certainly what CSE would have us believe. As CSE Chief John Forster told the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in February 2014,
There were reports of us meeting with industry to give them commercial intelligence; that is not what we do. We, along with [CSIS] and Public Safety, meet with them when we can help them, to tell them about threats to their information systems, intellectual property, research and technology. In terms of foreign intelligence outside of the cyberworld, we collect that to give to government departments according to the priorities set by cabinet. We provide that to departments in the form of reports, and that is where our intelligence goes. We would not meet with a company, as I said earlier, to share any intelligence we have about an upcoming bid or an upcoming tender. We don't collect that information; that is not what we do. Again, we collect according to the priorities of the government.
But what are those priorities?

Well, economic success is certainly one of them. The Canadian government has listed "prosperity issues" among CSE's intelligence priorities for a long time. In fact, as then-CSE Chief John Adams acknowledged in a 2007 speech, "in the time between the end of the cold war and 2001, CSE’s reporting concentrated mostly on prosperity issues." [emphasis added]

Counter-terrorism and support to military operations displaced prosperity as CSE's highest priorities in the wake of 9/11, but prosperity never disappeared from the list, and it has almost certainly grown in importance in recent years.

On 27 November 2013, the Harper government announced what it called its Global Markets Action Plan, identifying economic success as the top Canadian foreign policy priority. Minister of International Trade Ed Fast declared that the new plan would “ensure that all of Canada’s diplomatic assets are harnessed to support the pursuit of commercial success by Canadian companies and investors.”

According to the Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson,
The new orientation is the result of a direct order that Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave Ed Fast when he was appointed Minister of International Trade after the 2011 election.... The Prime Minister wants trade to become the dominant focus of Canada’s foreign policy, and Mr. Fast was to come up with the blueprint for making that happen. The Global Markets Action Plan is that blueprint. The plan was stiffly resisted by many senior officials within the department itself, according to a government official speaking on background. Calling the new directive “a culture shift” for Foreign Affairs, the official said the action plan sends a message to Canada’s diplomats: “Take off your tweed jacket, buy a business suit and land us a deal.”
Defense News reported that the plan "target[s] the markets that matter to Canadian businesses, in particular in defense and energy,... ensuring that Canada’s interests are advanced in those markets. The policy concerns 20 nations including Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."

It's probably no coincidence that CSE was targeting the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy at around the same time. After all, it shouldn't come as a complete surprise that Canada's foreign intelligence priorities might align with its overall foreign policy priorities.

Still, there may be room for a little nuance here.

It may be that CSE does collect intelligence related to potential export sales, but that it doesn't actually make that intelligence available to private corporations.

The outstanding success story of the government's recent export promotion efforts, according to the government itself, is the $10-15 billion contract to export light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia announced by Trade Minister Fast in February 2015.

Was SIGINT used in some way to help secure that contract?

We don't know.

But we do know that General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada (GDLS-C), the company that manufactures the vehicles, does not have a direct contract with Saudi Arabia. GDLS-C has a contract with the Canadian government.

It is the Canadian government—specifically the Canadian Commercial Corporation—that has the contract with Saudi Arabia. Like most Canadian arms exports, this is a government-to-government sale.

Thus, if SIGINT was indeed used to help secure the LAV contract, it was probably used by officials working for the Canadian government. There wouldn't have been any need or reason to provide it directly to the company.

If this is how it's done, then Chief Forster's statement that CSE does not provide commercial intelligence to private industry may well be true—just deeply, deeply misleading. It is probably the public servants at the CCC, account executives like Norm Weir, who receive the SIGINT in such cases, not corporate CEOs and sales managers.

I mention Norm Weir in particular for a reason. Nothing on the public record confirms he is cleared to receive SIGINT. But we do know he wasn't a CCC employee when he first arrived in the agency's offices in 2002-03.

He was a CSE employee seconded to CCC.

Of course, nothing in the above proves that Mr. Weir—or anyone else at the Canadian Commercial Corporation—has access to SIGINT and is using it to help secure Canadian export sales.

But, honestly, do you really doubt that somebody there is doing it?

Many people, including at least two Canadian Senators, would probably support Canada using intelligence information to advance the interests of Canadian corporations and thus the Canadian economy as a whole. It's what "grown up" countries do. Or so we're told.

Using SIGINT to protect Canadian companies from being cheated does seem pretty reasonable to me.

But using it to cheat others—if that's what we're doing—is a different proposition. Especially if it's in aid of peddling arms to deep-pocketed despots.

Is that what being grown up is?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The SIGINT satellites of Pine Gap

Desmond Ball, Richard Tanter, and I have released another issue of our on-going series on the SIGINT station at Pine Gap, Australia:

"The SIGINT Satellites of Pine Gap: Conception, Development and in Orbit", NAPSNet Special Reports, October 15, 2015. Full text here.

Although we focus on the satellites operated from Pine Gap and cover the Program A SIGINT satellites (Canyon, operated from Bad Aibling, and Chalet/Vortex/Mercury, operated from Menwith Hill) only tangentially, I think this paper will be of interest to anyone looking for information about the history and operations of U.S. geosynchronous signals intelligence satellite programs.

Earlier reports:

- Desmond Ball, Bill Robinson, and Richard Tanter, "The militarisation of Pine Gap: Organisations and Personnel", NAPSNet Special Reports, August 13, 2015;

- Desmond Ball, Bill Robinson, and Richard Tanter, "The Higher Management of Pine Gap", NAPSNet Special Reports, August 17, 2015; and

- Desmond Ball, Bill Robinson, Richard Tanter, and Philip Dorling, "The corporatisation of Pine Gap", NAPSNet Special Reports, June 24, 2015.

More to come!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

September 2015 CSE staff size

2108. Up 85 from last month, putting the total back into the expected 2100–2200 range (at least for now).

(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.)

Monday, October 05, 2015

CSE-related items in the Liberal platform

The Liberal Party released its election platform document today. Called A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class, the 88-page document actually covers a wide range of policy questions, including security and defence issues and democratic reform initiatives, a number of which are directly relevant to CSE.

Most notably, the plan calls for "legislation that will, among other measures... limit Communications Security Establishment’s powers by requiring a warrant to engage in the surveillance of Canadians" (p. 53).

What this is intended to mean is not entirely clear.

Under the current legal regime, CSE is prohibited from "directing" its activities at Canadians or persons in Canada except when it is acting in support of a federal law enforcement or security agency that has the legal authority for such surveillance, which in the case of the interception of private communications would be a warrant signed by a Federal Court judge. However, CSE does have permission to monitor the private communications of Canadians or persons in Canada "incidentally" in the course of its foreign intelligence gathering and cyber security activities as long as those activities are not directed at Canadians and it has been granted an authorization for such activities by the Minister of National Defence.

Based on a less-than-clear response by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau during an interview today, Vice News concluded that the Liberals are proposing to expand CSE's surveillance powers in order to enable it to directly target Canadians' communications even when it is not operating in support of a domestic security agency (Hilary Beaumont & Rachel Browne, "Liberal Leader Would Give New Powers to Canada's NSA," Vice News, 5 October 2015). [But see below.]

It seems more likely, however, that the Liberal plan is simply to replace the existing ministerial authorization regime for incidental collection with a system of judicial warrants. Part 1 of Bill C-622, Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray's recent private member's bill, called for the creation of just such a system; presumably the Liberal promise is that this proposal would be implemented by a Liberal government.

It is worth noting, however, that Murray's proposal did not address the question of judicial control over the collection and analysis of metadata pertaining to Canadians. Should metadata activities also be subject to some kind of warrant regime? [Update 9 December 2015: Actually, I think the bill's definition of "protected information" does include metadata.] The platform document does not indicate what position a Liberal government would take on this issue.

[Update 6 October 2015: The Vice News article was rewritten overnight. It now states that
The Liberal Party has contended that the change referred to in the platform document actually emulates legislation introduced by the party that would move authorization from the minister's office, to the courts.

The change, tucked inside a private member's bill from Liberal MP Joyce Murray, would mean the courts — not the minister — would approve CSE surveillance that captures Canadians' communications.

That change would, indeed, limit CSE's power by adding judicial oversight. The change proposed by Murray still would have no impact on CSE's primary barrier — that it cannot surveil Canadians. VICE News is awaiting further clarification from the Liberals on the policy.

(Hilary Beaumont, Rachel Browne & Justin Ling, "Liberal Leader Would Change When Canada’s NSA Could Spy," Vice News, 5 October 2015)
Update to the update: Retitled Liberal Party Says They Will Not Expand Powers for Canada’s NSA, the article now reports that
a statement from Liberal Party spokesperson Cameron Ahmad sent to VICE News on Tuesday morning indicates that the party was referring to an existing CSE authority and that — despite the language in the platform — surveilling Canadians is not part of the plan.

"In some cases, it only takes a ministerial order to approve the collection of Canadians' information," reads the statement. "Our position is clear: we would limit CSE's powers by forcing the defence minister to obtain a warrant from a judge, shifting to a much stronger standard of oversight, accountability, and responsibility." It adds: "Liberals have long been calling for robust oversight of our security agencies. We are not proposing to expand the authority of CSE."]
Also relevant to CSE is the Liberal platform's promise to "conduct a thorough review of existing measures to protect Canadians and our critical infrastructure from cyber-threats." (p. 71).

CSE's part in such activities is currently limited to the provision of "advice, guidance and services to help ensure the protection of electronic information and of information infrastructures of importance to the Government of Canada", which includes government systems and those supporting some critical infrastructure, but not those of the average Canadian. In fact, no one in government seems to be responsible for protecting average shmucks like us, other than by offering very general advice that is demonstrably inadequate against the capabilities of other nations' intelligence agencies or even sophisticated hackers. "Sauve qui peut!" Thanks a bunch, government. Maybe the Liberal proposal will encourage reconsideration of this situation.

Finally, the platform promises to improve parliamentary oversight (or, technically, review) of CSE and other national security agencies:
We will deliver stronger national security oversight. At present, Parliament does not have oversight of our national security agencies, making Canada the sole nation among our Five Eyes allies whose elected officials cannot scrutinize security operations. This leaves the public uninformed and unrepresented on critical issues.

We will create an all-party committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department and agency with national security responsibilities." (p. 31-32)
This committee, which was also promised in the Liberals' A Fair and Open Government manifesto released in June, presumably would be similar or identical to the "national security committee of parliamentarians" proposed by the Martin government in Bill C-81 on 24 November 2005. That bill died when the Martin government fell four days later, but a similar bill has been put forward as private member's legislation by Liberal MPs on a number of occasions since, most recently as Part 2 of Murray's Bill C-622.

Update 14 October 2015: You can read a comparison of the Liberal, NDP, and Conservative positions on these issues here: Matthew Braga, "Where Canada's Three Political Parties Stand on Cybersecurity and Surveillance," Motherboard, 9 October 2015.

Update 17 October 2015: Wesley Wark, "National Security: The Election Issue that Wasn’t," CIPS blog, 16 October 2015.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

CSE spying prior to 2010 G8/G20 summit

A snippet recently published by Der Spiegel from one of the documents in the Snowden archive reveals the title of one of CSE's SIGINT reports: "2010 G8/G20: German and South Korean Officials Discuss G8/G20 Issues".

The snippet also lists the serial number of the report, 3/UU/97037-09. The Producer Designator Digraph UU in the sequence confirms that it is a CSE report. (NSA is OO, GCHQ is AA, ASD is EE, and GCSB is II; certain specific units or activities within these organizations have separate PDDGs that are used when those bodies are the originator of the report.) The 3 at the beginning indicates that the report is classified Top Secret COMINT. (Z-3 means Top Secret COMINT NOFORN, G means Top Secret COMINT-GAMMA, and other numbers and letters indicate other classifications.) The two-digit number at the end of the serial number indicates the year the report was released, in this case 2009, and the five-digit number (97037) is the number specific to that particular report.

As its title indicates, CSE's report concerned German and South Korean discussions related to the 2010 G8 and G20 summits, which were held in Canada in June 2010. It is likely that CSE (and allies) mounted an extensive effort to monitor the positions and internal deliberations of the non-Five Eyes delegates at those summits, as GCHQ and friends did during the 2009 G20 summit in the U.K. Interestingly, the serial number on the CSE report indicates that it was released in 2009, showing that CSE was collecting intelligence on this topic long before the Canadian summits actually began.