Saturday, December 31, 2016

A century of Canadian SIGINT



The Communications Security Establishment recently celebrated its 70th birthday, but Canada's SIGINT history began well before September 1946.

As I've mentioned before, Canadian SIGINT activities during the Second World War laid the foundations for Canada's participation in the post-war Five Eyes SIGINT alliance. But WWII wasn't the beginning of the story either.

In fact, the first recorded Canadian SIGINT activity took place on or about the 1st of January 1917, exactly one century ago.

According to Major Rob Martin (Cracking the Code, Winter 2004),
the earliest record of Canadian Corps intercept of German communications—predominantly telephone (non-wireless)—occurred about 1 January 1917, at "No 6 Post", Neuville St. Vaast
Regular monitoring of German radio communications began later in 1917 and continued until at least August 1918.
At demobilization, however, the fledgling wireless intercept elements suffered the same fate as many other Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) wartime establishments—they were struck off strength—and no effort was made to create or sustain any organic Canadian Army capability in wireless intelligence, strategic or tactical, until the spring of 1938...

[Update 17 January 2017: Oops, judging from the comment below, 1917 may have been the start of army SIGINT activities, but Canadian naval SIGINT activities began shortly after the beginning of the First World War.]

Image source

4 Comments:

Anonymous David Kostuk said...

Canada was intercepting SIGINT earlier than January 1917. It began four years earlier, just shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. Naval Intelligence was using "Y" Intelligence from 13 Canadian wireless stations to intercept German naval communications. The stations were previously used by the Canadian government for control of merchant shipping and weather reporting. However, it was soon learned that the same equipment could be used to intercept German naval communications. Four additional direction-finding stations, located in Cape Sablem, Chebucto Head and Canso in Nova Scotia and Cape Race in Newfoundland (originally built for the British Air Ministry, but given to the RCN at the outbreak of the war) were also used to conduct SIGINT.

I like your blog.

Dave

January 17, 2017 8:05 pm  
Blogger Bill Robinson said...

Hi, Dave. Thanks for the very interesting information!

Sorry for the unintended slight to the Navy.

Can you point me to a source where I can find more information about these stations and their dates of operation?

Cheers,
Bill.

January 17, 2017 9:03 pm  
Anonymous David Kostuk said...

The reference for the 4 direction-finding stations being used since the outbreak of WWI is from The Seabound Coast: The Offical History of the Royal Canadian Navy Vol.1 by William Johnston et al, page 467.

The information about the 13 Radio stations is from a map, that for the life of me, I can't remember where I found it. I am writing a history of Canadian Naval Intelligence, and I can't find my original reference. When I find it again. I will send it to you.

January 18, 2017 1:33 pm  
Blogger Bill Robinson said...

Thanks, Dave, that's very helpful.

I look forward to reading your book!

January 19, 2017 3:34 am  

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