Tuesday, January 03, 2017

ATIpper #4: CANUSA confusion

More from the Access to Information (ATI) files:

Some secrets are worth protecting, and some aren't. A good example of the latter category is the 1949 Canada-U.S. COMINT Agreement, otherwise known as the CANUSA Agreement.

For some reason, CSE continues to believe that almost all information about this 68-year-old agreement is a deep national secret that must never be revealed.

As a result, even a simple introductory sentence about the agreement gets redacted, as in this example from access release A-2014-00062:

Or this example, redacted from a separate version of the same document released to the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and subsequently made public in a Federal Court filing:

Clearly CSE does not want this information revealed.

But no one is perfect, so here—thanks to another access release, A-2013-00084—is what the redacted sentence actually said:

“The CANUSA Agreement established the relationship between the Canadian Communications Research Committee (a predecessor of CSEC) and the U.S. Communication Intelligence Board (a predecessor of NSA) respecting COMINT.”

Let's hope the nation's security will someday recover from this blow.

Personally I have no doubt that it will, and very quickly too, as the newly revealed secret information is not actually correct.

The Communications Research Committee was not a predecessor of CSE, and the U.S. Communication Intelligence Board was not a predecessor of NSA. The Communications Research Committee was an interdepartmental committee chaired by External Affairs and set up, as the History of CBNRC explains, to "control all SIGINT activities, including policy control of CBNRC and Canadian intercept stations". The U.S. Communication Intelligence Board was the parallel U.S. body that controlled U.S. SIGINT policy. The actual SIGINT organizations at the time were the CBNRC (the Communications Branch of the National Research Council, CSE's original name) and AFSA (the Armed Forces Security Agency), respectively.

Perhaps the author was thinking of a different CRC. The organization that became CBNRC in September 1946 was briefly known as the Communications Research Centre earlier in 1946. By 1949, however, that name was long gone.

What is correct is that the Communications Research Committee and the U.S. Communication Intelligence Board were the signatories of the CANUSA Agreement.

The good news here for CSE is that the document that contains this sadly misinformed sentence was written by CSE's watchdog agency, the Office of the CSE Commissioner (OCSEC), not CSE itself.

The bad news is that OCSEC reports are submitted to CSE in draft form so that CSE can check them for factual accuracy. And although we don't know what the good folks at OCSEC originally drafted, editorial notes that were also released as part of access release A-2014-00062 confirm that it was CSE that suggested the incorrect interpretation:

[Update 30 July 2019: The incorrect information can even be found in CSE policy documents.

(This example is from the OPS-1-13 policy document, 5 December 2012 version.)]

Pardon me while I address our national cryptologic agency directly for a moment:

You know, if you just proactively declassified the whole CANUSA Agreement—like the U.S. and the U.K. did with the CANUSA Agreement's model, the UKUSA Agreement, more than six years ago—you might save yourselves a lot of embarrassment.

Just saying.

Update 23 April 2017: The 1949 version of the CANUSA Agreement was finally released in April 2017. But not proactively—I had to cough up five bucks to spur things along.

Update 31 March 2019: See here for a substantial part of the appendices.


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