Thursday, July 09, 2020

More on the Annual Report

A couple of additional comments on CSE's recent Annual Report (previous comments here):

Among the handful of new things the report tells us is that CSE recently adopted a new five-year plan, CSE 2025, which "lays out CSE’s five-year strategic horizon to guide investments and operations in a way that directs our focus on delivering national-level results and mitigating national-level risks."

Unfortunately, the explanatory sentences that follow explain nothing, other than that CSE intends to pursue the elements of its mandate over the next five years.

Seems like a sound plan.

But they do introduce some interesting language. Most notably, we are told that one the goals of the agency is to provide an information advantage for Canada’s "security, prosperity and competitiveness".

This is a new formulation in CSE's public messaging, and it must be important to the agency as it appears four times in the text of the report and also as a subhead. It also ends up inserted in the mouth of the minister in the press release introducing the report.

The agency's previous watchwords were security, prosperity, and stability (see, e.g., here and here).

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that competitiveness has displaced stability on the agency's list of lodestars—maybe they took a look at the world and gave up on stability?—but it's striking that two of the three words now refer to economic matters.

Economic issues last moved to the top of CSE's agenda in the 1990s, when the end of the Cold War nullified the agency's prior focus on the Soviet Union. They were displaced in their turn after 9/11 by counter-terrorism and support to military operations. The latter topics surely remain high on CSE's to-do list, but it seems likely they no longer hold the all-important position they once did.

Is the economy moving back to the top of the list?

Another new slogan or vision statement or something appears in CSE Chief Shelly Bruce's introductory message at the beginning of the report: "We are one CSE, known and trusted".

I assess with moderate confidence that this is not intended to be a statement of current fact, so presumably it is a goal, meant to highlight the indivisibility of the SIGINT and cybersecurity sides of the agency (and perhaps the new cyber operations part too?) and set a target for the future. It seems to express a hope that the Cyber Centre will become better known and trusted, and that it won't defect to become its own organization but will instead share the benefits of its growing renown and trustedness with the currently little-known and little-trusted SIGINT side.

I could make some sort of comment here about how in my view the agency is not at all likely to become either better known or more trusted as long as it keeps dispensing PR pablum instead of living up to its professed commitment to transparency, but—well, I guess I just did.


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