Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Second World War origins of Canadian post-war SIGINT cooperation

A fascinating new article on the Second World War origins of Canadian post-war SIGINT cooperation was published in May in the journal Intelligence and National Security (Maria A. Robson: The third eye: Canada’s development of autonomous signals intelligence to contribute to Five Eyes intelligence sharing).

Robson argues that the Canadian SIGINT program has supplied three core benefits for Canada: "first, directly bolstering Canadian national security, second, indirectly bolstering it through increased knowledge of threats to Canada stemming from partners’ intelligence products, and third, alliance tending: producing a product of value to ensure inclusion in postwar intelligence alliances." The last of these, ensuring inclusion in what became the Five Eyes intelligence partnership, she identifies as the dominant driver of Canada's decision to create a post-war Canadian SIGINT organization. 

Drawing on archival research (including previously unreported material from the UK National Archives) and previous scholarship by Wesley Wark, Kurt Jensen, and others, the article also adds to our knowledge of Canada's efforts to insinuate itself into the wartime signals intelligence partnership as an independent — albeit always minor — player capable of dealing directly with both London and Washington.

Well worth reading!

Monday, September 14, 2020

One CSE, known and trusted by declining numbers of people

Back in July, shortly after CSE released its first annual report, I commented that the agency's new catchphrase, "We are one CSE, known and trusted," seemed more an aspiration than a statement of fact.


On September 4th, CSE quietly dropped the results of its latest public opinion poll, and it turns out the agency is even less known than it was back in 2017, when CSE's first poll determined it was almost entirely unknown.

Trust in CSE has also declined. 

CSE's plan, it seems to me, has been to let the spy side of the agency leach off the goodwill generated by the cybersecurity side while saying as little as possible about what the former 70% of the agency actually does. But that approach may be at risk of backfiring, serving instead to undermine trust in the Cyber Centre by making it look like a sort of stalking horse for the shadowy spies.

My firmly held (and frequently stated) belief is that greater transparency by CSE is the key to helping the agency become both better known and more trusted. 

Unfortunately, despite its substantial PR staff, the agency has become less transparent in recent years, and its annual report — a glorified brochure — was a wasted opportunity.

So my advice to CSE is stop playing the PR games and start doing a better job of living up to your professed commitment to transparency. 

Release of the poll was mandatory, so that act in itself was no great step for transparency. But I do give points to the agency for tweeting it out, which it didn't have to do. 

Tweeting it at 4:01 pm on a Friday though? Maybe there was a good reason for that, but it sure looks like old-school PR bullshit.

Maybe not the best way to get better known and trusted.

Update 15 September 2020: The media takes note:

And CSE weighs in too:

Apropos of nothing, I wonder if there's an emoji for extended bitter laughter followed by sudden bursting into tears...