Thursday, May 22nd, 2008
Stewart Bell, National Post
Thursday, May 22, 2008
TORONTO — The Canadian government is spending $62-million on a new building for the country’s ultra-secret electronic spy agency, the National Post has learned.
The Communications Security Establishment facility will be located in Ottawa. Defence Minister Peter MacKay is expected to make the announcement later today.
The CSE is the most secretive branch of Canada’s intelligence community. It operates an electronic eavesdropping system that collects “signals intelligence,” or SIGINT.
From its headquarters in south Ottawa, the CSE intercepts, decodes, translates and analyzes the phone calls, e-mails and other electronic communications of Canada’s adversaries. It also safeguards government computer systems.
Although the CSE works under strict secrecy, signals teams are known to have played a role in the March 23, 2006 rescue of one British and two Canadian hostages in Iraq. The agency has also been listening in on Taliban communications exchanges in Afghanistan.
But the agency’s work goes mostly unnoticed.
The agency has been rapidly expanding since gaining new powers following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The new 6,000-square-metre building will house 250 employees.
The CSE was once so secret the government would not even acknowledge its existence. The agency was not even listed in government phone books. But it has been slowly coming out of the shadows to explain what it does.
The agency began after the Second World War when Ottawa merged two of its intelligence units to form what was then called the Communications Branch of the National Research Council. Its focus was the Soviet Bloc military.
In 1975 it was renamed the CSE and placed under the wing of the armed forces. Then came the end of the Cold War, 9/11, and suddenly terrorism became Canada’s number one national security threat.
At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, the CSE was not allowed to listen in on any talk that originated or terminated in Canada. That changed in December, 2001, when Parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allowed the CSE to listen in on foreign intelligence targets even if those communications had one foot in Canada.
“I think it’s fair to say that the focus now is very much concentrated on anti-terrorism,” CSE spokesman Adrian Simpson said in a 2006 interview. “Up until the end of the Cold War there was one steady target and all of the intelligence agencies were focused on that, and 9/11 just changed everything and we and our partner organizations had to focus on the new reality.”
Civil liberty advocates are concerned about the expansion of the CSE’s powers and argue the agency needs closer scrutiny to make sure innocent people are not targeted.
Building contracts for the facility are to be tendered later this spring. Construction is to be completed by 2011.
Full Story | See Also: | Whistle-Blower: Feds Have a Backdoor Into Wireless Carrier – Congress Reacts | Canadians who trust our secret police should think again | Listening in on the enemy: Canada’s master eavesdroppers