For years, the federal government and Canada’s spy agencies have been quietly concerned about China’s intelligence service infiltrating Canadian business.
And the tone has always been that the kind of economic intelligence the Chinese government has been undertaking is, well, improper, akin to cheating.
In 1996, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was warning about precisely that sort of systemic espionage, and the warnings haven’t stopped.
It’s a concern that has been regularly raised, with a CSIS spokesman telling the CBC as recently as last September that there is “no denying that Canada is an attractive target for economic and political espionage, owing to our prominence in strategic sectors such as communications, biotechnology, mineral and energy extraction, aerospace and others.”
The concerns have occasionally been muted, as federal officials try to strike a balance with maintaining good relations with a potentially huge trading partner while decrying the “dirty tricks” nature of governments using their intelligence services to further economic interests.
Well, the suggestion that it’s somehow wrong to use dirty tricks to spy on foreign business interests may just have gotten turned on its ear.
Because it appears our intelligence services may be involved in the same kind of cheating.
A report by Brazil’s Globo television station, using still more documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, says that Canada’s electronic spying agency, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), was using email tapping programs, including one called Olympia, to target Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry and break through encryption programs.
In the report, a security expert had this to say about CSEC’s methods: “I was overwhelmed by the power of the tools used. The Ministry of Energy and Mines was totally dissected.”
It’s not in any way clear why Brazil’s mines ministry would constitute any kind of security threat to Canadian interests: what is clear is that there are a number of major Canadian corporations with interests in Brazil, suggesting that any intercepts by CSEC would have more to do with protecting business interests than with protecting Canadian security.
So, the question might now be, given that it looks a lot like we’re using economic espionage to our own advantage, how can we possibly complain about another nation using the same tactics to compete with our business sector? There may be a difference in the matter of degree, but it sure looks like we’ve crossed the same ethical line.
What’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander, after all. (A sideline fact about the CSEC and ganders? Among its other operations, the agency has used information gathered from an electronic eavesdropping antenna array, nicknamed “The Turkey Farm,” on the outskirts of Gander for years.)
So, is it dirty pool, or is it just business as usual?
And if it is business as usual, how and when exactly did Canada, a nation that usually claims to pride itself on fair play, become such a cheater?