TRUELY HONEST LAW ENFORCEMENT
Review body for Canada’s electronic spy agency warns it can’t keep up
Report warns growth of electronic spy agency has outstripped 8-person review body’s ability to keep tabs
By Alex Boutilier
OTTAWA — The 11-person review body looking into Canada’s massive electronic spy agency worry they can’t keep up with the Communications Security Establishment’s growth.
The Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner has warned that the growth of CSE and fiscal restraint at the commissioner’s office is a “constant concern.”
“Cost sharing related to central agency initiatives and fiscal restraint measures are reducing the flexibility of the office’s available funding,” a report tabled in Parliament Tuesday reads. “CSE, however, is growing and its activities are changing in response to a changing environment.”
CSE Commissioner Jean-Pierre Plouffe has a team of around eight investigators and an annual budget of $2 million. CSE, Canada’s answer to the U.S. National Security Agency, is projected to spend $538.2 million this year, and has over 2,000 employees.
On Monday, another spying overseer, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) warned that continued vacancies on its five-person board, the inability to investigate CSIS operations with other agencies, and delays in CSIS providing required information were resulting in “key risks” to its mandate.
The CSE report suggests the commissioner will engage part-time subject matter experts when required to supplement his permanent staff. But it also says that an increase in funding would resolve the “capacity issue” and “provide the necessary assurances to . . . Canadians as to whether CSE is complying with the law and has due regard for the privacy of Canadians.”
CSE has attracted considerable attention in the wake of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the pervasive surveillance of the Five Eyes security partnership — including the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Working from those disclosures, The Intercept and CBC revealed CSE has developed a “vast arsenal” of cyberwarfare tools, and had a goal to become more aggressive in their use by 2015.
Other documents leaked by Snowden suggest CSE has engaged in mass Internet surveillance of file sharing sites, and collects massive amounts of Internet traffic through 200 “internet backbone” sites worldwide through a program called EONBLUE.
Bill Galbraith, the executive director of the CSE Commissioner’s office, would not say if the office was investigating EONBLUE or comment on any specific review.
“The reviews that we are conducting covering a range of signals intelligence activities, IT security activities, and there is a major review of metadata underway,” Galbraith said.
Galbraith said the ability for the commissioner’s office to review CSE’s operations has been a long-standing concern, and one that the commissioner monitors closely.
Like the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which reviews the actions of CSIS, the CSE commissioner’s office believes that co-operation between the small agencies keeping tabs on spies’ actions would present a more complete picture of Canada’s intelligence activities.
“Information sharing among intelligence agencies at the national and international level requires at minimum some co-operation among the various review and oversight bodies,” the report notes.
But in the debate around Bill C-51, which gives new police-like powers to CSIS, the majority Conservatives have continued to resist calls for a unified oversight body to monitor and approve intelligence agencies’ activities. During the debate, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has called such oversight “needless red tape.”