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Canada's Spy Industry Is Powering Its Energy Industry

Canada, home to 75 percent of the world’s mining companies, is hacking its way into greater economic power.

by Patrick McGuire
Oct 16 2013, 6:49pm
CSEC's primary signals interception base: CFS Leitrim. via WikiCommons.

MONTREAL—Last week, thanks to the United States’ least favourite NSA analyst Edward Snowden, the Guardian broke the news that Canada’s own version of the NSA, CSEC, has been spying on Brazil. Apparently, CSEC had been meeting with the heads of our country’s largest energy companies and debriefing them on all the secrets they’ve stolen from Brazil’s mining and energy ministries. So, does this mean that Canada’s secretive surveillance agency is under the employ of Canada’s energy industry? It sure sounds that way!

In case you’re not caught up, 75 percent of the world’s mining companies have their headquarters in Canada, which is an enormous figure that obviously contributes a metric fuckton to the Canadian economy. Even still, it’s somewhat surprising—and a hugely concerning conflict of interest—to hear that CSEC has opened up an intelligence sharing relationship with Canada’s private energy sector.

While Stephen Harper claims to be “very concerned” to hear CSEC has been spying on Brazil, it seems absurd that he would be completely unaware that our country’s surveillance agency—whose headquarters is so large it’s known as the Taj Mahal in Ottawa, as it's worth $880M and employs nearly 2,000 spooks—is meeting with the country’s top energy executives right under his nose.

This Brazilian revelation also makes John Adams’s assertion (the former chief of CSEC) that the agency exists to spy on the bad guys for our boys in Afghanistan seem even less believable than it was when he first said it. If you’re curious, John’s response to this recent scandal can be described as vague disappointment. It’s possible, however, that he was even aware of all this when he was in office, as the presentation outlining CSEC’s Brazilian hacking adventure was circulated in June of 2012; about five months after John Adams stepped down.

What this all seems to add up to is Canada hacking its way into greater economic power. About a year ago, I wrote about how China had been hacking into Canadian law firms and energy companies in order to successfully win its takeover bid of Nexen Inc, a Canadian oil producer. Around that time, CSIS warned Canadians about the looming Chinese threat as they hacked and bought their way into the country—because those types of shenanigans can “represent a threat to security interests.” Flash forward to 2013 and here we are, hacking and buying our way into Brazil—a procedure that undoubtedly compromises their security interests. 

Speaking of Brazil, security experts there are “astonished” that Canada has the cyber power to pull off such a deep hack into their country’s mining and energy ministries. A Brazilian security expert told the Globe and Mail that he was particularly bummed out to discover Canada had not only intricately picked apart the communications of the Brazilian government, but that they also shared the information with the US, the UK, New Zealand and Australia—an intelligence partnership of super-democracies known as the Five Eyes. This is the international relations equivalent of stealing someone’s diary, and sharing their most private entries with your friends at recess. Now, Brazil is looking into a 

The program CSEC used to spy on the Brazilians—whom we could once call our friends—is called “OLYMPIA,” and its details were outlined in a PowerPoint presentation that Edward Snowden leaked; a presentation that has now been made public through the Brazilian investigative news show Fantastico.

A blog called Lux Ex Umbra, dedicated to the wacky world of Canadian signals intelligence, has re-published the slides—and by taking a look at them, you can see how CSEC is outlining the ways in which it can discover whom its targets in Brazil’s energy ministries communicate with on a daily basis.


A slide from CSEC's not-secret-anymore presentation.

From what I can tell from the presentation, Brazil was targeted because CSEC has “very little collection” of data from those ministries, and CSEC had “limited access/target knowledge” of Brazil’s energy industries. This may indicate there are other countries CSEC has launched similar operations against, otherwise, how could they say they had “very little” data collection if there weren’t other targets they classified as having ‘a whole fucking lot’ of data collection from? I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re also spying on other countries to gain similar economic advantages.

The most popular excuse from the Canadian intelligence community for this Brazilian snafu—that is currently circulating in the media—is that all of this was simply part of a “war game scenario,” i.e. CSEC was just playing around with a bit of roleplay and they were never actually spying on Brazil. This excuse, however, has only come from former staff and is mere speculation. As the Globe and Mail points out, if this were all just a fantasy situation to train CSEC staff, why not use the name of a fictitious nation in the presentation, kinda like a safe word, such as Hoozle-Wazzle-land or Whatsee-Doodle-stan, to prevent such a massive controversy?

While it seems very unlikely that the Brazilian operation was simply just a war game, it’s vaguely comforting as a Canadian to know that the details of CSEC’s OLYMPIA program are fairly basic—in the grand scope of this year’s non-stop mindfuck of surveillance revelations. The leaked CSEC information is also, however, 16 months old.

Given the enormous size of CSEC and its partnership with the Five Eyes—an organization we already know is devastatingly invasive, thanks to its partnership with America’s unstoppably controversial NSA and the all-seeing eye of Britain’s GCHQ—one of the major questions that needs to be asked now is: Who else are we spying on?

While America’s Director of National Intelligence claims that America does not “use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies,” clearly that’s a total lie—and this can be proven, at the very least, through Canada’s willful sharing of the information they hacked from Brazil. James Clapper is also the guy who blatantly lied to the world when he said the NSA wasn’t spying on Americans.

While no smoking gun revelations have come out about CSEC spying on Canadian citizens, Canadians should absolutely be concerned about the level of control that the energy sector has over our government’s most powerful apparatuses.

The fact that Enbridge is admittedly “paying for catering” at meetings with the country’s top surveillance analysts is troubling, at a time when Canada has massive environmental issues to deal with that are being half-assedly handled by the government and its beloved energy industry. This is a Canada where scientists are being muzzled, Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal plan threatens to pollute half of the country, Sarnia’s Chemical Valley continues to endanger the aboriginal and blue collar community around it, and the tar sands are polluting the environment out west.

According to Glenn Greenwald, "there is very substantial evidence that the spying Canada was doing for economic reasons aimed at Brazil is far from an aberration," and if he’s right, the dirty relationship between the Canadian government and our energy industry may become an even more disastrous issue as the truth continues to unfold.

Follow Patrick on Twitter: @patrickmcguire

More about CSEC and the energy industry it loves:

Is CSEC, the Canadian Version of the NSA, Trustworthy?

Enbridge’s Line 9 Pipeline Could Be Catastrophic for Ontario and Quebec

Checking in on the Chemical Valley

Canadian Scientists Are Rallying Against the Government’s War on Science

This story originally appeared at VICE Canada