Snowden Fallout: Canada Is Hardly a Polite and Respectful Hemispheric Partner

Edward Snowden, who divulged secret activities of the National Security Agency or N.S.A., is now safely ensconced in Moscow. However, the notorious whistle-blower's disclosures continue to illuminate Washington's underhanded and unsavory agenda in the hemisphere, as well as U.S. links to junior partners such as Canada. According to Brazil's flagship news program Fantastico, which got access to Snowden's intelligence, Canada's electronic eavesdropping agency hacked into Brazil's Ministry of Energy Mines in a likely attempt to garner valuable industrial intelligence.

The recent reporting does not indicate what the super secret Communications Security Establishment Canada or CSEC was after precisely, though it is possible that Ottawa has actually been spying on Brazil for years. There is some suggestion, moreover, that the Canadians carried out their intelligence with the active collaboration of the United States. Indeed, the Fantastico report was based on CSEC documents which had been presented at an intelligence conference attended by the U.S. and its allies. According to the documents, Canada worked with an elite group of cyber spies at the N.S.A. when it hacked into the Brazilian Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Anglo-Saxon Spying Club

Joint N.S.A.-CSEC operations have eroded U.S. and Canadian credibility, and recently Brazilian President Rousseff declared that Washington and its allies should "stop their action of espionage once and for all." Needless to say, however, the Brazilians probably suspected they were being targeted by such joint programs. As early as 2001, the Brazilian Minister of G.S.I. (Institutional Security Office) testified before Congress that the N.S.A. had developed an electronic spying program called Echelon which was designed to intercept e-mail and other communications.

The N.S.A. leads Echelon, though U.S. allies such as Canada participate in the program. The network is sometimes referred to as the "Five Eyes," a Cold War Anglo-Saxon surveillance club which also includes Australia, the U.K. and New Zealand. Historically, the Five Eyes soaked up military and diplomatic intelligence, but today it has switched to industrial and commercial targets. Reportedly, Echelon computers are highly sophisticated and may intercept faxes, phone calls and e-mails while storing millions of records.

Canada Becomes a Player

Though the Brazilians could not have been so surprised by the Fantastico report, it is likely that many Canadians, who pride themselves on being a rather unassuming and respectful bunch, may have been taken back by the revelations. In Canada, the CSEC is hardly a household name though some experts have been writing about Ottawa's participation in N.S.A. programs for some time. Martin Rudner, a former professor at Carleton University, reports that initially Canada had no signals intelligence satellites of its own and had to rely on the N.S.A. to train its personnel. Eventually, however, Canada was able to access satellite technology from the U.S. and U.K. and even managed "to task satellites to respond to specific Canadian foreign intelligence requirements."

Though Canada lagged, the country soon developed its own valuable IT and communication technologies. What is more, Ottawa even enjoyed competitive advantage in such niche areas as speech and voice recognition and software designed to translate verbal conversation into digital text. In recent years, CSEC's budget has ballooned to $400 million annually and the agency's staff now numbers 2,000 people. Meanwhile, CSEC has recruited personnel who display expertise in economics, commerce and international business.

According to Rudner, CSEC has sought to promote Canadian economic competitiveness in world markets, and cyber staff has provided policymakers with intelligence on international trade negotiations. Even before recent reports about Brazil, CSEC targeted Latin America by spying on Mexico in advance of NAFTA trade talks in the mid-1990s. Rudner adds that a Canadian intercept station based at Leitrim, Ontario is designed to spy on Latin American satellite communications.

Just how do mild-mannered Canadians feel about their government aiding Washington in its underhanded dealings in Latin America? Already, leading opposition figures are calling on the conservative Stephen Harper government to account for its actions, with Thomas Mulcair of the New Democrats remarking that the Brazil affair gave Canada "a black eye in the world." Meanwhile, reporter Glenn Greenwald, who collaborated on the Fantastico story, has declared that more revelations are soon to come about Canada. As additional stores leak out, Canadians may be forced to come to terms with their wider role in the world and to face some uncomfortable truths.