If Canada is spying on Brazil, who else is under surveillance?

Jesse Brown on CSEC violations and what we know so far

Edward Snowden (AP Photo/The Guardian)

So it turns out we may have been spying on Brazil, one of our biggest trading partners.

Yesterday on the CBC’s As It Happens, journalist Glenn Greenwald — who first reported on these violations by Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSEC) — promised Canadians that further NSA documents, leaked to him by Edward Snowden but as yet unreported, have much more to offer on the subject of Canadian intelligence transgressions. Greenwald, who is based in Rio de Janeiro, told As It Happens:

“There’s a lot of other documents about Canadians spying on ordinary citizens, on allied governments, on the world, and their co-operation with the United States government, and the nature of that co-operation that I think most Canadian citizens will find quite surprising, if not shocking, because it’s all done in secret and Canadians are not aware of it…”

Here’s what we are aware of: in 2006, when CSEC was entrusted by a group of 163 ally nations with overseeing the establishment of standardized cryptogoraphy, it allowed the NSA to secretly commandeer the process and build a “back-door” into the encryption, which let America spy on the world in secret for years. From the NSA documents Snowden leaked:

“The road to developing this standard was smooth once the journey began… However, beginning the journey was a challenge in finesse … After some behind-the-scenes finessing with the head of the Canadian national delegation and with C.S.E., the stage was set for N.S.A. to submit a rewrite of the draft … Eventually, N.S.A. became the sole editor.”

What else? Well, in responding to the Brazil espionage, Prime Minister Stephen Harper passed the buck to judge Robert Decary, the outgoing Commissioner of CSEC:

“We do have a commissioner of the Canadian Security Establishment. That commissioner does surveillance and audits the organization to make sure it’s operating within Canadian law.”

The thing is, the last time Decary checked, he couldn’t make sure that CSEC was following the law at all. He was unable to confirm whether or not the CSEC was spying on Canadian citizens, something it is not legally allowed to do. Here’s what Decary wrote in his last annual report:

“A small number of records suggested the possibility that some activities may have been directed at Canadians, contrary to law. A number of CSEC records relating to these activities were unclear or incomplete. After in-depth and lengthy review, I was unable to reach a definitive conclusion about compliance or non-compliance with the law.”

Given all this, what can we expect to learn in the coming Greenwald exposés?

I’d say it’s a fair guess that CSEC has been doing things that the NSA asked them to do: namely, spying on American citizens. Intelligence analysts have long suspected that members of the Five Eyes intelligence network (the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K.) scratch each others’ backs by spying on each others’ citizens when they cannot. Meaning (hypothetically) that the NSA might ask CSEC to spy on an American to skirt U.S. laws, and CSEC would in turn ask the NSA to provide data on a Canadian citizen.

Or perhaps it’s not a question of one American in exchange for one Canadian. Perhaps a reciprocal relationship exists that encompasses bulk surveillance of thousands of Canadians, the kind we now know, thanks to Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, the NSA has been engaging in already.

Let’s hope we find out soon.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown

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