Canadian intelligence monitoring far-right activities after Charlottesville

Unite the Right rallyCanadian spy organizations are working with domestic and international agencies in response to reports that several Canadian far-right activists attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month. The rally drew the attention of the world’s media after violent clashes between protesters and counter-protesters left a woman dead. Two Virginia State Police officers were also killed when a helicopter used in crowd control in Charlottesville crashed near the site of the demonstrations. The rally, which took place on August 11 and 12, drew members of various white supremacist, white nationalist, neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate groups. There were also heavily armed members of a self-styled militia at Emancipation Park, where a soon-to-be-removed statue of the late Confederate General Robert E. Lee became the focal point of the far-right demonstrators.

Canadian news watchers were surprised to find out that several Canadian citizens traveled to the United States to participate in the “Unite the Right” rally. At least two were identified on social media after appearing in a Vice News documentary about the rally. One Canadian participant is believed to be an activist with Le Meute (The Wolf Pack), a far-right group that appeared in Quebec in 2015 and today boasts 43,000 registered members. The stated position of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s primary national intelligence agency, is that far-right extremism is not a major problem in Canada. In 2014, the agency said that rightwing extremism was not “as significant a problem in Canada in recent years”. The statement added that Canadians who held far-right extremist views “have tended to be isolated and ineffective figures”.

Speaking to the Canadian online newspaper The National Observer, the CSIS declined to comment specifically about the events in Charlottesville. It also did not respond to a question about whether it monitors the international travels of Canadian far-right activists. A CSIS spokeswoman, Tahera Mufti, told the newspaper that the agency was unable to discuss details about its ongoing investigations into Charlottesville “due to national security reasons”. But she added that CSIS was working “with its Canadian and international partners” to combat the activities of “those who support right-wing extremism”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 August 2017 | Permalink

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Mystery sonic device blamed for foreign diplomats’ hearing loss in Cuba

US embassy in CubaAuthorities in Cuba, the United States and Canada are investigating reports that several foreign diplomats stationed in Havana have been experiencing severe hearing loss in recent months. Some are blaming the deployment of a mystery “covert sonic device” for the diplomats’ symptoms. The allegations originate from diplomatic personnel stationed at the US embassy in Havana. The embassy reopened in 2015, 54 years after it was closed down following a series of diplomatic rifts between Cuba and the US during the height of the Cold War.

Last week, citing anonymous “officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case”, the Associated Press said that the first hearing loss symptoms were reported by personnel at the US embassy in Havana in the fall of 2016. Several of them —five, according to the Associated Press, though the Department of State will not give a precise number— reported suffering from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing. The news agency reported that, in a few cases, the symptoms were so serious that caused some American diplomats “to cancel their tours early and return to the United States”. Following those bizarre incidents, authorities in Washington proceeded to conduct an investigation. They concluded that the American diplomats had suffered loss of hearing after being repeatedly “exposed to an advanced device that had been deployed either inside or outside their residences”.

In response to the outcome of the investigation, the White House secretly ordered on May 23 of this year the expulsion of two Cuban diplomats from the embassy of Cuba in DC. But the Cuban government denied that it had anything to do with the American diplomats’ symptoms, and some believe that the alleged “covert sonic device” may have been deployed by an intelligence service of a third country —possibly Russia— without the knowledge of Cuban authorities. Meanwhile, the plot thickened on Friday of last week, after the Canadian government claimed that at least one of its diplomats stationed in Havana had also suffered from sudden loss of hearing. Canada has now joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Diplomatic Security Service in the US in investigating the incidents. The Cubans have also launched their own investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 August 2017 | Permalink

Canada suspected Soviets of stealing prime minister’s private diary

William Lyon Mackenzie KingCanadian officials speculated that Soviet spies stole a missing volume from the private diary collection of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, who led the country in the run-up to the Cold War. A liberal anticommunist, Mackenzie King was Canada’s prime minister from 1925 to 1948, with a break from 1930 to 1935. He is known for having led the establishment of Canada’s welfare state along Western European standards.

When King died in 1950, he left behind instructions asking for his private diaries to be destroyed. However, the executioners of his will decided instead to turn over King’s private papers —including his diaries— to the Canadian state. In 1975, the Library and Archives of Canada began releasing King’s private diaries to the public. The diaries contain daily entries that span over half a century, up until King’s death. One crucial volume, however, is missing. It covers the last two months of 1945, when Canada was engaged in intensive deliberations with the Allies about the shape of postwar Europe and Asia. These deliberations also involved frank discussions between King and his British and American counterparts about the atom bomb, and possibly measures to uncover suspected infiltration of Western government institutions by communist sympathizers.

Now a new book, written by Trent University history professor Christopher Dummitt, reveals
that Soviet spies were suspected of stealing the missing volume. The book, Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life, claims that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was notified of the missing diary volume in 1969. Shortly afterwards, the CSIS launched an investigation into the missing memoir. In 1985, says Dr. Dummitt, a CSIS memo speculated that an agent of the Soviet KGB might have stolen the diary, because it contained information that was of interest to Moscow. Interestingly, however, the previous diary volume, which covers the case of Igor Gouzenko, is not missing. Gouzenko was a cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, whose 1945 defection to Canada is sometimes credited with starting the Cold War. Why would a Soviet spy not steal that volume as well, the skeptics ask?

Professor Dummitt entertains a simpler idea in his book, which is that Jean-Louis Daviault, an employee of the Library and Archives of Canada, may have stolen the volume. Daviault, who had been tasked with photographing King’s diary collection, was caught trying to sell parts of the diary to a Canadian newspaper. It was probably he who stole the missing volume, in order to sell it to the press, or a rival intelligence agency, argues Dr. Dummitt.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 May 2017 | Permalink

Did domestic snooping by Canadian spy agency increase 26-fold in a year?

CSE Canada - IAThe volume of domestic communications that were intercepted by Canada’s spy agency increased 26 times between 2014 and 2015, according to a recently released report by a government watchdog. The same report states that intercepted information about Canadian citizens, which is given to Canada’s spy agency by the intelligence organizations of other Western countries, has increased so much that it now requires an elaborate mechanism to analyze it. When asked to explain the reasons for these increases, Canadian government officials said they could not do so without divulging secrets of national importance.

Information about these increases is contained in the latest annual report by the Office of the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment. The body was set up in 1996 to review the operations of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE). Founded in 1946, CSE is Canada’s primary signals intelligence agency. It is responsible for interception foreign communications while at the same time securing the communications of the Canadian government. The Office of the Commissioner monitors CSE’s activities and ensures that they conform with Canadian law. It also investigates complaints against the CSE’s conduct of and its officers.

Canadian law forbids the CSE from intercepting communications in which at least one of the parties participating in the exchange is located in Canada. If that happens, the message exchange is termed “private communication” and CSE is not allowed to intercept it, unless it gets written permission from Canada’s National Defense minister. Such permission is usually given only if the interception is deemed essential to protect Canadian national security or national defense. If a “private communication” is inadvertently intercepted, CSE is required to take “satisfactory measures” to protect the personal privacy of the participant in the exchange that is located inside Canada.

According to the CSE commissioner’s report for 2015, which was released in July, but was only recently made available to the media, CSE intercepted 342 “private communications” in 2014-2015. The year before, the spy agency had intercepted just 13 such exchanges. The report states that all 342 instances of interception during 2014-2015 were either unintentional or critical for the protection of Canada’s security. It further states that the reason for the huge increase is to be found in “the technical characteristics of a particular communications technology and of the manner in which private communications are counted”.

Canadian newspaper The Ottawa Citizen asked the CSE commissioner, Jean-Pierre Plouffe, to explain what he meant by “technical characteristics of a particular communications technology” in his report. His office responded that the commissioner could not explain the subject in more detail, because doing so would “reveal CSE operational capabilities” and thus hurt Canada’s national security. The newspaper also contacted CSE, but was given a similar answer. Some telecommunications security experts speculate that the increase in intercepted “private communications” may be due to exchanges in social media, whereby each message is counted separately.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 August 2016 | Permalink

Russia ‘mobilizing for war’ warns Canadian intelligence report

CSIS Canada A report by Canada’s primary intelligence agency warns in stark language that Russia is “retooling its military for a fight” and appears to be “mobilizing for war”. The classified report was accessed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the country’s state-owned broadcaster. According to the CBC, the document was produced by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s primary national intelligence service. It is titled 2018 Security Outlook and is described by the CBC as a “distillation” of information from open sources and publicly available academic research, without input from internal CSIS assessments.

The 104-page report contends that, in the absence of any serious opposition inside Russia, the hardline nationalistic policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin are going unchallenged and becoming “more deeply entrenched”. When assessed collectively, Putin’s maneuvers in the area of national defense reveal that he is “retooling [the Russian] military for a fight”, claims the CSIS report. It goes on to add that Moscow “is not modernizing its military primarily to extend its capacity to pursue hybrid warfare”. The term ‘hybrid warfare’ is used by some experts to describe Russia’s utilization of irregular military tactics during its invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, and many believe that it points to the future evolution of Russian military thinking. But the CSIS document argues that President Putin is primarily modernizing Russian “conventional military capability on a large scale” and argues that “the state is mobilizing for war”.

The CSIS report is believed to be among several reasons why Ottawa is considering contributing hundreds of troops to a new 4,000-strong North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) force that is expected to be stationed in the Baltic States in the coming months. The Canadian intelligence agency argues in favor of a more aggressive NATO policy vis-à-vis Russia in its report, stating that the economic sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow after the annexation of Crimea are not working. Instead of faltering due to outside economic pressures, the Kremlin “appears to be coherent, durable and united”, says CSIS. Consequently, “Western assessments that Russia is vulnerable to economic collapse and disruptive internal discontent are exaggerated”, according to the report. The document concludes that Russia is “adapting to diversity [by] deliberately tilting [its economy] to security, rather than economic freedom”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 June 2016 | Permalink

Canada stops sharing intelligence with Five Eyes partners over data breach

CSE CanadaCanada says it will stop sharing certain types of intelligence with some of its closest international allies until it ensures that Canadian citizens’ information is not included in the data given to foreign spy agencies. The announcement follows an official admission, made earlier this week, that a Canadian intelligence agency failed to remove Canadian citizens’ data from information it shared with member-agencies of the so-called Five Eyes Agreement. The pact, which is sometimes referred to as the UK-USA Security Agreement, has been in existence since World War II. It provides a multilateral framework for cooperation in signals intelligence (SIGINT) between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

On Thursday, the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) of Canada, Jean-Pierre Plouffe, published a report on the activities of the CSE —the country’s primary SIGINT agency. The document, which is published annually by the Commissioner, states that the majority of the CSE’s SIGINT collection activities took place in accordance with Canadian law. However, the report found that some of the data shared by CSE with its Five Eyes partners contained data that could potentially be used to identify the identities of Canadian citizens. According to Canadian law, the CSE is not allowed to specifically target the communications of —or information about— Canadian citizens or Canadian companies. Moreover, information pertaining to those, which may be indirectly collected in the course of legitimate targeting of foreign citizens, is supposed to be immediately purged by CSE collection staff.

However, the Commissioner’s report found that some metadata —namely information pertaining to communications other than their content— that could be used to identify Canadian citizens had been shared by the CSE with Five Eyes spy agencies. Later on Thursday, Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s Minister of Defense, announced that SIGINT intelligence-sharing would be suspended until the metadata breach identified in the Commissioner’s report could be adequately addressed and corrected. Minister Sajjan said the roots of the breach had to do with “technical deficiencies” at the CSE, but added that it was crucial that the privacy of Canadians was protected. Therefore, he said, the spy agency would “not resume sharing this information with our partners” until he was “fully satisfied” that the proper control systems were in place.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 January 2016 | Permalink

Former KGB officer facing deportation voluntarily leaves Canada

Mikhail LennikovA Russian former officer in the Soviet KGB, who defied deportation orders issued against him by the Canadian government by taking refuge in a Vancouver church for six consecutive years, has voluntarily left the country. Mikhail Lennikov, who spent five years working for the KGB in the 1980s, had been living in Canada with his wife and son since 1992. But in 2009, Canada’s Public Safety Ministry rejected Lennikov’s refugee claim and notified him that he could “be ordered deported from the country in as early as a few weeks”.

Canadian authorities have refused to reveal the precise reason for the decision to issue deportation orders against the former KGB agent. But it is believed that his Soviet intelligence background is perceived by Canadian authorities as a national security threat. Lennikov has consistently rejected accusations that he is a threat to Canada’s national security and has previously stated that he voluntarily revealed his KGB background to Canadian authorities. He has also said that if sent back to Russia he could face imprisonment for having revealed his KGB background to a foreign government. In 2009, the former KGB officer sought refuge at the First Lutheran Church in Vancouver, where he lived until recently. Meanwhile, his wife and children, who have no connections to Soviet or Russian intelligence, were awarded asylum and eventually Canadian citizenship.

Last week, however, it emerged that Lennikov had left the Vancouver church that had been his home for six years. His lawyer, Hadayt Nazami, told reporters that the former KGB officer had left Canada. His departure appears to have taken place after an agreement was struck between him and the Canada Border Services Agency. Nazami said on Sunday that Lennikov had “left at the end of this week and left on his own accord, voluntarily, according to his own wishes and decisions he reached himself”. Canadian media reported that it “no longer seemed to be the case” that Lennikov would face treason charges if he went back to Russia. When asked about Lennikov’s whereabouts, Nazami told journalists that it was “something that I cannot comment on”, but added that his client “feels safe and we are going by that assumption”. Lennikov’s wife and children, who are Canadian citizens, plan to remain in Canada, said Nazami.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 August 2015 | Permalink