Does the Canadian government use SIGINT to support Canadian exports?
CSE has acknowledged
(see page 11) that Canada does gather economic intelligence:
In Canada, foreign signals intelligence exists to support the Government in the pursuit of its national interests within the scope of defence, security and international affairs. This includes economic interests because in any state a strong economy is integral to national security.
But the agency also insists that
Canada’s foreign signals intelligence activities are NOT used to provide Canadian private companies with any competitive advantage. Private businesses, here in Canada or anywhere, should compete fairly in the global marketplace on the merits of their own offerings, without assistance provided by state intelligence capabilities.
How credible is this latter assertion?
As I noted here
, allegations of Canadian use of CSE-gathered intelligence to assist Canadian industry have cropped up from time to time for decades.
But the government has always denied assisting private companies, and it may be significant that many of the past allegations have revolved around quasi-governmental activities such as wheat exports and nuclear reactor sales.
Provision of SIGINT to private companies would pose serious security problems, and with corporate ownership and production activities often distributed around the world, in many cases it is not obvious which country would benefit most from the provision of such intelligence. Wide-ranging, systematic assistance to Canadian companies that helped them to outcompete companies based in the United States or other Five Eyes allies would almost certainly be discovered, endangering Canada's position in the Five Eyes system. And the Canadian governments of recent decades have tended increasingly to take the view that the free market is the best determinant of economic winners.
A government that was committed to free-market principles might still see a case for using SIGINT to monitor commercial transactions—to ensure that Canadian companies are not cheated out of major contracts by the use of bribery or other underhanded tactics by competitors, for example. But it might draw the line at providing signals intelligence to help those companies win competitions by, for example, underbidding their competitors or using information about key decision-makers to influence the outcome of the competition.
On the other hand, no Canadian government has ever taken the position that no government assistance of any kind should be provided to Canadian companies seeking export sales. This is especially true of the aerospace and defence industries, which have long been considered crucial sectors of the Canadian economy whose success is considered a critical national interest. The same position has also been taken more recently with respect to the energy industry.
Canadian government support for exports by the aerospace and defence industries includes the provision of grants and loans for research and product development, sponsorship of "Team Canada" trade missions to promote sales, assistance by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service and other elements of the department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, product promotion by defence attachés, use of the Canadian Forces to demonstrate equipment to potential customers, financing both for suppliers and for foreign customers through Export Development Canada, and provision of contracting services through the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC).
In recent years the CCC has placed increasing emphasis on what it calls the Global Defence and Security
Sales to governments of other nations are vital for Canadian defence and security companies. By promoting Canadian solutions and technologies and building valuable relationships with governments around the world, CCC plays an active role in keeping global defence markets open.
International buyers benefit from an expedited, transparent process and rigorous supplier-evaluation standards of the Government of Canada. Canadian companies leverage CCC’s unique relationships and negotiating expertise to promote their capabilities and technologies on the world stage.
Should we assume that CSE's capabilities, alone among the tools available to the Canadian government, are never used in support of Canadian exports?
That's certainly what CSE would have us believe. As CSE Chief John Forster told the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence
in February 2014,
There were reports of us meeting with industry to give them commercial intelligence; that is not what we do. We, along with [CSIS] and Public Safety, meet with them when we can help them, to tell them about threats to their information systems, intellectual property, research and technology. In terms of foreign intelligence outside of the cyberworld, we collect that to give to government departments according to the priorities set by cabinet. We provide that to departments in the form of reports, and that is where our intelligence goes. We would not meet with a company, as I said earlier, to share any intelligence we have about an upcoming bid or an upcoming tender. We don't collect that information; that is not what we do. Again, we collect according to the priorities of the government.
But what are those priorities?
Well, economic success is certainly one of them. The Canadian government has listed "prosperity issues" among CSE's intelligence priorities for a long time. In fact, as then-CSE Chief John Adams acknowledged in a 2007 speech
, "in the time between the end of the cold war and 2001, CSE’s reporting concentrated mostly on prosperity issues
." [emphasis added]
Counter-terrorism and support to military operations displaced prosperity as CSE's highest priorities in the wake of 9/11, but prosperity never disappeared from the list, and it has almost certainly grown in importance in recent years.
On 27 November 2013, the Harper government announced what it called its Global Markets Action Plan
, identifying economic success as the top Canadian foreign policy priority. Minister of International Trade Ed Fast declared that the new plan would “ensure that all of Canada’s diplomatic assets are harnessed to support the pursuit of commercial success by Canadian companies and investors.”
According to the Globe and Mail
's John Ibbitson,
The new orientation is the result of a direct order that Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave Ed Fast when he was appointed Minister of International Trade after the 2011 election.... The Prime Minister wants trade to become the dominant focus of Canada’s foreign policy, and Mr. Fast was to come up with the blueprint for making that happen. The Global Markets Action Plan is that blueprint. The plan was stiffly resisted by many senior officials within the department itself, according to a government official speaking on background. Calling the new directive “a culture shift” for Foreign Affairs, the official said the action plan sends a message to Canada’s diplomats: “Take off your tweed jacket, buy a business suit and land us a deal.”Defense News
reported that the plan "target[s] the markets that matter to Canadian businesses, in particular in defense and energy,... ensuring that Canada’s interests are advanced in those markets. The policy concerns 20 nations including Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."
It's probably no coincidence that CSE was targeting the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy
at around the same time. After all, it shouldn't come as a complete surprise that Canada's foreign intelligence priorities might align with its overall foreign policy priorities.
Still, there may be room for a little nuance here.
It may be that CSE does collect intelligence related to potential export sales, but that it doesn't actually make that intelligence available to private corporations.
The outstanding success story of the government's recent export promotion efforts, according to the government itself, is the $10-15 billion contract to export light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia announced by Trade Minister Fast
in February 2015.
Was SIGINT used in some way to help secure that contract?
We don't know.
But we do know that General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada (GDLS-C), the company that manufactures the vehicles, does not have a direct contract with Saudi Arabia. GDLS-C has a contract with the Canadian government.
It is the Canadian government—specifically the Canadian Commercial Corporation—that has the contract with Saudi Arabia. Like most Canadian arms exports, this is a government-to-government sale.
Thus, if SIGINT was indeed used to help secure the LAV contract, it was probably used by officials working for the Canadian government. There wouldn't have been any need or reason to provide it directly to the company.
If this is how it's done, then Chief Forster's statement that CSE does not provide commercial intelligence to private industry may well be true—just deeply, deeply misleading. It is probably the public servants at the CCC, account executives like Norm Weir
, who receive the SIGINT in such cases, not corporate CEOs and sales managers.
I mention Norm Weir in particular for a reason. Nothing on the public record confirms he is cleared to receive SIGINT. But we do know he wasn't a CCC employee when he first arrived in the agency's offices in 2002-03.
He was a CSE employee seconded to CCC
Of course, nothing in the above proves that Mr. Weir—or anyone else at the Canadian Commercial Corporation—has access to SIGINT and is using it to help secure Canadian export sales.
But, honestly, do you really doubt that somebody there is doing it?
Many people, including at least two Canadian Senators
, would probably support Canada using intelligence information to advance the interests of Canadian corporations and thus the Canadian economy as a whole. It's what "grown up" countries do. Or so we're told.
Using SIGINT to protect Canadian companies from being cheated does seem pretty reasonable to me.
But using it to cheat others—if that's what we're doing—is a different proposition. Especially if it's in aid of peddling arms to deep-pocketed despots.
Is that what being grown up is?