Canada has become the latest country to be caught in the scandal surrounding electronic espionage. In many respects, the fallout from Canada’s spy activities in Brazil could end up being more damaging than the revelations around the NSA and Spygate earlier this year.
The alleged activities by the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC) reveal the lengths that are being taken to defend Canadian corporate interests, at the expense of the working-class both in Canada and abroad, all in the name of so-called “national security”.
Earlier this year, Edward Snowden, a contractor working for the US National Security Agency (NSA), released a trove of information that documented the massive efforts being expended by the US government (in collaboration with its allies) in surveilling the everyday activities of people on the Internet. The fact that the US government was conducting electronic espionage did not surprise many; however, the far-reaching breadth of PRISM, and how much information was being collected on the online activities of ordinary people, certainly provoked well-deserving outrage around the world. Since the “Spygate” scandal erupted, the US government has been playing defence, trying to convince the world that its espionage was only aimed at “criminals”, “terrorists”, and others who would threaten US “national security”.
However, these protestations of innocence have become much harder to believe after the recent uncovering of documents which revealed that an “ultra-secret” Canadian agency has been spying upon several Brazilian government ministries, especially the Ministry of Mining and Energy (MME). Although Canada’s involvement in Spygate should not be surprising, what is notable is that Canada’s spy efforts arguably go much farther than those carried out by the NSA and released by Snowden some months ago. Furthermore, the consequences of CSEC’s activities in Brazil look to go far past Canada’s borders and implicate other countries’ surveillance activities. Canada’s spying of Brazil has nothing to do with the security of citizens and is one of the most blatant examples of the state using its security apparatus to further corporate interests.
US journalist Glenn Greenwald, in co-operation with the Brazilian TV newsmagazine “Fantastico”, brought to light a series of classified documents that reveal the role played by the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC) in spying on the Brazilian government for years. According to Greenwald, CSEC developed its own program named Olympia which was able to track phone calls, emails, and video conferences made by Brazilian officials and politicians within the Ministry of Mining and Energy (MME). The documents, like those surrounding the NSA and PRISM, were part of the cache leaked out by Snowden earlier this year.
As Greenwald stated in an interview to Canada’s Globe and Mail, the CSEC leak could be a more important one than the original reports around the NSA’s PRISM program. Unlike PRISM, which the US government continues to claim is in the interest of protecting US citizens from the threats of terrorism, Olympia looks to be primarily aimed at simply defending the interests of Canadian capitalism. Greenwald said, “The reason this is so newsworthy is that the U.S. and its allies love to say the only reason they are doing this kind of mass surveillance is they want to stop terrorism and protect national security — but these documents make clear it is industrial and economic competition, it’s about mining resources and minerals…. The U.S. is running around publicly accusing China of using hacking for industrial advantage — well, this is a really clear cut example of this — of how Canada and the rest of the Five Eyes [Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA] are doing it.” (Globe and Mail, 7 Oct. 2013)
Greenwald also warns that the current release of documents is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Canadian espionage. Greenwald goes on to say, “There is a huge amount of stuff about Canada in these archives because Canada works so closely with the NSA… there is nothing really unique about what Canada’s doing to Brazil — it’s not like Brazil is the only target for Canada.”
It is also evident that CSEC’s Olympia program is not simply a rogue government agency, but one that has had massive resources poured into it and one that is prepared to go further than the US NSA. Paulo Pagliusi, a Brazilian security expert, claimed that he was shocked by the “sheer power” of the Olympia program, including its ability to penetrate a government encrypted server which contained “state conversations, government strategies which no one should be able to eavesdrop.” Moreover, contrary to the claims made by the US government around PRISM, the technology around CSEC’s Olympia shows that the Canadian government “could also have eavesdropped on telephone conversations.” (Globe and Mail, 12 Oct. 2013)
“Why would Canada want to spy on Brazil?”
On the surface, there would appear to be very little reason for the Canadian state to have conducted such a wide-ranging espionage of Brazil. Ray Boisvert, the former director general of counter-terrorism at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said, “Could CSEC do Brazil? Of course, it has significant capability to collect intelligence in the national interest. But on motive, you come up way short. If it was Iran, nobody would be surprised. But this is Brazil…. We were all too busy chasing bad guys who can actually kill people. The idea that we spend a lot of time, or any time at all, on a country like Brazil is pretty low margin stuff, not likely to happen.” (National Post, 7 Oct. 2013)
However, defence against “killing people” makes up only a small part of “national security” under capitalism. What is arguably more important for the state is the defence of the interests of the national ruling class, which means defending investments made by Canadian banks and mining firms overseas. It also means that the state is not afraid to give Canadian firms a boost to defend them against Brazilian, Chinese, or other foreign competitors. When viewed from this light, CSEC’s activities in Brazil become very easy to understand. Although she denied any knowledge of CSEC’s alleged spying in Brazil, Ann Wilkinson, an executive at Colossus Minerals Inc., a Canadian mining firm active in Brazil, said, “Mining companies need their governments from time to time to navigate challenges we get.”
The British newspaper, the Guardian, was able to acquire highly censored documents that revealed the extent to which CSEC and the federal government were involved in helping Canadian corporate interests abroad. According to the Guardian, CSEC has been conducting meetings twice every year since 2005 with “scores” of companies, most of them involved in the energy and mining sectors. At these meetings, CSEC would outline “threats to energy infrastructure”, “challenges to energy projects from environmental groups”, “cyber security initiatives”, and “economic and corporate espionage”. (The Guardian, 9 Oct. 2013)
For decades, the Canadian ruling class has attempted to create a benevolent picture of Canadian foreign policy — one that is built upon the myth of “peacekeeping” and far different from countries like Britain, France, and the USA. We have never believed in this crafted image, but it is true that over the past couple of decades, Canadian imperialism has been more ready to display its muscle — most notably in the key role that Canada played in the occupation of Afghanistan since 2001.
Intervention by the state has become more important as Canadian businesses flex their financial power around the world. The Globe and Mail revealed that Canada is now the largest source of foreign investment in Africa’s mining sector; in 2012, Canadian firms had $25-billion worth of projects on the continent, a higher amount than even Chinese firms. The total was even higher when energy projects were also factored in. To preserve their position on the African continent, Canadian companies will go to any length to further their investments including making deals with dictators and other thugs. Calgary-based Griffiths Energy International was found to have made a $2-million bribe to the dictatorship in Chad, while Montreal-based giant SNC Lavelin had a highly intimate relationship with deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi and his family.
Canadian imperialism has also begun to build a significant presence in Latin America, particularly in the mining and banking sectors, and this has brought Canadian interests into open conflict with governments and popular movements throughout the hemisphere. In both Haiti and Honduras, the Canadian government played the lead role internationally in supporting the dictatorships that overthrew the democratically elected governments of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Manuel Zelaya, respectively. The Canadian government has gone out of its way to undermine the Bolivarian government in Venezuela, which has included the funnelling of money to the reactionary opposition. After Hugo Chávez’s death earlier this year, Canada was one of the only countries to not send a message of condolence to Venezuela.
All of these actions are due to the massive interests that Canadian corporations now possess in these regions. More than ever before, Canadian firms depend upon the Canadian state to defend their investments in the ex-colonial world, especially from local populations that are sick and tired of seeing the wealth of their countries escape to the bank coffers in New York, London, Berlin, or Toronto. Canadian oil company Encana had one of its projects seized by the Ecuadorian government while Scotiabank’s branches have become the focus of protests in both Argentina and Mexico.
With these pressures in mind, the Canadian state is forced to become more blatant in placing the defence of corporate interests ahead of that of workers and the poor — even if it means violating another country’s sovereignty or allying itself with thugs and dictators. Even Canadian “aid” is now openly being tied to the interests of Bay Street shareholders with the former Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) being dissolved into the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development, a process being led by Jacynthe Côté, the CEO of Rio Tinto Alcan, the world’s largest aluminium mining company.
CSEC immune to austerity cuts
Particularly troublesome to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and the federal government is that the scandal surrounding Canada’s Spygate has brought an uncomfortable light to the resources that are being poured into CSEC and Canadian espionage, especially at a time when all levels of government are crying poor and justifying billions of dollars worth of cuts to jobs and public services.
Prior to the revelations surrounding Brazil, very few Canadians knew anything about the Communications Security Establishment of Canada. This includes most Canadian politicians. In fact, John Adams, a former CSEC chief, told the CBC that Parliament needed to have “greater scrutiny” over CSEC, especially because CSEC “[has] got capability that is unique to this country. No one else has it.” Adams even warned, “The reality is if you’re on the Internet, you literally might as well be on the front page of the Globe and Mail. You have to know that probably if someone’s interested in you, they may well be listening or reading or whatever it might be.” (CBC News, 7 Oct. 2013)
As it stands, CSEC only reports to the federal Defence minister and even those reports are highly censored to supposedly protect national security. Parliament as a whole has no oversight over this secretive body.
Despite its secretive and undemocratic nature, CSEC is receiving massive amounts of public funds to finance its activities. The latest figures show that CSEC receives “roughly” over $350-million annually from the federal government and employs “roughly” 2,000 people at the moment. Obviously, exact figures are hard to come by as precise funding for CSEC is also considered to be a matter of “national security”.
More galling is the fact that CSEC is getting prepared to move into new headquarters estimated to cost over $1.2-billion; maintenance of the building is expected to cost an additional $3-billion over the next 30 years. Adams proudly proclaimed to the CBC, “That facility is going to be quite magnificent.” This makes CSEC’s new headquarters one of the most expensive publicly-funded buildings ever built in Canada, and one that almost every Canadian will be prohibited from ever visiting.
Illusions in capitalism being undermined
The uncovering of CSEC’s activities in Brazil, and even the publicizing of CSEC’s existence, is quite dangerous for the federal government and their allies on Bay Street. The genuine brutal nature of capitalism is being presented for everyone to see and leading to an increasing number of workers and young people to question the basis of the capitalist system.
The scandal around Canadian spying in Brazil, and the role played by Canadian corporations in places like Africa and Latin America, has revealed the incredible hypocrisy around “humanitarian intervention” and the need for greater “national security”. How can ordinary Canadians believe that the state has their best interests at heart when it is so blatantly guilty of the same sort of crimes it supposed to be fighting.
Furthermore, these criminal activities are being funded in a massive way, despite pleas by the government that “all of us have to do our part” to pay for the ongoing financial crisis. The federal government has sacked thousands of workers and cut billions of dollars in public spending, supposedly because there is no money to go around. Yet, it is able to divert billions of dollars from the public purse to fund an organization that violates the democratic rights of workers both at home and abroad, all in the name of Bay Street’s bottom line.
Every worker and young person should rightfully be outraged over CSEC and its activities, but the solution does not lie in greater “civilian” or parliamentary oversight of this loathsome organization. We demand that security organizations and agencies like CSEC and CSIS be dismantled and all of the information that they have collected to be opened up to public scrutiny. But for all those who are justly disgusted at this violation of civil liberties and democratic rights, the fight against the state and its espionage can only be ultimately successful when linked to the fight for socialism — for an end to a society that places the rights of the capitalists ahead of the needs of workers and youth.