RCMP, counter-espionage agency probing fake Harper e-mails

The RCMP and Canada's electronic counter-espionage agency have been called in to investigate after someone sent out two fake e-mails under the name of Stephen Harper to subscribers of the prime minister's website mailing list.

Unauthorized messages 'do not represent the views' of PM or staff, says office

The RCMP and Canada's electronic counter-espionage agency have been called in to investigate after someone sent out two fake e-mails under the name of Stephen Harper to subscribers of the prime minister's website mailing list.

The notes were sent over the weekend to an e-mail address that automatically distributes messages to people who have signed on to the Prime Minister's Office mailing list.

One of the messages, entitled "Why you shouldn't fear me," begins with the greeting "Hi The Average Canadian, Stephen Harper wanted to tell you…"

The e-mail then claims Harper's goal is "to make Canada America's 51st state and destroy health care that all Canadians cherish by infusing my propaganda with hard-core ad hominem attacks [attacks on someone's character]."  

"Please vote for me, because if you do, I promise you'll be able to vote for McCain 2012!" the message reads.

It goes on to say the Conservatives are a "tarsands level party, not a grassroots party," and "consider anything with the word 'Green' offensive, except for the Almighty American dollar, which we hope to be able to implement in the coming months!"

The other message suggests Harper's recognition of Kosovo's independence could lead to Quebec sovereignty.

In a statement on its website and in an e-mail to subscribers, the Prime Minister's Office said the communications "do not represent the views of the prime minister or his office."

"We regret these unauthorized communications," the statement said.

"The circumstances surrounding the unauthorized use of the prime minister's listserv [mailing list software] are under investigation. The relevant government agencies are working together to conduct this investigation."

A spokesman for Harper said the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic wing of the PMO, contacted the RCMP and the Communications Security Establishment, the federal agency responsible for the protection of the government's electronic information and communication. Despite the involvement of the CSE in the investigation, it remains unclear whether any government database or e-mail account was hacked, said the CBC's Susan Ormiston, who is covering online activity surrounding the Oct. 14 federal election campaign.

"It doesn't appear to be at this point some highly technical situation," Ormiston said. "It could have been as simple as getting a hold of that e-mail list from the Prime Minister's Office."

'I believe in a clean fight'

Dennis Wiatzka, an information technology specialist based in Calgary, received both e-mails on Sunday and said he was shocked when he read their "outrageous" contents.

"My first reaction was that this seems to be some kind of ploy by people with obvious partisan motives to engage in a smear campaign," Wiatzka told CBCNews.ca on Monday.

The self-described politics junkie said he subscribed to the e-mail list to keep track of announcements by the government. As soon as he read the e-mails, he said he contacted Elections Canada to alert them to the potential security breach and mail fraud.

But after speaking to two Elections Canada officials and a supervisor — who told him he had to prove the e-mails were not from the Prime Minister's Office — he said he was "brushed off" and given the number to contact the House of Commons directly.

He then contacted the RCMP to file a complaint.

Wiatzka, a part-time writer and researcher for the online website Wikipedia, added he is dismayed to see online trickery become more common as individuals and groups attempt to distort messages during the Canadian and U.S. elections.

"I've voted for every major party except for the Bloc," Wiatzka said. "I believe in a clean fight and a fair fight, so that's where things like this particularly bother me during an election."

With files from the Canadian Press