Inside Politics

From the Order Paper Question archives: Do the "Five Eyes" watch each other?

With Jeffrey Delisle's surprise guilty plea drawing fresh attention to the "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance between the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, it may be worth revisiting the (largely overlooked at the time) reply to an Order Paper Question submitted by New Democrat MP Craig Scott last June.  

At the end of a wide-ranging series of questions on Canada's anti-terrorism strategy, Scott posed the following query:

 
Has Canada ever accepted communications intelligence from one of the traditional "Five Eyes" allies mentioned in Minister Toews' testimony from June 5, 2012, where that intelligence consisted of communications that took place between persons both or all of whom were within Canada at the time the communications occurred?
Courtesy of National Defence, here's what he got in response -- which, I must confess, despite multiple rereadings, still leaves me somewhat unsure of whether constitutes a 'yes' or a 'no' to what would seem to be a fairly simple question:

 
The Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) is prohibited by law from directing its activities at any person in Canada or Canadians anywhere, and cannot ask its international partners, including the Five Eyes allies, to act in ways that circumvent this legal restriction. Five Eyes allies, in their own national interests as sovereign states, can lawfully collect intelligence in accordance with their own domestic laws while respecting the long-standing convention not to target the communications of one another. 
With respect to Five Eyes reporting derived from a communication where both or all communicants were in Canada at the time the communication occurred; in accordance with CSEC's legal mandate CSEC does not pursue the receipt of such intelligence and has clearly expressed its expectations to partner agencies.
It's the last sentence that is the most intriguing, if maddeningly ambiguous, assuring the reader that CSEC "does not pursue the receipt of such intelligence," but not confirming or denying whether the agency - or any other -- has accepted communications from a Five Eyes ally. 

Not actively pursuing something is, after all, not quite the same as rebuffing an unsolicited offer, although the bit about 'clearly expressing' Canada's 'expectations' does suggest that such intelligence would indeed be turned down, possibly with a disapproving harrumph and a note sent up the chain to one's superiors. 

(Really, the same point could be made on the difference between 'targeting communications' of Eye partners, and not going out of one's way to obtain such intelligence but not necessarily hitting the delete button if it turns up as a result of an unrelated information dragnet.) 

Not, mind you, that any of this -- communications taking place with one or both parties on Canadian soil, that is -- sounds like what the Russian military was after in the Delisle case, but it's interesting all the same. 
The complete response, which was tabled in the House of Commons on September 17, 2012:
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