Brazil-Canada espionage: Which countries are we spying on?

Revelations that Canada may have monitored communications of Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry, and warnings that more stories about its intelligence activities are forthcoming, have raised questions about Canada' economic espionage activities and why the government would have targeted the South American country.

Canada 'targeting countries that are targeting us,' says intelligence expert

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seen here with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in 2012, may have been left in the dark about spying activities involving Canada and Brazil, one security expert says. (Fernando Vergara/Associated Press)

Revelations that Canada may have monitored communications of Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry, and warnings that more stories about its intelligence activities are forthcoming, have raised questions about Canada' economic espionage activities and why the government would have targeted the South American country.

"Since the end of the cold war, we've moved from military confrontation to economic confrontation and we came to realize that we need to protect our assets," said Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former CSIS senior intelligence officer.

"So where do we do [economic espionage] and against who are we doing it? Basically, everywhere and everybody that has involvement with our national security issue. The concept of economic security is part of national security as well."

Ottawa is currently engaged in a diplomatic row with Brazil following the country's Globo network report that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) used phone and email metadata to map the communications of Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry.

Meanwhile, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who collaborated with the Brazilian news agency, said in an interview with Carol Off, host of CBC Radio's As It Happens, that there may be more Canadian spy revelations to come.

Juneau-Katsuya said he wasn't surprised about these espionage allegations and that since the end of the cold war, "everybody has done it." He added that Brazil was caught spying on Bombardier in Montreal a few years ago.

"We are definitely targeting countries that are targeting us, definitely the countries that we know are very [aggressive] here  Russia, China," he said. "But we're also targeting countries where we have heavy Canadian interest."

'Cannot fathom' spying on Brazil

But Jean Daudelin, an associate professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, who specializes in Brazil and Central America, said it makes no sense for Canada to target Brazil. 

"I cannot fathom a rationale that would justify this," he said.

Daudelin said there are no security or economic reasons for spying, adding that Brazil only accounts for less than one per cent of Canadian exports, and less than one per cent of Canadian imports. 

He said that if the Canadian government was looking for information about the mining industry, it would get better intelligence from people in the field, and not the Brazilian government ministry.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been working with records leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, says there may be more Canadian spying revelations in the near future. (Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press)

Security and intelligence expert Wesley Wark expressed doubts that any effort to collect information on Brazil was purely a Canadian intelligence operation with Canadian objectives.

Wark also questioned how Canada would be able to get access to those kinds of communications and why CSEC would devote its limited resources against a target not considered a top-tier threat. 

"If this was a made in Canada intelligence operation, It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me," said Wark, who is also a  professor at the graduate school of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa.

Instead, Wark said he believed this task was handed down to Canada by one of its so-called "Five Eyes" partners  — the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand — who all share intelligence. Most likely, Wark said, it came from America's National Security Agency, which, according to previous revelations by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, had been targeting Brazil in the past.

"It would fit in with the modus operandi of the Five Eyes partnership that an intelligence task like this, which would include intelligence collected by one partner, might actually be handed over to another partner for processing and work," he said.

"Very often the intelligence that's gathered is distributed among partners to be worked up and I suspect that's what's happening in this case."

CSEC's legislative mandate when it comes to collecting foreign intelligence is very broadly defined in the National Defence Act, he said.

The secretive organization has played roles in Afghanistan, he said, by supporting military operations there, and also assisted in the hunt for the kidnappers of Canadians Robert Fowler and Louis Guay in Niger. 

"We don’t really have any general sense of its strategic effort to collect intelligence," said Wark.

And there's nothing  in the act that prevents it from gathering economic intelligence or explicitly states that it would be a natural part of what CSEC does, Wark said.

But he was skeptical about the amount of economic espionage CSEC has conducted in the past .

The agency's primary targets include global terrorist organizations, conflict zones where Canadian interests or Canadian troops are involved and weapons of mass destruction. Economic intelligence has not been a priority, he said.

"I don’t think it does much of it, if any at all."

And if economic intelligence has become a new priority, he said, then the public needs to be aware of it.

Wark said he believed Prime Minister Stephen Harper was genuine in his comments that he was concerned about these espionage reports, because he may not have known this activity was going on. 

"That raises another angle to the story, which is a question of who's in control, who's in charge of CSEC."

In an exclusive interview with CBC News, John Adams, the former head of CSEC said there should be greater parliamentary scrutiny of the spy service.


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