Canada's cyber intelligence agency is helping the U.K. protect its election

Canada's foreign signals intelligence agency is on the lookout for any threats to Britain's election as the country heads into the final week of campaigning.

Britain heads to the polls on Thursday

Britain's Conservative Leader Boris Johnson, left, and main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attend the official State Opening of Parliament in London, Monday Oct. 14, 2019. Brits head to the polls Dec. 12. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/The Associated Press)

Canada's foreign signals intelligence agency is on the lookout for threats to Britain's election as the country heads into the final week of campaigning.

Communications Security Establishment spokesperson Evan Koronewski said the agency regularly shares information with its international allies "that has a significant impact on protecting our respective countries' safety and security."

"Regarding assistance to the U.K. election, CSE has a strong and valuable relationship with its Five Eyes alliance partners, including our intelligence and cyber defence counterparts in the United Kingdom," said Koronewski in an email to CBC News. The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance includes Canada, the U.K., the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. 

"While we can't offer specific details on the intelligence shared, we can tell you that threat information to help defend against cyber threats directed at democratic processes is regularly shared and acted upon."

The U.K. election already has been marred by allegations of Russian interference.

The U.K. Conservative Party is also under a pall. Its leader, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, faces accusations of perpetrating a coverup after he delayed publication of an intelligence probe into possible Russian interference in British politics — including attempts to affect the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum — until after the Dec. 12 vote.

Even former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weighed in to criticize Johnson.

"Who do they think they are that they would keep information like that from the public, especially before an election?" she said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.

"Well, I'll tell you who they think they are. They think that they are the all-powerful strongmen who should be ruling."

Corbyn faces questions about NHS leaks

Late last month, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn obtained leaked classified British-U.S. trade documents and accused the governing Conservatives of planning to sell off the National Health Service as part of the bilateral talks. The NHS, the U.K.'s public health care provider, has again become the subject of heated election debate.

Since releasing those documents, Corbyn himself has been accused of pushing a Russian disinformation campaign, with Conservative MPs calling on him to "come clean" about his sources. (In intelligence circles, "misinformation" is information that is false, while "disinformation" consists of circulating false information with an intent to deceive or disrupt.)

The Communications Security Establishment leads Ottawa's response to cyber security events and defends the federal government's cyber assets. It's also part of the intelligence team set up ahead of the recent Canadian election to watch out for and deter any foreign interference in the campaign.

Worried about a repeat of the sort of foreign interference seen during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Canadian government set up an internal team to sound the alarm if it saw anything similar in the lead-up to the fall election.

The Communications Security Establishment, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service helped advise that panel.

After the Oct. 21 election came and went, officials told CBC News that the federal government did detect attempts at misinformation or disinformation during the election campaign, but the attempts were not considered serious enough to compromise the election or spur the panel to alert the public.

The latest polls out of the U.K. show Johnson leading, with less than a week to go in the campaign.


Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliament Hill bureau, where she covers national security and the RCMP. She worked previously for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca

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