Canada is one of the ‘Five Eyes’ group of English speaking countries that formed a pact following World War II to share their spying information, the others being the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. This arrangement enables these governments to skirt the letter of the law that some countries have that prevent spying on their own citizens, since each country can spy on others and then share the information.
But we have seen that even that is too much of an inconvenience and countries have been directly spying on their own people. The latest revelation from the Edward Snowden documents is that the Canadian government, through its security agency Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has been illegally spying on people who transited through at least two of its major airports, Toronto and Vancouver.
As a result of these revelations, a Canadian government spokesperson has reacted angrily against the journalists (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Glenn Greenwald) who revealed this information, going to the ridiculous extent of calling Greenwald a ‘porn spy’. When it comes to having their ugly and illegal activities exposed, all governments are the same, reacting angrily and irrationally, calling them lies and lashing out at the messengers. The reason that the Snowden revelations are so damaging is that he has documents to substantiate his claims which make government lying so obvious.
Snowden spoke about the information sharing and CSEC in his interview with the German TV station ARD. (That vidoe link has also been taken down, as were others. But you can see it here.) How did he know about what other countries’ spy agencies were doing when he was working for the US? An earlier profile of Snowden reveals that he was part of a fairly exclusive club of people with such wide access.
“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world [that] the NSA hacked,” Snowden told the South China Morning Post, adding that this was exactly why he’d accepted it. He was one of around 1,000 NSA “sysadmins” allowed to look at many parts of this system. (Other users with top-secret clearance weren’t allowed to see all classified files.) He could open a file without leaving an electronic trace. He was, in the words of one intelligence source, a “ghost user”, able to haunt the agency’s hallowed places. He may also have used his administrator status to persuade others to entrust their login details to him.
Given the wide extent of his knowledge, governments all over the world must be wondering nervously when the other shoe will drop. Except that Snowden seems like a centipede and the number of shoes that keep dropping seem to be never-ending. As the Techdirt report says, the incoherence of the Canadian government’s response is indicative of the panic.
If this is the Harper government’s official “response” to these revelations, they’re just asking for trouble. This is so over-the-top silly and defensive, without even remotely responding to the actual issues, that it suggests that Harper has no legitimate response, knows that more is probably on the way, and has resorted to throwing out nonsensical insults at reporters.
Australia and New Zealand have so far not been implicated in the documents. But I expect they will. The documents are usually released at times to have maximum impact.