Canadian spy watchdog decries ‘misinformation’ flowing from recent Snowden leaks

John Forster
John Forster, Chief of the Communications Security Establishment Canada, speaking in Ottawa on Oct. 9. screen grab

OTTAWA – The watchdog over the national eavesdropping agency says many recent leaks about the Five Eyes intelligence network are being taken out of context by the media.

Jean-Pierre Plouffe, who keeps an eye on Communications Security Establishment Canada, or CSEC, says the leaked tidbits often then become misinformation.

Plouffe told senators on the national security and defence committee that he aims to clarify such information so that it is no longer promoted as myth.

READ MORE: Edward Snowden reveals U.S., U.K. video game surveillance program


Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, CSEC’s American counterpart, is making almost daily headlines with a cache of leaked documents.

Material disclosed by Snowden suggests Canada helped the United States and Britain spy on participants at the London G20 summit in 2009.

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Other documents indicate CSEC once monitored Brazil’s department of mines and energy.

In the House of Commons recently, Opposition leader Tom Mulcair pressed the government on whether CSEC or anyone else in the Canadian government authorized the U.S. NSA to spy on Canadian soil.

READ MORE: ‘Zero’ accountability on Canadian spies: Sen. Segal

However, Plouffe, who assumed the watchdog’s post in October, seemed to play down such allegations.

“The information provided by Mr. Snowden made the news, often very sensational in the media,” he told senators.

“Unfortunately, this information is often taken out of context, which as a result becomes misinformation. So one of the key objectives of my office is to help to clarify this information and to correct it if necessary so that it is no longer propagated as a myth.”

CSEC has a budget of over $400 million and a staff of more than 2,000, including skilled mathematicians, codebreakers, linguists and programming experts. It is a key player in the Five Eyes surveillance network along with the U.S., Britain, Australian and New Zealand.

READ MORE: Questions, but no answers about allegations Canada allowed U.S. to spy at G20

The federal government has consistently said that CSEC obeys the law and respects the privacy of Canadians.

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But it has been put on the defensive by the torrent of information from Snowden.

Conservative Sen. Vern White expressed concern about the Snowden leaks, asking whether CSEC was taking steps to prevent similar unauthorized disclosures from its Ottawa headquarters.

Bill Galbraith, executive director of the watchdog’s office, replied that it was a question for CSEC itself to answer.

White said he was looking for assurances that there won’t be major intelligence leaks in Canada.

“I have to be honest, I don’t feel any comfort or confidence at this point.”