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Canada ‘watching anxiously’ as U.S. probes leaked Ukraine intelligence: experts

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WATCH: Suspect in U.S. classified document leak appears in court – Apr 14, 2023

A national security expert says Canada will likely wait for American security services to investigate an apparent leak of Pentagon documents that appear to detail U.S. and NATO operations in Ukraine, rather than launching a probe of its own.

Over the weekend, U.S. officials briefed allies and partners, including Canada, about the potential ramifications of the leak.

Wesley Wark, a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said Canadian officials will want to understand the seriousness of the incident and learn more about the specific information within the documents that pertains to Canada.

“In that initial stage, there’s generally a lot of reluctance to share what is known about a counter-intelligence investigation with allies, even close allies,” he said.

“I suspect the Canadian government is going to be watching anxiously from the sidelines as it waits for more information.”

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Click to play video: 'Pentagon says post-leak review to produce findings in 45 days'
Pentagon says post-leak review to produce findings in 45 days

The documents posted online are labelled secret and contain what appear to be details on weapons and equipment shipments to Ukraine, but they also contain apparent inaccuracies that have some questioning their authenticity, or whether they were altered.

The leaked documents describe claims, which neither Global News or The Canadian Press have independently verified, by Russian-backed hackers that they successfully accessed Canada’s natural gas infrastructure.

The Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s cyber spy agency, said in a statement it does not comment, “whether to confirm or deny, on allegedly leaked intelligence” because of the risk of revealing tactics, techniques and procedures.

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But it said it was concerned about “the opportunities for critical infrastructure disruption” on internet-connected technology in industrial processes.

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“State-sponsored cyber threat actors may also target critical infrastructure to collect information through espionage; pre-position in case of future hostilities; or as a form of power projection and intimidation,” spokesman Ryan Foreman said.

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“We remain deeply concerned about this threat and urge critical infrastructure owners and operators to get in touch with us to work together to protect their systems.”

Click to play video: 'U.S. officials have been in touch with allies following Ukraine intel leak: White House'
U.S. officials have been in touch with allies following Ukraine intel leak: White House

Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor of international relations at Carleton University, said the apparent leaks put Canada at risk because the Americans have likely now lost access to cyber groups targeting this country.

“That means we are potentially less safe,” she said. “We’re heavily dependent on the U.S. for our intelligence collection, it would mean that we would no longer have access to that reporting if the U.S. is effectively cut off.”

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Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Friday a “formal referral” had been made to the U.S. Justice Department, which said in a statement that it had begun an investigation with the Department of Defense.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Monday the Biden administration has been in touch with affected allies and partners at “very high levels” about the leak. He could not say if it has been fully contained.

A spokesperson for Canada’s public safety ministry said the department also would not comment on the leaked intelligence or its contents, but added Canada will continue to work with the rest of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance, including the U.S.

“As a member of the Five Eyes intelligence network, Canada has a robust intelligence-sharing program with the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand … we will continue to work hand in hand with” them, said the spokesperson, Audrey Champoux.

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Wark said the leaker’s intentions are unclear at this point.

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“(The leak) doesn’t seem to have one obvious target to it and therefore it makes the motivations of the leaker all that more mysterious, both in the method of the leak and the nature of the material that’s been leaked,” he said.

Information about intelligence assessments of Ukrainian military capabilities could be the most damaging, Wark said.

“These intelligence leaks are bound to have some kind of impact on the intelligence relationship between the United States and Ukraine, which is so important to both countries,” he said.

“Ukrainians are going to desperately need U.S. intelligence capabilities to fight their war and particularly to mount any spring or summer counteroffensive, and the Americans in turn are extremely eager to be able to have as full an appreciation as possible of Ukrainian war plans and capabilities.”

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The trove of intel also goes into what specific efforts Russia may be engaged in to undermine those broader global alliances, which appears to be where Canada enters the picture.

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A New York Times report Monday characterized the hacking incident as an example of how Russia could be expected to retaliate beyond Ukraine’s borders in the event the war continues to drag on.

The report doesn’t name a specific energy company, but says hackers were instructed by a Russian intelligence officer to maintain access to the computer network and “wait for further instruction.”

The Times reported that the hackers were able to show they had the ability to increase valve pressure, disable alarms and trigger an emergency shutdown at an unidentified gas distribution station.

—With additional files from Global News, the Associated Press and Reuters

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