Yes, Canada Has Spies, Too

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- From the same people who brought you the "National Security Agency Spies on Foreigners" shocker, we now have the "Canada Is Secretly Devious" spectacle. Apparently it's a shock for some people -- namely, journalist Glenn Greenwald, the buddy of NSA contractor turned Russian defector Edward Snowden -- to discover how the world has always worked. I'm truly sorry (as we native Canadians tend to be), but color me unfazed and maybe even slightly miffed.

Greenwald worked with Brazil's Globo newspaper to "reveal" that the Communications Security Establishment (Canada's NSA equivalent) spied on Brazil's mining sector. Predictably, this story was picked up by the state-owned media in Russia, Canada's geopolitical rival in the Arctic, as some kind of major scandal.

Let he who was without the first wiretap cast the first stone. Oops, that wouldn't be you, comrades. One of the triggers for the Cold War was the 1945 defection of a Soviet cryptographer working at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, revealing a massive network of Soviet spies within Canada.

It's hard to find a more politically benign citizenship than Canada's. I've heard about savvy American tourists who temporarily adopt their neighbor's nationality as cover -- with a Canadian-flag backpack patch, for example -- while overseas. When the American Embassy staff in Iran sought refuge from the Iranian hostage crisis (as depicted in Ben Affleck's Academy Award-winning movie "Argo"), they adopted Canadian cover.

And while both the Americans and the British have marketed and hyped their respective intelligence services through Hollywood films such as the James Bond and Jason Bourne series -- which seems counterproductive to the objectives of clandestine entities whose activities depend on remaining, you know, discreet -- most Canadians probably couldn't name even a single one of the various Canadian intelligence units.

Granted, some Canadians might have heard of CSIS -- the Canadian Security Intelligence Service -- which the government promoted last year through a series of YouTube videos seemingly intent on showing Canadian spies running around major Canadian cities and never leaving the country. The video series should have been titled, "CSIS: Barely Ever Out of the House."

And now, apparently, Canadians and everyone else in the world should be alarmed that Canada has something like the NSA, and that Canadian operatives don't spend their days sitting in Tim Horton's doughnut shops in Toronto. Moreover, Canadians are supposed to be collectively outraged that their tax dollars are being used for intelligence activities that benefit Canadian companies competing against foreign-owned multinationals that also use spies.

You'd have to be living in a cave to think that, in an era of globalization, companies aren't going to gather intelligence to attempt to gain an edge in competition against each other. Intelligence-gathering serves to protect assets and identify opportunities. If this service isn't being provided by a government apparatus, then it will be performed by private contractors. Is that really the outcome people like Greenwald and Snowden would prefer?

One of the functions of government is to protect its own interests. Corporations paying taxes to that government fall well within that purview. It's why the French president, for example, is expected to wheel and deal on behalf of French multinationals, particularly those in the defense and energy sectors.

There is absolutely no daylight between the interests of the Kremlin and that of the Russian energy giant Gazprom. Would those criticizing Canada's use of intelligence be equally critical of Gazprom and other companies that use Russia's intelligence apparatus to facilitate business activities? Apparently not.

And what about Russia's geopolitical best friend, China, equally renowned for using "cutouts" -- regular people such as businessmen and students -- as assets to feed the national intelligence machinery to the benefit of government-owned corporations?

The only reason for a Canadian to be upset about any of this would be if his or her company was denied access to the advantages of such intelligence. I'd encourage the Canadian government to be even more generous with the business intelligence they're gathering on the public's dime.

When Russia, China, the United States and every other country stops doing the same in their own interests or those of its citizens, then maybe we'll turn off the hockey game and listen, eh?