[ISN] Feds create new force to fight cyber-terrorism
isn at c4i.org
Mon Oct 18 02:24:12 EDT 2004
Oct. 15, 2004
OTTAWA - A high-level national task force is being assembled to help
Canada steel its defences against potential cyber-attacks by
The head of Canada's electronic spy agency said the panel of private-
and public-sector officials will help the country catch up to the
United States in securing cyberspace.
Communications Security Establishment chief Keith Coulter noted
Washington has already begun moving to protect their own key grids and
"From my perspective, it is essential that we take this step as
well,'' Coulter said Friday in a speech to members of the Canadian
Association for Security and Intelligence Studies.
Elements of Canada's critical infrastructure -- including power grids,
hospitals, banks and other businesses -- rely on digital networks to
conduct their affairs, he said.
Shoring up those systems cannot be accomplished by the federal
government alone, he added.
The national task force, now being planned by the Public Safety
Department, will be established in the coming months.
CSE, perhaps Canada's most secretive agency, has the dual role of
helping protect crucial information-technology systems and
eavesdropping on foreign communications.
Coulter noted Canada's recently released national security policy
commits it to strengthening its approach to cyber-protection.
"As the policy points out, the threat of cyber-attacks is real, and
the consequences can be severe.''
As part of its mission, CSE collects and processes telephone, fax and
computer communications of foreign states, corporations and
The federal government uses intelligence sifted from the data to
support troops abroad, catch terrorists and further Canada's economic
Coulter lifted the veil of secrecy shrouding the spy agency, at least
part way, in describing a low point following the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks on the United States.
Various trends had caused "a serious erosion'' of CSE's ability to
intercept valuable intelligence, he said.
"By late 2001, as we faced the implications of 9/11, the resources
needed to keep up -- human as well as technical -- were in too short
supply at CSE.
"Our workforce was thinly spread, and we were hurting in terms of
keeping pace with changing technologies. We needed financial
investment to move ahead.''
The federal government provided cash infusions and lifted a
restriction on the spy service's ability to tap into any communication
Previously, for example, if a known member of the al-Qaida terrorist
group communicated with someone in Canada, even if the person was a
foreign operative, CSE could not listen in.
CSE must still focus on foreign people and organizations, but may now
intercept a conversation that happens to include a person in Canada.
Coulter rejected the popular suggestion spy agencies like CSE are
giant vacuum cleaners.
"We're reported to suck up all communications. But that is not how the
business works today,'' he insisted.
"What we really do is to use our brain power and the latest in
technology to selectively hunt for what we are looking for within
virtually endless communications haystacks and electronic highways,
all of which are in virtually constant flux.''
CSE and agencies in the United States, Britain, Australia and New
Zealand share intercepted communications of interest with one another.
Of particular importance is CSE's relationship with its American
counterpart, the National Security Agency, Coulter said.
"At all levels, this co-operation is close and productive. CSE and NSA
share intelligence, tackle common problems posed by changing
technology and track threats to our collective security.
"This partnership provides Canada with invaluable access to American
intelligence and technology. While CSE is by far the smaller partner
in this relationship, both sides derive significant benefit from it,''
"Indeed, at this juncture, the sharing of some of CSE's unique
capabilities represents a significant element of Canada's contribution
to the global war on terrorism.''
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