Digital Journal: What will it take for CSEC spying to spark more outrage?

In this hard-hitting op-ed, George Arthur asks what it will take for Canadians to get answers about out-of-control spy agency CSEC. Article by George Arthur for the Digital Journal This is the question I am left with as I consider what it will take for Canadians to demand answers about the true operations of the spy agency that is set to move into the most expensive governmental building in the nation’s history. According to the careers page for Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), “2014 promises to be an exciting year.” The organization is scheduled to move into “a newly constructed, state-of-the-art facility co-located with the Headquarters of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service” (CSIS). The new home for Canada’s top spies “will be the largest repository of Top Secret information in Canada.”

They say repository, I say suppository.

Where to begin… In an op-ed I recently wrote, I explained the essence of CSEC’s known espionage program; that it tracks Canadians indiscriminately and without warrant by latching onto the Media Access Control address of unwitting travellers. While addressing the obvious red herring’s that were served as justification for CSEC operations (that spying on Canadians provided for ‘Needle in the Haystack’ identification, and that such tactics could help identify potential ‘kidnappers’), I suggested that a better analogy might be to liken CSEC’s domestic espionage program to chemotherapy – a method of treatment that cannot distinguish between healthy and sick cells, and so assaults all with equal prejudice.

Admittedly, my analogy also has faults, as cancer cannot escape the effects of chemotherapy whereas it is frustratingly easy for ‘kidnappers’ or metaphoric ‘needles’ to avoid CSEC’s domestic airport surveillance program.

The reason it is important to recall these faulty analogies is because the most recent investigative work by journalists Jeremy Scahill and Glen Greenwald have shed some light on what actually happens when programs that are nearly identical to the one practiced on Canadian citizens by CSEC are applied militarily.

And with the opening of Canada’s most expensive governmental building right around the corner, with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying precious nothing about the organization (but having his various advisors assert CSEC’s right to domestic metadata), it is time for Canadians to better understand just what happens when a government opens up a billion dollar spy headquarters in the 21st century. It’s time to, as best we can, understand the ends of the metadata programs which our government is spending somewhere between $880 million and $1.2 billion dollars to effectuate.

I mean, just what will Canada’s “most powerful super computer” do? Just what will be accomplished in this new building that will use enough electricity to “light much of the nation’s capital”; in this place that conducts more transactions per day than all Canadian banks, combined?

Answering these questions is no easy thing to do. To say CSEC is secretive is a lot like saying cats are somewhat hard to herd. Cats are impossible to herd! Just ask Myth Busters. And thanks to the veil of Kafkaesque secrecy surrounding Canadian espionage programs, it is only through the release of information from whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden that citizens are able do the impossible and glean a glimmer of truth about what actually happens behind the walls of agencies like CSEC and the National Security Administration (NSA).

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