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WTF Wednesday: I Spy, with My Five Eyes, Brazil’s Oil and Gas

Vincent Colistro

The Five Eyes! The Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC)! The Olympia spying program! The Advanced Network Tradecraft! These seem like names lifted from espionage paperbacks, the kind with shiny embossed covers bearing some hyper-masculine pen name like Dick Richter. But, sadly, they aren’t the stuff of fiction. Slides were leaked last week that implicate the Canadian cryptologic agency CSEC in spying on Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME). The news caused many to wonder why the Canadian government, who’ve made a mint in the oil and gas sector, would want to gather information about Brazil, a large producer of oil and gas. Then, “Oh, I get it,” said those wondering.

“Olympia,” the group of programs used to gather the information, allowed CSEC to view data passing through the MME servers, and, over time, locate targets of interest. The agency then shared the information with The Five Eyes—an alliance of intelligence operations between Canada, the U.K., the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Needless to say, Brazil was not impressed.

John Forman, the former director of Brazil’s National Petroleum Agency, was confused about what the CSEC, originally formed as an anti-terrorist security measure, wanted with the Ministry of Mines and Energy. “Do you think they would find a terrorist at the bottom of an oil well?” he says. “It’s simply not serious. They may have started for a good reason, which is terrorism, but then they thought, ‘Well, this is easy. Why don’t we survey everything and maybe we’ll find something that might be of interest to us.'”

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, took to Twitter to chastise Canada, saying (in Portuguese) “The Foreign Ministry will demand explanations from Canada,” and calling the spying “unacceptable between countries that are supposed to be partners”.

Ostensibly, this type of economic espionage happens all the time, and is simply the sour pit in the middle of geopolitics. It’s getting caught that’s the naughty part. But in this age of advanced data-retrieval techniques, when nightly the NSA makes the news for some new injustice, it’s a depressing reminder that Canada too has the technology—both to spy, and to be clandestine about it. In this 21st Century Canada, where our prime minister muzzles scientists, imposes a five-question limit on the media and prorogues parliament to avoid opposition questions about the expense scandal, information is looking more and more like a one way street—the government can know about us, but we can’t know about them. Which is why we should be worried about any breach of privacy, even if it’s committed as far away as Brazil.

It’s time for our government to take their little spy tool, turn it around, and point it at themselves for a change. How’s that for a paperback idea.

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