Spy agency accused of needless secrecy in wake of ethics breaches

An investigation at Canada’s secretive eavesdropping agency has uncovered misuse of public assets and “serious breaches” of the spy outfit’s values and ethics code.

OTTAWA — An investigation at Canada’s secretive eavesdropping agency has uncovered misuse of public assets and “serious breaches” of the spy outfit’s values and ethics code.

The findings, prompted by confidential information from a whistleblower, led Communications Security Establishment Canada to revise policy, improve training and boost oversight.

However, CSEC will say little more about the episode — leading opposition MPs to accuse the spy agency of needless secrecy as it comes under intense scrutiny due to widely publicized leaks by former American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Ottawa-based CSEC monitors foreign computer, satellite, radio and telephone traffic of people, countries, organizations and terrorist cells for information of intelligence interest to the federal government.

It is a key player in the Five Eyes intelligence network that includes partner agencies from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

The Canadian agency says its findings of asset misuse and ethics breaches are not related to national security information, the privacy of Canadians or the continuing construction of CSEC’s elaborate new Ottawa headquarters.

However, the investigation led to recommendations concerning purchasing practices, asset management, and financial controls and accountability. It resulted in changes including “more rigorous training of staff and managers” and “increased monitoring of financial authorities,” CSEC says.

In addition, the agency took “various measures” with regard to the employees in question.

CSEC spokesman Ryan Foreman said that for privacy reasons he could not release any information about “specific employees involved in this disclosure of wrongdoing.”

Foreman also refused to discuss the number and type of employees implicated, whether anyone was disciplined or fired, what kind of public assets were involved or their value.

Nor would he say when the matter came to CSEC’s attention, or when were the corrective steps were taken.

“They basically tell you nothing,” said Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris said the response “shows an unwillingness to be up-front with the public.”

“It just seems to me to be a public-relations response which doesn’t do much to inspire trust and confidence, frankly,” Harris said.

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