A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. Canada's spy agency says many members of the environmental and Indigenous communities see the federal purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline as a betrayal, and suggests it could intensify opposition to expanding the project. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Terrorism, foreign interference and economic espionage greatest threats to Canada: CSIS director

Terrorism remains the number one national security-related danger to public safety in Canada, says the head of Canada’s domestic spy agency.

But the greatest threats to Canada’s prosperity and national interests are foreign interference and espionage, says David Vigneault, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

Canadians are not immune to terrorism, Vingeault said Tuesday during a keynote speech at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto.

“In the last five years alone, Canadian citizens lost their lives in terrorist attacks in places such as Burkina Faso, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Spain, and the United Kingdom,” Vingeault told a roomful of business executives and entrepreneurs.

“And sadly, terrorism has hit us here at home too.”

Defeated but not destroyed

An ISIS soldier celebrates after the capture of the Syrian city of Raqqa 2014. The UN Security Council is calling on member states to strengthen measures to counter threats posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters.

Despite the fact that the terrorist organization Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known under its Arabic acronym as Daesh, has been all but defeated militarily, it has maintained its ability to inspire radicalized individuals to action all around the world, Vigneault said.

Many of the recent attacks by Daesh in the West have been low-tech attacks against crowds and police officers – with readily available weapons such as knives or cars and no requirement for prior training, the director of CSIS said.

“Due to their very nature, these kinds of attacks are difficult for intelligence services such as CSIS to detect and prevent,” Vigneault said.

Nevertheless, these low-tech attacks don’t mean that security services can discount the continued prospect of future complex, directed attacks by Daesh or other terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, he said.

The likelihood of more complex and deadly attacks could increase as some of the 37,000 battle-hardened extremists from over 100 countries who had traveled to the Middle East to join the Syrian conflict seek to return home.

“The numbers of foreign fighters with a Canadian nexus are small and stable,” Vigneault said.

Mubin Shaikh, right, is counselling a Canadian who went to Manbij, Syria, to support ISIS. The man, seen to the left behind a screen to protect his identity, went by the nom-de-guerre Abu Huzaifa al-Kanadi.,(Abu Huzaifa the Canadian). He had previously told a NY Times reporter he had killed for ISIS, but now says he didn’t. (John Lancaster/CBC)

Despite the collapse of Daesh in Syria and Iraq, Canadian security services have not seen a surge in foreign fighters attempting to return to Canada, he said. But the government is still taking the threat posed by them very seriously.

“These people have not only shown the resolve to travel and join a terrorist group, they have often received training or gained operational experience while abroad,” he said.

Very often they are also very skilled in the use of latest digital technologies to communicate and plan attacks using commercially available advanced encryption, and crypto-currencies to support their operations and evade detection by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Intelligence and law enforcement are often unable to access the content of some communications due to strong encryption.

“This greatly undermines the efforts of organizations like CSIS to investigate, disrupt, and prosecute the terrorist threat,” Vigneault said.

Strategic challenges

A man talks on his phone beside a Huawei’s billboard featuring 5G technology at the PT Expo in Beijing, China September 26, 2018. Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio have sent a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to “reconsider” Huawei’s involvement in any of the country’s 5G plans.(REUTERS)

But while terrorism has preoccupied Canadian security services for almost two decades, other national security threats – such as foreign interference, cyber threats, and espionage – pose greater strategic challenges and must also be addressed, Vigneault said.

“Activities by hostile states can have a corrosive effect on our democratic systems and institutions,” Vigneault said.

“Traditional interference by foreign spies remains the greatest danger, but interference using cyber means is a growing concern.”

The scale, speed, range, and impact of foreign interference has grown as a result of the Internet, social media platforms, and the availability of an arsenal of cheaper and more accessible cyber tools, such as  social media bot-nets, “fake news”, and advertising campaigns designed to confuse public opinion and influence Canada’s political system, he said.

State-sponsored economic and industrial espionage is another major challenge facing Canadian security services and corporations, Vigneault said.

“We are world leaders in many sectors. We have powerful allies with whom we enjoy close economic, security, and defence relationships. We are a wealthy and highly-developed nation,” Vigneault said. “All of that makes us a target.”

The national security community and the business community have a shared interest in raising public awareness of the scope and nature of state-sponsored espionage against Canada, and of its potential effect on our economic growth and ability to innovate, he said.

A whole bag of tricks

Foreign intelligence agencies use a wide range of methods to gain access to and steal Canadian know-how and trade secrets, Vigneault said.

These range from cyber hacking, strategic investments in companies and entire industries, forced transfers of intellectual property, or old-school methods to manipulate people to wittingly or unwittingly give up confidential information.

“Even in our technology-driven age, extortion and bribery still work,” Vigneault said.

“We have to be mindful that hostile states will use any means to recruit people, project their influence, and gain access to our proprietary information.”

Hostile states typically target companies or universities that are active in emerging technologies, especially dual-use technologies that could advance a country’s economic, security or military interests, Vigneault said.

In particular, CSIS has seen a trend of state-sponsored espionage in fields that are crucial to Canada’s ability to build and sustain a prosperous, knowledge-based economy, he said.

“I’m talking about areas such as A.I. (artificial intelligence), quantum technology, 5G, biopharma, and clean tech,” Vigneault said. “In other words, the foundation of Canada’s future economic growth.”

Categories: Politics, Society
Tags: , , , , ,

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet Netiquette guidelines.

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish or in one of the two official languages, English or French. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *