Documents obtained from Edward Snowden reveal the extent of the cyberwarfare techniques used by Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) – including the capacity and will to perform ‘false flag’ operations, where responsibility for cyberattacks, counterattacks or other intelligence-related activity is misattributed to individuals, groups or nation states.

The Intercept, in collaboration with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), has published limited details of CSEC’s cyberwarfare capabilities and disposition just as Canada’s C-51 bill – draft anti-terrorism legislation currently under criticism for its potential to silence legitimate protest – is under fierce debate in Canada’s House of Commons.

The ‘deception tactics’ outlined by the documents include ‘false flag’ techniques, carried out in order to ‘create unrest’. In a spectacular display of bureaucratic legerdemain, this process is apparently defined as ‘[altering] adversary perception’.

The new leak also reveals that CSEC uses ‘honeypot’ or ‘watering hole’ techniques in service of generating deceptive cyberactivity; though no greater detail is given on that point, the principle is one of presenting a tempting online target and attempting to gain advantage from the actors attracted to it.

Additionally the leaked information discloses CSEC’s cooperation with the NSA in service of an ‘active computer network access and exploitation on a variety of foreign intelligence targets, including CT [counter terrorism], Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Mexico’.

Responding to the sites’ enquiries, a spokesperson for CSEC stated the documents in question do “not necessarily reflect current CSE practices or programs”, and continued “In moving from ideas or concepts to planning and implementation, we examine proposals closely to ensure that they comply with the law and internal policies, and that they ultimately lead to effective and efficient ways to protect Canada and Canadians against threats,”

A leaked NSA briefing paper cited by Intercept/CBC outlines the very close relationship that the CSE maintains with the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA):

CSEC offers resources for advanced collection, processing and analysis, and has opened covert sites at the request of the NSA. CSEC shares with NSA their unique geographic access to areas unavailable to the U.S.(i.e. their sites in the PRC), and provides cryptographic products, cryptanalysis, technology and software. CSEC has increased its investment in R&D projects of mutual interest.