Skip to main content

File illustration picture of a projection of binary code around the shadow of a man holding a laptop computer.KACPER PEMPEL/Reuters

Canada is among the top beneficiaries of a U.S. National Security Agency program meant to build intelligence relationships with America's allies by paying for improvements to their electronic-eavesdropping capabilities.

A newly published leak about the NSA's funding shows that in 2012 at least $300,000 was sent to Canada – fourth place after Pakistan, Jordan and Ethiopia among the 15 countries that benefited from this program. The chart appears in No Place to Hide, the new book based on leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and written by U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald.

The contribution is a pittance in the multibillion-dollar world of government surveillance. Over the past decade, the Canadian government has doubled the staff and budget of Communications Security Establishment Canada, the country's counterpart organization to NSA.

But the disclosure is significant because CSEC does not acknowledge its partnerships with the NSA, including financial support.

The U.S. spy agency has fallen into global notoriety over the past year, after being caught covertly recording the communications of allied world leaders and amassing data about U.S. citizens.

In Ottawa on Tuesday, NDP defence critic Jack Harris questioned why U.S. money is heading north. "This is one more piece of the puzzle that we don't understand, as to what exactly is the relationship between what Canada, the Americans and others are doing," he said.

For the past 70 years, the NSA and CSEC have been working together to spy on foreigners' messages, while safeguarding their own governments' messages from snooping adversaries.

For this, they use cryptology – the art of code making and code breaking. To develop this capacity, CSEC has often relied on the much-larger NSA for know-how, technology and raw intelligence. But like many countries, Canada safeguards its NSA relationship by never speaking about it.

The Canadian blogger Bill Robinson, who tracks CSEC's budget lines closely, has pointed out that Canada has been on the receiving end at least $11-million in research funding from unspecified "foreign partners" in just over a decade.

When The Globe inquired last fall about whether this money "came from the NSA," the official reply was that it came from the "Five Eyes partnership" – the wider alliance of U.S., British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand intelligence agencies. "Canada works closely with its allied counterparts to pursue the latest cryptological research," a spokeswoman said.

In his new book, Mr. Greenwald revisits the litany of leaks he has published since meeting Mr. Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room a year ago. The book refers to a leaked 2013 NSA memo speaking to how the U.S. and Canada enjoy what may be among the closest spying partnerships in the world.

"NSA and CSEC co-operate in targeting approximately 20 high-priority countries," the document says, without specifying which ones. It adds that the NSA sends "state-of-the-art collection" north, as CSEC leverages its "unique geographic access" for the benefit of the United States.

The NSA generally hopes to promote "productive interactions with Canadian intelligence organizations in support of U.S. intelligence-community goals," the memo says.