A former high-ranking member of Canada's spy service says he suspects the leaked documents that purport to show Ottawa was spying on Brazil are in fact part of a pretend "wargame scenario."
"There's no smoking gun here. It's again more little snippets and snapshots from the Snowden revelations; they actually mislead more than they inform," says Ray Boisvert, until last year a deputy director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
"I don't believe it's likely Brazil was targeted."
A Brazilian television report on Sunday said Canada's electronic eavesdropping agency, the Communication Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) targeted the ministry that manages the South American nation's vast mineral and oil resources. The report was based on documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Mr. Boisvert, who left the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 2012, said the top priority for CSIS and CSEC is counter-terrorism. The directive from on high was national security, not infiltrating a Brazilian government department of mining.
"When I worked there, very closely with CSEC and I was a top-line operational leader, we were all too busy chasing bad guys who want to kill people," the former CSIS official said.
"At the end of the day CSIS and CSEC have a mandate to go after foreign powers if those are acting in a way that's inimical to our interests, so the poster child for that would be Iran. Everything from nuclear proliferation to state-sponsored terror," he said.
"Brazil seems highly unlikely to me," Mr. Boisvert said.
He said one regular practice of security organizations, however, is war-gaming.
"I'm more inclined to think that this is probably a case of a hypothetical scenario," Mr. Boisvert said.
"CSEC does war gaming just like the military and in their case they look at [computer] networks. Before they go after a target, they will play a game on paper," he said.
"I have got a funny feeling that is all Snowden has: is just that exploratory war game piece saying 'OK, what would we do, boys and girls, if we had to do this?' "
When pressed Monday for comment on allegations that CSEC spied on Brazilians, the Harper government gave repeated indirect answers to the question, saying the CSE does not conduct surveillance on Canadians.
"This organization cannot and does not target Canadians under Canadian law," Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said.
Canadians and Brazilians are both working on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti and Mr. Nicholson rejected the suggestion the revelations might hurt relations between Canada and Brazil. "I believe our collaboration and friendship will continue," Mr. Nicholson said.
"It's wise not to get involved with commenting on foreign intelligence gathering activities and so I don't do that."
Mr. Boisvert said he assumes the Canadian government is reaching out to Brazil to explain what really happened.
With a report from Reuters