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Communications Security Establishment Canada Chief John Adams tours CSEC's new headquarters in Ottawa.DAVE CHAN/The Globe and Mail

Ottawa is about to start looking for a new spymaster.

The nation's ultra-secretive electronics eavesdropping agency will need a new boss at the beginning of next year, when its current chief, John Adams, steps down.

Communications Security Establishment Canada uses spying technologies to vacuum up and analyze data signals from around the world in hopes of learning about security threats. Banned from spying on Canadians, the CSEC considers anyone else's conversation fair game.

Although the spy agency classifies most of its work, the CSEC has made headlines in recent years for helping Canadian Forces in Afghanistan track down Taliban bomb makers, and also for spying on "homegrown" Canadian terrorists when they are overseas.

The CSEC is also tasked with safeguarding federal government computer systems from foreign hackers. There have been several significant breaches lately, including last year's large-scale hacking of systems in the Treasury Board and Finance Departments.

Mr. Adams, who left the Canadian Forces as a major-general 20 years ago to become a federal civil servant, joined the CSEC in 2005.

During his tenure, the spy agency vastly expanded its budget and powers. A new $1-billion headquarters is being built for the CSEC in suburban Ottawa.

"Six-plus years in an appointment such as chief of CSEC is a rare honour," said spy agency spokesman Adrian Simpson. "Mr. Adams' anticipated date of departure will be early in 2012, and his plans for the future have yet to be finalized. No replacement has been named as of this time."