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Security experts say that Canadian intelligence has developed a powerful spying tool to scope out and target specific phones and computers so as to better set up hacking and bugging operations.KACPER PEMPEL/Reuters

Senators pressed the government about why a federal spy agency has been probing telecommunications in Brazil, seeking clear answers about the activities of Communications Security Establishment Canada.

Asking whether the spy agency has sufficient oversight, both Liberals and Conservatives in the Red Chamber demanded more information on Thursday about CSEC and its interest in Brazil's Ministry of Mines and Energy.

A leaked CSEC "case study" from June, 2012, describes the Brazilian ministry as a "new target to develop." The presentation does not say why CSEC was looking at Brazilian telecommunications traffic, nor what information it hoped to find. Representatives of CSEC have declined, several times, to comment on the slides.

Around the world, ongoing leaks about technological spying are fuelling concerns about the "Five Eyes," a group of allied intelligence agencies that includes CSEC and the U.S. National Security Agency.

U.S. President Barack Obama this week phoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande to soothe growing European anger over leaks about alleged NSA spying in Europe.

CSEC, a $400-million-a-year spy service with 2,000 employees that provides intelligence to federal-government officials in Ottawa, typically draws little interest from the public or sitting Canadian politicians.

However, that was not the case in the Senate on Thursday.

"Can the [Senate] leader enlighten this chamber as to what was done with the data obtained by CSEC from the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy?" Liberal Senator Wilfred Moore asked.

Alleging that CSEC's "cyberhacking" was intended to probe Brazil's claims about discovering billions of barrels of oil in a new offshore-field find, Mr. Moore noted that no Canadian or U.S. corporations have joined the bidding for drilling rights in an auction that was held earlier this week in Brazil.

Conservative Senator Hugh Segal broke ranks to press the government to create a mechanism that would allow at least some lawmakers to scrutinize classified material from CSEC and other security agencies.

"This is what all of our allies are doing," Mr. Segal said. "Canada is the only country not to have any legislative oversight of any kind for its national-security services."

But Claude Carignan, the leader of the government in the Senate, would only repeat that CSEC's watchdog agency has not found any evidence of illegal activity since that review body was created 16 years ago.

CSEC and its allies, including the NSA, are now at the centre of a growing public debate because of the leaks flowing from Edward Snowden, the former security contractor who amassed a vast trove of top-secret NSA documents, including some material shared by Canada, before he quit his post.

Now facing espionage charges in the United States, Mr. Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

The CSEC slideshow was first reported by Brazil's Fantastico TV program on Oct. 7, in conjunction with Brazil-based American journalist Glenn Greenwald.


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