Canada, Brazil and how snoops are threatening free trade [mining espionage] – by Erica Alini (MacLean’s Magazine – October 10, 2013)

What really happened

Was a top-secret slideshow suggesting that Canada’s intelligence targeted Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry a “war game”? A fake? A completely hypothetical “paper exercise,” as Ray Boisvert, former head of counter-terrorism at CSIS, has been telling the media since the latest Snowden leak unexpectedly thrust Ottawa at the centre of a political and diplomatic spying scandal?

“I don’t buy that for a minute,” says Wesley Wark, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one of Canada’s leading experts on national security and intelligence. The slides, which surfaced for the first time in a Brazilian TV documentary last Sunday, detail “the beginning of an intelligence targeting effort” by the Communications Security Establishment Canada on Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry, according to Wark. Jeffrey Carr, founder and CEO of Seattle-based cyber security firm Taia Global, gave Econowatch much the same assessment: The slides are no simulation.

So that takes care of the first question that this bizarre Brazilian affair raises: There is one answer out there being spun by former Canadian intelligence officials and a different one give by authoritative, independent experts. It’s up to you to decide which you want to believe, but in this post, I’m going with the latter.

Why it happened

Let’s move on now to the second question: Why on earth were we snooping (or trying to snoop) on Brazil’s Mining and Energy Ministry of all things?

The hypotheses that have been floated so far are (a) that we were trying to steal information for the benefit of Canadian mining and energy firms and (b) that we were after intelligence meant for government eyes only — maybe a useful backgrounder for trade negotiations.

Wark dismissed both of them. Hypothesis (a), he says, is implausible. Canadian intelligence agencies do not share information with private businesses — and it wouldn’t make any sense if they did, he told Econowatch. Private corporations in liberal democracies are independent beings, often with massive operations and headquarters in several countries and free to leave and re-incorporate somewhere else if they so wish. Why would a government trust these companies with information that could land it in serious trouble if intentionally or accidentally spilled? Second, big multinationals are quite capable of gathering their own information about market conditions and opportunities at home and abroad — it’s called, not by chance, business intelligence.

Countries who do engage in stealing trade secrets for the benefit of their domestic industries, Wark and Carr told Econowatch, are ones with state-controlled enterprises. Then it makes sense for governments to stick their necks out: The prize is accessing information that can help the business operations of the local national champions, corporate behemoths politicians trust because, after all, they’re just another part of the government. That’s why China and Russia do what they do.

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