CSE Today

CSE, an agency of the Department of National Defence, assists the Government of Canada in two distinct but related areas:


The Minister of National Defence is fully accountable to Parliament for CSE. He is supported by two senior officials — the Deputy Minister of National Defence, for financial and administrative matters, and the Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council, Counsel and Security and Intelligence Coordinator, for policy and operational matters.

Signals Intelligence

CSE's SIGINT program is guided by the foreign intelligence priorities established annually by the Meeting of Ministers on Security and Intelligence, chaired by the Prime Minister.

To fulfill its SIGINT mandate, CSE acquires various modes of foreign communications signals. The collection and processing of these signals involve highly sophisticated and complex technologies. Processing often includes the decryption and translation of encrypted communications to make them intelligible. Encryption falls within the science known as cryptology, which uses mathematical algorithms to hide or disguise communications.

I have learned from CSE that advancements in global transmissions present continuing challenges to the collection and processing of foreign signals. The tremendous volume of communications signals produced every day, together with the increased use and public availability of encryption software, has added to these challenges.

As a result, CSE has dedicated additional resources to the research and development of techniques to acquire and process communications, so that the government can be kept apprised of threats to Canada's interests. To accomplish this, CSE relies on the capabilities of a cross-section of skilled workers, including computer scientists, mathematicians and linguists. To produce intelligence reports it also needs analysts knowledgeable in such matters as international political, economic and military affairs, terrorism, and transnational crime. These reports are the vehicle through which CSE communicates foreign intelligence information to its Government of Canada clients. More than 100,000 SIGINT reports are made available to CSE's readership every year.

Information Technology Security

The development and application of new technologies in recent years has transformed the focus and complexity of the activities undertaken by CSE to protect government communications and communications systems, the mandate of its Information Security Technology (ITS) program.

Until fairly recently, computer hardware, software and networks were not widely available and had limited application. Today, however, the computer is a fully established means of daily communication among people. It drives many of the technologies that make up Canada's critical information infrastructure.

This communications environment has introduced new vulnerabilities to government information systems that require alternative solutions to counter threats to security and privacy.

The government looks to CSE to protect information stored or transmitted on its computer systems while, at the same time, departments and agencies work toward making a multiplicity of services available to the public on-line. Meanwhile, by law, personal information about Canadians must be protected, despite the fact that government computer systems are increasingly interconnected and vulnerable to disruption and to such threats as denials of service.

Relationships with allies

Canada benefits from longstanding arrangements between CSE and its counterparts in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. These arrangements, which were formalized after the Second World War and maintained during the Cold War, allow for the exchange of signals intelligence, technology and information about sources and techniques of shared interest.

As part of my ongoing review of CSE's activities, I am satisfied that CSE does not use its partners to circumvent the laws of Canada, nor does it provide partners with communications they could not legally collect for themselves.

Controls on CSE's activities

Based upon my review activities to date, I have observed that CSE's activities are guided by law and policy and the government's priorities, not by its technical capabilities. In addition to my own reviews, CSE is also subject to the independent scrutiny of many, including the courts, the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the Auditor General of Canada.

Today's global communications networks generate an inordinate volume of information with which CSE must contend. This volume is in and of itself a control. In practical terms, CSE must stay focused on its mandate in order to meet the foreign intelligence priorities it is given.

CSE's recent contributions

The government uses CSE's intelligence reporting to further Canada's economic and political interests in its relationships with foreign states.

The Canadian Forces enter peacekeeping operations abroad with an enhanced understanding of the situation on the ground as a result of CSE's contributions.

CSE provides its government clients responsible for protecting public safety with information derived from foreign intelligence that contributes to efforts directed at countering terrorism, weapons proliferation, drug smuggling, illegal migration, and transnational crime. More recently, CSE has begun to provide these same clients with technical assistance.

CSE is working closely with the Canadian Forces Information Operations Group (CFIOG) to enhance support to Canadian military operations, with direct service now provided by CFIOG. (CFIOG was created in April 1998 from a consolidation of various National Defence elements, including the Canadian Forces Supplementary Radio Systems. It provides a focal point for Information Operations).

Through its ITS program, CSE continues to encourage and support Canadian firms in the development of new security products.

Additionally, CSE has an ongoing relationship with several government departments and agencies and assists them in assessing their ITS needs as they migrate toward on-line service delivery.

CSE provided senior level expertise to the government's Critical Infrastructure Protection Task Force. Created in April 2000, the Task Force recommended what the federal government should do to protect that part of Canada's infrastructure that is critical to the health, safety, security, and economic well-being of Canadians.

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