Spying on Canadians: What can we do?

Photo: flickr/Emory Allen

Environmental and First Nations activists are increasingly appalled by the continuing revelations that they are being spied on by police and the Canadian security establishment on behalf of the corporate sector.

First Nations activist Ambrose Williams recently told The Georgia Straight that last year, when he and other anti-fracking activists left Vancouver in a three-vehicle caravan bound for New Brunswick, they were followed and watched by police during the entire cross-country trip. They were heading East to reinforce the Mi'kmaq protestors fighting Texas-based SWN Resources. The company has been exploring for shale gas on unceded Mi'kmaq territory in that province.

As The Georgia Straight's Carlito Pablo reported, before the group left Vancouver they "posted on social media the place, date and time of their departure. They barely made it four blocks from their starting point when they were stopped by the police," who pulled them over and took all their names. "This happened like pretty much in most of the provinces," Williams said. "Like we were being monitored and followed the whole way."

On October 17, their peaceful 134 Unity Camp was attacked by more than 100 RCMP officers armed with tear-gas, assault rifles, pepper-spray, tasers and police dogs, who descended on the encampment to enforce an injunction obtained by SWM Resources, a subsidiary of Texas-based Southwest Energy Co., which holds shale gas leases covering 1.1 million hectares of New Brunswick.

Williams warned that Canada "really is becoming a police state. We need to become aware of that."

Of course, elders will recall that we've endured a century of spying on labour and union activists, "communists" and "fellow travellers," Black power and other civil rights activists, anti-Vietnam war activists, Red power and other Native activists, etc., so environmentalists are just the latest target. One difference now, however, is that the 21st century technologies for spying have become far more elaborate, as have the interconnections between spy agencies and the corporate sector.

At the same time, the Internet is allowing us to be more informed about spying actions taken against the movement.

CSEC

The surveillance agency that most likely picked up the anti-fracking First Nations group's social media message is CSEC, or Communications Security Establishment Canada. According to the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), under a 2011 ministerial directive CSEC is allowed "to collect and analyze the metadata information that is automatically produced each and every time a Canadian uses a mobile phone or accesses the internet. This private metadata includes the exact geographic location of the mobile phone user, records of phone calls and Internet browsing."

On October 22, 2013, BCCLA filed a lawsuit against CSEC, claiming that "its broad and unchecked surveillance of Canadians is unconstitutional."

CSEC, the counterpart of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US, is building a massive $1 billion complex in Ottawa, and its annual operating budget has ballooned to $460 million. PM Harper also raised funding for the RCMP in the 2013 budget.

The University of Toronto's security and surveillance expert Ronald Deibert told The Toronto Star last June, "Oversight of CSEC is really thin, compared to even the oversight that takes place at the [U.S.] National Security Agency," with which CSEC is "twinned." Deibert warned that Canadians (as foreign nationals) are "fair game when it comes to [NSA] eavesdropping," and said that "you really have a dangerous brew here." NSA passes surveillance information to CSEC, which briefs CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) and the RCMP.

The CSIS website states that "domestic terrorism ... includes the threat or the use of violence by groups advocating for issues such as the environment, anti-abortion, animal rights, anti-globalization, and white supremacy," and says that it "continues to monitor individuals and organizations that might be involved" in such forms of "terrorism."

In October 2013, CSEC gained international attention when NSA documents released by Edward Snowden appeared to show that CSEC was spying on the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy, a case of "industrial espionage" apparently in support of Canadian companies.

More than 40 Canadian companies are mining in Brazil, while Canada's oil/natural gas sector and private-electricity producers (including Brookfield Asset Management, TransCanada, Enbridge, and others) are eager to expand in that country. 

As reported by www.globalreach.ca, "Canadian spying on Brazil's Ministry of Mines and Energy appears to be aimed at giving Canadian companies an advantage over competitors in the bidding for drilling rights on auctioned oil blocks in Brazil, and getting information related to the perceived competitive threat posed by Brazil's oil sector to Canada's tar sands as a destination for foreign investment. 

Four Canadian companies recently secured ten Brazilian oil blocks in an auction of 200 blocks."

Classified briefings

In November 2013, anti-tar sands activists and other environmentalists were shocked to learn that the Harper government has been spying on them in advance of important decisions about tar sands export pipelines.

Documents obtained under Access to Information by the Ottawa-based media outlet Blacklock Group were released to ForestEthics Advocacy. The documents showed that the National Energy Board (NEB) worked with CSIS and the RCMP to monitor the risk posed by environmental groups, First Nations and others in advance of public hearings into pipelines, including Enbridge's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project. The agencies shared the information with Enbridge and TransCanada Corp.

The groups spied on included Idle No More, ForestEthics, Sierra Club, LeadNow, Dogwood Initiative, Council of Canadians and the People's Summit.

Ironically, news of this spying scandal broke just hours before government spies and energy companies met in Ottawa on November 21, 2013 for their bi-annual "classified briefings" at CSIS.

As reported by the Vancouver Observer (November 22, 2013), "Government spies and energy stakeholders met in Ottawa yesterday to discuss issues of national security, including the monitoring of environmental organizations and activists. This meeting is the second of bi-annual 'classified briefings'held at CSIS headquarters in Ottawa, bringing together federal agencies, spies, and private industry stakeholders with high level security clearances, including officials from energy companies in the oil, natural gas, pipeline, petroleum refinery and electricity sectors. The last briefing was held on May 23 [2013] and was sponsored by Enbridge, Brookfield [Brookfield Asset Management] and Bruce Power."

TransCanada Corp. is an owner of Bruce Power.

In attendance at prior briefings were representatives from the RCMP, CSIS, NEB, the Department of National Defence and CSEC.

Back in 2012, The Dominion had revealed that at the 2007 International Pipeline Security Forum, the then Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn "boasted that his ministry had 'sponsored over 200 industry representatives in obtaining Secret Level II security clearance. This enables us to share [classified] information with industry and their associations.'"

Turning point: June 2012

In June 2012, the Harper government established a 32-member counter-terrorism unit in Alberta "to protect the energy industry from attacks by extremists." The unit involves the RCMP, CSIS, local police, and the Canada Border Services Agency and it is mandated to "prevent attacks before they happen."

Similar Integrated National Security Enforcement teams are operating in Ontario, B.C. and Quebec.
The Harper government's first omnibus budget bill C-38, rammed through in June 2012, massively cut environmental regulations and allows American enforcement agents to arrest Canadian citizens on Canadian soil. C-38 also eliminated the position of Inspector General of CSIS, which monitored activities of Canada's spy agency (ensuring that it followed the law) on behalf of the public safety minister. That leaves only the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) to oversee CSIS.

On June 14, 2012, the Harper government appointed Chuck Strahl (former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, 2007-20011) as Chair of SIRC. As I wrote in the CCPA Monitor back in May 2013, "Less than a year before his appointment to SIRC, Chuck Strahl had confirmed to the Vancouver Sun (October 24, 2011) that Enbridge is a client of his public relations firm, Chuck Strahl Consulting ... Strahl's appointment to SIRC is controversial, to say the least, but it fits with other measures already taken by this federal government."

On January 4, the Vancouver Observer reported that Strahl had re-registered as lobbyist for Enbridge in December 2013. By January 24, the ensuing outrage across the country forced Strahl to resign from SIRC, with PM Harper appointing SIRC member Deb Grey as interim Chair.

But former Reform MP Deb Grey also has potential conflict-of-interest problems in that role. In 2004, Grey became a founding partner in the Ottawa-based lobbying/PR firm The Parliamentary Group Inc., which in 2011-2012 lobbied extensively in Canada on behalf of client Geo Group (formerly called Wackenhut), one of the largest private prison companies in the world.

The Harper government's recent "tough on crime" legislation -- Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act (passed in March 2012), and the draconian Bill S-7, the Combating Terrorism Act (passed in April 2013) -- threatens to increase the incarceration rate in Canada, which could eventually be a boon to Geo Group.

However the SIRC questions get resolved -- and now that Frances Lankin's term at SIRC has ended, all the remaining members have potential conflicts -- it is important to not overlook another aspect of Canada's spying story.

In December 2013, Canadian Press reported that between 2009 and 2011, 13 Canadian federal government departments (including Natural Resources Canada, Public Safety Canada and the RCMP) had hired the services of Strategic Forecasting Inc., better known as Stratfor -- the Texas-based private intelligence firm which has been called a "shadow CIA" and which is known for spying on environmental and other activists.

Stratfor

On February 27, 2012, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks began releasing more than five million Stratfor emails (dated from July 2004 to late December 2011) showing the extent of Stratfor's spying on activists. WikiLeaks had obtained the emails from anonymous hacktivist Jeremy Hammond, who received a ten year prison sentence in a U.S. court in November 2013. Meanwhile, Stratfor suffered little more than an executive shake-up.

Stratfor founder and CEO George Friedman resigned to become merely the Chairman of the company, while the new President and CEO is Shea Morenz, formerly the managing director at Goldman Sachs for ten years.

The Stratfor documents are being released by WikiLeaks chronologically in batches and are called The Global Intelligence Files. They are providing a gradually emerging picture of corporate/governmental surveillance in action.

A November 2013 report by the Washington-based Center for Corporate Policy (CCP), called Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations, has a section on Stratfor, showing that it has spied on environmental groups and other activists for clients such as Dow Chemical, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.  

But author Gary Ruskin's most important insight is that corporations and governments generally contract-out their spying to "third-party" entities, in order to have plausible deniability.

Stratfor's strategy

In analyzing Stratfor methodology, www.popularresistance.org states:

The WikiLeaks documents also showed us how corporations and governments attack movements in a divide and conquer strategy that isolates those seeking transformational change (who they define as 'radicals').  Here's how we summarized the strategy... 'Divide activists into four groups: Radicals, Idealists, Realists and Opportunists.

The Opportunists are in it for themselves and can be pulled away for their own self-interest. The Realists can be convinced that transformative change is not possible and we must settle for what is possible. Idealists can be convinced they have the facts wrong and pulled to the Realist camp. Radicals, who see the system as corrupt and needing transformation, need to be isolated and discredited. Using false charges to assassinate their character is a common tactic.'

Knowing that this is their strategy should help social movements combat it. Stratfor does the same -- it looks at the strategies described in books, webinars and trainings to determine how movements operate, how strong they are and what to expect from them."

Plausible deniability

Ruskin writes:

When a nonprofit campaign is so successful that it may impair a company's profits or reputation, companies may employ their own in-house espionage capabilities, or they may retain the services of an intermediary with experience in espionage. Typically, such intermediaries are public relations firms, crisis management firms and law firms. The advantage of an intermediary, from the corporate perspective, is that it provides the appearance of distance between the corporation and its intelligence gathering -- in other words, plausible deniability if something goes wrong. The intermediary may hire a private investigations firm that either has multiple espionage capacities or that specializes in the particular kind of intelligence needed...

One such firm is Stratfor.

For example, in advance of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, major sponsor Coca-Cola was worried that animal-rights activists would target and embarrass the company in Canada because of its animal-testing for products. Coca-Cola hired Stratfor to investigate People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and answer such questions as "How many PETA supporters are there in Canada?" and to what extent could "anarchists ... get involved in any protest activity?"

Stratfor's vice-president for counterterrorism and corporate security replied: "The FBI has a classified investigation on PETA operatives. I'll see what I can uncover," implying that Stratfor and the FBI perhaps regularly share spying information.

From a variety of published sources, Ruskin documents a wide range of spying on environmental and other activists by Stratfor and other such agencies (on behalf of Shell, BP, Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Chevron, McDonald's, and others) that included "pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists and penetrating confidential meetings."

Several alternative media outlets revealed in November 2013 that a newly released WikiLeaks cache of documents (covering the period from January 2009 to February 2011) showed Stratfor had apparently worked for Suncor in preparing a (December 2010) presentation called Oil Sands Market Campaigns. That presentation provided a divide-and-conquer strategy for dealing with tar sands opponents (see sidebar).
Inside Climate News has identified the American Petroleum Institute (the key lobby for the oil and natural gas sector) as a Stratfor client. Recently, I found another Stratfor client: TransCanada Corp.

Even more important, Canadian Press (CP) reported that Stratfor has had contracts with 13 Canadian federal government departments between  January 2009 and February 2011: Transport Canada, Industry Canada, Export Development Canada, Citizenship and Immigration, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, now part of Foreign Affairs), Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Treasury Board, Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, RCMP, Public Safety, National Defence and Foreign Affairs.

CP also reported, "Additional emails from the WikiLeaks database show the Public Safety Department, whose umbrella includes the Canadian Security Intelligence Service [CSIS], had a deal with Stratfor in 2010 and 2011, although [monetary] valuation was not given."

Apparently, even CSIS values "plausible deniability" when it comes to spying on activists.

Food for thought

When Stratfor CEO George Friedman resigned on February 27, 2012, the satirical group The Yes Men (who had been spied on extensively by Stratfor) issued their own press release, calling attention to the "paranoia among corporate titans" and stating that the WikiLeaks "seem to show that corporate power is most afraid of whatever reveals 'the larger whole' and 'broader issues,' ...Perhaps most entertainingly of all, the email trove reveals that Stratfor's 'Confederation Partners' -- an unethical alliance between Stratfor and a number of mainstream journalists -- are referred to informally within Stratfor as its 'Confed Fuck House.'"

Maybe it's time for some festive communal events in which activists (from all sectors, ages, races, etc.) get together and share their stories of being spied on and how they dealt with it. Rather than fear-producing, this could actually be funny, inspiring and practical. Whether members of the Confed Fuck House are invited to attend would be up to the organizers.

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books.

This article originally appeared on Watershed Sentinel and is reprinted with permission. 

Photo: flickr/Emory Allen

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