CSEC security tear down activist banner at 'spy palace'

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Photo: Isaac Vallentin

On November 27 security guards at the construction site for the new $1.2 billion headquarters for the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) confronted a group of young people who successfully hung a 24ft banner reading "I SPY A WASTE OF MONEY."  

Multiple security guards informed the comedians that they were on private property and that alarms in the facility had been triggered by their presence. The guards proceeded to film the activists, who responded by filming the guards and staring at them with two 3ft eyeballs.  

The guards discussed whether to notify the police, but eventually one of them produced a pair of industrial scissors and forced his way past the peaceful protesters to cut down the banner, while they struggled to keep it up. The organizers were disappointed by the reception, as they had hoped that CSEC would consider keeping the installation as a permanent feature at their new office, which is the most expensive government building ever constructed. 

The action was organized by viral political phenomenon Shit Harper Did (SHD.ca).

"The Harper government is increasingly invading our privacy while telling us less and less about what they’re doing with our money," says SHD.ca Action Coordinator Brigette DePape. "These are unprecedented actions that undermine democracy in order to help the Conservatives maintain power." 

The creative team at SHD.ca is currently in Ottawa producing a documentary on the Conservative government’s spy programs and lack of transparency. The filmmakers made repeated requests for an on camera interview with a CSEC representative by going through the appropriate channels at the agency (through email, over the phone and in person). Eventually they were told by a senior communications advisor "We don’t have anyone doing interviews right now from CSEC at all. It’s not unusual. Nobody’s doing interviews from CSEC."

When the same representative was asked about the missing $3.1 billion in anti-terrorism funding, they asked that questions be submitted by email and immediately hung up. 

The filmmakers did as they were told and submitted four questions via email, however, they have yet to receive a reply.  

The four questions were as follows: 

According to media reports, your new office will be the most expensive Canadian government building ever constructed. When asked about the new office former CSEC Chief John Adam was quoted by CBC as saying "Did it have to be an architectural wonder? No it didn’t, [...] That building is just going to look an awful lot better than this building.…That facility is going to be quite magnificent."

Question one: How does CSEC justify these costs when it’s former Chief admits that they are unnecessary? 

According to the Ottawa Citizen (November 15, 2013) your new office "ranks as the biggest federal accommodation project ever attempted under a public-private-partnership or P3." In addition The Globe and Mail (December 22, 2010) reported that "CSEC Chief John Adams dismissed the concern about privatization, saying any outside contractors would be vetted for appropriate security clearances [...] adding that CSEC already contracts out some jobs." 

Question two: How much of CSEC’s budget goes towards outsourcing to private contractors?   

According to BusinessWeek (June 20, 2013) the NSA attempted to develop an advanced program named Trailblazer "to sort and analyze the vast volume of phone and Web traffic that the NSA collects hourly. Trailblazer was originally set to cost $280 million and take 26 months. Booz Allen was part of a five-company consortium working on the project [...] In 2006, when the program shut down, it had failed to meet any of its goals, and its cost had run into the billions of dollars. An NSA inspector general report found 'excessive labor rates for contractor personnel,' without naming the contractors."

The article goes on to report that "a U.S. Department of Homeland Security computer systems contract awarded to Booz Allen around the same time had similar issues. Over the course of three years, costs exploded from the original $2 million to $124 million, in large part, auditors at the Government Accountability Office would later report, because of poor planning and oversight."  

Question 3: Since 2001 has CSEC experienced any problems with overspending on in-house operations or projects that were outsourced?  

CSEC’s official website states: "CSEC does not direct its activities at Canadians, Canadians abroad or any persons in Canada. In fact, CSEC is prohibited by law from directing its activities at Canadians anywhere or at anyone in Canada." But disclosures from Edward Snowden have shown the "Five Eyes" and other allied intelligence agencies share information.

Question 4: Has CSEC ever received information about "Canadians, Canadians abroad, or any persons in Canada" from a foreign intelligence agency?  

Last month the secretive CSEC was reluctantly thrust into the spotlight after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked documents which revealed that the government agency was spying on the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy. A few weeks later CSEC was sued by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Open Media organization, who allege that "the broad and unchecked surveillance of Canadians by the spy agency is unconstitutional." 

"The Conservative government’s spying is out of control," says SHD.ca Executive Director Sean Devlin. "They’re spending billions of tax dollars on secretive efforts that appear to include spying on foreign governments and peaceful people in this country mainly in an attempt to protect corporate oil and mining interests."   

The SHD.ca action follows a week of reports of government spying on tarsands activists and collusion with energy companies published in the Vancouver Observer, The Province and on CBC’s The Current. 

Just a few weekends ago the comedy group made news in Vancouver and Calgary for airing a funny TV commercial that exposed the Conservative cabinet’s opulent limo spending during the party’s national convention. 

In May 2013, SHD.ca raised over $76,000 to air political ads during CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada. During the 2013 playoff season, the group's 30-second spots mocked the Harper Conservatives' controversial taxpayer-funded advertising campaign for the Economic Action Plan -- pointing out the urgent fact that the number of Canadians who need food banks and the average Canadian household debt both reached an all-time high. 

 Isaac Vallentin


 Isaac Vallentin


 Isaac Vallentin


 Isaac Vallentin

This press release originally appeared on Shit Harper Did via Facebook and is reprinted with permission.

Photos courtesy of Isaac Vallentin

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