The Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC or CSE) (Centre de la sécurité des télécommunications Canada) (CSTC or CST) is the Canadian government's national cryptologic intelligence agency. Administered under the Department of National Defence (DND), it is charged with the duty of keeping track of foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT), and protecting Canadian government electronic information and communication networks. The CSE is accountable to the Minister of National Defence through two deputy ministers, one of whom is responsible for Administration, the other Policy and Operations. The Minister of National Defence is in turn accountable to the Cabinet and Parliament.
The CSE and the information it gathered and shared was secret for 34 years, when the CBC program the fifth estate did a story on the organization, resulting in an outcry in the Canadian House of Commons and an admission by the Canadian government that the organization existed. The CSE is now publicly known, and occupies several buildings in Ottawa, including the well-known Edward Drake Building and the neighbouring Sir Leonard Tilley Building.
During the Cold War, CSE was primarily responsible for providing SIGINT data to the Department of National Defence regarding the military operations of the Soviet Union. Since then, CSE has diversified and now is the primary SIGINT resource in Canada. The CSE also provides technical advice, guidance and services to the Government of Canada to maintain the security of its information and information infrastructures.
In early 2008, in line with the Federal Identity Program (FIP) of the Government of Canada, which requires all federal agencies to have the word Canada in their name, CSE changed its name to Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) or (Centre de la sécurité des télécommunications Canada) (CSTC).
During the Cold War, CSE’s primary client for signals intelligence was National Defence, and its focus was the military operations of the then Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, Government of Canada requirements have evolved to include a wide variety of political, defence, and security issues of interest to a much broader range of client departments.
While these continue to be key intelligence priorities for Government of Canada decision-makers, increasing focus on protecting the safety of Canadians is prompting greater interest in intelligence on transnational issues, including terrorism.
The CSE’s IT Security Program has earned highly valued global respect and a reputation of technical excellence. It now extends its expertise past its traditional technical clients to those within the Government of Canada who are responsible for the formulation and implementation of policy and program managers, and is committed to ensuring cyber networks and critical infrastructures are trustworthy and secure. CSE also conducts research and development on behalf of the Government of Canada in fields related to communications security.
The Anti-Terrorism Act also strengthened CSE's capacity to engage in the war on terrorism by providing needed authorities to fulfill its mandate.
CSE is forbidden, by law, to intercept domestic communications. When intercepting communications between a domestic and foreign source, the domestic communications are destroyed or otherwise ignored (however, after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the CSE's powers expanded to allow the interception of foreign communications that begin or end in Canada, as long as the other party is outside the border and Ministerial authorization is issued specifically for this case and purpose). CSE is bound by all Canadian laws, including the Criminal Code of Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Privacy Act.
In 2006, CTV Montreal’s program On Your Side, conducted a three-part documentary on the CSE naming it “Canada’s most secretive spy agency” and that “this ultra-secret agency has now become very powerful”, conducting unlawful surveillance by monitoring phone calls, e-mails, chat groups, radio, microwave, and satellite.
In 2007, former Ontario lieutenant-governor, James Bartleman, testified at the Air India Inquiry on May 3 that he saw a CSE communications intercept warning of the June 22, 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 before it occurred. Two former CSE employees, Bill Sheahan (CSE Client Relations Officer) and Pierre LaCompte (CSE Liaison Officer), have since testified that no CSE report was ever produced.