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Russia, China targeting Canada’s classified information, spy agency warns

Canada’s spy agency is openly warning that Russia and China are out to steal the country’s most prized secrets.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which rarely identifies security threats by name, makes the frank statement in briefing notes prepared for service director Michel Coulombe.

While Canada grapples with the problem of jihadi-inspired extremists, the long-standing threat of espionage is also a worrisome preoccupation, the spy agency says in the notes.

“Russia and China, in particular, continue to target Canada’s classified information and advanced technology, as well as government officials and systems.”

The Canadian Press used the Access to Information law to recently obtain the briefing materials, intended for use by Coulombe at a March meeting of the Senate committee on national security and defence.

CSIS spokeswoman Tahera Mufti declined to elaborate on specific aspects of investigations, but she emphasized the spy service’s broad concerns.

“Canada remains a target for the traditional espionage activities of a number of foreign states, which continue to gather political, economic, and military information in Canada through clandestine means,” she said.

‘Espionage and interference’

“States and other entities abroad have interests — political, economic and territorial — and will pursue those interests by a variety of means. Some will do so through espionage and interference, targeting the Canadian economy, strategic interests and assets, societal institutions and members of the diaspora.”

Western security officials have stressed in recent years that old-fashioned spying has continued to thrive in the post-Cold War era — with occasional public flareups serving as pointed reminders.

Three years ago, junior Canadian navy officer Jeffrey Delisle was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to passing classified western intelligence to Russia in exchange for cash on a regular basis for more than four years.

Computer passwords

Western security officials have stressed in recent years that old-fashioned spying has continued to thrive in the post-Cold War era. (Shutterstock)

More recently, U.S. officials blamed Moscow for pilfering Democratic Party emails that proved embarrassing to presidential contender Hillary Clinton when published by WikiLeaks. Russia has denied involvement.

Upon reviewing the CSIS notes, Kirill Kalinin, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Canada, acknowledged that “information gathering is a vital component of national security of any state.”

U.S. biggest snooper?

But Kalinin strongly suggested the United States is the global snooper to be worried about.

After the widely publicized revelations of Edward Snowden, a former American spy contractor, it is no secret that the U.S. National Security Agency’s capabilities are “unmatched in imposing surveillance on a global scale” through the bugging of electronic devices and eavesdropping on even the closest allies, Kalinin said.

Two years ago, the Canadian government squarely blamed a highly sophisticated, Chinese state-sponsored actor for an intrusion into the National Research Council’s networks that resulted in a shutdown of the research agency’s information-technology system for an extended period.

Beijing denies spying claims

Beijing denied leading the attack and accused Canada of making irresponsible allegations.

In October last year, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying flatly declared that Beijing opposes all forms of cyberattacks and commercial espionage.

“This position is firm,” she said. “The Chinese government will neither encourage companies to carry out cybertheft for commercial secrets, nor take part in such activities.”