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The UKUSA Community

Canadian SIGINT activities take place, and can only be understood, in the wider context of the UKUSA SIGINT community, a secret SIGINT alliance that traces its origins to the Second World War.[1] The post-war continuation of this intelligence alliance was formalized in 1947 or 1948 with the signing of the still-secret UKUSA SIGINT co-operation and information-sharing agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States.

The member agencies of the UKUSA community include the Communications Security Establishment, the United States' National Security Agency (NSA), the United Kingdom's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Australia's Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), and New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). A number of other countries' SIGINT agencies also participate in the UKUSA community, including those of Germany, Japan, Norway, South Korea, and Turkey. These countries are sometimes described as "Third Party" members of the agreement.[2] In addition, some countries, such as China, host UKUSA SIGINT stations or share SIGINT on a more limited basis.

Canada's membership in the SIGINT community began during the Second World War. Recognizing the intelligence benefits that Canada derived from that membership, the Canadian government decided early in 1946 that Canada should remain a member of the post-war intelligence community. On 28 March 1946, the Canadian Chiefs of Staff Committee "approved the continuation of Service intercept stations in peacetime"[3] and, on 13 April 1946, cabinet ministers Louis St. Laurent, C.D. Howe, and Douglas Abbott authorized the establishment of CBNRC.[4]

From the outset, it was understood that Canada's SIGINT activities would not operate independently, but would be integrated with and contribute to the activities of the wider community - "to ensure a fair contribution to the general pool of wireless intelligence set up between Canada and the other Empire countries and the United States" and "to cover the gaps in coverage by the Empire and US positions".[5]

In 1946-1947, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (represented by Australia) created the Commonwealth SIGINT Organization, under the leadership of GCHQ.[6] At about the same time, in 1947 or 1948, the United Kingdom and the United States signed the UKUSA agreement (which, according to one source, "actually consists of a series of agreements, exchanges of letters and memoranda of common understandings").[7] These two developments marked the formal creation of the post-war SIGINT community.

Canada (like Australia and New Zealand) became part of the UKUSA community through its direct SIGINT relationships with the United Kingdom and, later, the United States, rather than through membership in the actual UKUSA agreement.[8]

A number of subsidiary agreements govern the nuts and bolts of the community's activities in areas such as the division of effort for SIGINT collection, security standards, and so on. The division of effort is reportedly specified in a protocol called the SIGINT Combined Operating List (SCOL).[9] According to Jeffrey Richelson and Desmond Ball, "the current division of responsibility allocates coverage of the eastern Indian Ocean and parts of South East Asia and the South-west Pacific to the DSD; Africa and the Soviet Union east of the Urals to the GCHQ; the northern USSR and parts of Europe to the Canadian CSE; a small portion of the South-west Pacific to the New Zealand GCSB; and all the remaining areas of interest to the NSA and its component service agencies." As Richelson and Ball have noted, "the geographical division of the world is, in practice, of course not as clear cut as this."[10] NSA dominates the job of SIGINT collection on the former Soviet Union, for example. Nonetheless, CSE's contribution to the collection and analysis of SIGINT concerning the former Soviet Union remains important.

Security standards and procedures reportedly are specified "by a series of 'International Regulations on SIGINT,' generally referred to as IRSIGs, and a series of 'COMINT Security Regulations,' which together prescribe security procedures, including methods of personnel indoctrination, to which the participating governments have agreed. Both the IRSIGs and the COMINT Security Regulations are quite voluminous; they are regularly updated and are usually kept in large loose-leaf binders."[11]

Among these security procedures are standardized codewords for the designation and protection of SIGINT products. "UMBRA is the successor to DINAR and TRINE as the compartment with the most sensitive SI [Special Intelligence, i.e., signals intelligence] material. Less sensitive is the SPOKE compartment, which might contain information from intercepts of PLO communications. Least sensitive is the information in the MORAY compartment." There are also SIGINT subcategories with their own codeword designators. The general category for SIGINT concerning the Soviet Union, for example, was GAMMA. There are also subcategories within the subcategories: "Thus, a document might bear the classification TOP SECRET UMBRA GAMMA GYRO."[12] Special security clearances are required to gain access to this material.

In Canada, general access to SIGINT information or material requires a Top Secret-Special Access clearance. CSE is responsible for "approving the allocation of positions requiring special access (SA) to signals intelligence information and material, and maintaining the inventory of personnel cleared for access to such information and material".[13]

CANUSA Agreement

In addition to the general UKUSA community SIGINT agreements, Canada has bilateral SIGINT agreements with the United Kingdom and the United States. Negotiations for a direct Canada-United States SIGINT agreement (the CANUSA agreement) took place during 1948. According to a US Air Force memorandum that describes a draft version of the agreement, the CANUSA agreement is modelled at least in part on the UK-US BRUSA agreement and governs Canada-US co-operation on Communications Intelligence, which, for the agreement's purposes, is "understood to comprise all processes involved in the collection, production and dissemination of information derived from the communications of countries other than the U.S.A., the British Empire, and the British Commonwealth of Nations." According to the memorandum, the agreement provides for the exchange of COMINT information "on the request of each authority to meet the requirements of the COMINT centers for assistance in the efficient discharge of their mutually agreed-upon COMINT activities and undertakings" and "on a 'need to know' basis as determined by the originating authority." It also provides for the exchange of COMINT liaison officers between Canada and the United States.[14] The signing of the final version of the CANUSA agreement probably took place in 1949.[15] By mid-1949 or early 1950, Robert S. McLaren, one of Canada's original cryptanalysts, had become CBNRC's first SIGINT liaison officer to the United States.

Another Canada-United States SIGINT agreement was signed in 1950, establishing the joint Royal Canadian Navy-United States Navy high- frequency direction-finding net.[16] It is likely that dozens of lesser bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding also exist.

Canada continues to maintain SIGINT liaison officers at NSA and GCHQ. There are also a number of other direct contacts between the organizations. CSE members often take SIGINT courses offered by NSA and GCHQ, for example, and some CSE members spend time working at NSA and GCHQ as "integrated members". Similar arrangements exist with other members of the SIGINT community. Recently, for example, members of New Zealand's GCSB have begun serving postings at CSE.


[1] UK-US SIGINT co-operation began in 1940 and was formalized on 17 May 1943 with the conclusion of the still-secret, and possibly still-active, BRUSA COMINT agreement (Desmond Ball and Jeffrey Richelson, The Ties That Bind: Intelligence Cooperation Between the UKUSA Countries, Allen and Unwin, 1985, pp. 137-8.).

[2] Jeffrey Richelson, The U.S. Intelligence Community (second edition), Ballinger, 1989, p. 283.

[3] Kevin O'Neill, ed., History of CBNRC, 1987, Chapter 2, p. 3, released in severed form under Access to Information Act. The same source states that the Chiefs of Staff Committee had already approved the continuation of "SIGINT activities in peacetime" once before, in September 1945. The War Diaries of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals Special Wireless Stations also provide evidence that at least some preliminary approval of post-war activities had taken place before March 1946. For example, a new "Alford cage" antenna system was constructed and put into service at Grande Prairie in February 1946 (War Diary: No. 2 Special Wireless Station, entry for 14 February 1946, Canadian Forces Communications and Electronics Museum collection).

[4] History of CBNRC, Chapter 1, p. 1.

[5] Wesley Wark, "Cryptographic Innocence: The Origins of Signals Intelligence in Canada in the Second World War," Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 22 (1987), p. 659.

[6] The Ties That Bind, pp. 142-143; J.L. Granatstein and David Stafford, Spy Wars: Espionage and Canada from Gouzenko to Glasnost, Key Porter, 1990, p. 45; Christopher Andrew, "The Growth of the Australian Intelligence Community and the Anglo-American Connection," Intelligence and National Security, April 1989, pp. 221-255.

[7] The Ties That Bind, p. 142. Although most sources date the UKUSA agreement to 1947, recently some sources have suggested that it actually dates from 1948. See, for example, "The Growth of the Australian Intelligence Community and the Anglo-American Connection," pp. 223-224, and Peter Wright, Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, Stoddart, 1987.

[8] Some sources list Canada as a "Second Party" to the agreement (see, for example, The U.S. Intelligence Community, p. 267.). Apparently, however, Canada is not a signatory of the UKUSA agreement itself. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau stated this explicitly in 1974 (House of Commons Debates, 10 January 1974, p. 9227.). Former CSE Chief Kevin O'Neill told author James Littleton that "the UKUSA agreements directly link the United Kingdom and the United States. Canada is involved in a less formal way. The agreements to which Canada is a party do not exist on paper. There is no one document spelling out their terms. But they do nonetheless exist as an understanding among the SIGINT organizations of the five English-speaking nations." (James Littleton, Target Nation: Canada and the Western Intelligence Network, Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1986, p. 95.) Canadian participation in the broader UKUSA alliance was confirmed by the Hon. C.M. (Bud) Drury in 1975 (C.M. Drury, testimony, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence of the Standing Committee on Miscellaneous Estimates, 24 March 1975, p. 18:20.). In addition, in 1995, the Deputy Clerk, Security and Intelligence, formally confirmed that "Canada collaborates with some of its closest and long-standing allies in the exchange of foreign intelligence... These countries and the responsible agencies in each are the U.S. (National Security Agency), the U.K. (Government Communications Headquarters), Australia (Defence Signals Directorate), and New Zealand (Government Communications Security Branch [sic])." (Statement by Deputy Clerk, Security and Intelligence, to Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, 2 May 1995.)

[9] Seymour Hersh, "The Target Is Destroyed": What Really Happened to Flight 007 and What America Knew About It, Vintage, 1987, originally published by Random House (1986), p. 67n.

[10] The Ties That Bind, p. 143. CSE's role has been confirmed by former SRS member Larry Clark: "We monitor all Communist bloc nations but we are primarily tasked with monitoring the U.S.S.R. -- and within that we focus on the northern part" (quoted in "Our electronic spying hides behind cover stories," Bob Gilmour, Edmonton Journal, 26 October 1982, p. A2.). See also "The Target is Destroyed", p. 67n, and John Sawatsky, Men in the Shadows: The RCMP Security Service, Doubleday Canada, 1980, p. 9n.

[11] The Ties That Bind, p. 144.

[12] The U.S. Intelligence Community , p. 417.

[13] Security (Canada Communication Group - Publishing cat. no. BT52-6/3), Treasury Board, 1991, pp. 5-6.

[14] Brig. Gen. Walter Agee, USAF, Acting Deputy Director of Intelligence, "Memorandum for the Coordinator of Joint Operations: Proposed U.S.-Canadian Agreement," 7 June 1948. It seems likely that these elements were not significantly changed in the final version of the agreement.

[15] David J. Bercuson and J.L. Granatstein, The Dictionary of Canadian Military History, Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 43. A "Security Agreement between Canada and the United States of America", signed 15 September 1950, may have been related to the CANUSA agreement or to arrangements arising from it, however (see The U.S. Intelligence Community, p. 273.).

[16] CWO D. Cox, "Gander, Newfoundland, and Canadian Forces Station Gander," Communications and Electronics Newsletter, Canadian Forces Communication Command, 1975, p. 14.

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