CSE Headquarters

Canada's SIGINT processing activities have been based in Ottawa since their wartime origin in 1939. The first headquarters of the CBNRC, which was established in 1946, was in the Lasalle Academy, located at the corner of Guigues Street and Sussex Avenue. Originally the home of the wartime service Discrimination Units and later of the Joint Discrimination Unit, part of this building was still in use as a school during the period CBNRC occupied it.[1]

CBNRC's next headquarters was the Rideau Annex, located on Alta Vista Drive. Occupied by CBNRC in January 1950,[2] this building was built as a Grey Nuns convent and served as the Rideau Military Hospital during the Second World War. The Rideau Annex was unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, including its age, its lack of emission security features, and, ultimately, its size. By the end of the 1950s, CBNRC had outgrown the building, and the organization moved to its current location, the Sir Leonard Tilley Building.

The Sir Leonard Tilley Building, which remains CSE's headquarters, is located at 719 Heron Road in Ottawa's Confederation Heights district. Occupied in June 1961,[3] the Tilley Building was built specifically for CBNRC: its construction "presented many opportunities for improving the security of the Branch, by incorporating features in the structure which had not been possible (or would have been prohibitively expensive) to retrofit in an already established building such as the Rideau Annex."[4]

The original building was an L-shaped, 5-storey brick structure with a gross area of 149,730 square feet.[5] In 1992, it was reported to have 15,755 square metres (169,585 square feet) of floor space.[6]

At the time of its construction, the building was capable of accommodating the entire CBNRC staff. During the 1980s, however, CSE grew out of the Tilley Building. In 1985, a new entrance complex was added to the building[7] and, in 1986-87, the Department of Public Works began design work on a 6-storey, 130,000-square-foot addition to the building, ultimately estimated to cost $35.1 million.[8]

Actual construction of the virtually-windowless addition began in the spring of 1989 and finished in 1992. Its completion increased the size of the Tilley Building by about 75 percent, enabling CSE to "repatriate staff from space elsewhere in the city to Confederation Heights and accommodate an increase in data processing capacity that has occurred in the course of recent years." In addition to its lack of windows, the structure uses "certain innovative construction techniques" to "prevent the emission of potentially compromising electromagnetic radiation".[9] What this probably means is that the entire addition is in effect a giant "Faraday cage," the equivalent of a TEMPEST-protected computer on an institutional scale. The use of such extraordinary security precautions is compelling evidence of the extent to which unprotected buildings and computer systems are now vulnerable to electromagnetic eavesdropping technology.

Other CSE facilities

CSE also has several other facilities in Ottawa. A number of CSE's INFOSEC units are located in the Insurance Building at 770 Heron Road, just across the road from the Tilley Building. This facility has remained open despite the enlargement of the Tilley building. In addition, a number of CSE INFOSEC and administrative units are located on three floors of the SBI building, an office building connected to the Billings Bridge Shopping Centre, at 2323 Riverside Drive. CSE also operates a facility known as the "warehouse" on Merivale Road (probably 1867 Merivale Road).[10]

In 1994, the book Spyworld revealed that a covert monitoring site codenamed "Kilderkin," dating from the Cold War era, is located across the street from the Russian Embassy on Charlotte Street.[11] It seems likely that additional CSE monitoring sites and/or facilities exist elsewhere in Ottawa.

771 Communications Research Squadron

In addition to CSE employees, the Sir Leonard Tilley Building houses the 771 Communications Research Squadron, a unit of the Supplementary Radio System.[12] Until 1988, this unit was known as the CSE Detachment of the SRS.[13] There is very little public information about 771 CRS. It is likely that the unit underwent a significant enlargement at the time it became 771 CRS, possibly absorbing some of the 291er positions at CFS Inuvik following the latter's closure in 1986. It had at least 30 personnel in 1990,[14] and it is probable that the actual figure was nearer to 100. There are currently "on the order of 90" military personnel working at CSE headquarters. [15]

Another military unit, the Electronic Warfare Emitter Data Centre, formerly was located in the Tilley Building, but was moved in 1990 to the SBI building. In 1994, this unit became the [Interim] Electronic Warfare Operational Support Centre, with approximately 35 personnel, now located in Building T5 at the Shirley's Bay complex.[16]


[1] Kevin O'Neill, ed., History of CBNRC, 1987, Chapter 1, p. 3; Chapter 26, p. 6., released in severed form under Access to Information Act.

[2] History of CBNRC, Volume 7, Chronological Summary.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., Chapter 26, p. 21.

[5] Report of the Department of Public Works for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1959, Supply and Services, 1959, p. 72.

[6] Directory of Federal Real Property 1992, Treasury Board Secretariat, Supply and Services, 1992, p. 387.

[7] Air photos A26457-108 and A31418-42, National Air Photo Library.

[8] Estimates, 1987-88, Part III: Public Works Canada, Supply and Services, 1987, p. 3-35; Doug Yonson, "The secret's out: Spy headquarters to get $30-million addition," Ottawa Citizen, 22 January 1989, pp. A1-A2; Annual Report 1989-90, Public Works Canada, Supply and Services, 1990, p. 42.

[9] Briefing Note for Minister of National Defence, cited in Peter Moon, "For their eyes only," Globe and Mail, 28 May 1991, pp. A1, A4.

[10] National Defence Telephone Directory, National Capital Region, Spring 1993, pp. G19-G20; Government Business Opportunities, Supply and Services, 31 January 1990, p. 35; the continued use of all three sites is confirmed in Government Business Opportunities, 31 March 1995, pp. 17-18.

[11] Mike Frost and Michel Gratton, Spyworld: Inside the Canadian and American Intelligence Establishments, Doubleday Canada, 1994.

[12] National Defence Telephone Directory, National Capital Region, Winter 1993-94, p. G337.

[13] See, for example, National Defence Telephone Directory, National Capital Region, Autumn 1987, p. E152.

[14] The Despatch, Canadian Forces Museum of Communications and Electronics, March 1991, p. 7.

[15] A. Stewart Woolner, testimony to Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, 2 May 1995.

[16] National Defence Telephone Directory, National Capital Region, Spring 1990, p. E79; National Defence Telephone Directory, National Capital Region, Winter 1990, p. E78; National Defence Telephone Directory, National Capital Region, Autumn 1994 p. G368; National Defence Telephone Directory, National Capital Region, Spring 1995, pp. G324-5.

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