Canada Joins US in the Hot Seat for Industrial Espionage

by | Oct 9, 2013


Brazil President Dilma Rousseff, after condemning US government mass spying on Brazilian companies in her speech last month before the United Nations General Assembly, is now singling out the Canada government for engaging in industrial espionage targeting Brazil’s mines and energy ministry. The Associated Press reports on Rousseff’s concerns, as well as the Brazil foreign minster’s discussion of the spying with Canada’s ambassador to Brazil at a meeting Monday:

Brazil has demanded clarifications from the Canadian government about allegations that its spies targeted Brazil’s mines and energy ministry, in what the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, said appeared to be an act of industrial espionage.

The foreign minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, summoned the Canadian ambassador to “transmit the indignation of the Brazilian government and demand explanations,” the foreign ministry said in a statement following the revelations, broadcast on Sunday night on Brazil’s Globo network.

The report said the metadata of phone calls and emails to and from the ministry were targeted by Canada‘s Communications Security Establishment (CSE). It did not indicate if emails were read or phone calls listened to.

The report was based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and follows revelations that the US and the UK had also targeted Brazil..

During Monday’s meeting, Figueiredo’s statement expressed “the government’s repudiation of this serious and unacceptable violation of national sovereignty and the rights of people and companies”.

As noted in the Globe and Mail, whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelation of Canada’s involvement in the spying included releasing a slide presentation by a member of the Canada government intelligence agency Communications Security Establishment Canada at a June 2012 meeting of the Five Eyes—a spying cooperation and sharing organization of the governments of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and the United States. As the Globe and Mail article explains, the slides reveal the Brazilian ministry was targeted for snooping:

Using a program called Olympia, CSEC took aim at Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, describing it as a “new target to develop” despite “limited access/target knowledge.”

Nevertheless, in the US, President Barack Obama and some of the legislators charged with overseeing the US mass spying program continue to assure us the program’s focus is on counter-terrorism.

There is no reason to believe US intelligence agencies are somehow immune from the lobbying and revolving doors that create huge payoffs for private companies seeking profits through government connections instead of competition. In fact, the secretiveness of intelligence budgets and operations—secure from regular oversight and public scrutiny—make intelligence programs more, not less, subject to corruption.

From lucrative weapons contracts in the Department of Defense to regulatory capture in the Food and Drug Administration, the US government is the road to easy money for well-connected companies. In varying ways, companies around the world use close ties with other governments—including the Five Eyes governments—to create profits.

While connected companies can benefit from the US government mass spying program, the program also threatens American companies’ business prospects in the international marketplace. RT reports on the example of German companies’ increasingly negative attitude toward the US:

The number of German companies considering the US as a high-risk for industrial espionage and data theft has quadrupled in 2 years, according to an Ernst and Young study. The US left Russia behind, as the Snowden revelations ate into America’s profile.

The portion of German managers, IT and security professionals, saying the US was a dangerous place for industrial espionage grew to 26% in 2013 from just 6% two years earlier, according to the survey conducted by Ernst and Young (EY).

“Until now [German companies] mostly identified China and Russia as the location of [potential] attackers. Now companies realise that western intelligence agencies also employ very comprehensive surveillance measures,” Bodo Meseke, executive director of fraud investigation and dispute services at EY, said.

In the latest survey, that covered 400 companies across Germany, 28% said China was the riskiest place, Financial Times (FT) reports. Russia was ranked third with 12% concerned about a threat it poses, the Financial Times (FT) reports.

Trust is critical in business relationships, and the US government mass spying program seems to be eroding trust and creating an anti-US business bias. Trust may also be eroding for companies associated with other governments, from the Five Eyes governments to Israel, that are cooperating with the US mass spying program. Ending the mass spying could advance commerce by helping rebuild trust with Brazilians, Germans, and other people around the world.


  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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