Chief, Communications Security Establishment Opening Remarks, Standing Committee on National Defence, May 19, 2016

Good morning Mr. Chair and Committee Members.  My name is Greta Bossenmaier and I am the Chief of the Communications Security Establishment, known as CSE. I am accompanied by Mr. Dominic Rochon, who is the Deputy Chief, Policy and Communications, and Ms. Shelly Bruce, who is the Deputy Chief, Signals Intelligence. It is our pleasure to appear before you today to talk about the mandate, role and ongoing activities of CSE.

This year marks CSE’s 70th anniversary. In the past 70 years, the Communications Security Establishment has adapted to enormous changes in the international security environment and in the rapidly evolving nature of communications technology. From the Cold War and telegraph to terrorist groups like ISIS, and the Internet, the nature of our work is more complex and more diverse than ever.

Allow me to start by providing some background. Just over five years ago, CSE’s place in government was changed to that of a stand-alone agency within the National Defence portfolio, reporting to the Minister of National Defence. Today, CSE is one of Canada’s key security and intelligence organizations. Our mission is derived from our three-part mandate under the National Defence Act.

The first part of our mandate is the collection and analysis of foreign signals intelligence. The National Defence Act authorizes CSE to acquire and use information from the global information infrastructure to provide foreign signals intelligence based on the Government’s intelligence priorities. This intelligence helps provide a comprehensive view and unique insight into the potential threats Canada faces.

It’s important to emphasize that CSE only targets foreign entities and communications, and is prohibited by law from targeting Canadians or anyone in Canada.

The second part of our mandate is cyber defence and protection. CSE provides advice, guidance and services to help ensure the protection of electronic information and information infrastructures of importance to the Government of Canada. Our sophisticated cyber and technical expertise helps identify, prepare for, and respond to the most severe cyber threats and attacks against computer networks and systems, and the information they contain.

And finally, the third part of our mandate is to provide technical and operational assistance to federal law enforcement and security agencies in the performance of their lawful duties. As Canada’s national cryptologic agency, CSE possesses unique capabilities and expertise. Under the assistance mandate, those capabilities may be used to assist a requesting law enforcement or security agency, under their legal authority.

It’s also important to highlight that the principles of lawfulness and privacy are critical to our work. We have a responsibility to protect privacy, and we take that responsibility very seriously. Protecting Canadian privacy is a fundamental part of our organizational culture and is embedded within our operational structures, policies and processes. CSE has a strong privacy framework, as well as internal review and independent external review.

The external review of the Communications Security Establishment is performed by the independent CSE Commissioner. The Commissioner, a retired or supernumerary judge, and his expert staff have full access to CSE employees, records, systems and data including the power to subpoena, if necessary. While the Commissioner provides reports to the Minister of National Defence regarding CSE’s activities, the Commissioner does not take direction from the Minister, the Government, or CSE. These measures contribute to ensuring that CSE’s activities are conducted in a way that protects Canadian privacy interests.

As I mentioned earlier, CSE has, throughout its 70 year history, proudly served this country while adapting to enormous changes in the international security environment.  As you might imagine, this dynamic environment will continue to shape our current and ongoing activities.

In terms of results, our intelligence has played a vital role in supporting Canada’s military operations. It has helped uncover foreign-based extremist’s efforts to attract, radicalize, and train individuals to carry out attacks in Canada and around the world. It has provided early warning to thwart foreign cyber threats to the Government of Canada and critical infrastructure and networks. It has identified and helped defend the country against espionage by hostile foreign intelligence agencies. It has contributed to the integrity of Canada’s borders and infrastructure. And it has furthered Canada’s national interests in the world by providing context about global events and crises and informing Canada’s government decision-making in the fields of national security, defence and international affairs.

As part of our ongoing efforts, we will ensure that we continue to provide timely and valuable foreign intelligence to meet the priorities of the Government of Canada. In an increasingly complex international environment, the need for foreign intelligence is as critical as ever.  Specifically, CSE’s support for OP IMPACT provides vital information and helps protect Canadian troops from threats on the ground in Iraq. The Minister of National Defence has identified intelligence as an important aspect of this mission, and I’m proud that CSE will continue this contribution as Canada’s mission evolves. 

We will also continue to place an emphasis on cyber security. More and more of the world’s, and Canada’s, government operations, business, military systems and citizen’s lives are conducted online. This increased prevalence of digital information and electronic systems represents a tremendous opportunity for Canada.  But it also presents risks and threats to our governments systems, and to Canadian industry and ultimately to Canadians. While protecting Canada’s most sensitive communications and information has always been core to CSE’s mandate throughout our 70 year history, increased reliance on digital information has necessitated a heightened focus on cyber security.

This is a realm in which the Communications Security Establishment has proven itself to be an innovative leader and a trusted partner, leading CSE to be a centre of excellence in cyber security for the Government of Canada. The number of nation-states and non-state actors that possess the capability to conduct persistent, malicious cyber operations is growing, and Canada is an attractive target.  CSE’s cyber defence activities play a critical role in the whole-of-government approach to combating cyber threats.

CSE’s sophisticated cyber defence mechanisms block over 100 million malicious cyber actions against the Government of Canada every day. In addition, CSE’s cyber defence information sharing has helped prevent significant losses to the economy and to Canada’s most sensitive information, which has helped Canadian businesses protect their systems and information. Through CSE’s educational initiatives, such as our Top Ten IT Security Actions to protect Government of Canada networks and information, we help ensure that government IT professionals are informed about the latest threats and mitigation measures to protect Government of Canada systems and the information they contain.

Finally, we are committed to becoming more open and transparent about how we protect Canadians’ security and their privacy. In January, CSE held its first ever technical briefing for media and for Parliamentarians.  Explaining complex technical aspects of our work in unclassified settings is challenging, and this media briefing was a positive first step. We are taking other steps to tell Canadians more about the work that we do to help protect them, from recently entering the social media world by launching a Twitter account, to posting new content to our website, to producing videos about our cyber defence work.  

I’ll conclude my remarks by stating that I am confident in our ability to remain resilient in the midst of significant change, to address the growing demands posed by cyber threats, to provide timely and vital foreign intelligence to the Government of Canada, and to continue to safeguard the privacy of Canadians.  My confidence stems from the professionalism and commitment of CSE’s highly skilled workforce. CSE’s employees play a fundamental role in shaping our organization and our capabilities, and in delivering on our objectives. They are our most important asset.

Thank you for inviting us here today. It would be our pleasure to answer any questions you might have.