Canada’s Secret Wiretapping Order is Out – Read About it and Download Here

It has been an interesting few months. A quick recap. In October I discovered the existence of a Canadian state secret, a secret wiretapping program that was run by the RCMP during the Cold War called PICNIC. The program monitored people deemed disloyal by the government or who were suspected of disloyalty and it was carried out by RCMP Commissioners issuing wiretapping orders under s. 11 of Canada’s Official Secrets Act (a search warrant section of the Act) to Bell Canada (main phone company in Canada).  The program was an attempt to continue in peacetime what the government had already been secretly doing during the Korean war using an emergency order called P.C. 3486 which the government refused to confirm the existence of when I asked for it. These revelations made national headlines in Canada in December and you can read about it and read the press stories Here.

So today, I’m happy to reveal that I have acquired P.C. 3486, the secret emergency Order that led to the creation of the PICNIC wiretapping program. It was released to me by the Privy Council Office (PCO) over the holidays. They contacted me on December 16, 2016 one day after the wiretapping story made national headlines. It finally showed up (regular mail) on January 3rd.  It tells us something about Access to Information in Canada when a historian needs to go to the national media to help get a historical document of significance released. I’m optimistic that the attention will lead to changes in the future.

Now what about this Order? What can we glean from it? A few things of importance. First, section 2. Note that the wording of this section bears a striking resemblance to the Official Secrets Act s. 16 which was added to the Criminal Code in the 1970s to legalize wiretapping. Why does that matter? Because we see a similar section in the National Defense Act today. The section I refer to in particular is 273.65 (1). There are obvious differences but I think what we have in section 2 of this order is an early version of this modern-day section which still permits the Minister to write an order for a wiretap involving a Canadian without judicial oversight.

Where this order gets particularly unsettling is in section 6 and on. Section 6 reads:

  1. Nothing in any Act of the Parliament of Canada or of a legislature or in any enactment made thereunder or in any other law shall be deemed to limit or affect the operation of this Order.
  2. Notwithstanding any Act of the Parliament of Canada or of a legislature or any enactment made thereunder or any other law, no person is liable in civil or criminal proceedings by reason only that he complies with this Order or an order made under this Order.

The powers in this section are as broad as any I’ve ever read. No law in Canada is able to affect this Order (which was secret too by the way) and section two made individuals immune from prosecution for anything they did as long as they were trying to carry out the order (wiretapping). The remaining sections made revealing wiretapping orders a crime, and made carrying out wiretapping mandatory if you were asked (phone company worker, officer etc). Also of interest is that the Clerk retained the information, ensuring it would never leave the government’s possession.

But we’re left with more questions after this. Why did the government need these exceptional powers? What needed to be done to carry out orders? Where are the records about the creation of this Order and discussions that went into its creation? Surely they would have had to discuss if an Order could overrule a federal statute (it can’t as far as I’m aware). The PM at the time said this was a requirement of NATO, and remember the letter from Peter Dwyer in the PICNIC documents mentioning the US and UK secretly doing wiretapping, where are the documents about these international collaborations? How many secret Orders or laws did Canada pass and where are they? Also interesting to consider, if this Order was meant to continue, what would that have meant for section 6 and 7? Were they still expected to carry on with PICNIC and how? Espionage was added to the Treason section in the Criminal Code during this period and sabotage was added to the Code too. Was this an attempt to extend the criminalizing of revealing the surveillance or the tampering with it? It’s a question we’ll never know the answer to I suspect. Why was the Order also presented to a Supreme Court judge instead of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? The Administrator of Canada is usually the Chief Justice (see first page of 3486).

Overall the program and 3486 have begun to change our understanding of this period. It is now too simple to regard the RCMP has having gone rogue and engaged in illegal activities solely on their own accord. We can see from early on that they were following the wishes of their political masters. It also alters how we understand wiretapping in this period. We previously thought of wiretapping as something done on an individual basis, such as a bug being planted here or there and mass surveillance we associate with post 9/11. We knew wiretapping had occurred in the Cold War but this was a larger program designed to target many people at once.  It now appears that wiretapping could be done on a large scale in this early period and it was the start of mass surveillance in Canada. We can see that mass surveillance programs have been going on for a long time and with no court oversight. When the public became aware of these programs with the Snowden Affair, the public didn’t know how far behind the eight ball it was on the topic. Some form of it had been going on for at least 65 years.

It also reveals the accelerated formation of a secret state within the state, one that functions outside of Parliament and the gaze of the public and courts. Canada was also not alone in these actions. Where are the documents in places like the U.S. and U.K. which had also been doing similar things? It’s also unsettling to learn that the government was secretly using a law for a different purpose, in this case the Official Secrets Act. The Act contained an “official secret” that only the government, Bell, and the RCMP knew about. The public saw one law, but it was secretly being used in another way. We also still don’t know how long the program went on for and how large it became.

I am pleased that the PCO released the Order to me because it is a document of historical significance to Canadians and I hope that some positive changes arise from this historical moment. It’s time for this material to all come out. I wouldn’t be surprised if Canada’s Cold War era adversaries know more about our surveillance history than Canadians. More work remains.

For now this research on P.C. 3486 and PICNIC has been accepted for publication and will be published later this year in the Canadian Historical Review. I will shortly begin compiling everything I have on PICNIC into a database that I will regularly contribute to and make the contents available for everyone to download. In the meantime, download and read 3486 yourself and let me know what you think. Let’s get a discussion going in the comments.

Download P.C. 3486 Here

CBC story on 3486

Trump Being Blackmailed by Putin? Reports Russia has “embarrassing” Material on Trump

REUTERS/Mike Segar

I’ve been blogging about the Trump/Intel Community feud for awhile and it’s hard to even keep up with this issue and things have now taken a drastic turn and escalation. The Guardian is reporting that last month Senator John McCain handed over documents to the FBI Director James Comey that allege that Russian contacts had secret meetings with Trump’s campaign staff and that the Kremlin had “compromising material” on Trump himself from his stay in Russia during the Miss Universe pageant.

The documents date back to June of last year and were predicting events that came to pass such as turns in Trump’s campaign on policies affecting Russia. One of the reports claims that Trump had been targeted by Russian intelligence for at least five years with the goal to cause “splits and divisions in western alliance.” The documents also claim that Trump and his inner circle regularly accepted intel on his Democratic rivals and that the FSB had compromised Trump enough that it could blackmail him. The FBI is investigating the credibility of the documents but Comey is also under fire because he reportedly had information on the Trump/Russian connection and was investigating Trump campaign officials meeting with high-level Russian contacts as far back as October 2016 but didn’t make the investigations public but did discuss how the FBI was investigating Clinton’s emails. McCain claimed that he didn’t want to be involved at first for fear it would be seen as a partisan attack but felt confident in the source of the documents. The reports also indicate Russia hacked the Republicans as well but have chosen to not yet release the material. Trump was also briefed last week by intelligence officials about this as was President Obama.

If all these allegations are true it would be unprecedented. We are talking about a major human intelligence (HUMINT) move of the kind not seen since the days of the Cambridge Five, when Moscow had five of its agents placed in high ranking British intelligence positions for years. We are talking about the possibility of a U.S. President being blackmailed by a foreign government and working for their interests. It’s a major intelligence success for Russia if true and also reveals that Russia is not just playing cyber warfare games, but reviving and boosting its human intelligence operations to try and penetrate the highest offices in Western countries. We could be entering a new era of HUMINT of the kind not seen since the Cold War and a revival in the search for Russia spies. The key here is if the sources can be verified. The report is being taking seriously but until intelligence agencies can chase down and verify sources and information, the report is not yet considered “finished” intelligence and even if it was, things like this don’t usually get into the public because they cause a panic. Still, an investigation may reveal some of it is bogus, some true and some maybe explosive. Interesting times to say the least.

View the Story Here

Australian Immigration Minister Wants Tougher Citizenship Test – A Quiz on English Grammar Skills Won’t Do Much Dutton

Source: AAP

The Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is calling for a debate to tougher up the test for immigrants seeking citizenship. He wants more attention on whether they are willing to learn English, have their kids educated and a means of assessing their likelihood of receiving welfare. OK, so let’s break this down a bit. First of all, there’s already a test in Australia as there are in other countries. There’s also a perception by some politicians that terrorism is linked to immigrants and their unwillingness to integrate into society. Call this for what it is – BS. It comes across as another lame attempt by a politician to pander for votes from anywhere they can. It also comes across as an example of a politician that is supposed to know something and support their portfolio and instead has an alternate agenda of being hostile to it. How do we see this? Well look at what Dutton is presupposing about immigrants based on his test requirements: immigrants have no desire to learn English, won’t educate their kids, and they go on welfare. But wait! Dutton doesn’t just want a “trivia” kind of test, he wants one focusing on Australian “values.” So instead of a useless trivia test, he wants a useless and imaginary “values” test. How do you define Australian values exactly? Well, Dutton seems to know, you define them as he defines them which would be according to a well-off, white, Australian male who appears fearful of immigration and is an Immigration Minister. All of this isn’t new, and neither is his xenophobia, disguised as concern for a useless test (of whatever kind). It also appears to demonstrate how some politicians seem to think they know much about terrorism and immigration when they don’t. Canada has politicians spouting similar nonsense. Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, a pediatrician turned expert on immigration and culture, also wants a test for Canadian “values.” Leitch can imagine and pretend with the best of them! Here’s a test, give these tests to the domestic population and see how well they score (especially on English proficiency). Countless immigrants have entered Canada over the years with poor English skills and helped build the country. Any child of immigrants from Europe over the decades can ask their parents about how well they spoke English when they arrived. Did the parents of these children of immigrants, who are now second, third or fourth generation Canadians, understand Canadian “values” when they first arrived?”

This is all about a mixture of fear of immigration and a fear that’s been propagated since 9/11 that immigrants bring terrorism. Looking or testing for radicalization has nothing to do with whether or not an immigrant can tell you how many seats there are in the House of Commons and it’s not something limited to immigrants. Social isolation, interests in extremism, relationship with family and friends, these are better indicators of whether someone is moving toward something they shouldn’t and it’s best left to intelligence experts and analysts not politicians who have either no ability or interest in creating good policy and instead need some issue to make needless noise come out of themselves. My dog barks too when strangers come to the door but is quite happy to see them when they come in, xenophobic and racist politicians take note.

U.S Expels Russians over Alleged Hacking in the “age of computer” (Updated Dec. 31)

Photo: AP

Media are reporting that President Obama has expelled Russian diplomats and their families over the hacking allegations giving them 72 hours to leave the country. 35 in total have been ordered to leave the U.S. Along with the expulsion of the diplomats the President ordered sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and FSB and other entities. We saw this coming for some time as Obama warned that the U.S. would retaliate though we don’t know if more of a response is coming in an unofficial capacity. It would have to fall to Trump to carry that out (unlikely).

Still, the President was right to take action and a public one at that, at least as an initial step. It serves as a means of embarrassing the Russian leadership further and if the Russians try and reply with bravado saying they don’t care about the expulsions, it will further drive Russia into isolation because it sends the message they don’t care about diplomacy with the world’s superpower. Of course, Putin has little option other than to feign outrage at this point while hoping a Trump presidency means a reboot. Originally this blog entry stated there was little Putin could do and that’s exactly what he ended up doing on Dec. 30 – nothing. What could he do? If he retaliated it would have put his “pal” Trump in an awkward spot. Trump put himself in an awkward spot, calling Putin’s inaction as a “smart move” and praising him. Really? Praising the Russian leader after allegations of hacking a U.S. election? No praise for your security services Trump that discovered it? The GOP need to hold Trump to stay the course in whatever way they can. Obama has just made it more difficult for Trump to change course on Russia without looking foolish. Speaking of foolish, this was Trump’s statement Wednesday night about the White House taking action against Russia:


“I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind the security we need.”


No Donald, “in the age of computer” we do know what’s going on and that’s what intelligence agencies in the U.S. have been trying to tell you. This kind of reply about a foreign power possibly interfering in a U.S. election speaks volumes, not only for the ridiculousness of it (“we have speed” in the “age of computer?”), but because he seems to be trying, still, not to come down hard on Russia. Why? Did he know? Or does he have business we don’t know about? The Putin as being “smart” for not retaliating only adds to the suggestions that Trump knew about the hacking or has a much closer relationship (or is planning one if you also take his political appointments into account) than we have previously imagined. Guess we will find out soon enough. In the meantime folks, watch yourselves out there in the “age of computer.”

View article here

Will Trump have his daily intel briefings as President? History lessons could also serve him well.

Photo: AP

Trump has claimed he won’t be briefed by intelligence on a daily basis and instead will read reports if he needs them. Why does the President need regular contact with his intelligence services? A few reasons, which include: having a healthy working relationship with them and to actually know something about what is happening in both the U.S. and around the world. History set the precedent for these regular briefings. Go back to the Kennedy Administration and one of the biggest CIA blunders in history, the Bay of Pigs. The President didn’t have regular contact with intelligence and the result was a complete disaster for everyone involved. Regular briefings helped resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis and in a peaceful way.

With Trump’s regular twitter spasms, one can’t help but wonder if he will continue to run his mouth on international affairs without being briefed on them. He would certainly end up looking quite foolish and on a regular basis. Trump however may surprise people and not in a good way. The Trump populist strategy was just that, a strategy, a deliberate attempt to make himself appear as more connected to the people and not like a “traditional politician.” It won him the White House and his decision to not have briefings may again be a strategy designed to deliberately give him the appearance of distance from his intelligence agencies in order to deny his knowledge of their activities. History again tells us why this is a bad idea, take any number of examples from the Cold War. Perhaps in addition to regular intelligence briefings, Trump should also have regular history lessons. It might help him avoid making history for the wrong reasons. One can hope.

Trump wants to boost U.S. nuclear arsenal but is that all we should be concerned about?

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

During the U.S. election, there was plenty of chatter about how dangerous it would be for Trump to have control of America’s nuclear arsenal. Over and over again we were reminded by the Clinton campaign and others about how dangerous this would be. While Trump is certainly temperamental, I seriously doubt he’s unstable enough to start firing off nuclear missiles like they were bottle rockets. Besides, there is a military in the United States that I have a feeling would not be OK with firing nuclear weapons around. Much more concerning and rarely mentioned is Trump getting a hold of the largest intelligence network ever created. Trump has the ability to enrich himself and his family with access to intelligence, he also has the ability, if he sacks his opponents in the community, to make dissent virtually impossible in the U.S. Trump doesn’t need the nuclear codes, much more valuable is the ability to stay in power once he gets in power. For years, people who were concerned about the capabilities of U.S. intelligence had warned that new powers and new surveillance laws shouldn’t be created with the assumption that whomever was in charge would be a reasonable person but rather to consider that someone unreasonable and a tyrant might one day use such powers to benefit themselves. And here we are, with a big unknown in Trump.

Way back in the 1970s Senator Frank Church told the American public on NBC that the surveillance capabilities at that time were such that should a dictator ever take hold, resistance would be impossible. That was in the 1970s, how about now? We should consider the intelligence services as a potent weapon, one that could be used for defense sure, but one that could equally be used against the domestic population. Where’s the kill switch for the NSA’s network? Should there be one? Should there be more safeguards? These are the questions we should be asking. If you can use the intelligence services to benefit yourself, you’ll always have those nuclear codes.

View article here

German Terror Suspect was previously under surveillance, in and out of jail, and scheduled for deportation

Getty Images

Media are reporting that the terror suspect, Anis Amri, in the recent German truck attack was in and out of jail and had been under surveillance for several months before the attack. German intelligence services will no doubt face tough questions over their handling of the case because while they seem to have been aware that Amri was a security risk they were unable to figure out what exactly he may have been planning. Cases like this one demonstrate that while surveillance can help identify a possible security threat, good analysis is still of critical importance. Collecting all kinds of data only goes so far. It’s still too early to tell if German intelligence did fall short but it will be a difficult few months for them, to say nothing of the criticism Merkel will face. As one of the seemingly last outspoken liberal voices in the EU, Merkel has been facing a resurgent right-wing presence in the EU and even in Germany. This attack won’t make things easier for her given that media is reporting Amri was a Tunisian asylum seeker. The alt-right will no doubt paint all with the same brush and Merkel will likely find it harder to maintain a rational and sensible policy when it comes to refugees and migrants.

View article here

Intelligence Community Refusing to Brief Congress on Alleged Russian Hacks

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Republican members of Congress are claiming that intelligence agencies are not briefing Congress about the alleged Russian cyber attacks that occurred during the U.S. election. The CIA raised the alarm about alleged Russian hacking but it now finds itself in a similar spot as FBI director James Comey who during the election went back and forth on investigating Clinton about her emails. The CIA is faced with a President-Elect that benefited from these alleged hacks (though he likely would have won anyway) and is doubting the claims, a Democratic Party that wholly endorses the findings and a Republican party that is not as united over Trump winning as they might like to be. The CIA risks being accused of playing politics over the issue and that’s exactly what is starting to happen. They are in a sensitive spot. Ultimately, to clear themselves of allegations of playing favorites, they should be speaking to Congress about the alleged hacks. There’s really no easy way out of the situation but at least by briefing Congress the CIA can try and minimize the accusations of partisanship that are plaguing the community.

View article here

U.S. Plans on Taking Action For Russia’s Alleged Hacking

(Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Barack Obama announced today that the U.S. would respond to alleged Russian hacking at a time of its choosing while President-elect Trump continues to play politics over the issue, completely missing the point that regardless of the fact he was the beneficiary of the alleged hacking, the allegations of Russia meddling in U.S. elections is a major breach of security. On this issue it’s the U.S. intelligence services that should be getting recognition for their efforts if the allegations can be proven. They’ve publicly demonstrated their commitment to maintaining the integrity of U.S. democracy regardless of political stripe and that deserves to be noticed. It is presently President-Elect Trump that is creating a feud with the nation’s intelligence community and mainly because they are doing the job the nation expects of them. A concern going forward is how much control Trump will try to wield over the intelligence community. History has far too many examples of how badly things can go when governments have tried to have their security services slavishly obey their policy directives.

View article here

The Canadian PICNIC Wiretapping Program

How long has Canada and its American and U.K. allies been involved in wiretapping? According to new declassified documents, longer than you might think.

Read about it here:
CBC
CBC
Story by The Canadian Press

Download some of the PICNIC docs here.

In the file you will find 3 documents from the collection I am working from. One is the details of the agreement with Bell for the RCMP to continue wiretapping. A letter from the RCMP about the program and a draft letter for the Prime Minister to give to Bell Canada. And third is a letter from Peter Dwyer formerly of MI6 discussing wiretapping and revealing how the U.S. and U.K. have also been secretly doing it.

What makes PICNIC new?

For years we have had a limited understanding of wiretapping in the Cold War and even beyond. There have been sporadic mentions of wiretapping pre-1970s in the McDonald Commission volumes but nothing extensive or substantial. I spoke at length with Martin Friedland who prepared a report on The Official Secrets Act for the McDonald Commission (which led to the creation of Canada’s civilian intelligence agency CSIS) and he too was quite surprised at this find. What makes it new is not that wiretapping occurred in the Cold War, but that the federal government was deeply involved in the creation of a wiretapping program against potential subversives.

This 178 page file documents how the government planned to hide it from the public, how it could fool Parliament to keep it hidden, and this extended right up to the Prime Minister. The pdf you can download on this site is a sample of this larger file. The documents summarize the agreement with Bell Canada to construct a surveillance network that the RCMP would pay rent for and also reveal that the U.S. and U.K. were doing wiretapping and all of this was designed to be hidden from the public and the courts. None of this has ever been uncovered. What we don’t know is how large it became and on this issue I think it’s best for all scholars in this field of history to cooperate and coordinate on getting the remaining documents out into the public so we can properly assess Canada’s wiretapping history. The secret order 3486 also could be interpreted as a founding document of sorts for signals intelligence in peacetime in Canada and we have a whole other issue with the Privy Council Office refusing to discuss it.

UPDATE: 3486 has been released! Read it and download your own copy Here

In development is a database on what I have regarding PICNIC. All files I have will be made public. Check the site for more updates.

Do you know where historians can find out more about this program? Do you know of archival sources we should request to see? Let us know.

CBC’s The National on PICNIC

Appearance on CBC The National

CBC's The National segment on Canadian wiretapping

Posted by Dennis Molinaro on Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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