News / Canada

Anonymous reveals CSIS secrets, Ottawa scrambles to solve breach

OTTAWA—Canadian government and law enforcement officials are scrambling to figure out how Anonymous got their hands on what the hacker collective calls cabinet-level secrets.

On Monday, individuals associated with Anonymous released to the media the first in what they call a series of sensitive government documents.

They will continue to release documents until the RCMP officers who shot dead an Anonymous protester in Dawson’s Creek, B.C., are arrested, they said in a video.

CSIS revelations

  • CSIS has at least 25 foreign offices across the world, including in developing or unstable countries. CSIS had previously only acknowledged offices in the U.S., the United Kingdom and France. The document shows the offices were in serious need of an upgrade, however, and were still using 1980s technology to process and access intelligence reports.
  • CSIS had planned to spend $17.6 million to upgrade foreign offices’ technology to better secure sensitive intelligence. That number increased to $20.6 million after the Snowden disclosures.
  • CSIS field agents send approximately 22,500 reports per year, including “extremely sensitive” information from the agency’s Washington offices. 
  • The public still hasn’t seen anything that indicates the Snowden disclosures changed CSIS targets' behaviour , although the disclosures have prompted new legislation, spending, and practices from Canada’s government, espionage, law enforcement agencies.

The security breach is an escalation in Anonymous attacks against the federal government. Up to now, the group had mostly contented itself with temporarily downing government websites, a tactic experts have equated to a digital sit-in protests

“We repeat our insistence upon the immediate arrest of the RCMP killers of James McIntyre,” stated the video, released Monday night. “Unless and until that happens, we will be releasing stunning secrets at irregular intervals.”

The February 2014 document, published by the National Post Tuesday, was a request for funding to improve the CSIS intelligence network in 25 foreign offices.

It’s the first time the number of CSIS offices on foreign soil has been known publicly.

Torstar News Service could not independently verify the authenticity of the document, but it follows the general rubric of Treasury Board requests. The document is labelled confidence of the Queen’s Privy Council, which is one of the most protected classifications for government records.

In the document, CSIS is asking for roughly $3 million more on a $17-million project to upgrade their information-sharing network between 25 field offices.

The document states that CSIS had not upgraded that infrastructure since its inception in the mid-1980s. Analysts both abroad and at CSIS headquarters in Ottawa needed to manually sift through an average of 22,500 messages a year.

“These outdated processes result in delays that impact (CSIS) operational effectiveness and jeopardize the security of its personnel collecting the intelligence,” the document states.

The document does not list where the agents are stationed — the agency admits only to having offices in a few allied countries. But it notes that many are located in “developing countries and/or unstable environments.”

A source familiar with the Anonymous team that obtained the document said they had been working on its release before MacIntyre was killed on July 16 — but that his death accelerated the document’s release.

MacIntyre was killed while wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, Anonymous’ adopted symbol, outside an energy meeting in Dawson’s Creek. B.C.’s independent police watchdog is investigating his death.

It’s not clear how the group obtained the document, or how many more government secrets they may be sitting on.

Gabriella Coleman, a McGill professor who has written extensively on Anonymous, said that the document was not obtained by any defined crew of Anons.

Subgroups and splinter initiatives have typically popped up among the notoriously difficult to pin down hacker collective, but Coleman said the people who obtained the documents are taking their security more seriously.

“Their security practices are much better. They’re not as visible insofar as (subgroups) LulzSec and AntiSec were like, every week announcing something crazy,” Coleman said in an interview Tuesday.

“Whereas these folks are really trying to de-centre the attention on the little crew or the individual, and really on the leak.”