The Conservative government says Defence officials have assured it that no listening devices have been found at the former Nortel campus,
OTTAWA — The Conservative government says Defence officials have assured it that no listening devices have been found at the former Nortel campus, contradicting previous security concerns raised by both former Nortel and government intelligence employees.
Former Nortel employees have contacted the Citizen to say that the listening devices were found when Department of National Defence officials did their initial security sweeps of the facility, purchased for DND’s new home.
DND documents also indicate that concerns about the security surrounding the former Nortel campus were raised last year within the department. A briefing document for then-Defence minister Peter MacKay warned that the public announcement that the DND was moving into the complex before it could be properly secured created a major problem.
“This not only raises the level of difficulty of verifying appropriate security safeguards in the future, it will probably dramatically increase security costs and cause delays to reach full operational capability,” MacKay was told in April 2012 by Canadian Forces security officers.
Last year senior Nortel staff acknowledged that the company had been the subject of a number of spy and computer hacking operations over a decade, with the main culprits suspected of being associated with China.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior officer with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said the spy agency also determined that Nortel had been targeted. “We knew it was well penetrated,” he told the Citizen. “When I was the Chief of Asia-Pacific we warned Nortel.”
But Julie Di Mambro, spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, said Tuesday the government has now received assurances from DND. “Security officials have assured us that they have not discovered any bugs or listening devices,” she noted in an email. “Our government continues to be vigilant when it comes to maintaining the security of information and personnel.”
No further details were provided.
The purchase and refit of the Nortel campus has emerged as a political issue, with opposition MPs and others questioning whether the Conservative government’s plan to spend almost $1 billion on the purchase and renovations of the site makes financial sense. Retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, now an adviser for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, told CTV on Monday that he thought it was a bad idea to spend such a large amount of money on a new military headquarters.
The government spent $208 million to buy the property, with an additional $790 million to be spent on renovating the buildings for DND’s needs, according to a presentation made to the Senate by Treasury Board officials. The cost to prepare the site involves everything from creating new offices to installing secure computer networks.
Asked last week for details about the listening devices and whether they were still functioning, the DND responded with a statement to the Citizen that it takes security at its installations seriously. “The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces cannot provide any information regarding specific measures and tests undertaken to secure a location or facility for reasons of national security,” noted an email from DND spokeswoman Carole Brown. “The DND/CAF must maintain a safe and secure environment at all of its facilities, in order to maintain Canada’s security posture at home and abroad.”
In February, MacKay was also briefed about the poor state of DND security. Among the points raised in the presentation was that the Defence Department’s “security posture does not currently meet government standards,” according to documents obtained by Postmedia.
The case of Royal Canadian Navy officer Jeffrey Delisle, who spied for the Russians, was specifically mentioned on the same page as the presentation noted that “repeated audits have called for improvement, but insufficient action has occurred.” Those audits calling for improved security included reviews by internal auditors and the federal auditor general’s office.
Phil McNeely, Liberal MPP for Ottawa-Orléans, said he is concerned the government and the DND did not do its due diligence before the Nortel campus was purchased. McNeely, who opposes the DND move to Nortel, said he is worried taxpayers are “now stuck with a $208 million lemon.”
An internal security study by Nortel suggested that the hackers had been able to download research and development studies and business plans starting in 2000. The hackers also placed spyware so deep into some employee computers it escaped detection, the Wall Street Journal reported last year.
Another spy operation was launched against Nortel from the Philippines, security officials determined. That operation involved freelance computer hackers who were working for a “foreign power.”
By David Pugliese, OTTAWA CITIZEN October 1, 2013
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