Diplomats have told Justin Trudeau that Canada’s embassies don’t have the funding necessary to deal with terror or cyber attacks, according to memos provided to the incoming prime minister.
“Canadian missions abroad face significant and evolving risks at a time when security resources are diminishing,” reads the classified note prepared for the new government.
It continues that while the foreign affairs department will continue to look after overseas embassies and staff, “there is a direct correlation between resource investments and mission security.”
And those investments have simply dried up.
The report prepared for Trudeau in October specifically singles out “civil unrest and terrorism” as threats to Canada’s missions abroad, but it also warns of “violent criminality in large swaths of Latin America and Africa,” the risk of “a range of hostile espionage activities” as well as earthquakes, typhoons, and hurricanes.
But while the report says those threats are growing, it reports that a lot of funding promises made over the last decade have not been renewed.
The briefing note, which was released under an access to information request submitted by VICE News, is heavily redacted on the basis that the information in the briefing note could hurt Canada’s relationship with foreign countries, or compromise its national security.
Concerns about security at Canada’s international offices has been largely muted in recent years, even as Washington scrutinized the security shortcomings that led to the deadly attack on the US headquarters in Benghazi, Libya. It left an American ambassador, two CIA contractors, and one other staff person dead.
So, while America has fixated on the security of its overseas embassies — most notably, with the recent release of the action blockbuster 13 Hours, based on the Benghazi attack — Canada appears to be dragging its feet.
One of the few news reports about the program came in September, amid a federal election campaign, when CTV News learned from an anonymous source that 20 percent of Canada’s foreign embassies and missions are categorized as “high risk.”
The note says that things improved “significantly” when the department received new funding in 2010, allowing it to hire security specialists for some of its embassies, including 30 of the highest-risk offices.
Bureaucrats who prepared the note say “ongoing funding is also needed to maintain a Standing Rapid Deployment Team” — a unit of 90 that can quickly respond to crises, both for Canadians located abroad and to the embassies themselves.
Much of that funding for infrastructure, hiring, and training, the note says, was not renewed.
“The financial cost of sustaining deployed security operations is rising rapidly, well beyond initial forecasts made a few years ago,” the note reads. “[The Department of Foreign Affairs] is currently assessing future threats, mission security requirements, departmental mitigations, and multilateral cost sharing opportunities with a view to creating a sustainable solution to protect [Government of Canada] personnel, information, and assets abroad.”
A 2014 request for funding from the Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS), leaked by a hacker who claimed to be part of the Anonymous hacker collective, purports to show that the intelligence agency was frustrated by outdated technology infrastructure in Canada’s embassies, and was requesting some $20 million in upgrades.
The concerns that Canadian offices could become targets comes as Canada readies to normalizes relations with Iran, reversing a 2012 decision to sever diplomatic ties to the theocratic state.
Before being shut down, Tehran’s mission in Ottawa was mired in controversy after Canada’s then-Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird accused staff in the Iranian embassy of recruiting and intimidating expatriates to advance their own interests.
Baird’s staff occasionally referred to the Iranian embassy as a “spy palace.”
Canada’s cyber security team, meanwhile, has acknowledged that a state-based cyber attack from Iran managed to break into a government system. Cyber security companies have speculated that some of the hackers may have been operating in Canada, as well as Tehran and elsewhere.