According to a classified document, Canada’s main spy agency, CSIS, last year warned energy companies about an increase risk of cyber espionage and attacks on pipelines, oil storage and shipment facilities and power transmission towers using homemade explosives.
The warning, which was made in May last year by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) highlights an additional risk for the energy sector, where opposition to pipelines has increased in Canada and the United States. Reuters, which has seen the document under access-to-information law, has reported that it features speaking notes prepared for a CSIS briefing with energy and utilities sectors stakeholders, adding that an unidentified official specifies a threat from foreign state-owned firms looking for confidential information about investments or takeovers. The official disclosed in the document “you should expect your networks to be hit if you are involved in any significant financial interactions with certain foreign states.” The official went on to say in the document that the hackers would want information on anything from valuations to tax records and clients names. The official stated that the agency had collected evidence of such espionage in the past. The document also warned that the sector was “vulnerable to explosives” and identified potential targets. In the document, the CSIS official referred to “terrorist attacks” since 2014 in Canada and abroad, stating that even large-scale attacks are “technically simple.”
The document, parts of which were obscured for security reasons, did not show the foreign states whose companies may be linked to industrial espionage or their purported Canadian victims. A spokeswoman for Public Safety Canada, which oversees CSIS, stated that there had been “growth in attempted cyber attacks,” however she declined to comment on the specific incidents or threats, citing the demands of privacy and national security.
In 2012, CSIS told the Canadian government that takeovers by Chinese companies may threaten national security. At the time, China’s state-owned CNOOC Ltd had bid for Canadian producer Nexen Inc. Last year, five oil pipelines carrying Canadian crude in the US were halted in coordinated attacks by environmental protesters. The attacks demonstrated the ease with which people with no technical expertise can disrupt the industry. While energy companies already use surveillance cameras, helicopters, remote sensors and drones in order to monitor some 119,00 km (74,000 miles) of pipelines across the country, which carry 3.4 million barrels of crude a day, and have an agreement to collaborate during an emergency, security experts and energy industry officials have said that it is impossible to lower the threat to zero.
Unlike its southern neighbour and many of its European allies, Canada has been fortunate to escape a major terrorist attack in recent months. Canada had experienced 2 terrorist attacks in October 2014, but both were relatively limited in scope and resulted in only two deaths. However, on August 10th, the threat of terrorism was once again made apparent. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued an urgent memo warning of an imminent terrorist attack. They included a photo of a masked individual, but did not provide further details. It later emerged that the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx (an agency of the Ontario Government) were alerted that Union Station in downtown Toronto could be a possible target. According to August 11th media reports, the RCMP alert was based on information originally provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The seriousness of the alert was underlined by a deadly confrontation between police and an ISIS sympathizer in the afternoon of August 10th. According to senior RCMP officials, the individual was armed with 2 explosive devices, one of which he detonated during the confrontation with police. Police had originally intercepted the suspect after he entered a taxi outside his house. The suspect was ultimately shot and killed by a police counter-terrorism team. In a later news conference, the RCMP identified the man as 24 year-old Aaron Driver, the son of a Canadian military officer. According to some reports, Driver had requested to be driven to a mall in London, Ontario, near a Canadian military recruitment centre and a bus depot. It remains unclear what Driver’s ultimate intended target was.
In subsequent media reports, Aaron Driver has been described as someone both previously known to Canadian police and also emotionally vulnerable to radicalization. His family house burned down at age 4, his mother died of cancer in 1999 and his father moved the family frequently in his job with the Canadian Armed Forces. Driver reportedly converted to Islam at the age of 17 though the exact details of his radicalization remain unclear. He was first identified as a concern for Canadian intelligence officials after tweeting videos that advocated for ISIS’s ideology. The RCMP began an investigation around the autumn of 2014 that culminated in Driver’s arrest in Winnipeg in June 2015. Subsequent investigations revealed that his laptop contained instructions for building explosives. Driver was placed under a Peace Bond and moved in with his sister in the town of Strathroy in south-western Ontario.
Further details on the original alert and the fatal incident continue to emerge. The broader context will likely still take time to be established. However, it serves as an important reminder. Despite being under the strict conditions of a Peace Bond, Aaron Driver had the ability to build explosive devices, with the clear intent of endangering the public. As with several recent cases in France, Aaron Driver was clearly identified as an ISIS supporter. The August 10th incident clearly shows the limitations of a Peace Bond’s conditions. As with many countries, Canadian intelligence and law enforcement agencies face the difficult task of trying to identify when radical sympathizers have decided to escalate to acts of violence. In addition, it will be interesting to see if this incident has any impact on the political debate surrounding amendments to the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51). The current Liberal Government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had pledged to amend the legislation. So far, however, no significant changes have been made and a shift in public opinion could possibly shape the reform that eventually takes place.
Late on Monday, after a long day of voting, Canada’s Liberal Party decisively won the country’s general election, effectively ending nearly a decade of Conservative rule.
While the centrist Liberal Party, which is led by Justin Trudeau, had initially started the campaign in third place, with the New Democratic Party (NDP) leading and the Conservative Party in second place, in what is a stunning turnaround, they now command a majority. Mr Trudeau, the 43-year-old son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who is considered to be the father of modern Canada, indicated Monday that Canadians had voted for real change. Incumbent Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in power since 2006, has congratulated his rival and has since announced that he will be stepping down as the party’s leader. Mr Harper, one of the longest-serving Western leaders, had been seeking a rare fourth term in office. His party has announced that while he will stand down as Conservative leader, he will remain as an MP. Tom Mulcair of the left-leaning NDP also disclosed that he “congratulated Mr Trudeau on his exceptional achievement.”
The Liberal Party has won 184 seats of a total 338 seats in parliament while the Conservatives gained 99 seats. The NDP is on course to win 44 seats, less than half the number it held in the outgoing parliament. While there is no fixed transition period under Canada’s constitution, Mr Trudeau is expected to be sworn in in a few weeks’ time.
During the 11-week election campaign, the Liberal Party indicated that it would cut income taxes for middle-class Canadians while increasing them for the wealth; run deficits for three years in order to pay for infrastructure spending; do more in order to address environmental concerns over the controversial Keystone oil pipeline; take in more Syrian refugees and pull out of bombing raids against the Islamic State (IS) group while bolstering training for Iraqi forces; and legalize marijuana.