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2010 Olympics
Rights + Justice

Was Cybersnooping the Secret Event of 2010 Olympics?

It happened in the US. So The Tyee put the question to telecom officials, police.

Bob Mackin 24 Aug

Regular Tyee contributor Bob Mackin reported on the 2010 Olympics -- the run up and the Games -- for The Tyee and others. Find his articles here.

Did the Canadian government snoop on email and text messages in Vancouver before and during the 2010 Winter Olympics?

The Wall Street Journal reported Aug. 20 that the 9/11-shaken United States government monitored communications in Salt Lake City, North America's previous Olympic city.

"Amid fears of terrorist 'sleeper cells' inside the U.S., the government under former president George W. Bush also began redefining how much domestic data it could collect," reported the Wall Street Journal, which quoted unnamed sources.

"For the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, officials say, the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) arranged with Qwest Communications International Inc. to use intercept equipment for a period of less than six months around the time of the event. It monitored the content of all email and text communications in the Salt Lake City area."

NSA filtering, the Wall Street Journal reported, is designed to look for communications that either begin or end abroad, or are foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S.

"The surveillance system is built on relationships with telecommunications carriers that together cover about 75 per cent of U.S. Internet communications. They must hand over what the NSA asks for under orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The firms search Internet traffic based on the NSA's criteria, current and former, officials say."

Qwest was the official telecommunications sponsor of the 2002 Games and its corporate successor had no comment when contacted by The Tyee.

"The Olympics occurred in 2002, approximately 11 years ago, that is nine years before CenturyLink acquired Qwest," CenturyLink spokesman Mark Molzen said. "We do not have any information on this topic."

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the NSA jointly issued a partial denial of the Wall Street Journal story on Aug. 21. "The reports leave the impression that NSA is sifting through as much as 75 per cent of the United States' online communications, which is simply not true. In its foreign intelligence mission, and using all its authorities, NSA 'touches' about 1.6%, and analysts only look at 0.00004%, of the world's Internet traffic."

However, the joint statement made no mention whatsoever of the 2002 Olympics communications surveillance or the arrangement with Qwest.

Vague answers

Bell was the official network provider of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and Internet service provider (ISP) to both the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) and the RCMP Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit.

Review and Coordination of Cyber Security for Vancouver 2010, a report by two senior Government of Canada scientists, said "no single organization had overall awareness of the telecommunication assets supporting the Games and their interdependencies."

"VANOC was with Bell, (Department of National Defence) with Telus, ISU with Bell/VANOC, provincial and municipal organizations were with a mix of local and national ISPs, and many federal departments had individual contracts with ISPs like Bell and Telus, the two main service providers of the region," said the report by Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre chief of cyber operations Luc Beaudoin and Defence Research and Development Canada operational research scientist Lynne Genik.

Gaétan Houle was Bell's vice-president of corporate security from 2007 to 2011 and is now Ernst and Young's national IT security leader. Asked by The Tyee whether Bell assisted Canadian authorities in monitoring email and texts in 2009 and 2010 like Qwest did in 2001 and 2002, Houle deferred comment to his former employer, Bell.

By email, Bell spokesman Mark Langton said: "Bell only provides information to law enforcement agencies in response to lawfully obtained court orders, and they must be regarding specific individuals and be part of a specific ongoing investigation. We don't comment on individual investigations though."

Telus spokesman Shawn Hall did not respond for comment.

The most direct answer came from Communications Security Establishment Canada, the NSA's Canadian equivalent. CSEC spokesman Ryan Foreman denied the spy agency monitored domestic emails and texts in Vancouver before or during the Games.

"Nor did it ask the NSA or any of our Five Eyes partners (United Kingdom, United States, Australia and New Zealand) to do so on our behalf," Foreman continued. "CSEC did not hire a private contractor, nor did it collaborate with any telecommunications provider to monitor domestic texts and emails in Vancouver during the Olympics.

"CSEC is prohibited by law from directing its activities at Canadians anywhere, or anyone in Canada, and cannot ask a partner agency to do something that it cannot legally do itself."

"Any further inquiries about security at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver should be directed to the RCMP."

RCMP Federal Policing Sgt. Duncan Pound did not answer whether the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit, the Joint Intelligence Group or any other RCMP division was involved in the type of mass-email and text monitoring for Vancouver 2010 that was described by the Wall Street Journal for Salt Lake 2002.

"We can't speak to what another country may or may not have done. But in Canada, the interception of private communications by law enforcement is legislated and governed by the Criminal Code of Canada and subject to an application and judicial authority," Pound said via email. "The Criminal Code of Canada also dictates that such applications are confidential and that all persons whose private communications have been intercepted are notified in writing after the fact."

Canada's version of NSA expanding

One person who would know, one way or another, is Bud Mercer. Mercer was an RCMP Assistant Commissioner and the chief of the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit.

After the Games, Mercer retired from the Mounties to become chief executive officer of the Canadian division of an Australian corporation building Canada's new high-tech spying headquarters.

CSEC is scheduled to move into the 69,750 sq. metre Ottawa facility in 2014. Plenary Properties LTAP, Mercer's employer, has a $4.1 billion, 30-year design, building, maintenance and finance contract.

"Highly specialized and technically complex, the project is the largest that (Defence Construction Canada), the Department of National Defence and CSEC have ever undertaken, and is the largest federal government accommodation P3 project ever awarded in Canada," said a DCC website.

Mercer did not respond to an email query from The Tyee.

Security blanket

An Aug. 16 Reuters' story, quoting unnamed sources, said Bell, Rogers and Telus were planning to up the ante in their campaign to keep American telecom giant Verizon out of Canada by focusing "on how Verizon's entry into Canada could open the door to overreaching surveillance and a loss of privacy for Canadians."

Among the documents leaked to the Guardian by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was a secret court order forcing Verizon to hand over telephone call metadata for a 90-day period. "No plan for a specific focus on security issues," Bell spokesman Langton said. "It's certainly a concern for many Canadians, and the CEP/CAW unions are addressing the issue quite directly."

Snowden was employed by NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, whose Seattle office was involved in security for the 2010 Games.

Washington state's 2010 Olympics Security Committee met regularly at Camp Murray, near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Lakewood, Wash. Minutes, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, list dozens of attendees who were "state, local, federal and Canadian security partners."

The committee was co-chaired by Washington State Military Department Maj. Gen. Tim Lowenberg and Laura Laughlin, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Seattle office.

RCMP Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit Insp. Dennis Erickson and U.S. Department of State Olympic security co-ordinator Jonathan Kahele were attendees of the meetings. VANOC security executives Francesco Norante and Adam Gray spoke at the March 11, 2009 meeting. Matt Coldwell and Chad Raymond from the Booz Allen Hamilton Seattle office attended the 2009 meetings but when contacted in May 2011, declined comment.

During the Games, the U.S. government maintained a multi-agency Olympic cperations centre at Bellingham International Airport. Under Kahele, the Department of State had a temporary joint operations centre in a rented floor at 1133 Melville Street in downtown Vancouver, a short walk from the permanent U.S. Consulate on West Pender and Thurlow. Daily situation reports for each day of the Games for American federal intelligence, military and civilian agencies that were produced by U.S. Consul Philip Chicola were among the final batch of the thousands of diplomatic cables Bradley Manning gave to WikiLeaks.

A 1995 U.S. presidential directive requires the Department of State to protect American interests at every Olympics. The International Olympic Committee relies on American sponsorship and broadcast fees.  [Tyee]

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