Canadian SIGINT and Afghanistan

Canadian SIGINT and Afghanistan


The Canadian government’s signals intelligence organisation, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), has revealed that it has deployed a small SIGINT unit to Afghanistan, and has been devoting a major portion of the organisation’s resources as a whole to Afghanistan-related operations, providing “real-time” operational support.

Government sources

Communications Security Establishment: Canada’s National Cryptologic Agency (CSE)

“We provide the Government of Canada with two key services: foreign signals intelligence in support of defence and foreign policy, and the protection of electronic information and communication.”

Canadian Forces Information Operations Group (CFIOG)

“The Canadian Forces Information Operations Group’s mission is to coordinate, develop and employ assigned Information Operations enabling capabilities for the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence.”

Canadian Forces Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Operations Centre (CFSOC)


  • To operate and maintain signals intelligence collection and geolocation facilities in support of the national cryptologic programme and military operation;

  • To operate and maintain radio frequency direction finding facilities in support of search and rescue and other programs’

  • To maintain a capacity for the timely deployment of SIGINT forces and capabilities, in support of CF operational requirements.”


In the news: Afghanistan SIGINT, Bill Robinson, Lux Ex Umbra, 1 May 2007

“CSE [Communications Security Establishment] has revealed that it collects Afghanistan-related SIGINT, according to National Post reporter Stewart Bell (‘Canada listening in on Taliban exchanges,’ National Post, 1 May 2007): ‘Canada’s ultra-secret electronic spy agency revealed yesterday it has been heavily involved in Afghanistan and has deployed a team to the country.'”

Afghanistan SIGINT 2, Bill Robinson, Lux Ex Umbra, 1 May 2007

“The CSE Chief’s 30 April 2007 speaking notes state that ‘a large majority of [CSE’s] foreign intelligence reporting’ is on security-related topics and that in the last year ‘over a quarter of our security reporting was related to Afghanistan’.

“Let’s try some back-of-the-envelope calculations. If we assume that Adams’s statement that “a large majority” of reporting is dedicated to security-related topics means that something like 60-70% of reporting is on security topics and that 25-30% (“more than a quarter”) of security reporting relates to Afghanistan, then something like 15-20% of CSE’s SIGINT reports have apparently been dedicated to Afghanistan over the past year.

On to the next envelope: CSE probably has roughly 1000 people on the SIGINT side of the house, broadly defined (there being about 400 in INFOSEC and maybe 200 or so in administrative positions). But a large number of those function in support capacities (e.g., watch officers, cryptanalysts, transcriber/reporters, IT types, customer liaison officers). If we go way out on a limb and guess that one-third to one-half of the SIGINT side are actual analysts, then maybe 50 to 100 analysts are working full-time on Afghanistan. That’s a whole lot of analysts (and remember that figure doesn’t include either the transcribers, translators, and other support resources or the personnel who collect the SIGINT, who, notwithstanding the deployment of ‘several’ CSE staff members to Afghanistan, are presumably mostly CFIOG personnel). Enough to have their own dedicated group in the CSE organization chart.

“[Update 3 June 2007:
Adams’s testimony is now online. In his oral remarks he specified that “about 80 per cent of the CSE’s activities is focussed on security and support to military operations”. That means about 20-25% of CSE’s recent reporting has been on Afghanistan and, to go once more out on that limb, perhaps 70 to 150 dedicated analysts. There are also many other items of interest in the testimony, by the way.]
“That’s enough people to do a lot of monitoring and analysis. A lot of that presumably relates to direct tactical support to military operations, and a lot also would relate to broader strategic/operational intelligence about the Taliban.]”

“And how are we collecting all this material? Local radio monitoring, undoubtedly. Plus somebody (NSA?) is presumably monitoring satellite up- and downlinks to Afghanistan and remoting it back over here for a good close look. I also suspect we may be involved in processing the take from US SIGINT satellites, especially the TRUMPET satellites, or whatever they’re called now, operated out of Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado. But that’s just a guess.

“You may be wondering, given the fact we’re at war with the Taliban right now, why CSE would reveal the information that forms the basis of the above speculations. I don’t think the agency is trying to get our soldiers killed, and neither am I in speculating about the information (for the record, I used to be in the infantry reserves, but I am not a supporter of this war). The answer, I think, is that the government has concluded the Taliban is already well aware that it is under intense SIGINT surveillance. The details of particular sources and methods used against the Taliban might matter a great deal, but very general information (and uninformed speculation like mine) does not.”

Adams Speaks, Bill Robinson, Lux Ex Umbra, 19 December 2006.

“Some comments on CSE support to military operations that I found intriguing:

We work more intensively with the uniforms; we provide direct support to Canadian Forces deployed abroad, particularly in Afghanistan. We work much more closely with the tactical side now…. We provide intelligence in real time to operations in Afghanistan. The information we gather, if accurate, can provide the tipping point for the success of an operation – or if inaccurate could have serious consequences.

SMO is not news, but the point about real time is interesting. Presumably, Mr. Adams is not referring to the local interception/analysis that may be done by the CFIOG “291ers” who deploy to Afghanistan. So where is CSE getting the raw material to analyse for Afghanistan operations? Local collection that is remoted back to Ottawa for analysis? There could be some of that I suppose. But I have long suspected that CSE helps to analyse some of the material collected by the so-called TRUMPET satellites operated by the Aerospace Data Facility at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado – maybe that’s where the Afghanistan material is coming from.”

See also

24 February 2008