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The Communications Security Establishment, Canada's equivalent of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States, was established as the innocent sounding Examination Unit in June of 1941. The Examination Unit was originally an arm of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), and secretly drew its funding through that agency. It was headquartered in the house next to the then Prime Minister's residence on Laurier Avenue in Ottawa. The present day CSE operates from the Sir Leonard Tilly building on Heron road, near the former CBC building in Ottawa.

The Examination Unit was formed to establish Canada's role in international signals intelligence (SIGINT) during World War II. One of the first people assigned to the Examination Unit was Herbert Yardley. Yardley had worked for US security agencies during the first World War, but had been out of a job since the end of that war. He had published a book, The American Black Chamber, in 1931, which gave away American secrets and greatly angered and annoyed both the British and the Americans. As a result, Yardley became a liability in the early years of the Examination Unit, for neither the American or British intelligence agencies would cooperate with an agency that employed someone who had given away state secrets. Since the Examination Unit needed raw material to work on, and was only able to get spotty coverage of Abwehr messages between Hamburg and Nazi agents in South America from the Canadian Army station at Rockcliffe, Bletchley Park was asked to provide some raw material for the Unit to work on. The British made it clear that they would not cooperate with Canada until Yardley was removed, so on November 22, 1941, Yardley was dismissed by Lester B. Pearson, a diplomat who would later become the Prime Minister of Canada.

Yardly was succeeded by a man from Bletchley Park, one Oliver Strachey. Strachey put the Unit to work on Abwehr messages, which tended to contain very specific orders and information; highly valuable intelligence information. This signals intelligence helped bring Canada into the international intelligence game, a role that was formally acknowledged by the 1947 UK/USA Security Agreement and a 1948 bilateral agreement with the United States.

The Examination Unit became the Communications Branch of the NRC somewhere around 1945, and in 1975 it was renamed the Communications Security Establishment and transfered to the Department of National Defense (DND) by the Public Service rearrangement and transfer of duties act. The existence of the CSE was not publicly reveled until 1983, although it was partly exposed by a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television program in 1974. By 1991, the CSE had known monitoring stations in Argentia and Gander Newfoundland, at Leitrim Canadian Forces Station near Ottawa, at Massett Canadian Forces Station in British Columbia, at Canadian Forces Station Alert on Ellesmere Island, and in Bermuda.

The CSE is known to keep a database of personal information on foreigners and Canadians who are suspected security risks. This database is exempt under the federal Privacy Act, so individuals cannot leverage that legislation to find out what the CSE knows about them. Government officials have repeatedly denied that the CSE monitors domestic phone calls.

The CSE's mandate includes information technology security (INFOSEC) and signals intelligence (SIGINT). Under INFOSEC, the CSE provides technical advice and guidance to the federal government on aspects of telecommunications and data processing security. In its SIGINT role, the CSE works with the support of the Canadian Forces Supplementary Radio System to collect, study, and report foreign intelligence to the federal government on foreign radio, radar, and other electronic emissions.


J.L Granatstein and David Stafford, "Spy Wars: Espionage and Canada from Gouzenko to Glasnost", Key Porter Books, Toronto, 1990

Philip Rosen, "The Communications Security Establishment - Canada's most secret intelligence agency", Parliamentary Research Branch, Sept 1994, Ottawa, http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/dsp-psd/Pilot/LoPBdP/BP/bp343-e.htm

CSE Website: http://www.cse.dnd.ca/

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