Pandemic is fuelling foreign espionage in Canada, says security committee

The pandemic is driving some foreign states to ramp up their espionage efforts against Canadian targets — including companies engaged in vaccine development — says a new report from one of Canada's key national security oversight committees.

The warning is found in the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians's (NSICOP) annual report, which was tabled in the House of Commons today.

The report said Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom have been targeted by the intelligence sectors of China, Russia and Iran.

"The emergence of COVID 19 [means] more foreign espionage on biopharma and health care sectors, our COVID-19 vaccine supply," committee chair David McGuinty told CBC News.

"Major threats have evolved, some exacerbated, some changed."

According to NSICOP's paper, the Communications Security Establishment — Canada's foreign signals intelligence agency — reports that state-sponsored actors have targeted Canada looking for vaccine information.

"Specifically, CSE noted that these actors have demonstrated an interest in information related to vaccine research and development, medical equipment, and response coordination," says the report.

"CSE assesses that this threat will likely continue for the duration of the pandemic."

David McGuinty, chair of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parlmentarians, holds a news conference last year. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The report said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service also has expressed concern about foreign contact-tracing apps developed during the pandemic.

"CSIS has pointed to the increased use of mass surveillance technologies across several countries for use in COVID-19 contact-tracing applications, noting the long-term risks posed to personal privacy by these applications outside of Canada," notes the report.

China running 'talent programs' to learn Canadian info

The report is heavily redacted but provides some details of how China is trying to steal Canadian intellectual property.

"China uses 'talent programs' and academic exchanges to exploit Canadian expertise," it reads.

China's Thousand Talents Program, launched in 2008, encourages Chinese scientists abroad to bring their research to China; it's currently under investigation in the U.S.

"The result of this program is that intellectual property is often transferred to China," said NSICOP. 

"In many cases, these actors are targeting the same types of science and technology in which the government of Canada is investing."

NSICOP was set up to to give certain parliamentarians access to top-secret materials and to allow them to question leaders in the security and intelligence community. It meets in secret and reports directly to the prime minister on national security matters. Only redacted versions of its reports are made public.

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