Foreign countries have probably attempted to use cyberattacks or other methods to force the outcome of Canadian political campaigns, not unlike Russia’s effort against the United States, Canada’s former spy chief says.
“I believe that it is likely a couple countries might have tried to influence our elections,” Richard Fadden, who directed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service for five years ending in 2013, told The Globe & Mail via e-mail Sunday.
“I cannot comment on how. Given our system, I suggest that it is more likely than not that such attempts would have occurred at the constituency level.”
Mr. Fadden declined to say which countries he believed were involved, adding his comments are based on his experience in a variety of jobs and on what might be called “generally accepted information that is in the public domain.” Asked to elaborate on why an attack would be directed at the riding level, he said: “An influence campaign in a Westminster system country would likely require effort at the level of constituencies – where MPs are elected and whose numbers by party determines who will be the head of government.”
The comments come just days ahead of the inauguration on Friday of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, who conceded last week that Russia was likely behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee during the U.S. election. According to a declassified U.S. intelligence report released Jan. 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to boost Mr. Trump’s election chances by discrediting his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The report also warned that Russia would apply what it learned from the exercise to rattle elections held by U.S. allies.
The comments underscore what Western intelligence officials have said are increasing attempts by hostile nations to use such attacks to undermine the interests of target countries.
CSIS did not return a call requesting comment. Communications Security Establishment, the agency whose mandate incl-udes helping protect Canadian government computer networks from hackers, did not respond to a request for comment.
“I think it’s certainly possible that the Russians could do the same kind of things that they would do here,” said Hannah Thoburn, a specialist on Russia at the Hudson Institute, a think tank based in Washington. “They’ve done it in many other countries, from Ukraine to Sweden to Macedonia. It’s certainly possible in Canada.”
In a scenario where the United States pulls back support of Ukraine and Canada becomes a leader defending that country’s autonomy, the Russians may choose to go after Canada, Ms. Thoburn said.
Intelligence officials across Europe have been amassing evidence over a decade of what they believe are repeated attempts by Russia to undermine political and business interests in various nations, largely through com-puter hacking. In 2007, Estonia blamed Russian hackers for a massive denial of service assault that caused the Internet to crash. In 2014, a Russian-linked group was accused of attacking Warsaw’s Stock Exchange and other key Polish sites.
More recently, Germany believes politicians in its lower house of parliament were the likely target of a data-theft hacking attack by Russian-affiliated hackers in 2015. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a staunch defender of liberal values and a supporter of sanctions against Russia, has said: “Cyberattacks, or hybrid conflicts as they are known in Russian doctrine, are now part of daily life and we must learn to cope with them. We must inform people a lot on this point.”
Mr. Fadden echoed that view, saying Canadians have to start worrying more about cyberwarfare and cybercriminality than they have in the past. “Old-fashioned attempts to influence elections through money, criminality and whatnot still exist,” he told CTV earlier Sunday. “But it’s a new domain. And it’s one that I don’t think everybody’s really come to grips with yet.”
This isn’t the first time Mr. Fadden has sounded the alarm about foreign influence in Canadian affairs.
The former spy chief caused an uproar in 2010 when he said publicly that two provincial cabinet ministers were under the undue influence of a foreign government and that CSIS had suspicions about a number of municipal politicians in British Columbia. He named neither the ministers nor the country and provided no further elaboration, earning widespread criticism from lawmakers and provoking a backlash in Ontario and B.C.
A subsequent memo from Mr. Fadden to Vic Toews, then public safety minister, obtained by the news media, warned: “Canada is a target for foreign interference due to our natural resources, scientific and technological sectors, our role and influence in the international community and our close relations with powerful allies.”
The memo said foreigners could target politicians elected at all levels of government in Canada, as well as bureaucrats and election candidates. It said the effort might include “offering of electoral support” and occur with little notice over a long period of time.