“This Report, like the year 2020 itself, stands out from its predecessors,” says the latest report from Canada’s spy chiefs blaming the pandemic for increased national security threats.
Foreign spying and interference in Canada last year hit levels not seen since the Cold War, partly because of vulnerabilities caused by the pandemic, the main Canadian spy agency said on Monday.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) singled out Russia and China as particular causes for concern and said key national security threats such as violent extremism, espionage and malicious cyber activity grew in 2020 and “in many ways became much more serious for Canadians”.
CSIS linked the jump in foreign spying to the increasing number of people working from home because of the pandemic.
“Foreign threat actors, including hostile intelligence services and those working on their behalf, have sought to exploit the social and economic conditions created by the pandemic to gather valuable information,” the report said.
This was not the first time Canada’s intelligence community had put the focus on Russia and China.
The head of CSIS said in February that China posed a serious strategic threat, while the signals intelligence agency last November identified state-sponsored programmes in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as cybercrime threats for the first time.
“In 2020, CSIS observed espionage and foreign interference activity at levels not seen since the Cold War,” CSIS said. “China, Russia, and other foreign states continued to covertly gather political, economic, and military information in Canada through targeted threat activities in support of their own state development goals.”
The report also reiterates that while violent extremism continues to capture a significant portion of CSIS’ attention and efforts, other threats are increasing and directly threaten Canada’s economic prosperity and national interests.