The head of Canada’s domestic spy agency says the country has blocked Chinese acquisitions of property close to “strategic” assets over espionage concerns.
David Vigneault, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), said in an interview with CBS News Sunday that the agency has identified attempts by actors linked to the Chinese government to snap up locations close to sensitive Canadian assets.
“We have seen in the past acquisitions of land, acquisitions of different companies, where when you start to dig a little bit further you realize there is another intent,” Vigneault said on 60 Minutes, in a clip that aired Sunday night.
“We have seen and blocked attempts by the (People’s Republic of China, or PRC) to acquire locations near sensitive, strategic assets of the country where we knew the ultimate purpose was for spying operations.”
In the interview clip, Vigneault did not elaborate on what assets he was referring to. CSIS did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Vigneault was speaking during an unprecedented interview of security chiefs from the Five Eyes — a security partnership that includes Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. The five spymasters gathered last week at Stanford University for a panel discussion about emerging technologies and national security.
Select Canadian media outlets were invited to travel to California to attend, but were not offered an interview with the CSIS director.
While the conversation was billed as a discussion about how new technology — such as artificial intelligence or quantum computing — will affect national security, it became very clear very quickly that the intelligence chiefs were focused primarily on the Chinese government.
“At the end of the day, the threat posed by the government of China represents an existential threat not just to our innovations, but also to our security and our way of life. And that’s why the five of us are here together for this unprecedented event,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray, who convened the meeting, at a press conference last week.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa Monday, Defence Minister Bill Blair — who formerly served as the minister responsible for CSIS — said that Canada had blocked Chinese purchases of Canadian assets “many times” over espionage concerns.
“I am quite familiar with the work that Canada has done to protect our national interests, the protection of critical infrastructure. And I’m not going to talk in any detail about the intelligence we relied upon or even that actions have been taken,” Blair told reporters.
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“I’ve been a member of this cabinet now for over six years, and we have engaged in many such actions over the past six years.”
RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme, who was on Parliament Hill for an unrelated committee appearance, said he had not heard Vigneault’s comments and did not speak to them.
Duheme said that the investigation into alleged “police stations” set up by the Chinese government on Canadian soil is ongoing. The Chinese government is alleged to have embedded security officials in multiple locations around Canada who allegedly harassed members of the Chinese-Canadian community.
“I encourage the citizens of those different neighbourhoods, Toronto, Vancouver, as well as Montreal, to come forward if they’ve experienced intimidation or anything that they wish to share with us that would help us in the overall investigation,” Duheme said.
Former Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told a parliamentary committee in May that the RCMP had shut down so-called police stations in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
It’s unclear why the Five Eyes security alliance is making such a public push against Chinese espionage at this juncture. Wray told 60 Minutes that the FBI has roughly 2,000 investigations into the Chinese government attempting to steal intellectual property and other state secrets.
“When people talk about stealing innovation or intellectual property, that’s not just a Wall Street problem. That’s a Main Street problem,” Wray told the interviewer.
“It’s not some abstract concept, it has flesh and blood, kitchen table consequences.”
— with files from the Canadian Press and Jillian Piper.
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