National Post

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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2010 Olympics may be targeted by foreign spies: CSIS

Stewart Bell,  National Post  Published: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 Vinnick handout photo/Canwest News Service

TORONTO -- Canada's intelligence service is warning about an espionage threat to the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia and says foreign spies may try to steal the security plans for the Games.

A leaked report on threats to the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics says foreign governments might also use the Games as a pretext for getting their spies close to Canadian officials and contractors.

"Such activity presumably could create opportunities for espionage in or against Canada during the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic Games," says the report, which was distributed six weeks ago.

"CSIS is aware of no current threats of this nature, but suggests that appropriate caution be taken when discussing and handling security plans for the 2010 Games.

"At present, no specific threat has been identified to target security plans of the Games by representatives of foreign governments, but in the past some interest has been shown in acquiring such plans."

The "threat update" is marked "Unclassified: For Official Use Only" and was written by the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, the federal agency made up of representatives of CSIS, RCMP and other departments.

Foreign spies have a long history of conducting operations in Canada. Last week, federal officials revealed that a spy ring that moved millions through Canadian banks to buy restricted materials had been uncovered.

The report categorizes espionage as a low-level threat to the Olympics but it is the first sign that Canadian security officials are concerned that foreign governments might task their spy services to exploit the Games.

It names Russia and China as countries that have been identified by Western intelligence agencies as strategic and industrial espionage threats. Two years ago, Canada deported a Russian spy who had been living in Canada under a false identity.

According to the report, foreign spy agencies operating in Canada have broken into offices, hacked into databases, tampered with briefcases and recruited people with access to sensitive information.

Espionage concerns during past Olympics have revolved around threats post by host countries such as Russia and China, and the likelihood they would spy on senior government officials and corporate executives visiting the Games, it says.

"However, an Olympic host country such as Canada also attracts foreign technologies and commercial contracts in advance of the event and affords pretexts to intermingle Canadian and foreign officials and contractors," the report says.

The most likely threat to the Games comes from domestic extremists, who have carried out several acts of anti-Olympic vandalism, most recently in September at a CP Rail crossing near Toronto, the report says.

"There is no evidence at this time that any group in the anti-2010 movement has both the intent and capability to undertake attacks at the Games. However, given the intense rhetoric of some groups and individuals, more serious acts of violence against individuals or property are possible, and could at least briefly and locally disrupt Olympic events."

The threat level of domestic extremism is listed as "medium," whereas international terrorism, organized crime, cyber attacks, critical infrastructure attacks and epidemics are all categorized as low-level threats.

There is no indication that al-Qaeda or any group inspired by its ideology intend to strike the Games, it adds, nor are U.S.-based cells expected to attempt a cross-border attack.

But while a terrorist attack is unlikely, the report says a terrorist cell inspired by al-Qaeda "could form in Canada at any time and would be likely to at least consider attacking Olympic facilities or, more likely, coincident and nearby soft targets."

Such an attack would most likely use an improvised explosive device detonated at a target that lacks the security of the official Olympic venues, it says. Trains and buses are identified as popular targets "but any public area where large numbers of people gather at predictable times would also be considered."

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