By Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Allegations that Canadian securityofficials spied on a Brazilian government ministry give Canada"a black eye in the world," a top opposition leader said onWednesday, putting more pressure on Prime Minister StephenHarper to explain the affair.
Thomas Mulcair of the official opposition New Democratsbranded as "unacceptable" the allegations in a Brazilian mediareport saying the Communications Security Establishment Canada(CSEC) had targeted the Brazilian mines and energy ministry.
CSEC is the Canadian equivalent of the top-secret U.S.National Security Agency. Harper, whose Conservatives aretrailing in the polls, said on Tuesday in Indonesia that he wasvery concerned by the report.
"Actively spying on ministries and companies in othercountries to give an advantage to Canadian companies is not onlyillegal, it's irresponsible, and it gives Canada a black eye inthe world," Mulcair told a news conference.
"The Conservatives have simply shown that they have noethical boundaries of any kind ... this a huge mistake," headded, saying there was clear evidence CSEC had been complicitin industrial espionage.
CSEC chief John Forster declined to comment on Wednesdaywhen pressed repeatedly by reporters as to whether the agencyhad spied in Brazil. He told a conference in Ottawa thateverything CSEC did was legal and closely scrutinized by aseparate, government-appointed commissioner.
The allegations have soured ties with Brazil, a big tradingpartner for Canada. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Mondaydemanded Canada explain what had happened.
The Globo report alleged CSEC used software to map theBrazilian ministry's communications. It provided no details ofthe alleged spying other than a slide presented at anintelligence conference that mentioned the ministry.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, in overall charge of CSEC,says he cannot talk about national security matters.
The allegations have raised concerns that Canada could begathering information abroad that would benefit its mining andenergy companies. The Conservative government has been a vocaladvocate for the country's resource sector.
Citing government documents obtained under access toinformation legislation, Britain's Guardian newspaper said CSECand other intelligence officials had met twice a year since 2005with scores of Canadian energy companies.()
Reuters has not seen all the documents, but did obtain fromthe government a redacted agenda for a "classified briefing forenergy and utilities sector stakeholders" on May 23, 2013. Theagenda stated the purpose was "to discuss national security andcriminal risks to critical energy infrastructure".
Among those briefing were the Canadian Security IntelligenceService (CSIS) spy agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police andthe government's Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre. Topicsincluded cyber threats and a case study on copper theft; twoother topics were blanked out.
Canada's Public Safety ministry confirmed such meetings hadbeen held regularly since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on theUnited States but declined to comment on what had been on theagenda.
"It is standard practice for security agencies to discussissues with Canadian industry in order to protect lives andsensitive infrastructure from terrorism and other threats," saidministry spokesman Jean Paul Duval.
One official document quoted former natural resourcesminister Gary Lunn as saying in 2007 that Ottawa had helped morethan 200 industry representatives gain security clearance sothey could be given sensitive data to help boost security.
Lunn told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp that theinformation handed over to commercial firms "was not to do withcompetitive advantage at all."
CSIS declined to comment on the meetings. Canadian energyand pipeline company Enbridge Inc said on Wednesday ithad paid for some of the catering at the event.
"Enbridge representatives were unable to attend that May2013 meeting. However, the purpose of the briefings is toprovide a timely and relevant summary of current security issuesthat may have an impact on Canada's critical infrastructure,"Enbridge spokesman Graham White said.
He said the goal of the sessions was to make sure theindustry is aware of potential security threats.
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