Lauri Sullivan, a spokeswoman for Communications Security Establishment Canada, says the agency does not comment "on our foreign intelligence collection activities or capabilities."
German magazine Der Spiegel says Canada is using diplomatic facilities to support surveillance operations in league with key allies the United States, Britain and Australia.
Word of the Canadian reference — first reported by blogger Bill Robinson, who closely tracks CSEC — came as the NDP unsuccessfully sought support in the House of Commons to create a parliamentary committee that would look into stronger oversight for the intelligence community.
The magazine report published this week cites presentation slides leaked by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, CSEC's American counterpart.
One slide indicates the Canadian spy agency hosts "Stateroom" sites — a term for covert signals-intelligence gathering bases hidden in consulates and embassies.
"These sites are small in size and in number of personnel staffing them," says the slide. "They are covert, and their true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility where they are assigned."
Der Spiegel alleges that the U.S. NSA, Britain's Government Communications Headquarters and Australia's Defense Signals Directorate also host such covert stations, with equipment installed on rooftops or upper floors of embassy buildings — protected from view by screens or false structures.
It's just the latest of several references to the Ottawa-based spy service in Snowden's cache of leaked materials.
Earlier documents suggest Canada helped the United States and Britain spy on participants at the London G20 summit four years ago. Britain's Guardian newspaper published slides describing the operation, including one featuring the CSEC emblem.
More recently, Brazil demanded answers following accusations CSEC initiated a sophisticated spy operation against the South American country's ministry of mines and energy.
CSEC, tasked with gathering foreign intelligence of interest to Canada, has a staff of more than 2,000 — including skilled mathematicians, linguists and computer analysts — and a budget of about $350 million.
The recent revelations — including concerns that CSEC gathers information about Canadians in the course of its foreign spying — have sparked criticism from civil libertarians and opposition politicians.
An NDP motion put forward Tuesday by defence critic Jack Harris called for a special committee to study the intelligence oversight systems of other countries and make recommendations "appropriate to Canada's unique circumstances." The committee would have reported its findings by May 30 next year.
The motion quickly went down to defeat. The Conservative government maintains CSEC is already subject to scrutiny by an independent commissioner who has never found an instance of the spy service straying outside the law.
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