A national security expert says Canada will likely wait for American security services to investigate and brief Ottawa on an apparent leak of Pentagon documents that appear to detail U.S. and NATO operations in Ukraine.
Wesley Wark, a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, says Canadian officials will want to learn the seriousness of the leak and the specific information pertaining to Canada contained within the documents.
“In that initial stage, there’s generally a lot of reluctance to share what is known about a counter-intelligence investigation with allies, even close allies,” he said.
“I suspect the Canadian government is going to be watching anxiously from the sidelines as it waits for more information.”
The documents posted online are labelled secret and contain what appear to be details on weapons and equipment shipments to Ukraine, but they also contain apparent inaccuracies that have some questioning their authenticity, or whether they were altered.
The leaked documents describe claims, which The Canadian Press has not independently verified, by Russian-backed hackers that they successfully accessed Canada’s natural gas infrastructure.
The Communications Security Establishment, which oversees Canadian foreign intelligence gathering and cybersecurity, said in a statement it does not comment, “whether to confirm or deny, on leaked intelligence” because of the risk of revealing tactics, techniques and procedures.
But it said it was concerned about “the opportunities for critical infrastructure disruption” on internet-connected technology in industrial processes.
“State-sponsored cyber threat actors may also target critical infrastructure to collect information through espionage; pre-position in case of future hostilities; or as a form of power projection and intimidation,” the statement said.
“We remain deeply concerned about this threat and urge critical infrastructure owners and operators to get in touch with us to work together to protect their systems.”
Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor of international relations at Carleton University, said the apparent leaks put Canada at risk because the Americans have likely now lost access to cyber groups targeting this country.
“That means we are potentially less safe,” she said. “We’re heavily dependent on the U.S. for our intelligence collection, it would mean that we would no longer have access to that reporting if the U.S. is effectively cut off.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Friday a “formal referral” had been made to the U.S. Justice Department, which said in a statement that it had begun an investigation with the Department of Defense.
Wark said the leaker’s intentions are unclear at this point.
“(The leak) doesn’t seem to have one obvious target to it and therefore it makes the motivations of the leaker all that more mysterious, both in the method of the leak and the nature of the material that’s been leaked,” he said.
Information about intelligence assessments of Ukrainian military capabilities could be the most damaging, Wark said.
“These intelligence leaks are bound to have some kind of impact on the intelligence relationship between the United States and Ukraine, which is so important to both countries,” he said.
“Ukrainians are going to desperately need U.S. intelligence capabilities to fight their war and particularly to mount any spring or summer counter offensive, and the Americans in turn are extremely eager to be able to have as full an appreciation as possible of Ukrainian war plans and capabilities.”