David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, tells us that “Canadians won’t be allowed to work on parts of the country’s new surveillance aircraft because they contain sensitive American-made equipment that can only be handled by U.S. citizens.“
First, this ‘NOFORN‘ designation is fairly (and I’m told increasingly) common in the United States. Canada has similar designations. When I was still serving and, later, which I worked close to the government, I, routinely, saw and used myself, ‘Canadian Eyes Only or, for example, ‘AUSCANZUKUS Eyes Only‘ to keep sensitive Canadian information away from all others or from just some others.
Mr Pugliese reminds us that “Canadian special forces are to receive three surveillance aircraft from the U.S. government. The planes are expected to arrive in spring 2022. The Beechcraft King Air planes … [similar to the one in the photo ⇒ which was used for training in November 2019] … to be based at CFB Trenton, will be outfitted with sensors and equipment to intercept cellphone and other electronic transmissions, and track individuals and vehicles on the ground. Canadian special forces and, potentially, other federal government departments and the RCMP will use the aircraft for missions overseas and in Canada … [and] … Canada is paying the U.S. government $188 million for the aircraft. The overall value of the project is estimated to be $247 million. The funding includes the acquisition of the aircraft and prime mission equipment from the U.S., and an initial portion of the associated in-service support of the planes. The main contractor is Beechcraft in Wichita, Kan … [but] … The maintenance plan for the sensitive equipment that only Americans can work on has yet to be put in place, but the Canadian military is hoping it won’t disrupt aircraft operations too much.“
He also notes that “Canadian aerospace firms had originally wanted to provide the aircraft and on-board equipment, and in 2013 a number of companies responded when the federal government initially outlined its need for such planes … [but] … the Canadian military decided it needed the planes more quickly than they believed Canadian companies could deliver. The military was also concerned there could be delays if the on-board sensor equipment used was subject to U.S. security regulations … [however] … The Canadian companies … felt they could meet the military’s needs with Canadian-made equipment that wouldn’t be covered by U.S. regulations, allowing Canada more flexibility … [but] … the Canadian government instead opted for the American-made solution, which had also been used by Canadian special forces in Afghanistan. The agreement for the aircraft was finalized on April 26, 2019 with the U.S. government.“
Caveat lector: I have been retired for a long time ~ it’s been over 20 tears since I took off my uniform and over 10 since I retired from the radiocommunications technology business ~ but I am quite confident that Canadian companies can provide everything that even the most specialized agencies might need. My guess is that Canadian officials were:
- Stampeded into a hasty purchase, possibly by their American counterparts; and
- Persuaded, again likely by their US counterparts, that only US equipment would do the job.
I saw those sorts of things when I was serving.
The essence of good security is compartmentalization ~ the “need to know” thing ~ the best way to keep a secret is to not tell it to anyone at all. The fewer people who know something the less likely it is to end up in the wrong hands. Hence ‘CANEYESONLY‘ and, in the USA, ‘NOFORN‘ designations are fairly commonplace … our allies have similar designations: ‘Australian Eyes Only,’ ‘UK Eyes Only,’ and so on. The problem with high security is that, by its very nature, it restricts the advice that one can seek about a project … if your project is very, very highly classified you may not even be allowed to ask Canadian companies who are not on a (short) list of “cleared” (by the government’s security establishment) companies if they can help you.
I am not surprised that we will use equipment that we cannot touch … it happened to me with British cryptographic equipment in the 1960s. I can say with absolute certainty that,
years decades later, Canada kept very high-tech secrets away from our US allies. It happens, it’s not surprising, but the Minister of National Defence should have directed his staff to replace that US equipment with suitable ~ probably ‘CANEYESONLY‘ Canadian made items as soon as possible.