Former Nortel campus was subject of decade-long industrial espionage
A bird’s eye view of the former Nortel campus in Ottawa, bought by the Department of National Defence in 2010.
OTTAWA — Workers preparing the former Nortel complex as the new home for the Department of National Defence have discovered electronic eavesdropping devices, prompting new fears about the security of the facility.
It’s not clear whether the devices were recently planted or left over from an industrial espionage operation when Nortel occupied the complex.
Asked for details about the listening devices and whether they were still functioning, the DND responded with a statement to the Citizen that it takes security at its installations seriously.
The DND/CAF must maintain a safe and secure environment at all of its facilities
“The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces cannot provide any information regarding specific measures and tests undertaken to secure a location or facility for reasons of national security,” noted an email from DND spokeswoman Carole Brown. “The DND/CAF must maintain a safe and secure environment at all of its facilities, in order to maintain Canada’s security posture at home and abroad.”
Recently released DND documents, however, indicate that concerns about the security surrounding the former Nortel campus at 3500 Carling Ave. were raised last year.
A briefing document for then Defence Minister Peter MacKay warned that the public announcement the DND was moving into the complex before it could be properly secured created a major problem. “This not only raises the level of difficulty of verifying appropriate security safeguards in the future, it will probably dramatically increase security costs and cause delays to reach full operational capability,” MacKay was told in April 2012 by Canadian Forces security officers.
The briefing note was released under the Access to Information law.
Last year it was also revealed that Nortel had been the target of industrial espionage for almost a decade, with the main culprits thought to be hackers based in China. An internal security study by Nortel suggested that the hackers had been able to download research and development studies and business plans starting in 2000.
The hackers also placed spyware so deep into some employee computers it escaped detection, the Wall Street Journal reported last year.
The Conservative government has earmarked almost $1 billion for its plan to move military personnel and Department of National Defence staff to the former Nortel campus. That includes $208 million to buy the property, with an additional $790 million to be spent to renovate the buildings for DND’s needs, according to a presentation made to the Senate by Treasury Board officials. The cost to prepare the site involves everything from creating new offices to installing secure computer networks.
Recently, however, the federal government has noted it could be open to revisiting its plans to have the DND occupy the facility. Public Works has been considering whether other government departments might make their home there instead.
“Public Works and Government Services Canada is currently reviewing its plans for the renovation and future occupancy of the Carling Campus in light of the current environment of fiscal restraint to ensure that the use of the campus provides best value for taxpayers,” Brown added in her email.
The DND originally estimated the cost of preparing the Nortel site for its needs would be $633 million, according to department documents obtained by the Citizen through the Access to Information law.
Although DND is planning for the move, cabinet has not yet made the final decision authorizing the department to occupy the Nortel site.
Some have questioned the move at a time of cost-cutting, particularly since the DND will still continue to occupy key buildings such as its main headquarters, the Major-General George R. Pearkes Building on Colonel By Drive, as well as its facility on Star Top Road. The DND’s presence in the Louis St. Laurent Building, the National Printing Bureau building and the Hotel de Ville building in Gatineau will also continue.
The department has estimated it would save $50 million a year by moving many of its employees in the Ottawa area into the Nortel campus but it has not provided a breakdown on how it came up with that figure.
In justifying the move, the department noted it would save money through reduced cab fares, less need for commissionaires to guard offices and an atmosphere that allows people to work better together.
David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen
Published: September 30, 2013, 10:38 am
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