Was Nortel's Ottawa Campus bugged?

The Rideau Canada Department of National Defence
The Rideau Canada Department of National Defence

On Monday of this week the Ottawa Citizen reported that listening devices had been found in the former Nortel campus in Ottawa. The campus is due to be occupied by the DND at a total cost of around $1 billion. "Sources say the bugs are believed to have been planted when Nortel occupied the campus," reports the newspaper.

Requests for details from the DND at first received little more than a 'no comment' response. On Tuesday, however, Julie Di Mambro, spokeswoman for defense minister Rob Nicholson, said in an email, "Security officials have assured us that they have not discovered any bugs or listening devices. Our government continues to be vigilant when it comes to maintaining the security of information and personnel.”

But the newspaper has not backed down, saying "Former Nortel employees have contacted the Citizen to say that the listening devices were found when Department of National Defence officials did their initial security sweeps of the facility, purchased for DND’s new home." It also points to warnings from Canadian Forces security officers in April 2012 who were concerned "that the public announcement that the DND was moving into the complex before it could be properly secured created a major problem."

If the Citizen's concerns are accurate, the finger will not be pointed at the NSA. Canada is a member of the Five Eyes group and has a close working relationship with the NSA. Instead, suspicion will undoubtedly fall on China, already suspected of major intrusions into Nortel's systems while the company was still active.

By Wednesday, China Watch Canada (CWC) published details of an interview with Brian Shields, a former Nortel security adviser. “Hackers are what brought Nortel down,” said Shields. The intrusion was discovered in 2004 when an employee noticed what looked like an executive trying to download his documents. 

Although it looked legitimate, it turned out that hackers had stolen seven executive passwords including those of the CEO and a senior vice president, and that they had been in the system for an unknown period.

"Shields says he suspects the hackers were Chinese because a Chinese competitor suddenly started offering cheaper products and services that erased Nortel's income," reports CWC. 

The Citizen also makes the connection, although not accusation, with China. Still not backing down on its original story about the bugs, it wrote yesterday, "I remember when the former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service informed Canadians that the Chinese were involved in spying activities a while back the cries of rightish indignation from the opposition parties could be heard loud and wide.

"Now that listening devices have been discovered in the former Department of National Defence building that DND is scheduled to move into, it seems that this is becoming a political issue." It's not clear if the paper is here referring to a different building, or describing the Nortel campus as a former DND building – but it adds, "As for the bugs, they surely can be located and extracted, slowing down but not permanently stopping the move by DND into the Nortel building."

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