‘Non-Traditional Intelligence Collectors’: CSIS Warns Universities of Spy Tactics by Foreign States

By Isaac Teo
Isaac Teo
Isaac Teo
Isaac is a reporter based in Toronto.
July 27, 2021 Updated: July 27, 2021

Canada’s spy agency has been warning universities and researchers that their work is likely to be stolen by “non-traditional intelligence collectors” if they continue to encourage openness and international collaboration without paying enough attention to national security.

“You may unwittingly invite these non-traditional collectors into your front door, as you pursue business arrangements or R&D collaborations,” said a presentation titled “academic outreach” by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

The presentation was among documents obtained under access to information by the Globe and Mail, which reported on July 26 that CSIS “went into overdrive” last year to warn researchers and industry groups that they could be the targets of international espionage.

Those conducting the espionage could be scientists, researchers, and students who did not receive any formal intelligence training yet “know what is valuable and they are able to operate in business and research environments without raising suspicions.” 

CSIS said they might not be willing participants, as there are those who are “vulnerable to state demands” and being forced to conduct spy operations on behalf of the foreign state.

In its latest national security report in April, CSIS said some foreign states are taking advantage of the collaborative, transparent, and open nature of Canada’s government, economy, and society.

“In 2020, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, and other foreign states continued to covertly gather political, economic, and military information in Canada through targeted threat activities in support of their own state development goals,” the report said.

According to the documents obtained by the Globe, CSIS has actively met with over 230 Canada research and industry groups, and briefed more than 2,000 individuals of the potential theft of intellectual property through research collaboration with foreign states since the start of April 2020.

Universities Canada and biopharma laboratories were among those briefed by CSIS through the presentations. Sectors of particular concern include artificial intelligence and quantum computing that could have military application. 

The spy agency said it isn’t their intention to restrict international research collaboration, but wants universities, researchers, and laboratories to take on more responsibility in safeguarding against security threats.

Isaac Teo
Isaac Teo
Isaac is a reporter based in Toronto.