Recent revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and Brazil-based Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald regarding widespread U.S. and allied cyberspying took a curious turn in early October, unexpectedly dragging Canadian miners into the mix and adding a degree of awkwardness to high-level diplomatic relations between Canada and Brazil.
In a story that’s still unfolding as we go to press, Greenwald teamed with reporter Sonia Bridi from the investigative program Fantastico to air a report on Brazil’s Globo TV network on Oct. 6 that the Canadian government’s low-key Communications Security Establishment Canada group in Ottawa, which bills itself as “Canada’s national cryptologic agency,” had surreptitiously monitored the communications of Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry by mapping internal phone, email and video conference metadata in a spying program code-named “Olympia” that also targeted other countries.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, already upset by previous news of U.S. spying on Brazil, called the program “unacceptable” and said industrial espionage was behind the effort. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, reacting from Malaysia, said he was “very concerned” by the revelations and would comment no further on “national security operations.”
Lower down the political chain, in the capital Brasilia, Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo summoned Canada’s ambassador to Brazil Jamal Khokhar for an explanation.
In 2011, the two-way trade and investment between Canada and Brazil stood at just $35 billion, and relations have generally been cordial. Our Canadian & American Mines Handbook lists 34 Canadian mining companies with projects in Brazil, and only a few — such as Kinross Gold, Yamana Gold and Colossus Minerals — have substantial assets there, and none of these are high profile enough to warrant much attention from the upper levels of the Canadian government. In the Great White North, Brazil’s chief foray into the mining sector has been its acquisition of Inco in 2006 — controversial at the time, of course, but a purchase that has since become a settled fact in this country, with few profound operational changes in the ensuing years.
And so the rationale for any such spying remains a bit of a head-scratcher, with some Canadian security specialists even suggesting that the metadata collection could have been an exercise.
The Fantastico exposé raises another round of questions about where exactly the line falls in Canada between national security and economic security in a highly competitive international trading environment where, for instance, sustained attacks by Chinese hackers are believed to have contributed to the demise of Canadian high-tech icon Nortel Networks.
Indeed, Brazil itself was caught in Montreal a few years ago spying on aircraft-maker Bombardier and engine-maker Pratt & Whitney — rivals of Brazilian government-controlled Embraer.
This could blow over in the months ahead, or it could inflict lasting damage to relations between the two countries.
Perhaps more significant in the longer term is Greenwald’s heads-up to CBC Radio that these revelations of Canadian spying are the “tip of the iceberg,” and that more are on the way.
• It seems every market has a few junior gold companies that are followed by retail investors with extra zeal. NovaGold Resources before the Barrick bid, and the single-mine Goldcorp of the late 1990s and early 2000s come to mind.
One company that enjoys this rare status today is Robert Quartermain’s Pretium Resources and its intriguing Brucejack mega-gold project in northwestern B.C., where the project’s Valley of the Kings area hosts an impressive probable reserve of 15.1 million tonnes grading 13.6 grams per tonne, or 6.6 million oz. gold.
And so, it was disturbing to learn on Oct. 9 that the prestigious and storied Toronto-based consulting firm Strathcona Mineral Services had resigned from the project as an independent Qualified Person to oversee and report on a 10,000-tonne bulk sample being taken at the site.
Investors were also dismayed, and drove the stock down more than 30% to $4.87 on the day, shaving off $219 million from Pretium’s market cap.
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