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A new document released by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden explains how the NSA uses Canada as its spying errand boy. 

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports the NSA often works hand-in-hand with the Communications Security Establishment Canada, our northern neighbor's answer to the NSA, on a number of fronts. The two agencies have a "close co-operative relationship," the document states. While parts of the document establish Canada as its own separate spying operation, certain passages make clear the Canadians will perform at the beck-and-call of the much more powerful NSA. 

Canada occasionally opens "covert sites at the request of NSA," to surveil countries the U.S. cannot access, where polite Canadians are diplomatically welcome:

Thomas Drake, a former NSA executive turned whistleblower, says it's no surprise Canada would accede to the U.S. agency's requests: "That's been the case for years.

"Just think of certain foreign agreements or relationships that Canada actually enjoys that the United States doesn't, and under the cover of those relationships, guess what you can conduct? These kinds of secret surveillance or collection efforts."

In other words, Canada spied on its own allies and friends because America said so. 

The NSA has a budget roughly 80 times larger than their Canadian counterparts, so it's almost surprising they have to rely on the Canadians for anything. But the NSA says Canada "offers resources for advanced collection, processing and analysis," including exchanging equipment and occasionally human operatives. An American spy will work in Canada, while a Canadian will work in the U.S., like a college exchange program. 

And the Americans are gracious! There is always the danger that duplicitous Americans will make will give Canada a bad reputation and screw up that sweet access to other lands. But the NSA acknowledges that Canada "plays a very robust role in intelligence-gathering around the world in a way that has won respect from its American equivalents," the CBC reports. (Remember Argo? The Americans only got out of Iran with the help of Canada and their fake passports.) Just in case some Canadian spies, who have a shaky reputation as is, still need that validation. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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