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What are the ‘Five Eyes’? As Canada accuses India, what you need to know about the intelligence alliance

Following Canada's accusation this week that agents with connections to the Indian government were responsible for the fatal shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Canada's Five Eyes allies have been reluctant to wade too deeply into the incident. Here's what you need to know about the intelligence alliance, and how it could help.

Accusation over Sikh activist’s slaying put Canada’s allies in uncomfortable position. But they can also help

Men in turbans are silhouetted in shadow in the foreground as others line up behind them at a Sikh funeral service.

Following Canada's accusation this week that agents with connections to the Indian government were responsible for the fatal shooting on Canadian soil of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Canada's Five Eyes allies have so far been reluctant to wade too deeply into the incident.

The CBC's Evan Dyer reported this week that Canada had already indicated to the U.S. and the U.K. during and immediately following the G20 summit in New Delhi earlier this month that Canada's already difficult relations with India were about to get even rockier.

The public accusation has put Canada's top allies in an uncomfortable position while the West tries to pull India into a closer relationship as a potential ally against China, with the U.S. even creating the so-called "quad" alliance between the U.S., India, Australia and Japan.

Intelligence and national security expert Wesley Wark says all of the partners — including Canada — are in the same boat.

"They all have a really significant interest in trying to maintain good relations with India, to try and advance economic ties, to try and advance military ties in the context of looking for ways to counter China's expansion in the Asia-Pacific arena," he said.

The U.S., however, denied it refused to support Canada after a Washington Post report said Ottawa had tried and failed to get itsfour top allies — known collectively with Canada as the Five Eyes — to publicly condemn the murder.

A senior U.S. administration official told CBC News, "In fact, we very clearly and very publicly have done the opposite by expressing deep concern shortly after PM Trudeau made the announcement."

Here's a brief reminder of what Canada's intelligence alliance is — and why it's especially important to Canada right now.

What is the Five Eyes alliance?

The Five Eyes is an intelligence sharing network made up of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Its roots date back to an alliance originally created in 1946 between the United States and the United Kingdom as a way to share intelligence signals.

It was expanded in 1948 to include Canada and in 1955 to include Australia and New Zealand.

Other countries, termed "third party partners," share information with the alliance but are not formal partners.

WATCH | What led Prime Minister Trudeau to link India to Nijjar's death:

What led Canada to accuse India of role in Sikh leader’s death

2 days ago

Duration 5:55

The National breaks down the factors and events leading up to the shooting death of Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Plus, former CSIS analyst Jessica Davis explains what needed to happen for Canada to accuse the Indian government of murder.

What do they do?

The Five Eyes pool resources and share intelligence with each other. As technology has changed through the decades, the way countries gather and share information has, too. Where once they may have relied on radio signals, today much of it is done through digital tracking and interception.

Not every country contributes equally.

"The Five Eyes have a lot of intelligence capabilities that Canada doesn't have," said Wark, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. "And in particular, that's true of the United States."

A recent report by David Johnston into foreign interference said Canada was a net beneficiary of the alliance, citing evidence that Canada "receives more from the Five Eyes alliance than it sends to that alliance."

Four Canadian agencies are involved with the Five Eyes:

  • Communications Security Establishment (CSE), formerly called the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC).
  • The RCMP.
  • Canadian Security Intelligence Servie (CSIS).
  • Canadian Forces Intelligence Command.
A grey and white sign reading Canadian Security Intelligence Service

What information do they share?

While initially formed to gather intelligence on other foreign countries, for decades little was known about what information the Five Eyes collected and kept.

That changed in 2013, with the massive leak of intelligence documents out of the U.S. National Security Agency by whistleblower Edward Snowden which revealed the five nations were not only spying on foreign countries and on each other — but also collecting and keeping data on their own citizens.

While U.S. President Barack Obama admitted at the time that U.S. intelligence agencies had perhaps gone too far in their spying, Australia's prime minister, a fellow Five-Eyer, made no such concessions.

"We should never, never apologize for doing what's necessary to protect ourselves and to help our friends and that's exactly the Five Eyes arrangements are designed to do," Tony Abbott said at the time.

WATCH | Family suspected Nijjar's death was politically motivated:

Sikh leader's son says he long suspected India had a role in father's death

2 days ago

Duration 0:54

Balraj Singh Nijjar, 21, told reporters that he felt a sense of relief after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said publicly that Canada has seen intelligence allegedly linking the Indian government to the killing of his father, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

In the current case involving India, could the Five Eyes help Canada?

Wark says Canada's Five Eyes partners could be an important source of additional or corroborating information to "whatever the Canadian intelligence evidence about [the death of Nijjar] might have been" including the personalities involved, methods of operations, signals intelligence intercepts or other forms of knowledge.

"[Canada] would be able to learn more from the intelligence available and knowledge available to Five Eyes intelligence agencies that would support their own investigation and confirm … whatever evidence base that Canada currently has about the Indian government's involvement and the degree of it," he said.

Richard Fadden, former CSIS director and national security adviser to Stephen Harper when he was prime minister, said the allies could also help Canada by applying political and diplomatic pressure on India to "make sure A) there's a cost to this and B) they never do this again."

WATCH | Fadden says no one in Canada can force India to co-operate with investigation:

Few options in search for answers on India killing allegations

2 days ago

Duration 1:54

Richard Fadden, a former CSIS director, says Canada's desire for accountability around the killing of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, is 'entirely reasonable.' But he says there are few options to actually hold India to account as the international system 'limits what we can do.'

Why would the other "eyes" be reluctant to more strongly support Canada on India right now?

Wark says Canada's allies are likely playing a bit of a waiting game, "just wanting to hear more from Canadian officials about what the Canadians know exactly and how their investigation is going."

He says it's pretty clear all the partners were briefed, probably up to the level of the national security and intelligence adviser, about the nature of Canadian suspicions about India's involvement, but that they will wait to make stronger statements "until the Canadians have advanced their own investigation and come up with more details that the Canadian government is willing to share publicly — and willing to allow our Five Eyes partners to share."

WATCH | Canada's accusation against India in detail:

Canada’s explosive accusation against India, line by line | About That

1 day ago

Duration 13:58

Andrew Chang breaks down Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's bombshell allegations in the House of Commons, accusing agents of the government of India of helping to kill Canadian citizen and Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.


Stephanie Hogan

Digital producer

Stephanie Hogan is a digital producer with CBC News, based in Toronto. She writes on a variety of subjects, with an interest in politics, health and the arts. She was previously political editor for The National and worked in various roles in TV and radio news.

    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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