Inside Canada’s Top-secret Billion-dollar Spy Palace for CSEC (Canadian NSA)

New intelligence headquarters has soaring atriums, grand staircases and filtered drinking fountains

Greg Weston
October 11, 2013

While the Harper government is preaching government austerity, it is spending almost $1.2 billion on a new Ottawa headquarters for a little-known military spy agency.

It’s the most expensive Canadian government building ever constructed.

Under tight security, CBC obtained an exclusive tour of the top secret complex that most Canadians will otherwise never get to see, a development even National Defence apparently thinks is so grandiose that the department dubbed the project “Camelot” in official documents.



When completed next year, the facility in suburban Ottawa will house the roughly 2,000 employees of the Communications Security Establishment Canada, a federal agency that spies mainly on foreigners by hacking into their computers, reading their email and intercepting their phone calls.

CSEC officially estimates the complex will cost $880 million. But sources close to the project say it will be closer to $1.2 billion by the time all the associated costs are tallied.The new CSEC headquarters will have more floor space than the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, and its cost would build several big city hospitals.

The developer has also been contracted to maintain the building and provide other services for another roughly $3 billion over the next 30 years.

It is virtually impossible for the media or taxpayers to verify the specifics of how all that money is actually being spent — almost everything to do with the project has been declared a matter of national security and stamped “secret.”

The former head of CSEC makes no apologies for what he calls an “architectural wonder” at public expense.



In a rare and wide-ranging interview exclusively with CBC, former CSEC chief John Adams spoke at length about the agency and its new headquarters, a project he oversaw from its inception until his retirement last year.

“Did it have to be an architectural wonder? No it didn’t,” Adams says.

“But, you know, glass in this [CBC] building is the same price as glass in that [CSEC] building.

“That building is just going to look an awful lot better than this building.…That facility is going to be quite magnificent.”

Atriums and high-tech glass — but no fireplace

The centrepiece of the complex has been aptly described as a massive glass skyscraper lying on its side.

CSEC officials say it will be filled with mainly common spaces such as soaring atriums, a cafeteria, library and meeting areas.



Contrary to Adams’s contention that glass is glass, a construction executive familiar with the CSEC project says the exterior panes that cover the building are all custom cut and part of a special mounting system, all of which is “far more expensive” than anything on a conventional office building.

Experts say the security features of the CSEC project are a major reason the price tag is so high.

The glass exterior, for instance, like virtually everything else in the new headquarters, comes with special security features to prevent other spies from spying on CSEC.

Every piece of material going into the construction of the building has to be inspected for possible spy bugs; every vehicle entering the site has to be searched.

All of the nearly 5,000 workers involved in the project have been cleared by security.

The former CSEC chief said the new facility would include a grand fireplace in one of the common areas.

Adams said one of the challenges at CSEC is how to get spies hunched over computer terminals “to relax and get together to just chat. So what I wanted was an area that would attract people.”

“How do you get them to gather? You have things there that will draw people. Fire draws people. It’s got a fireplace. People say that it is ostentatious. It is not ostentatious. A, It is part of the heat; and B, it is gas; and C, people will walk to the fire. And guess what? They are going to meet people that they would not otherwise see.”

Three hours after this story was posted online, two senior officials from CSEC’s public relations department contacted CBC News to say there will be “no fireplaces in the facility.”

Read More