By Tim Harper
Canadians may find it unseemly and some of the Brazilian outrage may be real, but no one should be shocked that we are today standing accused of spying.
We have certainly been targeted. Did we believe this was a one-way street?
It is also worth remembering the recent, sometimes frosty, history between Brasilia and Ottawa.
Yes, this is a worse blow to bilateral relations than the days when Brazilian restaurateurs poured Canadian whisky down the sewer and a cow was marched to the Canadian embassy.
That was all about alleged mad cow disease, banned Brazilian beef imports and lingering wounds over airline subsidies in place in both countries more than a decade ago.
This is even worse than the Brazilian tabloid allegations in 2011 that a visiting Stephen Harper had locked himself in a bathroom until officials agreed to hold toasts before a lunch with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
That was all about alleged tension between the two delegations as Harper sought to thaw a relationship which had left Canada largely shut out of the growing trade and investment opportunities in the blossoming Brazilian economy for a better part of a decade.
There are now 500 Canadian companies operating in Brazil, about 50 of them in the mining sector (where this country already has an unsavoury reputation in Latin America) and these are the companies that will face potential blowback from these allegations against Canada's electronic eavesdropping agency, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC).
In the meantime, Harper is going to have do some diplomatic genuflecting with Brazil because the rules of espionage in the post-Cold War era is that you don't get caught, and if you are, you must be rightly embarrassed and contrite.
If you are the victim, you act with outrage in a voice that can be heard globally (even if you are doing it yourself), but is really tailored for the home audience that will share your sense of victimization.
There is an independent watchdog over the CSEC - at least for another week.
Given the revelations around the U.S. National Security Agency and the Edward Snowden leaks, the oversight commissioner, Robert Décary, agreed to stay on for three more months beyond the end of his three-year mandate.
His last day is next Thursday.
Décary, a former Federal Court of Appeal judge, has a full-time staff of 11 (up from eight six years ago) and two "subject matter" experts whom he can call for specific cases.
But his mandate is primarily to guard the privacy of Canadians, who may have "unintentionally" had their communication intercepted while CSEC was targeting a foreign entity located outside Canada.
In his final report he said he couldn't tell whether Canadians had, in fact, been affected in that manner, because of incomplete and sloppy record-keeping by the agency.
However, he generally gave CSEC high marks for its performance and was specific about the use of metadata, the electronic mining that was used against Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry.
"In the case of metadata," DÈcary wrote, "I verify that it is collected and used by CSEC only for purposes of providing intelligence on foreign entities located outside Canada and to protect information infrastructures of importance to the government."
If, as has been reported, former Defence Minister Peter MacKay signed an order allowing metadata mining, then the CSEC was operating within its mandate, although Brazilian umbrage is easily understood.
Intelligence gleaned from Brazil's energy ministry would be considered of national importance for this government if it thought Brazilian exports threatened its national priority of getting Alberta tar sands to market.
Canada is a member of the so-called Five Eyes, the intelligence-sharing network of the English-speaking nations, but we could hardly have been expected to be the boy scout that keeps its eyes shut and its ears closed.
In an intriguing footnote, Décary is heading for the door with a plea for greater transparency on intelligence-gathering from Ottawa.
"I believe ... the security and intelligence agencies understand they can speak more openly about their work without betraying state secrets or compromising national security," he said.
"The greater the transparency, the less skeptical and cynical the public will be.
On a day when cynicism reigned - with more spying revelations expected - the timing of his call couldn't be better.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. email@example.com Twitter:@nutgraf1