OTTAWA (Reuters) - Foreign nations have stepped up their efforts to infiltrate Canada and steal valuable industrial, military and commercial secrets, the Canadian spy agency says in its latest annual report.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) also expressed concern about foreign interference in the country's domestic affairs, given Canada's multicultural makeup and large immigrant communities.
The report for the year 2007-2008 was quietly posted on the agency's website earlier this month with no publicity. No one at the agency was immediately available for comment.
"Foreign espionage -- the primary preoccupation of intelligence agencies right up until the 1990s -- continued unabated after (the) 9/11 (attacks on the United States). It is in fact growing and becoming even more sophisticated and aggressive through the application of new technologies," the report said.
Foreign spies are interested in sectors such as agriculture, biotechnology, communications, oil exploitation, mining, aerospace and control systems engineering, it said.
CSIS also noted that Canada -- as a member of NATO and the signatory to numerous defense agreements -- had access to military technologies through its allies.
"The advantages found in our open and prosperous industrial and private sectors that attract business and investment opportunities are also the same attractive attributes sought by foreign intelligence agencies, international criminal gangs and global terrorist organizations," it said.
Although the CSIS report did not name any countries trying to steal secrets, officials at the agency have said in the past that China is a prime suspect.
In 2006, the Conservative government announced it was very worried by the extent of Chinese industrial espionage. Beijing dismissed the charge as baseless.
In 2005, a Chinese defector alleged Beijing had more than 1,000 spies in Canada, in part to keep an eye on the large expatriate community.
The CSIS report says "foreign interference in domestic affairs, especially in multicultural societies with large immigrant communities such as ours, also remains an issue of concern."
CSIS said foreign agents used forged and false documentation as well as fake companies to enter the country, where they engage in "covert theft, source recruitment and handling, and intimidation of immigrant communities."
The report says the agency's main counter-terrorism priority is the threat posed by people inspired by the militant ideology of al Qaeda.
"Fortunately, to date nothing has matched the casualties inflicted in the 9/11 attacks, but this does not mean that the threat is disappearing. To become complacent or to spread a belief that Canada is immune from such threats could potentially have a tragic, devastating outcome," it said.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson