Gap analysis: Did we get Canada’s security network right?

In the decade since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Canadian security and intelligence community has navigated tremendous change with much success. Canadian personnel have disrupted terrorist plots and Canada has not experienced a major attack since that day.

This success notwithstanding, is the community positioned to deal with an attack on the scale of 9/11 or even with other existing or emerging threats and risks? Does Canada currently have the right security network? Is it without significant gaps?

Since the events of 9/11, the Canadian government has attempted to create a tightly interconnected security network generated from the public sector across all levels of government, the private sector, NGOs and academia. The number of departments, agencies, organizations and individuals recognized as having a role to play in this comprehensive security approach has increased dramatically over the past decade. In addition, under an all-hazards approach, the threats and risks to be managed have been redefined to include not just terrorism, but also accidental and natural threats and hazards.

This expansion in both actors and problems has been coupled with a contraction in funding for academia and the public, private, and NGO sectors within the context of fiscal restraint and new government policies. Under conflicting conditions of expanded demands and reduced resources, has the newly formed Canadian security network developed sufficient capacity to identify and understand threats and risks, and do so with enough lead time to act effectively to mitigate them?

Weaknesses and gaps may be appearing in the network. The successful arrival of migrant ships with possible terrorist connections on the Canadian west coast and significant, disruptive cyber attacks on Canadian government computer systems are recent examples. Other gaps are beginning to be discussed more broadly within the community, such as the continued underdevelopment of intelligence theory in Canada, and a questioning of the validity of the intelligence cycle itself, in light of a more complex interplay among collection, analysis, “actioning” of intelligence, feedback, and even information sharing and foresight. There is confusion over whether radicalization should be addressed by focusing on groups or individuals, particularly after the attacks in Norway. There is also a lack of clarity over how targets of terrorism are being selected, including a disturbing new trend of targeting children in Norway, Beslan, Afghanistan, and Johor, Malaysia, and in the Chinese school attacks that were initially categorized as school shootings.

A number of other concerns are emerging. Increasingly problematic is non-state intelligence gathering enabled by the emergence of affordable technologies such as social media platforms, nano-technologies and the scaling-down of state-grade technologies. Hemispheric concerns are becoming increasingly relevant, particularly with the uncontained and spreading narco-crime war in Mexico and the recent unprecedented attack on Canadian interests abroad timed to coincide with Prime Minister Harper’s official visit to Colombia.

Arguably one of the most urgent concerns is a domestic one: public and government perceptions of populations. The Canadian public’s assessment of the level of risk and their confidence in and expectations of the security and intelligence community are not well understood. The unforeseen events in the Middle East and riots in France, Britain, and Vancouver have raised important questions about government capacity to read their own populations.

The Canadian Rangers program in the Arctic has been a success in generating public cooperation with government on security issues and increasing vigilance among citizens. By contrast, the U.S. has recently abandoned its colour-coded warning system. It is uncertain what longer-run effects, if any, the recent publication of lists of deported individuals and war criminals may have toward engaging Canadians and increasing public vigilance.

In addition to understanding the domestic population, the private sector’s views on security are only now beginning to be explored in depth, including the views of companies with foreign origins.

New government initiatives may have a positive effect on these challenges. Recent funding initiatives have been announced. The Kanishka Project, announced in June, is to be key to the Canadian counter-terrorism strategy. Significant funding for the Halifax International Security Forum was announced in September. Changes to Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funding are aimed at enhancing intelligence research. Canada has also taken a proactive posture in South-East Asia to disrupt migrant smuggling – a defence-in-depth strategy with similarities to U.S. forward basing in Central Asia earlier in the decade.

Whether these investments will adequately strengthen the current security network remains to be seen, and certainly merits further discussion.

Bonnie Butlin is deputy director of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies.

CONFERENCE
The Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies will host its 2011 International Conference on Security and Intelligence, New Frontiers in Security and Intelligence, on November 9-10 at the Fairmont Château Laurier Hotel in Ottawa (www.casis.ca).

Author: Bonnie Butlin from the Oct/Nov 2011 issue published

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