The Business of Intelligence

Dec 15, 2013

The formidable array of speakers  included; Stephen Rigby, the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister; Richard Fadden, the Deputy Minister of National Defence; and Major-General Christian Rousseau, the Chief of Defence Intelligence, and Commander of Canadian Forces Intelligence Command. In addition, panels of eminent practitioners and trainers from the intelligence community provided other expert views.

CANIC 2013 was predicated on “the big idea” that Canadian government intelligence activity constitutes an overall Canadian Intelligence Enterprise (CIE), defined as the integrated, purposeful activity aimed at keeping Canada and Canadians safe by providing foresight that enables government, at all levels, to act with advantage against a wide spectrum of threats (natural and man-made) at home and abroad. As well, the supporting concept of an intelligence value chain was introduced, recognizing a wide array of relevant entities in the intelligence enterprise beyond traditional collectors and analysts. Many others in government, military, industry and academia play complementary roles in enhancing the intelligence enterprise.

The conference revealed a number of strategic influences affecting the future of the CIE. First, it was made clear that future intelligence development would continue to be impacted by the 2008 downturn in the global economy. Moreover, as a slow and uneven recovery continues to hinder any early return to strong economic growth, ongoing fiscal efforts to re-balance the books will constrain most government programs. As a result, intelligence organizations will be driven to adopt more ingenious ways of collaborating and cooperating.

Resource constraints will demand bureaucratic imagination (perhaps an oxymoron?) in the search for ways to, once again, “do more with less.” As the world gets more complex, the CIE enterprise must find simpler, yet more effective ways of dealing with it.

Another major influence comes from myriad challenges to global unipolarity and American hegemonic influence. Waning unipolarity is not only agitated by global economic weakness, it is also aggravated by troublesome instability across North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. However, even as American global power and influence has been relatively reduced over time, the United States (US) remains the single most powerful state on earth, capable of acting decisively where its vital interests are threatened. For Canada, this means our intelligence links with the U.S. and the Five Eyes (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) community will remain our principal intelligence relationships.

Finally, there was lament over the apparent lack of an active strategic culture in Canada, exemplified by the absence of an explicit national security policy and consequent national security strategy. Foreign and defence initiatives were said to be too often based on short term political expediency rather than guided by serious consideration of our national interests. It goes deeper. Concern was also expressed over the apparent privileging of partisan ideology over objective strategic assessment.

As former Clerk of the Privy Council Mel Cappe recently told a University of Ottawa audience, “Ideology doesn’t need analysis, and if you have the answers you don’t need questions, and that’s where we are these days.” 

As suggested by one panelist, part of the problem might lie in the structure of government. What was lacking, in his view, is a senior cabinet advisory body (that might be named the Canadian Office of National Assessments), which would be composed of a mature and eclectic, highly qualified group of expert analysts responsible for providing high level, broad, all-source strategic assessments to cabinet, to support government decision making. Such a body would be the ‘head office’ of the Canadian Intelligence Enterprise.

Objective policy advice may also be in short supply because there are too few independent think tanks in Canada, largely due to the lack of robust and interested sponsorship. It was pointedly noted that government had eliminated funding for the Security and Defence Forum (SDF), a program that helped Canadian universities sponsor courses and projects related to Canadian security and defence issues.

Conference presenters recognized that, within these troublesome circumstances, the threat spectrum facing Canada had not only grown in breadth and depth, it has now also become incredibly complex.

It is no longer sufficient for intelligence to find that ‘needle in a haystack.’ Intelligence is now expected to find any small piece of a specific needle anywhere in a field of haystacks. Where there once were straightforward ‘enemies,’ there are now adverse conditions, subversive influences and pathological ideologies proliferating throughout the traditional maritime, land and air domains of warfare and beyond, in the contemporary domains of space and cyberspace.

Modern cyber threats abound in all domains of warfare. According to Kent Schneider, President of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronic Association, writing in the October 2013 issue of Signal magazine, “Cyber has been identified in every part of the world as the number one threat arena.” It is perhaps the one uniquely ‘new’ dimension of the intelligence enterprise.

Cyber threats have brought about a technological blurring, even erasure, of domestic and foreign boundaries. At a July 2013 International Cyber Symposium hosted by U.S. Cyber Command, Sir David Omand, a former United Kingdom Intelligence and Security Coordinator, recently made a case for the creation of a new intelligence discipline dedicated to the exploitation of social media – Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT).

With social media, the message itself is far different than that delivered by other media. It is of a different order than simply looking at messages by individuals. Social media reveals group sentiments. Marketing firms, police departments and health agencies are already conducting SOCMINT-type analysis. It will not be long before ­governments begin to formally engage Social Media Intelligence.

Government intelligence organizations will require professional astuteness to explain appropriately their work against targets within Canada. On the other hand, Canadians at large will have to acquire a better understanding of intelligence methods being used on their behalf against all targets, foreign and domestic.

Government and parliamentary oversight and review mechanisms, if they are to enjoy popular support, will have to be made more open, transparent and understandable to average Canadians. The intelligence enterprise, as a whole, will have to take a more active and confident role in helping to educate Canadians about the value and legality of intelligence work within Canada. Conferences like CANIC 2013 could prove to be an important part of the solution.

Moreover, government or military establishments are not the only, or necessarily the principal, targets of cyber attacks. Canadian private sector companies, particularly those who own and operate the vast majority of Canadian critical infrastructure, are constantly under threat and frequently assaulted by cyber marauders. The need for a new and reinforced intelligence relationship between government and industry has never been more urgent. Industry will have to provide government with vital information on all cyber intrusions, so intelligence organizations can help deter and prevent future attacks on all Canadian or allied targets. Commercial businesses acting in this way exemplify the growing intelligence value chain in Canada. As with all intelligence work, this evolution will require elevated levels of trust on all sides.

One certainty hanging over the CIE is the fact that everyone in the intelligence value chain will eventually have to move on, to be replaced by future generations of practitioners and entrepreneurs. Government generally, and the CIE particularly, have a professional responsibility to prepare the next generation, but it seems little is being done in this regard. Government intelligence training and education activity is decidedly limited and grossly underfunded.

Only the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has an established intelligence school, the Canadian Forces School of Military Intelligence (CFSMI), to train serving personnel. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) have their own formal training programs. The Privy Council Office (PCO) conducts mixed distance learning/residential entry level and managerial intelligence training for a number of other government departments, but not to the same extent as the CAF, CSIS or CSEC.

More needs to be done by all. Military intelligence training programs are just adequate at the junior and mid-career levels, as are CSIS and CSEC programs. The PCO intelligence training program is less adequate at either level. More government interest and resources would help here. A troubling weakness across the entire CIE is the lack of serious and intense interdepartmental intelligence training for senior appointments at the Director/Lieutenant-Colonel level. It is most disappointing to note that no intelligence training is conducted at the Canada School of Public Service.

Perhaps even more egregious is the general lack of attention paid to advanced academic study of intelligence, and the absence of opportunities for intelligence professionals to pursue advanced degrees in such studies. Intelligence studies in Canada are anemic at best, due mainly to general public and government apathy. Apart from the respectable effort put forward by the War Studies program at the Royal Military College of Canada, and the Intelligence and National Security stream run by the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, intelligence-related courses are run only sporadically at other universities across Canada. Government sponsored students are few and far between. There has been some discussion in Canada, led by the Department of National Defence, about establishing a national intelligence academy that would cater to all government intelligence training and education requirements. However, such discussion has consistently foundered on issues of responsibility and resources.

More positively, defence research and development efforts related to intelligence is proceeding at world class standards. Traditional applied scientific research, providing technical solutions to intelligence problems, continues, examples of which are; studies of signal and image processing, probabilistic thinking, concept mapping and sense making. Concurrently, a second track acknowledges the need to keep defence scientists in contact with ‘real’ world issues at the tactical level, where solutions are demanded ‘now.’

As operations become more complex (were they ever simple?), they generate increased demand for estimative intelligence, something that has proved very ­difficult to sense remotely. The nature of tactical problems tends to render many mathematical and analysis techniques impotent. The challenge is to ensure our dominant intelligence technologies remain relevant and effective in all forms and at all levels of warfare. So, while defence scientists work to solve the most difficult and complex scientific problems facing the CIE, they must also remain in close contact with field headquarters, to provide what is needed in a practical sense. There must be optimal balance, between the laboratory and the field, in how defence science identifies and defines its research directions.

Reflecting on the substance of CANIC 2013 makes clear the fact that the CIE faces little that is genuinely new in the future.

Put ‘simply’, intelligence needs to be done more effectively, more efficiently, more imaginatively, even in the face of continuing fiscal constraint.

The emergence of modern cyber threats will make this work considerably more difficult. In all this, it is felt that the CIE will achieve its full potential only if it comes to grips with the need for institutionalized higher intelligence education programs, on a scale that approaches the study of law, medicine and commerce. Only then will there be a true intelligence profession, a necessary development to ensure government can act with advantage against all threats to the safety and security of Canada and Canadians. 

Dr. James Cox is a former Canadian Army Brigadier-General who completed a 38-year career in operational command and staff appointments. He later served as a Library of Parliament analyst supporting parliamentary committees dealing with security and defence issues. He holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada, teaches at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, and serves as Vice-President, Academic Affairs with the Canadian Military Intelligence Association.
© FrontLine Security 2013