MSOC: Guardians of the Gateways

Jul 15, 2011

The marine industry is an essential lifeline for so many of our daily needs. Annually, Canada’s commercial marine industry ­generates $10 billion in economic activity and $117 billion in international trade. It is responsible for 100,000 jobs that manage and move the 456 million tonnes of cargo annually.

About 90% of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry. The Round Table of International Shipping Associations claims that without international shipping “Half the world would starve and the other half would freeze!” It is recognized as the life blood of the global economy, without which intercontinental trade, the bulk transport of raw materials, and the availability of food and manufactured goods would simply be unaffordable, if not impossible.

The 50,000 merchant ships that constitute the world fleet are registered in over 150 nations, and are staffed by over a million seafarers of virtually every nationality. The continuously expanding seaborne trade of materials and goods benefits consumers through the industry’s competitive freight costs and increasing efficiency of shipping as a mode of transport.

But marine commerce is conducted against a backdrop that is anything but civilized and law-abiding. Seas that carry commerce are the same seas that can bring security challenges to Canada and Canadians. Our growing reliance on maritime trade and commerce bring increasingly serious security challenges.

These point to a global situation wherein the international community is clearly not enjoying the safe and peaceful world that was expected at the end of the Cold War. If anything, it indicates that the world has become far more sinister – the lawless wild-west on a global scale.

How does Canada respond to potential threats in the maritime domain? Security concerns are monitored by three Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOC) – one on each coast and a third, the Great Lakes (GL) MSOC, in Ontario. The coastal MSOCs are administratively supported by the Navy, and the GL-MSOC, through the collaborative decision-making of the core partners, is under the management of the RCMP. It must be noted, however, that the MSOCs are a “whole of government” operation, with the partners working collaboratively to develop a comprehensive maritime domain picture.

The establishment of these Centres is a result of the federal government’s 2004 national security policy, entitled “Securing An Open Society.” The policy outlines the broad scope of security, intelligence and public safety measures designed to protect Canadians against current and future security threats.

The policy placed a renewed focus on strengthening maritime security, which led to the initial establishment of two MSOCs in the Navy Dockyards in Halifax, Nova Scotia (currently supported by the East Coast Navy), and Esquimalt, British Columbia (supported by the West Coast Navy). A year later, the third MSOC was established for the Great Lakes, led by the RCMP and located in the Niagara region.

The National Security Policy (NSP) intends to: better track vessels operating in Canadian waters; increase surveillance; protect marine infrastructure; improve domestic and international cooperation; and provide warning of maritime threats to Canada.

Petty Officer First Class (PO1) Joseph Scheubel, a Sonar Operator and Underwater Warfare Director, operates the Torpedo Weapon Systems and directs all surface/air assets that defend HMCS Winnipeg against any threat of a submarine attack.

The MSOC is the physical and organizational embodiment of national inter-agency and interdepartmental capability with five core departmental partners:
–    Canada Border Services Agency
–    Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard;
–    Department of National Defence
–    Royal Canadian Mounted Police
–    Transport Canada.

The Marine Security Operations Centres’ mission is to develop maritime situational awareness through collaboration by the government agencies engaged in, or in support of, marine security. The MSOC partners collect and analyze information and intelligence, assist in the detection, assessment, and support of a coordinated response to a marine security threat, incident or significant marine event.

The MSOCs take maritime intelligence and operations information collected by the partner agencies and departments to be transformed into an integrated marine situational awareness and contingency planning product. They integrate this information into the total situational awareness picture used by decision-makers to resolve marine security threats.

When fully operational, the MSOCs will manage, analyze, exchange, and archive marine information, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data from various government agencies departments and assets. This will create a precise, coherent, and up to the minute picture of marine activity off Canada’s coastlines on the 24/7 basis.

Inputs feeding into the centers would include everything from surveillance assets (aircraft, ships, terrestrial radar, and space-based systems) to electronic vessel locator feeds, at-sea weather reports and open-source internet-provided marine vessel information services. The MSOCs will also be networked with Canadian Coast Guard’s vessel traffic and communications systems. Crucial information will be promptly exchanged so that all the agencies and departments are able to effectively respond to the constantly-changing national and international marine security environments.

The marine security operations centers will provide for greater marine security awareness on Canada’s three coasts and will help detect, assess, and respond to any threat to marine security that could adversely affect the safety, security, environment, or economy of Canada.

These include littoral and trans-national organized crime: drug trafficking, piracy, and migrant smuggling. They will merge information about terrorist activity, overfishing, and polluters to present a complete, common marine security picture that can be effectively exploited by all concerned federal, provincial, and municipal agencies, commissions, and departments.

Photo credit: Sgt Robert Comeau, Army News

Roots of MSOCs
The release of the National Security Policy on 27 April 2004 provided government direction to DND’s Maritime Operational Surveillance and Information Centers (MOSIC) Project to re-examine requirements and shift from what Halifax MSOC coordinator Lieutenant-Commander Ian Cook describes as a “Navy-centric focus to an emphasis on a domestic maritime inter-agency and interdepartmental capability.”

MOSIC began operations in 2002 under the sponsorship of the Chief of the Maritime Staff (Commander of the Canadian Navy) to capitalize on the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities of DND’s maritime intelligence and data fusion centers located on the east and west coasts. The project provided its consolidated reports to defence clients, using resources from within existing personnel, technology, and physical infrastructure. This transformed the Navy’s approach to collecting, managing, storing, displaying, and sharing maritime intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance information and data within an integrated information infrastructure.

This expansion of scope and interdepartmental participation resulted in a realization that the best approach was to use MOSIC as a foundation to retain the benefits, maintain the momentum gained, and leverage the work already completed.

The National Security Policy expanded the DND project into an inter-agency and interdepartmental program that will permit an assessment and evaluation of the concept of operations for the MSOCs. “The centres are virtually a living lab,” said Lieutenant-Commander Ian Cook, director of the Halifax MSOC. “We are working with real information and intelligence in real time to provide users with a comprehensive marine security picture that they can use to better protect Canada, Canadians and Canadian infrastructure.”

“Where you have federal departments with similar, competing or overlapping mandates, you could have gaps opening up in our security,” said LCdr Cook. “And this is what the bad guys exploit. Our objective is to reduce these gaps, if not eliminate them.”

MSOC is only concerned with surface traffic; the sub-surface is a military responsibility. Not actually an operations centre, the three MSOCs comprise a centre for the collection, fusion and analysis of information that endeavours to provide a complete picture of Canada’s maritime regions. Each partner brings to the Centre specific, departmental resources, communications and interaction.

The Centres are the embodiment of interdepartmental collaboration for maritime security. They are leading the way towards effective, controlled and trusted information-sharing, using the proposed Integrated Information Environment (IIE), which combines technology, processes, and people. The IIE will enable the MSOC partners to share information in real-time and allow for the automated analysis of information, significantly improving the ability to warn of potential threats from Canada’s seaward approaches. This MSOC solution is transformational and will provide a model to lead the way for an automated interagency information collaboration solution.

DND, through the resources of Navy’s two coastal components, provides specialized intelligence analysts, an information fusion process, infrastructure and an established and proven reporting process.

In the case of ship-borne illegal immigrants, the MSOC can initiate an investigation by the RCMP, alert the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and provide early warning to the CBSA. When circumstances permit this information to be shared, action can be taken by an individual department, such as CBSA or DND, or it may be the subject of collective action.

Each MSOC has a unique set of considerations to which it must be mindful.

On the Atlantic coast, many ships have to pass through the pirate-infested waters of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, and may attempt to carry into Canada unwanted cargo and passengers.

The Pacific coast has the unique situation of the primary access point of the Straits of Juan de Fuca (a waterway shared with the United States) to Vancouver, Canada’s busiest port.

The Great Lakes is also a shared waterway with the U.S., with bilateral agreements and Canadian legislation circumscribing the capability of the Canadian Navy’s operations. The small vessel threat is a major concern and focus for the Great Lakes MSOC.

The Great Lakes MSOC area of responsibility comprises of 2000 km of Canada/US marine border including 244,000 square km of water. There are approximately 5.4 million pleasure crafts on the Great Lakes and 400-500 commercial vessels that travel the waterways daily during the shipping season. The Great Lakes are the heartland of Canada and the U.S. which includes a 34,000,000 population within the Great Lakes basin.

Information sharing
The MSOC is a mechanism to allow information sharing between departments. It is a capability made possible by the cooperation and collaboration of the five partner departments and agencies. However, there are legal boundaries that may restrict which information can be shared.

The goal in establishing the MSOC infrastructure is to ultimately establish an Integrated Information Environment to allow a complete information exchange on a common communications backbone system that automatically circulates selected information to all partners on the MSOC’s own proprietary system. Currently, however, the information comes in on the individual partner proprietary systems, and these partners share information based on departmental protocols.

“Each partner department has specific regulations that kick in concerning information that is collected by that department and mandates how that information must be safeguarded by that department,” said LCdr Cook. “This is one of the purposes of the MSOC project – to identify these information-sharing challenges and formulate how they can be addressed and resolved. Different partners may have different requirements as to how they must handle certain information. These requirements will determine whether the information can be shared with the MSOC partners or whether that partner will respond to the information within its own departmental mandate.”

MSOC is a misnomer. It’s really a center to gather information and intelligence, to analyze it and pass it to the appropriate agency for decision-making.

As an autonomous and self-tasking agency, it responds to situations that have a security component. MSOC partners share a broad range of information that allows them to focus on a variety of indicators. A vessel’s last port of call is one of a variety of indicators it examines. Some ports are more of a security concern to Canada than others. As a ship arrives in the Canadian area of responsibility, the MSOC looks at its history – including its port of departure. A threat assessment group comprising senior personnel from five partners assists with the analysis.

Canada is aware of merchant traffic coming to either coast, sometimes months in advance, as a result of CBSA’s and TC’s regulatory mandates. The MSOCs have access to this information and focus on vessels when they are within 96 hours of arrival in a Canadian port.

Although the project has been under DND leadership since inception, which agency or department will ultimately be the lead for the operations and output of the MSOCs remains to be seen. With the potential for future legislative and policy changes comes the increased likelihood that DND could be called upon to transfer the leadership role to another Department or Agency.

For instance, departments and agencies bring separate resources and their own mandates to their work at the MSOC. While the intent is information sharing, there are strict guidelines which must be followed that circumscribe which information can be shared and which must be safeguarded. Only information that can be shared legally is being distributed among the core partners.

As a case in point, should the RCMP be conducting a criminal investigation about the activities of individuals and groups that may be of interest to other recipients, RCMP authorities may be required to keep this information close hold.

The MSOC Project recognizes that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Privacy Act must be taken into account when collecting, using and sharing information. Legal authority for the Marine Security Operations Centres partners to collect, use and share marine security related information is being reviewed by the Interdepartmental Marine Security Working Group (IMSWG) Legal Committee to ensure mitigation of risks. In the interim, the project is pursuing a solution that will conform to existing law and policy, but will have a flexible, adaptable and accredited information exchange architecture that can adapt to legal and policy constraints or changes over time.

Another issue is acquisition of the right software package to support the integrated information environment. The MSOCs have some off-the-shelf software, but the complete package is not yet finalized.

Other questions remain unanswered for the moment. Do the MSOCs have the right partner mix yet? The current partner group is achieving good things, but should there be more or different partners in the MSOC to enhance marine security picture? For instance, should CSIS or CSEC be involved? Both are autonomously operating agencies with their own mandates that may not permit easy integration, or may pre-empt their involvement entirely.

“How do we measure success?” asks LCdr Cook philosophically, alluding to the inherent problems of trying to gauge the effectiveness of the MSOC. “As we get better at what we do, we realize that there is much more to be done.” The absence of successful marine security threats in Canada may mean that the MSOCs are supremely successful at what they do – or it may mean that there are few threats, a thin possibility at best, in view of the many instances of domestic and international concerns.

“The MSOCs have been providing real operational value to the protection of Canadians by leveraging the capability, capacity and authority of the partnering departments and agencies to enhance marine security through the collaborative detection, assessment, and warning, thereby supporting responses to threats that challenge our nation’s security from our seaward approaches,” notes LCdr Jay McLay, Project Director for Maritime Security.

The project has completed the definition phase and is expected to receive Treasury Board approval to move into the implementation phase early this year.

“This important milestone will provide the project with the authority to advance the implementation of an Integrated Information Environment, which is being designed to expedite the generation and dissemination of accurate, coherent, relevant and timely information while respecting existing legislative and policy mandates and being sufficiently flexible and adaptable to accommodate future changes in policy and legislation,” said LCdr McLay.  

Tim Dunne, FrontLine’s Maritime correspondent, is based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
© FrontLine Security 2011