MSOC: Watching over Inland Waters

Dec 15, 2013

Newspapers were full with stories of how the RCMP, supported by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), had just prevented a “terrorist attack” at the BC Legislature on July 1st (Canada Day) 2013. These unfolding events provided a revealing background to my inquiries about Canada’s maritime security infrastructure, and were relevant to my inquiries on how culturally different federal departments work together efficiently.

Patrick Donovan, Great Lakes MSOC CCG Manager, examines a map of the MSOC area of responsibility.

The day the news broke, I met with S/Sgt. Steve Brown of the RCMP. As Site Commander of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway’s MSOC (Maritime Security Operations Centre) in Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario, he shared firsthand information about the modus operandi of a maritime security centre for internal waterways.

Critics of the MSOC model question the likelihood of insular and culturally different federal departments working together. The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), for example, is primarily a safety organization that also provides support to Canadian departments and agencies (including the RCMP) through the provision of ships and marine services. An example of this would be when RCMP officers are required for enforcement duties. Given this relationship, it seemed all the more appropriate that my interview also include Pat Donovan, the CCG Manager for the Great Lakes’ MSOC.

Securing an Open Society
The proposal for a maritime security infrastructure arose from a 2004 Privy Council Office report: Securing an Open Society: Canada’s National Security Policy in response to 9/11. After forming MSOCs on the East and West coast it was realized that such an entity would also be needed for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. Along this critical waterway that separates the U.S. and Canada, both sides have multiple ports and critical transportation corridors. These important trade conduits also represent a unique vulnerability in terms of smuggling and other criminal activity. The coastal MSOCs are administered by the Department of National Defence (DND), whereas the Great Lakes’ MSOC is administered by the RCMP which has federal jurisdiction over enforcement within Canada. These arrangements are likely influenced by the 1818 Rush Bagot Treaty between the U.S. and Canada following the War of 1812, which defined the Great Lakes as a “demilitarized zone”. This historic artifact notwithstanding, Canada’s three MSOCs are reported to work in unison.

Intelligence Operations
S/Sgt. Brown explains that the organization of the Centre is a co-location of five federal government agencies who are core partners of the MSOC: RCMP, Transport Canada (TC), Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and CCG. On the Great Lakes, the RCN serves as an extension of the East Coast MSOC. Each MSOC partner operates separately within their respective ­legislative authority and liaise with their respective national security components within their Agency, as warranted. Presently housed in a private corporate building, S/Sgt. Brown is looking forward to the new dedicated MSOC Headquarters being built nearby.

The “nerve centre” of the MSOC is the Watch Floor; a room that has practically wall-to-wall flat screen monitors that display the feeds coming from all parts of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The core partners coordinate their national security and local enforcement efforts, says S/Sgt. Brown. “Every morning we highlight the maritime events that are in progress and share information that has come our way about incidents ongoing. By 9 am all core partners have an appreciation of what is happening in the Great Lakes MSOC area of responsibility and address and follow-up on any issues that might affect their Agency.”

The Watch Floor provides the ability to focus on any part of the waterway from the St Lambert Locks near Montreal to the western tip of Lake Superior, near Thunder Bay. As S/Sgt. Brown explains, “Each partner recognizes how they can contribute to the marine intelligence picture being developed. These interactions add to the situational awareness being created and assessed. No one particular Agency oversees the management of the Watch Floor.” The Coast Guard staffs the Watch Floor on a 24/7 basis. In addition, the Navy works the Watch Floor on a 16/7 basis, from 0800-2400, 7 days a week. Pat Donovan notes that “each Department is responsible for bringing information to the table when any situation or location is under review without necessarily knowing who or what the information is required for.”

The following scenario is an example of such information sharing works: If a vessel of interest is being observed, TC may provide an account of the vessel’s travel log for its last ten ports of call and its compliance with Canadian maritime regulations and environmental laws when in Canadian waters. CBSA has access to a manifest of the cargo it is carrying and the names of its crew. CCG can provide a real-time account of the marine terrain it is passing through and where it is heading. These packets of information are provided without any need for an explanation of why the information is sought or for whom it is required. Pat Donovan stresses the cooperative position for all MSOC partners: “If I don’t know the answer, I know someone who does and I can quickly contact them.”

Describing the MSOC as functioning in a “horizontal leadership” format, S/Sgt. Brown explains that “Core partner agencies communicate with each other on an individual basis as need be. Our overall goal is to generate and disseminate accurate, coherent, relevant and timely situational awareness and actionable intelligence of the maritime domain in support of maritime security. This is a lofty goal that requires a broad government approach. We are five core agencies of government. Bringing us together to work in this environment requires a lot of government resources. Public Safety Canada oversees the project, we are careful to track and report all of the interactions around information sharing that go on between the five core departments. We are still in the project development stage and so the budgets and personnel have not been solidified. We are always looking at what we do and what we need to do in order to make it work better, thereby defining our best action plan for moving forward.”

Another critically important partner of the Great Lakes’ MSOC is the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC). This not-for-profit corporation was established by Seaway users and other interested parties to administer, manage and operate the portion of the system under Canadian jurisdiction, while the U.S.-based St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC) does the same for the U.S. segment.

Border Law Enforcement
Law enforcement on land between the Canada and U.S. border is managed on land through the Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBET) and on the water by Marine Security Enforcement Teams (MSET). The IBET is comprised of U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officers who work with local and state/provincial law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. MSET does not oversee law enforcement activities on the GL waterways but does participate as an equal partner with other marine units.

The MSETs patrol the Canadian side of the border on each of the Lakes. They have recently been equipped with three new 140 ft, Hero Class, Mid-Shore Patrol Vessels (MSPVs), which carry two rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) for interdiction and boarding requirements. The MSPVs are owned and crewed by CCG. Noting that, “MSET Police officers are very well trained, are very comfortable on the water, and they are veteran police officers with considerable experience of policing on land,” Pat Donovan explains. “It is the job of CCG to safely deliver the MSVP to where the RCMP’s senior officer wants to go. CCG is a civil organization, not mandated to conduct any law enforcement duties. Being familiar with the maritime domain, the CCG may caution against proposed actions on safety grounds but is committed to assisting the RCMP in the execution of their duties.” The Coast Guard Commanding Officer is responsible for safety of crew and vessel.

The past year has seen the introduction of the Shiprider Program to the Windsor area. This Program allows U.S. Coast Guard Officers to work on RCMP vessels and RCMP Officers to work on USCG vessels in order to enforce the laws of their respective jurisdictions as necessary. The Program is slated to operate in areas where the geography may encourage illicit transfer of contraband such as along the Detroit River. It is expected that this Program will eventually be introduced into the Kingston and Niagara regions as well.

The MSOC has no enforcement capacity on the Great Lakes. As S/Sgt. Brown explains: “There is no hierarchy among MSOC, MSET and Ship Rider. We all fall under the Criminal Operations Officer in London who oversees all of the RCMP criminal operations in O (Ontario) Division. The RCMP at MSOC reports to the O Division Intelligence Officer. If or when we come across information or intelligence that we feel our national security side of the house would benefit from, we will share where appropriate. The RCMP at Great Lakes MSOC gathers any or all information, whether it is National Security or organized crime based. Our mandate is situational awareness within our area of responsibility. We assist when requested and provide proactive information when we come across it as well.”

Transport Canada works with its partners in the MSOC to assess current and emerging threats to the marine transportation system in the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence Seaway system, which in turn supports TC’s regulatory oversight program. TC’s Director General of Marine Safety and Security chairs the Interdepartmental Marine Security Working Group (IMSWG), which is comprised of 17 federal departments and agencies with mandates for different aspects of marine security. The working group provides a forum for merging departmental maritime policies among federal Departments. TC Inspectors actively perform regulatory activities on the Great Lakes, which includes conducting security assessments, approving security plans, conducting inspections and participating in exercises.

Such duties increase TC’s ability to do surveillance and tracking of marine traffic in the Great Lakes in collaboration with the RCMP and the CCG.

Threat Assessment
The assessment of threats from within the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway falls under the mandate of the Great Lakes’ MSOC, and Transport Canada also provides a critical role in that. Domestically, TC will assess potential security threats to land and marine transportation systems. Internationally, TC participates in global intelligence networks, assessing information received from its global intelligence partners and from industry. Threat information is distributed when necessary. TC’s 96-hour Pre-Arrival Reports support decisions on a vessel’s worthiness to enter Canada.

Are Canadians Complacent?
There are many complex policy fields between the national component of maritime security and community law enforcement. The community mind set needed to rationalize these complexities is referred to as community peace of mind or CPOM. The primary purpose of CPOM is the optimal allocation of resources between achieving national security and enhancing secure communities.

CPOM is seen as a community based intelligence philosophy. The primary application of CPOM is in balancing resource allocation between achieving national security and enhancing healthy communities to provide “accurate, coherent, relevant and timely situation awareness and actionable intelligence.”

The Great Lakes MSOC demonstrates unique cooperative characteristics that satisfy this requirement. As part of Canada’s maritime defence that supports regional law enforcement, and in a world where the nation’s communities are threatened by transnational crime and acts of violence, the Great Lakes MSOC mitigates against external threats and local crime through interactive roles of key organizations.

Few will argue that Canadians traditionally take their security for granted; most are unaware of how fragile their community peace of mind is. It seems that a majority of Canadians doubt a terrorist attack will happen in Canada, however, S/Sgt. Brown believes that dynamic is changing. “I personally don’t think Canadians are ‘complacent’ these days. Social media plays a big part of that. I think the younger generation in particular is more aware of the way threats can impact their lives and is more aware of international situations when it comes to extremism and terrorism. The world is a much smaller place than it was before 9/11.”

Considering this view, and the fact that criminal elements are also utilizing technology to thwart policing efforts, the MSOC provides an effective organization of organizations that are all dedicated to keeping Canadians safe – which is arguably the most important responsibility of the Canadian government.

Seeing “security” as a determinant of healthy communities should make the concept of being secure more of a social value that needs to be resourced rather than taken it for granted.
Tim Lynch is a FrontLine Maritime Security correspondent based in Toronto.
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