Protecting the Protectors (CFNCIU)

Sep 15, 2011

As the Canadian government’s largest employer – with a man- date for the Defence of Canada and possessing a wide array of high-technology equipment, weapons and sensitive information holdings – the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Forces (CF) are prime targets for espionage and other ­hostile activities from individuals, groups and organizations.

The Canadian Forces National Counter-Intelligence Unit (CFNCIU) exists to help protect the DND/CF from terrorism, espionage, sabotage, subversion and other security threats. Because the unit’s mandate requires a low profile, the ­CFNCIU is not always well known to companies and other ­organizations working with the Canadian defence community. Prior to 1997, security threat information collection, and counter-intelligence activities in support of defence organizations, were ­conducted by the Canadian Forces Special Investigation Unit (SIU) and controlled through military police channels.

From the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, a series of internal and external reviews looked at the SIU mandate with its mix of counter-intelligence and criminal ­investigative duties. As result, in 1997 the SIU was replaced with two new units: a criminal investigative service reporting through military police channels; and the CFNCIU reporting to the Chief of Defence Intelligence. A similar evolution took place within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the 1980s when its Security ­Service was disbanded and replaced by the newly created Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Since 1997, the dedicated military counter-intelligence professionals of the CFNCIU have operated around the clock to detect, investigate and counter a variety of contemporary security threats at home and abroad.

Espionage, sometime referred to as the world’s “second oldest profession,” has ­traditionally been a favoured method by which ­governments and other orga­nizations obtain military, diplomatic, scientific, econo­mic and other sensitive information, to gain an advantage over peers and competitors.

One might think that the end of the Cold War had significantly eased the threat to DND/CF from spying, but that is not the case. In the current global environment, espionage continues to be viewed by many countries and organizations as a relatively low-risk and low-cost way to broaden its technological base, improve its economic power and posture its security/military forces. Methodologies have evolved, with cyber-based espionage tactics increasingly being used alongside traditional “human intelligence” methods. As a high technology knowledge-based country with a military that is closely aligned to other western nations through bilateral and multilateral defence arrangements such as NORAD and NATO, Canada remains a prime target of foreign intelligence service collection efforts.

The CFNCIU works closely with other federal, provincial and municipal security and police agencies to identify, counter and ­mitigate hostile espionage activities against DND/CF interests and personnel. This includes a formal liaison program to exchange security threat information with its partners; a program that is aided by the unit’s designation as a federal “investigative body” pursuant to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. The unit conducts investigations whenever there is reason to believe that a threat to defence security exists, such as when highly classified information may have been compromised or in response to an attempt to ­penetrate CF/DND security measures. Such investigations are ­subject to rigorous oversight to ensure the techniques used are legal and proportional to the suspected threat. Since the unit has no law enforcement mandate, any criminal activity uncovered during a CFNCIU security investigation is shared with the appropriate police force of jurisdiction for follow-up in relation to evidence gathering and charges. CFNCIU investigations remain focused on determining if, and to what extent, a security threat is directed toward defence interests.

The unit also actively seeks to detect and counter the threat from foreign intelligence services, organizations or individuals who may be planning or engaged in sabotage, subversion or terrorist activities. In addition to its investigative activities, the unit provides specialized advice and counter-intelligence support to local military commanders and DND managers to help them carry out their Force Protection (FP) and Operational Security (OPSEC) responsibilities. For example, the CFNCIU provides supported commanders with task-tailored security vulnerability assessments to assist them in developing robust FP and OPSEC programs. Similarly, the unit ­collects information in support of security threat assessments which are used by commanders to plan and adjust their security posture.

The Canadian Forces National Counter-Intelligence Unit provides a critical capability in helping to safeguard the security of Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces personnel, material and information. Through their daily efforts in countering foreign interference and detecting threats that may endanger the defence community, unit members are very proud of the important role they play in protecting the organization and people entrusted with the defence of Canada.

A 26 veteran of the Canadian Forces Military Police Branch, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul M. Thobo-Carlsen assumed command of the CFNCIU in July 2010. He experience includes command of three different air base Security and Military Police units and a UN Military Police unit. He has worked at National Defence Headquarters and the Canadian Forces School of Intelligence and Security, and served on exchange duties with the United States Air Force. He previously served in the counter-intelligence field with the Canadian Forces Special Investigation Unit (SIU), the predecessor of the CFNCIU.
© FrontLine Security 2011