Case for a National Security Coordinator

Mar 15, 2012

As this issue of FrontLine Security forcefully demonstrates, when it comes to security related matters, co-ordination of activities is an essential element of success. This is so because the subject matter frequently involves both the private and public sector, all three levels of government and multiple inter-connected infrastructures or activities.

Put differently, notwithstanding the wishes of some for a single, all powerful, government entity that is in charge of everything, that's not reality and nor, thankfully, is it ever going to be. That does, however, create challenges.

The desire for a conscious co-ordination role has been expressed repeatedly since 9-11 by critical infrastructure operators and emergency responders whose responsibilities epitomize the multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional Canadian environment. While the federal government publicly endorses the concept of co-ordination, its tangible results are less impressive. It has been noted on more than one occasion that having the federal Department of Public Safety proclaim its 'leadership' on critical infrastructure protection and EM issues is not the same as actually assuming the responsibility for the co-ordination and the institutional accountability should such co-ordination not occur.

The broader issue of enhancing co-ordination of national security activities was a part of the current Government's 2006 security and criminal justice election platform when it proposed creating a National Security Commissioner to provide recommendations to Government on how to accomplish defined inter agency co-ordination. Despite impressive progress in completing other action items from this agenda, this important national security co-ordination issue remains unaddressed.

The subject was also addressed vigorously and at great length in June 2010 in the Air India Report from Justice Major, wherein the creation of an enhanced National Security Advisor was recommended. Not surprisingly, in light of the origin of the Review, it recommended a fully funded, Privy Council Office based National Security Advisor with operational responsibilities including resolving and reconciling intelligence with criminal evidence gathering. This was bluntly rejected by the Government in December 2010 as an inappropriate creation of yet another bureaucracy.

Less noticed, but potentially more significant, was a recommendation from Justice Major that the proposed National Security Advisor could also serve as both an experience based security policy generator and an accountability mechanism for Agencies and Departments tasked with national security responsibilities. Although less grandiose than what has been described as a national security "czar", this concept merits close examination because effective accountability enhances performance and targeted reforms can have immense systemic ramifications.

A National Security Coordinator of this nature would benefit from a clear mandate to ensure assigned Agency and Departmental responsibilities are carried out and that interagency co-ordination is accomplished as intended. The mandate should also include identifying problems to coordination of efforts, like claimed legal restrictions on information sharing, and reporting of non performance by Agencies or Departments assigned national security related responsibilities, such that senior officials can be required to explain their inaction.

It is interesting to contemplate how this approach might assist in our ongoing deficiencies in relation to an effective government wide and industry cyber security strategy or creating clear requirements, including who does what, for operators of critical infrastructure protection and providers of emergency management services. An entity with a clear 'report back' role might have already resolved why Canada still has no modern 'bad guy' lookout system deployed at our ports of entry despite a 2006 Government commitment to do so, and despite three years of 'study' by CBSA and the RCMP. With a substantively qualified and informed body that has an obligation to report deficiencies, foot dragging, risk aversion decision making and outright non performance will be reduced. Such a body would also go a long way to delivering fully resourced border related services like the Shiprider program and an intelligence led, joint force, mobile border patrol.

A National Security Coordinator so empowered and supported by representatives from defined Agencies and Departments would also be a natural forum for identification and potential resolution of inter Agency 'difficulties', especially when the failure to do so results in reporting to superiors rather than the quiet inappropriate toleration of the status quo.

Though less than what was contemplated by Justice Major, making coordination a measurable deliverable rather than a note on a power point presentation, this solution may, in fact, produce more tangible results. Such a National Security Coordinator would not have a direct operational role other than by making sure others discharged theirs and to identify when and why, should that not occur. Accordingly, the National Security Coordinator's office would have a dual responsibility to ensure national security directions from Government are carried out or reported back and to serve as an "auditing" mechanism on problems that need to be addressed, including entirely new or arising issues.

Canada has a long and relatively successful history of joint force operations in law enforcement related matters. This approach has quite properly been adopted in several national security related areas, albeit on an operational level. In light of our experiences, positive and negative, it's time to enhance that capacity through a National Security Coordinator with a defined follow up and reporting mandate.

Accountability is, after all, an incentive to performance and productivity. 

Scott Newark is a member of the FrontLine Security Editorial Board. This article reproduced with permission of
© FrontLine Security 2012