Mutual Problems and Joint Solutions

Sep 15, 2007

As this issue of FrontLine Security illustrates, the marine component of domestic security measures has never been as important for Canada as it is today. The reasons for this is, of course, are fairly obvious. Not only have we been named by Al Qaeda as meriting attack in their medieval Dar al Islam “vision” of what the world needs to look like, but we happen to be next door neighbours to the society they’ve declared to be ‘the Great Satan.’ Hence, while we figure out the best way to protect our own coasts, seaports and infrastructure, we need to pay special attention to our southern border and especially the South Coast of Canada.

The cold and clear reality is that, like it or not, when it comes to security, what we do (or don’t do) north of the 49th Parallel impacts security south of it.

In the days when America was simply the Land of the Free, and the intended address of people desperately seeking a better life, the ‘security’ ramifications of our legendary undefended (and largely porous) border for the U.S. were mostly Chinese spies and BC Bud. (In return, we got coke and fugitive killers avoiding Uncle Sparky, in a sort of forerunner to the Free Trade Agreement).

Unfor­tu­nately, while America is still a beacon of hope for millions of people fleeing tyranny, some of the tyrants (Islamic Terrorist Division) have resolved to bring their battle into the U.S. itself, which means gaining entry, and which potentially means… us. Put differently, while our two countries have had and have tolerated security vulnerabilities, the stakes have gone way up and we have to anticipate and act accordingly.

This doesn’t mean building a fence, or lining up battleships bow to stern from Thunder Bay to Cornwall. It does mean working cooperatively, and it especially means paying attention to the marine ­traffic on our mutual waterways. Have a look at a Canada-U.S. map if you have any doubt about the ‘mutuality’ concept.

This will range from common standards for marine cargo container scanning before containers arrive in our seaports, as now mandated in the U.S. Safe Port Act, to mutually acceptable port worker screening and bad guy lookouts. It will mean joint automated and analytical marine radar surveillance on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River system so that we both know who has just crossed the border or landed at an unapproved location, and we can do something about it.

This is a marine security approach that needs the capacity to track seadoos, snowmobiles, powerboats and zodiacs and not just intruding subs or warships (though that’s necessary too). Earlier this summer, the U.S. bagged a bunch of dope dealers who had brought 400 pounds of marijuana, undetected via rowboat, into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from St. Joseph’s Island. That could have been 400 pounds of ‘missing’ Russian plutonium in the rowboat and we can all imagine what the reaction would have been, especially if it was discovered after Detroit no longer existed. ‘What ifs’ aside, it is clearly in both our countries’ interest to cooperate and reach joint solutions to our mutual marine security challenges because that’s what they are; mutual problems with joint solutions.

As is so often the case, the place to begin is with existing information. Instead of just more security, we need better, intelligence-driven security. On the American side, this will mean tracking vessel traffic and responding to targets of interest. On the Canadian side, it will mean the same but with the rather important additional step of actually assigning personnel to perform the task. This is nothing less than finally creating – and funding – a fully empowered, properly trained and appropriately equipped marine enforcement and patrol capacity. Which logo is on the side of the boat or the chopper tail or pursuit vehicle door is not as important as making the decision to get the job done.

How about the Royal Canadian Border Services Mounted Coast Guard Ports Police Agency – or RCBSMCGPPA for short? Just kidding, but you get the picture.

While we’re at it, let’s admit that disbanding the Ports Police was a mistake and assign the RCBSMCGPPA (or its alternative) to Canadian seaports and end the cancerous grip organized crime has established, which might just help stem the flood of drugs and counterfeit goods into our country.

Who knows? With the RCBSMCGPPA in place, we could probably even find a way to enforce the Customs Act, and the Criminal Code, and put a dent in Hizballah’s bank account by stopping the export of stolen autos from our seaports.

In summary, keeping that border ‘undefended,’ in the classic militaristic sense, is both desirable and possible if we focus on keeping our mutual surveillance and intelligence eyes wide open – and by doing things jointly wherever possible. Far from compromising our sovereignty, we’ll actually be exercising it because after all… we are in this together.   

Formerly an Alberta Crown Prosecutor, Executive Director of the Canadian Police Association and Director of Operations for the D.C. based Investigative Project on Terrorism, Scott Newark has also served as a Security Policy Advisor to both the Ontario and Canadian Government and is currently the Vice Chair/Operations of the National Security Group in Ottawa.
© FrontLine Security 2007