Security Sitrep 2013: What's Right, What's Wrong

As we embark on 2013, it is timely to reflect on the state of the various components of the security sector in Canada including to note progress made and action required. To do that, it’s helpful to reflect on that which happened in 2012…and that which didn’t because for both reasons it was a year of great significance for safety and security issues in Canada. This factual analysis will also demonstrate what needs action now.

At the outset, it is clear that the Canadian security sector is multi-faceted with multiple entities involved. That, however, is a challenge that needs to be confronted and overcome rather than just conveniently being invoked as an ‘explanation’ for inaction. FrontLine Security and others have long advocated for a central coordinating body with a precise mandate from the highest authority (You Know Who) to ensure intended goals are achieved and when they’re not, that visible accountability is the result.

This glaring need was identified in stark terms with the Auditor General’s revelations of our glaring and continuing cyber vulnerabilities. Add to that the confirmation that Canada has blindly allowed suspect Chinese companies access to government and private sector contracting in the telecoms and computer parts sector which, to put it mildly, our friends and allies are openly warning are security threats. The good news is that Shared Services Canada has confirmed that its re-organization of the government’s e-mail systems will only be open to Canadian companies. Let’s hope that includes ensuring that the contract vetting process includes looking into who controls what company including what their relevant links and connections are. We are also in urgent need of a PM directed cyber audit that includes all relevant federal entities as well as the critical infrastructure and private sector and it should include independent cyber techies and policy wonks to ensure that the audit results translate into pragmatic deliverables.

Dealing with threats of espionage is another issue inextricably linked to cyber security, “business investment” and our new would be best friends in the Peoples’ Republic of China. Many of these issues converged in 2012 with Canadians and the media making more pointed inquiries than ever before about what China is actually seeking in Canada which, trust me, is a good thing.

This appears to have irritated the Chinese Ambassador to Canada, Zhang Junsai, who recently told Canadians to produce evidence of Chinese espionage or ‘shut up’. No problems Mr. Ambassador. Why don’t we start by reviewing the 1997 ‘Sidewinder’ Report on China’s improper activities in Canada and after that update it with a Sidewinder 2.0 investigation? When your bosses back in Beijing start howling in outrage about Sinophobia we’ll tell them it was your suggestion. For readers who’d like a head start, I’d suggest reading the original ‘Sidewinder’ report, which CSIS declared as ‘Secret’ and ordered all copies destroyed when, following political orders, it shut down the original investigation. CSIS efforts notwithstanding, you can access the Sidewinder Report through top secret methods called Googling it on the Internet.  

The revelations of cyber security deficiencies in 2012 included the vulnerabilities of Canada’s Critical Infrastructure, which has also been an ongoing and largely unaddressed subject of concern since 9/11. We’ve had enough ‘Strategies’ ‘Action Plans’ and ‘Working Toward’ the same commitments from Public Safety Canada. Holding a meeting or launching yet another ‘consultation’ is not the (self appointed) leadership that is needed. Public authorities need to work with industry to define specific security requirements and then figure out the best models for funding and enforcement, like the US did in 2004. Another task best assigned to the National Security Coordinator.

One area that has seen measurable progress is border security where the initiatives in the wonderfully detailed Beyond the Border Action Plan have started to roll out. On schedule, Canada and the US have completed an analysis of information sharing mechanisms as well as a collective border focused Capabilities Study and a Gaps and Vulnerability Analysis. 2013 will see the release of a joint strategy to resolve the agreed upon vulnerabilities and a host of other specific and tangible cross border improvements. As FrontLine originally predicted in 2011, before the Border Action Plan was released, the success of the Agreement would be in its details and that has proven to be true.

Other announced initiatives have also been launched (on schedule) including pilot tests of the ‘Exit-Entry’ cross border information sharing arrangement and the Integrated Cargo Security Strategy where cargo containers specially cleared at ‘perimeter’ ports (Prince Rupert and Montreal) and tracked thereafter are given expedited clearance at the Canada-US border. A very encouraging start.

Less encouraging, unfortunately, is the continuing self-exclusion of CBSA (now enshrined in law) from the cross border marine enforcement ‘Shiprider program’. For reasons which remain unclear, cross border deployment of the automated, analytical marine radar surveillance system in the St Lawrence-Great Lakes is still on the ‘to do’ list as well. This should be an action item in 2013 with, hopefully, CBSA officers on board those intelligence-led, intercepting vessels. 

CBSA is also still dithering on developing and deploying a face recognition biometric lookout system at Canada’s ports of entry. This risk averse inactivity is in stark contrast to the efforts of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who openly promotes the need for such a lookout system and indeed the commitments of the Beyond the Border Agreement itself. This needs to get done…now… and is another appropriate task for the recommended National Security Coordinator. 

Domestically, there is a continuing need for awareness and anticipation of the Islamist security threat within Canada that is potentially emboldened by the recent ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood and the emerging Caliphate. Hopefully, the RCMP personnel assigned to this task got the memo that terrorism is the attack dog of Islamic (and other groups) extremism and that you don’t have to apologize for arresting suspected terrorists during Ramadan. Brushing up on the subversion from within mantra of the Muslim Brotherhood and its spider web network of affiliates is also recommended.

The other internal security issue that is likely to see action this year is a comprehensive set of legislative and operational reforms dealing with high risk and repeat criminals. The justice system’s ‘revolving door’ approach to these chronic offenders is nothing short of wilful blindness, which the Harper government is well aware needs to be resolved. Self interested defense lawyer horror notwithstanding, the result will not be more people locked up but it will be keeping the right people locked up or under effective supervision longer. The other result will be safer streets and real cost savings because the dominant feature of crime in Canada is that a disproportionately small number of offenders are responsible for a disproportionately large volume of crime. This can’t come soon enough. 

Finally, 2013 should be the year when we finally see progress on database integration efforts which will be important for screening of persons seeking entry to Canada and the U.S and expediting low risk trade and travel especially through enhanced supply chain security. One lower profile but high importance application of database integration enhancements is the need to facilitate collection of unpaid fines in Canada which are now estimated to be approximately $2B. Yes…that’s with a ‘B’. Watch for special statutory ‘Safety and Security’ Funds’ into which these recovered funds will be paid with defined approved spending purposes which means potential non tax funding sources for the security improvements described above. What a concept… collecting debts owed from people who break our laws instead of raising taxes on people who obey them.

Security Sitrep 2013?
Much done… much more to do.

Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor and security advisor to Governments in Canada.
© Frontline Security 2013