Maritime Security
Working Toward Prevention
PETER AVIS
© 2004 FrontLine Defence (Vol 1, No 2)

Top decision-makers have to set the foundation for security. Prime Minister Paul Martin had the chance to do just that during the airing of the National’s Town Hall on 5 February 2004. And it came from a ­fascinating opportunity window. Ben Flodeau, a grade five student in Guelph, asked the Prime Minister what he would do if terrorists attacked the CN tower in Toronto. The PM answered, “I would… make sure that we had the defences in this country, the intelligence in this country, to prevent that kind of a thing happening.”

Several things jump out from this exchange. First of all, what a wonderfully informed question from a youngster. More importantly, as the Intelligence expert at Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, Dr. Martin Rudner, informs us, this is likely the first time that a Canadian Prime Minister has publicly uttered the words Intelligence and Prevention in the same sentence. Ever.

Recent research has shown that there is a problem with how intelligence assessments and warnings are handled on their way up through “channels” and how it enters top decision-makers’agendas. One area that illustrates this vulnerability is Canada’s national security process and, for the purposes of this article, the subordinate area of Maritime Security.

The increases in maritime crime on the world’s seaways have been well covered by the press over the last couple of years: pirates staged 445 attacks last year; 311 ships were illegally boarded; and 19 were high-jacked. More eerily, certain high-jacked ships were used as practice platforms for learning navigation and pilotage. Students at American merchant navigation schools have been arrested as terrorist suspects. It is now well-known that Al Queda itself owns approximately twenty medium to large-sized vessels – and a number of them are capable of reaching Canadian shores.

The decision to close down the large Alaskan port of Valdez when the U.S. assumed “Level Orange” in late December was a very significant event.

Based on serious warning information, the U.S. Coast Guard acted to protect a North American port from attack. And now Madrid has been added to the large number of U.S. allies attacked by Al Queda as softer targets. Suffice it to say that there is a convincing case to be made that international terrorism is at sea and active. And that Canada is not immune to the problem.

Since the struggle against international terrorists does not focus on sovereign states in particular, the battlespace becomes both local and federal, domestic and international, sensational and common place.

We know that, like guerilla warriors, terrorists own the timeline – it’s up to non-terrorists to disrupt that timeline. Since the battlespace is informational and ephemeral, it is not through over-powering physical means that we will neutralize their threat – it is through information superiority. Brains, not brawn.

It must be noted, however, that brawn is necessary as an expeditionary defence function to take the fight to the enemy and to react with force in the domestic forum of Canadian security; however, the emphasis in the new battlespace must necessarily be placed on finding the enemy and understanding his plan before he executes.

Evidence for these findings can be found in recent newscasts. The Reuters news agency reported on 4 March 2004 that the U.S. Coast Guard had arrested nine terror suspects after a 14-month investigation.

What is significant here is that Operation Drydock was a collaboration between the U.S. Coast Guard, Justice, Navy, and intelligence community. The Coast Guard had not been a part of the intelligence community prior to 9-11 – now they are.

The International Herald Tribune reported on 9 March 2004 that a two-year investigation code-named Operation Mont-Blanc had successfully led to the arrest of not just the infamous Khalid Shaik Mahommed in Pakistan but to a trail of dozens of terrorists and terrorist cells across three continents.

The key was to trace the use of cell phones with certain Swiss-made computer chips that Al Queda favoured. At least three planned attacks were averted in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. The recent Operation Canyon intercepted communications between Pakistan and London and led to arrests of terror suspects in London, and – here it is – in Ottawa, our nation’s capital. Brains, not brawn. British law enforcers seized the components of a huge explosive device and prevented an imminent attack. Disrupt the timeline. Prevent the event.

Canada has a part to play in this international Security and Intelligence transformation. Traditionally, we have been a nation that “reacts” to crises.

As Margaret Atwood points out in Survival, our literature records a nation that cleans up the mess after nature has attacked. Since there is no way of foreseeing natural events, we have learned to survive and proudly tell the tale. This is pretty close to the mark. Reflect on the Canadian reactions to the FLQ crisis, Air India, the Ice Storm, the power outage, SARS – even the Solicitor-General’s National Counter-Terrorism Plan is written to react to crises that have already happened. As Dr. Dan Middlemiss of Dalhousie University has stated “the ‘reaction culture’ puts too much demand on resources when a surge is required before and during emergencies. There is too much movement all at one time; no prioritization or risk management is possible.”

Senator Kenny is getting closer when he opens a recent report by saying: “The answer is, we simply cannot defend against the unforeseen. We simply must foresee. And we simply must defend.”

It has been two and a half years since 9-11, and despite Senator Kenny’s prodding, Canada has moved slowly. And as the Auditor General has recently stressed, too slowly. The government has chosen thus far to address the problem with changes to the law, meager additions to resources, and significant changes in government machinery.


Canadian Navy Captain, Mike Jellinek (right), was the Duty Watch Officer in the NORAD Command Center in Cheyenne Mountain on Sept. 11th, 2001. The broadening of NORAD to include Coastal Coordination centers, is one element towards better continental maritime security.

In two and a half years, we have seen the U.S. promulgate a National Security Strategy, a Homeland Security Strategy, and a Maritime Homeland Security Strategy. Australia has done the same. Canada cannot as yet boast anything like these crucial national documents. Without a formal national strategy, small pots of budget money spread across ravenous departments will never achieve the level of national security, or indeed maritime ­security, that Canadians deserve.

Thus, we have seen only modest improvements. Moreover, the existing documentation still exudes the pre-9-11 tone of reaction and consequence management. There is something missing – and it should be clear, by now, what that is.

Culture of Prevention
We have seen that the terrorist timeline, unlike nature, can be disrupted and stopped. We need a Culture of Prevention in government to force our nation, in concert with its allies, to establish information superiority over the terrorist networks. This will allow for preparation, heightened readiness, and defence before an attack – as well as dealing with the effects of ­violence after an attack.

The Culture of Prevention that is being proposed here takes form inside our nation’s public and private institutions. It is more than consequence management; it’s more than planning how to react when an attack is taking place or just about to take place. This is about pro-activity. This is about preventing an attack.

National Alertness
As Defence Minister Pratt has written, and Ward Elcock (the soon to be retiring head of CSIS) has stated, Canada more than ever needs an independent capability for foreign human intelligence. We need Canadian intelligence collectors in foreign maritime ports. Canada urgently needs to be a contributor to the global effort. Feeds from European and Asian allies would serve as early warning and tracking sources for maritime picture on international waters.

Domain awareness in Canadian waters would be regular and complete through a layered plan with means such as radar and satellite coverage. Using the resulting ­”recognized maritime picture,” an expanded and improved cadre of intelligence analysts could collaborate on the Maritime Manage­ment and Data Exchange System (MIMDEX) which will link into the cross-government classified network that Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan recently mentioned.

The Bi-National Planning Group in Colorado could provide links to the American maritime effort in American Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to improve the assessment and warning product.

Immigra­tion, Transport, Customs, and the RCMP, CSE, and CSIS, through McLellan’s new department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness would inject input from the port security and local-knowledge level through interconnected, interdepartmental coordination centres on the coasts and in the Great Lakes. Of course, Charter rights, the Privacy Act, and confidentiality regulations will have to be followed and likely adjusted.

Local issues in Canada would be resolved at local levels; however, key assessments must have the ability to make their way to the Integrated Threat Assess­ment Cell (ITAC) for broad national assess­ment in PCO. In the past, assessment has been filtered to the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM)-level and disseminated from there. There is no existing capability to brief specific warning intelligence.

American intelligence expert, Cynthia Grabo, states that a prevention culture can “only exist if the assessment product is trusted, and urgent action at any level can take place upon warning recommendation.” This is key to the national-level ­culture challenge in Canada.

The idea of creating an interdepartmental national coordination centre, possibly like the “Integrated Threat Response Centre” that Minister McLellan has recently mentioned, which links into the various regional coordination centres, is a good one and would assist federal decision-makers with a common operating ­picture for decisions that could entail military force or special operations.

Finally, reaction will need to be collaborative as well. The RCMP, Customs, and Immigration – and in extreme cases, the Maritime section of Joint Task Force Two (JTF2) or other Canadian Forces assets – would provide the necessary enforcement clout.

Alertness Implies Readiness
The military created a CANALERTCON system of staged military readiness for domestic security after 9-11. Other departments, including what was the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness (OCIPEP), created alert ­systems as well. However, none of them correspond to each other. A national system like the colour-code system of the U.S. does not exist in Canada. Staged readiness on a national level, used judiciously, would provide a system of risk-management that alerts government agencies, private agencies and citizens of an increasing possibility of threatening action. A ready populace, prepara­­tion of the battlespace, and a direct information route to top decision-makers would be crucial to success in such a scenario.

Canada needs to make a break from its past and adapt to the new battlespace. However, the $115 million a year from the recent budget will not even cover the needs of port security authorities. OK, we have some money – but no overarching plan as yet. It is likely that a second Memorandum to Cabinet on Maritime Security in the fall of 2004 will focus fresh effort on the blatant vulnerability gaps that exist in the Great Lakes and St Lawrence Seaway. Ideas that are circulating in Ottawa include coastal coordination of all Canadian government vessels and aircraft through DND’s Trinity and Athena Coordination Centres; interconnected, interdepartmental Coordination Centres including a new interdepartmental, and possibly bi-national, coordination centre for the Great Lakes; and a National Coordination Centre in Ottawa. Liaison with the International Joint Commission for Canadian and US inland waterways, dams, and canals is ongoing. Discussions on the security parameters for offshore exploitation platforms must continue and bear fruit. Finally, it has been written, “only through Islam will Islam be understood.” It seems that it’s time to actively recruit Muslim Canadians into our security and intelligence machinery to provide the richness of context that is sorely needed. After all, their Canadian families are facing the same threats.

Auditor General Fraser has it right – collaboration and information sharing are key. Before the government moves further in maritime security, the Culture of Prevention, as described in this article, needs to be adopted and incorporated along with crisis and consequence management in a National Security Strategy. Only when we have a Maritime Security Policy and a National Surveillance Plan will expenditure of budgeted money be optimized for maritime security. Moreover, maritime security must be given more attention in government – similar priority as air security, more staffing resources in departments, continued visibility in decision- makers’ agendas. The severe vulnerability gaps in the Great Lakes and other internal waters, foreign maritime intelligence collection, and national level coordination are urgent issues to rectify. A focus on building the confidence of top decision-makers in the Security and Intelligence product is required. With elections coming to Canada within the year, and terrorists encouraged by surprising results in Spain, what is to say that maritime transport will not be their next mode for pre-electoral terror. By using Brains not brawn, Canadians can adopt the Culture of Prevention into their National Security Strategy and Maritime Security Policy to ensure that the destructive timelines of international terrorists are severed before their operatives draw near to Canadian shores.

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Capt(N) Peter Avis was Director of Maritime Plans Operations and Readiness (homeland maritime security for the Navy) from the summer of 2001 through to the summer of 2003. He is presently working toward an MA in International Relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University.
© FrontLine Defence 2004

*The ideas expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and not necessarily those of DND.

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