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Maritime Security

Boarding party

DND photo HS2004-6031-03 by Master Corporal Colin Kelley

HMCS Toronto’s boarding team returns to the ship after searching the “dhow” style fishing vessel for evidence connecting them to terrorism.

Canadian Maritime Security And The Culture Of Prevention

by Captain(N) Peter Avis and Iain Grant

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Top national decision-makers have to set the foundation for culture in our government. Prime Minister Paul Martin had the chance to do some culture building during the airing of The National’s Town Hall on 5 February 2004, and it originated 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, this was 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.

The recent promulgation of the National Security Policy was also a historic opportunity to change the security culture of Canada. As a first-time effort, it represents a step in the right direction for policy in this most important area. Nevertheless, there is much refining to be done and important ideas to be considered before our security policy-makers can rest. This article will reflect our intention to stimulate debate in both government and private circles concerning a new direction for Canadian security and the National Security Policy. Utilizing both regional and federal perspectives, we will attempt to make the case for a much more pro-active stance in Canadian national security that will be required to contend with a greatly changed threat environment.

The Terrorist Changed the Battle Space

An increase in piracy and maritime crime on the world’s seaways has been well documented during recent years. Pirates staged 234 attacks in the first half of 2003 – nineteen ships were hijacked and there were sixteen deaths reported.1 Even more disturbingly, some of the hijacked ships were used as practice platforms for learning navigation and pilotage.2 Further, some of the students at American merchant navigation schools have been arrested as terrorist suspects. Also, it is now well-known that Al Qaida 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 United States assumed alert state Level Orange in late December was a very significant event. Based upon serious warning information, the US Coast Guard acted to protect a North American port from terrorist attack – either by air or sea. And now, with the Madrid bombings, Spain has been added to the large number of America’s allies attacked by Al Qaida as softer targets. There is a convincing case to be made that international terrorism is now also on the high seas and active. And Canada is not immune.

Since the struggle against international terrorists does not focus on sovereign states in particular, the battle space becomes both local and federal, domestic and international, sensational and commonplace. We know that, similar to guerrilla warriors, terrorists own the time line, and it is up to those opposing them to disrupt that time line. Since the battle space is informational and ephemeral, it is not through overpowering physical means that we will be able to neutralize their threat. It is through information superiority; simply put, with 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 once the enemy is located.

However, the emphasis in regard to this new battle space must necessarily be placed upon finding the terrorist and understanding his plan prior to its execution. Supporting evidence for these views can be found in recent newscasts. On 4 March 2004, the Reuters News Agency reported that the US Coast Guard had arrested nine terror suspects after a fourteen-month investigation.3 What is significant here is that the investigation, code-named Operation Drydock, was a collaboration between the Coast Guard, the Justice Department, the US Navy, and the US intelligence community. The Coast Guard had not been a formal part of the intelligence community prior to 9/11, but that is no longer the case, and it has yielded results. On 9 March 2004, the International Herald Tribune reported that a two-year investigation, code-named Operation Mont-Blanc, had successfully led to the arrest of the infamous Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan, and had also yielded a trail of dozens of terrorists and terrorist cells located across three continents.4 The key was to trace the use of cellular telephones with certain Swiss-made computer chips that Al Qaida favoured. As a consequence, 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 in Ottawa, our nation’s capital. British law enforcement agencies seized the components of a huge explosive device and prevented an imminent attack. They disrupted the time line, thereby preventing the terrorist event.

Canada’s Progress

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 pointed out in her book, Survival, Canadian literature tends to chronicle a nation that cleans up messes after nature has attacked. Since there is frequently no way of foreseeing natural events, Canadians have learned to survive and then proudly to tell the tale.5 This analogy is, in our view, fairly close to the mark. If one reflects upon the Canadian reactions to the FLQ crisis, Air India, the Ice Storm, the power outage, SARS and even the Solicitor-General’s National Counter-Terrorism Plan, a general pattern of reaction to crises that have already happened can be determined. As one observer 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.”6 Senator Colin Kenny, Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, was even more specific when he opened a recent report by saying: “The answer is, we simply cannot defend against the unforeseen. We simply must foresee. And we simply must defend.”7

HMCS Regina

DND photo IS2003-2328a by Master Corporal Frank Hudec

HMCS Regina’s searchlight illuminates a suspect vessel prior to a night boarding in the Gulf of Oman.

Some solid progress has been made in the form of the new National Security Policy and the Public Safety Act. Many threads of the security and intelligence systems are being spliced into an overarching strategy, but the splicing is far from complete. The government has chosen thus far to address the problem through several changes to the law, generous additions to resources, and significant changes to government machinery. The long-awaited National Security Policy is a godsend in that it starts to solidify the Canadian definition for national security, and it also gives the National Security Advisor a mandate. The Public Safety Act in Bill C-7 enhances information sharing with respect to air security, and, importantly, it enables security funding for port authorities by the government. However, there was no mention of maritime information sharing in the Act – a significant opportunity missed. Several departments have had their mandates adjusted, but for different elements of the problem. On the resources front, there was an initial surge of government interest. Individual projects in Canada Customs, Transportation and other departments dealt with the air sector and with cross-border concerns. Also, the Interdepartmental Marine Security Working Group put forward a Marine Security Plan to Cabinet that proposed an initial concentration on perimeter security through domain awareness, collaboration, the safeguarding of ports, and responsiveness. This effort was rewarded with a modest $172 million in funding, meted out over five years, to advance maritime security. However, that plan was supposed to have been just the beginning. Once perimeter security was underway, concerns inside the perimeter were supposed to have been addressed immediately, followed by similar initiatives for the Arctic region. This has not happened. Although there is work being done to move forward later this year, policy formulation has moved at a snail’s pace. Memoranda to Cabinet that focus upon procurement of separate pieces of security machinery are just not the same as policy.

The Culture of Prevention

Dr. Dan Middlemiss, an acknowledged expert in the field, told Senator Kenny’s Standing Committee: “If we simply rely on ... the interdepartmental groups that are working to find the gaps, they will, and then nothing more will happenbecause nothing has ever happened again in the past. We need policy.”8 In two-and-a-half years, we have seen the United States promulgate a National Security Strategy, a Homeland Security Strategy, and a Maritime Homeland Security Strategy. Canada cannot as yet boast more than an initial offering of a National Security Policy. Without a formal maritime policy or, if preferred, a strategy that is linked to a mature National Security Policy, small pots of budget money spread across ravenous departments will never achieve the level of national security, or, indeed, the maritime security that Canadians deserve.

We have certainly witnessed some honest, wide-ranging improvements. However, these initiatives still exude a pre-9/11 tone of reaction and consequence management. There is something missing. We have seen that the terrorist, unlike nature, can be disrupted and stopped. His time line can be interrupted. He can be countered through information superiority. We need a culture of prevention in government to enable our nation, in concert with its allies, to establish information mastery over the terrorist networks. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as some would care to believe. One of the primary challenges to such a capability is the necessary elements of law enforcement and intelligence as they impact upon disclosure and legal prosecution in the context of national security. The American variant of this culture, as championed by former US Attorney-General John Ashcroft, is different due to its linkage to the Patriot Act, which has the ability to interpret criminal activity as wartime aggression.9 The Canadian version will have to navigate the Charter and privacy laws to deal with terrorist threats to Canada.

Thus, in the Canadian context, a culture of prevention 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 is 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 stopping an attack from happening in Canada.

Regional Maritime Security Issues and Requirements

While a regional security posture lacking federal sanction would be fleeting and ineffective, a federally defined posture that did not take careful account of regional requirements would not be much better. We will now explore those requirements, and suggest some possible ways in which we might conceptualize Canada’s maritime security needs at the regional level.

Some would consider it fanciful to experiment with conceptual models when there is existing work to be done. It is a fair concern, given the clear requirements for some form of action. Canadians have awaited the development of a coherent maritime security posture, and, if various agencies have apparently ‘put the cart before the horse’ by engaging in due-diligence measures – such as port fencing – they can hardly be blamed. The proximity of the threat that once seemed so distant has demanded that such steps be taken without waiting for an over-arching national policy.

Now, however, we are ready to move beyond stopgap measures toward the development of a longer-term posture. It is not a simple matter – layers of complicated questions muddy the waters to such an extent that our most pressing need might now beto take a step back, reduce the issue to fundamentals, and identify a set of ordering principles to serve as a starting point in the development of a viable and effective maritime security posture. We will now argue that four such structuring or ordering principles exist within the concepts of Severity, Time, Complexity and ‘Attachability.’ Each of these will be explored in some detail, and a set of regional arrangements that derive directly from these principles will be advanced, with a focus upon crisis response. It is important to note that this is not a plan, but an idea aimed at generating discussion – at suggesting the beginnings of a solution to one of the nation’s most challenging problems.

Four Ordering Principles for a Maritime Security Solution

Temporally and developmentally speaking, we are situated between the challenge posed to us on 9/11 and some future maritime security posture. Given the obvious need to tailor our solution to the threat from which we are trying to make ourselves secure, we need to identify the defining features of that threat – those structuring or ordering principles previously mentioned. The term ‘ordering principle’ is used here with hesitation – such status might require the insertion of adjectives, such as, maximum severity, minimal time, extreme complexity, and persistent attachability, but their fundamental meanings will hopefully become quite clear.

The first two – Severity and Time – are the most obvious. Terrorist acts provide a reasonable possibility of a catastrophic incident (maximum severity), that presents itself with little or no notice (minimal time). An excellent example of this would be the Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) ‘bomb-in-a-box’ scenario that has so disturbed security planners the world over.10 The importance of Severity and Time lies in the imperative they provide to build one’s response posture, with these constraints ingrained as fundamental underpinnings. Such an approach is a form of ‘worst-common-denominator’ thinking, based upon the belief that it is much easier to adjust downward to address a threat of minimal severity presented in a maximum time than it is to adjust upward to address the reverse.

Complexity is more problematic. It is generally accepted that the global security climate changed on 9/11, and that a drastically increased complexity is a core feature of that change. Clearly, the concept of ‘threat’ has changed. Terrorism, by definition, creates the possibility of a crisis situated amid layers of overlapping jurisdiction, both vertical (federal, provincial, municipal) and horizontal, as delineated by departmental or agency mandates. The result is that the need for an interdepartmental approach to security and emergency planning – which might have seemed innovative thinking a few short years ago – is now largely axiomatic.

Complexities also pervade various aspects, such as crisis identification and definition. It does not take much effort, for example, to imagine crises that could be clearly maritime in nature, or that could be both maritime and terrestrial. But the maritime/terrestrial question could be unclear in the initial stages of an incident – the stages at which our responders might need to be mobilized – or an incident could cross from one domain to the other. Alternatively, an incident could create multiple crises at once.

All of this is made more troublesome by the terrorist affection for unconventional methods, such as the use of a passenger jet as a weapon, which render conventional responses less effective. The relatively-long experience of our Western nations with conflict has generally not prepared us for an opponent whose goal is not to coerce or negotiate, but who might be intent upon delivering a first strike for its own sake. In such a scenario, conventional tools of deterrence are far more difficult to apply.

The term ‘asymmetry’ is often bandied about in this discussion, but it is also more complex than it usually appears, connoting more than a quantitative gap in the ‘hard’ coercive assets possessed by terrorists and western states. We might do well to considerthe asymmetry that exists in our engagement with terrorism – in the level of discrimination required in target selection. In countering terrorism, we are forced to be extremely precise – we need the right intelligence and we need to put the right tools for the job in the right place at the right time. Shortcomings on any of these counts practically ensure failure. The terrorist, on the other hand, has the option of being imprecise on some or all of these fronts.11 A weapon of mass destruction does not require pinpoint precision in space or time to be effective, and conventional targets can be selected at will. If something prevents a terrorist from detonating explosives on a bridge today, he can, in all likelihood, wait until tomorrow. If the bridge turns out to be unassailable, there are plenty of other targets.

The points that should be emerging from this discussion are: first, that our job is much more difficult than the terrorist’s, and, second, that there is no discernible limit to our vulnerability. No matter what measures we put in place, we are ungainly, static and largely on the defensive. We are committed to the free movement of goods and people within and across our borders, and – worst of all – terrorists know where we live. This is not flippancy. Terrorists know where to find their opponent, but, for the most part, we cannot reciprocate. We are not defenceless, and the situation is not hopeless, but because the terrorist has so many options, our task will rarely be simple.

The fourth ordering principle is ‘Attachability,’ a term intended to refer to the terrorist tactic of cloaking malign intent in benign, everyday practice. We all know this intuitively, but our security mindset has evolved with better-defined threats in mind – threats that constitute a clear departure from ordinary process. When Soviet submarines were cruising the Grand Banks, for example, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) personnel knew what they were looking for. They had to work to identify them, but there was no lack of clarity concerning their status as threats. Maritime security planners today have it tougher. A threat might emerge without process-oriented camouflage, but, then again, it might not. The 9/11 attacks provided an alarming precedent. The hijackers were a far cry from stereotypical villains. They entered the United States legally, paid their way, rented apartments, enrolled in flight lessons, joined gyms, bought groceries, hired cars and checked into hotels. In short, they behaved for all the world to see as model visitors, and, apart from the conspiracy in which they engaged, they broke no laws up until the moment they left their seats on their respective aircraft.

Blatantly illegal acts, then, are not the entire problem. We also need to be concerned about vulnerabilities emerging from benign, everyday practices. This brings us to the questions most likely to keep maritime security planners awake at night: how many other societal processes can be exploited in this manner, and how does our overt commitment to continuity in the flow of goods and persons across our borders affect our overall vulnerability? Where is the line between indispensable process and intolerable risk?

A freighter


A working freighter on the Great Lakes.

Building on Ordering Principles – Generic Requirements

A regional approach to maritime security needs to be interdepartmental. This is certainly also true at the federal level, but the requirement is more acute regionally. Four features of such ‘interdepartmentalism’ will now be briefly addressed. The first, Authority, is a nod to the need for consistency with our nascent National Security Plan, as well as with existing legislative and legal frameworks. The thorny issue of jurisdiction will need to be addressed at some point, and we will require operational decision-making to be sanctioned that will free responders to cope with the Severity/Time constraints. Currently, it would not be difficult to imagine scenarios in which a department would be prevented from acting by jurisdictional limitation - for example, rules regarding powers of arrest or limitations imposed by the Law of the Sea.

Another obvious requirement is Agility. Clearly, given Severity/Time constraints, an interdepartmental capacity for quick decision-making and action is essential. Alas, this is also at odds with traditional organizational practices and chains of command. A crisis response effort that has five different departments sitting in a situation room in search of a solution is challenging enough, but the need to be on the telephone to five different ministers at the same time makes such a scenario even worse. Regional representatives do not need carte blanche powers, but some degree of decision-making leeway is warranted. A mechanism to achieve this would reflect trust in the people at the point of attack, and would also provide the regional response group with a measure of creativity in their operational planning should a response be required that goes beyond existing contingency plans.

A third trait, Flexibility, reflects the desirability of mid-stream adaptation in crisis response. Responders may need to improvise in mid-operation, or to add new members to the decision-making group if a crisis changes. For example, if the passengers on a hijacked cruise liner suddenly show signs of anthrax exposure, an organization such as Health Canada would suddenly require a seat at the table.

The fourth trait – Preparedness – was repeatedly cited as a key factor in the emergency response effort at the Pentagon during the 9/11 attacks.12 A key objective is to build familiarity and trust through regular joint exercises, and to familiarize departmental representatives with the capacities and mandates of other organizations. Some mechanism to incorporate lessons learned and recommendations into a continuous cycle of refinement and adaptation by the regional interdepartmental group is also desirable.

Finally, we need to identify and cope with the types of unfamiliar situations that might be faced. If, for example, a positive ‘hit’ by the radiation detectors in the port of Halifax led inspectors to a suspected weapon of mass destruction (WMD), they would require the means to confirm the threat. If the capacity does not exist in Canada – in other words, to say with authority that a suspicious device is, in fact, a functioning WMD – we need either to develop this capacity or to make arrangements to have such capacity brought to the scene, and done so with dispatch.13

HMCS Montreal

DND photo IS2002-16 by Master Corporal Brian Walsh

The Naval Boarding Party of HMCS Montreal board a vessel bound for Iraq, suspected of carrying illegal cargo, 31 July 2002.

Toward a Solution – Structure, Process, and other Aspects

What might such an interdepartmental group look like? There have been initiatives – and others are currently underway – that are steps in this direction. One is the Halifax-based Threat Assessment Group (TAG); another, the Interdepartmental Maritime Security Working Group (IMSWG), located in Ottawa. A third is the Eastern Canada Interdepartmental Maritime Operations Committee (ECIMOC), established at the initiative of federal representatives on the east coast in an effort to familiarize departments with each other’s mandates and to generate a regional concept of maritime operations. A more comprehensive approach might require more radical adjustments, which will now be briefly discussed.

A central step in establishing a regional maritime security posture that adequately meets the constraints of Severity, Time, Complexity and Attachability would be to establish a standing body, made up of federal, provincial and municipal representatives, charged with planning, exercising and carrying out maritime security tasks. At the core of this body could exist a small executive group comprised of the departments most likely to be engaged should a maritime operation be required – for example, the Department of National Defence (DND), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG). These organizations have the best combination of maritime assets and experience, and the best mandate-related connection to counter-terrorism. It would also be prudent to appoint one member from each of the provincial and municipal governments in the host city – most likely Halifax. This would create a five-member executive group that could be situated within a wider interdepartmental membership of relevant organizations, such as those with a connection to the governance of oceans, counter-terrorism or crisis response. In deference to the Attachability concept, this could be a large group. The idea would be to create a manageable decision-making body in the form of the executive group, but to build a procedural mechanism to allow the group to be expanded in a crisis if necessary, as discussed earlier with respect to Flexibility. The executive group would convene in a crisis, perhaps in the interdepartmental operations centres slated for development on both coasts.

Procedurally, the body would require mechanisms for the notification of representatives in a crisis, with an incremental alert procedure applicable to crises. These would range from relatively mild incidents, that could be dealt with by one agency, all the way up to a ‘scrambling’ of the entire apparatus.

But the key procedural issue would be the mechanism by which a lead agency was designated. In this aspect as well, the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon is instructive. It involved agencies at various levels of government, and consisted of many problematic elements. These included: a crash site, a crime scene, a security breach, a potential second target (since rescuers were keenly aware of the fact that the World Trade Center had been hit twice)14, a massive debris-clearing effort, a possible environmental hazard, a civil engineering problem, an urban search and rescue operation, a recovery operation, a crowd-control problem and a media relations challenge.15 But before any of these specific problems could be dealt with, the most fundamental issue generated by the attack – namely the ensuing fire – had to be addressed. Accordingly, the lead agency at the Pentagon working on the disaster site was not the Department of Defense, but the Arlington County Fire Department.

With all of this complexity present in what appears to be a self-defining event – that is, the crashing of one aircraft into one building – one can imagine the challenges in responding to an incident involving a WMD. Clearly, our nation would be best served by a response capability that allowed the lead government agency to be designated quickly, and with the support of other relevant agencies. Other aspects of an interdepartmental capability should include a consistent command and control model similar to the Integrated Management System (IMS), and an emergency management cycle.16

The Need for a ‘Meeting of the Minds’ Mechanism

It is hoped that this cursory examination will provide a starting point for a more comprehensive, regional approach to maritime security than has been attempted thus far. The obstacles are numerous, deriving from traditional pathologies pertaining to turf protectionism, jurisdiction, and a certain organizational predilection for the status quo. A particularly troublesome impediment might be the cost-risk tension evident in all of our security thinking. As Attachability suggests, we cannot cover every base, and priorities will have to be established. This tension is accentuated by our commitment to maintaining commercial processes, such as the flow of containerized goods into Canadian ports.

In summation, changes in the security environment necessitate changes in our national response. Four features of the new threat need to be established as ordering principles in a new Maritime Security posture – namely Severity, Time, Complexity and Attachability. We need to incorporate agility, flexibility and preparedness, and must combine central authority with regional autonomy. Our goal ought to be to formalize an interdepartmental approach through standing regional bodies that create a mechanism for a so-called ‘meeting of the minds’ to occur. The NSP-initiated Maritime Security Operations Centres (MSOCs) may be just the tool required to bring these ideas into usage.

The most pressing requirement of the current threat environment is the need for a multilateral effort, conducted quite possibly in great haste and on very little notice. This cannot be accomplished without (a) a degree of autonomy being granted to the regional decision-makers who are, in all likelihood, most familiar with the crisis, and (b) without a mechanism in place for that so-called ‘meeting of the minds.’ This mechanism, not the structural or procedural aspects suggested earlier, is the key. Responders need to be intimately familiar with each other’s capabilities. They also need to be well funded and trained, and they need to be frequently exercised in realistic threat scenarios. These are the best means by which we can respond, should it ever become necessary, to crises of maximum severity, minimal notice and great complexity. Taking these steps will enable us – to the extent possible, as limited by practicality and our desire for commercial continuity – to limit the Attachability aspect of our current dilemma, which now plays largely in favour of those who would do us harm.

Necessary Debate: National Security versus Civil Liberties

It is now perhaps appropriate to reflect upon the issue of Authority. Canada has an ongoing challenge in this respect. Similarly confronted, the United States has embarked upon an aggressive policy experiment. As Attorney-General Ashcroft stated a year ago: “The Justice Department is battling terrorism by integrating, not separating, our law enforcement capacity; and integrating, not separating, our intelligence capabilities.”17 This policy approach was adopted quickly and is embodied in American law through the Patriot Act.

After a different fashion, Australia has evolved over a decade towards what Prime Minister John Howard calls the ‘whole-of-government’ approach. Through a long series of debates and significant legislative changes, Australia has achieved a notable level of integration, not only within the federal government but between federal, state, and territorial governments.

In Canada, the debate has been muted and fitful. In order for private and personal elements of information to be collected, retained, and shared amongst several government departments, the Charter and the Privacy Act require ‘lawful authority’ that is ‘reasonable’. Moreover, under the present legislation, the risk of contravening the law is very high when an integrated team approach for national security includes law enforcement agencies, such as the RCMP or Canada Customs. Currently, Canadian government departments do not all have lawful authority to collaborate for national security purposes. Therefore, without changes to legislation, the much-desired ‘integrated approach’ will fall short of the desired end point. Whether one cites the Integrated Justice Initiative or the IMSWG-sponsored Maritime Management and Data Exchange System project (MIMDEX), one witnesses a testing of the legal limits. On 25 May 2004, an important conference of Department of Justice officials was held to focus on this area of federal law. Therefore, the Department of Justice is engaged and understands the urgency. However, acute awareness of Charter and Privacy factors appears to leave hesitancy to recommend change. During the Bill C-7 debates, Parliamentarians were not convinced that sharing and saving information for so-called ‘data-mining’ was desirable. But the debate is not yet completed. The upcoming review of Bill C-36, the Anti-Terrorism Act, and the formation of the National Security Committee of Parliamentarians will provide a platform for such a debate. Integration – which underlies the ideas of flexibility, agility, and preparedness – as well as the National Security Policy itself, cannot be optimized until a balance has been struck and legislative development has taken place. Thus far, that balance has yet to be found.

Maritime Security Environment

As former Defence Minister David Pratt has written,18 and Ward Elcock, the recently-retired head of CSIS has stated,19 now, more than ever, Canada needs to bolster its capability for human security intelligence collection outside Canada. There has been some movement in this area. However, we believe that Canadian security intelligence collectors are needed now in foreign maritime ports. Canada urgently needs to be a contributor to the global effort so that we can benefit more widely from international intelligence collaboration, which has recently generated several dramatic successes in Europe and South-East Asia.

This external effort would dovetail into a maritime security system in a logical and efficient manner. Intelligence feeds from European and Asian allies would serve as early warning and tracking sources for the maritime picture on international waters and in foreign ports. Domain awareness in Canadian waters could become constant and complete through a layered plan utilizing equipment such as the High Frequency Surface Wave Radar, the Automatic Identification System, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and satellite coverage. Using the resulting ‘recognized maritime picture’, an expanded and improved cadre of intelligence analysts could collaborate on the MIMDEX, which would link into the cross-government classified network that Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan has recently mentioned. The Bi-National Planning Group in Colorado would provide links to the American maritime effort in American Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to improve the assessment and warning product. The Departments of Immigration and Transport, as well as Canada Customs, the RCMP, CSIS, and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), acting through Minister McLellan’s new department (Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness), would inject input from the port security and local-knowledge level through interconnected, interdepartmental coordination centres on the coasts, in the Great Lakes and in the Arctic.

Local issues in Canada would be resolved at local levels. However, critical assessments would need to be forwarded expeditiously to the Integrated Threat Assessment Cell (ITAC) for broad national assessment in the Privy Council Office (PCO). In the past, assessment has generally been filtered from the PCO to the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) level, and then disseminated downwards. Moreover, there is no existing capability to brief specific ‘warning’ intelligence to federal decision-makers. American intelligence expert Marilyn 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”.20

The idea of creating an interdepartmental national coordination centre, which would link into the various regional coordination centres, has merit, and it would provide federal decision-makers with a common operating picture for decisions that could entail military force or special operations. Finally, the reactions generated to threats will also need to be collaborative. The RCMP, Canada Customs, and the Department of Immigration, supported by the Navy, and, in extreme cases, the Maritime section of Joint Task Force Two (JTF 2) and other specialized Canadian Forces assets, need to be made available to provide the necessary enforcement.

HMCS Toronto

DND photo HS2004-6031-01 by Master Corporal Colin Kelley

The boarding party from HMCS Toronto uses a rigid hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) to board and inspect a “dhow” style fishing boat to search for evidence connecting it to terrorism.

National Readiness

Alertness also implies readiness. After 9/11, DND created CANALERTCON, a system of staged military readiness initiatives for domestic security. Other departments, including what was the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness (OCIPEP), also have alert systems. However, none of them communicates with each other. A national system, such as the colour-code system adopted by the Americans, or the High-Medium-Low system used in Australia, does not exist in Canada. But we have learned through our neighbour’s experiments that any system adopted must be credible to the populace and targetable according to the threat. 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 threat. A worst-case scenario could involve a requirement for urgent action at the federal level to pre-empt a local level attack with military force, such as a freighter full of explosives plying the Great Lakes but destined to destroy the Ambassador Bridge. In this instance, a timely information route to top decision-makers – coupled with the rapid availability of appropriate countering forces – would be necessary for success.


In our view, Auditor General Sheila Fraser has it right – collaboration and information sharing are crucial for success in the new battle space. Before the government moves further, a culture of prevention, as described in this article, needs to be considered for incorporation – along with crisis and consequence management – into the National Security Policy. In his probing article in the journal Foreign Affairs, Jonathan Stevenson points out that the US has moved to a vulnerabilities-based approach to fighting terrorism – as expensive as that is. The rest of the Western world has maintained a probability-based approach, which depends heavily on current intelligence and ‘probability management’ for security. This choice necessitates an optimization of law-enforcement and intelligence collaboration.21 In order for this to happen, a key issue of balance between national security and civil liberties must be resolved – not just for air transportation, but for all modes of transport and communications, including maritime transportation. A series of debates between legal experts, security practitioners and parliamentarians would be a useful and appropriate first step in this direction. The final step would constitute decision-makers directing legislative and security policy change to reflect that balance across all the environments. In our view, only when Canada achieves this balance will an ‘integrated approach’ with the desired agility, flexibility and preparedness be possible.

A corresponding Maritime Security Policy and a National Surveillance Plan are badly needed. To this end, maritime security must be given more attention inside government departments. It must be given a similar priority to air security, as well as permanent policy resources and continued visibility on the 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 needing rectification. Over the medium term, improving inter-agency information-sharing, not just intelligence-sharing, with the Americans, conquering the slippery issue of Attachability, and, most importantly, closing the political agenda-setting gap are important strategic issues requiring resolution. Finally, a focus on building the confidence of top decision-makers in an enhanced security and intelligence product is required.

With Canada’s unique position in the global system as northern neighbour to the world’s superpower, and terrorists encouraged by recent worldwide successes, what is to say that Canadian maritime transport will not be the next mode for soft-target terror? By using brains, not brawn, Canadians can adopt a culture of prevention into their National Security Policy and Maritime Security Policy – to help ensure that the destructive timelines of international terrorists are severed before their operatives draw near Canadian shores.

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Peter Avis, a naval officer, is currently undertaking post-graduate studies at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa.

Iain Grant is a Doctoral candidate with the Department of Political Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax.


  1. See, for example, the Virtual Information Centre, “Primer: Piracy in Asia,” 31 October 2003. Retrieved 5 June 2004 from <http://www.secure-marine.com/piracy_update.pdf>.
  2. Joseph Fara, “Al-Qaida Plans High-sea Terror,” Joseph Fara’s G2 Bulletin. (2003). Retrieved 12 January 2004 from <http://worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=35047>.
  3. C. Drees, “US Probe Spots 9 Terror Suspects in Merchant Marine (2004), Reuters. Retrieved 5 March 2004 from <http://news.myway.com/top/article/ id/332059%7Ctop%7C03-2004::14:11%7reuters.html>.
  4. D. Van Natta and D. Butler, “Terror Network was Tracked by Cellphone Chips,” International Herald Tribune (2004), [online]. Retrieved 4 March 2004 from <http://www.iht.com/articles/508783.html>.
  5. Margaret Atwood, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (Toronto: House of Anansi, 1972), p. 2.
  6. Danforth Middlemiss, testimony from “Canada’s Coastlines: The Longest Under-Defended Borders in the World,” in The Report of the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, Vol. 1, October 2003, p. 16.
  7. Colin Kenny, Chairman’s opening comments in Ibid.
  8. Ibid., p.19.
  9. John Ashcroft, “A New Culture of Prevention: An Interview with John Ashcroft.” The Patriot [Online]. Retrieved 13 May 2004 from <http://www.thepolitic.org/news/2003/o5/13/National>.
  10. The term CBRN has also been expressed as CBRNE, with the additional letter representing the possibility that such a device could utilize conventional explosives. See, for example, US Department of Health and Human Services, Bioterrorism Hospital Preparedness, available at <http://www.hrsa.gov/ bioterrorism/cbrne/>.
  11. This is not to suggest that the terrorist must do so. 9/11 provided an example of careful planning and target selection.
  12. The familiarity of Washington-area emergency responders with each other is well documented. See, for example, <http://www.seas.gwu.edu/~icdm/ nsf_9_11.htm>.
  13. However, this leaves aside the more troublesome question of how or whether to disable or relocate the item of concern.
  14. George Washington University. Observing and Documenting the Inter-Organizational Response to the September 11th Attack on the Pentagon. (2002). Retrieved 13 June 2003 from <http://www.seas.gwu.edu/~icdm/ nsf_9_11.htm>.
  15. Less obvious points include the need to feed, house and supply rescue workers; to provide critical incident debriefing and grief counselling; to ensure financial issues are documented and managed properly, and so on.
  16. For more on IMS, see H. Christen, P. Maniscalco, A. Vickery and F. Winslow, “An Overview of Incident Management Systems.” Perspectives, No. 4, September 2001. Retrieved 15 July 2003 from <http://bcsia.ksg.harvard.edu/ publication.cfm?ctype=paper&item_id=119>. On the logic behind the emergency management cycle, see Jim Bruce, Exercise Atlantic Guard: Final Report [Unpublished](Halifax: SAIC Canada, 2002).
  17. Ashcroft, p. 9.
  18. David Pratt, “Foreign Intelligence in the New Security Environment.” Canadian Strategic Forecast 2004 – The ‘New Security Environment’: Is the Canadian Military Up to the Challenge? David Rudd and David McDonough (eds.) (Toronto: The Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, 2004), p. 10.
  19. Ward Elcock, Comments made at the John Tait Memorial Lecture, CASIS Conference, Vancouver, Canada, 17 October 2003.
  20. Cynthia Grabo, Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning (Washington: The Joint Military Intelligence College, 2002), p. 50.
  21. Jonathan Stevenson, “How Europe and America Defend Themselves.” Foreign Affairs. Vol. 82, No. 2, March/April 2003, pp. 78-79.