Inside Canadian Intelligence

Edited by Dwight Hamilton, Inside Canadian Intelligence: Exposing the New Realities of Espionage and International Terrorism is an interesting read, though I would say that there are some important counterarguments to the main ideological positions adopted by the various authors.

The book describes Canada’s various present and historical intelligence services, including the intelligence branch of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), military intelligence, and others. There are chapters on counterintelligence, on the Air India attack and subsequent investigations, on special forces (including JTF-2), and on various other topics connected to matters of Canadian security and intelligence. For those wanting to get a better understanding of the history and present operations of these organizations, it is probably a worthwhile read. There is also some interesting information on technical capabilities and techniques, such as some information on the RADAR and infrared data fed into NORAD, how internal government security screenings are conducted, automated facial recognition, how some information from human sources is validated, and voice recognition in mass surveillance of telecommunication.

Most books written by people closely linked to intelligence organizations have a tendency to represent the officers of those organizations as heroes who can do no wrong, opposed by inhuman monsters, and hampered by meddling politicians and judges (for example). What this ignores is the dangers posed to the general public by intelligence services themselves, as well as the willingness they sometimes demonstrate to protect their own interests at the expense of the general public. Oversight may occasionally prevent good things from being done, but it surely prevents abuses as well.

Another assumption I question is that it is appropriate to categorize counterterrorism efforts as a ‘war’. First, I don’t think that is accurate. Terrorism is a tactic, not an entity that can be defeated. Secondly, I think it causes problems when we describe the fight against terrorism as a war. It justifies a lack of oversight, and can be used to justify human rights violations. It also creates the misleading impression that the ‘War on Terror’ could end. In reality, as long as there are people willing to use violence for political purposes, there will be terrorism. It can no more be ended than tax evasion or petty crime.

Above all, what this book lacks is a sense of perspective. Terrorism really isn’t such a huge problem. It kills far fewer people than chronic or infectious diseases, war, or accidents. It’s a mistake to turn our society upside down or spend an excessive amount of money trying to stop people from using certain violent tactics. We need to remain aware of the importance of other priorities, as well as the ways in which ‘being at war’ corrodes the integrity of democratic states. One example of such corrosion is the dangerous tendency of states to spy on everybody, in hopes of catching the few people who may be up to no good. Because it is so powerful, and has so many abilities to hide its mistakes and abuses, the state is far more dangerous than any terrorist cell, and it is critical to human freedom that the power of states be kept in check.

By all means, we should be grateful for the good work done by the security services, but we must also recognize the danger that they will go too far and become violators of rights, as well as the much greater importance of other governmental undertakings. Dealing with cancer and providing a better education for children are far more important to the welfare of Canadians than stopping terrorist attacks. It’s a shame that we are continuing to spend billions on the latter, while government is cutting back on virtually everything else.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

14 thoughts on “Inside Canadian Intelligence

  1. The billions and probably trillions spent on the “War on Terror” could certainly be better spent elsewhere. Not only is there the direct cost but also the inconvenience and loss of productive use of time. The time wasted going through stations of Homeland Security at US airports is an example.

    One of the difficulties is that the intelligience agency, like almost any other government body, justifies its existence by pronouncing that the goal that it is seeking requires increased expenditure of public funds. Hence the effort of of the intelligience agencies is to justify its existence by stating that its absence the presence of terrorists would be greater. The intelligience agencies do not , nor do other government agencies, ask for less money.

    At this moment, I cannot think of a traditional government agency that indicates that it should be allocated less public funds. However, this perpective does contiuously come into play when privtge business considers the cost of a certain action. This thinking does enter into Crown corporations which re not dependant on taxes for funding.

  2. Terrorist attacks may not kill all that many people directly (unless they involve WMD), but they have a proven ability to make democratic states go crazy, start wars, spend a fortune, disregard the rights of their citizens and foreigners, and generally make a mess of things.

    Terrorist attacks need to be prevented – less because of their direct impacts, and more because of the overreactions they produce.

  3. Anon – That is some strange logic. We need to increase our efforts to prevent terrorist attacks because terrorist attacks lead to increases in efforts to prevent terrorists attacks and such increases have negative social consequences.

    Milan – I agree with your post. :The endless nature of the war on terror means the possibility of endless detention without trial (Case study #1: Obama just signed the NDAA on NYE, formalising this power for US citizens, though it already held for everyone else. He including a signing statement promising not to use this power himself on US citizens, but that is not legally binding, especially not for future adminstrations. Regardless of the precise policy for US citizens, the present practice is for indefinite detention of suspects without trial for the during of the “war”, i.e. however long the US government wants).

    Case study #2: I found this profile of J Edgar Hoover quite enlightening about the history and practices of the US FBI.

    Apologies that both my case studies are from the US, though clearly their intelligence culture has significantly shaped the western intelligence community.

  4. It looks like Congress’ recent jabs at TSA were just posturing after all. Last Friday, President Obama signed a spending act passed by both houses of Congress. The act gives TSA a $7.85 billion budget increase for 2012 and includes funding for 12 additional multi-modal Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams and 140 new behavior detection officers. It even includes funding for 250 shiny new body scanners, which was originally cut from the funding bill last May

  5. CSIS creator Robert Kaplan dead at 75 after battle with cancer

    OTTAWA — Robert Kaplan, a former veteran Liberal MP and cabinet minister, died Monday at age 75 after losing a long battle with cancer.

    Kaplan is probably best known for his 1980-84 stint as Canada’s solicitor general, when he presided over the demise of the RCMP’s disgraced security service and the creation of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

    He also ushered in the Young Offenders Act.

  6. Nerd farm no more: Speech offers rare glimpse into eavesdropping agency

    The contemporary SIGINT analyst is neither narrow specialist nor generalist, Bruce told her audience at a downtown Ottawa hotel.

    “He or she must be good at everything, a Renaissance man or woman. It’s not enough that you know a rare language. You have to be a brilliant speaker, a competent Java coder, a master of social media, a social psychologist, a political scientist, a tactician, a statistician, a geospatial expert, and an expert navigator of the bureaucracy,” she said.

    “To be good at all of this you have to be smart, smart, smart.”

    One-quarter of CSEC’s analysts have an advanced degree. Whereas they used to come from political science, history, languages and other arts, half have degrees in technical subjects, especially computer science, software engineering or digital cartography.

    Spying is no longer a man’s world. Most of the agency’s intelligence analysts are women, Bruce said. Many of its managers and the majority of its most senior executives are female.

  7. OTTAWA — Workers preparing the former Nortel complex as the new home for the Department of National Defence have discovered electronic eavesdropping devices, prompting new fears about the security of the facility.

    It’s not clear whether the devices were recently planted or left over from an industrial espionage operation when Nortel occupied the complex.

    Asked for details about the listening devices and whether they were still functioning, the DND responded with a statement to the Ottawa Citizen that it takes security at its installations seriously.

  8. Canadian military deploys counter-intelligence team during Arctic exercise

    OTTAWA — The Canadian military has been routinely deploying a counter-intelligence team to guard against possible spying, terrorism and sabotage during its annual Arctic exercise, according to internal documents.

    In the view of intelligence experts, the move is unusual because Operation Nanook is conducted on Canadian soil in remote locations of the Far North. Foreign involvement is limited to friendly, close allies.

    It is also curious because guarding against such threats at home is usually the purview of either the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or the RCMP, said Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor and one the country’s leading experts on intelligence.

  9. OTTAWA — Sweeping powers to scrutinize “any issue, any activity, any operation” will be granted to a new committee of parliamentarians to watch over federal spying and other clandestine security and intelligence activities, the government has announced.

    The long-promised Bill C-22, tabled in the Commons Thursday, proposes creation of an unprecedented “national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians” to hold to greater account the nation’s two chief spy services and at least 15 other departments and agencies with national security responsibilities.

    The move fulfils a major Liberal election promise to increase parliamentary scrutiny of national security operations to offset the expansive and controversial counterterrorism powers under the Anti-terrorism Act of 2015, formerly Bill C-51, to investigate, detain, arrest, silence or otherwise thwart individuals suspected as threats to the security of Canada.

    The all-party committee of nine MPs and two Senators, to be chosen by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and supported by a small secretariat, would be sworn to permanent secrecy and handed a broad mandate to probe, mainly ex post facto, any and all national security activities to gauge whether they are effective, efficient and legal. Its primary investigative tool would be a statutory power to access many of the nation’s most guarded secrets.

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