Tag Archives: CDAI

Canadian Intelligence Accountability

This article originally featured at the Conference of Defense Associations Institute. It can be read in its original form here

CDA Institute guest contributor Kurt Jensen, retired as Deputy Director of Foreign Intelligence, explores the question of accountability in intelligence activities.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” said US President Franklin Roosevelt many years ago. This is no longer true. In the grip of an undefined terrorist threat, we should be very fearful about diminishing our freedoms through unlimited ‘security measures.’

Vague and statistically insignificant fears of terrorism have made us surrender privacy and other rights. But are we any safer? The recent ‘terrorist’ threats and incidents in Canada are unlikely to have been impeded by the enhanced intrusion in our lives to which we are all now subject. To ‘protect’ us, intrusive powers have been given to security agencies with little or no objective accountability. In this, Canadians are largely alone among developed nations. Canadian security and intelligence accountability has withered over the past decade, and is inadequate.

Intelligence staffs are honourable and scrupulous about adhering to the laws. But scrutiny of actions is a necessary tool of democracy. Great power and great secrecy make accountability reasonable and imperative in protecting the rights of citizens. The means employed are less important than how robust and uncompromising the instruments are. As it stands, Canada’s intelligence accountability régime is deficient.

Administrative oversight by bureaucrats and ministers is good – and necessary. But it is not a solution. Remember the old adage of ‘Who will watch the watchers.’ In Canada the answer is no one. The response to public concerns can no longer be ‘Trust us, we’re the good guys.’

We are at a democratic cross-​roads. We cannot rationalize intrusive acts which are against the basic principles of what this country stands for by accepting that the actions taken are legal and sanctioned by Parliament. Nor should we assume that intelligence accountability, which is not at arms-​length, is a solution to concerns about transgressions. Many of the intelligence intrusions into our democratic entitlements are likely here to stay but nothing precludes that citizens be protected by a robust accountability infrastructure.

The new Canadian government has announced that it will review the egregious Bill C-​51 and has proposed the creation of a parliamentary oversight body under MP David McGuinty. This is a good first step but it is not enough.

Parliamentary accountability of intelligence is vital, and now seems inevitable. Canada may follow the British model which has, itself, evolved over time. The British model began as a Committee of Parliamentarians reporting to the Prime Minister. This changed in 2013 when it evolved into the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC), with members appointed by Parliament after considerations of nominations from the Prime Minister. A parliamentary accountability architecture would not conflict with the existing mandates of either the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) or the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) Commissioner.

A parliamentary committee should include an active mandate to oversee all authority warranted to infringe the rights of individuals or involve potentially aggressive collection strategies beyond our borders. We cannot afford unwarranted transgressions of the rights of potentially innocent individuals. But we need more than tinkering at the edges to protect rights and freedoms.

Canada does not have adequate accountability of its intelligence activities. The Office of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Inspector General, a modest but important part of the oversight architecture, was disbanded by the previous government to save a budgetary pittance. Only two organizations, CSIS and CSEC, are subject to any form of arms-​length accountability. While these are Canada’s two major intelligence organizations, quite a few other smaller departments and agencies have niche responsibilities (Global Affairs Canada, National Defence, Canadian Border Security Agency, Transport, Finance, etc.). These are not subject to any arms-​length accountability. A more robust accountability architecture would contribute to public trust.

Equally important is the need for accountability structures to have resources adequate to address realistic challenges. Neither SIRC (for CSIS) nor the small staff of the CSEC Inspector General are adequately resourced. Arms-​length accountability must be credible if public confidence is to exist.

A Super-​SIRC has been discussed to oversee the entire intelligence community. This is not the answer. The intelligence units employ different tradecraft, different operational spheres (domestic and foreign), and face a host of other challenges. However, a Super-​SIRC administrative structure or secretariat might work if it contained separate entities tasked with looking at different intelligence units since the necessary skills to carry out oversight functions would not easily shift from Transport Intelligence to FINTRAC (Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada), for example. A Super-​SIRC secretariat could oversee common functions such as the protocols involved when review agencies had to connect, share, or consult with each other when appropriate – in a sense, to ‘follow the investigate thread’ when it flows from one agency to another, as has happened between CSIS and CSEC. A second area of commonality would be for a Super-​SIRC secretariat to oversee what data is provided to Canada’s intelligence partners.

An intelligence ombudsman, possibly a sitting or retired federal judge, is required to act as a court of last resort for those perceiving themselves to be penalized by the negative, illegal, or incorrect application of intelligence to their situations. People falling between the ‘intelligence cracks’ have no recourse to justice now. The media regularly reports on violations and injustices, but the media is no solution to insufficient intelligence oversight architecture.

Protecting sources and methods is imperative in the intelligence world but has become an excuse for unnecessary secrecy. Many historical intelligence files can and should be released to Library and Archives Canada for objective and arms-​length evaluation by the public (i.e., mostly academics and the media). Most historical material now being held under restricted access would not compromise security. Indeed, many intelligence files are already available in Library and Archives Canada – including World War II ENIGMA material released decades ago. Releasing historical files is a confidence building measure.

Bad things happen to people who surrender freedoms without accountability. This can’t be sanctioned in a Canadian democracy. Accountability is not to be feared by those engaged in intelligence matters. Its architecture must be balanced, objective and at arms-​length, and must provide an equilibrium between the rights and entitlements of citizens and the needs of national security. We’re not there now.

Dr. Kurt F. Jensen spent his career in the Canadian diplomatic service. He retired as Deputy Director of Foreign Intelligence. He is now an Adjunct Professor at Carleton University teaching courses relating to intelligence matters. (Image courtesy of Jeremy Board/​Flickr.)

The Cabbage and the Submarine: Why Fears of Chinese Control of the Seas are Overstated

The following piece is cross-posted from our partners at the CDA Institute as part of an ongoing content sharing relationship. You can read the article in its original form here.

CDA Institute Analyst Ariel Shapiro comments on the proliferation of submarines and issue of sea denial in the Asia-​Pacific.

In 2013, Major General Zhang Zhaozhong, an outspoken senior official in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, described China’s strategy in the South China Sea by referring to a cabbage. In regards to the Scarborough Shoal, a group of rocks disputed by China and the Philippines, the Chinese strategy is to inundate the area with a large fleet of military and commercial ships of all sizes, to surround the contested rocks like the layers of a cabbage. What essentially amounts to a blockade, disguised by friendly vegetarian metaphors, is a manifestation of the more assertive Chinese foreign policy undertaken by President Xi Jinping. In this post, I will discuss how the recent build-​up of regional naval fleets in Asia is a response to China’s increasingly assertive policy – and why this is cause for concern for China.

In recent years, there has been a buildup of military submarines in the Asia-​Pacific, which Michael Wesley at the Australian National University refers to as a “bonanza.” Despite multiple changes in leadership over the past few years in Australia, the massive project to replace the Royal Australian Navy’s six aging Collins-​class submarines with 12 new state of the art diesel submarines is still well underway (as a point of comparison, Canada currently has four Victoria-​class submarines, three of which are operational, and all of them several years older than the submarines Australia is replacing).

The Australian submarine procurement process brings to the forefront the changes that are happening in another key player in the Asia Pacific region: Japan. For the first time since the 1960s, new legislation in Japan permits the country’s world-​renowned industry to export military technology. The top contender for the contract to replace the Australian submarines is the Soryu-​class, developed by Japanese giant Mitsubishi. The Soryu-​class diesel submarine is notable for its air-​independent propulsion technology, which allows the vessel to remain underwater without surfacing for significant periods of time compared to other diesel submarines. Japan, of course, is not only developing the submarine for export; it is in the midst of increasing its total submarine fleet form 16 to 22.

Australia is not the only country in the region increasing its submarine fleet. In September 2015, the Indonesian House of Representatives announced a plan to purchase two Kilo-​class submarines from Russia; the nation comprises 17,000 islands, and senior military planners estimate that the country needs at least 12 submarines to adequately patrol its territorial seas. Across the Strait, Lieutenant-​Colonel Aaron Beng of the Singapore Armed Forces analyzes submarine procurement in Asia from his country’s perspective. He notes Singapore’s recent acquisition of two Vastergotland-​class submarines from Sweden, bringing the fleet’s total to six; the refurbishment of two French Scorpèné-​class submarines by Malaysia; and the ongoing purchase by Vietnam of six Kilo-​class submarines from Russia. One can also include the new Thai ruling military junta decision to purchase submarines from China. Not to be outdone, the first of India’s six new Kalvari-​class diesel electric attack submarines, based on the French Scorpèné, are currently undergoing sea-​trials.

What is the motivation for this submarine acquisition? The submarine is, in terms of dollar-​per-​value, the best tool for sea denial. This maritime strategy is an asymmetric one. Instead of great powers building up fleets to fight for control of the seas, as was the case in the lead up to the First World War, sea denial is a strategy used by weaker powers to deny access to their coastal areas by larger powers; the maritime equivalent of guerilla warfare. Essentially, a small, stealthy, relatively inexpensive submarine can pose a serious threat to an advanced aircraft carrier or major surface combatant.

For example, Singapore’s submarines will add to its defence posture of the “poison shrimp”; while the Republic has neither the ambition nor the capacity to control the seas, it does indeed have the capacity to cause significant damage to a larger power that would attempt to threaten its vital interests (which, due to its small size and the global nature of its economy, include shipping), much like eating a poisoned shrimp can make a much larger animal very ill. As Peter Briggs at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute notes, navies have submarines not only to serve in a potential war, but for “situations short of conflict” – their mobility, endurance, stealth, and payload make them an essential tool in preventing conflict through deterrence.

This brings us back to China and the cabbage strategy. In the South China Sea, despite the unresolved nature of competing claims over various small islands, China is continuing with its policy of reclaiming land and building infrastructure. Last week, tensions flared as the USS Lassen, an American destroyer, sailed in what Washington claims are international waters but which China considers within its territorial sea. While the US Navy (USN) remains the most advanced and important navy force in the Pacific Ocean, China’s growing fleet of advanced surface and undersea ships gives it a sea denial capability against America’s more formidable force – especially when combined with its on-​shore anti-​access and area denial (A2/​AD) assets.

Smaller countries in the region are eager to build up their own deterrence and sea denial capacity to protect their shipping lanes and vital interests in an era where the United States can no longer underwrite global maritime security, and submarines are perhaps the best way to do so. While this strategy is aimed primarily against China, Beijing, in turn, is building up its own fleet towards a strategy of sea denial against the more powerful USN. However, China has also increased the responsibilities placed on its forces and has turned otherwise uninvolved actors into maritime rivals. In addition to asserting its primacy over its coasts and capacity to dominate Taiwan, which remains at the core of China’s security policy, it now also actively seeks to assert Chinese freedom of maneuver over the South China Sea and eventually rival American control of wider areas of the Pacific Ocean.

While much has been written about the Sino-​American rivalry in the Pacific, the role of smaller Southeast Asian countries is too often forgotten. The USN is still far superior, for the time being, to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy. Yet any assessment of the strategic balance must take into account other important players in the region, such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, India and Vietnam, all of which are showing a tendency to bandwagon with the United States – making any potential Chinese dominance even less foreseeable.

At a recent conference at the University of Ottawa, Professor Jean-​Pierre Cabestan, one of the foremost French experts on China, noted how Chinese President Xi Jinping’s success in making China more assertive on the world stage has only provoked a “rebalancing” of the United States and its allies towards China. Indeed, if the cabbage strategy continues to cause horizontal proliferation (the number of countries building up military capacity) as well as vertical proliferation (pre-​existing powers increasing their capacity, such as the development of new missile systems on littoral combat ships in the United States), China’s aggressiveness may have caused it to lose more influence than it has gained.

Ariel Shapiro recently graduated from McGill University in political science and economics and is currently an Analyst at the CDA Institute.