Wesley Wark

Wesley Wark spoke 10 times across 1 day of testimony.

  1. Wesley Wark, Senior Fellow (CIGI)

    And thanks, Commissioner and Counsel and members of the public who may be tuned in. I'm very grateful for this opportunity to discuss issues which shape the national security crisis perceived by the federal government in February '22 issues which are at the heart of the Commission's mandate. I've studied national security and intelligence issues for the entirety of my career, beginning with a historical interest nurtured when I was a student at Cambridge University, which is full of the ghosts of spies. The arch of my subsequent career could be described as MacDonald Commission to Rouleau Commission. I want to make three, quick contextual points before providing what our moderator suggested should be a chief nugget of opening advice for the Commissioner. The first point is light-hearted, I make it because I suspect the Commissioner hasn't had many moments of levity over the past few weeks, the other two not so much. So I want to take you, with a purpose, to my favourite intelligence cartoon published in the New Yorker magazine sometime after the 9/11 attacks. It showed a group of Neanderthals crouched in a stony landscape, inspired I'm sure by the movie 2001 "A Space Odyssey", the leader says -- I have no idea what a Neanderthal accent is meant to sound like -- the leader says, "We've got enough rocks. What we need is better intelligence." The Emergencies Act was rocks. What about the intelligence. The second point is about the historical context for this inquiry. It joins a long list of distinguished predecessors that grappled with national security crises, from the Gouzenko Royal Commission in 1949, through the MacDonald and Arar Commissions, to the Air India inquiry and intelligence performance issues were central to all these inquiries. This leads me to a third contextual remark. In my research paper for the Commission, I explored whether the effort to understand the intentions, capabilities and opportunities of the Freedom Convoy amounted to a major intelligence failure. Now with the benefit of the public hearings and associated documents, we can trace, I believe, a path from intelligence failure, especially early warning failure, to policing failure, to eventually the invocation of the Emergencies Act marked by great uncertainty about what the future might hold. The concept of intelligence failure is a much studied but contested term, and you won't hear it spoken by government officials or ministers before this Commission. This is understandable. It is a hard thing to face, and intelligence failure is easily oversimplified and used for the purposes of scapegoating. My nugget of opening advice to the Commissioner is this. I urge the Commissioner to identify the critical points of intelligence failure and consider their impact on the invocation of the Emergencies Act. Such factfinding is also relevant to recommendations to avoid future intelligence failures that might shape the course of national security decision making in a crisis. If we can get the intelligence function right, that might allow us to keep the Emergencies Act legislation on its intended high shelf. To go further, I would say it's important to consider the limitations that affected intelligence collection on the so-called Freedom Convoy, especially in regard to open source intelligence. Equally important is the quality, accuracy and utility of threat assessment reporting produced by diverse entities including the Ottawa Police Service, the OPP, the RCMP and ITAC. On the governance front, it is also important to understand the extent to which a largely decentralized national security system was able or not to coordinate and integrate diverse intelligence and information streams. The testimony heard by the Commission, especially from the National Security Intelligence Advisor, strongly suggests this was a real problem. More advice. Consider the phenomenon of mental maps, especially those used by political decision makers as they received intelligence threat reporting. This includes what they thought of the intelligence function in general and their receptivity to intelligence reports. Finally, it seems to me crucial to understand exactly how the available intelligence informed decision making prior to and with the invocation of the Emergencies Act. Intelligence failures generate serious consequences for government and society. History is littered with them. If the Commission can successfully write what I call the first draft of the history of the Freedom Convoy including the intelligence piece -- got it, Kent -- and determine recommendations to improve the performance of the intelligence system writ large, it will have done notable work in the public interest. Thank you.


  2. Wesley Wark, Senior Fellow (CIGI)

    Kent, thanks very much. Listen, I’ll just expand on some things that Mr. Fadden raised, and I’m particularly delighted that he mentioned the intelligence cycle and the different components that goes into the intelligence process. But maybe I’d begin just by saying it’s important to understand, of course, the purpose and objective of intelligence, which is to understand threats and threat actors, including their intentions, their capabilities and what opportunities they might have from malicious action. Professor Roach, you know, mentioned of is intelligence a science or an art. I suspect everyone around this table will say it’s an art, but there are scientific components to it, particularly in a contemporary context and the ways in which it is reliant on technological tools to assist it in collection and analysis. But I would also say, and it -- I think it’s an element that is worth paying close attention to, a key part of the intelligence cycle is the process of intelligence assessment and reporting. We spend -- tend to spend a lot of time talking about intelligence collection, but intelligence collection is valueless unless you have a very strong assessment system. Just a couple of other remarks on objectives of intelligence. I think Dick captured these well, of course. It’s often referred to in a very lofty way the role of intelligence is to speak truth to power. That is very lofty, but I think we can kind of climb down a little bit and say that the important objective of intelligence is to inform decision-making, to allow for wiser decision-making and being policy neutral in that context, as Dick mentioned, is extremely important. Intelligence is meant to provide to government and what is often called an information advantage to give them some kind of edge in understanding perhaps a fast-moving or crisis situation. The early warning component of intelligence is very important, as is its predictive capacity or ability to see beyond the current moment and anticipate or assess the kinds of threats that might face. Just two final points, very quickly. One is that in thinking about a definition of intelligence, I was drawn to the very first definition that I know of that was composed in our modern era, and this was written by a man named Sherman Kent, who was one of the early leaders of CIA intelligence analysis. He wrote a small book that was published by Princeton University Press in 1949 and he described three categories of intelligence. Intelligence is knowledge, intelligence as organization and intelligence as action. And I’ll just end, Commissioner and Kent, just with a quick word about ITAC because Kent had asked one of us to speak to this and perhaps I will as well. But I think ITAC plays an important, unique role and had an important role potentially to play with regard to the Freedom Convoy. It is meant to be an intelligence fusion centre for the National Security and Intelligence System as a whole. It is not an intelligence collector, as the Commissioner has heard. A little bit on its history. It was created in 2004, we can argue a little bit about its exact birthdate, based on a predecessor established within CSIS in 2003. Its original intent was signaled by its initial title, Integrated Threat Assessment Centre. But over the years, its scope was diminished and it became the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre. ITAC is a resource for the National Security and Intelligence Advisor, who in her testimony, as I recall, said that she mostly relied on its reporting for her understanding of the threat picture, but also arguably found it insufficient. And I think that the challenges that were faced by ITAC and the potential deficiencies in its reporting are an illustrative case of some of the wider problems that were faced in coming up with an integrated clear picture, clear as possible picture of the threats posed by the Freedom Convoy. And I’ll just end by saying there is an extraordinary moment that was revealed in the IRG minutes and the IRG tracker, where the National Security and Intelligence Advisor felt that she had to turn to something called the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat at the PCO to try and pull together an Integrated Threat Assessment picture. I say this is extraordinary because the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat does not do domestic threat reporting. It has always, over decades, existed to produce strategic foreign intelligence assessments. The very fact that the National Security Intelligence Advisor felt, as Cabinet was beginning to consider its track one and track two and the potential invocation of the Emergencies Act, felt she had to turn to this unit within her office, I think is an important illustration of some of the problems that the system as a whole faced. So thanks.


  3. Wesley Wark, Senior Fellow (CIGI)

    Professor Roach, thanks very much. Maybe I'll begin by saying that challenges in the sharing of intelligence, either within a national security intelligence community, or more broadly, with law enforcement and first responders, is a perennial issue for any intelligence system that I am aware of, but it is an important issue, I think, for this Inquiry. And the gaps in sharing of intelligence was an issue highlighted by the National Security Intelligence Advisor as one of the two key gaps she identified, the other being problems with regard to capacity to effectively use open source intelligence, which I know Professor West is going to address in a minute. Why are these gaps important? And again, I would come to the significance of having, the necessity of having as comprehensive and integrated an intelligence picture as possible. And of course, various national security intelligence actors, including law enforcement, operate under distinct authorities and mandates. We can talk about gaps in the sharing of intelligence collection, or raw data if you'd like, but I think the most important gap involves the sharing of assessments. Just on the federal national security intelligence system, there are multiple intelligence assessment units that have sprung up, many since 9/11, across the government. An integrated intelligence picture means the ability to share across those units. The Intelligence Assessment Secretariat at PCO is a central hub for foreign strategic intelligence assessment but there is no real counterpart for domestic intelligence assessment. The mandate of what became the integrated terrorism assessment centre is far too narrow, so that is one problem. When it comes to law enforcement, threat assessment sharing with the National Security Intelligence community, I found it noteworthy that the National Security Intelligence Advisor felt that she wasn't getting the information she needed from the RCMP, which would be one important conduit. The most striking aspect for me of this failure to share threat reporting involved events at Coutts, Alberta. Although the RCMP Commissioner informed the Public Safety Minister on February 13th about the Coutts investigation and impending arrests, the National Security Intelligence Advisor, Jody Thomas, and the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet for Security and Intelligence, Mike MacDonald, both testified that they learned about the Coutts threat through media reporting. A few other quick points to conclude. One, to come back to the OPP project Hendon reports, which have been mentioned, we do know a little bit about the history of this initiative, but I would say in the context of Freedom Convoy threat reporting, it was a remarkable effort. And as Professor Roach said, it had a wide distribution list for its reports, but a wide distribution list doesn't mean that people read it and take it in. Project Hendon reports simply failed to penetrate and didn't have the impact on threat assessment reporting at the federal level that it should have had. A second point I will make is both specific and more general. The Ottawa Police Service proved incapable of generating a sufficient threat picture about the Freedom Convoy. But at the same time, as far as I can see from the evidence, the OPS was unwilling or unable to draw on Hendon or other sources of intelligence. My conclusion briefly about this challenge of a sharing, in particular, of threat assessment is that I think the picture that was revealed is one of too many silos and engrained cultural practices that contributed to a dysfunctional intelligence ecosystem. But I did want to give a little bit of credit to the former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly for his thoughts about this. And I commend the Commissioner to some of those remarks that the former OPS Chief made about his feeling in retrospect that there was a need for a much more integrated system of intelligence assessment sharing that the OPS, other law enforcement agencies and the entire National Security Intelligence community could draw on. Thank you.


  4. Wesley Wark, Senior Fellow (CIGI)

    Professor Kent, thanks very much. So I’m going to take us back to my cartoon illustration. We need, in this country, better intelligence. And as Mr. Elcock indicated, one of the challenges in getting there is the lack of public understanding and attention to the significance of intelligence and alongside that, often the lack of political will and political seriousness paid to this issue. But in thinking about better intelligence, we need and must consider the intelligence cycle as a whole. All the different elements that go into the intelligence function. And we need, I think, improvements across the spectrum. And this is not a conclusion drawn simply from the Freedom Convoy events. I think there are longstanding issues involved in improving the Canadian National Security Intelligence system. But I think that the Freedom Convoy events demonstrated were some particular gaps and deficiencies, especially in the context of threat assessment. And it is on the basis of an integrated and high- quality threat assessment that the success of the intelligence function I think ultimately depends. So there are some things that I think need to be done, and some of these are probably outside the scope of the Commission and the Commissioner’s report, but I will just put them on the table. One is we need a real review, not a compliance review, of the intelligence system, which is at the heart of much of what this new review system does. And a couple of my colleagues on the table have raised questions about the impacts of that review system. I’m -- when I’m talking about the need for a real review of the intelligence function, I’m talking about the need for a real look at its capacities and effectiveness. And I would say in that context that if you examine the entire history of the modern Canadian intelligence system since 1945, there has never been a systematic review of intelligence capabilities and performance. And that is a remarkable thing. I would say there’s no point in collecting intelligence if you don’t have the analytical system to make use of it. Sharing of intelligence that we’ve talked about is important, but it’s not as important as the sharing and coordination of high-quality analytical products to create a common and integrated foundation for what Sherman Kent called intelligence as knowledge. If we don’t have an intelligence culture which allows for intelligence to inform decision making, then the system as a whole is a waste of money and effort. And some of my colleagues with great experience inside the system have, I think suggested, if I am reading them right, that intelligence is only one part of a multiple stream of information that comes to decision makers. And that is absolutely true, but what intelligence has to be, thank you, Kent, is the most important part. It will never have a monopoly on the information available to decision makers, but it has to be understood as being the most important input. And in that context, and I’ll just conclude on this, I was puzzled and worried by some of the testimony provided by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance about her views on the intelligence that was reaching her. She described it as finely sifted flour. That doesn’t sound like praise to me. She also said, “As Minister, I want my own sources of information. As Minister, I think I should get out and understand the situation on the ground.” Those are understandable, political objectives, but they diminish what I think of as the prime role that an intelligence system must play and it reflects the fact that we have not got to that point. Sorry, Kent, I’m wrapping up. Not got to that point where we really understand the significance of intelligence and its role in national security decision making. Thanks.


  5. Wesley Wark, Senior Fellow (CIGI)

    So I get to play cleanup here as the only non-lawyer on this panel. So I thought actually we were all going to agree. I thought we were all going to agree that the CSIS Act definition of threats to the security of Canada performs a different purpose than anything that we would want to see in the Emergencies Act. And so I'm going to go to that decoupling argument in a minute, but the first thing I would say is that I suspect there's widespread agreement that the CSIS Act itself needs modernisation. And the Commissioner may decide that that is not central to the scope of his work, but any encouragement he could give in that direction I think would be welcome. And, of course, it is an idea that has already been floated numerous times by the CSIS Director and indeed by the Minister of Public Safety. So there is a lot of work to be done to modernise the CSIS Act passed in 1984 and passed in 2 contexts, which are I don't think any longer relevant. One context was scandal, the other context was the Cold War. But the first argument I'm going to make about now focussing on modernisation of the Emergencies Act, and this is maybe a little bit out of scope, so I'll be very brief about it, but while I recognize that there could be public welfare emergencies, I actually think that part of the Emergencies Act should be dropped, because I don't think it is ever going to be usable in the context of a federated system. I also think the international and war emergency parts could be consolidated into one. This would leave a slim-down Emergencies Act with just two branches, and one of which would be a public order emergency. The second argument I would make is that there will be a need for a definition of threats to the security of Canada to be included in a public order emergency. Just again, in my view, that should be uncoupled from a modernised CSIS Act. And such a definition of threats to the security of Canada would also need to be involved in a consolidated international war emergency crunch. The -- I think certainly as I've learned, the Emergencies Act serves a different and wider purpose than the CSIS Act. It involves a different set of decision makers. As we move to considering how to reframe a definition of threats to the security of Canada in an Emergencies Act, I think it will be important to include explicit references to cyber threats, to threats to democracy, to replace old-fashioned concepts about subversion, investigations of which CSIS for understandable historical reasons is very loath to undertake, economic security threats and critical infrastructure threats. Now there are elements of the old CSIS section 2 threshold that I think would be just inappropriate to carry over into a modernised definition of security thresholds in the Emergencies Act. References to espionage, 2(a), however pervasive espionage might be, continues to be, might become in the future. I find it hard to imagine that it would ever amount to a public order emergency. I also find it hard to imagine that threats of foreign interference, the current CSIS section 2(b) clause, short of war in international crisis again would ever amount to a public order emergency. So I think we can tighten the thresholds as we build them. Ideologically motivated violent extremism is a component of a recently defined lexicon of extremist threats, and in my view, should not be directly incorporated in a public order emergency definition including the security threshold. Threats to property needs to be properly defined, modernised in references again to -- in reference, excuse me, to economic security and critical infrastructure protection as opposed to the kind of classic terrorist-oriented concern about things going boom. So as we revamp the Emergencies Act, I think we need to add new elements and remove old ones. But as a final thought, excuse me, three perhaps very obvious points. One is that Charter compliance has to be key. The procedural safeguards built into the original Emergencies Act must be maintained, and I think many of them, from my perspective, were brilliant. I would encourage one possible change, and that would be to think about passing the parliamentary review baton to the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which of course did not exist when the original Emergencies Act was passed. And there are reasons for that that I would be happy to discuss. But whatever the outcome, and I think we will agree on this panel about this, and I suspect the public will agree more broadly, whatever the outcome of a modernized Emergencies Act, it must not be to make the Emergencies Act any easier to use, not one iota easier to use, or to make it anything other than a last resort. So thank you.


  6. Wesley Wark, Senior Fellow (CIGI)

    Kent, thanks very much. Let me begin just by relaying an experience I had with regard to the Public Order Emergency Commission. So I turned up on Friday morning, that foggy, slightly miserable morning, to hear the Prime Minister. And while we were waiting at the entrance, I decided to sort of don my amateur journalist hat and I just asked people that were waiting in line with me why they were there. There were lots of different reasons, but the common theme was that those folks from all kinds of backgrounds, and some from considerable distances away were there because they felt that this was a historic moment. And certainly it was a historic moment to hear the Prime Minister testify, but I think more broadly, the work of the Commission is itself a historic moment. It’s the closest thing that I think we’ve had in terms of examining a national security crisis since the McDonald Commission. And I appreciate that the work ahead is going to be very, very challenging. But I want to make two points, they’re really related, in closing. And one is just to ask this question. How can you have effective national security policies and institutions without a clear definition of what you mean by national security? We do not have that definition either in law or in any kind of common understanding in this country. And this is something, again, that was pointed out by the National Security Intelligence Advisor. And the second point I would make is that how can you have effective institutions and laws without any clear policy guidance? We have no national security strategy. We are unique among our Five Eyes partners in that deficiency. The last national -- I’m making Ward wiggle here. The last national security policy was issued, as counsel and the Commissioner know, in April 2004 and it has never been upgraded or modernized, and it’s a challenge to find it even, archivally. I think, and encourage the Commissioner to the extent that he feels it’s in the scope of his report, that we need to draw attention to these two key lacuna, the lack of a definition and understanding of what national security is for the government, for Canadians, for all levels of government, and the lack of any policy guidance whatsoever. Thank you.


  7. Wesley Wark, Senior Fellow (CIGI)

    Kent, thanks. First of all, just to emphasize just how important open-source intelligence is for the national security intelligence system. And the way we do it at the moment I think is far too diffused, and siloed, and fractured. I think there is a need for a central organization that is responsible for open-source collection, and especially analysis. And I’m thinking about Professor West’s comments. I think it should be public facing to a degree. But I think it is only going to be truly useful if it is within a place within the national security and intelligence community. I would not put it in CSIS. The CSIS director has made it clear he doesn’t want it there. The obvious home for it is the Privy Council Office, operating alongside the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat, and to a certain extent, connected to the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat. But to address, you know, concerns about what we might broadly call democratic legitimacy, which I think is a real concern that Professor West has raised, its mandate would have to be very clear, it would have to be accountability mechanisms, and there would have to be real transparency about its work so that Canadians could be reassured that what it was doing was lawful, that what it was doing was in the public interest and serving national security. So it certainly couldn’t be built and hidden away. I’m not saying it needs to be created through statute, I’m not sure that would be a good idea, but in order to be useful, it does have to be in the national security intelligence system, and providing that open-source intelligence product to decision makers so that they can exercise, as Dick has said, their judgement.


  8. Wesley Wark, Senior Fellow (CIGI)

    Thanks very much. There are, and I suppose it’s important to say where we find them because it -- that intersects with other arguments, at least, that I’ve made. Generally where you’ll find definitions or concepts of national security are in national security strategies, which all of our five Is partners have in one form or another and tend to keep up to date, most regularly in the context of the United States. And the importance of having these definitions is partly to guide policy, it’s partly to align with law and lawful authorities, but it is principally in terms of public education. And the point that’s been made by many of my colleagues, and I agree with entirely, is that one of the challenges for Canada is that national security is not taken seriously either at the political level or at the public level. I would make the argument that that is going to change dramatically as the threat environment changes, but it is important, I think, to try and help the public understand what the meaning of national security is, what the threats might be, what the response capability of different levels of government might be and to outline that both as a piece of public education and as national security policy guidance for the government. So this is a little bit different than simply giving academics something to write about. This is a serious mission, I would say. And what is -- and Ward is absolutely right referring to the two projects that were undertaken recently with regard to thinking about national security strategy. It is very difficult to define what we mean by national security, but it’s a worthwhile enterprise because what it does has to do and does do, I think, in other doctrines adopted by our allies, is to align a concept of national security with the public interest, in other words, to spell out why should this matter for ordinary Canadians. And so the models are there. In the best Canadian practice when it comes to national security, as my colleagues will know, we can adopt those models as a late responder, study them and think about them. But I think the idea is just so important.


  9. Wesley Wark, Senior Fellow (CIGI)

    Sure, Kent. Happy to do so. And the reason I point to the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians as possibly the body that could act on Parliament’s behalf to conduct a Parliamentary review, really, is threefold. One is that the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians has, in my view today, proven itself in terms of the kinds of reports it’s done. A second point is that the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians throughout its history -- and it’s gone through, you know, many different members from different political parties, the House and the Senate, has always adopted and sustained a non-partisan approach to national security issues which, of course, you will not find in a Parliamentary committee. The third is that the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, as I think you’ve referenced, has wide access to classified information and classified briefings not available to an ordinary Parliamentary Committee. And finally, unlike an ordinary Parliamentary Committee, the National Security Committee of Parliamentarians - - sorry to keep, you know, not using the acronym -- has a dedicated secretariat research staff, which is, in my view, highly professional, highly competent and capable of being the kind of engine room for a study that it might conduct. So I think there are a lot of advantages to putting it there. Would Parliament accept that? I’m not sure. There are different views among parties about the legitimacy of the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, and we’ve seen that played out. But in my mind, it would be the ideal solution.


  10. Wesley Wark, Senior Fellow (CIGI)

    How can I be brief on this, Kent? Thank you, though. Listen, I would say, first of all, discussing intelligence failure is just an inescapable reality. You know, the challenge for the Commissioner, I think, is deciding how real this was; how serious it was, what was the nature of the impact was on the absence of critical pieces of good intelligence, whether it’s early warning intelligence or intelligence, for example, on the fact that slow-rolling convoys might turn into border blockades. And I would also say not only is it an important thing to think about, but it’s out there in the public domain. It is a question that has to be answered because it has been raised in the public domain and in the media; it cannot be avoided. Is it the real issue? You know, I think it is. I guess it just reinforces a point that I made at the beginning; I think that there is a direct link between intelligence failures, policing failures, and the circumstance in which the Cabinet found themselves in a rush of decision-making over a few short days before the Emergencies Act was invoked. And it’s important to remind ourselves that the Incident Response Group was only called for the very first time on February 10th, and the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act was issued on February 14th. That is crisis decision-making in its purest form. And I think it is clear, at least in my mind, from the evidence that we’ve heard, that there was a lot of uncertainty about the threat that was being faced, particularly the future manifestations of that threat. So, yes, intelligence failure is a big issue, and I’ll finish on that, Kent. Thank you.