SSWG e-Conference Series Archive:
"The Future of Fighting"

Conference II Transcript:
"Defending Canada At Home"

Original e-Conference date: May 11, 2012
(oldest comments first)


Hi everyone, and welcome to the CIC and CDFAI's Future of Fighting discussion, "Defending Canada at Home," with former president of the Center for National Policy, Stephen Flynn, and the University of Toronto's Wesley Wark. I am an assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa and the moderator of the Future of Fighting Series. I will be moderating this discussion - and the five that follow. We’re looking forward to bringing in questions from the online public, so please add them to the live-chat or, for those on Twitter, use #CICLive. Please direct your questions to me and I will organize them for our guests.
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:01 AM

I am delighted to be joining this discussion today.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:01 AM

I am with you
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:02 AM

Welcome, Dr Flynn!
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:03 AM

Welcome, Prof Wark!
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:03 AM

Let's get started with the big question: What is another terrorist attack on North American soil likely to target and look like? Are Canada and the United States prepared to prevent it and deal with the aftermath?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:04 AM

If the next attack is by a lone actor, then it will be inherently difficult to prevent, unless luck is on our side. I am skeptical about Al Qaeda's capacity to mount further attacks. As for the so-called AQ affiliates, that is an interesting issue that I hope we will explore.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:06 AM

There are really two scenarios. The more probable one is a small-scale attack with domestic roots. This are extremely difficult to detect and prevent. The more remote but still real scenario is a sophisticated attack that goes after critical infrastructure like ports, the power grid, and mass transit to cause mass disruption.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:06 AM

Thge question begged by Stephen's post, is a sophisticated attack by what group?
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:08 AM

Did participation in the war in Afghanistan ultimately decrease or increase the terrorist threat to Canada? And should our continued engagement be viewed through this lens?
by taylor_owen May 11 at 10:09 AM

On preparedness, both the US and Canada are not adequately prepared to deal with the aftermath of an attack in a way that is not an overreaction which actually fuels the very threat we are trying to address.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:09 AM

You both point to a high likelihood of local actors mounting smaller-scale attacks. Are these types of events likely to push Washington and Ottawa to further increase their homeland security efforts? Or will they lead to a greater degree of resilience on the part of North Americans as people become more accustomed to the threat?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:09 AM

I didn't say high-likelihood. I think the likelihood is small, but the lone actor scenario is, I agree with Stephen, the most probable. As for a push to increased cooperation on homeland security this is already underway in its most recent scenario, the Border Action plan. The drivers here, for Canada at least, are securing and feeing up trade links with the US.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:11 AM

I don't think our participation in Afghanistan changed the calculus for terrorist groups, certainly not for the Taliban, which has other objectives to focus on.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:12 AM

My worry on the US side of the border is that a major terrorist incident, particularly if there is a connection to Canada will result in a border-centric, law enforcement response that will be very disruptive to both our societies. The likelihood of such an attack over the long run arises from the reality that the US is so dominant in conventional military terms that the other way for a current and future adversary to meaningfully attack it is via attacks directed against it critical infrastructure. That probability is the near term is low, but it will take some time for both our countries to better get our acts together.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:13 AM

Higher likelihood, my apologies.
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:13 AM

Is there any way to prevent our respective governments from over-reacting to a future attack?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:14 AM

With regard to Stephen's worry, the question is whether our security policies should be worry-driven in this way. They were post 9/11. I think its time for some new thinking.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:14 AM

I agree that the Afghan participation has had no real impact on the risk to Canada. A more worrisome outcome of the War in Iraq from my perspective is that the insurgency there got good at targeting infrastructure, especially energy infrastructure that we have a good bit of on both sides of the border.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:15 AM

@Wesley Wark However, in the case of the so-called Toronto 18, the existence of this group was organically linked to Canadian foreign policy. Specifically, Canada's involvement in Afghanistan served a catalytic function in mobilizing these domestic actors. Similarly, we can see the same thing in the Case of London and Madrid.
by Jeremy Kowalski May 11 at 10:16 AM

Wesley, could you elaborate on how you think governments should rethink the threat assessment and their approach?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:16 AM

Stephen: how do we build resilience within civil society? Do we have any principles we can draw on from outside of North America?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:16 AM

How to avoid over-reacting? Partly this is gained through experience, of which we have now had some. Partly its a question of political gain in over-reacting. Partly its an issue of societal resilience. The better educated a society is with regard to the nature of security threats, the less likely that over-reactiuon will occur, either in terms of the public debate or the political reaction
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:17 AM

I agree with Wesley that new thinking is required and it will be essential to preventing an overreaction. I have been an advocate of focusing on building greater community and infrastructure resilience to better prepare for and cope with the more probable and consequential hazards we face from acts of nature. This ends up having a derivative advantage of helping us to cope with terrorism as well, in the rare instances that it happens.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:17 AM

Re-thinking the threat assessment. The hard part here is appreciating that we are in a new environment, post, post 911. There are a whole range of security threats,.immediate and more long term that are of higher priority than threats from terrorism. I would include in this category, cyber aggression, espionage, and WMD proliferation.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:19 AM

Are there other countries we could look to in learning how to build up our resilience and educating citizens about the threat?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:19 AM

On building resilience, there is a need for a bottom up effort at the community level, and a systems approach to safeguards critical infrastructure and networks. At the community level, there is a very good initiative underway in eight communities around the US to develop a Community Resilience System--a process of better preparing, responding, recovering, and adapting to the kinds of risks that the community itself identified. For more on this, check our www.usresilience.org
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:20 AM

There are three keys to societal resilience (British doctrine is good here). First-responder capacities, good national planning, and (above all), public education. Its not about hardening targets.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:20 AM

I think some are overlooking the fact that the Koran is riddled with passages that are incomplete opposition of our code for Human Rights not to mention our Constitution .
by Echohawk May 11 at 10:21 AM

Thank you for sharing that link, Stephen!
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:21 AM

In terms of learning from other countries, there is a lot of opportunity there. When is comes to earthquakes, Japan is tops, flooding--look to the Dutch, domestic terrorism the UK and Israel are well prepared.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:22 AM

Stephen, could you elaborate on how we should better safeguard our shared critical infrastructures and networks?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:23 AM

Those certain absolutes that are taught in the Koran are taken very literally and thus produce radicals like the Toronto 18
by Echohawk May 11 at 10:23 AM

Wesley, why do you think that the current government continues to promulgate the message that Islamic/Islamist terrorism is the signal greatest threat facing this nation given the salience of other threats?
by Jeremy Kowalski May 11 at 10:23 AM

Wesley is quite right about resilience not being about hardening targets. The key with resilience is that you focus on safeguarding a critical need, service, or function in the face of risk. If protective measures undermine the service or function, they are self-defeating.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:23 AM

Wesley, are you satisfied with the approach the Canadian government took in it's newest public safety strategy? What could be done to improve Canada's approach?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:24 AM

Jeremy Kowalski asks why the Canadian government continues to focus on Islamic terrorism in its rhetoric. Do you agree? If so, why do you think it is doing so?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:25 AM

In the US, I give the Obama administration some credit for moving aways from a terrorism centric approach to homeland security and one that emphasizes greater preparedness for all hazards. Still, our national security approach remains very AQ centric and does not focus enough in my view of investing in community and infrastructure resilience so that terrorism is a far less effective weapon.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:26 AM

Why does our government continue to signal that Islamist terrorism is the number one threat? A good question. Change is hard and inertia might be the answer, in part. An excess f caution might be at work. The government does also listen to the message from its intelligence services. More fundamentally, the Islmaits terrorism threat is the familiar one; it would take a real desire on the part of the government to engage in a political debate with opposition parties and the public in order to re-arrange the threat list--and they have no such desire.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:26 AM

To Prof Wark , Should all infra structure computer systems be taken off the internet to help protect them from hackers ?
by Echohawk May 11 at 10:28 AM

The best thing about the government recent National Security Strategy paper is that it exists and puts a lot of weight on the need for public awareness. It makes promises to keep Canadians updated. Its not substantial enough in terms of describing threats and prioritising them, and in terms of describing our efforts to meet those threats. But its a start. The key question will be whether the government means what it says in terms of engaging in a more systematic effort to inform the public.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:29 AM

I would like us to go back to the international angle for a moment. Are international counter-terrorism efforts essential to effectively protect North America? In light of Iraq and Afghanistan, what should these international efforts look like, surgical strikes or larger interventions?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:29 AM

For the US side of the border, it is clear that the radical jihadist is appealing to a tiny segment of our population who are susceptible to being radicalized. So the threat is a real one, though most of these folks who have been radicalized are not very capable.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:29 AM

What importance do Canadian (or any other country's) companies working abroad have in keeping our country(ies) safe from threats?
by Marguer_d May 11 at 10:31 AM

International counter-terrorism efforts are vital. There is a very large debate about what the best methods of intervention might be. The answer is probablly case specific and will range, depending on the target, from drone strikes, all the way to efforts to assist fragile states so as to prevent them from becoming safe havens.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:31 AM

Overall, I am supportive of international efforts to go after terrorists when we have the intelligence to support them, but I am pessimistic about relying on this tool at the exclusion of efforts to make ourselves less vulnerable to these attacks. The biggest danger terrorism poses is not what terrorists can do to us, but what we can do to our own societies when we are spooked. This necessitates more public engagement and setting of realistic expectations by our elected leaders.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:32 AM

Wesley mentioned WMDs. Have our two countries done enough to counter the proliferation of these weapons and to prevent their entry into North America? Is that one area where we might want governments to play a larger role? Or is the threat still fairly remote?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:33 AM

We have a question about the private sector. What is its role in homeland security and counter-terrorism today?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:34 AM

Resilience is tied to public education, but the question is education toward what end? As a society, we are uneasy talking about religion in the public square -- preferring to hide our values and mores in a Saranwrapping of "secularity" -- and so we are even less able to understand the cultural dimensions of conflict elsewhere. We want to be "safe" (who doesn't?) but we can't make our security depend on the insecurity of the rest of the world.
by Peter Denton May 11 at 10:34 AM

WMD proliferation takes many shapes as a problem, from state actors, to criminal trafficking. On the state actors problem, Canada is a secondary player but can take a position (as with Iran). I think we could do more on the surveillance and counter-trafficking side.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:35 AM

I worry that we still do not have effective controls in place for limiting the risk that that nuclear materials can be moved through the intermodal transportation system. By in large, countries don't pay much attention what moves out of their borders, despite export control agreements, and pay only token attention to what enters their border. Some improvements have been made, but they are nominal. A dedicated bad-guy would have little problem finding ways to smuggle WMDs/
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:36 AM

The private sector abroad has a responsibility to have as light a foorprint as possible, so as to avoid becoming part of the problem that produces what David Kilkullen calls the "accidental guerilla." At home, the private sector is responsible for securing itself--and in some sectors, such as banking, does a reasonably good job. I am a bit doubtful about the prospects, or the need for private-public partnerships on security matters.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:37 AM

The kind of public education that resilience should focus on is preparing for when things go wrong such as a disease outbreak, or major natural disaster. Good preparedness requires everyone to be involved, so it reinforces the social contract, rather then strain it as a focus exclusively on terrorism can do.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:38 AM

You both agree that we could do more on the WMD side. Do you have any ideas as to why is has not been tackled with greater seriousness? Does it bring us back to the education and perception problem? Are governments more likely to address threats that spook people more, even if those aren't the threats that citizens should be principally worried about?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:38 AM

About the private sector - one example: Blackwater vs other countries' security contractors : another, SNC Lavalin and its entanglements in corruption - the resulting after-effects of both leave a footprint on nations. How we can better improve (even enforce if need be) our companies' actions abroad?
by Marguer_d May 11 at 10:40 AM

On the counterproliferation risk, I find frustrating that more effort is not made to reduce the quantity and control the materials that we know could potential find their way into the wrong hands. When it comes to trafficking these materials, the problem is that it requires a comprehensive global approach to imbedding safeguards into the global trade and logistics system, and there has been little appetite for so that.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:42 AM

On WMD trafficking, part of the problem is the perennial government question of who owns the problem. Its not clear in a Canadian context that we have a good answer to this, and without a good answer its hard to arrive at a clear idea of how to address the threat. Counter-proliferation is something that involves CSIS, RCMP, DND, DFAIT, CBSA and others. As to who owns, who knows? We had an Iranian smuggling case go to court in Canada a couple of years ago, which got very little publicity. The profile of these kids of problems needs to be raised.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:42 AM

I like the idea of the social contract, Stephen. As Canadians, though, we worry that the US still sees us as being outsiders who can be shut out in the event of an attack, to the detriment of both of countries in the long run. Is there a way to foster greater solidarity between our two countries so that we see resilience as a common North American challenge?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:43 AM

Wesley expresses some skepticism about engaging the private sector in a meaningful way on security matters. The track record has certainly been spotty, but I find some success when I engage the private sector on business continuity/enterprise resilience in the face of disruptive risk. They have a bottom line interest in providing their core services or products.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:45 AM

Both your answers to the WMD question tell me that there is much more to be done on that front, but that there is a lack of will. I hope our readers take that to heart.
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:46 AM

Greater Canada-US solidarity requires a willingness on the part of the US to appreciate the nature (and competence) of Canadian security efforts, something that is often lacking. It requires on the Canadian side, a willingness to understand security challenges as seen through US eyes. There will always be friction and Canadian doctrine should always keep in mind the famous "defence against help" concept. The Arar affair had a bigger impact than we might imagine.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:47 AM

Wesley, could you elaborate on your skepticism regarding public-private collaboration in this area?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:48 AM

Stephen is absolutely right about the private sector being responsive to security concerns and he has plenty of experience with this. I would let them get on with it, except in areas (not yet defined) where regulatory regimes need to be set in place by government,
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:50 AM

Phillipe, I am afraid that you have legitimate cause to worry about folks on my side of the border seeing Canadians as potentially part of the problem instead of the solution. I think this has been one unfortunate consequence of the challenges the US has along its southwest border. Too many Americans now believe that borders are meant to be protected because there are risks on the other side that need to be contained. This reality places a premium on our very visibly tacking shared challenges in a collaborative way so that Americans are reminded of the unique relationship we share.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:50 AM

To be honest I am more worried about religious dogma that preaches intolerance and violence then a fore mentioned government dogma or the far lefts propaganda that basically has a good ship lollie pop approach . How can a society or even a community stop religious intolerances from taking over their community ? We have whole neighbourhoods in Canadian towns and cities where a majority of its residences don't speak either of our official languages or have a very limited understanding and are completely distrusting of anyone outside of their religion.
by Echohawk May 11 at 10:50 AM

My skepticism stems from a view that suggests that the government and private sector share common security requirements (for the most part they don't) and that each is willing and able to teach/share lessons with the other.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:51 AM

A PS. The best example of the weakness of the public-private partnership is in cyber security.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:52 AM

What I hope will be one of the major positive outcomes of placing a greater emphasis on resilience is that it supports that recognition here in the US and Canada that we share critical networks, systems, and functions that need to be safeguarded for our mutual benefit, and the border is largely irrelevant when it comes to achieving that outcome. What we need to make resilient in the power gird, transportation systems, communications systems that we share and that has to be done in a binational way, not in a pure domestic one.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:52 AM

Could Wesley elaborate on how the Arar affair plays (played) part in the Can-US doctrines?
by Marguer_d May 11 at 10:53 AM

We're entering the last ten minutes of our discussion. Could each of you give us your thoughts on what we can expect from Washington and Ottawa on the counter-terrorism front in the next few years?
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:53 AM

Shared critical infrastructure resilience should in my view, be based on common efficiencies rather than being security driven. Security improvements will be a byproduct, though a useful one.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:55 AM

Wesley, one of our readers would like you to expand on the impact of the Arar case.
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:55 AM

Wesley is quite right that there is very often a lack of alignment between the public and private sectors on security matters. At the same time, the private sector operates so much of what is critical and for which significant public goods are at stake. So we have to figure out how to get the incentives to better align with putting in place appropriate safeguards. I believe there is a very helpful role for universities to play here to serve as something of an honest broker and to bring expertise to bear that is other missing in the public sector, particularly when it involves technical issues.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:56 AM

Thougfht on the future. It largely depends on who wins the next US election. If Obama, then I expect more of the same--targeted counter-terrorism and an effort to alter the US image abroad, combined with careful diplomacy. If Republican, an intitial focus on a isolationist policy and on the economy, followed by unhealthy adventurism overseas.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:57 AM

That is an important point about universities. It still surprises me that homeland security is a relatively marginal subject in academy more than a decade after 9/11.
by pmlagasse May 11 at 10:58 AM

When it comes to critical infrastructure, I would argue, what we should be trying to "secure" is its ability to provide a critical need, regardless of the source of risk. For instance, when it comes to "protecting" a bridge like the Ambassador bridge in Detroit-Windsor, what we really should be focusing on is the continuity of mobility of commercial goods that the bridge provides. That is something can support and alignment between the public and private sectors.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 10:59 AM

On Arar--on the Canadian side it opened some eyes in our law enforcement and intelligence community, to some of the dangers of intelligence sharing with the US. Following the O'Connor commission report, there were mandated changes to intelligence sharing which our US counterparts were perhaps not very happy with. We are still working through the consequences in terms of Canada-US intelligence sharing, which is at the heart of our shared security efforts.
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 10:59 AM

Its too late to get started on what the universities don't do well (in Canada at least)!
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 11:00 AM

This has been an excellent discussion. It was very informative and I have no doubt that our readers learned a lot. Thank you both!
by pmlagasse May 11 at 11:01 AM

Stephen, you have the last word on what to look for in the next few years.
by pmlagasse May 11 at 11:01 AM

I would go so far as to say that universities have largely been missing in action, even though the response by government and to a lesser extent industry is having a significant effect on who our societies operate. Academics have been largely squeamish about looking closely at what is being done in the name of homeland security. As a result, government has been deprived of a good bit of expertise.
by Stephen Flynn May 11 at 11:01 AM

Thanks to Phil and Stephen and to our bloggers
by Wesley Wark May 11 at 11:02 AM


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