Army struggling to retain intelligence capabilities, documents reveal
Canadian troops stand atop an observation post in Folad, Afghanistan, Nov. 23, 2010. (Murray Brewster / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, December 16, 2012 2:13PM EST
OTTAWA -- The Canadian Army is trying to hold on to its intelligence-gathering capability and its ability to disrupt spying in the face of budget strain, say internal National Defence documents.
A briefing note prepared for the country's top soldier shows the army has pushed the military's chief of intelligence to permanently staff "high-readiness" intelligence positions within brigades and all-source intelligence centres that could be called upon to deploy overseas.
The documents, obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws, also show the army is anxious to protect its network of human sources and operatives, known as HUMINT, and to better resource its counter-intelligence abilities.
With the end of the war in Afghanistan and a shrinking defence budget, there is a fear those disciplines could face "degradation."
The army's budget by itself has shrunk by 22 per cent.
Indeed, during an appearance recently before the Senate security and defence committee army commander Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin said he's invested 1,500 regular force positions in "enablers" such as intelligence, counter-improvised explosive device research, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, among other things.
How much of that involves modernized intelligence wasn't made clear, but the documents show it is a pressing concern.
"Recent operational experience has reinforced the conviction that deployed land forces in particular (censored) depend on a sophisticated (human intelligence) network that draws from all sources," said the April 8, 2011 briefing.
The army found itself hobbled at the beginning of the Kandahar mission in 2005, by the absence of that sophisticated ground network of sources, and by its lack of experience in interrogating prisoners.
Documents released last year show the agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service were brought in early in the war to help in the questioning of Taliban fighters, a practise that ended as army officers gained more experience.
Both NATO and the Canadian military claim to have been surprised by a resurgent Taliban onslaught in the spring of 2006. As the war was winding down for Canada last summer, retired general Walt Natynczyk -- the chief of defence staff at the time -- said intelligence is never an exact science.
"We're not the only ones to have gone through this kind of discovery because intelligence is never perfect," Natynczyk said in his final interview with The Canadian Press.
"Our guys worked very, very hard with intelligence, but the fact is you cannot assess all of the factors, or understand all of the ingredients that go into a counter-insurgency."
The briefing for Devlin said other armies are learning the "hard-won lessons from operations in the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan" and have already "developed highly effective field (human intelligence) capabilities."
The Canadian military's counter-intelligence section is a joint branch that investigates threats and possible security breaches. The memo suggests the army wants to develop its own, separate lower level capability, one similar to the U.S. Marine Corps.
The Canadian navy has also gone through similar soul-searching when it comes to intelligence.
Since 2010 it has been engaged in a major overhaul that, at one point, suggested placing more intelligence officers on ships deployed overseas, but budget restraint has slowed that effort.