By Andrew Erskine, December 12, 2022
Canada has begun intelligence-sharing talks with Japan to establish a General Security Information Agreement (GSOMIA), closely followed by its recent release of an Indo-Pacific Strategy. While these developments will bolster the country’s capacity to collect, develop and provide timely intelligence, analysis, and assessment of Indo-Pacific security threats, Ottawa must use its longstanding intelligence capabilities to flush out new relationships with reliable partners, along with expanding its réseau to lower and middle-tier powers in the Indo-Pacific.
With such initiatives, Ottawa will be able to expand Canadian intelligence-sharing networks beyond its existing channels of traditional allies. Specifically, to better garner knowledge of Indo-Pacific’s security power dynamics and identify the best course of action to advance its unique national priorities while boosting a distinct middle power bloc, Canadian intelligence networking must become the short-term objective of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Currently, Ottawa has intelligence-sharing programs with the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand – through the Five Eyes (FVEY) partnership – and with NATO. These intelligence-sharing pacts have allowed Canada to successfully fulfill its national security interests and undertake new intelligence, security, and defence capacity-building exercises to understand traditional, new, and grey-zone threats, like global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, transnational crime, maritime piracy, and inter-state power politics.
Yet, for its part, Canada still lacks the tools to generate and act upon Canadian-centric intelligence. It remains complacent in its ability to internalize foreign intelligence it collects and analyses due to not having a foreign human intelligence service, relying instead on allies and partners, particularly the US, to export intelligence data on key security matters. Consequently, this has made Canada a “taker” and not a “trader” of intelligence.
Not only does this perception decrease Canada’s desirability as an intelligence partner in the Indo-Pacific, but it also accentuates Ottawa’s inability to understand the regional architecture of the Indo-Pacific and its attendant power dynamics. Moreover, these faults also make it difficult to deliver Canadian-centric policy decisions that reflect its national interests and priorities.
Despite these faults, Ottawa has been proficient in participating with intelligence networks of great powers, particularly the UK and the US, and politically-aligned multilateral organizations like NATO and FVEY. As such, Ottawa has an established intelligence architecture that can exchange information with various like-minded intelligence communities that share informational links over the prominent domains of warfare – maritime, land, air, space, and cyberspace – while forging Canada into a first-rank intermediary of information dissemination, communication and standard-setting in amassing and evaluating data on security issues.
Ottawa’s involvement in the FVEY, for instance, has allowed Canadian officials and departments to develop skills in organizing its national intelligence mandates with those of aligned partners through legal and secret infrastructures like signals intelligence (SIGINT). Participating in NATO, meanwhile, has empowered Ottawa to take a leadership role in intelligence-sharing – namely, by chairing the Alliance’s Military Intelligence Committee, which in 2018 saw Canada lead intelligence reforms that sought to improve NATO’s rapid decision-making in logistical, operational, and political areas.
To overcome intelligence-sharing shortcomings and preserve an intelligence role in the Indo-Pacific’s security architecture, Ottawa must expand its Indo-Pacific networking to key relationships that have been languishing in recent years. Specifically, Ottawa should pursue more extensive military-to-military and intelligence-sharing programs with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. In so doing, Canada will be more capable of fulfilling its current regional security commitments while acquiring first-hand logistical, military and operational intelligence on the region’s strategic competition landscape.
Ottawa needs to move past its current talks around GSOMIA and establish high-level intelligence-sharing initiatives that will contribute to Canada’s priorities with Operation Neon, which is Canada’s contribution to multilateral sanction efforts against North Korea. In particular, Ottawa should seek to establish a Joint Intelligence Operations Centre (JIOC) hub in Japan and South Korea to integrate their operational and tactical intelligence on North Korea with that of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Both countries would also provide Ottawa with much-needed intelligence on maritime operations in the South China Sea and East China Sea, which could be used to coordinate CAF’s surface and subsurface vessels during patrols and military exercises.
In return, Ottawa should further enhance its intelligence-sharing with Japan, with the goal of helping to speed up and prepare Japanese membership in the FVEY intelligence grouping. Specifically, Ottawa should send an intelligence delegation comprising CAF and CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) intelligence officers, bureaucrats, and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Public Safety to showcase how a state can design and build a domestic information security regime within a country’s constitution, thereby affirming the different classification levels for security clearance and the effects of legislative oversight. Ottawa could also use its FVEY experience to help South Korea enhance its SIGINT intelligence capabilities. Lastly, Ottawa could use its middle power tradition of being a bridge and facilitator to keep Japanese and South Korea intelligence cooperation intact and mitigate sidestepping between the two countries due to historical grievances.
For Taiwan, Ottawa must be strategic in how it develops any intelligence-sharing pacts within its “One-China policy.” With recent information emerging regarding the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) installing “police service stations” on Canadian soil and allegations of Chinese election interference, however, Ottawa should use this opportunity to learn lessons from Taiwan’s experience in dealing with Chinese espionage activities, including through an explicit intelligence-sharing agreement with Taiwan. As a traditional and continuous target for the CCP, Taiwan is at the forefront of Chinese espionage efforts and, as such, has developed sophisticated counter-intelligence mechanisms to fend, identify and deal with China’s espionage activities.
Pivoting to lower and middle-tier powers in the Indo-Pacific, Ottawa should look at the 2018 “Our Eyes Initiative” (OEI) between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines that sought to incorporate a FVEY-like intelligence-sharing pact, using their shared experience in counter-terrorism operations as a template for expanding intelligence-sharing. The OEI was expanded during an ASEAN summit in 2019. Called the ASEAN Our Eyes Initiative (AOEI), member states are seeking to standardize operating procedures for intelligence, communication, and information-sharing on issues like transnational crime, drug trafficking, fugitive tracking, terrorism, and radicalism. What’s more, AOEI was seen as a means to resolve lingering distrust, bureaucratic rivalries, and historical differences rooted in ASEAN.
With the major powers predominantly focused on containing China’s hegemonic aspirations, there is a need for an intelligence-sharing platform dedicated solely to middle power security issues. Using its experience within FVEY in the era of global terrorism and radicalism, along with its leadership in intelligence reform within NATO, Canada is ideally situated to fill in this intelligence gap.
To be perceived as a reliable and constructive intelligence practitioner in the Indo-Pacific, Canada must establish independent intelligence-sharing pacts with traditional allies while also extending its networks to new partnerships. For instance, Canada could first establish greater intelligence cooperation with countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia on issues related to transnational crime, terrorism and radicalism. This could be a means to gauge whether to expand military-to-military and intelligence-sharing agreements with select middle power states on more classified and sensitive issues.
In approaching these regional middle powers, Ottawa should seek to train and deliver needed logistical, coordinative, and assessment support that will strengthen a future middle power bloc. What’s more, Canada can take a leadership role in building the bloc’s capacity to investigate security issues that are of particular interest to middle powers, which may want to mitigate coercive behaviour and threats to the Indo-Pacific without necessarily taking a side in the Sino-US strategic competition. To develop such a bloc, there must be trust and interoperability between them.
To fulfill its potential in the region, Ottawa must develop a two-stream intelligence-sharing platform. The first of these streams is operational intelligence, which offers up-to-date information on locations, readiness, leadership, and force organization of a particular security threat. The second stream should focus on tactical intelligence that will increase on-the-ground data collection by intelligence officers who can classify a security threat’s design, attitude, and disposition – counterinsurgencies, terrorism, or piracy being examples.
Together, Canada and its partners will have the resources needed for high-level decision-making with regard to regional-specific security threats. In turn, Ottawa will emerge to become a coveted intelligence collaborator. To accomplish this objective in the short-term, Canada should increase funding for its law enforcement (RCMP) and intelligence services (CSIS), allowing both agencies to undergo an Indo-Pacific pivot with specific attention to training and creating intelligence-sharing platforms on counter-terrorism, maritime piracy, radicalism, and counter-insurgency.
In addition, Ottawa should use the RCMP’s International Policing Program, its experience with INTERPOL, and CSIS’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre to extend Canadian networks in sharing crime-related and investigative information, analysis, and support to Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia. Ottawa should also launch an RCMP Indo-Pacific training program to enhance senior-level law enforcement exchanges among the region’s middle powers to promote greater interoperability for operational and tactical intelligence-sharing. In return, Canada would seek improve its ability to gather and synthesize data on the region’s power dynamics, allowing it to foster more in-depth responses and better decision-making for its policy priorities in the Indo-Pacific.
It would also be beneficial for Ottawa to instruct Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to invest in an Indo-Pacific foreign intelligence branch, with specific investments towards up-to-date infrastructure of its Asian embassies to permit ambassadors, intelligence officers, and analysts to receive reports and undergo briefings of classified information. Ottawa should also invest in harmonizing greater transparency among its intelligence collectors, organizers, and consumers with public service officers, politicians, and military leadership to generate more coherent interactions, thereby leading to better policy decision-making.
From here, Ottawa can set about to design its medium to long-term strategies for its intelligence-sharing, which can influence the region’s security architecture. In particular, Ottawa should build off these short-term objectives to devise ways to work with Indo-Pacific middle powers to combat and deter China from interfering in domestic elections and civil society.
Andrew Erskine is a research analyst at the NATO Association of Canada, a researcher at the Consortium of Indo-Pacific Researchers, and the Editor in Chief at The New Global Order.