Politics

Canada's special forces seek outside intelligence advice

Canada's elite special forces are looking for some outside intelligence advice — a move that one expert suggests is meant to make the highly-trained unit less dependent on allies, notably the Americans.

Intelligence expert says Canadian Forces may be preparing for more missions without American help

Canadian Reconnaissance Platoon and Land Electronic Warfare technicians - part of the regular force - practice reconnaissance procedures at Camp Adazi on Aug. 25, 2020. The country's special forces are looking for an intelligence adviser. (Canadian Armed Forces Combat Camera)

Canada's elite special forces are looking for some outside intelligence advice — a move that one expert said is likely meant to make the highly-trained special forces section less dependent on allies, notably the Americans.

A request for proposals was posted late last week to the federal government's tendering website asking private contractors to submit bids to become a "senior intelligence" adviser to the special forces, which undertake some of the military's most secret and dangerous missions.

The individual will be expected to "aid and support in the implementation of current intelligence projects, and the design and implementation of future capabilities."

Specifically, the new adviser will be responsible for helping to guide "the establishment of specific [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] capabilities," which will include aircraft.

The special forces recently bought three new surveillance aircraft from the U.S. The planes, which are expected to arrive in 2022, will be equipped with sensors and tracking gear to intercept cell telephone and other electronic transmissions.

The request for proposals also says the new adviser will be expected to have a deep background in working with other allied intelligence services.

In its defence policy, released three years ago, the Liberal government committed to bolstering the military's intelligence-gathering capability.

The special forces section itself emphasized intelligence-gathering in its recently released strategy, called Beyond the Horizon. Within the defence community, the strategy is seen as an important effort to refocus the special forces after nearly two decades of concentrating on counter-insurgency warfare.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM), Maj. Amber Bineau, had little to say about the rationale for hiring a contract adviser beyond what was included in the request for proposals.

The branch "periodically hires contractors, on a case-by-case basis" and the adviser will be working with "oversight from senior leadership within CANSOFCOM," she said in an email.

The University of Ottawa's Wesley Wark, one of the country's leading experts in intelligence, said the decision to bring in outside expertise and establish surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for the special forces is a significant move — especially coming at a moment when the United States is seen as pulling back from engagement with its allies, or focusing on different priorities.

Wark said Canada traditionally has relied on the Americans for a variety of intelligence-gathering capabilities, including military intelligence.

Security intelligence expert Wesley Wark at the University of Ottawa's Social Sciences Building on May 14, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The request for proposals, he said, amounts to a recognition by the Department of National Defence that some future special forces missions may not involve partnerships with U.S. special forces — and that Canada needs its own independent capabilities.

"If you're going to work with some different kinds of partners, the expectation grows that you're going to have to have your own sources and you can't just be relying on the United States," he told CBC News.

Wark said he could foresee, for example, Canadian special forces being called upon by the United Nations for specific intelligence help during peace support missions — a task that, in the current political climate, Washington would avoid.

Just as important, Wark said, is the fact that the request for proposals asked for someone with expertise in social media intelligence, "which is interesting and indicative of the kind of complex operations" the force will be facing in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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