Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bad Canada! No treat!

Former Defence Minister Bill Graham repeats the story that Canada suffered a loss of U.S.-supplied intelligence following our failure to join the U.S. in its own great failure of intelligence (both institutional and presidential) in Iraq (Steven Chase, Colin Freeze & Oliver Moore,"Inside Trinity, the secretive Halifax facility where an alleged spy last worked," Globe and Mail, 27 January 2012):
Mr. Graham, who served in the role [of defence minister] from 2004 to 2006, explained that the time-honoured intelligence-sharing relationship among [the Five Eyes] was jeopardized once before – when Canada refused to join last decade’s U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“We definitely paid a price. We definitely were shut out for about a year,” he said.
If the various extant accounts are accurate, the Iraq War was not the only time punishments have been meted out to Canada for insufficient ready-aye-readiness. In 2010, British intelligence historian Richard Aldrich revealed two previous incidents involving Canada. And UNDE... Well, we're not really sure what UNDE was on about, but it may have been referring to another two cut-offs.

But, really, this is all getting rather tiresome. Sure, Canada probably lost some access to Iraq-related intelligence as a result of not having any forces operating there. But – and I'm sure Bill Graham must have been well aware of this since he was the defence minister – we didn't have any forces operating there. So big deal.

The U.S. and the other members of the UKUSA community share intelligence because it is in their interests to do so. Canada benefits from that sharing, but so do the U.S. and the other members. That's why they do it.

Policy disputes arise among the members from time to time. The U.S. was extremely annoyed with the U.K. in 1956 (as was the U.K. with the U.S.). But the intelligence relationship went on, because both countries believed that it was in their interest to continue it.

The U.S. was highly incensed with New Zealand in the 1980s. But, as Nicky Hager has documented, even in the case of that very unequal intelligence-sharing relationship, only very minor cuts were made to the intelligence supply: the fundamental SIGINT relationship went on.

The U.S. from time to time threatens (and evidently to some limited extent occasionally engages in) intelligence cut-offs not because it has decided that its overall intelligence-sharing relationships no longer serve its interests but because it understands that credulous political leaders may fall for such threats and thus modify their policies to make them more to the U.S.'s liking.

We owe it to ourselves not to be too credulous in this respect.

And we also need to remember that, in the final analysis, we seek intelligence in order to advance our foreign, defence, and domestic security policies; our foreign, defence, and domestic security policies do not exist to advance our intelligence-sharing arrangements. If the cost of maintaining access to certain Iraq-related intelligence was sending Canadian troops to Iraq, then the government made the right decision when it chose not to pay that cost.

The ironic thing in this particular example, of course, is that the Chretien government was quite willing to go to Iraq. It had provided contingency funds in the Estimates to pay for the operation. The "compromise" it promoted at the UN Security Council amounted to nothing more than a slight delay in the timeline of the war – giving Saddam more time to prove a negative was never going to make the impossible possible. In the end, the government's insistence on a second UN resolution saved it from going to war in Iraq, but it might just as easily have trapped it into taking that foolish step.

And – another irony of intelligence-sharing among countries that occasionally differ on matters of policy – at the same time as Canada was promoting its "compromise" at the Security Council, the NSA was mounting a surge in UN coverage aimed ultimately at influencing the Security Council to vote in favour of the U.S. position. The UKUSA allies had been asked to help the NSA effort, and it's hard to imagine that they didn't. Was CSE involved? If so, exactly which country's policies was it advancing?

This is the kind of conundrum that is going to keep on coming up. If you're going to participate in intelligence-sharing, you're going to end up sometimes advancing policies you don't agree with. The standard calculation that Ottawa makes is that despite such disagreements, on the whole the intelligence-sharing serves Canada's interests.

Which is the same calculation that Washington makes with respect to U.S. interests.

Which is why even though we sometimes differ on policy, and although symbolic cut-offs may occur from time to time, the broad intelligence-sharing relationship continues.

If either government ever decided that the two countries' interests and policies had diverged so greatly as to call into question their status as allies and partners, then we could expect intelligence-sharing to end. But that possibility remains inconceivable in either capital.

Until then, apocalyptic claims of imminent intelligence cut-offs resulting from the spy scandal or policy disagreement du jour should be met with a collective roll of all five eyes.

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