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The State of Information and Intelligence Sharing in Canada

Jun 21, 2016
Ruben Vroegop Ruben Vroegop
Senior Research Associate
National Security and Public Safety

In 2013, The Conference Board of Canada was awarded a grant by Public Safety Canada under the Kanishka Project to identify gaps in the private sector’s knowledge of terrorism and counterterrorism measures and facilitate collaboration with government stakeholders.1 Thirty-one years after the Air India Flight 182 disaster, which still ranks as the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history, the effective sharing of information and intelligence remains vital to our national security.

Our Kanishka-funded publication, Bridging the Gaps: Voices From the Private Sector on Counter-Terrorism, aimed to develop a more comprehensive picture of the forces that discourage or prevent some within the private sector from actively participating in counter-terrorism measures. One central finding from our survey of security professionals for this project identified a failure to effectively share information and intelligence as a major obstacle. Among other recommendations (such as specialized training and the need for building trusted relationships), our report emphasized expanding information sharing platforms to augment public-private sector collaboration.2

Since then, the terrorist threat has evolved and we have witnessed attacks across the globe, with Lahore, Baghdad, Ankara, Paris, Brussels, and Orlando being but a small selection. On the back of these tragedies, the sharing of information and intelligence by authorities has been repeatedly identified as an area in need of improvement. Although law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been successful in disrupting terror plots on Canadian soil, an ongoing, collaborative commitment to sharing is crucial to ensure that we can “connect the dots” within the vast amount of information that is produced on a daily basis.

So what does information and intelligence sharing look like in the Canadian environment today? Who do our security stakeholders share with? Where do they obtain information and intelligence on security threats? And, as the operators of most of the country’s critical infrastructure, what is the private sector’s perspective on all this?

In April 2016, The Conference Board of Canada’s National Security and Public Safety team invited more than 500 public and private sector security professionals from across the country to complete a survey. The results show trends that can form the basis for further informed discussion.3 The chart shows how private sector respondents evaluated the quality of information and intelligence they received from a variety of stakeholders in 2016, as opposed to 2013.

Image of chart showing private sector trends for 2013–16

Two aspects in particular stand out. First, there has not been a significant change in the private sector’s views on the quality of information and intelligence that it receives from domestic intelligence agencies or government, with overall scores between fair and average. Second, the areas in which a positive perceived change in quality can be observed are trade associations and international partners, with the former ranking highest for quality. Interestingly, local law enforcement is also increasingly seen by the private sector as a source of quality information and intelligence.

These results raise a number of questions about the efficacy of information and intelligence sharing in Canada, particularly when it comes to government and domestic intelligence agencies. How can we improve the quality of information and intelligence flowing to the private sector? What can we learn from trade associations and local law enforcement in this regard?

In an age of increasingly sophisticated security threats, developing practical insights into how we structure and improve our intelligence- and information-sharing mechanisms is of utmost importance. Good sharing practices are needed if we are to be better prepared to deal with the evolving threat of terrorism. Our preliminary survey findings suggest that some improvements may be required, particularly in terms of the perceived quality of information and intelligence being provided to the private sector by government and domestic intelligence agencies.

We will be analyzing all the findings for our survey and discussing them with public and private sector members of our Centre for National Security this summer. The results, as well as implications for Canadian public and private sector stakeholders, will be released in a research briefing later this year.

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1    The Kanishka Project was a five-year, $10-million initiative by the federal government to promote research on questions for Canada on terrorism and counter-terrorism. The project was named after Air India Flight 182, which was destroyed by an explosive while crossing the Atlantic on June 23, 1985, resulting in the deaths of 329 people, including 268 Canadians.

2    Crystal Hoganson, Bridging the Gaps: Voices From the Private Sector on Counter-Terrorism (Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2014), iii.

3    The response rates varied by question, but were generally around 10 per cent.

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