By Colonel (ret'd) Pat Stogran
This is a good era to be a militant activist. Nowadays, modern technologies have empowered independent antagonists so much that they alone can pose a real and serious threat to the security of powerful nation states. I would submit that the longer-term prognosis is more buoyant for the antagonists because they are not as constrained as their counterparts in government who are responsible for countering them are with political, bureaucratic and career imperatives. Moreover, there is mounting evidence that some unsavoury nations or agencies within seemingly legitimate governments are recruiting the assistance of these wild card militants to carry out acts of espionage.
While my heart still lies with the troops who do the hard yards in the face of the enemy overseas, since my retirement I have been much more open-minded in my outlook on contemporary conflict than I probably was while I was in uniform. This led me to the realization that social issues in Canada pose a legitimate and grossly underestimated threat to national security, which actually compelled me to act in a way I never would have imagined in my previous life as a warrior. I became involved in federal politics — briefly. I described that metamorphosis in an earlier article.
Since leaving the military, my study and commentary have focused more on contemporary forms of warfare — namely information and, as yet to a lesser degree to date, cyber warfare — than the kinetic operations that characterize industrial warfare. At the same time, our neighbours to the south began spiralling out of control in the lead-up to presidential elections with campaigns that are alleged to have been hacked and manipulated by Russia. It is apparent that the United States has been the victim of what has since been assessed as a full-on campaign of what is being called New Generation Warfare — not to be confused with Fourth Generation Warfare, which has been a recurring theme in earlier articles. As Dr. Janis Berzins describes it in Russia’s New Generation Warfare in Ukraine, (National Defense Academy of Latvia, April 2014):
“... the Russian view of modern warfare is based on the idea that the main battlespace is the mind and, as a result, new-generation wars are to be dominated by information and psychological warfare in order to achieve superiority in troops and weapons control, morally and psychologically depressing the enemy’s armed forces personnel and civil population.”
I think here in Canada we have a great deal to be concerned about because we have not articulated any such threats to our security and I don’t believe our government has the capacity to deal with them. We need not be concerned with what we know we don’t know, such as what acts of insanity the president-elect is going to come up with and how it will impact on Canada — those we can plan for and react to subsequently before the fallout becomes insurmountable. From a national security perspective, we must be far more concerned with information that we don’t know we don’t know because, strategically, that is far more dangerous.
Clandestine operations are fundamental to New Generation Warfare. A common tactic has foreign provocateurs exploiting the individual frailties of government officials, such as addictions to sex, drugs, alcohol and gambling, greed, narcissism, poor judgement, or deviant behaviour. These personality traits in public officials make them vulnerable to coercion, and foreign agents may entice potential targets by creating situations where they might act in an inappropriate and compromising manner; these are known as “honey traps.” It appears that Vladimir Putin had been grooming Donald Trump and his associates to assume the office of the U.S. presidency for years, and pulled out all of the stops during the presidential primaries right up to the actual elections. Anybody who has worked with senior military officers in the United States and witnessed their almost pathological patriotism will know that the apparent collusion of Lieutenant General Mike Flynn with Russia is an illustration of just how effective the Russians are at New Generation Warfare.
We have heard little about foreign powers meddling in the democratic affairs of Canada, but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent about the threat. We have witnessed moments when the prime minister (PM) himself has displayed the behaviour of a senior official who could be susceptible to coercion by foreign agents. He has demonstrated a distinct tendency to be less than truthful, and committed an act that very clearly violated the law governing conflicts of interest amongst government officials. Numerous times in the House of Commons he demonstrated impetuousness that causes one to wonder about the soundness of the PM’s judgement under pressure, such as yelling obscenities when he was a backbencher and later, as PM, elbowing a female colleague on the floor of the House of Commons. These acts were so egregious that he was forced to apologize for them, publicly, afterwards. Following the passing of the communist dictator Fidel Castro, the grief he expressed was so curiously heartfelt for a representative of a Western nation that it alarmed many Canadians and observers around the world. It calls into question as to where the PM’s real loyalties might lie. These all amount to indications of personality traits that could be ripe for exploitation by foreign agents.
This in and of itself should be even more disconcerting given that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is one of the most autocratic and unaccountable governments in the so-called free world. In a controversial article in The Washington Post entitled “Canada is not a great democracy, but do we care?” (April 2017), J.J. McCullough, a global opinions contributing writer out of Vancouver, described how the majority of the autocratic reforms that the president of Turkey imposed in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in that country are not dissimilar to those enjoyed by the PM of Canada as a matter of course. This article contextualizes the actions of the Turkish government that, at the time, were being editorialized as dictatorial, but it also stands as an indictment of the democratic affairs of Canada.
It has long been recognized that the so-called “Official Opposition” and the Senate offer little in the form of a check or balance to the omnipotence of the PMO. In recent years we have seen how PMs will marginalize their caucus and even the majority of their cabinet members in order to force their private agenda. Even the ultimate arbiter for Canadian democracy, the Governor General, is but a paper tiger that is beholden to the PM. And when you have a finance minister who, like his boss, has demonstrated no compunction after having danced around the conflict of interest laws for his own benefit, we can only imagine how the small army to the great unwashed MPs are behaving in the wings.
On top of that, senior management has demonstrated a propensity not only to turn a blind eye to the malfeasance of their political masters, but we have also witnessed senior bureaucrats, RCMP commissioners and chiefs of defence staff actually engaging in the political rhetoric and manoeuvre of the government of the day. Some have been caught red-handed indulging in malfeasance of their own. The former government’s Integrity Commissioner, Christiane Ouimet, was forced to retire in disgrace for not investigating almost 200 whistleblower complaints as was her duty to do, and more recently Conflict of Interest Commissioner Mary Dawson levied a laughably paltry $200 fine against a multi-millionaire senior cabinet minister whose alleged indiscretions might have netted his estate small fortunes. These are but two examples of a seemingly never-ending tide of institutionalized sycophancy in the senior echelons of the public service that should lead the informed, impartial observer to realize that the potential for foreign interference in our government is significant.
Not dark and dirty enough to convince you, or too much so for you to consider it to be a legitimate Canadian narrative? I will remind you that not too long ago (2012) former Canadian naval intelligence officer Jeffrey Paul Delisle pleaded guilty to spying and selling secrets to the Russians. He was reported to be the first Canadian to be convicted of spying in decades, but that should not be construed as evidence of the Canadian government’s efficacy in counterespionage operations. Former Vice Chief of Defence Staff Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was relieved of his duties and is currently under investigation by the RCMP for allegedly leaking classified technical information related to the country’s shipbuilding program. The allegations have yet to be specified let alone proven, but the affair still lends itself to the inference that government officials in Canada are just as vulnerable to periodic lapses in judgement as anywhere else in the world.
In warfare, adages such as where there is smoke there is fire and expect the unexpected take on extra meaning. We must learn from what is happening in the United States, not only because it could happen to us but because, in Canada, we don’t have much if any of the checks and balances on the executive authority in government that the American senate, congress, and judicial system seem to be demonstrating with their president despite vigorous partisanship and obstruction.
Until next time remember … War is being waged all around us and the battle space is inside YOUR mind!