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Intelligence failure

Some experts feel Canada's universities have been slow to support security and intelligence studies post-9/11


Wesley Wark has had it with the juvenile attitude that he says many of his Canadian colleagues display when it comes to discussing the academic merits of security and intelligence studies. “I’m tired of all the [James] Bond jokes from faculty,” says the University of Toronto historian, who has authored several internationally acclaimed books on the subject and taught a popular undergraduate course on the rise of modern intelligence agencies since the 1980s. “It’s very peculiar,” he says, that such a worthy and vital subject is viewed “in caricature terms from the Cold War era.”

For Dr. Wark, that flippant attitude belies the widespread interest that university students of all stripes have for security and intelligence studies. He thinks, too, that it has contributed to the failure of universities across the country to meet that demand. “[Security and intelligence] has always been a popular topic among our students,” says Dr. Wark who, though on sabbatical, says he could easily double to 600 the number of students who normally take his course at U of T. “But there hasn’t been a 9/11 boom effect like I expected, no big investment by faculties or universities. I find it very disappointing.”

He is not alone. More than six years after the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the start of the U.S.-led “War on Terror,” many of this country’s leading academic specialists in security and intelligence studies are dismayed by the continued lack of both public interest and educational resources devoted to what they say is a fascinating and vital field of research.

“Most Canadians don’t know and don’t care about intelligence and security,” says Martin Rudner, the recently retired founding director of the Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, or CCISS, at Carleton University. A political scientist and economist trained in international development, Dr. Rudner taught courses and carried out research on intelligence and national security issues for 25 years at Carleton and its Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

Following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Rudner was tapped to develop CCISS as a distinct interdisciplinary research centre within the Paterson school focusing specifically on intelligence and national security. The centre is one of only a few small research groups in Canada devoted to the subject and is the first to offer, starting in the current academic year, a cluster of master’s-level courses on security and intelligence.

“There is overwhelming demand by students who see it as a path towards a career,” says Dr. Rudner. Of the roughly 100 graduate students who applied to the course cluster – 37 of whom were qualified – only 20 were accepted.

Demand appears to be equally strong at the dozen or so other Canadian universities that offer both graduate and undergraduate courses on security and intelligence issues. “My classes are always full and they could easily be doubled,” says Gavin Cameron, who has taught terrorism and intelligence studies at the University of Calgary’s political science department since moving to Canada from the U.K. four years. “We can basically fill as many slots in these classes as we want.”

The same holds true, he adds, for courses in other departments that are related to international security issues and terrorism. “There’s definitely an overlapping interest,” says Dr. Cameron. “Having an expertise, say, in Middle East history, religion or language, particularly Arabic, can provide a regional perspective.”

Carleton’s Dr. Rudner says a university degree with a specialization in security and intelligence studies can lead to at least two career paths: a job with one of the 16 federal agencies – such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – that actively deal with threat and intelligence assessment; or employment with one of the growing number of federal or provincial departments – from finance and foreign affairs to transportation and public safety – that are looking for people who know how the intelligence community works.

Job opportunities are expanding even further now that private companies in several sectors, particularly energy, are being forced to deal with potential terrorist threats. “And we’re not talking about them hiring guards at gates,” says Dr. Rudner. He points to a recent report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s Integrated Threat Assessment Centre that identified Canada’s oil industry as an “ideologically attractive and strategic target” for the al-Qaeda network as it searches for ways to disrupt the oil-dependent U.S. economy.

Jez Littlewood, a British security studies expert who took over from Dr. Rudner as head of CCISS in January 2007, says the 20 students in the new course cluster will take core courses like intelligence and statecraft, economics and public policy, and international security after the Cold War. After completing those and a mix of optional courses, such as arms control and proliferation, conflict management and prevention, peacekeeping, and a new course on terrorism, they will be required to do a thesis “to demonstrate a broad understanding of the world around them,” he says. “The key is to get them to think critically [about things] like the limits and role of intelligence in foreign policy and where it fits into the decision-making cycle.”

David Hislop, one of the students in the course cluster, says “it’s incredible, the classes they’ve pulled together.” Being in the nation’s capital is also a big advantage, he says. For example, as part of the program he recently attended a roundtable discussion with the Saudi ambassador as well as a seminar led by the head of the Communications Security Establishment, a federal agency that provides foreign signals intelligence to the Canadian government.

The first semester flew by “in the blink of an eye,” says Mr. Hislop. “I’ve loved pretty much every minute of it.”

Yet, despite this enthusiasm from students, few scholars appear to be gravitating to the field. “The supply side is our big problem,” says Dr. Rudner. “In all of Canada today there are fewer than 10 people who are qualified to teach intelligence and security studies at the graduate level.”

He and his colleagues say the field is being short-changed by short-sighted federal policymakers and university administrators who have failed to provide the necessary funds to hire good postgraduate research associates who can, in turn, be trained as professors to meet the strong student demand.

“Even if we had more positions for graduate students, we can’t compete for the best and the brightest,” laments Dr. Rudner, citing the millions of dollars the U.S. and U.K. governments spend to support research chairs, centres of excellence and other scholarly initiatives. As a result, he says, many of Canada’s best students in history, political science, sociology, anthropology and other fields related to the increasing complex security and intelligence field – including even engineering and architecture for the design and construction of terrorist-proof facilities – are leaving Canada to do postgraduate work elsewhere. “Most won’t come back home,” he says. “We couldn’t possibly attract them with the salaries we’re offering.”

Despite this pessimistic assessment, several Canadian universities are trying to stake out a place in the field. The University of Ottawa, for example, officially launched its new Centre for International Policy Studies in December. The new centre, led by political scientist Roland Paris, aims to produce “policy-relevant research on issues of international security and governance.” The new Balsillie School of International Affairs, a collaborative initiative of the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University opening this year, also will address conflict and security issues. As well, the University of British Columbia has a longstanding independent research unit, the Centre of International Relations, which supports research and teaching related to international security and defence issues, with an emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region.

At Université Laval, political science professor Aurélie Campana, who holds the Canada Research Chair on Terrorism and Identity Conflict, is laying the groundwork for new graduate courses on international security. “Our goal is to understand why some individuals and groups choose to commit violent acts to further their political aims, while others do not,” says Dr. Campana, a French native who was a member of the European Council’s Human Rights Bureau before joining Laval in 2006. That knowledge, she says, will add to the growing volume of research that is helping governments to deal with the ever-evolving threats from the dozens of ethnic and religious conflicts that have erupted since the end of the Cold War.

For U of T’s Dr. Wark, those threats, together with the growing need for a uniquely Canadian response to them, may help to galvanize public opinion and raise awareness of the need for more scholarly expertise in the field. “Intelligence and lawmaking are becoming increasingly difficult in what is now a very complex threat environment,” he says. “It requires a wide range of capabilities.”

To build that capacity, he advocates the creation of academic clusters to help sustain security and intelligence studies in Canada, rather than relying on the current smattering of experts across the country. But that will require political will and increased government spending. “That,” says Dr. Wark, “would help to wake our universities up.”

Mark Cardwell
Mark Cardwell is a veteran journalist and author based in the Quebec City area.
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