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Navy assailed for plan to shut centre

Apr 22 2012

The government’s plan to close a key intelligence centre on the West Coast will weaken the navy’s capacity to respond to human smuggling, piracy and military threats from the Pacific, critics say.

The Acoustic Data Analysis Centre (Pacific), which collects and analyzes acoustic data and intelligence at CFB Esquimalt, will close and its operation will be transferred to a similar unit in Halifax.

The Canadian Forces insisted that merging the two intelligence centres will not affect intelligence gathering.

“This consolidation will achieve cost savings while not impacting the ability of the Canadian Forces to meet operational objectives in the delivery of naval intelligence capability,” a spokesman said in a statement. “With modern technology, there is less need to be tied to one physical location or another.”

But intelligence expert Wesley Wark, who teaches at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, said he does not buy the argument that the navy can acutely focus on intelligence analysis specific to the West Coast all the way from Halifax.

“We need a specialized capacity to think about Pacific problems and the further away you take an intelligence cell from the region in which it’s meant to be operating and thinking about, I think there is a decline in capabilities,” Wark said.

“If you put all those people in Halifax, sooner or later they will be mostly tasked with Atlantic issues, that’s going to be the reality of the job.”

Wark said having intelligence centres on both coasts was a strategy touted by the federal government in its 2004 national security strategy after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

There are unique problems in the Pacific region, such as human smuggling out of Southeast Asia, piracy in the South China Sea and the rise of Chinese military power, Wark said.

Because of the secretive nature of intelligence gathering, government bureaucrats who control the purse strings rarely have a strong grasp on how powerful good intelligence can be to the military arsenal, he added.

“Nobody screams when intelligence gets cut,” Wark said.

Maurine Karagianis, NDP MLA for Esquimalt-Royal Roads, said it is concerning that the province with the largest coastline in the country would be stripped of a key intelligence service.

“We’ve had numerous incidents of human smuggling that have occurred here and this centre has been the first touchstone for finding information out and beginning to set in place the resources that would be necessary,” she said.

Military intelligence was key to intercepting two migrant ships, the Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea, that reached Vancouver Island from Southeast Asia in 2010 and 2011. The vessels carried almost 600 Tamil migrants.

The move is part of the Conservative government’s plan to cut $1.5 billion from the Department of National Defence budget over three years.

Wark said the government is cutting military functions without looking at the “strategic overview of how these cuts are going to impact [operations]. It’s really just a compromise driven by no other rationale than saving money.”

The data analysis centre at CFB Esquimalt is made up of 24 regular force members and three reservists, the Navy said.

It was unclear whether the 27 employees will be offered similar positions in Halifax or other positions in the navy. The Canadian Forces did not say if the transfer will result in any job losses, although CFB Esquimalt is planning to cut 35 positions.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— with files from Rob Shaw

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