Editorial: Sergeant Gullible of the Yukon
Back in the 1980s, I tried to be a spy. This was at the time when the powers that be realized the RCMP shouldn’t be in the intelligence business, and so they created CSIS… and then someone realized it needed staff. So PriceWaterhouseCoopers, I kid you not, placed ads for spies in newspapers such as the Globe and Mail. Back then, I was a spindly, blond geek with severe myopia (later corrected by surgery), and my interest in espionage had less to do with dreams of James Bond-like adventures and more to do with geopolitical analysis. The form rejection letter I got in the post was hilarious, and it hung in pride of place for a year… in my washroom.
Now, one of the many reasons why the Mounties needed to get out of the shadow world was a clear lack of political sophistication. It was still keeping busy chasing Soviets while militant Sikh extremism was on the rise in Canada. Not that CSIS acquitted itself much better; both share the legacy of the botched investigation into the bombing of Air India Flight 182. Only a few years ago, an ex-CSIS analyst told me how he would pass colleagues at their desks who got their primers about foreign countries from leafing through the newspapers.
Today, it doesn’t look as if the RCMP has learned their lesson. Greenpeace got its hands on an intelligence assessment by the Mounties about the “anti-petroleum movement,” (what the rest of us merely call environmental activism). Turns out, as media critic website PressProgress reports, the RCMP relied on propaganda from oil lobbyists; it also made the kind of dubious assumptions (“Canadians overwhelmingly support… the oil sands”) and conclusions that earn a sociology major a big fat F on his term paper.
It’s comical. And pathetic. Besides the general implications for human rights and law enforcement, it means that corporations must look past public to private sources for what are basic security and geopolitical risk concerns.
If you’re a mining, oil, biotech or pharmaceutical company, what does it say when your national police force can’t distinguish between those with picket signs and those who are pathologically and politically deranged, intent on sticking a bomb underneath the car of your research scientist? Are these the top minds (with badges) who can explain why your guy was taken by bandits in Niger?
If you really want to understand international threats, let alone do thorough geopolitical risk analysis, you have to understand the history of other regions and actually have some curiosity about other cultures. I always naively presume this should be obvious, but I’m sometimes appalled to run into officials, law enforcement types and, yes, journalists—otherwise nice, intelligent, erudite people—who simply don’t give a damn about the world beyond the North American continent. Is it any wonder then that political risk is becoming a highly prized information commodity?
Because even beyond the standard homework, you must bring insight.
So your firm had better have a talented and well-paid risk department, because the unspoken bargain that taxpayer dollars were an investment in folks with brains over in the RCMP and CSIS isn’t playing out.
The Mounties did away with the Musical Ride, but some folks are still turning in circles.
Copyright 2014 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the March 2015 edition of Corporate Risk Canada magazine