Canada may join U.S.-led energy, environment security project

OTTAWA - Canada may join a new, U.S.-led effort to gather and share intelligence about threats to energy and environmental security, a newly released document shows.

The project, spearheaded by the U.S. Energy Department's intelligence and counterintelligence unit, is billed as a "radically different" way of understanding security matters.

The Energy and Environmental Security Ecosystem, or EESE, will include a members-only website for governments, industry and experts to swap information and make contacts. There may also be face-to-face meetings.

The project, to be launched next year, is meant to improve understanding of the security implications of energy and environmental issues, says the website's architect.

"The whole purpose of the site is to create an online space that fosters discussions, conversations, collaborations at the nexus of energy, environment and national security," said Ashish Soni of the University of Southern California.

"Let's say there's something happening in Latin America. Some huge environmental story or some big shift in some energy futures, energy prices or a shortage of energy in some way.

"The notion is to bring that information to the surface and get people informed and made aware of what's going on across the world."

Canada dispatched officials to Herndon, Va., in May for meetings to discuss the project, a report from Natural Resources Canada shows.

A summary of the May 15-16 meetings identified energy and environmental security as weak spots for Canada.

"In most intelligence communities around the world, this area - and particularly the environmental focus - is not yet considered relevant within the dominant national security paradigm," it says.

The Canadian Press obtained the NRCan report under the Access to Information Act.

Political instability in some energy-producing nations, the manipulation of energy supplies, competition for scarce resources including food and water, attacks on pipelines and infrastructure, natural disasters and accidents all pose threats to global energy and environmental security.

Uneven distribution among countries of energy supplies, such as oil and natural gas, also heightens the risk for resource-rich nations like Canada as the world's energy needs grow.

The NRCan report says the "traditional" way of gathering intelligence, through classified sources and cloak-and-dagger tactics, is outdated.

"The character of the energy and environmental security challenge requires a radically different, more globally systemic process."

EESE relies on so-called "open source" information, said Liz Malone of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., who attended the May meetings.

"(It's) the kind of information that anybody with a computer or library card could get a hold of," she said.

The report shows 14 people attended the meetings, including one official each from NRCan and the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister's Office.

The U.S. Energy Department, the Scottish government and academia were also represented.

Other countries either involved or interested include France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Bangladesh, India, China, Brazil and Australia, said Irving Mintzer, an expert on energy and climate change who was at the meetings.

The report says attendees talked about what they hoped to accomplish with the project and how to set up the website.

The project should be launched in three to six months, Soni said, with more meetings planned for the spring.

For now, the report says, Canada remains an "observer" of the project. But NRCan spokesman Guy Turpin says that could change.

"A number of federal departments are assessing in what capacity, if any, they could participate in this international collaborative initiative," he said in an e-mail.

"It is anticipated that EESE will become an international foresight network . . . .

"As such, its non-traditional and open approach to information-gathering could provide policy-makers with a new and useful 'knowledge aggregator."'

No one from the U.S. Energy Department was available to comment.

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