Oct. 17, 2003. 01:00 AM
New intelligence team to counter terrorism threats
Group taps a number of federal agencies

Aim for early detection and quick response


VANCOUVER—The federal government has created a new security centre to step up the country's protection against a terrorist attack, Solicitor-General Wayne Easter announced yesterday.

The new Integrated National Security Assessment Centre (INSAC) brings together a disparate group of officials — from foreign affairs, defence and immigration to transport and law enforcement — to keep the government informed about threats to national security and public safety.

"This new centre brings an integrated approach to intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination. And this of course permits us to improve our level of readiness," Easter told an intelligence conference here last night.

The same conference heard from other security officials that there's a real risk Canada could suffer a terrifying attack from increasingly sophisticated terrorists.

"We are not immune from that particular threat. It is a threat here as well. I think that's very hard for people in Canada to believe," said Paul Kennedy, senior assistant deputy solicitor general of Canada.

For all the progress Canada has made in intelligence gathering since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorism attacks, Easter said more work was needed to strengthen intelligence and improve ties with the provinces and first responders, such as police and firefighters, "to assure the safety and security of Canadians."

The job of this new centre is to eliminate that potentially deadly shortcoming.

"Seamless collaboration, both domestically and internationally, is fundamental to combating terrorism," he said in remarks prepared for the annual conference of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies.

The new security centre has been taking shape since February but its existence was only officially acknowledged by Easter yesterday.

Located at the Ottawa headquarters of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the new group includes officials from Canada Customs, Transport Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the RCMP, defence staff and the department of foreign affairs. Security officials hope to bring other agencies, such as the Ontario Provincial Police, on board in the near future.

While these agencies have worked closely in the past, there's never been a centre where they could share, analyze and disseminate information.

The role of INSAC is to provide "timely" intelligence assessments which are distributed to federal, provincial and municipal agencies to "improve warning, response and incident mitigation capabilities," according to a federal document.

In the team's first few months of operation, it has produced reports on Islamic extremism and the potential for terrorist attacks arising out of America's war in Iraq, as well as possible threats to Canada's civil aviation network and maritime facilities.

Those reports are then used to "assist in the prevention and disruption of national security threats at the earliest possible stage ... thereby weakening future threat-related activities," the federal document states.

The wide variety of officials involved in the centre is needed to "effectively respond to the diverse nature of current threats," the backgrounder states.

Those threats are very real, Kennedy told the intelligence conference.

"There clearly is a possibility that chemical, b iological, radiological or nuclear weapons, could be acquired, in fact could be used by terrorist groups. That particular threat has to be taken seriously," he told a conference forum.

He referred to the summer warning from the head of MI-5, the British security service, that it was only a matter of time before terrorists launched a chemical, biological or nuclear attack against a Western city.

"That in fact is a reality," Kennedy said.

"We all realize that we're facing international terrorist networks, ones which are more sophisticated than maybe people thought they were, and ones which obviously have a significant, ambitious agenda," Kennedy said.

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