2015: Facing the Security Challenges of Tomorrow, Today
© 2006 FrontLine Security (Vol 1, No 4)

A year ago, the Science and Technology Foresight Directorate of the Office of the National Science Advisor (ONSA) was asked to assist the new Public Security Technical Program (PSTP), a joint security technology initiative of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC) and Defence Research & Development Canada (DRDC).

The ONSA was asked to provide advice within the PSTP on a futures-oriented Public Security Science and Technology (PSST) agenda that could be aligned with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. It would also provide focus to the capabilities and skill areas that a new DRDC Centre for Security Science might need to have to face the anticipated national security – all hazards challenges of the next decade.

We have been developing a foresight expertise through a series of collaborative projects aimed at emerging and frontier technology domains that will be relevant to national policy development in the next decade and beyond. These projects have involved several partners, mostly from inside the federal government, and have addressed subjects such as future fuels, bio-health innovation, geo-strategic systems, and animal health and infectious disease.

Foresight is a process that relies upon a set of tools that encourages experts to extend their knowledge and vision through environmental scanning, technology roadmaps, scenarios and expert panels asking: what if, and what prospective impacts?

Since we cannot predict the future, the approach is based upon contingent examination of several types of potential “future-shaping” factors, forces and their S&T linkages. The intent is neither to be prescriptive, nor to identify a single forecast, but to create multiple, plausible ­alternatives that will represent a range of situations for which we may have to be prepared in a rapidly changing world where S&T is usually a key driver.

When approached by DRDC-PSEPC in November 2005, our response was to create a network of security stakeholders and future S&T thinkers to reflect upon key issues and questions outlined here.

Protective Futures Workshop
The workshop was organized in March 2006 at DRDC Shirley’s Bay Ottawa to generate foresight that would feed into “Vision 2015” for the Systems Integration, Standards and Analysis (SISA) mission area of the PSTP – a joint initiative of PSEPC and DRDC with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Vision 2015” defines possible future challenges to public safety and national security in the 2015 timeframe, targets national capabilities for meeting those projected challenges, and provides opportunities available to science and technology for obtaining the identified capabilities.

This includes ‘all-hazards preparedness’ for the future security of Canada’s borders, the flow of people and goods across these borders, and for secure trans-border critical infrastructure, as called for by the “Smart Border Declaration” and the “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.”

PSTP seeks to ensure:

  • Robust public safety and security policies;
  • A capable and responsive national emergency management system;
  • National surveillance and intelligence gathering-analysis that supports rapid intervention;
  • Rapid identification of critical infrastructure vulnerabilities; and
  • National capabilities that ensure the safe, secure and efficient flow of people, goods and services across borders.

Scanning and Risks – Key Answers to Hard Questions
Q1. What sort of world could we expect to see in terms of both major global and North American societal and technological trends and potential discontinuities?

Q2. What are the likely risks generally related to borders, infrastructure, and public security and safety that will characterize 2015?

Workshop participants were provided with a “strategic environmental scan” based upon a wealth of expert information from national and international S&T specialists, security and intelligence focused professionals, and futures-technology and foreign-affairs generalists.

The discussion focused both on projected and plausible terror threats (divided opinions about probability and impacts) and on topics such as peak oil and transition to more sustainable fuels by 2015. No consensus was achieved, but evident trends became obvious in respect of more renewable and natural gas-unconventional hydrocarbon fuels from gas hydrates and other new sources, and on the growth of production and trade involving leading technologies by China and India.

Many felt that while the changes would be very significant for technology development, (quantum, cyber, nano, bio-info and convergent systems advances), trade would still be led and essentially determined by US-EU consumption patterns and the US primary trading partners at least until 2015.

Central to the “all-hazards” and broad view of national security is that relative security must be found at all levels of society – from personal safety to societal freedom from arbitrary violence and rights infringements by the state. Many also indicated that new S&T innovations can be used to increase capabilities for both protection and enhanced threats – for example, the internet and its easily available “how to” guides, or: should quantum computing become available before 2020, the first nation to acquire this capability will have an intelligence advantage. Nano-technology and its convergence with bio and info technologies may have both positive and negative implications.

Many of the most severe potential threats – such as deployment of weapons of mass destruction, intentional environmental or bio-food system terrorism were not seen as high probability for Canada although they might be used against the U.S. with strong secondary impacts on Canada.

The Workshop concluded that the complexity of the security environment is likely to continue to increase with advances in S&T – since many of these raise issues of ethical choice about surveillance, and consent.

Clearly, the threat from global terrorism remains significant in the estimation of this group of foresight participants, but certainly not the only big challenge when a broad security definition is included.

From the perspective of many of the participants, terrorism represents a shock type of event – very high impact, but uncertain probability, and likely quite dependent on the depth and duration of Canada’s global military commitments.

Comments on Potential Public Security Threats, Risks and Vulnerabilities

  • Canada becomes fully technologically reliant on another country (e.g. USA) with a loss of independent capacity for risk readiness and detection
  • Limited international collaboration – weakened intelligence, second rate technology and insufficient preparations to enable adaptive response capacities by national and responder level authorities to bio-terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
  • Physical separation/geography does not protect us anymore in an asymmetric, digital warfare, global environment
  • Government infrastructure may be more vulnerable than the private sector with fewer direct stewards, and outdated technologies
  • Environmental refugees could seek Canada
  • Global language could change from English
  • Global warming leads to ‘inevitable ­surprise’ as diseases spread to newly warmed zones enabling rampant spread
  • Lack of ‘surge capacity’– from public authorities being ill equipped or not well organized and managed for threat management and mitigation
  • Over-harvesting of renewable resources could create dislocations of higher magnitude than in nations with less resource dependency
  • Urgent need for an Arctic strategy (opening of North-West Passage) as melting opens the possibility of year round sea lanes
  • Permafrost melts – making settlements unviable that have had ensured sovereignty from 1867– to present
  • Interoperability of command and control in an all-hazards environment – little experience and few rehearsals to enable efficiencies and standardize response protocols
  • Availability of weapons (information) on the internet – growing much faster than our ability to intercede maybe even track and analyze
  • Human performance enhancement – an important new area of security towards which we have devoted almost no resources
  • Mobilized moral outrage - tipping point reached by disenfranchised youth – a potential consequence of multiculturalism gone awry if economic opportunities become closed, particularly to those prone to extremist influences, now accessible on the internet

The Workshop’s proceedings themselves are expected to be of immediate interest to PSEPC and a number of their partners in the public-safety and national-security community.

The next step will be to assess how to use the proceedings to drive discussions of national security challenges to provide input into the capabilities needed to meet these challenges, and which strategic S&T investments in the Defence R&D Canada Centre for Security Science could help Canada acquire those capabilities.

For 2006-07, a second round of foresight events, focused on a deeper scanning and aligned work in cyber security, food security and nano-bio-nano systems technology convergence is being discussed for the 2007 time period.

Jack Smith is the Director of Science & Technology Foresight at the Office of the National Science Advisor, Industry Canada.
© FrontLine Security 2006