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The Business of Intelligence

Issue: 64 Section: Business Geography: Canada, USA Topics: security

November 3, 2009

The Business of Intelligence

Corporate intelligence-gathering harkens back to COINTELPRO

by Tim Groves

TORONTO—In the US, a new model of law enforcement has emerged in which police, military, security contractors and large corporations are collaborating on intelligence gathering. Are the 2010 Olympics ushering this new paradigm into Canada?

The security committee for the 2010 Olympics Task Force, based in Washington State, is at the forefront of planning US security efforts for the games. According to The Globe and Mail this group brings together government agencies from both sides of the border, more than 100 from the US and 17 from Canada.

Documents acquired by The Dominion reveal that this committee consists of not only the US Military, Canadian Forces, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but also “Pacific Northwest Private Sector Company Volunteers.” The amount the US will spend on Olympic security has not been disclosed.

“The safety and security of the 2010 Olympics and the United States is at risk if we do not take direct action,” testified Jeffery Slotnick, a member of the committee, at a Congressional hearing on Olympics security in March 2008.

Video of the hearing showed Slotnick wearing a dark blue suit and glasses. His bald head and black moustache hinted at the decades he spent in the military. He is president of Setracon Inc., a Tacoma, Washington-based company that contracts out security personnel and trains private security, military and police.

Slotnick explained some of the reasons the US should be involved in Olympic security, including the potential for attacks or natural disasters that could impact US businesses and have significant economic costs to the region. He called for increased funding to prepare for securing the games, plans to expedite border crossings, and a greater role for the private sector in information sharing.

“[The] private sector has tremendous awareness of what is going on... the opportunity to share in both directions is key and critical,” said Slotnick, emphasizing the need for corporate involvement in intelligence gathering for the Vancouver Olympics.

“Boeing, Microsoft, [and] Starbucks ... possess significant intelligence assets. In many cases, individuals from these organizations have higher security clearances than law enforcement officials. It would be unfortunate not to capitalize on these assets...”

It is perhaps not surprising that Boeing, a defence contractor, and Microsoft, a computer technology corporation, have large intelligence and security operations. Starbucks, on the other hand, runs a global chain of coffee shops. Yet they too have a program to identify and mitigate risks to the company.

During a 2007 security conference in Colorado Springs, Starbucks revealed part of their security operation includes monitoring retail stores, roasting plants and container loading sites from a “central security facility.” Press releases from the Industrial Workers of the World, the union representing some Starbucks workers, claim the company conducts surveillance of union activities.

“Are we trying to deputize every private company to be minor league James Bonds against citizens of our own countries?” asked Mike German, reached by phone from Washington, DC.

German is a former FBI agent who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “From a security perspective this is a nightmare; I mean, you are actually giving private companies, who operate on profit margins, access to extremely valuable information.”

“I am sure the data [US] companies collect on Canadian citizens is routinely shared with their headquarters in the United States,” he said. “Is consumer information being collected in Canada that is shared across the border and [then] being brought back to [Canadian] law enforcement in violation of privacy regulations? If the answer is 'we don't know', that's a problem, and if the answer is 'we don't think so', that is still a problem. Because nobody is overseeing these intelligence activities it makes it very difficult to know the extent of the abuse.”

When asked about their involvement in 2010 security, Starbucks responded with a statement reading “...we cannot discuss specific security measures Starbucks is taking for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.” They explained that they are prioritizing “the safety and security of our [employees] and customers,” and are “working with and will rely on the direction of local authorities and other official sources.”

Boeing and Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment.

The efforts to integrate multinational corporations into Olympic security have broad implications. The US has done much to involve the private sector in their security infrastructure. Washington State is at the forefront of blurring the lines between private and public security.

Slotnick informed the Congressional hearing that a “fusion centre” called the Washington Joint Analytical Center plays a role in coordinating intelligence with Canadian authorities. This organization has since been renamed the Washington State Fusion Center (WSFC).

Fusion centres emerged after September 11, 2001, as places for the FBI, Homeland Security, CIA, military, local and state police, and in some cases private sector companies, to jointly gather and respond to intelligence on terrorism and other criminal activities. Currently over 40 fusion centres exist in the US.

While fusion centres are generally not well known, criticism of them has started to emerge.

An ACLU report entitled What's Wrong with Fusion Centers? compares them to COINTELPRO, a controversial domestic intelligence program run by the FBI between 1956 and 1971.

The report outlines problems with fusion centres including: excessive secrecy, military involvement in law enforcement, corporations sharing private information on their customers and employees, and “policy shopping.”

Policy shopping is the practice of manipulating the differences between laws regulating various agencies and jurisdictions, in order to find loopholes in privacy legislation.

According to an article by the Center for Investigative Reporting, at the 2008 Republican National Convention a Minnesota fusion centre undertook data mining on protesters and requested their police partners conduct preemptive intelligence gathering.

Police then infiltrated groups, tapped information exchanges and conducted questionable searches. To justify these activities, some protesters were equated with terrorists.

The private sector is involved in the WSFC. Internal documents made available through Wikileaks show several of their intelligence analysts are contracted from security firms.

An article published at securitymanagement.com said the head of WSFC was "'adamant' about getting Washington State’s major private sector entities involved." It also revealed that Alaska Airlines, Amazon.com and Starbucks have shown interest in working with WSFC and that efforts have been made to give Boeing clearance to place a full-time analyst inside the organization.

A 2007 Washington State Preparedness Report revealed that the WSFC “...is integrated into the planning and intelligence gathering structure pertaining to... the 2010 Winter Olympics.” However, this is not the only area where the WSFC is involved in Canadian security matters.

WSFC plays a role in the Northwest Warning Alert and Response Network (NWWARN), a “regional information fusion centre” which shares intelligence between the public and private sectors, and rapidly disseminates alerts during disasters.

NWWARN originally operated exclusively in Washington State. The Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) was instrumental in expanding NWWARN into BC, Alberta, the Yukon and Saskatchewan in Canada, and Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Alaska in the US. PNWER is a forum that brings together business leaders and elected officials from these western provinces and states to impact policy decisions. Atlantica is a similar organization on the east coast, and there is talk of creating such organizations all along the Canada-US border.

These “cross-border regions” build upon free-trade agreements such as NAFTA, finding ways to harmonize policies to fit the needs of business interests without high profile changes to treaties.

NWWARN's benevolent-sounding mission to rapidly disseminate information during disasters is giving the private sector a growing role in policing, not only in the US but also in Canada. This permanent intelligence network works in a wide range of areas, but in his testimony Slotnick explained it would play an important role in Olympics intelligence gathering.

Canada has welcomed US involvement in Olympic security. In practical terms, this seems to include preemptive intelligence gathering. It is unclear to what extent multinational corporations will be involved in this, but it is undeniable that the Olympics are seeing an increased use of the fusion centre model of law enforcement in Canada.

“Obviously the Olympics are political," said German. "You have to expect that people are going to want to engage in the debate and discuss the issues that are important to them, and to treat those people as if they are criminals or terrorists is inappropriate.”


Tim Groves is a Toronto-based investigative researcher and trainer.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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