June 15th, 2024

Border intelligence program needs improved training, analytical tools: evaluation

By Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press on May 25, 2024.

Better training and information-processing tools are needed to help the intelligence program at Canada's border agency fight everything from firearms smuggling to human trafficking, says an internal evaluation. A Canada Border Service Agency member looks on before a ceremony at the legislature in Victoria, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

OTTAWA – Better training and information-processing tools are needed to help the intelligence program at Canada’s border agency fight everything from firearms smuggling to human trafficking, says an internal evaluation.

The recently released Canada Border Services Agency evaluation report also found the sensitive nature of the activities and a lack of data made it difficult to fully assess the program’s effectiveness.

The program is responsible for the collection and analysis of intelligence on drug trafficking, gun smuggling, immigration fraud, human smuggling, human trafficking, and barring people from Canada on grounds of national security or war crimes.

The evaluation, undertaken between March 2021 and March 2022, found access to training was insufficient to support the functions of intelligence analysts and officers. “The main challenge appears to be training availability.”

Some core training has only been available through external providers, such as the Privy Council Office and the Canadian Police College, which provide instruction to various intelligence organizations and law enforcement agencies, the report says.

“Not ensuring available training poses a risk to the agency in terms of liability (e.g., officers being called to testify in court) and could cause employee performance issues, as employees are not being set up to succeed in their jobs.”

There was also a perception that the program “lacks the technological capacity needed for efficient and effective operations.”

“Interviewees felt that the CBSA is a data-rich organization, but also indicated that accessing and reconciling data from different sources is challenging and the program lacks the tools to leverage data analytics,” the report says.

Many regional employees indicated they lacked access to basic tools to conduct analyses and investigations, or to the agency’s secure network.

The reviewers found the program had mapped out current data systems against needs – highlighting gaps and identifying more advanced tools “that could collect, store, integrate, process, report and share data and intelligence more efficiently.”

“There is a belief that better access to systems and software tools could create efficiencies in production of intelligence products by automating searches and allowing intelligence staff to focus on anomalies and areas of concern.”

Although there was general consensus that the program’s efforts lead to the disruption of criminal activities, “there is currently no way to measure the extent to which this takes place nor its impact,” the report says.

While it was difficult to assess program effectiveness, perceptions of key players and limited data “suggest that the program makes an important contribution to agency operations,” the report adds.

“The extent to which the program’s intelligence products adequately inform key decision-makers of threats and trends and support intelligence-based decisions could not be fully determined. However, stakeholders expressed general satisfaction with intelligence products, such as strategic threat profiles, target profiles, lookouts and bulletins.”

A management action plan included with the evaluation report was excised from the public version.

However, in response to questions from The Canadian Press, the border services agency said it is enhancing partnerships across government to make core training more accessible.

The border agency’s college signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with the Privy Council Office in 2022 to ensure that course offerings would be available to the agency’s intelligence community, an agency spokesman said.

The college is also prioritizing delivery of core training that covers skills such as conducting interviews, surveillance, and planning and execution of warrants.

In addition, the border agency said it is reviewing a national training standard for intelligence analysts and officers to ensure it meets their needs.

With regard to tools, the agency is developing “a multi-year digital road map” to identify existing and emerging technologies, as well as data gaps. It is also coming up with business intelligence and data analytics models and tools for the program, the spokesman said.

To help measure performance, the program is making updates that include expected results and intended outcomes, as well as improve alignment with the agency’s overall planning and reporting responsibilities, the border agency added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2024.

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