12/18/2011 12:47 EST | Updated 02/17/2012 05:12 EST

Baseline Threat Assessment Could Cost Foreign Affairs Department $5 Million

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OTTAWA - The Foreign Affairs Department plans to spend up to $5 million next year for a sweeping intelligence study of potential threats to Canada's foreign embassies and missions.

The department is soliciting bids from seasoned security intelligence firms to tell them about the possible threats to its diplomatic corps from terrorism, instability and natural disasters in 174 countries, including 46 major cities.

Given the scope of the work outlined, the Baseline Threat Assessment — or BTA — comes with a seemingly modest $1- to $5-million price tag, according to a recently posted government procurement notice.

The importance of Canadian embassy security was also underscored in a memo to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in May shortly after he was given the portfolio.

"The Government's security obligations have grown markedly in recent years in the face of new international threats that are increasingly sophisticated, unpredictable and fluid in nature," says a memo obtained by The Canadian Press from Baird's briefing book.

The memo, released under Access to Information, reminded Baird that the 2010 budget set aside $450 million over seven years for the Security Abroad Strategy to bolster security at Canada's foreign embassies.

In addition to this new, proposed threat assessment study, bureaucrats continue their exhaustive and secretive foreign policy review. Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered the review in his letter of assignment to Baird after the May cabinet shuffle.

Two weeks ago, Foreign Affairs posted a procurement notice to award a single contract for work to be conducted between January and March of next year.

It says that the BTAs are to be "living documents, which will allow the Department to assess the vulnerability of Government of Canada assets abroad (people, programs, infrastructure) and determine appropriate security safeguards."

It calls for a 15- to 30-page document to be prepared for each country that gives a ranking in seven categories: political instability; criminality; terrorism/insurgency; conflict zones; natural disasters; the health environment; and the general environment — "e.g. fatalities, cultural constraints."

"The contractor shall use employees who have extensive experience in the collection and analysis of security intelligence; familiarity with the region(s) being assessed, and working proficiency in the local language(s)," says the statement of work.

It calls for a threat analysis that will identify emerging trends and concerns in a particular location. The study will assign labels of "low, medium, high and critical" to each of the seven categories.

The statement gives a detailed set of examples to guide the bidders in making their assessments.

To warrant a critical rating in the political instability category, for example, the host country would face the "grave possibility of government overthrow" or may have declared a state of emergency, have frequent political assassinations, or have no guarantee of continued adherence to the rule of law.

A critical threat rating in the terrorism/insurgency category would include such indicators as terrorist threats posing a "significant or ongoing threat" or having a past history or capability to carry an attack against Canadian interests in the country.

"The list of Threat Indicators is not meant to be exhaustive. These are meant to help guide the determination of the threat level by providing some key indicators," says the work statement.

"There may be cases where there are significant differences in the threat in key cities or regions relative to the capital city … e.g. if the threat in Karachi is significantly different than in Islamabad …"

As it turns out Pakistan is noticeably absent from the exhaustive list of nearly every country on the planet, as are Afghanistan and Haiti — presumably because the government already has detailed knowledge of the exact nature of the unrest in those troubled countries.

India and China — the two Asian economic giants that the Harper government has targeted for greater trade ties — are also missing from the list. But Foreign Affairs has asked for an assessment of the two other so-called BRIC countries, Russia and Brazil.

"The Department is focused on keeping its people, information and physical assets safe and secure. Formal threat and risk assessments are used to evaluate the ever-changing security challenges to Canada's missions abroad and to allocate resources accordingly," says the May briefing note to Baird.

The briefing note outlines several security measures that are being planned, including "additional security equipment, including armoured vehicles, personal security radios, satellite phones, and GPS trackers at high-threat missions."

The briefing note says "improved mission security teams" are also being put in place, including "a new cadre" of professional security program managers, additional military police security specialists and enhanced training for locally-hired security guards.

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