interview

Harjit Singh Sajjan

Minister of National Defence, Canada

Intelligence and the Cyber Domain

April 20, 2016 — The Honorable Harjit Singh Sajjan, Canada's Minister of National Defense, is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces and a veteran of combat tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan. He's also a veteran of the Vancouver Police Department, where he served as a detective in the gang crimes unit. The Member of Parliament for Vancouver South, he assumed office in November 2015.

The Honorable Harjit Singh Sajjan, Canada's Minister of National Defense, spoke with the CyberWire shortly after he addressed SINET's ITSEF 2016. He shared his perspective on intelligence and the cyber domain, to which he brings the distinctive experience of both a military intelligence officer and a police detective who specialized in gang crime investigations. He emphasized the prime imperative of developing actionable intelligence: delivering it quickly to those on the ground who can take action.

The CyberWire was able to follow up with Harjit Singh Sajjan on April 20, 2016. Here's what he had to say.

The CyberWire: What counts as actionable cyber intelligence?

Sajjan: Technology has to be fused with the operators. The best technology in the world can take intelligent data extraction, but without the right person interpreting it, it’s difficult to turn that into actionable intelligence. It’s vital to get the processes and procedures right.

In policing, operators have direct access to the top. Rendering intelligence actionable requires the right balance in connecting with the people on the ground. This isn’t to say that all police officer have the right mindset, but rather that we should empower troops on the ground. Let them look at the linkages the enemy uses. Get them access to multiple sensors.

The CyberWire: And how would this work in the cyber domain?

Sajjan: Give them the picture—give them the commander’s intent. We want innovation here, and we have to understand that innovation is made by people. Empowered people innovate.

The CyberWire: What can be done to improve cooperation in cyber operations?

Sajjan: We have to begin by understanding that holding information that can’t be used does you no good. So sharing information is vital. Our systems and processes need to be flexible enough to take out sufficient information in ways that make it actionable.

The CyberWire: If empowerment is vital, what obstacles do you see to empowering people?

Sajjan: Fundamentally, the obstacle is old-school thinking.

The CyberWire: But, in defense of the old school, it didn’t come out of nowhere. Presumably it arose for a variety of reasons.

Sajjan: Right—the core foundation of good intelligence is the proven fundamentals. We’ve learned hard lessons over the years and put them into our systems for a reason. However, you can’t be rigid. You’ve got to be able to revert to, and apply, those fundamentals flexible. Don’t change process to the point of throwing out systems. General McChrystal, in Afghanistan, made sure the chain-of-command was always notified, but he also made sure intelligence flowed to where it was needed, in a flat architecture. An interesting example of how this was done may be seen it the way patrol reports were automated.

The CyberWire: What lessons do you think Canada’s experience offers its allies?

Sajjan: I think we learn from each other. Canada brings a different mindset, and one that may help us get better at understanding our threat environment. Don’t underestimate the value of diversity here. It’s more than just knowing languages, and more than just cultural awareness. Look for the value diversity of perspective and mindset can bring.

The CyberWire: Thank you, Minister Sajjan.