Foreign Affairs paid $2M for study on threats to embassies

The Foreign Affairs Department paid almost $2 million to an international security firm for a sweeping intelligence study of potential threats to Canada’s foreign embassies.

The assessment would have undoubtedly informed the Harper government’s decision to close its embassy in Tehran last week.

The contract was awarded earlier this year to Control Risks Group, a company that boasts 34 offices across the world, and a network of government, police, aid groups and media.

Neither the company nor Foreign Affairs would comment specifically on the nature of the work done.

The government has said repeatedly that the safety of its diplomats was the primary reason for pulling out of the Iranian capital.

Canada shut its Cairo embassy for a day on Thursday after anti-U.S. riots broke out in Egypt, Libya and Yemen over an American film that denigrates the prophet Muhammad. An attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, claimed the life of its ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three American embassy co-workers.

$2M for work done in under 10 weeks
According to the government’s procurement notice, Foreign Affairs was looking for an intelligence firm to describe possible threats to its diplomatic corps from terrorism, instability and natural disasters in 174 countries, including 46 major cities.

The government paid $1,997,903 for work done between Jan. 25 and March 31. The government was willing to spend up to $5 million for the Baseline Threat Assessment, or BTA, comprised of 15- to 30-page documents for each country.

The government put out the call for tenders in December, one month after the British embassy in Tehran was stormed by an angry mob. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has cited the attack on the British mission as one of the reasons for the Tehran pullout.

Baird said Friday that planning on the Iranian embassy withdrawal had been underway for several months.

The BTAs were to give 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 government called for the study to assign labels of “low, medium, high and critical” to each of those seven categories.

The government wanted the BTAs 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.”

Angry anti-U.S. protests have spread to 20 more countries, including Sudan, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I’m obviously very concerned with what is happening in the Middle East and North Africa. As I’ve said before, our diplomatic personnel are not military, they are not paid to put their lives on the line,” Harper said Friday.

“It’s my responsibility to ensure that our people are protected. Obviously we’ve closed one mission that’s in Iran where we thought the risks are particularly high.”

On its website, Control Risks says it provides strategic security advice to companies, governments and non-profit organizations.

“Our services range from providing strategic consultancy, through to expert analysis and in-depth investigations, to handling sensitive political issues, to practical on the ground protection and support,” the company says.

“Whatever the nature of the political, security or integrity risk facing our clients, Control Risks can tailor an effective solution that will meet their exact requirements.”

The 2010 federal budget set aside $450 million over seven years for the Security Abroad Strategy to bolster security at Canada’s foreign embassies.

© The Canadian Press, 2012