INTERVIEW: Rear-Admiral Scott Bishop, Chief of Defence Intelligence (by BGen Jim Cox (ret’d)

Rear-Admiral Scott Bishop has served as the Commander, Canadian Forces Intelligence Command (CFINTCOM) and Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI) since 2016. This summer, in 2021, he leaves Ottawa, on promotion to Vice-Admiral, to take up new duties as Canada’s Military Representative at NATO Headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium. Five years is a long time in any post, but being Commander CFINTCOM/CDI during these particular five years, has been an exceptionally rewarding challenge, according to Rear-Admiral Bishop. During his tenure, which he describes as, “the critical building phase of the command,” there have been at least three important strategic developments. Geo-strategically, given resurgent Russian adventurism and meddlesome Chinese competition, the return of global great power competition grew to tax the attention of Five Eyes and NATO strategic intelligence staffs. Second, Strong Secure Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy, (SSE) promulgated in 2017, laid out a significant agenda of change and growth for the defence intelligence enterprise (DIE). Third, all this unfolded as the DIE environment became more complex with expanding intelligence requirements in the space, cyber and information domains, the onslaught of new, more sophisticated technology, and the establishment of independent government and parliamentary security and intelligence accountability and review regimes. For the first time, the DIE has been subjected to external review of its intelligence practices. Rear-Admiral Bishop has described the new scrutiny as being something like frequent medical exams – intrusive, particularly to start, but beneficial and necessary. “Nonetheless,” he says, “it makes us a much better intelligence organization.”

As Commander CFINTCOM, Rear-Admiral Bishop reports to the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) and is responsible for all military intelligence matters. As CDI, he reports to the Deputy Minister (DM), exercising responsibility for all matters of defence intelligence that, through the DM, contribute to the overall government intelligence enterprise. By the time of his appointment in 2016, Rear-Admiral Bishop had already had significant senior operational and defence intelligence client experience.

Rear-Admiral Bishop: As a Naval Officer we are frequently exposed to intelligence as a critical enabler of operations, particularly in operations, such as the Combined Joint Task Force in Libya, where intelligence was critical to successful implementation of embargos and enforcement of no-fly zones. Beyond operations, I was the Director of Operations for the Strategic Joint Staff , as well as the Director General International Security Policy . Both positions helped me understand the institutional importance of intelligence. Daily intelligence briefs can seem mundane and routine, but the information contained in those reports really do drive plans, operations and outcomes. That said, I did have a lot to learn when I came into CFINTCOM and as CDI. I have been surrounded by an outstanding team of civilian and military intelligence professionals who have been absolutely critical to the success of the command.

Rear-Admiral Bishop was instrumental in building the Canadian defence intelligence relationships with close intelligence allies and partners. During his tenure, he served as Chair of NATO Military Intelligence Committee in 2018 and, he is particularly satisfied with having participated, throughout his tour, at a senior level in the Five Eyes partnership, culminating in  his time as Chair of all principal-level Five Eyes forums in 2021.

Rear-Admiral Bishop: As the information environment has continued to evolve at an extremely rapid pace, so too has our need to understand what is happening around us. In this regard, the enhancement of traditional relationships with close intelligence allies, and the establishment of new relevant relationships with coalition partners has required considerable attention.

Internally, Rear-Admiral Bishop made a constructive difference by re-focusing CFINTCOM intelligence products to more specifically support DND/CAF decision-makers on certain critical issues, particularly when it enabled CAF women and men to be successful in operations.

Rear-Admiral Bishop. Much of what we did in CFINTCOM was to explain the value proposition of defence intelligence and to demonstrate its relevance and value to DND/CAF decision-makers. Focusing on our client’s needs and delivery formats they wanted helped gain the support of other Commands and stakeholders for our renewal effort. Specifically, we moved to shorter, more visual products that make use of graphics and images to convey information. We’re also scanning the environment in which our customers are making their decisions, and producing intelligence products that are more relevant and useful to them. We have enjoyed notable success here.

Overall, we have seen a renewed appreciation of the critical importance of defence intelligence, both within DND/CAF and across the Government of Canada. However, even as defence intelligence reached new levels of effectiveness and relevance,  increased public interest and new, legislated government scrutiny, made the defence intelligence environment considerably more complex than it ever was.

Rear-Admiral Bishop. Oversight and review bodies, along with evolving national security threats below the threshold of armed conflict, have generated public and media interest in national security and intelligence. In the past three years, there has been significant change in review and oversight mechanisms for the overall Canadian intelligence enterprise (CIE), with the establishment of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), as well as certain landmark court cases. These bodies do extremely important work, and we will continue to work closely with them. Not only do they make us better at what we do, they also serve to inform parliamentarians and educate the public at large about the value of defence intelligence work. I also think these bodies are useful for creating more transparency with the Canadian public, helping them understand why intelligence entities need certain information and what they’re doing with it.

Institutionally, Rear Admiral Bishop continues to drive transformational change, building on previous studies such as the Defence Intelligence Review (DIR) in 2003. This work is being conducted under the forward looking Defence Intelligence Enterprise Renewal (DIER) project.

Rear-Admiral Bishop. Defence intelligence remains a prolific and key player in the CIE alongside our partner agencies. Today the DIE is evolving through the DIER project and is well-positioned to continue to grow, in-line with SSE.

Where the DIR made recommendations to improve certain aspects of Defence Intelligence, DIER is focused on a change at the enterprise level. It is a holistic, critical and principles-first look at how the defence institution will conduct intelligence, and how we will modernize and improve the DIE, which is essentially a complex adaptive system of systems. Much like a playoff hockey game, it could go on for some time, featuring informed cycles of adaptation. In the end, the future DIE will have and exercise all the capabilities and capacities defined in SSE. The DIE will be a more flexible, agile, and technologically enabled organization than ever before, one that meets all DND/CAF strategic and operational level decision-making requirements and mission needs. It will be seamlessly integrated with CAF operational elements, and interoperable with other government departments and agencies, allies, and international partners.

We have set the conditions for success and must now exploit them to advantage. Nonetheless, like any other project involving major change, certain challenges and risks may arise, but I do not think they are insurmountable. We might expect some internal resistance to change, particularly if it is faster and more extensive than some might find comfortable. Defence intelligence leadership will be important here. As well, any government department, particularly one as large as DND, can be hindered by adherence to past practices and resistance to change. This can be mitigated by clear communications of objectives to all stakeholders, highlighting the benefits of a modernized DIE.

The DIER project has been institutionalized in the CFINTCOM organizational structure to ensure its work will continue over time, despite routine personnel changes. I am very optimistic for the future of the project and expect it will prosper under the guidance of my successor, Major-General Mike Wright, who is no stranger to CFINTCOM, having previously served as the Command’s Chief of Staff.

There are three significant challenges that could put the success of DIER at risk. First, there is concern that the personnel capacity of the future DIE will be insufficient to meet all intelligence requirements, unless there is a willingness to adopt new ways of working and embrace technology to stay in step with growing demand. Second, technology advances occur at a faster rate than government procurement processes unfold, risking the acquisition of capabilities that are obsolete on arrival. Third, defence intelligence has lacked an effective force development function for many years and without sufficient future thinking and developmental research, the future of DIE effectiveness could be brought into question. Common to all these concerns is the need for sufficiently sized, trained and educated defence intelligence workforce.

Rear Admiral Bishop. The fundamental problem is that the demand for intelligence is increasing exponentially, but personnel growth is only linear. Therefore, much of DIER work is focused on optimizing our human resources in the intelligence function. A recent review of the CFINTCOM personnel establishment showed that we are about 25% short of filling established Non-Commissioned Members positions, and about 20% short in Officer positions. All of these people need to be intelligence professionals, and we have brought our training institutions into the command from Military Personnel Command, made substantial investments to increase training capacity, modernized our courses, and increased our recruiting intake. The DIER project, guided by SSE requirements, intends to make more use of the intelligence capacity in the Reserve Force to meet our most critical shortcomings.

We must be careful however, to ensure we are using the people we do have in the most effective manner. This too is an inherent task of DIER. We cannot ask for more people, or expect others to give us more establishment positions, if we cannot demonstrate that we are deploying our personnel resources effectively.

On another tack, the rate of technological advancement is a difficult challenge in all areas, not only in defence intelligence. There is no easy or quick answer, but we do recognize that having an effective force development function in CFINTCOM is an essential ingredient to solving the problem. The DIER project directly addresses how we will enhance defence intelligence force development work. We have already begun to integrate defence intelligence into the earliest stages of the overall CAF force development process, before requirements are set, and have successfully adopted some proven methods from the Royal Canadian Air Force and Canadian Special Operations Forces Command to advance defence intelligence capability projects more quickly. Still, more could be done to formally and more effectively embed the substantial intelligence mission set into Canadian Forces Warfare Centre experimentation activity.

Of course, modernizing is not only about technical advances, it’s also about ensuring we remain an employer of choice – somewhere people want to come to work. One initiative I am particularly proud of that I think will be a critical part of the future of CFINTCOM is the recent creation of the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee. Currently a small team, they are bringing significant value to the command as key advisors, and we hope that in the coming years we will be able to embed this committee into all of our governance processes. The committee advises on all issues of diversity and inclusion, and also has provided extremely valuable training to all members of the command.

Whether it is personnel, process, technology or force development, we know what we have to do. Now we just need to get on with it. Defence intelligence is moving to consolidate at leading edge of Canadian national security. It’s a no-fail mission.

. National Defence, Strong Secure Engages: Canada’s Defence Policy (Ottawa: Minister of National Defence, 2017) 63-88,  

. National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Special Report on the Collection, Use, Retention and Dissemination of Information on Canadians in the context of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces Defence Intelligence Activities (12 March 2020),

. National Defence, Evaluation of Defence Intelligence (Ottawa: DND, Assistant Deputy Minister Review Services), 18,

Brigadier-General (Retired) Dr. James S. Cox is a Senior Fellow with the Conference of Defence Associations Institute. He served in the Canadian Armed Forces for over 35 years, mainly in operational command and staff positions at home and abroad. Jim served as a Library of Parliament analyst, from 2005-2011, supporting parliamentary committees dealing with national security and defence issues. He was Vice-President Academic Affairs with the Canadian Military Intelligence Association from 2012-2015. Jim is a graduate of the University of Manitoba, the Canadian Army Command and Staff College, the Canadian Forces College and holds an MA and Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. He was appointed as an Officer to the Order of Military Merit.

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