Canada's too spy-shy to avert terrorist attacks: expert
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
OTTAWA - Without more overseas spying capabilities Canada will remain dangerously unaware and vulnerable to terrorist threats such as this week's Taliban video supposedly showing a graduating class of suicide bombers destined for Canada, says a former adviser to the RCMP on the jihadist movement.
Unknown to Canadian security officials until it was broadcast by a U.S. television network, the tape highlights Canada's failure to properly collect and analyze foreign information vital to Canadian national interests, says Thomas Quiggin, now a senior fellow at the Center of Excellence for National Security at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.
Canada's heavy reliance instead on intelligence gathered and shared by allied nations leaves us in an extremely doubtful situation, he says, "especially when some of our current allies hold widely divergent views on major issues such as counterterrorism. This lack of a collection capability makes us less sovereign and more dependent."
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said in May that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, now largely limited to collecting foreign intelligence only in Canada, will have its mandate expanded to included covert, foreign intelligence-gathering. No timetable has been set for the evolution, and building such capabilities take years.
The top secret Communications Security Establishment already monitors the electronic communications of adversary nations.
The June 9 Taliban video shows about 300 masked fighters attending a "graduation ceremony" before apparently being dispatched by al-Qaida and the Taliban on suicide missions to Canada, the United States, Britain and Germany. The Canadian and U.S. governments and several terrorism experts have dismissed the footage as propaganda and a desperate PR gimmick.
"Even though the video is probably propaganda, the reality is they know who we are and they'd like to target us," says Quiggin, author of the new book, Seeing the Invisible: National Security Intelligence in an Uncertain Age.
But the Taliban's ability to recruit individuals in Pakistan or Afghanistan and send them to Canada, Britain and the United States is limited or, more likely, non-existent, he says. Deploying suicide bombers requires training, human handlers and equipment.
It is more likely that local recruits may intend to attack Canadian targets in the region, such as embassies, consulates and businesses, he says. "This should be seen as a message to the Canadian embassy in Islamabad." At home, "Canadians should be concerned in the sense that is it one more faint signal that Canada does not exist in isolation from the rest of the world. As a pe ople, we should be psychologically prepared for the possibility of an attack,"_Quiggin says.
"As a nation, we have not seriously considered what our responses may be to another major successful terrorist attack in Canada. We only need to examine how normally tolerant Holland became badly divided with a radicalized parliament after the attack on Theo van Gogh," the Dutch filmmaker and critic of Islamist extremism who was murdered in 2004 by a religious fanatic.
Quiggin says Canada also lacks an ability to build a useful body of policy-relevant knowledge in areas related to security, intelligence, and international relations.
And, "we have no culture in Canada that would support the creation of independent think-tanks that could provide useful alternative policy-relevant advice."
That "state of denial," leaves Canada increasingly blind to growing and globalized problems, from organized crime and transnational terrorism to pandemics, he says. "It may be useful to compare ourselves to the U.K., where this state of denial existed even as some of the most radical imams were overrunning mosques and recruiting youth for overseas operations. Much the same was occurring in the Netherlands and Spain.
"At the end of the day, we have to accept the fact that we are part of a closely interlinked globalizing world - for better or for worse. The lights on the warning panel are all blinking red, but the Canadian government seems more interested in attacking police and intelligence agencies with commissions than it does in actually examining problems."
© CanWest News Service 2007
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