Oct. 20, 2003. 06:28 AM
Terror risk in Canada real: Experts
Country facing `persistent, evolving threats'
Intelligence panel ponders grim scenarios


VANCOUVER—Doug Ross' stock in trade is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

A terrorist group detonates a nuclear device to pressure the United States to get out of the Middle East. But the attack happens not in the U.S., where it would spark an all-out retaliation from the Americans, but here in Canada where the terrorists can just as easily make their point.

A remote possibility? Perhaps. But a possibility all the same, says Ross, an expert in arms control and a political science professor at Simon Fraser University.

"All we need is one or a few rogue organizations with financial resources and possible state support and we're going to have a major calamity on our hands," he said.

If that's not enough to keep you awake at night, here's another terrifying thought: Radioactive material — discarded and since gone missing from industrial or medical uses — is wrapped around a bundle of dynamite and detonated in the core of a major city.

The resulting radioactive cloud causes tens of thousands of casualties and exacts an economic toll in the billions of dollars. "This isn't theoretical. This is real. This is a risk," Ross said.

That was just one of the grim scenarios discussed in recent days as experts from Canada's intelligence community — academics, analysts and top-level officials — gathered here at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies.

They talked of "super-terrorism," the remote chance that some group will find the means to use nuclear weapons, the worst forms of biological or chemical agents, or radiological dispersal devices.

They talked of intelligence failures and hinted at their successes in the shadowy fight against terror.

And the country's top intelligence officials, whose stock in trade are secrets and classified chatter, made no secret of one sobering fact: Canada faces a real risk of being attacked.

The conference heard:

Ward Elcock, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), warn that despite "some successes," Canada continues to face "persistent and evolving threats.''

"The lessons of the recent years lead us to conclude that they are not going to go away soon and that we and our allies therefore need to retain the focus on those issues," Elcock said in a keynote address to the forum on Friday night.

"Now is not the time to declare victory and rest on our laurels."

Paul Kennedy, senior assistant deputy solicitor-general, says there's a possibility that chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons could be used by terrorist groups.

"We're facing international terrorist networks, ones which are more sophisticated than maybe people thought they were, and ones which obviously have significant, ambitious agendas," said Kennedy, who has the job of overseeing national security.

Government experts who talked about the threat of a biological outbreak or an attack on the country's food supply.

A top federal official involved in intelligence gathering downplayed the chances that Canada could face the most horrific scenarios contemplated at the forum.

He noted that biological weapons are not easily manufactured in the quantities needed to inflict mass casualties . Nor is it all that easy to develop nuclear weapons, he said.

"The danger is always there that Canada will be attacked, that U.S. interests here will be attacked or that Canada will be used as a staging ground for an attack elsewhere," the official said in an interview.

Academics say there's good reason for these normally circumspect people to engage in such blunt talk. Their goal is to put Canadians on notice that the risk is real.

"We're not at the centre of the bull's eye but we are indeed at the inner ring of the target," Ross said.

Legal Notice:- Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved. Distribution, transmission or republication of any material from www.thestar.com is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. For information please contact us using our webmaster form.