September 6, 2005

Terrorism war is fought by the book

By Val Sears

With all the mayhem in the Middle East it's hardly surprising that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service worries about the damage that al-Qaida can do in this country -- worried enough to push the rights of terrorist suspects right to the edge and over.

And there certainly is evidence of al-Qaida's power. I was shown a document the other day that I presume has been circulating in the intelligence community for some time. It is a terrorist trade craft manual, scooped up by the British in a raid on a suspected al-Qaida cell in Manchester. It is as chilling a piece of work as I have ever seen.

Translated from the Arabic, chapter after chapter details such matters as planting explosives, assassinations, torture (and how to bear it), cyphers, safe houses, guns and ammunition, in fact everything a well-schooled terrorist would have to know to do his job.

There are quotations from the Koran backing up some of the lethal moves.

Chapters on how to make a bomb were removed from the copy I saw but bomb-making is a familiar menu on the Internet.

I have no doubt CSIS, the Mounties and the Foreign Office intelligence people are familiar with such terrorist instructions but I wonder what they plan to counter them.

There has always been a suspicion in my mind that counterspies are not necessarily the best and the brightest. I remember some years ago when counterspying was under the Mounties, I had an academic friend who was hired to teach new recruits about politics.

"It's frightening sometimes," he said. "I get guys whose fingers are still curled from the plough and I have an awful time trying to make them understand the difference between a union meeting a Communist cell."

And during some years as a foreign correspondent I met quite a few CIA agents in foreign lands. Some were good but one passed out over a bottle of whiskey in my hotel room.

I've always been amused by a remark from a newly appointed head of CSIS at a small dinner we attended. I asked him: "Now that you're our chief spy, tell me a secret."

He paused and replied: "Well, I've read all the files and I can tell you one thing ... there are a lot of bad spellers in CSIS."

After 9/11, advisers on terrorism to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Anne McLellan began to spring up like mushrooms. There was the national security adviser to the prime minister, the Advisory Council on National Security, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada and the Government Operations Centre. Goodness knows how many other advisors may be hanging about.

CSIS obviously has a lot on its plate. Among the terrorist groups in Canada that it must keep its eye on are Hamas, the Tamil Tigers, the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Kurdistan Workers Party, to name a few.

Watch on each of these and new ones wherever they spring up must be okayed by the Target Approval and Review Committee. A Parliamentary group is up on the tower peering down at all intelligence operations. It does seem CSIS and the Mounties have enough civilian oversight to keep them relatively clean.

And what does the public think of our counterspies? Well, a recent survey showed 44% positive and 21 negative. The rest didn't have the faintest idea.

Perhaps if they had a look at the terrorist tradecraft manual, people would be a little more supportive of the guys who are trying to keep things from blowing up or our leaders from being shot.