Security agencies face ‘real challenge’ fighting terrorism: London police head

Worth noting:

Identifying and tracking people who could turn into terrorists remains a challenge. At least 800 people from Britain went to Syria in recent years, with many joining the Islamic State and others in the fight against the Syrian government. Roughly 400 have returned to Britain and the police now have to assess their potential threat. They are ranked on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being the most dangerous.

Many of those who returned from Syria were legitimate aid workers or IS fighters who became frightened of the conflict, he said. “You could, therefore, regard them as a lower-risk group. But we can’t absolutely guarantee that,” he added. “They remain a continuing concern.”

He had praise for controversial programs such as Prevent, which obliges teachers and others in Britain to report people engaging in radical behaviour. Critics have said Prevent stigmatizes those who have been reported and unfairly targets Muslims. Sir Bernard said that while it isn’t perfect, the program can offer help to vulnerable people and families.

Putting guns in the hands of police officers isn’t a solution, he added, because that only increases barriers between cops and communities. The Metropolitan force remains one of the few in the world where the vast majority of officers do not carry guns. Of the city’s more than 32,000 officers, only 2,100 are armed. However, that number is slated to increase by 600 because of the attacks in Paris last November that killed 130 people.

“Just arming all police is not always the answer,” he said. “And our way is to have well-trained specialist officers, well equipped, well led, who we’d be deploying in large numbers to deal with that type of attack.”

One of the most effective tools to combat terrorism, and most other crimes, is the city’s vast network of CCTV cameras. After rioting in 2011, which spread across several parts of London, police gathered 250,000 hours of camera footage to seek out the culprits. About 800 officers spent a year combing through the material, leading to 5,000 arrests. Of those charged with a crime, 90 per cent “pleaded guilty because [the video footage] was such powerful evidence,” he said.

Britons have become so accustomed to the proliferation of cameras in the subway, on buses, across public places and in some taxis that the country has not had a major debate about privacy issues.

Sir Bernard said that is because the cameras were introduced at the local level. “It wasn’t the government saying you’re all going to have CCTV cameras. This was local authorities saying we want it in a public space, in shopping centres, and buses wanted it,” he said, adding that for police work, the cameras are “incredibly powerful.”

Source: Security agencies face ‘real challenge’ fighting terrorism: London police head – The Globe and Mail

ICYMI – Andrew Coyne: A war that cannot necessarily be won, but must be fought all the same | National Post

Good realistic commentary by Coyne:

Alas it is not so. Whether or not we choose to be at war with ISIL they are at war with us. And there is very little we can do to change this.

We cannot simply defeat them in battle, as we might a conventional state: whatever progress we have made against ISIL in Iraq and Syria seems only to have diverted its energies into attacks overseas. Nor can we appease them, as we might a conventional terrorist group, even if we were of a mind to: for they have no demands, or none that we can possibly meet, such is the fantastic, end-times nature of their beliefs.

Nor can we just harden our defences, as if we could anticipate every possible avenue of attack. Protect the most prominent public buildings or infrastructure, and watch as restaurant diners and concert-goers are mown down. Guard against bombs and hijacked airplanes, and see AK-47s and trailer trucks used instead. Close the borders, and find yourself beset by homegrown jihadis. Focus on known terrorist profiles, and the enemy takes the form of “lone wolf” attackers, with no necessary connection to ISIL.

The threat — anonymous attackers, willing not only to kill in limitless numbers but to be killed themselves, and aided by all the latest technologies — is unlike any the world has ever faced. And among the challenges it presents is the psychological.

Because there is no satisfying narrative arc to this. We don’t get to go home when this is all over, because we are home and it may never be over. We have to accept this. We have to accept that some problems cannot be solved, but only endured; that some wars cannot necessarily be won, but must be fought all the same.

We are not helpless. We can make less likely the worst sorts of attacks, the kind that require greater planning, co-ordination and resources, and as such are more easily intercepted and disrupted. We can deprive ISIL of territory, starve it of funds, kill its leaders, and by these and other means deny it the mantle of prophecy on which it depends for new recruits.

And we can do much at home, notably to ward off the kind of deep-seated alienation within Muslim communities that so plagues Europe, on which terrorism thrives. It is crucial Muslims are not made to feel as if they are the enemy, collectively — every bit as crucial as recognizing the unique danger posed by ISIL, and the fundamentalist Islamic theology at its heart.

But there will be more attacks like those we have lately suffered, and probably they will be worse.

I don’t mean to say there is no chance of defeating ISIL, or that Islamist terrorism may not in time go the way of other threats to our way of life. I only mean that we cannot assume it will — not in the short term, and not even in the long. The roots of fanaticism have sunk too deep, over too much of the world, to be assured of that. When an idea, once unthinkable, has been first thought, and not only thought but acted upon, and spread to thousands if not millions of people, it will be a long time before it can be unthought.

So we must accustom ourselves to looking at this, as our adversaries do, as a struggle that may go on for decades, even generations, and understand that in the meantime there will be many more innocent deaths to mourn.

RCMP refugee screening a $16M flop, says internal report

Must be some lessons learned from a big data perspective, both for the RCMP as well as the government as a whole:

$16-million RCMP project to help keep dangerous refugees out of Canada has turned out to be an expensive security flop.

An internal evaluation says the screening project delivered information too late, strayed beyond its mandate, and in the end did almost nothing to catch refugees who might be linked to criminal or terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, 30 Mounties were tied up for four years on duties that did little to enhance Canada’s security.

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Then prime minister Stephen Harper said in Welland, Ont., on Sept. 9, 2015, that Canada needed to proceed cautiously in taking in refugees from war zones because they had to be properly screened for criminal and terrorism links. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

“The current approach does not appear to provide much by way of relevant information to support the admissibility screening of refugee claimants,” concludes the Sept. 29, 2015, report, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

The report on the anemic results was completed at about the same time as then prime minister Stephen Harper said Canada had to proceed cautiously in accepting Syrian refugees so that Canada’s screening process could weed out terrorists.

“When we are dealing with people that are from, in many cases, a terrorist war zone, we are going to make sure that we screen people appropriately and the security of this country is fully protected,” Harper told a 2015 election rally in Welland, Ont.

“We cannot open the floodgates and airlift tens of thousands of refugees out of a terrorist war zone without proper process. That is too great a risk for Canada.”

Domestic databases checked

The RCMP screening pilot was launched in 2011-12 as part of a package of Conservative reforms tightening up the processing of refugees, including a controversial move to withdraw some medical treatments for rejected asylum seekers. The Liberals have since reversed that measure.

Under the pilot project, the RCMP vetted potential refugees already in Canada — the names were provided by the Canada Border Services Agency — by checking domestic police databases for links to criminal or terrorist organizations, among other things.

Source: RCMP refugee screening a $16M flop, says internal report – Politics – CBC News

Luc Portelance and Ray Boisvert: It’s time for Canada to get serious about national security

Overview of the security agency perspective from Luc Portelance and Ray Boisvert. Challenge to the rest of government and society lies with counter-radicalization efforts, as they flag below:

Radicalization prevention begins at home, in our communities and across various levels of government. Furthermore, the development of counter-narratives to violent extremism must not be seen as the exclusive domain of security agencies. Counter-radicalization is a long-term battle of ideas that can only be won through collaborative action across society, and more specifically by applying proven commercial marketing strategies.

With the move of the multiculturalism program back to Canadian Heritage, there is an opportunity for the program to play a larger role in such policy discussions and initiatives than was the case recently at CIC/IRCC (as was done previously before the move to CIC/IRCC).

Source: Luc Portelance and Ray Boisvert: It’s time for Canada to get serious about national security | National Post

Shireen Ahmed: Why are my kids on the no-fly list?

More on children being on the no-fly list, Shireen Ahmed’s experiences:

The first time I was unable to check-in online for a domestic flight, I assumed it was because I had a baby. Perhaps it was the amount of luggage, or the stroller I used to facilitate travel with my four children, all under the age of seven, to our cottage in Prince Edward Island.

When I arrived at Toronto’s Pearson airport, the agent asked me to identify two males in my party. I pointed to my 15-month-old, who was slobbering over a pear, and my seven-year-old, who was playing with Lego figurines, and her mouth dropped. She proceeded to make a few calls. I didn’t listen because I was making sure my kids didn’t sit on the luggage scale (flying with children is so much fun!).

When I travel, I am prepared to be selected for “random extra security checks,” as I have brown skin and wear a hijab. But I didn’t have a clue that my second-generation Canadian children might be flagged as security risks. The idea did not occur to me because it was completely nonsensical.

A senior agent came by shortly thereafter and proceeded to enter information into the computer and make more phone calls. My patience was wearing thin. He hurriedly explained that there was an issue with one of my children. Eventually, we were escorted through security to the gate and settled into our seats. I didn’t think much of it. It had only taken an extra 40 or 50 minutes and we had arrived at the airport three hours early. Yet the actual issue would take over eight years to resolve.

I was prepared for extra screening because I have brown skin and wear a hijab. But I never thought my second-generation Canadian children might be flagged as security risks.

We have struggled with this since my eldest child — Saif-ullah, now 15 — was seven-years-old. He’s no longer a precocious, round-faced child, and I can no longer shield him from what he knows. He’s a high school student who has conversations with his peers, some of whom are also on no-fly lists. All are of African, Arab or South Asian descent.

Sure, anticipating delays and going to the airport five-hours early could be construed as normal. So could making up a story that did not involve explaining to my son that his name set off some type of alarm. But the truth is that such things are only necessary for people with names such as Ahmed, Khan, Hussain or Syed — names that are common in many other countries.

Source: Shireen Ahmed: Why are my kids on the no-fly list?

Advise to the Liberal government on security oversight and countering violent extremism: Gurski

Phil Gurski’s advice to the Liberal government on oversight and countering violent extremism:

a) whatever model is chosen it has to be a made in Canada one.  I see that the Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, is visiting some of our Allies to see how they do things.  This is a good start, but in the end we have to come up with our own solution. We can certainly learn, both the good and the bad, from what others have done.  Yet we have this Canadian tendency to defer to others (“let’s just do what the US is doing!”).  I saw it so many times when I worked for the federal government.  Maybe it’s good ol’ Canadian deference, I don’t know.  But it has to stop.  We have good people and good ideas too.

b) we need to build on what we already have started.  Especially on the CVE front, Public Safety Canada – specifically the Citizen Engagement section – had a wonderfully successful outreach programme in place that was paying off huge dividends before some – ahem, unfortunate – government-led incidents brought it to a standstill.  I know that there are community leaders across Canada who want to restart this.  Not only was it successful here but other countries had expressed interest in learning from ushow to do CVE.  Let us use this as our new jumping off point.

c) we need to inform Canadians.  Yes there are aspects to security intelligence that cannot be disclosed, but regular messaging from the government, and preferably from the heads of CSIS and the RCMP, will serve to keep Canadians in the loop on the nature of the threat we face and avoid the vacuum that currently exists and which is filled by those with little insight or knowledge of what is happening.

d) we need to hear from Canadians at all levels: federal, provincial, territorial, first nations, municipal and average Joes and Jills.  There are some amazing efforts currently in force at the city police level with respect to early intervention – Calgary Police’s Redirect programme and Toronto Police’s Focus Rexdale are but two examples – that are working and should be picked up on.  The solutions we need often begin locally so we need to bring in local, knowledgeable partners.  Let us also ask Canadians what they think.  Perhaps another public Parliamentary set of hearings is warranted.

There.  That’s my two-cents’ worth.  Have at ‘er.  At the end of the day we can do this and do this well.  We already have world class security intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Let’s match that when we create oversight and CVE capability.

Source: Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting

Q&A with Phil Gurski: Why we should be horrified, but not shocked, at Paris

Good, detailed interview. For those interested, Phil’s blog is well-worth following (Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting) My selected quotes, with last point on refugees particularly worth noting:

Q: We’ve seen Canadians go off to join ISIS, and we’ve seen Canadians inspired by ISIS. What is the allure?

A: It’s multiple. Some are simply horrified by what the Assad government is doing: they’re killing their own people with barrel bombs, there are people starving, refugees, families being slaughtered. Some of them buy into the ideology that the West isn’t a good place to live for a Muslim, and that a true Muslim has to leave and go to an Islamic country—and what better country than Islamic State, because they’ve established a caliphate. The caliphate is a draw—even if it’s fake, even if it’s not real. They can claim: ‘We have territory. We have a regime. We have a system of laws. We have a system of banking.’ They can say: ‘Look, we are the true Islamic State, and if you a true Muslim you should come and join us.’ For some people, it can just be a sense of adventure. And for some people, there is also a sense of the end of time. The Islamic State is big on apocalyptic messaging, and some people are inspired by it. ‘If I’m going to die, what better place to die than on the battlefield where good finally defeats evil?’

Q: What is the lifespan of this Islamist threat facing the west?

A: Let me get my crystal ball out. I’ve always said this threat had 20 to 50 years left in it—and now I’ll say 10 to 40, because I’ve been saying this for ten years now. It’s not going away. We certainly saw the al-Qaeda threat appear to wane post-9/11 because of the invasion of Afghanistan. We kind of mopped up al-Qaeda—we thought—and then the Islamic State came. Where did the Islamic State come from? The invasion of Iraq. So these things can come from directions you don’t anticipate. The ideology doesn’t seem to be on the wane. The ideology seems to be quite strong. Whether or not the Islamic State is going to last another six months, I have no idea. The attacks in Paris may lead to an incredible international response that just decimates these sons of bitches, but the ideology will still be there—and that is the thing that’s worrisome. If the ideology is still existing and still appealing to some people—for whatever reason—then you can get the next stage.

Q: Reports have surfaced today that at least one of the Paris attackers may have arrived amid the wave of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. Poland is now saying it will not accept Syrian refugees in light of the Paris attacks, and some believe Canada, poised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, should rethink its plan. What do you say to those people?

A: From my perspective, they are abusing a tragedy for their own purposes. I’ve said it on my blog quite frequently: we have to do it right, and CSIS is the agency responsible for screening refugees under its legislative mandate. It will be a challenge to do that, but I have every confidence in the job that CSIS does. The vast majority of people who were radicalized in Canada and took part in plots in Canada were born and raised here. They didn’t come here through the immigration system, so shutting the doors does not preclude radicalization. To me, I find it an unfortunate and hateful response to what happened in Paris. Is it possible that one [terrorist] is going to come through? Absolutely. As I said, you can’t expect perfection from our security and law enforcement agencies. But this country was built on immigration, and saying we can’t [bring in refugees] because of an attack on Paris is unjustified.

Source: Q&A: Why we should be horrified, but not shocked, at Paris

Niqab ‘never an issue’ for federal roundtable on culture and security

Not surprising given that the niqab, while an issue of integration, is not one of security (given that it has to be removed at airport security etc):

The question of whether Canadian Muslim women should wear the niqab is a non-issue for the government’s hand-picked sounding board on culture and security, says the Montreal professor who heads the panel.

The matter of face coverings became an election campaign focus as the Conservative government turned to the courts in an unsuccessful effort to preserve a rule banning them during the taking of citizenship ceremony oaths.

Stephen Harper’s party insists obscuring the face at the very moment one becomes a citizen runs contrary to Canadian values. Opponents have accused him of using a culturally sensitive issue to stir up xenophobic sentiment and, in the process, the votes of people who feel threatened by unfamiliar traditions.

The topic has “never been an issue” for the federally appointed Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, which meets every few months, said Myrna Lashley, the body’s long-time chairwoman.

“I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. And I don’t want to go there. I just wish the whole thing would go away,” said Lashley, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Montreal’s McGill University who studies terrorism and security.

“I’m a researcher, I’m not a politician. That’s their thing, not mine.”

Source: Niqab ‘never an issue’ for federal roundtable on culture and security

Kent Roach & Craig Forcese: Press the reset button on security

Always worth reading, and likely one of the first in a series of ‘transition advice’ should there be a change of government:

The problem is, however, that our anti-terrorism dilemmas are more acute than “C-51 good; C-51 bad.” To be sure, we believe strongly that it is bad. It infringes the Charter rights of Canadians without appreciable security gains.

That said, Canadians are right to be concerned about terrorism. A close examination of the data suggests it is not an existential threat, but it is a real one. Terrorist attacks are overt acts of political violence, the scope and lethality of which are limited only by the capacity and imagination of their perpetrators. They are unpredictable and designed to make us do things, or at the very least fear things. Terrorism is a conscious assault on freedom, in a way that is dramatically different from the accidental perils of living. Such conduct demands a response from the state.

But Canadians are also right to be concerned about the freedoms sacrificed by C-51. They should be even more alarmed that those rights are sacrificed unnecessarily, for no appreciable security gain. And they should be especially concerned that no party has so far shown itself prepared to grapple with the real problems that ail anti-terrorism efforts in Canada.

In our new book, False Security: The Radicalization of Canadian Anti-terrorism, we urge that C-51’s misguided “quick fixes” are no substitute for efficient terrorism investigations and prosecutions leading to convictions and meaningful prison terms for terrorism offences. They are also no substitute at the front end for multi-disciplinary and community-based programs attempting to curb radicalization to violent extremism, including in prison.

Bill C-51, read in association with the earlier Bill C-44, runs the serious risk of undermining anti-terrorism efforts, while at the same time sacrificing elemental constitutional rights. But even if C-51 were swept from the earth, we would still have a woefully deficient anti-terrorism strategy. There are many reasons for this, but two stand out.

First, as compared to other democracies, Canadian terrorism prosecutions are unnecessarily unwieldy, complex and remarkably infrequent. The inquiry into the Air India bombings pointed urgently to the need to resolve this issue in its 2010 report, and also underscored long-standing (and still persisting) difficulties in the process by which CSIS intelligence can be used as evidence in criminal trials.

The government ignored the Air India report even in the face of decisions, like one from the famous Toronto 18 case, where a trial judge reported that, “CSIS was aware of the location of the terrorist training camp.… This information was not provided to the RCMP, who had to uncover that information by their own means.”

Any suggestion that C-51 fixes the structural reasons for this dangerous conduct is nonsense. It allows information to be shared about just about everything, but does not compel CSIS to share information about terrorism.

Second, Canada lags behind other democracies in developing multidisciplinary programs to counter violent extremism. Counter violence extremism initiatives require close attention, and then careful consideration of empirical evidence on how best to dissuade persons from moving toward political violence (or for those at risk of further radicalization in prison, disengage from it).

Bill C-51’s new speech crime, the government’s political messaging and its near exclusive focus on hard-nosed tactics without a meaningful overall anti-terrorism strategy are serious barriers to success.

Exactly what the parties would do in these and related areas if elected is unclear. Certainly, we welcome proposals for enhanced accountability review of the security services — long overdue and identified in detail by the Arar inquiry almost a decade ago. We support the idea of a more informed parliamentary process, including parliamentarians competent to review secret information. Our book outlines suggestions in both these areas.

But accountability reform alone is insufficient.

After Oct. 19, a government of some sort will take office. Canadians deserve a government willing to embrace complexity, and the maturity to step back from anti-terrorism as a subset of gotcha politics. There are members in each political party who share this ambition — we have spoken to them. We hope those voices are raised in the weeks to come.

Source: Kent Roach & Craig Forcese: Press the reset button on security

In this election year, it’s cop versus cop: Akin

Not so sure that the dynamics will be as clear cut as presented by Akin.

There is a range of views within the police community on approaches. The Conservative one-sided (and overly simplistic) approach that runs counter to most of the evidence may not come out as well as Conservative MPs hope:

“The focus on being tough on crime — and I’ve been tough on crime, personally — but I think the focus needs to be on preventing our kids from choosing a life of crime and I don’t think that focus has been there.”

Sajjan and Blair — should Blair win his nomination fight — will help boost the Liberal profile on public safety issues. And many Conservatives couldn’t be happier. They believe a voter thinking about law and order puts their ‘X’ beside the Conservative candidate on the ballot.

“I would be just delighted,” said Daryl Kramp, an eastern Ontario Conservative MP. Kramp is the chairman of the House of Commons Public Safety and Security committee and, before a long career as a businessman, spent some time as a constable with the OPP.

Kramp, in fact, is one of at least eight Conservative MPs, including two in cabinet, to have worn a police uniform.

And that thin blue line in the House of Commons exists only on the government side. Not a single opposition MP has a background as a police officer.

“We’ve been identified as the law-and-order party and now (Bill Blair) wants to join a party that has voted against just about every measure we’ve put forward,” Kramp said Monday.

Those measures include new laws to help victims of crime, increasing sentences for some crimes, removing some judicial discretion and giving more power and resources to police.

In this election year, it’s cop versus cop | AKIN | Columnists | Opinion | Toron.