Military medical intelligence warnings gathered dust as public health struggled to define COVID-19

Sigh… Yet another oversight. So PHAC relied exclusively on the WHO which appears to have relied exclusively on the Chinese government, and did not explore other data sources:

Public health officials failed to cite early warnings about the threat of COVID-19 gathered through classified military intelligence as the pandemic crisis emerged a year ago, CBC News has learned — an oversight described as a strategic failure by intelligence and public health experts.

For over seven decades, Canada and some of its closest allies have operated a largely secret formal exchange of military medical intelligence. That relationship regularly produces troves of highly detailed data on emerging health threats.

The small, specialized unit within the Canadian military’s intelligence branch began producing warnings about COVID-19 in early January of last year — assessments based largely on classified allied intelligence. Those warnings generally were three weeks ahead of other open sources, say defence insiders.

But documents show the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) COVID-19 rapid risk assessments — which politicians and public servants used to guide their choices in early days of the pandemic — contained no input from the military’s warnings, which remain classified.

Three of the five PHAC risk assessments — obtained under access to information law by one of the country’s leading intelligence experts and CBC News — show federal health officials relying almost exclusively on assessments from the World Health Organization.

Even those writing the risk assessment reports acknowledged the dearth of intelligence.

Confidence level ‘low’

“Due to the limited epidemiologic data from China, and limited virologic information available for the etiologic agent, the confidence level for this assessment is considered as ‘low’ and the algorithm outputs remain uncertain at this time,” said the Feb. 2, 2020 PHAC risk assessment report.

The analysts at PHAC were uncertain because — as the world learned later — China was stonewalling the WHO about the extent of the Wuhan outbreak and assuring international health experts that everything was under control.

Meanwhile, in the military medical community, alarm bells were ringing. In the U.S., the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), located in Fort Detrick, Maryland, was not only gathering raw intelligence through various classified means — it was producing comprehensive assessments of the trajectory of the virus as of last February.

“This coronavirus pandemic is right in their wheelhouse, which is part of their core mission — to be on the lookout for any early indications of infectious disease,” said Dr. Jonathan Clemente, a physician practicing in Charlotte, North Carolina who has researched and written extensively about the history of medical intelligence.

‘Strategic surprise’

The original purpose of military medical intelligence among the allies was to assess sanitary and health conditions in the places around the globe where their troops were deployed.

But over the years, Clemente said, the mandate evolved to include “preventing strategic surprise” — such as pandemics and deliberate biological attacks.

“So there’s a wide range of reports, from your short-form daily bulletins to long-form assessments,” he said.

“It’s important to know that this is different from, say, the World Health Organization because the NCMI has access to all-source intelligence, meaning they have access to the most secret levels of intelligence, including clandestine human reporting, satellites, signals intelligence and … open  reporting.”

The information gathered through such intelligence channels would be knowledge “that other traditional health care and public health agencies” don’t have, he added. It’s also the kind of knowledge that would have informed the Canadian military’s medical intelligence branch as the pandemic was gathering momentum.

‘A terrible failure’

The fact that PHAC didn’t track what the military medical intelligence branch was seeing, coupled with changes to the federal government’s own Global Pandemic Health Information Network (GPHIN), represent “a terrible failure,” said Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor who studies intelligence services and national security. He requested the documents through the access to information law.

The auditor general is reviewing what went wrong with the country’s early warning system, including the risk assessments. Flaws in those assessments may have affected the introduction of anti-pandemic measures such as border closures and mask mandates.

A second, separate independent review of Canada’s early pandemic response has been ordered by Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

CBC News first reported last spring that the military medical intelligence branch (MEDINT) began writing reports and issuing warnings about COVID-19 in January 2020. At the time, a spokesperson for MEDINT would not comment “on the content of intelligence reports that we receive or share.”

A follow-up investigation by CBC News has shed more light on the long-established secret network the allies use to warn each of health threats.

It’s governed by an obscure forum going by a rather clunky name: the Quadripartite Medical Intelligence Committee (QMIC).

A ‘Five Eyes’ network for pandemics

Originating in the Second World War, the forum allows the American, Canadian, British and Australian militaries to exchange classified global health data and assessments about emerging health threats.

Clemente describes it as the medical equivalent of the better-known Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance between Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Clemente said that, through U.S. freedom of information law, he has compiled a comprehensive, declassified portrait of the deep health intelligence ties between allies — especially between Canada and the U.S.

He said he also has collected reports and analyses on how NCMI tracked and assessed previous pandemics and disease outbreaks, including SARS, H1N1 and Ebola.

Those assessments — copies of which were obtained by CBC News — are very precise and complete. The U.S. military’s assessments of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes remain classified, but Clemente said it’s certain that NCMI was doing similar surveillance on COVID-19 which would have been shared with allies.

Wark said Canada’s public health system was redesigned almost two decades ago with the aim of preventing “strategic surprise,” but many of initiatives planned or implemented following the SARS outbreak were allowed to wither away and die.

One 2004 proposal which fell by the wayside was to find a mechanism that would allow PHAC to seamlessly incorporate classified intelligence into its system of reporting.

Greg Fyffe, the former executive director of the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat in the Privy Council Office (which supports the prime minister’s office), said military medical intelligence assessments rarely came across his desk during his tenure a decade ago.

He said that when intelligence reports reach the highest levels of government, they often arrive in summary form and analysts occasionally have to seek out more details.

“There’s so much intelligence information out there that it’s not a matter of saying … ‘I have a little bit of something that you’d like to see,'” said Fyffe. “We’re talking about huge volumes of material which can’t all be shared.”

In a year-end interview with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed the suggestion that better early warnings could have stopped COVID-19 from spreading to Canada.

“I think we used all the resources that we always have to follow and monitor,” he said. “I don’t know that it would have made a huge difference for us to have extra reporting on top of what we were getting.”

The prime minister said that, in hindsight, there were things “we probably would have wanted to have done sooner in terms of preparing,” such as bolstering stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies.

‘We could have been much better prepared’

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan indicated in a year-end interview that he shared the information he had and there were “many conversations” within the government.

While he cautioned that military intelligence alone can’t cover global disease surveillance, he did acknowledge that Canada’s early warning mechanisms need a serious review “from a whole-of-government perspective … making sure we have the right sensors out.”

Preparation is the whole point of early warning, said Wark, who agreed with Trudeau’s assessment of the volatility of the novel coronavirus’s transmission.

“We wouldn’t have stopped it from coming to Canada,” said Wark. “That would have been impossible. But we could have been much better prepared to meet its onslaught, and we were not. We suffered a terrible failure of early warning, of intelligence, of risk assessment.

“And the main lesson that has to be drawn … from the experience of COVID-19 is that we have to fix all of those things. We have to have a better early warning system.”

Source: Military medical intelligence warnings gathered dust as public health struggled to define COVID-19

Case of woman wrongly accused of spying for Russia requires ministerial review, intelligence expert says

Pretty fundamental mix-up along with unwillingness to consider an error, until forced by the courts. Wark’s point regarding the systemic weaknesses sting:

Most Canadians seem to have an extraordinary — sometimes naive — faith that if they tell the truth, their government will do the right thing, come to the right conclusion, or make the right decision.

It is one of those charming, but also maybe alarming aspects of our character.

David and Elena Crenna certainly fell into that category at the beginning of their bizarre six-year legal odyssey that saw the Canada Border Services Agency’s war crimes investigation unit accuse Elena, a former Russian translator, of being a post-Cold War spy.

The Liberal government quietly abandoned its case against her last month after a Federal Court judge essentially challenged justice department lawyers and border agency officials to read the legal and dictionary definition of espionage.

“I am unable to reasonably find any reason to believe the applicant was engaged in anything secret, clandestine, surreptitious or covert,” Federal Court Justice Henry Brown ruled in April.

Crenna had previously been deemed inadmissible to Canada by an immigration adjudicator who sided with a Canadian Border Agency assessment that concluded she helped the Russian security service spy.

Governments talk a lot today fighting disinformation, particularly Russian and Chinese online attacks and smears, but abjectly fail to appreciate that lying to sow discord and lying to save one’s skin is a time-honoured, well-honed tradition of spies, according to one of Canada’s leading intelligence experts.

More that, there is a dearth of institutional knowledge, understanding and significantly an appreciation of recent history within federal officialdom, said Wesley Wark, a professor at the University of Ottawa.

He is withering in his criticism of Crenna’s case, and frightened by its implications.

‘A ruthless waste of time’

“This isn’t just a minor case of bureaucracy gone slightly astray,” Wark said in an interview. “I think it is a major case of a bureaucracy that just didn’t know how to operate in the face of these kinds of threats. We need to be able to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not.”

The federal case against Elena Crenna — which Wark described as “a ruthless waste of time” — rested on the dubious word of a now-dead Russian defector.

While doing translation and marketing for a humanitarian housing project in Tver, Russia, the former Elena Filatova said she was approached by an agent of SVR (formerly known as the KGB and later the FSB) who wanted to know what the Canadians were doing.

It is a major case of a bureaucracy that just didn’t know how to operate in the face of these kinds of threats. We need to be able to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not.– Wesley Wark, one of Canada’s top intelligence experts

She did, with the full knowledge and support of her boss, now husband, David Crenna, who said he and Elena were obliged to be transparent with Russian authorities to avoid having the translation project shut down. The pair eventually married in 2012.

Elena Crenna told CBC News in the spring that she never passed along secret information about project she was working on, and did not covertly gather intelligence.

Years later, a FSB defector wrote a tell-all book that alleged a Canadian disarmament program in the 1990s had been penetrated by Russian intelligence.

Without naming either David or Elena Crenna, Sergei Tretyakov claimed Russian intelligence had set a “honey trap” to collect information about the project, referring to the relationship that developed between the Crennas.(In intelligence circles, a honey trap is an operation that uses sex or romantic entanglements to trick or blackmail targets into giving up information.)

Canadian and American intelligence officials, including CSIS and the FBI, interviewed the couple and found their version of events credible.

It was only when Canadian immigration officials were about to allow Elena to stay permanently in the country that border services objected using the information the Crennas had truthfully offered up to the agency in interviews.

It was “Kafkaesque,” said Wark, who believes it is imperative that the agency not be allowed to simply walk away from the case without some kind of introspection and review.

“This is more than just a human tragedy because I think the case reveals a lack of expertise within CBSA, which is troubling given that CBSA is responsible for border security risk management, and responsible for administration of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” he said. “I think it reveals some considerable dysfunction among the elements of the Canadian government.”

Wark said it demonstrates “a very significant lack of understanding about the nature of espionage threats” and complete “lack of understanding of the historical context that they were looking at in this particular case.”The threats in today’s world are too serious and complex for border services to make mistakes of this kind in the future, he said.

Wark is calling on Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to institute a review of how the case was handled. Failing that, he is recommending that the National Security Intelligence Review Agency or even the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians look at what happened.

Canada Border Services has routinely declined comment on the case, citing privacy.

For his part, David Crenna doesn’t want to see all of the agency turned upside down — just the war crimes unit that initiated the case against his wife.

The federal government must ensure that section of the agency is “equipped and trained and capable of doing the kind of national security job” that is expected of it, he said.

Federal officials fell for allegations ‘hook, line and sinker’

To watch federal officials “swallow hook, line and sinker” the narrative of a Russian defector trained in disinformation was disheartening and somewhat frightening, he said.

“Essentially, we thought this being Canada that if we told the truth and co-operated, they would eventually come to the conclusion that we were telling the truth,” said David Crenna, who must now go through all of the federal paperwork for his wife to be readmitted to Canada.

She has been stuck in the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic where she had been awaiting the results of the court case.

There is no indication when Elena Crenna will be allowed to return.

Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/russian-spy-case-1.5678875

PM’s ‘Tiger Team’ meant to address diversity, inclusion in Canada’s national intelligence and security community hasn’t met since 2018

Of note. Yet another initiative without apparent follow-up.

Although somewhat dated, this overall picture is unlikely to have changed significantly (in process of requesting updated reports for the CF (non-civilian), RCMP (non-civilian), CSIS and CSE as not covered in the TBS report):


The federal government still has “much work to be done” on addressing diversity and inclusion issues within its intelligence and security apparatus, according to a recent parliamentary committee report, with one leading intelligence expert suggesting more senior leadership within the Privy Council Office with “power and clout” is needed to oversee the problem—and questioning why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s launch of the “Tiger Team” in 2017 meant to address diversity and inclusion issues hasn’t met since July 2018.

In their lengthy 2019 annual report, which was tabled in Parliament only a few days before the nation-wide COVID-19 lockdown began in March, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, composed of 11 MPs and Senators and chaired by Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.), focused considerable attention on the issue of diversity and inclusion in the security and intelligence community.

The review was conducted for several reasons, according to the report, most importantly because “challenges to increasing diversity and inclusion persist in the security and intelligence community even after decades of legislation, multiple reports and repeated calls for change.”

“These issues are particularly important for organizations responsible for protecting the national security of Canada and the rights and freedoms of Canadians.”

The report also notes that the “Tiger Team” established in 2017, created “with the stated aim of ‘exploring, advancing and implementing joint efforts to learn from one another and share best practices to enhance diversity and inclusion within and across [their] organizations through a variety of activities and initiatives,’” has not met since July 2018.

In January 2017, The leaders of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian Border Services Agency, CSIS, Canadian Security Establishment, Department of National Defense and the RCMP established the Tiger Team.

National security expert Wesley Wark, a professor at the University of Ottawa, told The Hill Times that the initiative to create a Tiger Team was a product of a push by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) in late 2016, and ultimately resulted from a meeting Mr. Trudeau requested with the heads of agencies in the security and intelligence community as well as with the Privy Council Office.

“Sadly, the tigers seem ultimately to have gone to sleep,” according to Prof. Wark’s April 2020 working paper addressing the NSICOP’s findings. “It is time, perhaps, for the prime minister to crack the whip again.”

“This kind of Tiger Team concept moved into the lane of deliverology, in the sense that it was overseen by the deputy secretary to the cabinet, but I’m not sure that was the original idea—that’s just where it ended up in terms of maintaining some momentum and producing reports for a period of time,” according to Prof. Wark.

When it comes to the specifics of diversity and inclusion in the security and intelligence community, it was “probably a mistake to move it into that lane or allow it to be moved into that lane,” said Prof. Wark.

“If an initiative of this kind was going to be sustained and picked up by all the different elements of the security and intelligence community, it needed to be overseen by senior leadership in the PCO [outside] of the deliverology mechanism,” said Prof. Wark. “In other words, it should have been taken up as a priority by the national and security and intelligence advisor, and it’s that senior officer in PCO who would have the power and clout to really make sure that something significant happened in this way.”

“I don’t understand why the national security and intelligence adviser himself did not take this up, and the committee of parliamentarians notes that although it doesn’t attach any explicit criticism to this, the whole Tiger Team effort obviously just faded away all together after a period of time,” said Prof. Wark.

The deputy secretary to the cabinet resides within the PCO, underneath the Clerk, and the national security and intelligence advisor is a very senior deputy minister position that ranks almost as an equivalent position to the clerk of the Privy Council, according to Prof. Wark.

According to PCO spokesperson Pierre-Alain Bujold, the work of the Tiger Team is ongoing, and currently chaired by the Department of National Defense (DND).

“The Government of Canada appreciates the work undertaken by [NSICOP],” according to Mr. Bujold, [and] sees diversity and inclusion as an important means to making its national security and intelligence community even more effective in protecting Canadians,” according to Mr. Bujold in an emailed statement to The Hill Times.

“We have been working for a number of years to improve diversity and inclusion in the security and intelligence community. This is critical, not just in terms of better representing Canadian communities, but in making security and intelligence agencies more effective at doing their job.”

‘Diversity is particularly important inside security and intelligence organizations’

Mr. McGuinty, the committee’s chair, was not available for an interview, but in an emailed statement to The Hill Times, the executive director of the committee, Rennie Marcoux, wrote that although the report did not make any findings or recommendations as to the national security and intelligence adviser’s role within the Tiger Team, the committee recognizes the merit of the community approach to address diversity and inclusion issues—and that its recommendations reinforce the value of the coordinated effort.

“The security and intelligence community is best placed to determine which individual or office is best suited to lead or direct this work,” according to Ms. Marcoux.

In its conclusions, the report notes that “building diverse and inclusive workforces is essential to the effectiveness of the security and intelligence community.”

When asked to expand, Ms. Marcoux noted that in addition to the “well-documented” benefits of a diverse workplace and inclusive workforce across a large body of research, as well as the committee’s belief that Canada’s public service should reflect the population it serves, “a more diverse workforce ensures that organizations are benefitting from the broad range of perspectives and talent that Canada has to offer.”

“Finally, the committee notes that diversity is particularly important inside security and intelligence organizations because it allows them to leverage language skills, community contacts and cultural competencies, and protects against groupthink mindsets that permeate more homogeneous organizations,” according to Ms. Marcoux.

Tim McSorley, national coordinator with the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, told The Hill Times that “there needs to be a level of accountability and transparency in terms of what the words on paper mean.”

“I think a big question is that we see, year-after-year, whether it’s three-year plans or five-year plans or in line with Treasury Board recommendations, it seems like there’s a plan and then the next plan seems to repeat very similar issues around the importance of lowering barriers [around] increasing diversity and inclusion within these organizations,” said Mr. McSorley. “While it does seem that the numbers have gotten slightly better over the last 10 or 11 years, it doesn’t seem like anything new is coming out, it seems that it remains the same question each time a new plan is put together.”

“So what are they doing on the ground to actually change and to increase diversity and inclusion in the security and intelligence community,” said Mr. McSorley. “Who is accountable if they don’t meet those goals, and what kind of consequences are there?”

When asked about the Tiger Team, Mr. McSorley said that looking at some of the critiques within the report, the fact that it was concentrated solely of members from HR departments was part of the problem.

According to the report, the committee noted several shortcomings with this initiative, including the lack of specific objectives for diversity and inclusion as well as the development of a performance measurement framework to assess the success of its initiatives.

“The representatives from each organization were all from human resources departments and organizations did not seek out members of employment equity groups for membership or participation on the Tiger Team,” according to the report. “[Throughout] its discussions, the Tiger Team focused on short-term initiatives without considering systemic challenges raised in various organization-specific studies or class-action lawsuits (the CAF and the RCMP), such as workplace culture and discrimination.”

‘Things won’t change on their own’

The Abella Commission, which led to the creation of the Employment Equity Act, unfolded in 1984, said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the equality program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“The first Employment Equity Act was in 1986. The current [act] is 25 years old, and that act calls for serious accountability measures, serious long-term and short-term goal setting, serious monitoring and reviews for organization accountability,” said Ms. Aviv.

“So we always need to be optimistic and hopeful and try to move things forward, but we’ve also been working on these issues for a very long time,” said Ms. Aviv. “There are clear obligations there, obligations that, according to this report, have simply not been met.”

Ms. Aviv said she believes that there is a notion that things are getting better, they get better on their own, and that patience is required to change organizational culture.

“But if you actually look at the trajectory and the amount of time that’s passed, and the amount of harm that’s been done to people in these organizations, and the ill-effect it’s having on the effectiveness of the organizations themselves, then you understand that things won’t change on their own,” said Ms. Aviv.

According to RCMP spokesperson Catherine Fortin, the RCMP has implemented a number of initiatives to increase the ratio of women, visible minorities, and Indigenous people within their ranks, with objectives to include 30 per cent women, 20 per cent of people from visible minority groups, and 10 per cent Indigenous people.

“We intend to reach these goals through a targeted approach to recruiting, using advertising and marketing to position the RCMP as the employer of choice to people who may not have considered a career in policing,” according to Ms. Fortin. “The RCMP is committed to inclusiveness and diversity of all types within the organization. We believe that the more diverse we are when it comes to gender, ethnic background, religion or sexual orientation, the better we are able to serve all Canadians.”

According to DND spokesperson Major T.A. Smyth, “DND and the CAF place unprecedented emphasis on ensuring diversity and gender equality in military human resource management as part of efforts to strengthen the operational force and to position DND and the CAF as inclusive organizations. Diversity is viewed as a source of strength and flexibility to build the capacity of the CAF and the civilian workforce.”

“DND and the CAF are working with other government departments as a community and considering the findings and recommendations of this report to inform future decision making,” according to Mr. Smyth. “Various experiences, knowledge, and skillsets contribute to our operational effectiveness. By increasing the representativeness of our Forces and our civilian personnel to reflect Canadian society, diversity enables DND and CAF to be forward-looking, resilient, and relevant.”

—-

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians made the following recommendations in it’s 2019 Annual Report, released in March 2020:

1. The committee conduct a retrospective review in three to five years to assess the security and intelligence community’s progress in achieving and implementing its diversity goals and inclusion initiatives.

2. The security and intelligence community adopt a consistent and transparent approach to planning and monitoring of employment equity and diversity goals, and conduct regular reviews of their employment policies and practices.

3. The security and intelligence community improve the robustness of its data collection and analysis, including GBA+ assessments of internal staffing and promotion policies and clustering analyses of the workforce.

4. The security and intelligence community develop a common performance measurement framework, and strengthen accountability for diversity and inclusion through meaningful and measurable performance indicators for executives and managers across all organizations.

Source: PM’s ‘Tiger Team’ meant to address diversity, inclusion in Canada’s national intelligence and security community hasn’t met since 2018

Wesley Wark: Information gap about Zehaf-Bibeau threatens security

Wesley Wark’s trenchant criticism of the narrowness of Canadian inquiries into the Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau attacks, which focus only on the security dimensions rather than also including the process of radicalization issues:

There is nothing in the forensic analysis of the Zehaf-Bibeau attack that can bear the burden of such a sweeping statement, but it smacks of politics and of an ill-considered willingness to add to public anxiety about Canada’s counter-terrorism capabilities.

The RCMP’s own, separate, after-action review was deliberately limited, by whose decision is not clear, to “the protective actions taken by the RCMP in response to the incident;” it explicitly precluded any examination of the national security context, existing threat levels at the time of the attacks, or any “pre-incident” information about the shooter.

This leaves Canadians with a worrying chasm of information about Zehaf-Bibeau’s development as a jihad-inspired terrorist, and any reflection of what, if anything, could have been done to prevent the attack plot. It may well be that confusion lingers about whether Zehaf-Bibeau even deserves the tag of “terrorist.” This became a highly politicized issue immediately following the attacks, with the prime minister’s immediate labeling of Zehaf-Bibeau as a terrorist.

An even greater chasm exists with regard to the other, and largely forgotten, terrorist attack of October 2014, in which Martin Couture-Rouleau ran down and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Where is the inquiry into that attack and the subsequent death of Couture-Rouleau in a confrontation with the Quebec Sûreté? Unlike Zehaf-Bibeau, Couture-Rouleau had been under investigation by the RCMP, had his passport seized and had been prevented from travelling abroad. The RCMP had intervened directly with him and, as they confessed shortly after his attack, had come to a conclusion that he had changed his ways and did not pose an imminent threat. Later media leaks changed the channel on the story to one of an inability of the RCMP to acquire a peace bond against him, a leak that came suspiciously close to the government’s tabling of Bill C-51, the new anti-terrorism act, which included lowered thresholds for the issuance of peace bonds.

As a recent meeting of the Senate Liberal “Open Caucus” heard from several witnesses, including me, Canada suffers from an endemic problem of overweening secrecy that chokes off public debate. That problem has raised its head once more in the failure to constitute a proper public study of the attacks of October 2014. We need only look at how the Australians responded to their Sydney terror siege in December 2014, with an Australian government review issued in February 2015 and an on-going coroner’s inquiry that is expected to extend into 2016, to know that the balance between secrecy and public knowledge is out of kilter here.

Wesley Wark: Information gap about Zehaf-Bibeau threatens security | Ottawa Citizen.

Counterterrorism strategy: Take the long view – The Globe and Mail

Two interesting pieces on counter radicalization strategies, with both focusing on the Prevent aspect.

Wesley Wark notes the risks of politic rhetoric with respect to radicalization and the relative neglect of the Government’s Prevent element (compared to the other elements of the national security strategy, Deny, Detect and Respond):

The more that political rhetoric swirls around national-security threats such as the foreign-fighter problem, the more difficult it will be to establish the exact scale of the threat. In reality, the danger posed by the relatively small Canadian foreign-fighter stream is threefold – it bolsters IS psychologically; it conjures up concerns about battle-hardened veterans who might return to Canada to incite and commit terrorism; it puts Muslim communities in Canada under an unwanted spotlight and may create a new set of tensions for them as they work to contribute to de-radicalization measures. Our biggest concern is not about how we prevent Canadian foreign fighters from blowing things up in Iraq and Syria, or even blowing things up if they manage to return to Canada, but how we stop them from blowing up community stability and inciting tensions within Canada.

When the government first announced a counterterrorism strategy in 2012, it used a model borrowed from the British, with four “pillars”: Prevent, Detect, Deny, Respond. The respond pillar is meant to ensure a capacity to deal with terrorist attacks that occur on our soil. When the CT strategy was launched, there hadn’t been any. Now there have been two – the attacks in Quebec and near Parliament Hill in October of 2014. The one good thing the October attacks brought to light is the degree to which Canadian society poses a strong, innate resilience to terrorist violence.

…But what about Prevent? Here, the greatest challenge lies, and potentially our greatest weakness. Some will always slip through the cracks, notably the convicted “Toronto 18” member, Ali Mohamed Dirie, whose incarceration and subsequent release did nothing to dissuade him; who obtained false identity documentation, travelled to Syria and was killed in the fighting in 2013. We risk failure on the “prevention” front if the RCMP’s efforts at community engagement do not gain a stronger foothold, if CSIS is too emboldened by its soon-to-be-granted “disruption” mandate and if the government (of whatever stripe after October, 2015) fails to find a better way to justify Canada’s actions in the world, especially its international efforts against terrorist groups.

Counterterrorism: Is it working? – The Globe and Mail.

Although Zekulin does not mention the word Prevent, he essentially echoes other critics of the Government for its apparently exclusive focus on security measures rather than the ‘softer’ prevention approaches:

As long as IS exists, their message will continue to spread. This has the potential to create additional numbers of young Canadians with whom their message might resonate. Several months ago, I wrote that Canada’s counterterrorism strategy needed to address two separate but interconnected aspects in order to meet the threat posed by IS. These included measures to deal with the imminent threat posed by the current cohort of radicalized Canadians and a counter-radicalization strategy to prevent or at least minimize the next generation of radicalized young Canadians.

IS is selling a product – themselves and their vision of what the world should look like. A counter-radicalization strategy is based on challenging the messages espoused by the group and its supporters. We need to develop our message, identify the most credible messengers and the most efficient and effective way to distribute it. This will at least begin to counter IS’s efforts. We recognize that this approach will not deter every individual. However, as our messages circulate and gain momentum, it will become increasingly difficult for IS’s perverted ideas to find fertile minds. The end goal is to minimize the number of individuals who might adopt the ideas and become a threat in the future.

We cannot be lulled into a false sense of security by our recent successes. IS’s ideas pose the real threat and they continue to circulate, incubate and entrench themselves in our society. Our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies have done an admirable job, but we need to ask ourselves whether our current strategy is sustainable. Financially, our government has limited resources; it is not realistic to continuously increase our investigative capacity every few months. We run the risk of falling into a never-ending cycle where those we identify and disrupt are quickly replaced by others. Eventually, some individuals or incidents will slip through the cracks. In the context of the current threat, that means very bad things will happen.

Counterterrorism strategy: Take the long view – The Globe and Mail.

ICYMI: Wesley Wark: Intelligence lessons from France

Wesley Wark on the intelligence lessons from the Paris attacks and sensible conclusion:

French intelligence and security agencies are highly experienced with terrorism threats and have particular knowledge and capabilities in the Middle East, North Africa and the sub-Saharan region. But there are lessons to be learned, for France, and for other countries, in the failures of counter-terrorism on display last week. Those lessons point in four directions: perseverance in maintaining a strategic watch on presumed lower tier threats; better technological capabilities; better intelligence sharing at home and abroad; and better external scrutiny.

Wesley Wark: Intelligence lessons from France | Ottawa Citizen.

ICYMI: CSE’s Levitation project: Does mass surveillance prevent terrorist attacks?

Valid questions:

Questions about the effectiveness of mass surveillance are being raised as the Canadian government plans to introduce new legislation Friday to give security agencies broader powers. The new rules come in the wake of two attacks on Canadian soldiers last year as well as a growing number of extremist incidents around the world.

Wesley Wark, a national security expert, says that no matter how many “interesting needles” come out of the haystack of online data, spy agencies still need to translate that to “usable intelligence” – meaning something they can act on.

“At the end of the day, one piece of good intelligence might be worth it all,” says Wark, who is currently at the University of Ottawa.

In its 2012 presentation to its “Five Eyes” spying partners — the group that includes the U.S., U.K., New Zealand and Australia — the CSE mentioned two important successes from the Levitation project.

The first involved the discovery of an uploaded document that outlined the hostage strategy of AQIM, the North African branch of al-Qaeda. That strategy was “disseminated widely,” including by the CIA to its overseas counterparts, the CSE presentation says.

U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald says Canadians need to ask tough questions about how effective mass surveillance is in light of two attacks on soldiers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Cyber analysts also unearthed a video of a German hostage from a previously unknown target. That hostage died in late May 2012, months after spies came across the video.

Edgar Fritz Raupach, an engineer working in Nigeria, was killed by his hostage-takers when local soldiers — who were unaware of Raupach’s presence — attacked the captors’ hideout in an unrelated operation.

Wark cautions that the document — as a presentation by CSE to its spying partners — is inevitably biased toward touting the most favourable results. Ultimately, he says, success in this business depends on whether the findings were timely, didn’t consume too many resources and were useful.

“These Canadian documents suggest it can pay off,” says Wark. “So, does it pay off? Is it proportionate to the resources we’re putting into it? Are there different ways to do it?”

CSE’s Levitation project: Does mass surveillance prevent terrorist attacks? – Canada – CBC News.

CIA torture report: Why Canada can’t claim innocence

Both Wark and Juneau-Katsuya make valid points about likely Canadian complicity:

However, as Juneau-Katsuya points out, intelligence Canada shared with the CIA led to the torture of a number of Canadians.

“That’s exactly what took place with Maher Arar, that’s exactly what took place with Omar Khadr, that’s exactly what took place with tons of other people,” says Juneau-Katsuya, who calls Harper’s stance “a very hypocritical position.”

Harper s dismissive tone about the Senate report obscures how closely Canadian intelligence works with its American counterparts, says Juneau-Katsuya.

He says that Canadian spies have a “phenomenal” relationship with the CIA. Not only do they share intelligence related to foreign threats, but CSIS has liaison officers that work in CIA headquarters, and vice versa.

Given their close working relationship, did Canadian intelligence agents witness any of the CIA’s torture tactics?

“It would be speculation on my part,” says Juneau-Katsuya, “but I think its very likely.”

He adds that “some [Canadian agents] might have had the wise reflex not to be there and simply say, I wasnt present.”

But the bottom line is the Canadian government “cannot deny the fact that we were aware of the practices.”

CIA torture report: Why Canada can’t claim innocence – CBC News – Latest Canada, World, Entertainment and Business News.

More Ottawa Shooting Commentary

Further to yesterday’s round-up of the recent shootings, more of the better commentary or more interesting commentary that has crossed my eye.

Wesley Wark: Reducing the risk of terrorism provides a sober assessment of the ongoing risks and the need neither to over or under act, but learn the lessons from any failures and gaps in security.

In the theme of let’s not get carried away, André Pratte in La réponse and Stephen Maher Time to reflect on the courage of our ancestors remind us to have balance and perspective. Doug Saunders notes how the public space around parliaments the world over has been whittled down by successive security threats in Don’t let the seat of government become a fortress.

On the other side, Journal de Montréal’s Richard Martineau is characteristically alarmist in Terrorisme: appelons les choses par leur nom.

More on the common elements to the two most recent cases of radicalization, Martin Couture-Rouleau  and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau:

Martin Couture-Rouleau et Michael Zehaf-Bibeau partagent plusieurs points en commun : ils étaient jeunes (25 ans et 32 ans), ils s’étaient récemment convertis à l’islam radical, la GRC avait confisqué leur passeport par crainte qu’ils rejoignent le groupe État islamique, et ils auraient agi tels des « loups solitaires ».

Pour les autorités policières, c’est le cauchemar. Les deux jeunes ont agi de leur propre chef, sans même avoir été initiés au combat par des groupes extrémistes à l’étranger. Ils sont difficiles à repérer et à neutraliser.

Un loup solitaire aux motivations inconnues

And further details about the troubled life of the shooter, Zehaf-Bibeau in the Globe in Drugs and religion key themes in Ottawa shooter’s troubled life and in the Post in Details of Zehaf-Bibeau’s life paint picture of a man derailed by homelessness, crime and addiction, detailing his drug addiction, quarrelsome personality and his failed efforts to use his faith to control both.

Canadian Muslims are quick to respond and express outrage in Canadian Muslims denounce recent attacks, fear backlash.

Matt Gurney challenges the military’s decision in Canadian soldiers don’t hide in their own damn country — rescind the order to not wear uniforms in public.

Barbara Kay covers a different angle in The unique anguish of a terrorist’s mother:

If it is inevitable, why feel guilty about these “bad seeds”? And yet, inevitably, parents do. Our sympathetic embrace for the real victims should therefore be wide enough to include their murderers’ collateral damage.

A great deal of favourable commentary on Parliament yesterday, how each leader struck the right tone, the hugs of support, and the deserved standing ovation for Sergeant-at-Arms Vickers starting with Jeffrey Simpson in Tribute, solidarity and back to politics (with some barbs at the difference between Government rhetoric and funding).

Jonathan Kay noted the contrast between this time and 30 years ago, when the then Sergeant-at-Arms was able to talk armed Denis Lortie into surrendering in Two Sergeants-at-Arms, two kinds of heroism.

Rick Salutin, similarly praises Kevin Vickers, but provocatively, and accurately, rubbishes the idea of Canadian innocence in We didn’t lose our innocence. We never had it.

Andrew Coyne, perceptively noted the nuances in the various positions and how that hopefully portended more serious political dialogue and debate in Politics weren’t put aside during the Ottawa hug-out, they were just made over for the occasion:

For Mr. Harper, it was “to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home,” as well as “to work with our allies” in the fight against “the terrorist organizations” abroad who hope “to bring their savagery to our shores.” For Mr. Mulcair, it was “our commitment to each other and to a peaceful world.” For Mr. Trudeau, it was “staying true to our values” of “fairness, justice and the rule of law.”

“We will not be intimidated,” Mr. Harper vowed. “That is not going to happen,” Mr. Mulcair seconded. “We will not be intimidated into changing that,” Mr. Trudeau agreed. But they meant very different things.

And the still and video images of the citizens of Ottawa paying their tribute to fallen soldier Nathan Cirillo (as well as the accounts of those who tried to save him in ‘You’re breathing — keep breathing’), as well as to democratic values, were moving.

 

ICYMI: CSIS has tabs on radicalized Canadians who have fought abroad

Good analysis of the challenges in knowing the numbers and the nature of radicalized Canadians:

“When we’re talking about 80 returnees, we’re not talking about 80 people who have fought in Iraq and Syria, and we’re not necessarily talking about people who were directly involved in planning terrorist activities,” Coulombe told the committee. “We have Canadians in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Lebanon, in the Sahel, in the Maghreb, who are involved in terrorist-related activities. But it could be fundraising, could be propaganda, so I don’t want people to believe that we have 80 returnees who are hard fighters in Iraq and Syria, because that is not the picture we have at the moment.”

CSIS has tabs on radicalized Canadians who have fought abroad.