How instant analysis failed once again in the Quebec attack

Look, I get it.  When something along the lines of the shooting in Quebec City on Sunday evening occurs, people want to know what is happening.  And they want to know NOW.  So, the army of experts – a few actual and most fake – rise up and fill the airwaves with “analysis”. The fact that very little is actually known is of little relevance.

This most recent event was no different. Scarcely had the air cleared of smoke before someone told us what had happened, why it had happened and what it all meant.  Full disclosure: I was one of those on various media, but I’d like to think I was measured in my responses because:

a) I am a real terrorism expert

b) I know better than to speak categorically before we actually know anything.

Others were less circumspect and I want to focus on three “reports” that I want to call the Bad, the Slightly Worse and the Ugly.

The least egregious report came from the White House where the Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the attack was an affirmation that the direction the Trump administration is taking on immigration is justified.  There is of course a small problem with his analysis in that the assailant turned out to be a native Quebec Francophone (un Québecois de souche as they say) and was hence not a poster boy for Trump’s imagined terrorist threat emanating from immigrants.

The slightly worse episode was a post made on JihadWatch, an Islamophobic Web site run by Robert Spencer, that the attacker yelled “Allahu Akbar”, was probably involved in a Shia-Sunni thing and that the incident had nothing to do with white supremacism or the far right.  As it turns out, Mr. Spencer was wrong, wrong and wrong, but that seldom stops him from posting his “analysis”.

But the really ugly analysis was found on the TSEC Web site – home of the self-styled “Terrorism and Security Experts of Canada” – which posted, and I quote, ” In the near term, this will come to be seen as an intelligence failure on the part of the Government of Canada.  The various agencies have done little significant work on the Muslim Brotherhood in Canada”.   You read that right.  The attack had everything to do with the Muslim Brotherhood (in fairness, TSEC is adamant that the MB is responsible for EVERYTHING terrorist related, and probably climate change and the fact that a Canadian team has not won the Stanley Cup since 1992).  It is hard to comment on this post because it is so bizarre.  Not to mention completely divorced from any facts about the attack, even as we knew them in the immediate aftermath.

I have said this before and I will repeat it here.  In the wake of death and destruction, when people are afraid and panicky, we really need cooler heads to prevail.  We don’t need talking heads full of fluff to go off on baseless tangents and make things worse.

I learned my lesson on speaking ill-advisedly during the Anders Breivik terrorist attack in Norway in 2011, as I have blogged before.  It is a pity many have not.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

One reply on “How instant analysis failed once again in the Quebec attack”

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to respond to this, but one of the things that came up last night on The Agenda with Steve Paikin was the question of the police response to this shooting. I can understand that there is an ongoing investigation and that the integrity of said investigation is paramount. The problem that happens is when there is no information, that void gets filled with speculation.

Fox News and the right wing media ran with the Moroccan shooter theme which I’m not sure they have correct as of yet. The easiest solution to this, I think would simply have been to say that there are two individuals in custody we are still weighing out the details here are their names. Then as soon as Mohamed was released, let the press know and they could run with it. I think the 16-20 hour lapse was what did the story in. Today if you google the story, there is almost 30% news articles which are still describing it as a Muslim attacker (with little mention of the victims being Muslim).

my two cents.

Keep up the good work Phil.

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